Sunday, May 31, 2020

Delving into the family archive: my great-great uncle, Robert Ivor Bostock

Two years ago we rescued some old family photos from my parents’ garage and scanned them. There was a lot of family history in the albums and I ended up discussing my great-great-uncle with my Dad.

When my Dad was little he lived with his Grandma, who he called Ninna, in New Broughton just outside Wrexham. Ninna’s brother, Robert, had left the Wrexham area early in the twentieth century to seek his fortune in America. When my Dad visited New York and went to Ellis Island he found his great-uncle’s name in the vast arrivals logs that the US Immigration Service has open there.

Robert Ivor Bostock was born in 1877. He was adopted by the Roberts family of Brymbo, my great-grandmother’s family, but kept the Bostock surname. I’m glad he did because there is a website dedicated to tracing Bostocks and it has a lot of information about him, and his family, on it.

For example, thanks to that website I know that in the 1901 census he was registered as a clerk in a brickworks in Brymbo. The next census he appeared in was an American one, in 1910, by which point he was living in Long Beach, California.

What happened in those 9 years? Well in 1905 he went to America on a ship called the Oceanic. Having gone through immigration at Ellis Island, he then travelled inland to Mahoney City, Pennsylvania. I know this because he had a photo taken there, which he sent back to his sister, Elizabeth (Ninna). Sadly the photo mount got cut to make it fit into a photo frame at some point, so his message on the front has been lost, but the information on the back is intact.

From Mahoney City he made his way to Los Angeles. A couple of years later, in 1908, he got married. His new wife was also called Elizabeth. She was originally from Skipton in Yorkshire and was another immigrant to California. We have a wedding photo.

I think Elizabeth must have emigrated with her family as she seems to have her mum present. Robert went the America alone, although he did already have a cousin who was also called Robert living in the USA. I don’t know if his best man is his cousin or a friend he made in California.

Within a year, Robert and Elizabeth’s first son, Albert Ivor was born. Albert lived until 1995. We have a baby photo sent back to Ninna. Photos like this would have been the only sights she had of her nephew.

In 1911, Robert and Elilzabeth had a daughter called Gwendolyn. I think this photo is of Albert and Gwendolyn as small children, mainly because we have no other photos of children dressed like this in the archive.

The next item in the archive is a postcard sent in 1917. It’s dated 23 May. 

The message on the back is a bit difficult to read. I think it says:

“Dear sister and niece [possibly my grandma, Eliza Jane Richards]
Just a line to say we are all well, hope you are the same. How is [???] boys that are at the front
did you hear from [???] soon
What do you think of the U.S.A. joining in the war
with best wishes
Your brother Bob”

It gives his address as 622 South Hope Street, Los Angeles, California, USA. This is now right in the centre of downtown LA, only a couple of blocks away from the Omni Hotel where Cathy and I stayed on our first ever American roadtrip in 2004.

Robert had applied for American citizenship in 1912, at which point he was an agent of the Metropolitan Life Assurance Co., now commonly known as Met Life. In September 1918 he registered for the army, at the age of 41. A large number of men he would have known from his days in Wrexham would have been fighting in the First World War, and maybe the pull of loyalty to his original homeland persuaded him to sign up once his new homeland entered the war. However, I doubt he would have left the USA as the war was over a couple of months later.

In the 1920 census he was a bookkeeper in a shipbuilding company. By the 1930 census he was back working as an insurance salesman. He died in 1932, aged 54.

The only other photo we have in the archive is this photo of Gwendolyn, or Gwennie as she is called on the note. It’s dated 1927, so she would have been 16 in this photo. She lived all her life in Los Angeles and died in 1992.

Over the last couple of years I’ve been thinking a lot about Robert and his journey to America. We forget sometimes what emigration meant in the era before air travel. He left home, travelled abroad, and never saw any of his family again. There was probably an exchange of photographs and occasional letters. His sister only ever knew her nephew and niece through those pictures that arrived in the mail. None of his family from Wrexham was present at his wedding or his funeral, and none of them ever visited his grave.

