Monday, May 16, 2022

The melancholy magic of the FA Cup

I watched the FA Cup final on Saturday. The timing worked well for me to watch it as I have been confined to the house isolating after being infected by covid.

A generic picture (by me) of the Wembley Stadium arch...

I have actually made more of an effort to watch the FA Cup final in the last few years. I enjoyed last year's game when Leicester won the Cup for the first time in this history. This year's contest was less exciting on paper, with both Liverpool and Chelsea winning it multiple times in the past and also being two of the really big teams in the league. FA Cup finals are always better when the less successful clubs get a tilt at winning. 

Back in 2019, I blogged about how the first FA Cup final after my Dad died was an unexpected moment where I keenly felt his loss. That feeling has diminished somewhat over the last couple of years, but it's still something missing from the occasion. Dad would always watch the cup final and talk to me on the phone about it afterwards, even when for several years I wasn't particularly fussed about it and hadn't bothered watching. 

People talk about the "magic" of the FA Cup and really what they mean is nostalgia. As I watched Liverpool and Chelsea punch and counterpunch their way to a 0-0 draw, extra time and penalties, I remembered watching the various cup finals when I was a kid. It made me feel melancholic as the nostalgia washed over me. 

Cup final day was always a big day in our house. In the 1980s it was one of those very rare times that a football match was broadcast live on TV. It almost seems silly now - my time off isolating has been spent watching live football from almost every level in the top five tiers of English football - but back then there was the Cup final, and that was about it.

It was also on both main channels, BBC1 and ITV, so it felt like a real moment when the nation stopped to watch the football. (They did that again this year, but we have way more than 4 channels now so it dominates the schedules less.) We always used to watch it on the BBC, often starting with the build up before lunch time. Some years we would switch over to ITV for the bit presented by "Saint and Greavsie" (Ian St.John and Jimmy Greaves, who had a weekly football chat show on Saturdays). But normally we ignored the ITV output. 

Those were halcyon days for FA Cup finals. I don't remember the one from 1984, when we had just moved into our house in Shrewsbury. But I remember watching Manchester United v Everton in 1985 - notable for Kevin Moran becoming the first player sent off in an FA Cup final, and Manchester United winning in extra time through a goal from wonder-kid Norman Whiteside. I wanted Everton to win and was disappointed that they lost. 

I don't particularly remember anything from the 1986 final when Liverpool won the FA Cup and became the first team to win the League Title and the FA Cup in the same season (the "Double") in my short life-time. Everton were the losing finalists again.

I have vivid memories of the final in 1987 when Coventry City won the FA Cup for the first and only time in their history, beating Spurs. Firstly, there were lots of goals, including a great diving header by Keith Houchen, and a looping own goal that sliced in off Spurs defender Gary Mabbutt's knee. But it was also played in brilliant sunlight and the Wembley grass was bright, bright green. We had a video recorder and taped the game. My brother and I rewatched that match several times, which is probably why it burns so bright in my memory.

And then in 1988, there was the famous win by Wimbledon over Liverpool. Nobody gave Wimbledon much of a chance, but they nicked a 1-0 win. By then I was fed up with Liverpool winning everything and all the gloryhunters at school, so I was very happy that Wimbledon won. 

Those are the finals I really remember. I'm sure I watched others. I remember Gazza being stretchered off after injuring himself with a ridiculous tackle in 1991. But other memories are hazy. What I mainly feel when I think about the FA Cup final relates to the whole family sitting down to watch the game, my father's infectious excitement, the sheer novelty of football on the telly, and this marking the end of a football season and in its own way the beginning of summer.

The other thing I remember is the family sweepstake. Once the team line-ups were announced, my dad would write all the player's names on tiny bits of scrap paper and we would take it in turns to draw them. Whoever had the piece of paper with the name of the first player to score a goal won. The prize was picking a box of chocolates afterwards, when we would walk across the park opposite our house to the little paper shop near the school, where there would be a small range of boxed chocs behind a glass screen. 

