Last week, Cathy and I had a lovely week in North Wales. We were based in Caernarfon, right next to the castle.
Thursday, September 22, 2022
Wednesday, September 21, 2022
I went with some nieces and a nephew to watch another comic book movie at the weekend. This time it was animated and focused on the DC Superpets, a spin-off in the DC comics franchise. Mild spoilers follow the picture of the film poster.
The film centres on Krypto, Superman's super-powered dog, and various other animals from a local rescue shelter who receive superpowers from a fragment of orange kryptonite. They have to work together to thwart the evil scheme of a maniacal guinea pig who had been experimented on by Lex Luthor. It has a strong voice cast, including Dwayne Johnson as Krypto and Kevin Hart as Ace, a dog from the shelter who will end up being Batdog.
Despite the promising premise, the film suffered from the same problems as pretty much all the other DC movies that have been released. The plotting was sedate. There were scenes and battles that did not add anything to the overall plot and just slowed things down. The final resolution was the same as every other DC film I've seen - a big punch up. (In fairness, this is a problem for almost every comic book movie.)
There were some funny jokes like the dogs playing with squeaky toys of superheroes. There were humorous references to other superhero franchises, like Superman ironing a shirt with his laser vision and toying with the idea of calling himself Iron Man. I laughed at the recording of Krypto's father that always started the same way and Krypto saying he needed a skip intro button. And I was very amused by the character of a kitten given superpowers who became a living weapon as a result.
However, some scripting choices were a bit off. Merton the sweary tortoise got bleeped on a couple of occasions instead of cutting away or substituting other words as happens in most animated movies. Maybe the studio thought it was in keeping with DC's attempt to be the 'edgy' comic book franchise. I don't think any of the kids watching with us picked up on it, but it felt clunky.
Another misstep was the production team's assumption that the audience would know who everyone was, especially when human superheroes turned up. I got some of the references and inside jokes, and I imagine DC super-nerds would get more. However, I don't think the jokes are so good it is worth investing the time and effort to become a DC super-nerd just to get the references.
There were also scenes that play on Batman's origin story and take the mickey out of the darkness in the Dark Knight. But that road has already been well trodden in The Lego Movie and The Lego Batman Movie (reviewed here). The jokes at Batman's expense in Superpets felt hackneyed as a result, so even this self-deprecation by the franchise felt stale.
Overall, I enjoyed the film and don't regret going to see it. But my main impression is that even in an animated film which is supposed to be aimed at children and therefore a bit silly, the DC franchise can't escape from its own drawbacks.
Tuesday, September 20, 2022
A few snacks this month. Starting off with some biscuits that are probably less healthy than they look. They are called 'Rootles' and are made with root vegetables. These were reduced in the supermarket so I thought I would give them a try.
There were two types available, so I bought both packets. One was made with carrots and the other was made with beetroot.
Cathy bought me the other snack I'm blogging about this month. I have tried a few different types of pretzel snack like this and have no hesitation saying these are the best.
The pretzel pieces were very munchable, and given the choice between Crackzels and Rootles, it would be Crackzels again for me.
Monday, September 19, 2022
On Saturday night Cathy and I watched a livestreamed memorial service for Cathy's first cousin once removed, Andrew. Personally, I had never met Andrew as he moved to another continent before I ever met Cathy. However, through the service streamed from Vancouver, I felt I got to know him.
The tributes from Andrew's daughter, his friends and colleagues in Christian ministries, were warm and moving and shared some of the character and keen interests of Andrew as a person.
Today we watched the state funeral of Queen Elizabeth II. There was a contrast. Not just in the scale, but in the content.
In the Archbishop of Canterbury's tribute, he quoted some of the statements the Queen made in various public speeches. But, as in life, so also in death, it was very much repeating what was already known publicly. There were no anecdotes or accounts of how people asked for advice. It was strangely impersonal, following the identikit pattern of the funeral service book. Her name was said in the commissioning at the end, and that was about it.
In some ways I feel sorry for the Queen's family, with their personal loss and grief being co-opted by so many people and made inescapable. The expectations of a State Funeral outweighing any wish to express their own loss and their own love. I hope for them they get some sort of space for that at the interment or in a private memorial.
The contrast between the two services has made me think that tributes from those who knew us and loved us are more valuable than any level of pageantry. I know which one felt more meaningful.
Tuesday, September 13, 2022
Sunday, September 04, 2022
August was a very full month. I've already blogged about our week on holiday in Shropshire and our trip to the Shrewsbury Flower Show. It was also a 'decamonth' of football matches and I had time to see some model trains as well.