I feel this small blog post is a belated tribute to someone who went out and changed their own future, swapping Denbighshire for California. 

Saturday, May 30, 2020

Whataboutery and moral equivalency - weapons in the war on truth part 3

This is my third post in a row about whataboutery. I've previously written about 'moral equivalency' and how whatabouterists try to deflect criticism by criticising the critics. But sometimes whatabouterists stray into bold new territory. Today's quality whataboutery came on yet another post on Facebook about Dominic Cummings.

A friend shared a story from someone who had been in a very similar position to Dominic Cummings but had followed the quarantine rules. It was difficult for that person to follow the rules, but it was the right thing to do. They were justifiably annoyed that Dominic Cummings had ignored the quarantine rules and potentially exposed a lot of other people to Coronavirus.

The very first comment on the shared post included the phrase "What about..." It's a textbook start for some whataboutery, and then it kicked into an unexpected direction. Here's the post.

In case you can't read the reply, here it is a bit bigger.

It reads as follows:

"Think it's time to move on. Starter is a hypocrite and CANNOT be trusted. What about the French escorting migrants to British eaters and dumping there? Where it the new coverage over this - nowhere and the media wiggle to be the best at destroying someone it goes over their pathetic agenda." [sic]

I told you it was quality whataboutery. It was clearly typed in a hurry by someone in a rush to tick lots of boxes. "Time to move on." they say. I have a lot to say about that phrase. It's the catchphrase of an authoritarian person who does not want to be held to account for their actions. (That's a future blog post right there.)

By "Starter", they actually mean Starmer, as in Keir Starmer, the leader of the Labour party. Apparently he "CANNOT be trusted". The use of CAPS is beloved of whatabouterists. But who said anything about Starmer? This, again, is an attempt to bring the "other side" in and pretend this is only a political argument. It was heartening to see that subsequent commenters just ignored this libellous comment and avoided the trap of defending Starmer. That's not the subject in hand and the distraction was ignored.

Then we get the "What about...?" Just to clarify, they mean migrants being escorted to British waters, not to British eaters. E and W are easy keys to mix up when you're keen to get your comment in. I thought I'd best explain, just in case you were worried about cannibalism.

I have no idea what relevance the French navy's actions have to the discussion at hand. It's a classic example of an attempt at derailment and deflection - let's talk about another issue! Why isn't that news?

And they're still not finished. This is a real kitchen sink job - everything is going in! As we saw in my previous post, the actions of the media are criticised. They are trying to destroy Dominic Cummings in pursuit of "their pathetic agenda". Again, no acknowledgment that none of this would have happened if Dominic Cummings had not broken quarantine law, or had resigned when the story broke. No, this is all the media's fault. Blame-shifting is an important aspect of whataboutery.

In my previous posts I've blacked out the names of the people making the posts. I almost didn't bother with this one because they sound like a racist and I think people should own their shit when it comes to that sort of thing. But I'm nice. However, I did reply to him, as follows.

"[To Name] I agree it's disgusting that migrants aren't helped safely ashore and cared for. More should be done for them. They shouldn't just be dumped."

They haven't responded to that. That's probably because whatabouterists aren't actually looking for a sensible debate on the points they ask 'what about' about. They just throw stuff into the mixer to confuse the conversation and obscure the point of it. I wasn't expecting a response and did it mainly for my own amusement, and also because I like pushing the buttons of people who blame all the ills of society on immigration.

I'm concluding this mini-series of blog posts about whataboutery here. I suspect we will continue to see a lot of it on social media in the coming months though.

Friday, May 29, 2020

Whataboutery and moral equivalency - weapons in the war on truth part 2

In my previous post I deconstructed a Facebook comment that was trying to use moral equivalency to downplay the actions of the Government advisor Dominic Cummings by claiming that people from all political backgrounds were breaking the rules. I pointed out several problems with the argument, including that it disregarded several inconvenient facts as it tried to build up justifications.

'Moral equivalency' and its close ally, 'whataboutery', are becoming very common tools on the right wing of politics. Usually Whataboutery starts literally with the words "What about..." followed by a completely unconnected issue. But it doesn't always have to be this way. Sometimes the whataboutery is implied. Here's an example that was shared by someone I'm Facebook friends with.

