Monday, October 31, 2022

Hallowe'en Decor

Noson Calan Gaeaf Hapus / Happy Hallowe'en. 

I thought this year I would post a few pictures of the mantelpiece after Cathy arranged some themed items for our All Hallows Eve amusement. Brace yourself for some treats. (If you follow my Twitter you may already have seen these pictures.)

The little Sylvanian Families house with the cat in a ghost costume was a present from Cathy to me. I gave her the large pumpkin in the picture below for National Pumpkin Day last year. It's made by Jellycat

All hail the Pumpkin King!

With the lights out and pumpkin nightlights on, it looks very atmospheric.

The Playmobil ghost also lights up in a colour change mode. Meanwhile Sally Brown was bought on one of our American road trips. We have several other Peanuts characters dressed for Hallowe'en, but Sally is the only one to appear on the mantel this year. 

Have a splendid Hallowe'en everyone. 

Monday, October 24, 2022

When do bands release their best albums?

I was in a discussion about the best albums released by various bands and it got me thinking how there is probably a numerical sequence of "best" albums depending how long it took for bands to reach their peak. This musing also gave me a reason to fish out some CDs...

There's a sequence here

Often a band's first album becomes the high bar all their other music gets measured against. There are good reasons for this - those albums are usually developed over a length of time, forged in difficult circumstances and without too much input from commercial interests. But for other bands it takes a while...

In terms of first albums, it might not objectively be their "best" album musically, but I personally don't think the Killers have bettered Hot Fuss in their subsequent output.

Similarly, the only Oasis album I can be bothered listening to is Definitely Maybe. Garbage's eponymous first album is their best, with their attempt to copy it (Version 2.0) and try to do something different (subsequent albums) never reaching the same heights.

However, some bands only break through with their second album.

How to Make Friends and Influence People is Terrovision's best album in my opinion and it was their second album. It is a lot more polished than their debut. The same could be said for Nirvana's Nevermind, if grunge could ever be called polished. That's the album that helped Nirvana break through into popular consciousness and it became the seminal grunge album as a result.

Parklife was Blur's third album. It wasn't just their defining album, but also became the album that defined Britpop. As a band they tried to move away from it and from Britpop in subsequent albums, but never quite managed it. 

Fully Completely was The Tragically Hip's fourth album. It's widely regarded as their pinnacle and was a lot heavier than the preceding three albums. The Hip then went in a radical new direction for their next album, Day for Night, trying to find a new distinctive sound.

The Joshua Tree was U2's fifth album released as they became the ultimate 80s stadium band creating the ultimate stadium anthems. My favourite U2 album is actually their eighth one, Zooropa. (People go on about Achtung Baby as well and that was their seventh album but I think the hype about that album marking a 'new sound' for the band is over-rated. Zooropa was the step beyond that a lot of fans didn't really engage with.)

Metallica's "black album" was also their fifth album. Purist fans might disagree but this is the album with mainstream appeal and meant Metallica became more than just another metal band.

The cover wasn't all black!

Diesel and Dust was Midnight Oil's sixth album. Beds Are Burning was the international hit, which is strange because the pure Australian-ness that came through that song and the album should have made it less accessible than their previous records. 

American Idiot was Green Day's seventh album and relaunched the band. I think its their best, and I say that as someone who bought Dookie back when it was new. The individual members of Green Day had been through a lot of problems and in some ways this album was a hard reset. It gained them a huge new audience of young fans and even inspired a musical.

Automatic for the People was REM's eighth album. The debate over which album is their best album could last all night, but this is the album with several singles that remain their most played songs. 

So those are some best albums numbered one through eight. Does anyone want to nominate a band's ninth album as their best?

Bonus picture - getting out my CDs I discovered a relic sticker of a shop that doesn't exist any more!

Sunday, October 23, 2022

Being "a bit anti-establishment"

In September I wrote a post about how I didn't feel like I was feeling what everyone else was feeling after the Queen died. I had some feedback on that post. My mum said it seemed "cynical". My friend Paul said I sounded "a bit anti-establishment". 

