Sunday, March 20, 2022

Picking up litter on a bright sunny day

The weather this past weekend has been glorious. I got roasted watching a football match on Saturday and on Sunday joined the Keep Grangetown Tidy monthly litter pick. As ever, I am going to blog about some of the more interesting stuff I found. I started out well with a shiny £1 coin!

Then I got a jolt of nostalgia. Remember when bands used to issue CD singles with bonus tracks like live recordings? Well, this is unplayable now, but it's a throwback to life before streaming.

We had a visitor from Wales Online for the litter pick. I don't know if this photo that I grabbed off the Keep Grangetown Tidy socials will be on the website or not.

One other person came prepared for sunshine and wore sunglasses. The journalist disappeared before I could offer some opinions and observations on litter picking. 

One of the main things I've noticed has changed since I first went on a litter-pick is the amount of pandemic-related litter. I picked up eight facemasks, two empty hand santiser bottles, two disposable gloves (in different streets - not a pair together), and one of the solution dropper things from a lateral flow kit. This is all garbage that wouldn't have been part of a litter pick three years ago!

Another observation is that smokers who switch to vaping are still inclined to discard items relating to their addiction in the street. I lost track of how many empty boxes of vape juice I picked up. This observation has informed my opinion that smokers are inherently dirty people. Because even if they switch to a less damaging means of self-poisoning, they still don't clear up their smoker's trash. 

Anyway, on with the "finds".

I do have some "found Lego" in my Lego stash. However, this Duplo went in the bin bag.

It amused me that this glass still had a straw in it. Were they really drinking Carling through a straw?

Someone had decided to start an impromptu street library. Unfortunately the books in the plastic bag had got wet and ruined. Charlie and Lola ended up in the bin bag too.

And this also got chucked. I have no idea what it is. 

Another weird thing was a frying pan in a carrier bag. I found a security tag like the kind you get on clothing. There was McDonald's trash with the Deliveroo stickers stuck on the hamburger boxes. I also found evidence that people buy and consume those awful-looking Weetabix drinks because I picked up an empty bottle that someone had chucked over a gate when they had finished chugging it. 

All that trash ended up in the pile of rubbish at the end. This picture wasn't the final heap of stuff but it gives an idea of how discarded items and rubbish mounts up when it's gathered altogether. 

Lots of people said thank you as I was walking around collecting rubbish. More people say thank you than actually pick up a grabber and join in. But at least they see people taking action to tackle the problem and maybe that will encourage more people to act that way. 

(And I kept the £1 coin!) 

Saturday, March 19, 2022

The 1962 film verson of The Day of the Triffids

During our holiday week, we watched a number of DVDs that we had picked up cheaply in a charity shop. One of them was the film version of The Day of the Triffids released in 1962. In this review I am going to include some spoilers for both the film and the book version of The Day of the Triffids, so if you haven't seen this or read the book and you want to, then stop reading now!

The DVD cover

I am a big fan of John Wyndham's writing and have re-read The Day of the Triffids a few times. He was an elegant writer with a very lean approach to storytelling. There was no unnecessary descriptive text in his work. He got on with the action. When there is exposition in his books, he handles it all very matter-of-fact and tells the reader what the reader needs to know at that point. Sometimes there are hints of the darkness ahead - because there is always darkness ahead - but he doesn't overdo it.

This film was produced about ten years after The Day of the Triffids was first published. And they butchered the book as they turned it into a screenplay. That would be my biggest gripe about it.

I don't really expect much from a 1960s monster movie. The direction was very stagey and unnatural. Sometimes that doesn't matter in a film, but this was clunky. The script was poor. Characters would say things then other characters would say things and what they said didn't necessarily seem to follow on. There was one actress who seemed to only be in the film to scream theatrically when she saw a triffid. (That annoyed me particularly because John Wyndham didn't write his female characters like that - in his books women were usually resourceful, brave, clever and funny. They didn't just stand there screaming.)

The film did some scenes well, particularly cutaway scenes on a cruise liner with everyone struck blind, passengers and crew, and the same with a passenger airplane that was doomed to crash. Those bits were suitably chilling. The rest, not so much. 