That's a shared post that had the original caption "the media is poison". The text above the photo is part of the image and says "This is the UK press breaking isolation rules so that can shame someone who broke isolation rules............[facepalm emoji]"

The implication there is that the media are hypocrites and therefore morally equivalent to the person they are trying to talk to. The aim of sharing that post is simple - to downplay the wrongdoing of the person who is being targeted by the media by pointing out that other people are now behaving just as badly.

Again we can deconstruct this. I have some points. For the purposes of this argument, I am going to assume this is a genuine photo and not something that has been repurposed. You do have to be careful with right wing memes because the photos often aren't what they claim to be. But let's take it at face value.

1) The journalists aren't following social distancing guidelines. They should be punished. Nobody needs to defend them.
2) The journalists would not be there at all if Dominic Cummings had followed the rules that he had been party to developing.
3) No "isolation rules" are being broken there. Social distancing rules are being broken in that picture, yes (see point 1) and, more importantly, Dominic Cummings broke quarantine rules. Those rules are to stop people who are ill with Coronavirus from travelling and potentially infecting other people. Breaking quarantine rules is more likely to infect other people with Coronavirus. That's arguably more serious than breaking social distancing rules.
4) The whatabouterist is trying to change the focus to the response. This is a common tactic, to change the discussion from the actions of the person in the spotlight, to try and talk about the reactions they have caused.
5) There is a faulty claim to a double standard here -  the criticism of the people in the picture is that they aren't following the rules. But the real double standard is holding the members of the media to a higher standard then the person they are investigating.

The description of the event as a shaming attempt isn't accidental either. This isn't about trying to "shame" a person. This is about the media challenging a person who has a lot of influence and power about their behaviour which has directly placed other people at risk of harm. Describing at as 'shaming' is an attempt to downplay it.

Here's another example of whataboutery, this time a quote from a newspaper columnist done up as a meme by an ultra-conservative (ie hard right) group called Reasoned UK and shared by a different Facebook friend.

My friend added her own commentary, saying: "I disagree with what he did, but there is never an excuse for bullying."

The quote is from Melanie Phillips who writes for the Times. For context, she's written some pretty racist columns about migrants in the past and is a climate change skeptic. She has also, and this is important, lost at least one journalism job after writing stuff that wasn't true. So, the first question we have to ask, is, is this true? Did Dominic Cummings experience intimidation and "bullying" from his neighbours?

But, let's say he did. Let's give Melanie Phillips the benefit of the doubt here. What is the argument? Apparently "[t]here is absolutely no excuse whatever for shouting at, intimidating and bullying". None, whatsoever!

We could debate that. She writes an opinion column. She has opinions. I have opinions. We all have opinions. We don't all have a national platform to broadcast our opinions.

But this is almost exactly the same whataboutery as in the first post I shared. It's criticising people for reacting. It's criticising people for being provoked. It's criticising the response. There doesn't seem to be an acknowledgement anywhere in this that people may have a right to feel angry, that actually some of what has happened here is the fault of the person who has done the wrong thing.

Now Melanie might have said that, but her article is behind a paywall. And the people who dressed her words up in this easily shareable quote have left any caveats that she might have included out.

We can debate the old idea that two wrongs don't make a right, and I would generally agree, but when people try and shift the focus to 'what about the reaction!?!?" they are doing it for a reason, and that reason is to gloss over the bad behaviour that has brought about that reaction. It's ultimately a form of victim-blaming

Whataboutery can take some pretty wild turns, as it turns out. I've got one more example, which I will save to my next post.

Thursday, May 28, 2020

Whataboutery and moral equivalency - weapons in the war on truth part 1

Something that frustrates me most in the political conversations I see around at the moment is "whataboutery" and "moral equivalency".

I'm going to use some examples that I've seen on Facebook in the last couple of days that were responses to the recent row over the actions of the Prime Minister's advisor Dominic Cummings to illustrate these debating tactics. In fact, they aren't debating tactics. They are attempts to shut down the debate or derail it into the long grass.