My first thought when Paul said that was "Only a bit?" Maybe it took me saying something out of step with the prevailing sentiment to show that I'm a bit anti-establishment. But I'm not going to deny it. I think there are a lot of problems with 'the establishment' and the way things are arranged in the UK.

I've been a republican for a long time - probably all my adult life. It's nothing personal about any member of the Royal Family. As another friend, Jon, said, the Queen chose to do the public duty side of her role, and I respect the Queen for playing the hand she was dealt and playing it well. But I don't have to approve of the way the deck was stacked. (What's the saying? Hate the game, not the player?)

I studied Politics at A-level, back when politics was comparatively boring. We spent a year looking at the British political system and a year looking at the American political system. That left me firmly of the opinion that the House of Lords should be abolished. This has current relevance if you can be a Prime Minister for a mere 44 days and still give a load of party donors paid jobs for life in the House of Lords. My preference would be to replace that unelected body with regional parliaments in England that have power devolved to them.

The American system seems to have gone horribly wrong in this century, but the idea of splitting powers between Congress (the legislature) and the President (the executive) is fundamentally sound. Having an elected President gives everyone a say in who holds the top job, unlike the incredible farce we have seen recently appointing a new Prime Minister.

In the last few years I have become an active supporter of Welsh Independence. Overall, you can see a trend in my thinking - a greater say in who governs with more direct influence for voters. A self-governing Cymru will mean more direct accountability to the people who live here. 

I was recently asked if I felt an independent Wales was viable - I replied asking whether the UK still feels viable. The person I was talking to is politically astute and told me for the first time in their life they felt truly fearful for the future. My feeling is increasingly framed as 'Can Wales afford to stay in the Union?', rather than 'Can Wales afford to leave?'

I have strong opinions beyond abstract proposals for changing political structures. I think all "necessities" - power, water, housing (to an extent), broadband - should be nationalised and run as public services to ensure everyone's needs are met. (I have heard an interesting idea that football clubs should be 'nationalised' and run for the good of communities. It's an idea that had some merit to it. Social institutions are important. However, I would start with the utilities and transportation.) 

I'd also support the idea of a Universal Basic Income, to remove financial stress from people and really free up creative endeavour and innovation. Wages would then reflect the value of a particular job in society and work would have greater inherent value. 

Universal Basic Income is a way to break the poverty cycle and reset our society. There is good evidence that the solution to poverty is actually to give poor people enough money to live on. That sounds so blindingly obvious it feels almost like sarcasm. But it's hard to argue against, unless you are willing to ignore all the research and cling to your prejudices that all poor people are stupid or irresponsible. Of course, some people might prefer the UK to be a nation of foodbanks and misery. They can keep voting Tory. I'm not going to apologise for wanting things to be better than that.

Don't know the writer; agree with the message

Because of its ever-presence in the lives of almost everyone who is alive, people forget the NHS was considered radical and revolutionary in its time. It was vigorously opposed by the Conservative Party of its day (and also by a lot of doctors!) and even now the idea of free healthcare available at the point of need is rare around the world. I believe in the NHS concept and believe it is worth defending, which is becoming increasingly necessary as it is being deliberately under-funded and privatised by stealth. 

My point about the NHS is that, generally, we can get used to radical approaches. Welsh Independence, or republicanism, or nationalising utilities, or Universal Basic Income, may all appear radical and unachievable. But so did the NHS when Aneurin Bevan first entered politics. 

So, having said all that, overall I'm happy to be described as "a bit anti-establishment". The only bit I would quibble with is the word "bit".

Wednesday, October 19, 2022

Fýra, fimm, seks, sjey

I have joined a new Welsh class, refreshing my knowledge of the language by redoing some of the course that I finished back in 2020. I am enjoying it, but I have hit a snag a few times when trying to remember numbers. 

I get started alright - un, dau, tri - and then something funny happens. An old memory of numbers in a foreign language overwrites the Welsh. The next numbers that come to mind are fýra (pronounced foira), fimm, seks, sjey (shay). Then my brain stops counting because it knows these numbers aren't Welsh.

