Thursday, September 22, 2022

Wythnos mewn Gogledd (a week in the North)

Last week, Cathy and I had a lovely week in North Wales. We were based in Caernarfon, right next to the castle. 

When I say, next to the castle, this was the view from the table where we had breakfast each morning.

Of course we did have a look around the castle. There were some displays relating to the investiture of Charles as the Prince of Wales in 1969. That was suddenly very relevant as we were in the national week of mourning for Queen Elizabeth II, which meant Charles was now King. I predict a lot of those displays will be updated soon.

In the meantime, the flags were flying at half mast. I noticed the Welsh flag was flying slightly higher than the Union flag. 

The large round dais was installed in 1969 for the Investiture. 

Caernarfon castle has lots of corridors, walkways and winding stairs to explore.

That wasn't the only castle we visited. We also went to Conwy, which I don't remember doing before. We climbed every tower in the castle and enjoyed great views of the estuary and the town.

What else is North Wales famous for? Well, it also has mountains. We were able to see the Snowdon horseshoe while we ate a picnic lunch one day, although Snowdon itself was being shy and hiding in the cloud.

It's also famous for trains. We were staying very near the Northern terminus of the Welsh Highland Railway and saw the engine steaming up on a few mornings. 

The loco on the Welsh Highland Railway was built in Belgium and used in South Africa before ending up in Wales. However, the diddy steam engine used on the Llanberis Lake Railway was used in the slate quarries during its working life. It's about the size of a Landrover and just too cute! 

The engine was steaming up outside the shed, next to a blue diesel locomotive that also had some personality. 

We saw the Snowdon Mountain Railway train depart from Llanberis as well, but that was being pushed up the mountain by a diesel engine rather than the steam engine, so I'm not including a photo of that.

We decided to have a day on Anglesey - here's a picture of Anglesey and Puffin Island taken on the way back from Conwy.

Our first stop on Anglesey was Oriel Mon, a great little art gallery and museum which houses an exhibition in honour of Welsh artist Kyffin Williams. There's a statue outside - time for a celebrity selfie!

Oriel Mon also has a selection of artworks by Charles Tunnicliffe, a wildlife artist whose work featured on everything from nature books to those collectible cards that used to be in boxes of tea. 

We drove around the island looking at a few beaches before ending up in Beaumaris for a short look around the town. We did Beaumaris castle on a previous trip and we were a bit castled out after Conwy and Caernarfon so we didn't visit it again this time. 

On the final day of our holiday we went into Bangor and visited Bangor Pier which has just won 'Pier of the Year'. Walking out on the pier took us about halfway back to Anglesey. 

The views along the Menai Strait were fantastic, but our favourite discovery was Dinas Dinlle beach, which we went back to a few times during the course of the week. The views here down to the sharp coastal mountains of the Northern edge of the Llyn Peninsular and out to the horizon beyond the Western edge of Anglesey are all captured in this panoramic shot. 

Dinas Dinlle is a rocky beach with an astounding array of different pebbles. (Some of them might have travelled home with us!) We drove the long way back into Caernarfon, along the edge of the tidal reaches of the Menai Strait covered in flocks of birds including egrets, sandpipers, oystercatchers, herons and curlews. 

It was a very full week, with castles, steam trains, mountains and beaches, and yet it feels like there was still a lot more to see. Maybe next time!

Wednesday, September 21, 2022

Movie review - DC League of Superpets

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

Snack(s) of the Month - Rootles & Crackzels

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.

There are three biscuits in each packet.

They had an odd consistency, with the biscuit being slightly gritty. Cathy said they reminded her of Grape Nuts breakfast cereal. The chocolate coating was thin and brought a bit more sweetness to the biscuits. 

The vegetables give the colour of the biscuit a slight tinge. I couldn't really taste the vegetables so if you aren't keen on the taste of vegetables, don't worry, you'll be fine. 

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 are crunchy and the jalapeno flavouring is quite powerful, with a warm spicy kick that lingers. 

There is a decent amount in the packet, which means a packet will last a length of time if settling in for the evening on the sofa. (I tested this.)

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

A tale of two funerals

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

End of the EIIR era

While there has been an undercurrent in news reports for a little while regarding the health of Queen Elizabeth II, there was an unexpected suddenness in events last Thursday. The news cycle focused on the Queen under the care of doctors in Balmoral, it was revealed family members were travelling to see her, and then came the announcement that she had passed away, all in the space of an afternoon. 

This news rather eclipsed the installation of a new Prime Minister a few days earlier. That saga which started months ago had finally concluded with Liz Truss winning more votes from Conservative Party members - meaning that there was briefly a Monarch and a Prime Minister with the same first name. One of the Queen's last public appearances was welcoming the new Liz.

