All posts by emmacass

Robin, I’m not quite sure what we do without you.

Like most of you, I woke up this morning and was all set to go about my usual routine of making myself look presentable for work. A bit sleepy but not feeling particularly grouchy. Then I glanced at my Twitter feed and immediately wished that I hadn’t.

The death of Robin Williams is one of those popular culture news stories that seems to have triggered an emotional reaction in everyone – fans, journalists and his contemporaries alike. It cast a long dark shadow over my whole day that I’m almost at a loss to shake off.

Don’t get me wrong – it’s not because I ever met the man or studiously watched every film in his back catalogue. I’m just a big, big Robin Williams fan, no more or less than any of my friends. But the reason I think that this morning’s news intruded upon me so much is that it is all bound up in how I would cheer myself up.

I’m the sort of person who considers certain books, songs and films as being tantamount to a great, big snuggly hug accompanied by a cup of tea and a chocolate caramel digestive. No matter how rubbish the day, just hearing that certain opening chord or re-reading a well worn favourite can cure a multitude.

Today I realised that a lot of the film ‘hugs’ that I seek out when feeling a bit blue featured… Robin Williams. Maybe they won’t lose their warm-fuzzy- feeling after his passing but I know this Christmas will be filled with a heightened poignancy as we all watch festive staples Mrs. Doubtfire, Hook and Jumanji with a new eye.

The feeling that the audience was left with at the end of Mrs. Doubtfire is tantamount to the fantastic life that he was able to breathe into each character. Even though we were all in on the act from the beginning, you still felt a dragging disappointment when Euphegenia’s mask fell away (post-Pierce Brosnan heimlich) and you knew she wouldn’t be visiting the Hillard’s anymore. We were all as gutted as Lydia, Chris and Natalie were – he was that good.

Adrian Cronauer, John Keating, Peter Pan, Genie, Daniel Hillard, Mrs Doubtfire, Alan Parrish, Sean Maguire – thank you for making me laugh and cry in equal measure.

The Genie was right, Robin – we ain’t never had a friend like you.

Oh for ruck’s sake….

Brace yourselves, I’ve just seen the sorry excuse for a ‘women in rugby’ feature in today’s Sunday Independent (Irish Sunday ‘broadsheet’) and you know what that means…rant time!

In a week where Ireland’s women’s rugby team deservedly took over the front pages as well as the back pages of the newspapers, one might have expected a half decent attempt at a feature article. In the days after Fiona Coghlan, Niamh Briggs and their tough-as-nails teammates unceremoniously dumped the mighty Black Ferns from their ‘undefeated at a World Cup’ pedestal, there might have been incentive to focus on the enormity of the feat. When you consider that the New Zealand women’s team have one of the best win percentages in the women’s game and access to the same impeccable facilities and backroom support that their male counterparts do, then it puts what our team (formed from a senior player pool of just under 3700 women) achieved this week into mighty perspective.

But the most widely read Irish paper couldn’t focus on resources, grassroots development or female involvement at provincial level. Or even delve into the effect that the Irish 2013 Grand Slam win had on the numbers of girls and women taking an interest in the game. Nope.

Instead the women’s game was reduced to a cheap, tacky ‘Fifty Rucks of Grey’-style innuendo fest. Lowest common denominator journalism. To add insult to injury, the paper sent someone along who hadn’t even a basic grasp of the rules. I’m not saying they had to send someone who plays tag or sevens or full contract rugby but would a vague notion of what a lineout or a scrum entailed have been too much to ask? Obviously it was.

By reducing an entire sport to a couple of hundred words of lewd musings that could be set to the Benny Hill theme tune, the women who play the game at any level in Ireland have been done a massive disservice. Nice one, Irish Indo. Well done.

Life as an emigrant isn’t one big barbie on Bondi all the time. And that’s OK.

Ever since becoming an emigrant, I have studiously avoided the Generation Emigration section of the Irish Times site. Having previously consumed the articles with a heady mixture of curiosity and mild envy from my home in Donegal, I‘ve gone cold turkey for the last four months. The Irish Times hasn’t mortally offended me, I just felt like a bit of fraud. I left Ireland at the end of March for a twelve month contract with an international nonprofit based in their Budapest office. But the smiling faces of the hundreds of Generation Emigration contributors made me feel like I was doing something wrong.