It felt like my mum won every year, even when she picked unlikely players to score first. This might be a trick of memory as I have no record of who actually won each year. It just felt like it was always my mum who was lucky in the sweep. It didn't matter anyway because the chocolates got shared. 

That vignette in itself is wrapped in nostalgia, like all these memories. The paucity of television channels. The simplicity of a sweepstake with very little at stake. Just those little family traditions that made the day special. That's where the magic lay, if there was any magic at all. Not on the field at Wembley, but in our living room. We made those moments happen and then froze them in sunlit amber as happy-sad memories. 

Maybe Dad was trying to keep those moments alive, with those phone calls after the game all those years after I left home when we didn't watch the game together any more. I understand that now. Now that the phone calls have stopped. 

Thursday, May 12, 2022

Snax of the Month - Doritos Stax

It's always interesting when snack food brands try to muscle into territory that is already occupied by a successful product. Walkers are clearly having another run at dislodging Pringles in the 'savoury snacks sold in tubes' category. Their previous attempt with "Stax" presumably didn't come off because the product seems to have disappeared.

I didn't pay full price for these but when I spotted them in Home Bargains I thought I'd give them a go. I wasn't that impressed by the first iteration of Stax. But these are Doritos Stax, and Doritos are some of the best corn chps around. And the "tube" is now triangular.


The hinged lid is a nice touch.


I'd already sampled a few by the time I took a photo down the tube.


The tube worked protecting the chips. They came out in really good condition. There were barely any crumbs at the bottom of the tube. 

Taste-wise, the smoky bbq rib flavour is dangerously tasty. It would be very easy to polish off a tube of these in one short sitting. The chips are thinner than a normal corn chip and have a great crunch. They also don't have any of the horrible waxy fatty consistency of Pringles. 

As an added bonus, the triangular tube can be recycled, unlike Pringles tubular tubes. So that's another point in Stax's favour. I'd recommend them to anyone who is thinking of buying their crisps in a tube in the near future. 

Friday, May 06, 2022

Fun with street art

I'm having a week off between leaving my last job and starting my new one. On Tuesday, Cathy and I were in the city centre and we saw some cool street art. We tried to pose some photos with it, but couldn't get it to click.

So we went back on Wednesday and had a mess around. The patrons of the nearby nail bar watched on amused as I struck various poses.




I really like these photos and decided to use them to give my socials an overhaul. These are now on Facebook, Twitter and I've put one in the sidebar of this blog. 

A while back I wrote a poem called Angel Voice (you can read it here). The more I think about it, angels are no use if they stay in Heaven. Maybe they wear Ellesse sports jackets and dirty Converse. (Or maybe they don't.)

I want to give a massive thank you to Cathy for humoring me, and also for ordering me into position to get the shots just right. 

If you want to copy this, then go and find the Big Moose Coffee Co. The wings and halo are on the wall opposite. Big Moose serve an excellent cup of coffee as well and is an independent non-profit venture well worth supporting. I don't know who drew the wings. I offer my thanks to the unsung genius. 

Thursday, May 05, 2022

Council election round-up 2022

It's council election day!

I've been blogging about election leaflets since way back in 2007. I don't always bother with council elections, but this year felt noteworthy for two reasons. Firstly, only two sets of candidates seem to be campaigning. Secondly, we have an electoral alliance that may herald a new joint approach in Welsh politics. 

We had people knock on our door on the same evening from both campaigning platforms. And we have had a bit of bumf from both of them. It seems a bit pointless rating them as there are only two. Here is a brief run down instead.

Firstly, here are the challengers - Cyngrhair Tir Cyffredin / Common Ground Alliance


Plaid & Green sounds like a terrible paint colour combo, but it's actually the alliance between Plaid Cymru and the Green Party of Wales. Both have put up two candidates for the four council seats in our wards. This may end up getting replicated in other elections, because it's probably the only way the Green Party are going to get influence in the Senedd, and it might just give Plaid Cymru the extra impetus they need to make headway outside their normal heartlands. 