I tend to see these more when people are trying to defend the Tories or actions of those even further on the right. They have been very common on the anti-EU side of the Brexit argument, and they are almost universally used by apologists for Donald Trump.

That's not to say they couldn't be used by anyone, from any political ideology, supporting any political aim. Or really any argument at all. You see these arguments all the time in sports when shady, loaded individuals want to take over a football club for example, and fans are looking for a reason to justify their continued support for a club that is now owned by a human rights violater with a reputation for torture.

But I tend to see them deployed most often on the political right. They are used to minimise terrible moral actions and deflect away scandals. They have been very effective in the propaganda wars on social media. They tend to get shared by people who aren't very good at recognising propaganda.

There is a subtle difference between the two."Moral equivalency" is the fancy term for saying "they're all as bad as each other!" Moral Equivalency gets rolled out any time a person's degenerate behaviour is questioned. Here's an example; the first comment left on a post that my friend Sian shared on Facebook about Dominic Cummings.

The joke that Sian shared is that if you 'cut out' the mask and wear it you can drive wherever the f*ck you want during lockdown. This joke incidentally, was ripped off by the Daily Star, and printed on their front page.

The very first comment is a classic piece of Moral Equivalency.

"Or Welsh Labour MP Stephen Kinnock, or the Scottish Dr. Seems it doesn't matter what political party there are idiots in them all who bend the rules to suit them [angry emoji]"

Do you see the attempt to make an equivalency case? Well, says our erstwhile commentator, they're all as bad as each other.

There are so many problems with this approach it's hard to list them all, but we can deconstruct this argument to see what the person using it is trying to do.

1) It casts shade on somebody else from a different part of the political spectrum to try and provoke a defence of that person. (It's a shame for them they can't do better than Stephen Kinnock. I can't imagine anyone jumping to his defence.)

2) If they don't provoke a defence of that person, it is still minimising this as just a political disagreement. They're basically saying 'You are only disapproving because he's an advisor to the Tory Prime Minister.' That's basically invalidating a person's opinion by accusing them of bias. It's an attempt to negate the argument by changing the basis of the argument from examination of a person's actions to debate about their beliefs.

3) It's an attempt to downplay and justify. But justifying bad behaviour by citing another person's bad behaviour is juvenile. That's like me telling my Mum I shouldn't be told off for kicking the cat because my brother forgot to feed the cat last week*.

*this is an analogy. No cats were actually kicked or neglected in the writing of this blog post.

4) This is a good example of someone trying to "kitchen sink" an argument - throwing in all the examples they can to show that there are loads of people breaking the rules out there.

In this case the person doing the 'kitchen sinking' is factually wrong which is counter-productive to their argument. The "Scottish Dr" was an employee of the Scottish Government, not a member of a political party. (As far as I'm aware, anyway. I never saw any party affiliations mentioned when the news cycle was about her.) And, more importantly, she resigned when her rule-breaking was discovered.

That actually shows a level of contrition and acknowledgment of wrongdoing that has been completely absent from Cummings. In fact, the "Scottish Dr" is an example of a high ranking government advisor who owned her rule-breaking and took the consequences rather than trying to avoid them. The commenter either doesn't know this or doesn't care. They just want as much evidence as possible. Facts don't matter. Kitchen sinkers are rarely deep thinkers.

5) It makes all wrongdoing equally bad. It's similar to when the tape came out with President Trump describing his approach to women as "grab them by the pussy" and his supporters replied with whatever bad thing they thought his opponents had done. 'They're all as bad as each other' implies that every action or attitude is of equal standing. 

6) It reduces accountability. "Of course Dominic Cummings ignored the lockdown rules and quarantine restrictions - he's a political advisor, that's what people in politics do..." Such an attitude basically gives people a free pass and doesn't hold them accountable for their actions.

I have some more examples but this has turned into a long post, so I will write about them in part 2.

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

The fractional losses, being human in a viral world

A while back, my friend Sara and I talked about 'microaggressions' in our industry. These are tiny ways that processes and interactions rob you of your humanity. Usually microaggressions occur in discussions about racism or other forms of bigotry, but I feel the definition could be widened slightly.