The Cardiff Model Railway Exhibition was on the weekend after we got back from our week in the Shire. It was held in the ice rink around the corner from our house. There were an array of impressive model railway layouts and other stands there. As is usually the case with model railway exhibitions, there was a mix of detailed attempts to recreate real life in miniature, along with more whimsical 'fun' layouts.
As I mentioned, on the football front, August was a 'Decamonth'. I went to ten games. I also had a small article published in When Saturday Comes. It's the September issue and will still be in the shops if you want to go and read it.
Tuesday, August 30, 2022
As regular readers of my blog will know, I have a longstanding love for Jaffa Cakes. So when I see a new flavour I feel compelled to try it. Yesterday I discovered these in Home Bargains!
Monday, August 29, 2022
Looking for something with short episodes to watch at lunchtimes, we happened across the series God's Favourite Idiot on Netflix. It stars Ben Falcone as the titular character - mild-mannered Clark, who is selected by God to convey a message of peace and love to all humankind, even though humankind isn't receptive to that message at all. Falcone's wife Melissa McCarthy also stars as Clark's love interest Amelie. Mild spoilers follow the publicity picture below.
The show meanders through eight episodes, setting up Clark's call to be God's messenger, his various failed attempts to get the message out, and the way the situation gets ramped up once Satan turns up to try and destroy him. Throw in an obnoxious televangelist who has made a deal with Satan so he can be on TV, the four horse-people of the apocalypse, and Clark's loyal, yet simple, co-workers and first disciples, and it seems like there could be a good TV show in there somewhere.
Sadly, it isn't that good. It felt as if Netflix saw the success of the adaptation of Good Omens on Amazon Prime and decided to try and get some of that playing-religion-for-laughs action. Good Omens did it better. Much better. Netflix presumably realised this because God's Favourite Idiot got cancelled halfway through it's planned run. The shortened series of just eight episodes ends with the final episode leaving the story hanging as if it would be continued.
The feeling this was a subpar retread of Good Omens wasn't all that was wrong with the show. The scripts were patchy, with the feel that several scenes were being improvised by the cast. If that was how they were filming things then it needed sharper editing. There wasn't much pace in the sequence of events. While there were some funny scenes, there was too much reliance on Melissa McCarthy doing her trademark aggressive sweary ranting as if that was hilarious. It was annoyingly one-note, especially because she can do much more if it's demanded from her.
However, I still found the series watchable. While the story plays fast and loose with (mainly Christian) religious concepts, there are two particular angles that tweaked my professional interest as a freelance theologian on hiatus.
Firstly, there is a generic-ality to the religious "truth" presented in the message to Clark. When he meets God, in the guise of an elderly woman, in the bathroom at work, he is told that all religions are right and that as long as you are trying to love someone then you're on the right track. I don't think I've seen a clearer expression of the generic approach to religion on mainstream TV before.
This summary is what people who don't have many - or any - deep religious convictions want religions to be like. They want religions to be about love, peace, harmony and goodness. There's an assumption that all religions are the same and seeking the same ends, and those ends are nice. It's how religions should be in the eyes of people who believe in a generic, fluffy, sorta Christian concept of God, heaven and all the rest.
Within Clark's circle of friends, including his Muslim friend, this message is accepted. Mohsin, the Muslim character, is the only one who admits that he doesn't go to mosque very often or even know whether he really believes. Clark's other friends presumably define themselves as 'Christian', although one did say that she hadn't been sure whether there was a God or not. Clark and Amelie are both well versed enough to recognise certain religious concepts come to life, like the heralds of the apocalypse, so we can assume some Christian knowledge there.
The second thing that struck me was the depiction of overt Christians. There is a televangelist, Reverend Throp, who denounces Clark as a scammer, but who then signs a contract with Satan (in human form) so that he can appear on America's Own Holy Network (pronounced as America's Unholy Network, with the implication that it's run by Satan). Throp coins an exclusivist catchphrase that "Only the righteous are right!" This exclusivism is in direct contrast to Clark's inclusivist revelation from God.
But there are also crowds of angry protesters gathered around Clark's house, paralleling the real life evangelical Christian protestors that accompany any religion-related news stories from America these days. These Christians are nasty, threatening, and are perfectly willing to brick Clark's windows.
The snarling face of Evangelicalism as it has become in America isn't often directly challenged through portrayals like this. But what made me pause was the way the show just assumed this is how Evangelicals would react to anything they didn't understand or agree with - paint lurid placards and denounce the blasphemer.
