Tuesday, August 30, 2022

Bright white Jaffa Cakes

As regular readers of my blog will know, I have a longstanding love for Jaffa Cakes. So when I see a new flavour I feel compelled to try it. Yesterday I discovered these in Home Bargains!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, August 29, 2022

God's Favourite Idiot

Looking for something with short episodes to watch at lunchtimes, we happened across the series God's Favourite Idiot on Netflix. It stars Ben Falcone as the titular character - mild-mannered Clark, who is selected by God to convey a message of peace and love to all humankind, even though humankind isn't receptive to that message at all. Falcone's wife Melissa McCarthy also stars as Clark's love interest Amelie. Mild spoilers follow the publicity picture below.

The show meanders through eight episodes, setting up Clark's call to be God's messenger, his various failed attempts to get the message out, and the way the situation gets ramped up once Satan turns up to try and destroy him. Throw in an obnoxious televangelist who has made a deal with Satan so he can be on TV, the four horse-people of the apocalypse, and Clark's loyal, yet simple, co-workers and first disciples, and it seems like there could be a good TV show in there somewhere.

Sadly, it isn't that good. It felt as if Netflix saw the success of the adaptation of Good Omens on Amazon Prime and decided to try and get some of that playing-religion-for-laughs action. Good Omens did it better. Much better. Netflix presumably realised this because God's Favourite Idiot got cancelled halfway through it's planned run. The shortened series of just eight episodes ends with the final episode leaving the story hanging as if it would be continued. 

The feeling this was a subpar retread of Good Omens wasn't all that was wrong with the show. The scripts were patchy, with the feel that several scenes were being improvised by the cast. If that was how they were filming things then it needed sharper editing. There wasn't much pace in the sequence of events. While there were some funny scenes, there was too much reliance on Melissa McCarthy doing her trademark aggressive sweary ranting as if that was hilarious. It was annoyingly one-note, especially because she can do much more if it's demanded from her. 

However, I still found the series watchable. While the story plays fast and loose with (mainly Christian) religious concepts, there are two particular angles that tweaked my professional interest as a freelance theologian on hiatus

Firstly, there is a generic-ality to the religious "truth" presented in the message to Clark. When he meets God, in the guise of an elderly woman, in the bathroom at work, he is told that all religions are right and that as long as you are trying to love someone then you're on the right track. I don't think I've seen a clearer expression of the generic approach to religion on mainstream TV before. 

This summary is what people who don't have many - or any - deep religious convictions want religions to be like. They want religions to be about love, peace, harmony and goodness. There's an assumption that all religions are the same and seeking the same ends, and those ends are nice. It's how religions should be in the eyes of people who believe in a generic, fluffy, sorta Christian concept of God, heaven and all the rest. 

Within Clark's circle of friends, including his Muslim friend, this message is accepted. Mohsin, the Muslim character, is the only one who admits that he doesn't go to mosque very often or even know whether he really believes. Clark's other friends presumably define themselves as 'Christian', although one did say that she hadn't been sure whether there was a God or not. Clark and Amelie are both well versed enough to recognise certain religious concepts come to life, like the heralds of the apocalypse, so we can assume some Christian knowledge there. 

The second thing that struck me was the depiction of overt Christians. There is a televangelist, Reverend Throp, who denounces Clark as a scammer, but who then signs a contract with Satan (in human form) so that he can appear on America's Own Holy Network (pronounced as America's Unholy Network, with the implication that it's run by Satan). Throp coins an exclusivist catchphrase that "Only the righteous are right!" This exclusivism is in direct contrast to Clark's inclusivist revelation from God.

But there are also crowds of angry protesters gathered around Clark's house, paralleling the real life evangelical Christian protestors that accompany any religion-related news stories from America these days. These Christians are nasty, threatening, and are perfectly willing to brick Clark's windows. 

The snarling face of Evangelicalism as it has become in America isn't often directly challenged through portrayals like this. But what made me pause was the way the show just assumed this is how Evangelicals would react to anything they didn't understand or agree with - paint lurid placards and denounce the blasphemer. 

It's hard to argue that the scriptwriters were wrong. 

So, all in all, what to make of this TV show. It was derivative. Some of it seemed to be aimed at trying to upset and annoy religious zealots. There were some funny bits that made me chuckle. But it was the unintentional things that will stick with me - it didn't feel like the show deliberately set out to hold up a mirror to society to reveal what lots of people actually think about religion, and yet that's what it inadvertently ended up doing, making it more meaningful than anyone expected.