It seems almost pointless to add to the many handwringing opinion pieces about the awfulness of the Covid-19 pandemic. There have been some real tragedies that have upset me incredibly. Well over 100 NHS staff have died of Coronavirus, including five people from my organisation. I felt very sad about the identical twin nurses from Southampton who died within days of each other. These are the big, headline stories that overwhelm me and make me feel guilty about my losses, which are slight in comparison.

But they are still losses. Yes, a death of a very close loved one is incomparable. But that does not negate the build up of those fractional losses; those small ways in which we have been denied the things we need. The virus is aggressive, but it also deals in microaggressions.

In no particular order, I've lost the following since the beginning of March.

1) Funerals. On the 19th March, a year to the day that my Dad died unexpectedly, my friend Ben died. He was the same school year as my brother, Dave, and Dave's best friend. Ben and I shared Best Man duties at Dave's wedding.

Ben was only 40 when he died. He had a crazily rare condition, which felt cruelly random. It feels strange to think he has gone. We had that kind of semi-distant friendship where you don't see each other for ages and then when you do, it feels like the gang has got back together. I saw him last year. I didn't know that would be the last time.

A few weeks later my Uncle Malcolm died. I've been visiting him several times a year for several years now. If I had a work appointment in North Wales I would try and call in and see him.

I would have wanted to be at the funerals for both Ben and Uncle Malcolm. Social distancing requirements and restrictions on travel prevented that. It's hard to not get that opportunity to pay respects, share some stories, hug people who also loved the person who has passed on. 'Closure' is an odd word, but that is what a funeral gives you. And I don't have it.

2) Involvement. My Mum has moved house. We had plans for this - it was going to be the weekend after my birthday. I would be there helping to shift stuff. I would be there as she moved into her new house and help her settle in.

All those plans got turned on their heads by the pandemic. She was able to move but there have been unexpected hurdles and issues. My brother has had to manage it all and I feel frustrated by that, knowing that the burden we would have shared has been dumped on him. He hasn't complained at all, but I wish I had been there to help him.

Another aspect of being stuck over 100 miles away from the action is my own personal goodbye to the family home that has been the welcoming safe haven for 35 years. I stayed there for a weekend at the beginning of March. I was expecting to be back there at least one more time before it became someone else's house. It feels like that chapter of my life has been forcefully closed for me before I had finished reading the final page.

3) Football. I know football isn't important really. But I had plans. I was trying to work out how to get to Sunderland for Shrewsbury's away game there on 4 April. At Easter I was going to go and watch Barry play in Caernarfon on the Saturday and then see Shrewsbury's home game against Ipswich on Easter Monday. In June I had tickets for Euro 2020, including a game at Hampden, which is a ground I'd really like to visit. My last game this season was my 35th. My record for a season was 37 and I was going to bust through that and probably over the 40 game mark.

They're all lost opportunities rather than actual losses but sometimes we grieve over what we can't have, rather than what we had.

4) Routines. Since September I've been learning Welsh two evenings a week. I had got into a routine with it. Leave work, park at the uni, catch up on my homework while eating a sandwich, go into class. I had a good bunch of classmates, all genuinely nice people.

We have switched to Zoom. We lost half the class when we switched. I have found the move online more difficult than I thought it would be. The dynamic of learning has changed. Our tutors have done their best to make it work, but it's not easy using resources designed for the classroom when you don't have a classroom. If I have Zoom calls all day and then a 3 hour class on Zoom in the evening I feel exhausted.

5) Moments. My Mum said to me that her main regret in all this is that she feels she is losing the time she has left. I know what she means about that because lockdown life is not life at its fullest.

I miss being able to mooch around the charity shops with Cathy on a Sunday afternoon.

I miss meeting my friend Sara for work chats over coffee.

I miss my bunker at work. Our office has been occupied in our absence by a team who had their own space requisitioned with very little warning as the hospital reconfigured and braced for crisis. I have regular WhatsApp coffee times with my small team, but it's not the same as seeing them every day and having them on hand to bounce ideas with or get a third opinion on something.