I blame my Grandma.

Me and Grandma, Cardiff Bay, 2006

My Grandma, Ragna, came from the Faroe Islands to the UK when she was 19. She lived the rest of her life on the outskirts of Wrexham until she passed away aged 89. Despite living over three quarters of her life in North East Cymru and having a greater English vocabulary than many people born in this country, she always counted in Faroese. And when she counted she often counted out loud. 

I was grandchild ein

If she rolled a six in a game and was moving a piece she would count ein, tveir, tríggir, fýra, fimm, seks. I'd forgotten ein, tveir and triggir. 

Clearly there were also times she was counting up to seven because I automatically go up to sjey. I'm trying to think when she would have been counting to sjey. She used to count the plates on the table to make sure she hadn't forgotten to lay a place for anyone. That could have been when she used to count to sjey. We often took friends to see them. We crowded round her tiny table no matter how many we were in number.

Fýra, fimm, seks, sjey. I remember when I was a teenager, playing a card game with Grandma, my mum and some of my friends. It was a game called Racing Demons where you have to get rid of your cards by putting them on piles in the middle of the table. Suddenly Grandma disrupted the flow shouting "Sex! SEX!" She was trying to put down a six. My friends were traumatised.

I haven't interrupted a Welsh class by shouting "SEX!" at least not yet. I have apologised for not remembering saith when all I could think of was sjey. I explained it was all my Grandma's fault. 

But I'm grateful in a way that she embedded those numbers so deep in my brain. It's a legacy she left me along with so many other memories. 

BONUS family photo - after my Grandma passed away we went through her photo albums. I found this photo of her with my Grandad at a wedding before I was born. Grandad is trying to sneak a cheeky kiss. I love this photo so much.

Monday, October 17, 2022

Snack of the Month - Cheetos from Lanzarote

My mum came home with these from her holiday to Lanzarote with my sister and her family a couple of months back. She said she thought I would liek to review them on my blog. She was right.

I've no idea what "Gustosines" means. Google Translate has been no help. 

This was a huge bag of mildly flavoured puffed corn snacks. They had a slightly weird texture and were somehow both slightly greasy and also slightly dry. 

They were very easy to munch though, and a good 'consume on the couch while watching TV' sort of snack. That's what happened to this packet. 

Sunday, October 16, 2022

Litter picking irony

Yesterday I braved the squally showers and joined some other intrepid litter pickers on the Keep Grangetown Tidy monthly litter pick. There wasn't much of interest to report in the bag I filled, but I was highly amused that one of my fellow litter pickers had retrieved a broken sign saying "cleaning in progress" from inside a bush.

Saturday, October 15, 2022

First gig since Covid - Counting Crows

On Tuesday night, Cathy and I were in Manchester at our first gig since the entertainment world came to an abrupt stop in 2020.

Counting Crows had already rescheduled their tour dates twice, so we kept checking in the run up to this gig whether it was still going ahead. We had been to the Manchester Apollo before - to see Bastille a few years back. (For various reasons, the most memorable thing I remember about that gig was having to drive back to my parents' house in Shrewsbury via Birmingham to drop off my pal Connor because there were no trains from Manchester to Birmingham after 9pm.) 

I was getting a bit weary of gigs prior to the pandemic as I'd been annoyed by loutish behaviour by other gig-goers, and truthfully was fed up of paying high prices for tickets and then treated like dirt by venues. So I was apprehensive about this. However, I was really impressed with the Apollo as a venue - they had loads of staff on, there were no delays on entry, and there was an orderly queuing system for the bar instead of a scrum!

Here's a pre-show selfie of us in our seats, way up in the second to last row of the Circle/

We were a way back, but we had a great, central view. I clocked the techie with the laptop who walked behind us during the second song of the set and fiddled with some settings. After that the sound mix was absolutely perfect. 

We have seen Counting Crows several times over the years as they have toured different records. I wasn't too up to speed on the latest release, Butter Miracle, as it's only been released on vinyl. There are four songs in a 'suite' that they played one after another about two thirds the way through their set. I enjoyed the songs even though I didn't know them. They also included a healthy mix of older tracks, including the big singles off their first record which got the liveliest response from the crowd. 