Events since the announcement of the Queen's death have unfolded quickly. The new king proclaimed at events around the country, a new Prince and Princess of Wales entitled, plans for a funeral procession and state funeral bank holiday announced. The "lucky unlucky" politics students I envied back in July have even more big political happenings to assimilate into their studies. 

But I feel like I am out of step with a lot of people right now, in this period of mandatory mourning presented as a time of unstinting sorrow by the BBC without any 'balance' or dissenting voices. (It's not like climate change or Brexit, when the state broadcaster will leave no rock unturned to find a voice to present the other side.)

Maybe my dislocation from the mainstream narrative is because I don't like being told how I should be feeling about things. It's inescapable. Mournful music played in fast food restaurants. Messages of condolences on websites and in apps. Endless rolling coverage and talking heads on TV. The subtext is very clear - you must feel sad; sadness is the only acceptable emotion. 

I have no doubt that the people who are posting about their sadness on social media, or are texting in their grief to radio stations, genuinely feel that way. While everyone knew the Queen was not going to live forever, this has been sudden, unexpected, a shock. It is a massive change to a key element of the societal background in an afternoon. For most of us - anyone under 70 - the Queen has been queen for all our lives. Change like that, beyond our control, provokes a sense of loss, which feels like grief. 

There is a theory that our culture is still very much 'keep calm and carry on', bear your burdens in silence, maintain a stiff upper lip, recognise that 'it could be worse', and so on. Even if we don't feel that way on the inside, we might project that to the outside. Then along comes a moment when we have permission to actually feel things, and all that grief comes out. It may even be easier to grieve for a public figure like the Queen, instead of processing the private grief for family members and beloved friends that is harder to face and deal with. 

That might explain some of the grief-talk. It's also true that lots of people admired and liked the Queen, or at least their projection of her. Because, really, nobody outside a very small circle of people actually knew her. What people like is a version of the Queen they carry in their own heads - a caring, decent human being who wanted to do the right thing, considered her regal duties as an act of service, and was friends with Paddington Bear. (And that seems to have been an image the Queen encouraged.)

People go as far as asserting that the Queen had a deep 'personal' Christian faith. The people claiming this seem certain, but it's impossible to know what anybody really believes about anything, let alone how deep their piety goes. Ultimately the only people who know the strength of a person's religious faith are the believer and their god, and I have doubts about how much the latter knows. 

In the last couple of days I have been really struck by this image, which sums up where we are as a country. (Borrowed from the artist Dayvid. who posted it on Twitter)

Image of a beggar sitting below an illuminated screen with a picture of the Queen in memorium

That picture caused me to stop because for all the nice versions of the Queen people have in their heads, she was still the monarch - pretty much the absolute representation of the institutionalised inequality and inequity that is baked into our society. One reason why I have been a republican for most of my adult life is because I see no reason why one person should be memorialised on an illuminated sign and another person be left to beg next to that sign.

However, now is apparently not the time for questioning privilege. People who have protested mildly at various ceremonies around the country have been arrested - one man in Oxford on his way home from church was arrested for just asking who elected the new king. He was later de-arrested because asking questions isn't actually a crime... yet. Other people have been threatened with arrest for holding up signs saying 'Not my king', or for holding blank pieces of card that they could write a protest sign on. 

We are mandated to grieve, not question.

But now is the best time to ask questions - and that is precisely why things are moving so quickly. That's why King Charles was proclaimed in key cities in the United Kingdom within 72 hours. That's why Prince William had the title Prince of Wales conferred on him so rapidly. 

This haste, while the rest of the country is pausing activities to mourn, is about acting fast to retain privilege. There can't be a gap in the accession, because if there was a brief window of time when we didn't have a monarch... people might get ideas that maybe we don't need a monarch at all. 

Sunday, September 04, 2022

August 2022 - squeezing the most out of summer

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.

However my favourite trains were the miniature live steam engines that were just running around a simple circle at the back of the room. There was a clever use of foreshortened scenery to make it look interesting, and something for the kids as well!

Speaking of 'for the kids', the new series of Bluey is now on Disney Plus. Cathy and I have got really into this lovely cartoon show. She went into town one day and brought me back a present.

(I posted this on Facebook in a group about Bluey and got hundred of likes and comments from other grown ups all saying "WHERE CAN I GET THIS?!?")

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.

The article provoked some discussion among Barry Town fans as to whether that was the right shirt or the player named in the article. I did explain that the image choice was an editorial decision!

My footballing adventures began right at the start of August with a trip to the Port Talbot sea-side to watch Afan Lido v Barry Town. The ground is so close to the beach there were little piles of windblown sand in almost every nook and corner. 

The Barry goalkeeper didn't have much to do as Barry won 4-1 to get their first points in the JD Cymru South this season. 