Monday, August 22, 2022

Grief recedes as the new shape of the world becomes normal

I recently read this article by Mary-Frances O'Connor on the website Behavioural Scientist: Walking in the Dark: Creating a New Virtual Map in Your Brain After Loss. In the article, she explains how our brains create heuristic short cuts that allow us to navigate the world. We mentally construct routes through physical space, and experiences, based on what occupies that space. 

When something is removed from the physical environment, it takes a while for our brains to catch up. We still 'expect' the thing to be there for some time after it has gone. That's why we can often miss landmarks when they are demolished, or feel a little bit lost when a favourite shop closes. 

Mary-Frances O'Connor applies that to grief as well. In addition to mapping the physical environment, our brains also 'map' our social and emotional landscapes. So when someone is removed from that landscape it takes a while for our brains to adjust to their absence. Depending how big a role they play in our lives, it takes longer for our brains to fill in the 'hole' they leave when they die. 

So we experience a dissonance between the world we 'know' in our minds and the world as it really is - we are walking through two different worlds for a while. 

It's not quite as poetic as the description of grief being "love, persevering" that surprised me in the Marvel TV series Wandavision, but I found it a very helpful explanation for the process of grief. More importantly, it helps me rationalise the recession of grief with the passing of time. My brain is learning the new shape of the world without the people I love in it. I'm not a bad person for not missing them so much. I'm re-mapping the world.

There are still moments when I am reminded of the way the world was. During our recent week holidaying in Shropshire, I had an opportunity to visit my Dad's grave, and also the Shrewsbury Town Memorial Garden. 

I find the garden, with the little plaque saying 'Promoted to Glory' (an old Salvation Army phrase that my Dad would have liked) stirs the emotion of loss more than visiting the grave. 

It's not hard to explain why I find the memorial at the football ground more meaningful than the cemetery. I never went to the cemetery with my Dad. I didn't even know it was there until after he died. But I went to the Meadow with him several times. It was one of the places I saw him on the last day I saw him alive.

With a lump in my throat I said 'Well. Dad, here we go again. First home game of the season. I'll give them a cheer for you.' (That was something he used to say, if I was going to a game and he wasn't.)

It proved to be a nostalgic week really. Seeing the Llangollen Railway in reduced circumstances was sad for two reasons - I remember going there with Dad. Even going to the flower show brought back memories of us all going as a family. Dad would have had an opinion on the various problems the organisers were dealing with like having to cancel the evening fireworks display.

Relearning the way the world works takes time. There are still moments when I see something that makes me think of him. Back in May I saw a tote bag in the Ashmolean Museum gift shop that said "History Buff" on the side, and it would have been a perfect gift for him. 

And that made me sad, because I would have bought it back when he was alive and he would have thought it was funny. He always loved the t-shirt we got him with a picture of a trilobite on it saying 'Shropshire fossil'. My brain recognised it as being a good potential present, and still hadn't learned that I don't need to buy funny gifts for my Dad any more. 

My brain is catching up, though. Every time I get caught out by something that triggers an unexpected pang of grief, that's a learning point for my brain. The new world slowly gets mapped and the empty space is slowly filled. 

Sunday, August 21, 2022

A week in the 'Shire

The Shire in question being Shropshire. Originally we had planned to stay with my mum for a week and then realised that my brother and family needed to share the space as well, while building work happened at their house next door. So at short notice, we booked a holiday apartment in Oswestry, not too far away.

We liked Oswestry, particularly the very tricky minigolf course in Cae Glas Park. 

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

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

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

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

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

Our proximity to Shrewsbury meant I got to go to two Shrewsbury matches - a league defeat against Accrington and a cup win against Carlisle. For the latter we were in the safe standing section behind the ground. It was the first time my niece and nephew had stood at a football game. My niece was initially very unimpressed with the idea of not having a seat, but the kids both liked jumping around as Shrewsbury scored a late winner directly in front of us.

Before the Accrington game, my nephew got to meet a Shrewsbury legend.

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

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

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

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

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

Because the show was smaller than we expected we decided not to go back on the second day. Instead we drove home in the heatwave and tried our best not to melt on the way. Thus concluded our highly enjoyable week. 

Wednesday, August 17, 2022

When did Jaffa Cakes become a flavour?

I've documented my fondness for Jaffa Cakes on my blog before. Here's a rundown of all the different types I sampled in 2020, and here's when Jaffa Cake donuts were a Snack of the Month last year. 

The "Jaffa Cake" items in this blog post are stretching the envelope, though.