We got six bits of bumf from them with their key pledges about improving local health services, more youth facilities and apprenticeships, affordable housing "for local residents not for greedy developers", better transport connections and better parks. 

I'm all for those. Although, realistically, health services aren't council jurisdiction so I don't know what they plan to do about the shortage of GPs in our area. I'm also jaded enough to interpret "better transport connections" as making it harder to drive anywhere rather than actually providing transport people want to take. Build me a monorail and I will be on it every day. 

One bit of bumf was a "letter" delivered on election eve ostensibly from a former member of the Labour party explaining why he was now voting for the Plaid Green Alliance. An interesting approach, but one I dislike. I prefer positive politics rather than having a go at other parties. 

In response, here are (three of) the incumbents: Grangetown Welsh Labour


If I was awarding points this time round, the use of a selfie of the four candidates would get a bonus point. But I'm not awarding points. Before I say anything more about this, I should point out that I've met Ash (the selfie taker) at recent Grange Community Action meetings and he has a genuine passion for the area, and another counsellor, Lynda, was very helpful sorting out some ongoing antisocial behaviour in our street. 

We had three bits of bumf from Labour. I noticed the careful branding choices that this is electoral communication from "Grangetown Labour" or "Grangetown Welsh Labour", almost as if the local candidates are trying to put some clear red water between themselves and the soulless binfire that is the Westminster opposition party at the moment. 

Promise-wise, there's some overlap with the Common Ground Alliance. Affordable housing, green stuff, opportunities for young people, reducing the number of cars driving around the city (they don't obfuscate that point). There is also an emphasis on education and promises of improving personal safety through tackling street crime. I saw some inflation going on in terms of the funding for the latter - in one leaflet they mention the specific figure of £432,000 being awarded from the Home Office to make streets safer. In another leaflet, this gets rounded up to £500,000. 

That sounds like a lot of money, but the average salary in South Wales Police is £42,000 per year. So, that's only about 10 new police officers. For the whole of Cardiff. And unless it's recurrent funding, at the end of the year, that's it. Breaking down really big amounts of money like this into what it can actually achieve is always depressing. 

There are apparently some other candidates standing but they can't be bothered to ask for my vote so I can't be bothered to go looking for their manifestos. Quid pro quo. Back in 2008 when I first blogged about the council elections, the Liberal Democrats were pouring resources into campaigning, but that party seems to have disappeared from the scene after becoming the enablers of Tory austerity in the 2010 "coalition" UK government.

So the choice this year seems to be just Plaid Green or Red.

Wednesday, May 04, 2022

Star Wars Day 2022 – reviewing The Book of Boba Fett

I’ve held off writing a review of The Book of Boba Fett because when the series ended I wasn’t really sure what to make of it. I wanted to have a think about it. And then other stuff happened. But as its Star Wars Day, this feels like a suitable point for a late review.

We don't talk about Fett Club

As a long-time fan of the Star Wars universe, and a collector of Boba Fett action figures (my ‘Fett Club’) I was looking forward to seeing what they did in the series. Particularly as we were going to find out what happened between Boba’s fall into the Sarlacc Pit and his encounters with the Mandalorian who had come into possession of Fett’s armour.

In The Mandalorian TV show Boba didn’t seem so villainous. He was no longer working for the Empire, but was on his own mission, giving service based on honour rather than for money. He had become more than a bounty hunter, in the same way that the Mandalorian was rising above his profession to become the protector of Grogu.

The Book of Boba Fett promised to tell us how that redemptive path had opened up for Boba. And it started really well, Boba dramatically thrusting his way upwards through the sands after he had burned and torn his way through the flesh of the Sarlacc. That made the first episode, with his subsequent capture by Tusken Raiders set up the notion of a man finding his true identity when he had been stripped of everything else.

However, the problem wasn’t in the flashbacks that showed Boba grow into an understanding of loyalty and belonging. The problem the show had was the contemporary setting – Boba’s conflicts ‘now’. Having taken control of Jabba the Hutt’s crime syndicate, he just seemed unable to actually do anything with it.

