Slam and Dunk

Deep in the Northern Hemisphere winter is a time when the egg-chasing sports enthusiasts get their moment in the limelight; when the Six Nations Rugby Championship takes centre stage; where some of the people of Wales connect with a strange kind of religious fervour.

This year it all kicked off with the biennial ‘Men in Skirts‘ weekend, as Scotland arrive in Cardiff. A brief moment when men can be true to their inner selves, and at least one shopping-laden woman can turn a blind eye…

1. a) Scary scrum

Scotland were in the rarified position of being tipped by many as favourites to win in Cardiff, only to be blown away 34-7 by the native dragon of Wales

1. b) City Road dragon [2]

Next up, it was the turn for Wales to be on the road, with the fixture that inspires thoughts of a clash with old enemies rather than a celebration amongst rivals. What would the marauders across the Severn Bridge take to the hosts of England, tipped to be champions before the tournament started? Well, with dragon-hearts in mouths for most of the last 60 minutes, it wasn’t to be, as St George stumbles to a 12-6 win, and the guest fire-starters prove at the final whistle to be a little more inert in portraying their true heritage…

2. Inert firestarters

Staying on the road, next up is the always welcome trip to Ireland, where the lotion joyously flows, and the red army have frequently found travelling success. As added-on time arrives Wales are only 3 points behind and in possession with the potential of a match-winning try; and then that wayward pass…… Ireland clinically strike for a 37-27 victory, as Welsh heads are bowed…

3. Fallen head [4]

With two oh-so close matches away, Wales return home determined not to let an unpredictable season slip on the banana skin that Italy may lay down at the Millennium Stadium (no Principality Building Society product placement accepted here!). A frenetic first half is followed by a procession to a 38-14 home win…

Banana skin

Which only leaves the simple matter of a victory in the final home match with France to secure a creditable second place in the Championship. If only… Wales don’t do ‘simple’! After most of the match watched through parted fingers, mouth agape, from behind the sofa, the final whistle brings that rarest of outcomes… Rabbits 14 Headlights 13…

5. Desperately holding on

Until we speak again, you may ask “but what about the other matches?” to which the carefully tutored Juno and Bella would answer “so what!” Another Six Nations comes to an end, with congratulations to Ireland for the Grand Slam of 5 wins in 5 games, and even greater congratulations to England for their Number 5… the Dunk of finishing 5th out of 6!

4. Pride restored

Home of the Black Cats

Black Cat House

Sunderland is a city with a claim to be first to return their count at just about any national vote. Indeed the shock Brexit vote of 23rd June 2016 can be claimed to have started here. A recent visit gave some insights into why they are quick with the count… as a tour of the city centre suggests there is little else to do than stay in doors and count votes! What the Luftwaffe started in the 1940’s the city planners completed in the 1960’s and 70’s.

The local people are informally known as ‘mackems’, one explanation emerging from their former shipbuilding tradition, whereby it is the Sunderland shipyards that ‘mackem’ (or make them); and the rival Newcastle shipyards that finish them off… ‘tackem’ (or take them). My recent visit to the city was perhaps summed up by a representation of this very name, but closed to business…

Machem Pizza

Even their strangely named football ground, the Stadium of Light was shrouded in darkness (though it wasn’t a match night).

Stadium of Light

However, all is not doom and gloom. If you have a spare couple of hours, that should be just about enough time, then get your Google maps out. A stop off at the Hilton Garden Inn, next door to the Stadium of Light offers a great steak and glass of Rioja.

Hilton Garden Inn [2]

Then take a stroll over the old iron bridge into the city centre…

Bridge [3]

Navigate your way passed the colourful Magistrates Court (Tip: don’t end up inside as a result of thinking you can vandalise or litter the place as a means of visually improving the city’s demeanour!)…

Somewhere within the tribute to grim concrete lies a couple of interesting pubs with good ale selections. If the local CAMRA reps are to be believed, then The Ship Isis is the best pub in the area. Test that claim for yourself, but I would certainly recommend a visit if you like a pint of Allendale Mosaic &/or Camerons Strong-arm in restored Victorian surroundings…

But if you want to experience the real deal, there is always the likes of an Anarchy Blonde Star waiting at the Dun Cow, next door to the Empire Theatre…

Dun Cow and empire Theatre

As I write it seems the local football team are hurtling towards relegation out of the Premier League. I can only muse that if the disgruntled of one Stadium of Light decided to smash up the town to vent their anger, it would take Sherlock Holmes like attention to detail to spot the difference.

Until we speak again, I am sure that Juno would advise no more than a couple of hours needed to sample all that Sunderland has to offer, and then quietly make your escape!

