Sunday, January 30, 2022

Animal adoption updates

Last year Cathy and I adopted or sponsored or supported an animal every month through various organisations and agencies. We have decided to continue this year. Our January adoptee was a hedgehog through Cuan Wildlife Rescue in Shropshire.

In return for a donation we received a toy hedgehog, and a few other bits and pieces including a hedgehog heroes tea towel, an adoption certificate and Cuan's latest newsletter. Cuan cares for literally hundreds of hedgehogs each year, along with numerous other animals ranging in size from tiny shrews up to deer. In total over 20,000 animals were cared for in 2021.

We have also had an update on the puffin we support through the Welsh Wildlife Trust. In addition to a lovely little annual report, the letter they sent confirmed that "our" puffin had been spotted on Skomer Island on a few occasions. 

The report was full of interesting information - including a story about a puffin they spotted with a ring the researchers didn't recognise. It turned out it had been ringed under an old scheme when it was a chick in 1992! I've got adult friends who are younger than that! The survival rate for puffins is about 91 per cent, so almost 1 in 10 puffins don't make it through year on year. The one born in 1992 had beaten the survival odds three times over.

As an aside, years ago I worked in charity communications, so I always look at materials like this from a professional point of view. This update really worked in connecting me with the orgnisation. It was personal, because it mentioned "our" puffin, and it explained how our support was making a difference without a hard sell to continue that support. But the feedback and the nicely presented additional information has made me feel very positive about continuing to support the organisation. And I'll admit the photos of puffins help to sell it too. 

When I rounded up all our adoptions from last year, I said the December adoption was on its way. I didn't know where it was coming from bacuase Cathy had arranged it as a surprise. It arrived today and what a surprise it was - an adopted manatee through the Save the Manatee Club. We are now the adoptive parents of Floyd, who is almost as old as we are.

Floyd is apparently a bit of a character who will sneak up and barge photographers trying to take pictures of the manatees. He has some scars and has lost a chunk of his tail in a boating accident. Visiting the manatees at Blue Spring State Park in Florida is one of the things on my bucket list - hopefully Floyd will be there when we visit!

Monday, January 24, 2022

The boat of belief and the rocks of reality

I remember my dad telling me that it didn’t really matter if a person was sincere about something, because you could be sincerely wrong. That’s just one of those things that has stuck with me, for more than 30 years.

I think about it every time someone talks about their “beliefs” and how they feel their beliefs should be respected, by which they usually mean not challenged. I also think about it when seeing the sort of things covid-denialists post on social media that subsequently appear on Reddit’s Herman Cain Awards. Confident statements that they are protected by the blood of Jesus, and that they choose to live in faith not in fear. Or propagating misinformation that covid is fake news and part of some planned assault on individual liberties.

The thing is, Sars-Cov2, which causes covid, doesn’t care about a person’s beliefs. What it sees are some nice, warm, unprotected airways that it can take up residence in, and multiply. It’s a virus – and a fascinating virus at that – and it doesn’t go away because people don’t believe in it or because people have rebuked it and invoked a deity’s protection.

One of the cleverest jokes in any Pixar movie is in Inside Out, a movie where the central characters are emotions felt by a girl called Riley. 

When the characters Joy and Sadness are accidentally cut off from the rest of the emotions, they try to make their way back through Riley’s mind to the central control room. They board the ‘train of thought’ accompanied by a character they meet in Riley’s subconscious – Riley’s semi-forgotten imaginary friend Bing-Bong. On the train Joy knocks over crates containing facts and opinions and remarks that they look very similar. Bing-Bong tells her not to bother sorting them out because no-one can tell them apart. (Here's the scene on YouTube)

That’s incredibly astute. It explains covid-denialists, conspiracists, woo-peddlers and religious fundamentalists. They literally cannot tell an objective, demonstrable fact from an unevidenced opinion. Everything has the same weight – a meme off Facebook, through to a talking head on a chat show, through to a peer-reviewed paper published in a reputable journal. And when we factor in confirmation bias, where we are more likely to listen to sources that corroborate our existing beliefs rather than sources that conflict with our beliefs, we can end up adrift in opinions, thinking they are truths.