Natural progression

While nobody can be delighted with the fact that your friends are leaving home at a rate of knots as part of the almost 90,000 who emigrated between April 2012 and April 2013, I always envisaged myself travelling for work at some stage. In the summers of 2009 and 2010, I had been based in DC with the Washington Ireland Program and had soaked up every minute of the experience. Plus, as someone with an interest in nonprofits and armed with a human rights degree, it seemed only natural that I would be looking for employment outside Ireland. So when this position in Hungary presented itself, I jumped at the chance. Budapest is stunning – anyone reading this who hasn’t visited yet needs to hotfoot it to the website of either of our national carriers as soon as you finish reading this. Despite the visually engaging architecture and contagious, energetic buzz of a new city that I had just made home, there was a whisper at the back of my mind that I just couldn’t shake.
I said for years that I was happy with the idea of travelling for work. No bother, I said. It’ll be grand. Wee buns. So why am I missing home? I allowed myself to feel like this occasionally for the first few weeks, but after that I was berating myself any time I thought about home. Like most other 20-somethings who were raised on the internet, my knee jerk reaction was to run into the arms of a search engine and trawl through websites for validation. There is little solace to be found on Facebook, that’s for sure. You can’t move on social media for heavily-Instagrammed beach selfies, collages of tropical cocktail parties and tweets containing photos of every famous cityscape illuminated at night. I slunk away with happy hashtags superimposed in my mind. Why hadn’t I settled in as quickly as them? What was wrong with me?
Just OK’

Now, I’m aware of the fact that some people reading this will roll their eyes and squeal ‘first world problems’ at their laptop. But I’m not writing this for you, so once you have filled up the comments section with a nice cathartic rant about how whiney and/or pretentious you think I sound, on your bike. Anyone else who is still hanging around, perhaps feeling the same way as me – don’t worry. You are not alone. Sometimes, it’s OK to feel ‘just OK’ about your new situation.
Not that the people who have taken to their new abodes like the proverbial ducks to water love Ireland any less, I’m certainly not saying that. What I am saying is that it’s OK to just be OK some days. You don’t have to be constantly raving about the plethora of cool eateries around your new gaff that you frequent, remembering how mad we all though Mickey McDowell was when he spoke of fostering a cafe culture in Ireland. You don’t have to gloat about amazing weather 24/7 (sometimes you just want a nice soft day or a bit of breeze!). And you definitely don’t have to start asking all your friends still in Ireland ‘are you not bored at home?’. Life as an emigrant isn’t one big barbie on Bondi all the time.

It can be very easy to read a wee bit too much into those photos from another fabulous international night out. People tend not to tweet about the days that they struggle with a language barrier or feel tired, emotional and just want a chicken fillet roll, a bag of Hunky Dorys and a hug. Or a decent cup of tea. Only this week, I had a conversation with my best friend who emigrated over twelve months ago. For the first time, she told me about how she really felt about her first few months away.

People don’t tell you about the hard days

In my mind, she had hopped on the trans-Atlantic plane and never looked back. However, she confirmed that, for months, she had actually felt exactly the same as me. I had been beating myself up for being a mope, for being the only young Irish emigrant who seemingly was rubbish at this emigrating business. I had even been comparing myself to her, asking why I was incapable of acting more like my peers. If I had just copped on and been honest with her, she would have shared her experience with me. She summed it up perfectly in a succinct Whatsapp message: “People only say ‘ah, it’s the best decision you’ll ever make ’.They don’t tell you about the hard days.”

That simple text message exchange made me feel so much calmer. Undoubtedly, leaving home is hard. It was hard being away from home when our family dog died suddenly. Anyone who knows me well will know how I seriously considered hopping on a plane home at that point but the thoughts of my new colleagues faces when I’d have to tell them why put a damper on that plan. It’s hard but it’s worth it. It was worth moving to Hungary to wake up every day in an apartment a few feet from a UNESCO World Heritage site. It was worth moving to take part in a Pride parade and have a Budapest teenager thank me, a straight non-Hungarian, for standing alongside the LGBTI community there. He was marching without his boyfriend who was too frightened of the possible repercussions if he was seen at Pride. It was also worth it when the same teenager broke that slightly emotional shared moment by gushing about Enya and bursting into a few bars of “Orinoco Flow” when he found out exactly where I was from!