I have seen that described as the ultimate case of a low-ranking employee thinking they can run the company, only to discover that, in fact, they do not have the skills to do so when they finally get their break. Boba is not a leader, and his desire to rule fuels his failure to gain the respect and status that he covets.

The series itself didn’t help deliver the story. I agree with the comments that the story could have been told in chronological order and it wouldn’t have affected the telling that much. The whole “Dances with Tuskens” storyline of Boba’s spiritual awakening never really chimed with the contemporary action as he established himself as Jabba’s replacement. The murder of his adopted tribe could have been a pivotal turning point in the story, pushing him towards a vengeful streak that culminated in his violent takeover of Jabba’s palace and schemes.

The series set up numerous feints as who Boba’s main opponents were going to be, starting with Jabba’s cousins, who then exited rapidly from the series. They were replaced by the Pyke Syndicate, which was introduced in the film Solo as the operation in charge of the spice mines on Kessel. But they weren’t a particularly exciting opponent even if they did have military grade death robots at their disposal. 

And then there was the peculiar suspension of the storyline to have two episodes almost entirely centred on the Mandalorian and Grogu. This included a sequence of Jedi training for Grogu with Luke Skywalker no less, delving more into the lore of Mandalore and the Darksaber, the Mandalorian getting cast out of his hardcore religious cult as an apostate, and a cameo for Ahsoka Tano where she referenced knowing Luke’s dad. The two episodes were almost standalone and completely derailed what little momentum The Book of Boba Fett had built up.

We also had to sit through egregious levels of fan service. At one point the action was literally The Mandalorian driving a Naboo Starfighter around Beggar’s Canyon on Tatooine, which really felt like the kind of fever dream fan-fic that would be written by an excitable teenager. I didn’t mind Max Rebo turning up having somehow survived Jabba’s sail barge exploding next to the Sarlacc pit. I enjoyed Boba Fett learning to ride a rancor. But some of the nods and references within the show were parachuted in just because the writers could. It gave off a vibe of desperation – as if the show’s writers were running out of ideas and content.

Two big characters making their live action debuts were the Wookiee bounty hunter Krrsantin, who had appeared in various comic books, and Cad Bane, who featured in several storylines in The Clone Wars cartoon series. Neither character was developed much beyond what we already knew. Cad Bane’s late appearance in the series meant the duel with Boba Fett lacked any weight at all. In The Clone Wars, Cad Bane was the protector of the orphaned Boba, and his mentor as Boba grew up. The shoot-out between them should have been a proper cinematic moment instead of something thrown in to pad out the final episode.

And that need for padding, ultimately, is where I feel The Book of Boba Fett really faltered. There was no core drive at the heart of the story. Boba had seized control and the story was what he did next…. except he didn’t really do anything next. There were moments along the way when it looked like things were about to start happening, but then the action stalled.

So, ultimately, this was a really frustrating series. It got hijacked as the staging point for the third series of The Mandalorian, which will now feature the Mandalorian and Grogu together again after they parted at the end of the second season. Personally, I think Boba Fett deserved more of the spotlight from the series that was ostensibly telling his story.

Monday, May 02, 2022

A decamonth of football (April 2022)

"Decamonth" is the new term I've coined for a month where I have been to ten football matches. The ten matches included two "twofers" - days where I get to two games in a day. On one of the twofers I saw two teams who were on course to pass each other due to promotion and relegation. I saw Barry Town play at home three times in eight days. And I even got to watch a football match on my birthday!

The first game in April was my birthday game. Barry struggled to beat Cefn Druids who were adrift at the foot of the table, finally scoring the single goal that won the game through a moment of brilliance by Rhys Abbruzzese. Rhys's emergence into the first team has been about the only bright spot in a dismal season for Barry. 

From an unappealing fixture, here's a photo of several Barry players appealing for a throw in.