I also saw my first ever 4-4 draw, at Cardiff Draconians v Brecon Corries in the second qualifying round of the Welsh Cup. The Dracs were winning 4-2 with only a few minutes to go, then conceded two goals. There was no extra time - it went straight to penalties. Almost inevitably, the Dracs lost the penalty shootout 8-9. It was very disappointing for them. 

I went to two Shrewsbury Town games during our week in Shropshire, and added a third before the end of the month. On Bank Holiday Saturday I drove to Bristol and met Ken, a family friend who lives in Bristol, for Shrewsbury's game at Bristol Rovers.

Ken is a season ticket holder at Aston Villa but he didn't mind slumming it with me in League One for the day. It was the first time I'd been to watch Shrewsbury play at the Memorial Ground since leap day in 2020. It's an easy away day for me, and this was the fifth time I'd been to a game there since 2017. It was also the tenth time I've seen Bristol Rovers, so when I checked in on Futbology I got a badge.

I also went to my first two Grange Albion games of the season, sadly both defeats. The second game was on Bank Holiday Monday at the ostentatiously named Ocean Park Arena.

Albion were playing Clwb Cymric, a Welsh-speaking team who have been on the rise recently. This game was the last one on the South Wales Groundhop, which meant there was a programme available. It's the first Grange Albion game I've been to with a programme!

I acquired a few baseball cards in the course of the month, including a set that arrived in a tube! 

I will be blogging about them on my baseball card blog sometime soon.

And as a final photo from the month - here's one from the honey tent at the Shrewsbury Flower Show. I don't know why I didn't include this in my round up, because it really amused me. 

Tuesday, August 30, 2022

Bright white Jaffa Cakes

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!

From the packaging, I thought these were cherry and white chocolate. If I had actually read the packaging, I would have found out that they are cherry with a 'yogurt' coating. (How do they make yogurt coating - what do they do to the yogurt?

Having a yogurt coating may be for the best because cherry and white chocolate would be insufferably sweet. There is a slight tang to the yogurt that complements the cherry without adding too much sweetness in its own right.

There are ten Jaffa Cakes in the tray, with space for a few more!

The yogurt coating is thin enough to see the shape and some of the colour of the cherry jelly lozenge.

The cherry filling is bright red. According to the ingredients, it has real cherry juice in it, but the flavour is more like cherryade than actual cherries. 

The cake bit is disappointing with a dry, slightly granular texture. But they aren't inedible - I've had some random brand Jaffa Cakes that were unpleasant to eat. As a change from the norm, these are fine, and at only 59p a packet in Home Bargains, I feel they represent okay value for money although I don't feel I need to buy them again. 

Monday, August 29, 2022

God's Favourite Idiot

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

Grief recedes as the new shape of the world becomes normal

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

A week in the 'Shire

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. 

We also had pizzas at the Stonehouse Brewing Co with some friends who live nearby. We sat at the tables in the orchard where the brewers grow their cider apples. We didn't eat in the wig-wam at the back of the orchard that Cathy liked. 

Oswestry is almost right on the border between England and Wales, and we had some days out either side of the boundary. On the English side we went with my mum to the Jackfield Tile Museum in the Ironbridge Gorge. I think I have now ticked off all the museums in the Gorge now. Jackfield is a mix of art gallery tracking the different styles and fashion for tiles, and explaining the industrial process of tile production that took place on that site. 

Here's a picture of Cathy with a tiled frieze of the young Princess Elizabeth with the little Welsh cottage that was her playhouse gifted by the people of Wales. The mural was saved from a hospital in London that was being redeveloped.

On the Welsh side of the border we went to Llangollen on a baking hot day. We had a bit of an explore, including nosing around the heritage railway.

I have a soft spot for the Llangollen Railway. Somewhere I have a certificate saying that I have bought a foot of track - it was a fundraising initiative back in the 1980s. The railway ran into financial trouble during the pandemic and is now run by volunteers again. They didn't have a steam engine on duty - I'm not sure they still have one on their manifest - but we weren't taking a ride anyway. I had a cup of tea and a scone in the platform coffee shop instead.

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.

Our week was picked to coincide with the Shrewsbury Flower Show, which was always a huge deal in the town when I was younger. The show wasn't held in the past two years, and was on a smaller scale than I remember it from 30 years or so ago. Given the heatwave and tinder dry conditions, they had to cancel the evening fireworks display. 

The flower arranging competition was incredible to look at, although reading the judges comments, competitive flower arranging is savage! Here's the winner of the theme ' fireworks', which were the only fireworks in the show.

But my favourite horticulture on display is the fruit and veg competitions. Carrots that are so long they don't fit on the table, onions the size of your head. That sort of thing. Incredible stuff.

Not all veg comes out perfect. But even mutants can be winners.

And if flower arranging isn't your thing, how about fruit and veg arranging? This crab made from red peppers was a worthy winning entry.

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.