But the rocks of reality poke through the surface of the sea.

We see this in the multiple posts on the Herman Cain Awards Reddit, where so many people follow the same track. They post covid-denying memes, antivax propaganda, weird claims about conspiracy, then they get ill. Some continue denying the seriousness of their illness right up until they are posting from their ICU bed in hospital, often struggling to spell words correctly because of hypoxia as their oxygen levels plummet and their brains struggle to function. Then their relatives and friends start posting tributes to them.

Their belief boat has been holed by the rocks of reality. And they drown.

What is unusual about the pandemic, is that this is happening on a much larger scale than usual. Most religious people have experienced unanswered prayers, and have girded themselves with all kinds of reasons why people die instead of being healed, but this usually happens occasionally and can be dealt with as one-offs. It isn’t being chronicled the way these covid-deaths are being shown to be oblivious to the effects of prayer.

I come back to what my dad told me. Sincerity is no protection. Being sincerely wrong about covid can mean trusting in an opinion that isn’t going to protect you from reality.

Tuesday, January 18, 2022

The five dimensions of personality

Time for a business psychology post...

Last month I was asked to present my ‘top tips’ on supporting change, based on my experience managing a network of healthcare professionals. My first tip was to understand that in a complex system, the real complexity is the people working in that system.

One of the things I realised when doing my MSc in Business Psychology is that psychology can be a reductive science. (Particularly if you go down the route of explaining every action by analysing brain activity.) So it’s no surprise to find that generally all human personality is often reduced to five dimensions – usually called the ‘Big Five’. Some people advocate even fewer, and some split some of the five up into other streams.

But for the purposes of understanding people in a work environment, the ‘Big Five’ are all you need. There is also a handy acronym to remember them by – OCEAN.

The five letters of OCEAN represent

  • Openness to Experience
  • Conscientiousness
  • Extraversion
  • Agreeableness
  • Neuroticism (emotionality)

All five of these personality dimensions are continua. We all display greater or lesser aspects of them. The assumption is that as most people grow up, they stabilise in places on the various continua. If they were cautious children they will be cautious adults and display less openness to new experiences or curiosity about the world. Personally I think it’s a mistake to assume that people will always act a certain way. Some people seem to compartmentalise their lives and exhibit very different approaches in work to outside work. They may be very risk averse in work and compensate for that with risky behaviour in their hobbies and pursuits. 

There is no real right or wrong place to be on the continua, but people who operate on the extremes are more difficult to function with in work.

For example, people who are extremely open to new ideas and curious about trying new things can be great at innovation and fixing systemic problems. However, they can get distracted. They often leave projects half-completed. They can go down research rabbit holes. And they are often susceptible to sales pitches and latch on to magic bullets that will solve all their problems.

At the other end of that continua are the joyless jobsworths who were told how to do a job a certain way on day one of their employment and will retire 45 years later doing the same job the same way. It’s really easy to spot those people. Just ask them why they do something the way they do it. If the answer is “We’ve always done it this way”, then they have low levels of openness.

Conscientiousness is often seen as a good trait in a co-worker or employee, because, obviously, nobody wants to be working with reckless people who don’t care about anything.  However, overly conscientious people can become obsessed with procedure, to the point where they are paralysed into inaction for fear of doing something wrong.

Extraversion and introversion aren’t exactly a continua. Introverts can do what extraverts do; it just takes more mental effort. Extraverts don’t get worn out by people as quickly. You can easily spot extraverts and introverts because the extraverts want everyone to go out to the pub after work, while the introverts just want to quietly slope off home. (There's a topical point to be made here about party-keen extraverts being more likely to have an office wine fridge filled by sloping off to the off-licence with a suitcase to buy booze.)

Extraverts are energised by people, so are often regarded as enthusiastic and keen, geeing up the team and pulling everyone forward on a project. Those are all good things. But in my experience, because extraverts are energised by people, they tend to do work in meetings and task groups but not between meetings. They can be very productive in the group environment, often banging out plans and strategies in a short time.