If you are a emigrant of any age reading this, with a pang of homesickness swaying in your stomach, then think of the feeling in this way. By feeling nostalgic the odd time, it doesn’t mean you’ve failed or that you are overly emotional. It simply means you have the best of both worlds. You have taken an exhilarating leap into the unknown and have found a whole new town or city to experience. You also love to go back to a place that is warmly familiar and filled with friends, family and great wheaten bread. Missing Ireland isn’t such a bad thing after all.

Warning to all Budapest posteriors

Warning to all Budapest posteriors

It should be advertised at the airport. There should be health warnings on the tickets. If you are a classical music newbie and go for the cheapest tickets up in the gods of the Hungarian State Opera House, you must be prepared for the fact that the seats are the most uncomfortable creation known to man! Instruments of torture, I tell you! As a colleague of mine in work suggested the next day, maybe I should have gone dressed in the style that would have been in vogue when the place was built; replete with corset and multiple layers of skirt….

PS: the Budapest Philharmonic were fantastic. Just bring a cushion.

Every day’s a school day

So, Easter weekend is over and that can only mean one thing. Cassidy has to arm herself with a glass of wine and the remains of a very tasty Butlers chocolate bar, stick on some Leonard Cohen and tell you all about what I’ve been up to. During the past week, I have learnt the following things:

  • a lot of sporting clichés are cheesy as quattro formaggio pizza (“they say a week is a long time in sport; you’re only as good as your last match etc etc.”) but a lot of them are also true.  I had travelled home to watch Ulster put 8 tries past a battling Connacht side on April 11, had a wee on-pitch chat with man of the match Andrew Trimble and dashed across the Ravenhill turf to shake hands with Ulster captain Johann Muller (a man who is as ridiculously humble as he is ridiculously tall).

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That night Ulster looked focused, a team who had come out to right the wrongs done unto them in the Heineken Cup. However, the performance turned in against Glasgow on Friday was pretty abysmal when compared to the previous week, plus we had to suffer another refereeing/TMO decision that I can only describe as a howler. I hope the team can recover some of the grit we all know they have, cut out the silly errors and make a real statement in their last few matches of the 2014 Pro12 season.

  • what they say about public transport ticket validation in Budapest is true. It is all too easy to dismiss the sometimes hysterical sounding online descriptions of the inspector’s activities as bitter grumbling by ill-prepared tourists who got bitten. But it is true. When I hopped on a tram one evening during the week, I took out my ticket and stamped it using one of the little red punching machines inside the carriage. I knew to do this because I had googled it, read travel guides before moving here and heard instructions from co-workers. If I was depending on some friendly language free signage featuring universally recognised stick men doing a bit of ticket validation to alert me to what I needed to do, however, fuggedaboutit! The buzzer signifying that the tram was about to leave sounded and I held onto a pole as we moved off. As soon as the tram doors folded themselves closed, two girls who had been standing near me leapt into action. Whipping out ID cards from under their coats and jumpers, they went from being plain clothes commuters to full on inspection mode. They were shouting  aggressively in Hungarian and moved quickly about the carriage, demanding to see everyone’s tickets. They were both a good 6 inches shorter than me, so they would have had a fair job on their hands trying to intimidate me when I towered over them displaying my validated ticket. But I’ll admit they were quite off-putting and I wondered how I’d feel if it had perhaps been two well-built fellas doing the ticket rounds. Also it wasn’t long before the inspectors has their first victim. One girl seated across from me appeared to not have a travel pass or ticket at all, judging by the hand signalling that was going on. The two inspectors both stood over her and continued to admonish her for a good minute or two. Things quietened down when we got to the next tram stop and I thought maybe a compromise had been reached. Nope. Both inspectors escorted the girl off the tram, her eyes shining. In my opinion, the commuters’ expression wasn’t the scarlet shame of being caught out, I thought she genuinely looked rattled. As the tram moved off, I could see the party of three crossing the road and stopping at an ATM. A lesson well learned, don’t chance it when it comes to the Budapest public transport system.

 

  • On a lighter note, my achy back and this statue in the City Park reminded me today that I really need to find a English language yoga class!