Plotting an escape

 

History explained

Stonehenge is a world-renowned heritage site, located in Wiltshire in south-west England. But it is Wales that lays claim to be the source of the historic stones. Could it be that Cardiff provides a source of evidence for this longstanding claim?

Combining an artistic frame for historic contemplation, this location deep in Bute Park, offers any cat with an interest in such things an opportunity for peace and serenity.

contemplation-in-bute-park

chilling-in-the-sun

 

 

Talking of peace and serenity, Bella always had a sixth sense for such things. Until we speak again, remember history is just a thing of the past!

Agricultural demise

Cardiff City 3 Ipswich Town 1

IMAG1350

“WELSH INDUSTRIAL REVIVAL TOO STRONG FOR ENGLAND’S TRACTOR BOYS!”

Until we speak again this is Pundit Juno bringing you all you need to know about football in less than 10 words.

[With thanks to farmgirlfare.com for the posted image… it’s not me, I’m too urban].

Cool at One

How time fly’s when you spend most of the day either sleeping or licking your nether regions. There I was, deep in meditation…

Chillout cat

… when my ‘kidnapper of culinary dreams’ decided it was time for a literary celebration. It seems that a year has already passed since the resident ‘Nonsense-in-Chief’ decided I would become a star of the blogosphere. No, I haven’t got a clue what that means either. To my personal dismay I am told I have been a Cool Cat for precisely one year… this of course is complete tosh; being a lady I’m not giving away my age, but I assure you I have been a Cool Cat wherever I have been for the whole of my life!

As for this celebration thing… there are limits, and a point when a head down the loo or offering a simple view of a fury rump out of a nearby box have their merits. Or it is just time for the more sophisticated among us to get a grip…

Olive branchApart from you humans, the point at which a year arrives is as good as any to do a bit of reflective thinking. Whereas all you lot seem to have achieved at one year is the ability to scream and wail, and project nasty stuff in all directions from both ends!

So, what should you have learned about this Cardiff place from my first year of imparted wisdom? Firstly, they have a strange way of doing architecture. When the brief says “a sophisticated blend of the old and new” I’m not sure that this is what the commissioning people exactly had in mind:

Architectural wonders

But, when it comes to combining architecture with food, and if food really is your religion,  the locals can come up with interesting new ideas for accommodating the likes of multiple feeding bowls and litter trays:

Chapel [2]

As for those moments when you left your shopping list at home, and you are sure that a violin, a Dalek, and a good cup of coffee were prominent amongst the essentials of the day, then the Castle Arcade is the place of your dreams:

Castle Arcade 6

 

Many a fellow feline in London told me before I moved that they communicate differently in that Wales place, but I was still unprepared. For example, they take health and safety of children very seriously, to the point of being very clear of the dangers of tree-climbing:

No tree climbingAs an indigenous population many of these cats may not travel very far (or is that Americans I am thinking of?), but they like to keep busy. So, there is no shortage of signs telling you were to go… in the politest sense of the phrase of course (unless you happen to be more obviously English):

Places to go [1]

Before, during and after a busy day having been told where to go, you will be in need of refreshment. So, this is when in Cardiff you really have to use your Brains! However, refreshment is also where the true multi-cultural legacy of the capital city comes into its own:

4. Brains journey [1]

The local brew is often to be found in its most splendid clarity (with Chris at The City Arms offering me free beer for the publicity… Not!). But, beware of local historians, all too eager to share their rose-tinted time warp stories of when Brains SA was the real deal.

A pint in the City Arms

However, with all of the zeitgeisty nonsense about immigration going on around these ancient lands of Perfidious Albion, it is the demands of the time warp fraternity that are at the centre of allowing interesting brands of low cloud in from the regions of England. The original multicultural port of Cardiff, giving rise to the infamous Tiger Bay, is now succeeded by little more than multi-regional representation in the brews that local people are prepared to fall over from, as a result of joyous consumption.

Just don’t ask about the local football team… you are a season too late on that one. And as for the historic local rugby team… my coughing and spluttering has nothing to do with choking on a furball. Suffice to say, this is a city that wears its sporting failures with as much ‘anonymity’ as it can muster. They even provide convenient masks lying around in public places in order to avoid being easily identified as a supporter:

Fallen headSo, it has been one year of me filling your bowl with quality morsels, and tugging on your tail about the issues that matter in this adopted city of mine. As I preen my whiskers at the thought of 84 posts in the bag, my final thought before we speak again is “are you looking at me?”

You looking at me?