It's possible to do an adaptation that sticks to the story. The BBC version from 2009 (which I blogged about here but haven't seen since it was broadcast) was much closer to the book. This film felt like it had been adapted by someone who hadn't really read or understood the book, been given a list of principal characters and told to get on with it. 

The only part that was really close to the book was the opening scenes that established the lead character, Bill, in a hospital bed with his eyes bandaged while everyone else looks at the "meteor" lightshow, and then the following morning when he removes his dressings and discovers everyone else has gone blind. 

The triffids themselves were only mildly menacing monsters in this film. But they are meant to be only mildly menacing because they're plants. They don't run after you even though they can move. It's the ones lurking, hidden in the bushes that get you with their deadly stings. In the first third of the film, the director made good use of not showing the entire monster, just a slimy root on a stair, or a flower betraying the presence of a triffid hiding in with other greenery. But then they became slowly-advancing rubbery aggressors and it was hard to take them seriously. 

There is a great visual sequence where Bill rigs up a flame thrower and torches massed ranks of triffids being held at bay by an electric fence, which is an event that was sort of lifted from the book. It's surprisingly violent, watching the triffids burn. But the action had been so staccato up to that point that the big set piece didn't have any tension to it. The final denouement - with the discovery that seawater could be used to turn triffids into puddles of oozing slime - wasn't part of the book at all. 

Where this film really went wrong was making the triffids space aliens carried on meteors. That's not in the book. Triffids are discovered in an African rainforest and then deliberately farmed for their highly versatile oil. In fact, that's why Bill ends up in hospital having eye surgery in the book - on a visit to a triffid farm one of the plants tries to sting him and some of the venom ends up in his eyes. 

So, the triffids don't arrive on meteors. And, as a further twist, the lights in the sky aren't actually meteors at all! What's revealed in the book is that a satellite had been launched that was a weapon designed to cause blindness, and it had malfunctioned. 

The idea of space-borne weaponry was incredibly forward-thinking in 1951. It was a few years before the first orbiting satellites were launched. It's probably the scariest part of the story - and it's the bit that gets left out of adaptations!

Because the point of The Day of the Triffids is that humans are prone to exploiting very dangerous natural resources, and are very resourceful at thinking up ways to kill other humans, and if something went wrong it could get very nasty. Basically, John Wyndham's message is that we don't need an alien invasion to doom us. Humans are very capable of dooming ourselves. 

John Wyndham did write an alien invasion novel a couple of years later. The Kraken Wakes is an equally vivid story, and possibly edges The Day of the Triffids in both concept and delivery. It hasn't ever been made into a film, but given how film-makers missed the point of the triffids, maybe that's a blessing. 

Thursday, March 17, 2022

Snack of the Month - buying buns on holiday

OK, this is my last holiday post, I promise. Regular readers will know I do a snack of the month feature. This month I'm doing something a bit different and blogging about a snack I had on holiday.

The snack was a Belgian Bun from Martin's Dairy, which is a little bakery shop on the quayside in Looe in Cornwall. I have borrowed this photo from their website because, inexplicably, I didn't take a photo of this bun before I ate it. I hope they don't mind me borrowing their photo, but it will be in the context of the most positive Snack of the Month review I have ever written and probably will ever write. 

How good was this bun? I will put it as simply as I can. 


Seriously, I think every time I have a bun from this point forward I will be comparing it to the Belgian Bun from Martin's Dairy. They were that good. The bready bit was perfectly done - not dry, not wet, with that elastically gluteny texture of an ideally baked bun. There was enough jam in the folds of the bun, not too much, not too little, exactly the optimal amount. A few raisins. Just enough to notice them. Not too many. The icing was more like a thick glaze not a fondant. 

They were exceptional. 

After we had finished eating our buns, Cathy looked at me and said, "Soooo, are we going back to Looe tomorrow morning?" (We didn't. We should have.)

Have these really ruined me for buns? Well, I tried two other baked products on holday after these buns that really sounded like they would have been my sort of thing. A "Chelsea doughnut" - a Chelsea bun cooked like a doughnut - and a cinnamon bun from a bakery claiming the title of oldest continuing bakery business in England (and also claims they may have supplied biscuits to the passengers on the Mayflower). 