These are Jaffa Cake 'flavour' cereal bars. No cake. No jaffa either - they have 'orange flavoured fruit pieces' that are basically mashed up other fruit (mainly apple) with a tincture of orange added. 

The packaging is mildly deceptive. The bar has plenty of room to breathe in the plastic wrapper!

It has a cereal bar consistency. The flavour was orangey without being too overpowering. The chocolate drizzled over the top could be tasted as well.

It's not a Jaffa Cake, and I don't know why they couldn't call it an orange flavoured cereal bar. It seems a bit odd to describe this using the name of a completely different product. However, the marketing worked enough for me to buy a pack and try them. 

Sunday, August 07, 2022

Snack of the Month - spicy crunchy nuts

Cathy brought these Walkers Max double coated peanuts home for me to try (and to blog). They're something a bit different.

The description on the back sums them up. They are roasted peanuts in a crunchy shell dusted with a cheesy jalapeno flavouring. They make good on their promise for "max crunch" but they aren't teeth-wreckingly hard.

The bag is 175g and the recommended serving size is 30g. In case you're wondering, 30g looks like this. (Yes, I weighed it out.)

And here's a close up - where you can see the cheesy jalapeno flavour powder coating the snacks. 

On the plus side Walkers did not skimp on the flavouring. The jalapeno has a real kick and leaves a pleasant afterburn tingle (if you like that sort of thing like I do). The serving size is just about the right amount, really, although it would be possible to pig the entire bag in one sitting while watching sport on TV. I know that would leave me feeling bloated and remorseful though, so I've been rationing them out. 

Saturday, August 06, 2022

Live at the Roxy - The Tragically Hip live in 1991

I took delivery of a new CD a few days ago. It's a live album released by The Tragically Hip, of a concert recorded in 1991 - on the 3rd of May 1991, to be precise, at The Roxy in Los Angeles. (They aren't the first band to release a live album recorded at The Roxy, others include Bob Marley, Frank Zappa and Bruce Springsteen. It seems it's the place to record live albums. It was also where Guns'n'Roses played a lot of early gigs.)

This album was released last year in a large box-set commemorating the 30 year anniversary of the Hip's third album Road Apples. The box set also included Saskadelphia, which was salvaged from some 30 year old session tapes. (I reviewed Saskadelphia last autumn.) For a while Live at the Roxy was only available in that box set, but it was released as a standalone album last month. 

There was a sticker on the front of the CD digipak, saying it contains the "killer whale" version of the song New Orleans is Sinking. This refers to a mid-song ramble that the singer, Gord Downie, goes on, while the band play on. In it, Gord tells a story of being a maintenance guy in the killer whale tank of an aquarium who becomes the unlikely focus of a killer whale's romantic interest, and jealousy from the other whale in the tank. It includes a few lines where Gord pretends to speak 'whale' and makes suitable noises. Yes, it's as bizarre as you might be thinking.

The set list is a mix of songs off Road Apples, their second album Up to Here, and there are two songs from their debut eponymous 8 track mini-album. Intriguingly, there are three instances of Gord going off-script during songs and saying or singing lyrics that later appeared in songs on Fully Completely, which was released the following year.  

Highway Girl includes a chunk of lyrics that ended up in Locked in a Trunk of a Car - about hiding a body where police helicopters won't spot it. There are two songs that include lines that later appear in At the Hundredth Meridian, with several lines repeated in the version of All Canadian Surf Club, which closes out the performance. 

Fully Completely was the album that really defined The Tragically Hip, so much so they spent the next few albums trying to write songs that sounded different. The change in pace between Fully Completely and Day for Night, released in 1994, is remarkable. What I find interesting is the way that the band were clearly working with those lyrics well before Fully Completely was released. 

As a final point, that may reveal my level of completist nerdery, I recognised the way Gord said "This is a song called 'Blow me'" to introduce the song Blow at High Dough. It sounded like a bonus track I'd listened to on a CD single. I went and checked my single of Little Bones, and, yep, the live version of Blow at High Dough was recorded live at The Roxy on 3rd May 1991. 

I've always liked that live version, and now I have a copy of the whole concert!

Friday, August 05, 2022

Discovering how people see me

A couple of week's ago we had a team day in work that included a session using the "Insights Discovery" colour toolkit. It's another one of those profiling tools that reaches various conclusions about personality based off a questionnaire. As part of the day we were given several cards each, which we could either keep, give to a colleague, or hand back to the people running the course. 

The cards all had a characteristic on them and we were supposed to keep the ones we felt applied to us, and redistribute the others. We all started with 12 cards. I gave six away and was given another eight. This is the selection I ended up with.