Breathless bone-crunching

Rugby does offer something in the Cardiff cauldron       Wales v Australiathat football is rarely praised for… opposing fans occupy the same space hours before kick-off for banter and liquid refreshments. But my ‘In-house Rugby Correspondent’ tells me to make no mistake about pondering the cuteness of these cuddly Wallabies…

  they have a plan…

  … and the green and gold finery only masks a core of steel when it comes to slaying dragons. Australia have a historic stranglehold on this fixture… 25 wins to 10 for Wales. However, the real pain for the home team is the 20-2 in terms of wins for Australia since Wales beat them in the 1987 inaugural World Cup. And even further pain is heaped in the last couple of years where Wales have been within a score of winning with a minute or so to go on three occasions, only to miraculously snatch defeat from the jaws of victory on each occasion.

What makes today a real grudge match is the British & Irish Lions 2-1 series win over the Wallabies in their own natural environment earlier this year, particularly the mauling of the final test match. The majority of the Lions were Welsh players, but time is long overdue that they do it under their own colours. Make no mistake, fire-breathers versus furry cuddliness means only one thing… war!

It is time for this…   to smoke this…            Let’s not pretend that such an outcome will be easy following the Lions win down under. The Aussies arrive in God’s Own Millenium Stadium having lost 20-13 to England before cutting a swathe through Italy (20-50), Ireland (16-32) and Scotland (15-21) this month on their way to this extra fixture (not originally planned, so flavoured with a little extra spice!). Over 67,000 settle into their stadium seats, the roof is closed to add to the pressure cooker effect, and the rest of the home nation strap in ready to assault their TV screens with passionate advice and abuse.

     V.     

Home expectations could not be higher, fuelled by images of one Welshman outnumbering the Aussies down under earlier this year, and the cuddly ones looking rather perplexed:

               

The game lives up to all the expectations, as first Wales take an early lead, then Australia are in the ascendency for the latter part of the first half. Australia extend their lead early in the second half before Wales make yet another heroic comeback. Then, guess what? Lightening really does strike in the same place many times… with breath-taking moves and bone-crunching tackles all over the pitch, and Wales having all of the cards falling in their favour, they manage yet again to fall one score short of winning. The final score is Wales 26 Australia 30, or more importantly for the visitors 9 wins in a row against the northern hemisphere champions.

Reports suggest the match was so good the result was less important… try telling that to the locals around here. Wales have two years before they meet Australia in the World Cup group to find that extra score; then the locals will accept a little more how great the match was.

   

I am still being Juno, as long as I avoid some of those rugby tackles until I speak with you again.

EU integration at work

     V.      

Who says that England and Wales don’t work well within a European Union structure? Clearly a Cardiff-based eleven would like to do a UKIP, and put a sharp spike into the idea of European unity in today’s match. However, Arsenal’s current place atop the Premier League suggests that a pan-European blend is managing to disturb the notorious hush of the Emirates Library in north London.

A definite Franco-German axis dominates the Arsenal landscape at present, with a more than adequate support from English, Welsh, Spanish, Polish, Belgian and Czech Republic counter-parts. However, as with most European institutions, the Arsenal style can tend towards the over-elaborate with an emphasis on style over substance. The onlookers are often left with a feeling that the never-ending ‘process’ fails to deliver any tangible ‘products’ to their liking.

Many of their opponents experience that UKIP-like feeling, that any encounter with a European Union structure only leaves you mesmerised by the maze of hoops and rings spun around you. This understandably gives rise to an increasing urge to kick something… Arsene’s Arse providing the most obvious target (if you can penetrate the quilted wall of its defence):

    

The big questions for today are: what will happen when the English of Wales outnumber the English of England; and the greater number of Welsh players could be on the English side? Who will need to become most demonised by UKIP when they open up their cheque books to Rumanians and Bulgarians during the January transfer window? How many smiles will Arsene Wenger crack open during this match (all betting agency sources and Ray Winstone are available naaarrw).

  

A 3.00pm kick-off on a Saturday afternoon is a bit disorienting for supporters who have had more Sunday kick-offs so far this season. But the home fans are not left waiting for too long before their historic appreciation of former player Aaron Ramsey is put to the test. He scores to put Arsenal 1-0 in the lead, and there is a rare moment in the football kingdom where a scoring opponent is applauded by the home fans. Are you smiling Mr Wenger? Perhaps this is what joy looks like:

 

Cardiff somehow hang on to a 1-0 deficit through to half-time, but more due to the visitors playing slightly below their own standards. The second half approaches with the home team needing some inspiration from somewhere.

City v Arsenal

A more evenly contested half ensues, but the clinical efficiency of the league leaders produces a further two goals for a fair winner but maybe a slightly flattering result. Purple Dragonbirds are out-gunned by Arsenal 0-3. European unity prevails and there is time for one particular face to crack open a smile:

      I have been Juno, and with a busy weekend I will give you my views on a Wales v Australia rugby match next time we meet.