In contrast, introverts find it hard to make decisions in meetings. They often want more time to consider things and weigh up options, backed up by research. Typically, they will go back to their desk and start actioning the list of things that need doing, which they will bring to the next meeting. A good team will have both types of people in and a good manager will recognise that they need to feed the extraverts with group time and protect the happiness of the introverts by giving them space.

Agreeableness is an interesting continuum, and one that I feel has capacity for people to be at different points on the continuum depending on context. Generally, agreeable people are much nicer to work with. They make the team environment more pleasant. However, it’s possible to be too nice and this can impact on productivity directly, with too much social chatter and concern about non-work conversations, and indirectly if people are seeking a consensus before making progress. Sometimes movement happens when a person with a lower level of agreeability decides to take initiative even though a few noses will be put out of joint. 

Another way that highly agreeable people can cause problems is through enabling toxic behaviour. I have some experience of people with high levels of agreeability whose main role in a team seems to be smoothing feathers ruffled by more disagreeable members of the team. This prevents confrontation and means that the more disagreeable person is never held to account for their actions that are upsetting people, so they continue to function in the same way. In the long term that poisons relationships.

Finally, neuroticism is about how deeply a person feels emotions, not necessarily how much they express them. Some people display flashes of anger, then very quickly regain an emotional equilibrium and move on. Other people don’t express emotion and internalise a large amount of stress and resentment. There is some debate whether neuroticism should really be in the Big Five, because it seems more liable to fluctuation than the other dimensions.

It’s also the only dimension where lower levels are considered more beneficial in a work environment. Generally, people who are overly emotional and get very stressed over every issue they face are not easy to work with. However, I would be wary of people who never express emotion. They may seem like unflappable bastions of resilience, but it might just be a case that they don’t express emotion because they don’t feel things like empathy and compassion.

There are loads of different activities that can help reveal people’s tendencies on the Big Five continua. If you have ever sat through an ice-breaker that will designate you as an animal, or a cartoon character, or assign you a colour, you have probably been profiled in some way. It’s then up to the managers to observe the outcomes of those activities and tailor their approach to fit. Although, the ability to do that successfully, is, of course, dependent on where the managers themselve are situated on the various continua!

Sunday, January 16, 2022

Busy mid-January Saturday

I had a full day yesterday. I started out with a lateral flow test to make sure I was safe to meet people, then I was off to the first Keep Grangetown Tidy litter-pick of the year. Over 40 people turned up and we collected a huge amount of litter.

I'm in this photo - can you spot me? (Credit KGT)

The bags pile up (Credit KGT)

I've blogged about litter-picking before and noted that it provides insights into the community we live in. On this pick there were lots of evidence of the pandemic. I picked up a couple of facemasks and a disposable glove. If I had found a discarded bottle of hand sanitzer I would have scored the pandemic litter trifecta.

One of the facemasks was designer.

Behind a junction box on Clive Street I found a little collection of detritus that in it's own way tells a sad story. An empty whisky bottle and a scratched off lottery scratchcard. The can was a store-brand can of energy drink. It just all adds up to a tale of disappointed dreams. 

There's someone who won't be paying their parking fixed penalty notice as I found it thrown in the gutter on Clive Street. I also found a hubcap. It was too big for my rubbish bag so I took it back to the main collecting point. Later, I found it had been joined by a companion. They were different designs, but I noticed they were both Vauxhall hubcaps. 

It felt like a very productive two hours. I walked some of the way home with some new friends chatting about Grangetown. After a quick lunch, I was back out again, and off to my first football match of 2022.

I was able to go to a game because the Welsh Government eased restrictions on Friday. I headed over to Gabalfa to watch Cardiff Draconians, who were third in the Ardal South West Division, play Pontardawe Town, who were second in the table.

I met my friend Steve at the ground and we had a good catch-up about everything that had happened since we last saw each other. Neither of us had been to the Draconians home ground, Lydstep Park, before, and it's got quite an aspect with the Gabalfa Towers looming over the little stand. 

From another angle you can see the spire of Llandaff Cathedral. I only realised that at the end when it wasn't possible to get a good photo. So I will probably have to go back to another game some time to get that 'shot'.