I miss making the effort to go out on a Monday evening to my book group, and being glad I did afterwards.

I miss calling in at a supermarket and just being able to walk in without any hassle.

I miss going out to eat. I don't mean fancy meals that cost a lot. I mean evenings when I felt too tired to cook and we went and hid from the world and responsibilities in a booth at Pizza Hut, eating pizza with a base that has gone crispy with grease and pretending that the bowls we filled with 'salad' were healthy.

I miss those moments of connection. In the queue at the post office. With the cashier in the supermarket. Those friendly chats with strangers. Now we just nod from distance.

They are all instants, but those many moments add up. Being robbed of so many small elements of humanness makes all this harder to navigate. Sometimes I worry that the fractional losses are making me lose sight of myself, that I will be lessened by all of this.

Saturday, May 23, 2020

Grangetown Rainbow Art - messages of hope in the time of Covid

A version of this blogpost previously appeared on the Grangetown Community website. I've extended it a bit here and added more photos.

With limited exercise opportunities available because of the pandemic, I've been going out for a walk most evenings. Sometimes I walk to a park or by the river, but sometimes I just walk up and down a few streets. Grangetown's streets are fascinating. Different styles of houses. Strange old outbuildings. All kinds of things to see.

Lots of homes have rainbows in the windows with messages of thanks to NHS staff and key workers - the people who are keeping the country going at the moment. 

They are lovely messages and sometimes they give me the feels. One that said "Thank you Daddy  and all key workers!" gave me a little heart pang. Another one said "Well done! Auntie Claire." I don't know if Auntie Claire has been able to see it, but I hope she knows she is a hero.

Its impressive to see the array of arty techniques on show. Poster paints and water colours, marker pens and coloured pencils, collages and cut outs.

One house has a rainbow made from a row of tiny handprints on the glass. Another has different coloured paper hearts arranged in a rainbow.

There is lots of bilingual messaging. Arhoswch adre! Ofalwch i ti!

In Pentrebane Street there is even a remarkable bilingual teddy bear called Chester who greets children in Welsh and English. I saw him one evening when it was too dark to take a photo and had to go back the following evening to try and get a picture when there was more light.

I've been putting photos of some of the rainbows on my Twitter feed. People like them. They are messages of hope for a future beyond this crazy time. As one piece of artwork said 'After the storm, comes the rainbow.' 

And, of course, I live with an artistic, creative person. Here is Cathy's message of hope.

Saturday, May 09, 2020

10 albums

There's a thing on Facebook at the moment. People posting the 10 albums they feel are most influential on them. You're supposed to just post the pictures with no commentary, but most people can't resist a bit of commentary.

I thought it would make an interesting blog post, though. Which 10 albums would I pick? I've had a go, and included a couple of recent ones that will be influencing me for a while to come. 

I got obsessed with Midnight Oil in my teens and into my early twenties. I bought their entire back catalogue of albums and singles and anything I could get my hands on. I connected with them the first time I heard Beds are Burning playing on the Radio 1 breakfast show on the bus to school. Diesel and Dust was the peak of their success. I think what I liked most about them is that their songs were actually about stuff that mattered.

In school I got into rock. The next two albums were very big for me when I was 14.

Yeah, yeah, mock me all you want. But tell me Animal isn't a great 80s rock song. And New Jersey is stadium rock at its finest. 

I can't tell you how many times I listened to this next album in my first year at university.

I was also massively into the Eagles, round about the same time. Desperado was always my favourite Eagles album, and the one I would come back to again and again.

Then along came Cathy. She changed my life. So did this album that she introduced me too. It is one of the few albums ever produced where every track is solid. No duff filler to be seen.

Because I loved Midnight Oil, I bought a random protest single they recorded with a few other bands, including the Tragically Hip. That's how I got into the Tragically Hip. Fully Completely is another perfect album. I recite a section of At the Hundredth Meridian as my 'calm mantra'. 