That was the Saturday. On the Tuesday it was back to Jenner Park for Barry's sixth and final meeting of the season with Cardiff  Met. Barry beat them for the first time this season. It was 1-0 to Barry again, this time thanks to a penalty, and suddenly Barry's Cymru Premier status didn't seem quite so tenuous.

The next Saturday, Barry's game was moved to a 5.15 kick off as S4C decided it would be the most interesting game of the weekend and wanted to show it on TV. That meant I could turn it into a twofer and so I went to Pontyclun FC v Treharris Athletic Western before the Barry game. A friend from work was there watching his son who plays for Treharris, so I spent a very enjoyable almost two hours chatting to him during the game.

Treharris (in red) take an interesting approach at kick off, possibly borrowed from rugby.


I was impressed by the set up in Pontyclun. There is a lovely new clubhouse. The pitch was very well-maintained. And, like to many places in Wales, if the game wasn't capturing the imagination, there were some nice hills to look at.


Although Treharris took the lead, Pontyclun came back and won 3-1. After the final whistle I bombed it down to Barry to watch their game against the Connah's Quay Nomads. 

Things seemed to be going well for Barry when the Nomads conceded a first half penalty and had a man sent off. Barry were winning at half time, but really needed all three points. However, their efforts in the second half against ten men were extremely frustrating to watch. The Nomads scored from their one attack and then were satisfied to defend in depth to take an away point. Barry, as so often happened this season, could not break through and score, so it finished 1-1. 

I dropped a couple of levels for my next game, which was at a ground I had not visited before: the Riverside Ground in Radyr in Cardiff, home of the Cardiff Corinthians. They were playing Llanrumney United in the South Wales Alliance Premier Division, which is the fourth tier of Welsh football.

It was an evening game. The Riverside ground is surrounded by trees and with the low sun, so the game was played in a lovely dappled shade across the pitch.

The Corries, as they're known, had their half time team talk out on the pitch. I took a photo as I walked past them on my way to the bar for a cuppa at half time. 


The points were shared at the end of the game, with the 1-1 scoreline a fair result. The Llanrumney coaches were quite vocal and, although it's probably not really acceptable behaviour for an official, I can't criticise the referee for shouting "Oh, f**k off!" after a loud ridiculous appeal for a free kick. He had my sympathies really, because everyone was gobby. 

By the time Easter Monday had rolled around, Barry's situation had deteriorated following a defeat away at Haverfordwest on Good Friday that left them in a relegation spot. The last home game of the season at Jenner Park was against Aberystwyth Town, the only team left within reach of Barry. Again, S4C decided this was the game most worthwhile of broadcasting so it got moved to a 5.15pm kick off. Which meant I could do a twofer again.

I opted to go to Pontypridd Town v Cambrian & Clydach BGC in the Cymru South, mainly because Ponty were the team most likely to finish second in division and therefore be eligible for promotion...if the club got its licence to play at the top level. The chaps on the gate were very friendly and told me where I could park for free, and then told me they thought the licence would be denied because the authorities wanted to keep Barry in the Cymru Premier. I felt that was highly unlikely. But it just proves my point that every club feels the world is biased against them.

Before kick off I spotted a lone paraglider high above the hills opposite.


Ponty play in the University of South Wales sports park right next to the A470. I somehow ended up sat surrounded by the junior team who were mascots for the day. That was quite fun and one of the kids in particular was excited about everything that happened in the game! Everything! "Look mum, my player got kicked!" "Wow! The ball went right up in the air!" And so on. It did make me consider at what point fans become so jaded we lose the wonder. 

Pontypridd won the game 2-1. They dominated the first half. Cambrian came back into it second half and pulled a goal back. Both sides looked well organised and confident when they attacked. A marked difference to the second game I watched that day.

Barry went into the "must win" game and were a goal down after less than 5 minutes. And despite huffing and puffing and trying all sorts of desperate ways to get back into the game, that's how the scoreline stayed. (And by desperate, I mean, the captain got sent off for diving to try and win a free kick on the edge of the area.) I mentioned the half-time controversy involving song choices in my blog post about relegation. That about sums up the event. 