The game itself was very tight. Pontardawe bossed the first half and led at the break. They looked in control in the second half, although with 20 minutes to go, the "Dracs" came more into the game. They had a goal disallowed, then scored. One of Pontardawe's centre backs then kicked a celebrating Drac player and got a straight red card. In the 89th minute, the Dracs were awarded a penalty, which they converted to somehow run out 2-1 winners. 

I have seen three games in the Ardal South West this season, starting at Penrhiwceiber Rangers versus Caerau Ely. Last month I saw Caerau Ely against the Dracs. Then yesterday I saw the Dracs againt Pontardawe. Now I have an urge to go to Pontardawe next to keep the run of attending a home match of the team I saw playing away going. 

And the day was not yet done, as my friend Connor was back in Cardiff for a weekend. We went out for a meal together in the evening. Connor gave me a late Christmas present of a Blood Bowl comic book. I'd not seen it before so it was a real surprise. Once I've read it I will consider reviewing it on the blog!

Thursday, January 13, 2022

Bible verses on Christmas cards, 2021 edition

A few years back I did a little analysis of the most popular Bible verses on Christmas cards. I revisited it this year as part of the ACCA.

Overall there were seven cards that included a Bible verse. The only one with a Bible verse on the front was this one.

The gold foil is hard to read, so here it is: "For our heart shall rejoice in him, because we have trusted in his holy name" - Psalm 33, verse 21.

I looked that Psalm up. It looks like a song of praise that would have been sung in the Jewish Temple long before Jesus came along. It's not particularly messianic or prophetic in tone. The verse is repeated inside the card and they give the version of the Bible - the KJV (King James Version).

This verse featured on another card too, and overall Psalms was the most represented book of the Bible on the Christmas cards we received, with three cards featuring a verse. The other reference was Psalm 46, verse 10. 

There were two different verses from Luke and two different verses from John as well. The verses from Luke were different bits of the nativity story - chapter 2, verse 7, and chapter 2, verse 11. John doesn't have a nativity story. One of the verses  quoted was from the opening mystical 'prologue' about the Word of God becoming a human being - chapter 1, verse 9. The other was from later in the gospel, when Jesus says he is the light of the world in chapter 8, verse 12. 

When I did my previous analysis, Luke chapter 2, verse 11 was the most quoted Bible verse by a considerable margin, appearing on 4 cards. John chapter 1, verse 9 was also on a card in the previous analysis. The other Bible references are all new.

So the combined totals, based on when they appear in the Bible would be as follows:

Psalm 33.21 x 2
Psalm 46.10
Psalm 139.11-12
Isaiah 9.6
Matthew 2.11
Luke 2.4-5
Luke 2.7
Luke 2.11 x 5 (sometimes with a bit of Luke 2.10 attached)
John 1.9 x 2
John 8.12
1 John 1.5

With my old theology hat on, I find it interesting how disproportionately popular quotes from Luke's nativity story are compared to quotes from the gospel of Matthew. This is especially true when comparing card designs. I categorise 'nativity' cards as any cards that centre on Mary, Jesus and Joseph, regardless whether they also feature shepherds and kings (or magi, or wise men, or whatever term is vogue - you know who I mean). I only count the shepherds and kings in their own right if they feature on a card on their own. 

Overall, the kings are much more popular characters in terms of getting their own cards than the shepherds. But the kings feature in Matthew's stories and aren't in Luke's stories at all, while the shepherds are mentioned in Luke's stories - after they see the choirs of angels in the heavens while watching their flocks by night - but don't get mentioned in Matthew's accounts. 

So it feels like Matthew has the more interesting characters to depict on a Christmas card, but Luke has the quotable chunks to sum up the story.

And then we have John's gospel, that doesn't have any nativity stories at all, but is three times more popular in terms of quotes than Matthew's gospel, across this sample. There is very little comparison between John and the other gospels in terms of which one is the better gospel to read, but considering John has nothing of the Christmas story in it, this is weird. 

A conclusion might be that people prefer a good turn of phrase and don't really mind where it comes from. 

Wednesday, January 12, 2022

Some of the Christmas Cards from the 2021 ACCA

I've picked ten Christmas cards we received this year that stood out and have scanned them to share on here. First though, a couple of cards that literally stood out as 3D cards, that wouldn't scan. 