It's hard to argue that the scriptwriters were wrong.
So, all in all, what to make of this TV show. It was derivative. Some of it seemed to be aimed at trying to upset and annoy religious zealots. There were some funny bits that made me chuckle. But it was the unintentional things that will stick with me - it didn't feel like the show deliberately set out to hold up a mirror to society to reveal what lots of people actually think about religion, and yet that's what it inadvertently ended up doing, making it more meaningful than anyone expected.
Monday, August 22, 2022
I recently read this article by Mary-Frances O'Connor on the website Behavioural Scientist: Walking in the Dark: Creating a New Virtual Map in Your Brain After Loss. In the article, she explains how our brains create heuristic short cuts that allow us to navigate the world. We mentally construct routes through physical space, and experiences, based on what occupies that space.
When something is removed from the physical environment, it takes a while for our brains to catch up. We still 'expect' the thing to be there for some time after it has gone. That's why we can often miss landmarks when they are demolished, or feel a little bit lost when a favourite shop closes.
Mary-Frances O'Connor applies that to grief as well. In addition to mapping the physical environment, our brains also 'map' our social and emotional landscapes. So when someone is removed from that landscape it takes a while for our brains to adjust to their absence. Depending how big a role they play in our lives, it takes longer for our brains to fill in the 'hole' they leave when they die.
So we experience a dissonance between the world we 'know' in our minds and the world as it really is - we are walking through two different worlds for a while.
It's not quite as poetic as the description of grief being "love, persevering" that surprised me in the Marvel TV series Wandavision, but I found it a very helpful explanation for the process of grief. More importantly, it helps me rationalise the recession of grief with the passing of time. My brain is learning the new shape of the world without the people I love in it. I'm not a bad person for not missing them so much. I'm re-mapping the world.
There are still moments when I am reminded of the way the world was. During our recent week holidaying in Shropshire, I had an opportunity to visit my Dad's grave, and also the Shrewsbury Town Memorial Garden.
I find the garden, with the little plaque saying 'Promoted to Glory' (an old Salvation Army phrase that my Dad would have liked) stirs the emotion of loss more than visiting the grave.
It's not hard to explain why I find the memorial at the football ground more meaningful than the cemetery. I never went to the cemetery with my Dad. I didn't even know it was there until after he died. But I went to the Meadow with him several times. It was one of the places I saw him on the last day I saw him alive.
With a lump in my throat I said 'Well. Dad, here we go again. First home game of the season. I'll give them a cheer for you.' (That was something he used to say, if I was going to a game and he wasn't.)
It proved to be a nostalgic week really. Seeing the Llangollen Railway in reduced circumstances was sad for two reasons - I remember going there with Dad. Even going to the flower show brought back memories of us all going as a family. Dad would have had an opinion on the various problems the organisers were dealing with like having to cancel the evening fireworks display.
Relearning the way the world works takes time. There are still moments when I see something that makes me think of him. Back in May I saw a tote bag in the Ashmolean Museum gift shop that said "History Buff" on the side, and it would have been a perfect gift for him.
And that made me sad, because I would have bought it back when he was alive and he would have thought it was funny. He always loved the t-shirt we got him with a picture of a trilobite on it saying 'Shropshire fossil'. My brain recognised it as being a good potential present, and still hadn't learned that I don't need to buy funny gifts for my Dad any more.
My brain is catching up, though. Every time I get caught out by something that triggers an unexpected pang of grief, that's a learning point for my brain. The new world slowly gets mapped and the empty space if filled.
Sunday, August 21, 2022
The Shire in question being Shropshire. Originally we had planned to stay with my mum for a week and then realised that my brother and family needed to share the space as well, while building work happened at their house next door. So at short notice, we booked a holiday apartment in Oswestry, not too far away.
We liked Oswestry, particularly the very tricky minigolf course in Cae Glas Park.
Our proximity to Shrewsbury meant I got to go to two Shrewsbury matches - a league defeat against Accrington and a cup win against Carlisle. For the latter we were in the safe standing section behind the ground. It was the first time my niece and nephew had stood at a football game. My niece was initially very unimpressed with the idea of not having a seat, but the kids both liked jumping around as Shrewsbury scored a late winner directly in front of us.
Before the Accrington game, my nephew got to meet a Shrewsbury legend.
Because the show was smaller than we expected we decided not to go back on the second day. Instead we drove home in the heatwave and tried our best not to melt on the way. Thus concluded our highly enjoyable week.