That result meant Barry were relegated, except they weren't until Pontypridd's appeal for the top level licence was heard three days later. I've described this as the VAR version of relegation. With VAR, you celebrate a goal then wait several minutes for the video assistant referee to give the nod that the goal should be awarded. This was similar. The club were relegated but had to wait three days for it to be confirmed. 

I'd watched the game from the east stand, which is normally in all my pictures at Barry games. This time I got a picture of the 'famous arches of the west stand' and the houses on Gladstone Road. 


The following weekend I was in Shrewsbury staying with my Mum. That made it easy to get across to Cefn Mawr near Wrexham for the 12.45 kick off in Barry's last Cymru Premier game for at least a season. I took my nephew Zac with me and we borrowed my Mum's Barry scarf for him to wear. 


As a spectacle it looked exactly like the two worst teams in the Cymru Premier playing each other. Cefn had a lot of chances in the second half that somehow they didn't score. Eventually, on 88 minutes, the Druids got the only goal of the game, which typically had to be an own goal following a scrappy scramble in the box.

Zac's verdict was that both teams were rubbish. It was hard to argue with that. He enjoyed being sat near the Barry drum and thought it very amusing when the drum skin broke and one of the fans started wearing the drum carcass around his waist. He said he would like to come with me to more football games... "but maybe not Barry again." He might not have much of a choice there. 

So, Barry's season was over, but my decamonth was not. I went to a midweek game at Cardiff Draconians who were battling against Ynyshir Albions for a play off spot in their league. Ynyshir wore a garish neon orange kit, which really came into its own when the sun went down.

Ynyshir took an early lead, but the Dracs won and converted a penalty. It was the 150th goal I'd seen this season. Almost immediately after equalising, the Dracs conceded again and it finished 2-1 to the visitors. That was mainly due to the young goalkeeper playing for the Dracs who pulled off two outstanding saves to keep the scoreline down. 

Then on the final Saturday in April, I drove almost to the Severn Bridge to watch Caldicot Town play Treowen Stars. My friend Ben has been playing for Caldicot all season and I wanted to go and see him play. However, he had picked up an injury so I was able to sit next to him in the stands and catch up with him. It's the first time I had seen him since way before lockdown, so that made the day even more enjoyable.

We arrived early and went into the clubhouse and watched the Premier League game that was on. I also admired the decor - I find clubhouse walls fascinating. The display of old programmes caught my attention.  


The programmes show quite a mix of games and competitions. History in a frame!

The match itself was quite competitive with a goal apiece in the first half. Caldicot scored early in the second half and ended up 2-1 winners. Treowen had a very striking red and white kit so were the sartorial winners.


And that was the last game in my decamonth. Over the ten games I saw 21 goals. I went to seven different grounds, including three I had not been to before. I watched football at each level of the top four tiers in Welsh football. I saw two teams destined to pass each other in the league structure play on the same day. And I had my first footballing away day with sole responsibility for my nephew. All in all, a cracking month.  

Sunday, May 01, 2022

April 2022 - a month of endings

April felt like a very busy month, marked by the end of two personally significant eras. I was working my notice in my job ahead of a move into a new role in May. I also spent a weekend in Shrewsbury so I could attend the closing service of the church that my mum and dad joined as founder members about 20 years ago.

It was also a month where I had a birthday, we had visitors at Easter and I went to ten football matches. I will be doing a second post reviewing the games otherwise this post will be too long. I've already posted about Barry Town getting relegated. After the relegation I went to their last game of the season up at Cefn Druids. I took my nephew Zac along for the first time to a game as just the two of us. We stopped at Mcdonald's on the way, which made his day.


At Easter we had visitors. My sister Sarah brought her three kids to see us on Good Friday. We went into the city centre and that meant we got to see some of the Dog's Trail statues of Snoopy. Here's Cathy with her two nieces and Snoopy.


Then in the week after Easter, we saw my sister-in-law ahead of a big birthday for her. We had a family meal out in Gloucester and Cathy and I got to wander around Gloucester Docks which is all done up and fancy now. We met a random egg dude outside the military museum.