The card with Charlie Brown, Snoopy and the Peanuts gang on lights up and plays music if you press where it says "Press Here". Lights on the tree come on!

One of the first cards we received this year came from the rock band Terrorvision along with a copy of their Christmas single.

What makes it special is that the band have signed it.

I was a bit disappointed that the multilingual greetings didn't include Welsh.

I try to include at least one religious card in these showcases. This one ticked a number of categories on the ACCA, including the 'cartoon religious' theme.

It also has a line from a Christmas carol on the front. As did this next card. Sort of.

As a heads up, cards featuring puns feature strongly in this post. Despite having a carol-based pun on the front, this didn't get counted as a religious card.

Technically I suppose Saint Nicholas, also known as Santa Claus, could be counted as a religous figure. I really liked several of the depictions of Santa that arrived this year.

I sometimes feel like this juggling Santa, trying to get all the right presents to people.

This next one really appealed to me. Cathy pointed out that the artist, Karen Fjord Kj√¶rsgaard, sounded Scandinavian. I looked her up and she was Danish. So that might be why this appeals so much.

And then there was this card from my Ozzie cousin, Trefor, featuring a surfer dude Santa.

The expression on the kangaroo's face made me chuckle. He looks like a mischief maker. 

A couple of years ago, Stewart caused me to redo my audit with a late entry and a note about being late. His card this year gets a place in this post because a) it has a dinosaur on, b) it has a pun on, and c) he made me laugh with the post script message after wishing us a happy Christmas.

Here's the P.S.

"PS - Isn't it funny that my whole family now have to suffer weird Christmas cards because of your blog!!"

Yes, it is funny. Also, I think this means that I am officially an influencer! (Now if only I could monetise this.)

We had a few Snoopy cards this year. I asked Cathy which one she wanted me to scan and she picked this one.

See, that could have been listed in the 'Dogs in Santa Hats' category. But it wasn't.

And so on to my final two cards of this post. Both were strong contenders for favourite card of the year. Both were puns and both featured... cheese. (Which seems punningly apt - after all cheeses is the reason for the season!)

Kitchen implements in Santa hats has never been a category. It might become one in future.

And here is my absolute favourite card this year!

It was sent to us by our friends Matt and Nikki, and is just brilliant. A posh cheese pun. What could be better?

Tuesday, January 11, 2022

The Tenth Annual Christmas Card Audit

It's hard to believe I've done this for 10 Christmasses in a row, but here we are - the 10th ACCA. Links to all the previous audits are on this page where you can mourn for lost categories like "Dogs in Santa Hats", "Llamas", "Christmas Elves" and so on. There are some new categories this year. For the first time I have counted puns and also greetings in Welsh. There is a surprise return for the "Hares and Moon" combo and in the religious themed cards a continued absence for the Shepherds who visited the Holy Family on Christmas night.

I will be posting some cards of note in a future post. However, to liven up this post I am going to include cards illustrated by children. These are all schools fundraising cards, and I really like them. Hopefully the children will find it encouraging that their cards feature on my blog. (If their parents show them!)

By Alba

And so to the audit...

Total number of cards: 91 (an increase on last year!)

Hand-made / home-produced cards: 8

Cards designed by kids: 3

Cards with glitter: 12 (back up to a similar number to a couple of years ago. The 'glitter is evil' warnings seems to have worn off.)

Cards sold in aid of charity (or fundraising): 53

Total number of charities represented: 40 (lower than last year where one 32-charity card artificially inflated the number)

Most popular charity represented: Cancer Research Campaign with 7 cards. This ends the dominance of British Heart Foundation who were the most popular charity for 3 years in a row. BHF were joint second in the list with 5 cards, alongside MIND, the Marie Keating Foundation, and the Traidcraft/Christian Aid/CAFOD/SCIAF combination

Charity card cause breakdown (this is approximate because some cards covered more than one type of cause, and not every charity explains what it does)

Cards raising money for cancer charities: 24

Cards raising money for other health issues: 34

Animal charities: 0

Children's charities: 5

Overseas development charities: 11

By Nancy - I thought this looked very cool!