Hot Fuss probably isn't the best Killers album. It has the best first five tracks though, starting with Jenny was a Friend of Mine and working up to All These Things That I've Done. Yes, there are other albums with great songs on. I love The Man off their most recent release. But Hot Fuss is where it all began and those first five tracks in particular are better than entire albums produced by lesser bands. 

This album is absolute gold even though it's only a couple of years old. We played it relentlessly on a summer holiday in Dorset so I associate it with hot long summer days, beaches and the sea. It is driving music, and relaxing music, and meal prep music, and background music, and foreground music, and everybody sings along music.

And onto the tenth album, and the most recent. Doom Days is Bastille's third album. OK, it doesn't have Pompeii on it, but it is a really solid listen throughout and their most musically accomplished complete album. We have played it a lot recently and I can't see me growing tired of it any time soon.

So, there you go. 10 albums. 

Friday, May 08, 2020

A second "decade in review" blog post

Back in 2010 I did a summary of the preceding decade and concluded by saying “Roll on 2020!” (Oh, how that feels hilarious right now with 2020 being a terrible year in so many ways.)

Sometimes I find that when I go back to old blog posts, reading that review feels like reading the life of a different person. I've always been struck by that (possibly untrue) statistic that says all the cells in our body are replaced over an 8 year cycle, so in a way that blogpost was written by an entirely different person.  But, anyway, ten years later, I'm still here and still blogging, albeit not as frequently as I did back then. So, a decade on, I thought I may as well review what I have been up to from my early-mid-30s to my early-mid-40s. 

I’ll do this on a year by year basis and just pick a couple of things per year. Most of the links will be to my original blog posts about things.

The big things happened here on 1 day in particular, the 1st April. This was the day I had a job interview to go and work in the NHS, returned back to my current employer where I was called aside and given my official redundancy notice, and then in the evening I went to the theatre and saw Dirk Benedict in a Columbo play. Dirk Benedict was Face Man in the A Team. We used to pretend we were the A-Team in the playground at school and we all wanted to be Face. I was star-struck, as you can tell in this photo.

Me and Face

On the 4th May (Star Wars Day) I started my NHS job and I have been proud to work in the NHS ever since. 

The big thing about 2011 was becoming an uncle for the first time. Baby Joy arrived in our lives. She yawned while I was talking to her on the first day she met me and has been tired of my antics ever since.

I've subsequently accrued four more niblings (that's a real word!) during the decade. They're all cool.

The footballing highlight of the year was a trip to the Emirates to see Shrewsbury play Arsenal in the league cup. I bought my first half-and-half scarf. #NoRegrets. Shrewsbury were even winning for a bit and the fans sang that Arsene Wenger was getting sacked in the morning. He stayed on another 7 years.

The big event this year was the Olympics. I remember getting up really early to see the Olympic Torch being carried through Grangetown

During the actual games, I went to see the Olympic football in the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff, including a double header of group games and the third place play-off match.Is still think it was a swizz that they promised us a medal ceremony then decided at the last minute that the third place winners would receive their bronze medals the next night in London. It gave me an opportunity to see a rare sight, a Great Britain international team.

I also almost got eaten by a hippo in Paris, when we visited the city for my sister-in-law Abby's 40th birthday.

2013 (there's a sort of review of the year here)
The stand out thing for me was going to London with Connor to see the Tragically Hip play a gig in Trafalgar Square to celebrate Canada Day. We then went the following night to see them play a gig in Camden. 

Later in the year Cathy and I spent our fifteenth wedding anniversary building a Lego camper van.

I can't really blog anything about my experience doing Jury service, but I found it hugely interesting and there was an incident during the judge's summing up which made the national newspapers. 

I also did a work placement in a health board comms team that coincided with the Daily Mail spending an entire week running stories smearing the reputation of NHS Wales. They literally dug up story after story from the preceding ten years, many of which had been resolved, and ran them as if they were all happening that week. I learned a lot about what utter scumbags some sections of the press can be in that week. The photo is from the flu vaccination campaign I was involved in.

My work placement was based in Caerleon, where I also started my MSc course in Business Psychology. That had an unexpected outcome. In the first module we did a session on motivation and burnout and my scores were a lot higher than any of my fellow students. It was a good indication that I needed to move jobs.

