Ulster Rugby

It was in 1960/1 that the South African Springboks undertook their fifth tour of the British Isles, Ireland, and France. Between 22 October 1960 and 18 February 1961, they played 34 games, drawing two and losing one, the latter to the Barbarians. In that era, rugby union was an amateur sport with rules that differed greatly from those of today. And what a difference to the modern-day international tours of just three or four weeks.

On Saturday, 28 January 1961, the Springboks played Ulster at the Ravenhill (now called Kingspan) ground in Belfast. I was but fourteen years old, there with a small contingent from my grammar school in Coleraine. Of the day, I can recall little, except that it was very cold, and we were in standing room only. The Springboks won 19-6. That was the first and only time so far that I have attended an Ulster game.

The years rolled by, the rules changed quite radically, and in 1995, after the World Cup in South Africa, rugby union turned professional.

In 1999, the Welsh-Scottish league was formed and the next year it became the Celtic league, with the inclusion of the four Irish provinces. It became the Pro-12, when two Italian teams joined in 2011, and in 2017 was renamed the Pro-14 with the addition of two South African teams.

Many times, I have considered going over to Belfast to see an Ulster game, but the cost of the airfare, transportation, hotel, meals, ticket etc., has always put me off. I am very careful with my money. It is for good reason that I am known to many as ‘Uncle Scrooge’. So, I managed for many years to follow the fortunes of Ulster Rugby on my laptop, via free-to-view sports channels!

In 2020, Covid-19, travel restrictions, together with lack of funds, ended the involvement of the two existing South African teams.

But a British & Irish Lions tour was planned for mid-year 2021 and the enhancements to the Cape Town Stadium were already under way, to provide two hospitality areas, which were not included in the original development.

Construction of the hospitality enhancement, with the scaffolding reaching half-way up the stadium wall

At the same time, the Cape Town team, the Stormers, would move their base to the Stadium. Their old headquarters at Newlands had been sold to property developers.

Newlands as it used to be

And then came the news that four of the top South African teams – the Stormers (Cape Town), Sharks (Durban), Bulls (Pretoria), and the Lions Johannesburg), would join the Pro-12 European league of four Irish, four Welsh, two Scottish and two Italian teams.

The initial tournament was to be called The Rainbow Cup. There were to be two pools of eight teams, each with two Irish teams, two Welsh, two South African, one Scottish and one Italian team, with a final to be played between the pool winners. It was to be a prelude to a full league program in the autumn of 2021.

So finally, it seemed that I would be able to walk the short distance down the hill in Green Point to the stadium and witness my second Ulster game. I even considered buying a season ticket, when they become available.

Cape Town stadium, as can be seen from Signal Hill

But alas, it was not to be, at least not for now. Covid and UK travel rules have killed the possibility.

But I continue to live in hope…

My Paris

Gosh, I find it hard to believe that it now almost fourteen years since I left Paris.

I first went there in 1968, just after the student revolt, when I was hitch-hiking around Europe. I was somewhat inspired by the movie, Two for the Road, starring Audrey Hepburn and Albert Finney, and the scenery in Sound of Music. I was not disappointed.

The next year I had the good fortune to be involved in a European IT development project with Singer Sewing Machines. For a short time I was based in Paris for system testing, near Place d’Italie.

In May 1985, I ran the Paris Marathon in 2:59 and for a couple of years in 1996-98 I was responsible for a Swiss company, that included a small office in Paris, in La Defence.

And then came my pièce de résistance; based in Paris and responsible for the European IT and later Operations for a global company. For me, it was Nirvana.

So, for some seven years, I had a small duplex apartment on the fourth floor of a renovated building on rue de Lille, a short block from the Seine, opposite the Louvre. The apartment was perfect for an undemanding tenant, like me, with no ambition to cook or entertain; the kitchenette had only a small hotplate and a tiny fridge, nothing more.

In reality, my little apartment was but a place to sleep and leave my clothes, when I was in Paris. I travelled a lot. I had projects running in several of the European countries and most months I visited many of the others. With my laptop and Internet, I was a true road warrior. I loved the new way of working.