Religious themes

Religious-themed cards: 19 - Despite the overall number of cards being up, this was a drop of one card from the 2020 ACCA. Again it meant less than a quarter of the cards we received had a religious design.

Cards featuring the Nativity: 12

Three kings: 2

The shepherds: 0 (for the second year running!)

Angels: 1 (after zero in 2020)

'Cartoony' religious: 3 (after zero in 2020)

Other themes

Santa: 6 (another strong showing for Mister Beardie)

Penguins: 4

Bears: 0 (this used to be a very popular category - completely disappeared this year!)

Reindeer: 6 (there was a big debate whether to include a moose called Chris in this category, but categories are specific for a reason and moose are not reindeer!)

Christmas trees: 6

Christmas food: 3

Christmas decorations: 4

Robins: 3

Sheep: 2 (both of which had puns on the front. Good showing for the sheep!)

Dogs with or without Santa hats: 0 (this fluctuates year on year and this year was a nil year)

Other animals with or without Santa hats: 6 (A range of animals were represented including a dinosaur. Do dinosaurs count? Are they animals? Yes, they count!)

Winter scene/scenery: 8

Snow & snowflakes: 4

Snowpeople: 8 (a massive jump in this category this year)

Licensed characters: 6 (4 featuring Snoopy and Peanuts characters, and another 2 featuring the Snowman by Raymond Briggs - which also got counted in the Snowpeople category. Here's a note on inconsistencies though. I didn't count the Snoopy cards in the dogs category, which I've only just realised while writing this up...)

Hares & Moons: 1 (returning category!)

Holly and wreaths: 1 (a large drop on 2020)

There were no cards referencing the pandemic this year. Everyone is heartily fed up with it.

By Robyn - neseg ar gymraeg!


Word 'Christmas' on the front: 25 (of which only 2 were religious)

"Seasons Greetings": 4

Mentions "Jesus": 0 (sad for Baby Jee!)

"Peace": 0 (sad for everybody!)

Bible verse: 1

Lines or titles of Christmas carols: 4 (big drop on 2020)

Lines or titles of Christmas songs: 3

Message in Welsh: 2

Puns: 8 (Cathy suggested we count these this year!)

In conclusion

There are perennial themes, and there are some that wax and wane considerably year on year. It feels like the number of religious themed cards are slowly declining. They tend to the more serious-looking cards that we receive and maybe people want to send a bit of fun in the post at Christmastime. 

I was really surprised to get no cards featuring bears this year. In the first audit almost ten per cent of the cards featured bears, and although in subsequent years, there have only been a handful, there has always been at least one. Until this year. It would appear the seasonal ursine population has gone extinct. 

Now that I have ten years worth of data I am wondering about producing a meta-analysis, but that will probably require me creating a spreadsheet, so I will have to see if I have time to do that.

Thank you to everyone who sent us Christmas cards this year and who have helped keep this audit going!

Monday, January 10, 2022


Let's start this week with a new word that I recently saw on Twitter: Doomscrolling. 

The all-round comms genius that is Helen Reynolds, directed me to the dictionary definition courtesy of Merriam-Webster.

(Doomscrolling and doomsurfing are new terms referring to the tendency to continue to surf or scroll through bad news, even though that news is saddening...)

Sometimes I discover a word and think, 'ooh, I do that'. It's very hard to break away from reading about the various ongoing things that upset or enrage me. Whether it's the economic slo-mo car crash of Brexit, the disgusting levels of government corruption, or the toxic stupidity of covid denialists, there is always more to read. There is always a new grubby revelation. The stupidity bar keeps dropping every time a true believer in a pandemic conspiracy or an ardent Brexiteer opens their mouth.

And I keep scrolling!

I do my best to keep my timelines upbeat and non-toxic. But somehow the doom creeps through!

(A big thanks to Helen for her help. Helen runs Comms Creatives, offering great courses in social media. Helen is also a cartoonist!)

Sunday, January 09, 2022

Snack of the Month - Munchies with a seasonal twist

Cathy found these super-cheap in Asda's post-Christmas clearing out of Christmassy things. 