The six I kept were:
  • Encourages structure and order (well, I try)
  • Gives and receives trust
  • Quickly gets to the root of the problem
  • Rapid reasoning
  • Imaginative problem-solver, and
  • Identifies the possibilities in every situation
Some of them I strongly identified with, but I'll admit some of them I kept more because I would like to be like that.

The eight I was given reflect how my colleagues see me - or at least what they have seen so far. We have only been working together for a couple of months.

The cards my colleagues gave me were:
  • Can facilitate resolution of interpersonal conflict between others
  • Good situational analysis
  • Will find ways to work more effectively (I call this tactical laziness; other people call it ergonomics - that's an idea for a future blog-post!)
  • Realistic and systematic
  • Sees adversity as just another opportunity 
  • Knows the importance of detail within the process
  • Gets the job done and done right (too right!)
  • Brings boundless energy to any situation (this was surely a joke)
These are all fairly nice things to be told. I'm aware this sort of thing is not far off from those horoscopes that use vague compliments to make you feel positively about what they are telling you. We are almost always more likely to accept a compliment as a true statement about ourselves. 

Later I got given a detailed profile of my personality based on the answers I had given to the quiz. Strangely, there wasn't much overlap between the cards and the profile. In fact, some of it was in direct contrast - apparently I am likely to delay making a decision until I am in full possession of all the facts rather than deploy rapid reasoning. But from the perspective of living in my head, once I have those facts I reach a conclusion quickly. 

The only sour note of the whole exercise was that someone in my team handed the card saying 'Good sense of humour' back in to the facilitator. I felt mildly offended that they didn't give it to me. But maybe that's telling me something that I really ought to know...

Thursday, August 04, 2022

Sooner or later, you find your fashion label

I didn't really need a new hoodie, but when I found this at a branch of TK Maxx, I couldn't just leave it hanging on the rack.

It's a very nice hoodie as a brand, I feel it suits me.

Wednesday, August 03, 2022

July 2022 month review - sporty summer

The Welsh for July is Gorffennaf - literally gorffen (end) and haf (summer), which given how it always tends to rain in August seems right. This July we had a three day heatwave that badly disrupted things and is possibly a sign of things to come unless humanity can collectively get its priorities in order and prevent the climate changing drastically. 

The heatwave coincided with the Grangetown Zoo. We also had a visitor stay with us during the hottest few days. She was a good deal younger than us so Cathy and I took advantage of having a helpful young person around and bought new phones. My previous phone had served me well since I bought it in January 2016. If this phone lasts a similar length of time it should be good until 2028. 

July was also a sporty month. I enjoyed watching the Euro 2022 football tournament, although I didn't get around to putting up the wall-chart for this one. It was an excellent tournament and a great example of how football is football, regardless which gender is playing it. The goal of the tournament was an audacious backheel that actually made me yelp with shock it was so unexpected. 

I had decided not to go to any friendly matches in the run up to the new season. My first game of the season was therefore at Taff's Well who were playing Ynyshir Albions in the league cup. 

My first goal of the season was a toe-poke from three yards out after the Ynyshir goalie dropped the ball from a cross. I went with my friend Paul, who also accompanied me to Barry's first league game of the season, over in Ammanford on a Friday night. A long trip after work!

On the last Saturday in July, I went up to Cwmbach to watch Cwmbach Royal Stars play in the Welsh Cup. I went with my friends Sara and Leanne, and we took their twins, who were too intent on watching the game to pose for a selfie.

We also met up with Allan, who is the club photographer and committee member. He is a great source of local football knowledge. I met Allan through my previous job and had been promising to go up to watch  Cwmbach for ages, so I was glad to finally make good on my promise and see him again.

To cap off a great game, Leanne won the half time raffle!

In addition to all the football, BT Sport were generous with their coverage of San Diego Padres games this month. I watched four and a half Padres games - against the Twins, Dodgers, Mariners and twice against the Giants - but I only saw them win once! I was beginning to think I was cursed until I finally saw them win a game at the fifth attempt of watching. 

And I shouldn't forget the two Blood Bowl games I managed to fit into the month as well.

And finally - and what a way to finish off - I got to meet up with my buddy Connor for a Saturday as well. 

Connor brought me some belated birthday presents, including the epic Lego minifigure at the top of the post, which he had designed himself on the minifigure printer in the Lego Shop in Birmingham. He really timed his visit perfectly because both the Lego Shop and The Entertainer toy shop were giving away free Lego on the day he was in town. A double free Lego day doesn't come along very often. We made the most of it!