But I did have a lot of control over my itinerary, and I tried to make sure that I was able to spend at least a few days every other week with my family in the UK.

In that era, I was still an enthusiastic runner, and after work I would run loops of Jardin les Tuileries. On Sundays, the road alongside the river was closed to traffic and open to the public, and allowed me to have a longer run.

Some evenings I would make myself a sandwich, but more usually I would go to La Frégate, on the corner of rue du Bac and quai Voltaire, where I was well known, and had a table in the far corner of the restaurant. I became good friends with the maître d’, Patrick. We were both rugby enthusiasts. Every time that he welcomed me, he would insist on reading out the menu du jour, but I almost always ordered une omelette au fromage or une salade mixte, much to his frustration. Eating the remains of bits of former living things has never appealed to me.

La Frégate, on the corner of rue du Bac and quai Voltaire

On weekends, especially in colder months, I would often head to Pizza Vesuvio, just off Boulevard Saint-Germain, across the street from the church. On the way, I would almost always stop in the bookshop, l’écume des pages. I could never resist browsing there. Floor to ceiling with ladders and books, tables piled high, no two books the same. For a lover of literature, it is a paradise.

l’écume des pages

Next to the book shop are the Cafe de Flore and Les Deux Magots, famous for their connection with the aristocracy of literature in the 1930s.

Originally Les Deux Magots was a novelty shop, founded in 1812, on nearby Rue de Buci. It moved to Place St-Germain-des-Prés in 1873.

In 1885 it transformed to a café.  ‘Les Deux Magots‘ are two figurines from the original shop.

For a time, Paul Verlaine and Rimbaud, famed young poets of the late 1800s, were regular clients. Later, in the 1930s, Les Deux Magots became a regular haunt of Jean Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir, Andre Gide, Picasso, Ernest Hemingway, J Scott Firzgerald, James Joyce and many others. These days, it is the haunt of tourists, with elevated prices.

Les Deux Magots

Across the square is Saint Germain-des-Prés, first built in the 6th century, raided by the Vikings in the 9th century, and over the centuries since, evolved to its present state.

Saint Germain-des-Prés

Across the street from the church, there is a statue of Denis de Diderot (1713-1784), one of the most powerful writers of his day. It was Diderot who wrote:

‘Man will never be free until the last king is strangled with the entrails of the last priest’.

Given the scandals in the surviving royal families and in the various religions, there are many of us who have an increasing sympathy for Diderot’s view.

Denis de Diderot

On a corner from the statue, is Pizza Vesuvio. After I had been there a couple of times, I found myself being welcomed as a local, rather than as a tourist. There were seven reserved tables behind the pizza oven, just after the entrance, arranged in an ‘L’ shape. If I arrived before 19:30, I almost always was given the table on the end.

Two of the tables in the corner always had a reserved sign. One was for a tiny elderly couple. Even in their advanced years, they looked beautiful. They must have been stunning in their prime.

The other table was reserved for a portly eccentric-looking man, always immaculately dressed in a tan-coloured suit with waist coat, white shirt, and bow tie. He must have had a physical problem, for he moved slowly and deliberately, and sat on a cushion. When he arrived, he always went to a picture hanging on the nearby wall, and removed a book of puzzles from behind it. When I first saw him, I could have sworn I had seen him before in the movie, La Bicyclette Bleue, based on the novel by Regine Deforges, and playing the part of Raphaël Mahl. I never did find out if it was him. The actor, Jean-Claude Brioly, died in 2007.


In 2007, I left Paris. Due to ill health, I was deemed to be not capable of performing my former multi-national role. Perhaps I could have challenged that decision, but in my heart, I was ready for the next stage of my life. I have no regrets.

But now I am ready to return. I plan to walk the camino from Paris to Santiago de Compostela, as soon as it is feasible, given the Covid situation.

But before I set out from Tour Saint-Jacques, I hope to have been able to have met up with some old friends and visited my old haunts.

Life is what you make of it. And I have some great memories.