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– I learnt that a langos (a Hungarian deep fried flatbread, usually served with sour cream and cheese) is bloody impossible to finish but kürtőskalács (a sugary, pastry cake) are far too easy to polish off. I was defeated by the cheesy bread yoke while trekking around Margaret Island and finished my first “chimney cake” outside the Opera House while taking shelter from my first proper Budapest rain shower.

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  • After which I gave (hopefully accurate) directions to a group of Irish ladies on Andrassy utca. There was something so cosy and familiar about their accents, floating over to me as they huddled around a map. When they found out that I wasn’t just heading home like them after the Easter weekend and was instead here for work, their reaction was a collective, unanimous, “Well, fair play to ya!

 

  • And while I’m on the subject of cakes – I discovered some amazing houses of cake and confectionery that I will be frequenting. Fell in love with the display of treats and very friendly staff in the aptly named Cake Shop. Also discovered the diabetic coma waiting to happen that is Sugar. Of course I’ll be back there on a day when I’m hit by a craving for pick n mix. Even if their choice of gift items are quite questionable…..

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  • ….But the most important thing I’ve learnt over the past few days – why it’s better to travel alone. The answer to this travel conundrum came to me in a moment of clarity when seated near to a couple eating dessert. Why is it better to travel alone? Two words: one. spoon.

I’m an alien. I’m a legal alien.

Woah-oh. In case anyone reading this missed Sting’s 1980’s rumination and thinks from reading the title that I’ve gone mad, don’t worry. I haven’t come over all extra terrestrial. Before I do a nice, list-y, news-y post updating you about my week, I wanted to share a thought that had been camped in my mind for the past few days.

During the week, I happily got the opportunity to catch up with a friend and former colleague from my previous job in Dublin. Originally from Hungary, she was keen to hear how I was settling in and we spent a lovely evening at a city centre coffee house/kavehaz; catching up over dinner and eating ridiculous amounts of cake. By the time we were leaving, it was properly dark and I was gazing wistfully out the window at the sparkling, candle-lit Budapest streets.

Danube by night

Then, as we were waiting to pay, my friend said something that made me rethink being a newbie to Hungary. Ever since I had got the job offer and thought about moving, I always felt that not having the language would put me at a disadvantage, however slight. Yes, I can muster up a few basic greetings and any effort has been received well by the locals. (Incidentally I am interested in learning more and if any readers know a good Hungarian language class/group in Budapest, do shout!) English is the working language of our office so it wouldn’t matter there but I had accepted the fact that not having Hungarian tripping off my tongue would stop me settling in 100%. I wouldn’t get the office in-jokes and it would flag me as an outsider. I saw it as a problem. But my friend saw it differently. She talked about the murmured side -conversations you hear as you walk about a city, about how other people’s attitudes can almost influence your own mood. “You don’t have to hear other people’s negativity. I wish I could be like that”.

As we walked out of the coffeehouse towards the tram stop, I did so with a new perspective. Instead of sticking out like a sore thumb, I felt more relaxed. It is true that the grips and grumbles of others can intrude, irk and annoy just as much as someone physically bumping into you. That wasn’t going to happen to me though. I had no baggage, no danger of my parade getting rained on by anyone else’s dark cloud. Getting on that tram, I was unburdened.

Fair is fowl and foul is fair…

Fair is fowl and foul is fair...

Ever wonder what happens to the chickens that don’t make it across the road…? Apparently their feet end up in supermarkets! Friends will tell you that I’m very fond of my food but even I don’t know what to do with these. Make soup? Chicken stock? Sculpt a mad piece of headgear that Philip Tracey would envy? Answers on a postcard please.

A first time for everything

I had never knocked on a neighbour’s door to ask them to turn down their music before – but I did last night. Admittedly, it made me feel slightly old before my time but also left me feeling less apologetic –‘ah sure it’s grand’-Irish girl, more bolshie-city apartment dweller. Another first for me in a long week of firsts in my opening week in Budapest.

Packing to leave had been tricky enough. Travelling light is not one of my strong points, anyone who has ever been on holiday with me can confirm. I’m usually the one with the suitcases that look more than a wee bit morbidly obese. In my defence, when you are moving to a new country (one with actual seasons!) and a new job where you don’t know how casual the terms ‘casual office wear’ is, it’s hard to pack. Although in fairness I did fit my life into a respectable amount of suitcases, a first for me.