There was also a dock crane looking all industrial and cool. I always like seeing cranes.


The final Sunday at Hope Church in Shrewsbury was handled well by the leadership team. It could have easily been a sad occasion. Instead, after a short service, there was a meal out for the people who attended. It felt celebratory with a positive atmosphere in the room. I sat next to my friend Clive, who I spent many church youth group evenings with back in the day, and we talked about fun times we had 30 years ago.

The church's decline seemed to happen quickly. Last summer I went to services with about 50 people present, but there was a domino effect of people leaving and a couple of months back the trustees met and decided the church had reached a point where it was no longer viable. I wanted to go up for the last service because it had been really important to my dad - he expended a lot of emotional energy over the years there, and he had talked to me about it (a lot!) during long phone conversations.

I know it may sound silly, but I think my dad would have wanted me there to represent him at such a historic moment. Just as he was present at the birth of the venture, I was there to see it close.

The other personally significant closing of an era was working the final weeks of my notice as the manager of the paediatric diabetes clinical network - a job I had been doing for almost 7 years. I did my best to finish well and get everything cleared off my desk or handed over to people who can continue various projects. It's stressful trying to document as much head knowledge as possible in a way that will make some sort of sense to the person following after. I doubt I captured everything, but as I have said to lots of colleagues, I'm not going far and they will be able to track me down easily enough if they want. 

At my leaving meal on the last Friday in April, I was presented with a cartoon of myself with various aspects of my work and interests represented. 


The umbrella is from the logo on the network, and the mammoth character in the background is from a book that started as a leftfield dicussion in the kitchen of my colleague Rose and is now a published resource for children with diabetes. The cartoon was drawn by Rich, who I used to work with 15 years ago and who illustrated the book about mammoths. He drew me a bit jowly, but I forgive him. 

So, it was a crazy busy month, but a good one. I even hit a milestone on my baseball card blog, publishing a post with the 1000th card in my collection, in my 500th blog post. That blog then took a back seat for the rest of the month as I was trying to keep on top of  everything else.

Thursday, April 28, 2022

In Porthcawl even the bins are dapper

I spotted this in Porthcawl while on the hunt for Snoopy statues as part of the Dog's Trail created for the Dogs Trust. Someone had lost a hat and a helpful passer-by had put it somewhere noticeable. Mr Bin looks very dapper now!


There will be some photos of the Snoopy statues on a future blogpost. In the meantime, here's a picture of us with the Snoopy statue situated outside the surf shack in Rest Bay. It was a sunny Easter Sunday when we visited this one.




Wednesday, April 27, 2022

Relegation reflections

This season I watched 25 Barry Town games, including most of their home games in the Cymru Premier and several away matches as well. It hasn't been a great season, compared to a few years ago when I followed them on a European competition to Belfast. On Easter Monday I watched them lose a home game that was deemed a "must win" against Aberystwyth Town. The defeat meant that Barry were left stranded in the relegation zone, although not yet technically relegated. 

Optimism in Aberystwyth in August

The two teams eligible for promotion from the league below had been denied the right level of licence to play in the top league and were appealing against that decision. So, Barry had to wait until Thursday to find out if they had been relegated or had sneaked a reprieve. One of the teams was awarded their licence and relegation was confirmed for Barry.

Relegations are always strange. I've seen a few over the years following Shrewsbury. The signs are there, often quite early on in the season. A sudden heavy defeat against a fairly average team. A game where carbon copy goals are conceded. Struggling to dominate a team lower down in the table. Failing to kill off games and conceding late goals to drop points.

There are other things that add to the sense of inevitability. A regular first teamer leaves the club suddenly - with a rumour on the terraces that there was more to the story. The discipline appears to drift, with yellow cards for dissent becoming more frequent. Players become visibly annoyed with team-mates during games, and shout at each other.