As with the Flipz I reviewed in December, this was an attempt to make an established product Christmassy by giving it a 'gingerbread flavour'. 

I really like pfeffernusse and lebkuchen at Christmas-time. This probably relates back to when I was a child in West Africa and some of the people my parents worked with were receiving parcels of gingerbread goodies from their families in Germany. I would rather have proper gingerbread than gingerbread flavour things.

Inside the packet they look like Munchies look.

Inside the Munchies there is a crunchy biscuit bit and some very, very sweet filling.

The overwhelming sensation from these sweets is sweetness. They are on the brink of sickly. So, while I enjoyed having the chance to try them (and blog about them), I will stick with actual gingerbread in future. 

Saturday, January 08, 2022

Two days after Twelfth Night

Is tonight fourteenth night? Anyway, we took our Christmas decorations down a few days before Twelfth Night because I prefer having them away before I return to work. As we took them down I took a few pictures of this chap, our red moose named Solvang.

We bought Solvang in a little town called Solvang in California. We visited it on our first American road trip back in 2004. Solvang is the "Danish Capital of America" and it was the first place we ever went to an all-year-round Christmas shop - the "Jule Hus", which translates as Yule House.

Since then we have bought Christmas decorations that remind us of places we have been on other trips. Decorating the tree - and then later undecorating the tree - is a nice way of remembering adventures to different places. 

The address of the "Jule Hus" is on the bag that Solvang lives in when he's not hanging on the tree.

We showed my Scandinavian Grandma our holiday pics when we came back She fell about laughing at the pictures of Solvang with it's tribute Viking architecture. We had also sent her a postcard that she found highly amusing. 

I've had a dredge in the archive and here are a few pictures to give a flavour of the place. 

Me, 18 years ago

The juxtaposed Viking longship and palm trees!

The Jule Hus Christmas Store is still in Solvang (and still at 1580 Mission Drive). Maybe one day we will get to visit it again and buy a companion for our moose!

Friday, January 07, 2022

Talking about stamps... and baseball cards... again

I sort of still collect stamps, although it's not something I'm doing as actively as in the past. Last year, the society I belong to, the British Thematic Association, started doing meetings on Zoom. I presented about my collection back in March 2021.

The Zoom meetings are recorded, so if you would like to hear me talking about my collection of stamps featuring the Statue of Liberty, you can watch it here:

Since then I was asked to present again (virtually) at the Newport Philatelic Society back in November, and in March I'm due to present to the Caledonian Philatelic Society based in Glasgow.

I haven't added anything really to my collection for ages, except for a few things I inherited from my dad's collection as Cathy and I have been sorting through it. My collecting focus has switched to baseball cards, specifically cards featuring Tony Gwynn, the all-time greatest player for the San Diego Padres. I closed out 2021 on 1,052 different cards featuring Tony. One week into 2022 and I had a nice mail day when two envelopes arrived containing 3 new cards for the collection.

The card on the handwritten note came from Nashville and is from a set released in 1999. The others were from a collector in the UK and were released last year. My blog about baseball cards is currently on a midwinter break, but these cards will be featured on there some time this year!

Sunday, January 02, 2022

Our 2021 menagerie of adopted animals

At the start of 2021, when the world was locked down, Cathy and I read about a number of zoos and other places that cared for animals that were finding finances difficult. We decided to sponsor an animal a month in different places, which means by the end of 2021 we had accumulated quite the virtual menagerie! (And some toy animals too!)

We have sponsored rhinos for a while through both Save the Rhino and WWF. The updates from both organisations are encouraging, and some rhino populations are doing quite well. However, these brilliant animals are still targeted by poachers who are after their horns for use in 'traditional medicine'. Rhino horns are made from the same substance as fingernails so it's not exactly a rare commodity. If anyone wonders why I have a very dim view of humans, the rhino poaching industry is exhibit A in my case against humanity. 

Anyway, we started the year by sponsoring the care of a rescued bat at Cuan Wildlife Centre. This is a growing rescue and rehabilitation centre in Shropshire who do some wonderful work for wild animals. Their Facebook updates are an absolute joy. As part of the sponsorship package, we got a cuddly bat.