Neither were anywhere near as good as the Belgian Bun from Martin's Dairy. 

I really doubt any bun will ever be as good. 

So, if you're passing Looe, stop and buy one. Even if you're not passing Looe, drive there and try one. See if I'm wrong about this. But be warned. It might just ruin you for buns too.

Something else we saw in Looe

We were parked on the quayside and when we went back to our car, we saw a chap eating a fish and chip supper in his car, being stared at by a couple of seagulls on his bonnet.

They wanted some chips! He turned his engine on. They didn't budge. He turned his windscreen wipers on. They didn't budge. So he sat there eating his fish and chips and they just stood there peering through the windscreen at him. 

Wednesday, March 16, 2022

A day at Dartmoor Zoo

On our recent holiday we had a slightly chilly day at Dartmoor Zoo in Sparkwell not far from Plymouth. It's the zoo that the film We Bought a Zoo is based on, although in the film the zoo is in California, not Devon.

On the way in we saw the tapirs eating their breakfast.

Tapirs are some of my favourite animals. Unfortunately the chilly wind deterred them from staying outside and once they had polished off their meal they went and hid in their little house.

The tapir's neighbours, the capybara family were also a bit chilly but were happier to stay outside.

Although it's quite a small zoo (which makes it really manageable and good for young children or older people), Dartmoor Zoo has an impressive array of big cats. It feels like visitors can get quite close to them and the design of the enclosures makes it easy to take photos. 

Of couse, it also means the cats can have a look at you!

I learned the difference between big cats and lesser cats from the talk by the cheetah enclosure. Big cats roar, and lesser cats purr, but no cats do both. Cheetahs are some of the largest of the lesser cats and we heard them purring in anticipation when the zookeepers brought out their food. Because they are lesser cats, they have kittens not cubs. 

Just across from the cheetahs they have lions and tigers. The tiger was putting on a show, doing adorable tigerish things like grooming.

But at one point he yawned revealing a set of fangs that could rip a human's throat out and it was a reminder that these creatures are deceptively fluffy.

The reptile house was small but well laid out and the lizards were visible. The geckos were fun. I told the volunteer staff member working in there about how my family used to have geckos living in the house when we lived in the Gambia. (They were very useful, eating flies and bugs. Even my grandma liked having them around and she wasn't keen on critters.)

There were a few smaller animals as well. Some were hard to photograph, like the potoroos. They are small marsupials that look like a cross between a big rat and a small wallaby. There were also some meerkats, which seem to be mandatory at zoos now. I found them amusing, particularly as it looked like one of the keepers had left a welly behind and the meerkat was colonising it in the name of meerkat-kind.

The following evening we watched the film of We Bought a Zoo. There was one bit which was a dead giveaway that the story was based on a tourist attraction in the UK - just before the zoo is about to open the weather turns into nonstop rain potentially preventing anyone from attending on opening day. That felt much more likely to have happened in Devon than in California!

Monday, March 14, 2022

A week in the Tamar Valley

I mentioned in my previous blog post that we unexpectedly ended up going to Cornwall for a week. We had been planning to go to Cambridge but then our reason for going over there got cancelled. So we headed to Kernow instead, literally just inside the county staying in sight of the River Tamar with Devon on the far bank. 

We were staying in a little cottage in Calstock, a small village with an impressive viaduct over the Tamar.

We could see the river over the roofs and chimneys from our bedroom window.

Calstock isn't very big. It had a couple of pubs, some nice art galleries, a coffee shop and an ice cream parlour. I tried the peanut ice cream. It was delicious.

Walking along the river, we visited Cotehele, which the locals call C'teel. It's a big National Trust property set in nicely scaped gardens.

The closest 'big' place was Tavistock, just across the county border. Neither of us had visited the town before and we enjoyed exploring it. It has some impressive 19th century buildings.

In the Guild Hall we got to see the old magistrates court (and the cells underneath!). Cathy got to sit on the magistrates bench...

... while I was in the dock!

In the exhibition in the building, the list of offences tried in the court included "refusing vaccination" (is it time to bring that back?) and the 19th century equivalent of road rage.