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All three Cassidys (minus the dog) were heading over to Budapest – it was very nice to able to enjoy something of a mini holiday with my parents before the real work began. Landing at Ferenc Liszt International Airport was a first as well. I’d never been in Hungary before, never mind Budapest. Heck, I’d really never been east of Germany/Italy in Europe. For a European who professes a love of travel, I was a bit embarrassed about that and it is something I want to rectify during my year here. If anyone reading this has any travel tips in Central/Eastern Europe, must see sights or fave eating/drinking spots, do let me know.

When I moved into my apartment, I also encountered the slightly unusual clothes washing arrangement that is having the washing machine in the bathroom. Despite all the childhood lectures of dangers of electrical equipment in the vicinity of water, this seems quite common place here. The whole thing reminded me of my granny and her washing machine that used to empty into the sink. My Hungarian one drains into the bath, which necessitated several nervy dashes to peer into said bath during my first clothes wash to make sure I wasn’t flooding the place!

On Friday, I skipped out of work to go along to a Strauss recital being performed as part of the Budapest Spring Festival. Despite being a complete classical music philistine, I was blown away by the opulent venue (Lizst Academy’s Grand Hall) and the gorgeous music provided by the Pannon Philharmonic and it cost me around €7 to be there. First but certainly not the last trip I’ll be making to the Grand Hall.

 

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Saturday morning saw my first trip to my local market. The recently renovated Hunyadi ter market is a lovely place to wander around, even if you have no intention of buying anything. The streets surrounding it were full of people making a similar journey to myself, all carrying empty shopping bags, baskets and trolleys that would soon be full of tasty produce. The market itself includes a cavernous enclosed market hall but it was the rows of stalls in the street opposite the market that I investigated on Saturday. There is the expected huge range of fruit and veg but there are also stands heaving with fresh flowers, honey, dried meats, homemade biscuits, cheeses and even a van that fills up your empty plastic bottles with milk (not sure Cassidy is brave enough to try the probably unpasteurised stuff!) I only intended to have a wee snoop but I soon landed back home with ridiculously sweet red apples, strawberries that reminded me of the ones that I picked when we lived in Wicklow and a stack of vegetables that look like they are supposed to and taste like they are supposed to – no supermarket-style veggie clones here!

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And ask I write this I’m preparing to make my first trip home. Yes, I’m only away a few days and already I’m coming home! I do have a very good excuse though – another first. I’m going to be presenting the man of the match award at the Ulster v Connacht game so I’ll be making my 3.5 sec TV debut. Not a bad week or so of firsts.

Who’s yer one and why is she blogging?

Budapest 2014

Basically, this blog is primarily motivated by my move to Hungary. The idea of starting a blog had been bubbling away at the back of mind for a while … but I was crippled by the fear of the blank page – what did I have to say that was so important that it deserved its own wee section of the internet? Now the Budapest relocation gives me the perfect excuse to dip my toe in the blogosphere and let everyone at home know what I’m getting up to at the same time!

My pet hates and guilty obsessions may become painfully obvious when emmacassidyblogs gets up and running in earnest, but at the outset here is a brief snapshot of my personal and professional background

I’m a graduate in human rights law with work experience in the non-profit, communications and legal research sectors. I’ve moved from Ireland to take up a job which combines all of these elements– a bit of dream scenario really.

I am a massive rugby fan. Any of my Twitter followers can attest to this and certainly anyone who has sat in my vicinity at a match will remember the experience. My fascination with the game also convinced the team at RTE 2FM’s nightly sports programme Game On to let me co-host the show from my hometown. Aren’t they lovely chaps?

When it comes to music, I’m a slightly old soul disguised as a 20 something. I was born in the 80s but wish I’d been old enough to appreciate Bruce Springsteen, Leonard Cohen , Simon and Garfunkel, Queen the first time around.

I don’t like the term ‘only child’. It sounds hurtful. (Who is it? Oh it’s only Cassidy… hmmph). Much prefer the French version: enfant unique. I suppose I do have a bit of an independent streak, I can be happy in my own company and contented if I have to travel alone so hopefully moving abroad solo will work well with my personality type.