In February we sponsored a turtle at The Deep in Hull. This is a stunning aquarium that we visited in 2019 while on holiday in Yorkshire. We particularly liked the sawfish. However, we chose the 'turtles' sponsorship package which came with a toy turtle in a tin with various other goodies in it, including a nice fridge magnet.

In March we decided to sponsor a seal at the Cornish Seal Sanctuary in Gweek. It's some time since we went there last. There's a choice of sponsoring a seal pup that will be released or sponsoring one of the permanent residents. Reading through all the biographies of seals you can sponsor presented us with a tough choice. We eventually picked a grey seal called Pumpkin, because he has a very rare illness and is on permanent medication so he can't be released into the wild. Cathy identified with the rare illness and medication side of things. 

There wasn't a cuddly seal in the adoption package, but there was a fridge magnet of Pumpkin. It's on our fridge along with some of the other magnets we've acquired through sponsorships - Pumpkin's is bottom right. The rhino in the picture is Lankeu, our WWF adoptee. 

April's adoptee was a Painted Dog at West Midlands Safari Park. They call them Hunting Dogs but I prefer the name Painted Dogs. These wild dogs are very rare now, and like most wild dogs part of the problem is that humans either regard them as pests and kill them, or regard them as pets and feed them, thus disrupting their natural existence. 

They also have the most amazing ears, as seen in the glossy photo that came in the adoption pack. The ears are captured in the little toy dog that we received as well. 

In May we adopted an elephant at Woburn Safari Park. We had a great day out at Woburn a couple of years ago and while we were there we got to go to an elephant's birthday party. Well, we watched from a distance as a troop of elephants demolished a "cake" made of branches and the birthday girl bounced a giant red ball around with glee. There was also a 'parade' where they brought a well-behaved elephant right next to people and we could reach out and touch it. An amazing experience and one I would recommend. 

We took a bit of a different tack in June. We had been watching the puffin cam set up by The Wildlife Trust of South and West Wales, so we sponsored a puffin through them. The certificate was very detailed, including the leg ring identity of the puffin we support.

In July we sponsored Biggie the Aldabran Giant Tortoise at Bristol Zoo. Biggie has been a resident in Bristol Zoo since 1975, the year Cathy was born. He is the oldest animal currently in the zoo and has been there longer then any other animals. Biggie weighs 200k, which is the weight of a silverback gorilla. So that's why he's called "Biggie". The cuddly version of him looks a bit grumpy.

He seems happier in the photos in the adoption literature. Although, it's hard really to tell how a tortoise is feeling. They're inscrutable. 

August's adoption was a bit different. For the first time we adopted animals at somewhere we have yet to visit. The Wild Place is linked to Bristol Zoo and we sponsored their sleuth of bears. (Did you know a collection of bears is a sleuth? I didn't.) The bears are Neo, Nilas, Albie and Gemini. I'm a big fan of bears. Definitely my spirit animals. 

We hadn't adopted any amphibians yet and they are probably the biological phylum most in danger of disappearing entirely. We made up for our oversight in September by adopting a Fea's Tree Frog at Paignton Zoo. Aparently these particular frogs aren't overly endangered at the moment. Long may it stay that way.

Not content with already having two rhino adoptions on the go, we adopted the rhinos at Folly Farm in October. It was a trip to Folly Farm on a cold February day in 2018 where we learned about the work of Save the Rhino. I remember one of the rhinos present peering cautiously out of the rhino house door at swirling snowflakes and deciding outside was not for them that day. I don't blame them!

Technically, we sponsor all the rhinos, but the one pictured on the certificate is Manyara the matriarch of Folly Farm's crash of eastern black rhinos. 

We went back to aquatic creatures in November, buying a Stevie Shark cuddly toy from WWF's Cub Club. The money from the sale goes to support shark conservation in UK waters. Stevie is filled with 100% recycled polyester filling and has got to be one of the cutest sharks ever. He is very soft and nice to cuddle!

December's adopted animal is still on its way to us, delayed by Christmas post. (And probably by omicron as well - everything is getting blamed on that at the moment!) So, there will be an update post at some point in the next few weeks to round off the 2021 menagerie!