Tavistock also seemed to have an abundance of toy shops, which was great! We got the obligatory photo with a giant Playmobil figure outside the Toymaster.

I really love the wildness of the Cornish coast and the dinky little traditional fishing ports. We went to see the sea at Portwrinkle and then went for an explore in Looe.

And we were also very close to Plymouth. We had both been to Plymouth before. I had a memory of it being a dismal city centre built out of concrete. We saw a different side to the city this time. We parked near the Barbican area next to the Marina.

We saw the Mayflower steps, where the pilgrims set sail for the New World.

And we saw the Leviathan, which is apparently also referred to as the Prawn.

The Barbican is claimed to have more cobbled streets than anywhere else in England. It was full of galleries, boutiques and independent eating houses. Apparently it is where both Catherine of Aragon and Pocahontas both first set foot in England (not off the same boat!). It's also where the word "potatoes" was used for the first time!

We finished our exploring by driving around Plymouth Hoe. The views out to sea were wonderful.

We, thankfully, didn't see any Armadas though.

We drove through the outskirts of Plymouth another day as well - on our way to Dartmoor Zoo. We took lots of photos of animals, enough for a standalone blog post. So that's coming next!

Sunday, March 13, 2022

February 2022 - end of month review

This is a bit late as we are already into mid-March, but we had a week away last week so I am playing catch up now. Being almost 2 weeks into March means that I feel like I've forgotten what happened in the shortest month. 

Another reason why the monthly review is hard to write is because events in the wider world took a rather grim turn as Russia invaded Ukraine, prompting the first war in Europe since the early 1990s when Yugoslavia fell apart. I have several thoughts about why this war feels different even to the post 9/11 invasion of Iraq, the long war in Afghanistan or the Syrian civil war. 

There has been a democratisation of war reporting now, with anyone on the ground with a mobile phone supplying footage and commentary. Twitter is full of shaky handheld footage from people in or near the combat zone. This is probably the first war to be livestreamed. It's all very sad and stupid and depressing. 

However it has lifted the lid again on the utter corruption of the UK Government and how easy it has been for Vladimir Putin to purchase the souls of Conservative politicians. It's the ultimate Thatcherite mindset - to put a monetary value on everything. Although Margaret Thatcher would have been horrified to see the way her successors have shilled themselves and her party to malign despots. 

There was a show of solidarity across football crowds with the people of Ukraine. Barry Town fans have long used blue and yellow Ukraine flags as decoration, so it was suddenly sadly relevant to see them being held up by fans at the game against Caernarfon Town at the last game in February.

There were a couple of other notable things about the game. Firstly, the Caernarfon manager had decided to copy the hipster's choice of football manager, Marcelo Bielsa. by sitting on a tub at the edge of his technical area. He got a chant of "Discount Bielsa, you're just a discount Bielsa" aimed at him.

The other was Barry's supporter's rep on the board, Ian, turning up in a suitable costume to celebrate Fairtrade Fortnight.

The free bananas that he was handing out were especially welcome as it was a 12.45 kick off and I hadn't had my lunch yet. (I bought chips from the chip van.)

That game was the final one of six matches I attended in February. Barry had two Friday night games so on the free Saturdays I went to Pontardawe Town near Swansea and to Cambrian & Clydach in Clydach Vale near Tonypandy in the Rhondda. They hadn't updated their match board, but the game was on. 

In the middle of the month, Cathy and I celebrated Valentine's Day by watching the film Singin' in the Rain. I thought I had watched it as a kid, but remembered nothing about it at all apart from the iconic bit where Gene Kelly is dancing along singing in the rain, which I reckon I must have seen as a standalone clip. The film has aged quite well, I felt, with the theme of celebrities faking relationships to keep the gossip industry happy being weirdly up-to-date. 

Then towards the end of the month we had a sudden announcement that something we were planning to attend in Cambridge wasn't happening, so we suddenly had no reason to go and stay over there at the beginning of March. In typical fashion, we had just booked accomodation in Cambridgeshire the day before we were told that we didn't have to go. 

Fortunately, we were able to swap our accomodation for a week in Calstock next to the Tamar River on the border of Devon and Cornwall. I will tell you more about that in my next blog post!