It feels to me that the band have grown into themselves more on recent tours and now enjoy giving the fans what they want to hear. There is pride in playing classics like Rain King, Round Here. Mister Jones, and Omaha and holding the mic out into the crowd for them to sing along. They seem to enjoy playing the hits more than they did twenty plus years ago when they were touring their earlier albums. Maybe it's a new sense of perspective - Adam the singer seemed genuinely grateful when he thanked the crowd at the end of the gig for showing up and being fans. 

Here are ten photos from the gig that all look a bit the same but hopefully give you an idea of what our evening was like. 

Wednesday, October 05, 2022

Jaffa Cake flavour alert - lemon sans lime!

Cathy spotted these in Asda. I don't normally go supermarket own brand with Jaffa Cakes, but the chance to try a pure lemon flavour instead of lemon and lime intrigued me enough to buy them.

The constituent parts of these are good. The chocolate coating is thick enough to coat the jelly without cracking and has a darkish flavour. The cake could be softer, but isn't dry. There is a generous portion of jelly and it has a firm consistency.

Flavour-wise, these are a winner. They are less acidic than the lemon and lime ones produced by McVities. The lemon flavour is strong meaning they taste like lemon drizzle cake or a lemon square. 

A ringing endorsement from me then, for this unusual flavour Jaffa Cake.

Tuesday, October 04, 2022

September 2022 review

We are now three quarters the way through 2022 and September felt like a busy month, both personally and in the wider world. 

Towards the end of the month I had my fourth anti-covid vaccination, and this time I got a sticker!

Unlike some previous jabs, I felt the effects of this one, spending most of the following day feeling poorly with flu-like symptoms. Still, it's worth it to be (sort of) covid-proof as we head into winter. 

The main news story this month was the passing of Queen Elizabeth II, which dominated media output for days. I blogged about how I felt out of step with a lot of people regarding it - and I have had some feedback that will probably inspire some future posts. It may have been too soon to ask awkward questions, like I did. 

The state funeral was declared a bank holiday, which added an extra day on to out week's holiday in Caernarfon. I blogged about that too! And here are a couple more bonus pictures.

Conwy's three bridges

Full steam ahead!

After a "decamonth" of football matches in August, I only went to four games in September. Partly this was because all football was cancelled the weekend after the Queen died. This affected our plan to celebrate the birthday of our eldest nephew, Zac, by going to a game with him and some of his friends. If we had made it to that game, I would have seen three successive Shrewsbury games for the first time in decades.  

However, we saw Zac on our way to Caernarfon, and on the way back we got to see our second eldest niece, Iona on her birthday, as my sister and brother-in-law had brought their clan down to stay at my Mum's house. We even got to go with them to see the DC League of Superpets movie (reviewed here). 

The four games I saw included a new record scoreline for me - with Cardiff Corinthians winning 16-0 (sixteen-nil!) in the FAW Trophy. 

The day after the Corries racked up that massive score, I drove over to Nailsworth in Gloucestershire, where Forest Green Rovers were hosting Shrewsbury Town. It was back-to-back Shrewsbury away games for me, having been to Bristol Rovers the previous week. 

Shrewsbury won 2-0, which made climbing up the massive mile-long hill to the ground almost worthwhile. 

Talking of large scorelines, I wore my new Barry Town colour-themed Converse sneakers to Barry's home game against Goytre United. Barry won 5-0!

Despite the reduced quantity of live football, we have started watching the Welcome to Wrexham documentary on Disney Plus. I have found this surprisingly moving, mainly because Wrexham is a place that I know well due to family connections. The strength of feeling the fans have towards their football club underlines the importance of these cultural institutions. The Hollywood owners, Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenny, seem to understand that and have come across well so far.

However, it's kind of funny watching the documentary about last season and knowing how the season ended. The documentary editors have been clever at foreshadowing about how difficult it will be if Wrexham miss out on promotion at the end of the season... oh dear!