One problem Barry struggled with all year was a general lack of pace, leaving them vulnerable to attacks on the break. As one of the people I sit near said, "We seem most vulnerable when we are attacking a corner." In the Cymru Premier, the second half of the season is ten games against teams that you played against twice already - everyone has a chance to see how everyone else plays, and work out their strengths and weaknesses. The speed deficit was a definite weakness and it got exploited regularly. 

"Beneath the famous arches of the west stand..."

Through it all, though, the support has generally been very positive for the club and the management team. At the final game of the season, which was a 1-0 defeat away at Cefn Druids - the other club relegated from the Cymru Premier - the fans were still singing the manager's name. A Cefn fan told me in the car park that the support was fantastic, considering. 

Although there was a controversial choice of song broadcast over the Jenner Park PA at half-time during the "must win" game against Aberystwyth. With Barry losing 1-0 at the end of the first half, "Down, Down" by Status Quo was played. I was heading into the clubhouse for a cup of tea thinking that it was a bit of an on the nose choice. It turned out other people felt the same and words were exchanged. There were no announcements during the second half.

The night the moon got stuck on the stand

However, it seems most Barry fans commenting on social media are sanguine about relegation. Most of the people I have got to know among the regulars are seasoned football watchers. They saw the possibility of relegation while it was still some way off. Quite a few claim to be looking forward to some different grounds and clubs next year in the 16-team Cymru South league, particularly a full season schedule where you only play each opponent twice! 

I am definitely in that camp. The Cymru Premier is moribund, with its two phases meaning everyone gets sick of the sight of each other. Throw in the possibility of cup meetings and there's a situation like Barry and Cardiff Metropolitan had this season where they played each other six times. 

The Premier is also difficult for away trips. It's a long way to some of the Northern clubs (and they probably feel the same way about the Southern clubs) with horrible roads and poor rail links. I did get to some games in North Wales this year, including Barry's defeat at Flint, but away games will generally be more manageable next season. 

The hope, bordering on expectation, is that Barry will bounce back quickly. They were convincing winners this season in cup competitions against teams from the Cymru South, including putting seven goals past Pontypridd Town, the team that have now taken Barry's place in the Cymru Premier. (Annoyingly, that is one of the few games I missed due to a prior commitment - my typical luck!) But there are a lot of things that need to align for success on the pitch and they will be facing some good teams next year. 

So while it's always disappointing to see the team you support relegated, at least with a different scheduling set-up in the league below it feels like there could be some silver linings. 

Monday, April 25, 2022

Snack of the Month - scary cereal

These are "snack packs" of cereal that Cathy bought for me. Last year, the Snack of the Month in July was American Cereal and there was so much I needed a second post to rate it all. This month there are only three flavors [sic] to talk about so we should be OK for space!


The "Monster Cereals" are Count Chocula, Fankenberry and Booberry. Of the three monsters, Frankenberry looks like he's been on the lash, Chocula has one fang, but Booberry is well dapper with a bright red bow tie. He also looks like Cookie Monster's long-lost cousin.


The Booberry cereal is a faintly blueberryish flavour, an almost purple colour, and in this packet came with just the one 'mallow' piece. In American cereals, the mallow pieces are basically crunchy sugary bits. No UK equivalent comes to mind in terms of sweets. 


The Count Chocula cereal is similarly stingy on the mallow pieces. I think the one piece in this packet is meant to be a bat. The cereal's flavour is vaguely reminiscent of chocolate. The cereal is the same shape as the Booberry cereal rather than particularly vampiric. 


Finally, Frankenberry, and the mother lode of multiple mallow shapes. Maybe Frankenberry was still a bit drunk when he was dishing the mallows out. This cereal is an undefinable "fruit" flavor that could be a berry, I suppose. The bright colour of the cereal wouldn't be allowed in European breakfast cereals aimed at children and reminded me of one of the ghosts out of PacMan.


The packs are quite small as they are made for snacking rather than breakfasting. I haven't tried the cereal with milk yet. Overall, they are a good reminder of how processed American food is, and how divorced these foodstuffs are from anything natural. 

But they taste alright and are a fun alternative snack to have in.