Three big things happened to me in 2015. Firstly, I was diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes in January. That came as a shock and I was put on some hardcore medication because I was extremely ill.

I lost weight (over 10kgs; 4 inches off my waist; 2 t-shirt sizes) and got my blood glucose back into the healthy range. For the last year and a half I have been off diabetes medication. I haven't blogged much about having Type 2 Diabetes. There is a lot of stigma attached to it, and it's the punchline in a lot of jokes. It takes a certain amount of confidence to tell people you have it

In June I started a new job, still in the NHS, taking on a national role as a clinical network manager. I'd spent 5 years in my previous job and had reached a point where I needed to move. I took a lot of good memories with me.

Two months after I started my new job my Grandma died. She had been hospitalised after a fall, but that was just toward the end of a long decline. I gave a tribute at her funeral. This photo taken in 2014 is one of the last photos I took of her. I like it because you can see the mischief in her eyes.

I turned 40 in 2016 and had a big party. The next month we went on a massive road trip in the USA and Canada. We watched the Red Sox at Fenway on Star Wars night. We went to Cooperstown, to the Baseball Hall of Fame. We went on pilgrimage to Kingston, Ontario. We fell in love with Toronto and visited Niagara Falls.

(Those pancakes were the "healthy" breakfast option. They came with fruit!)

Our holiday the following year was a bit more low key. We had a day exploring Lundy, which felt like visiting the end of the world even though we didn't even really leave the Bristol Channel.

I also graduated with my MSc. It was a lovely graduation ceremony and I felt very pleased to have completed the course, given some of the difficult things that had happened in the duration. One of my favourite pieces of work was analysing the psychology of Lego's marketing. My final piece of work seemed to uncover a link between personal self-worth and a diminished opinion of your manager.

My gigs this year were a bit eclectic. Midnight Oil in London (after many year thinking I would I never get the chance to see them in concert again) and Sir Tom Jones, recording a TV show in Cardiff Bay.

Shrewsbury Town went to Wembley twice, and lost both times. They are five for five in losing there now. I can't even express how incredibly frustrating the 2017-2018 season ultimately was.

Cathy and I had a better time in London a couple of months later when we went and saw The Muppets live at the O2 Arena. It was brilliant. The Electric Mayhem rock!

The second half of the year was spent in a state of flux because we had our kitchen gutted and rebuilt. It was a very stressful experience. I really love our new kitchen but I've yet to take any photos that do it justice. Or show the finished floor.

Cathy had a lot of health news in 2018, beginning with a visit to Addenbrookes in Cambridge where she was given a diagnosis of lipodystrophy. It's an ultra-rare condition, affecting fewer than 4 people per million. I always knew she was special. Then towards the end of the year she was diagnosed with cancer and had to have surgery. We literally had the kitchen and other construction work finish on the Friday and she had her surgery on the Monday. Thankfully they got it all in one go. It was a stressful way to end the year and I was glad to see the back of 2018!

The last year up for review. I went out to Pizza Hut with Cathy one night and didn't take my phone. Cathy had a message on her phone from my brother asking if she knew where I was. So I rang him. We were due to go on a fishing weekend together and I thought he was calling to get me to pay my half of the costs.

He wasn't.

When I called him back, he told me my Dad had died.

I'm still getting used to not having Dad phoning me every week. In my tribute to him at the funeral I told a story about a time he was described as being "stuck on transmit". I miss those transmissions.

I miss my Dad.

Trawling through photos for this blogpost I found a few of him that I'd forgotten. I really like this one of him with my nephew in 2014.

The rest of 2019 was a bit of a blur in comparison. There was the trip to Belfast to see Barry Town play in the Europa League, and we had a lovely week in Caernarfon in the autumn. But most of the year was spent helping my Mum sort out stuff in her house and slowly coming to terms with not having Dad around.

So that's where I will close out this inordinately long post. After the optimism of the post back in 2010, I have no desire to tempt fate by saying roll on 2030! Hopefully I will still be blogging then. If not, well, this was 2010-2019.