Can’t believe it’s taken me so long to mention food… I’m a gastronomic fiend, no point in hiding it! The prospect of a good dinner can make my day, nay my week. Plus I’m one of those irritating meal Instagramers, guilty as charged! If you don’t like filtered shots of wine glasses, look away now.

And every now and again my political nerd tendencies will slip out – I lived and worked in the politics hub of Washington DC and loved it. Yes, I’m West Wing fanatic, and yes I seriously need to catch up on the whole House of Cards bonanza (another typical Cassidy tendency, always behind on the ‘must watch’ series).

So my blog could cover all or none of these topics depending on my mood. Thank you for calling in.

Budapest’s biggest Ulster fan

It was always going to start like this. I had debated blogging for a long time and had been planning titles, compiling lists of what topics I should cover and poring over suitably artistic looking photos to upload alongside my very first thought for the day. I was being my usual, organised, list-writing, post-it filling self.

And was completely missing the point.

A blog should not just contain well crafted missives that have been scanned, edited and polished to perfection. They should also contain spur-of-the-moment posts, entries that reveal your personality (for better or worse) and the things that get you up out of your seat.

Which is why it was obvious that my first post was always going to be about rugby. For the past twenty five years, watching rugby has been a very family orientated activity for me. Usually it’s at home with my parents, surrounded by cups of tea and the sports pages of the newspapers shouting at the TV screen. Sometimes we’re lucky enough to be in the ground – so I can clutch a sneaky hot whiskey and shout my opinions at the referee in person 😉 Last night, for Ulster’s Heineken Cup quarter final clash with Premiership leaders Saracens at the newly developed and incredibly impressive Ravenhill, I wasn’t watching it in Donegal, Ulster or anywhere in Ireland for that matter. I was watching the drama unfold in an Irish bar in the centre of Budapest, where I’ve recently moved for work. After scouring  a selection of the city’s other drinking emporiums for coverage of the Ulstermen with no success, I found myself at seat right in front of two large TV screens that were filled with Ulster flegs and grown men in giant red and white onesies. Perfect (if sartorially questionable – the onesies, that is). Pint of cider in hand, Cassidy was sucking diesel.

It was all going to plan…for the first four minutes until referee Jerome Garces red-carded Ulster full back Jared Payne, thereby creating one of the talking points of the Heineken Cup season and meaning that Ulster would now have to play for over 75 minutes a man down. For anyone reading this who might not follow rugby union, this is almost the sporting equivalent of Charlie Haughey’s GUBU: grotesque, unbelievable, bizarre and unprecedented. Rugby is a physically demanding, full blooded contact sport. Teams who have players sent to the sin bin for ten minutes following a yellow card infringement can suffer a real set back and lose valuable momentum. A red card completely changes the course of the game – and a red card before the game had begun in earnest practically set Ulster’s fate in stone.

Lots of teams would have thrown in the towel at this point. Then there were the injuries to front row stalwart Rory Best and the outrageously gifted Ruan Pienaar. We had officially entered nightmare territory. No-one had told the Ulster team that though. Those boys continued to play for themselves, each other, the fans and above all the Ulster shirt. When you talk Heineken Cup, Munster are usually the Irish team that evoke terms like ‘pride’, ‘the brave and the faithful’ and ‘miracle match’- and rightly so. But last night proved that Ulster are equally full of pride when it comes to playing for the jersey and their province. Saracens, although the victors, have a massive list of questions to ask themselves after that match, but Ulster know who they are and what they are about. I walked home from the pub with my Ulster scarf proudly around my neck. While feeling deflated and dejected, I can honestly say I never been more proud to be an Ulster fan than I was on the streets of Hungary last night. Coming at the end of my first full week in Budapest, such a match was aptly timed. I’m sure over the next few months there will be days that I’m homesick. That work is tough. That I make mistakes and don’t have familiar faces around to calm me down or tell me to ‘cop on’ in person. Days that I’ll miss my dog and the comfortable familiarity of home. Those are the days you need to pick yourself up, dust yourself down and keep on going. All right, I personally won’t have to try and stop Billy Vunipola at full tilt, but the principle is the same. Keep standing up. Keep standing up for the Ulstermen.

5 April 2014

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