Tuesday, November 29, 2022

Continental oblong Jaffa Cakes

These Jaffa Cakes by Bahlsen were discovered in our local Lidl. I got the last box which had a weird grease stain on the outside. 

The oblong-shaped Jaffa Cakes inside were unaffected, although they were all packaged upside down. 

The cakes had excellent chocolate coverage. It was apparently "messino dark" chocolate, whatever that is. It certainly sounds fancy.

The cake itself was very thin but was reasonably soft. The orange jelly had enough sharpness for the orangey taste to be noticeable even though there didn't seem to be very much jelly in them.

I haven't seen any new festive Jaffa Cake flavours released in the run up to Christmas this year, but this pack more than made up for that lack. 

Monday, November 28, 2022

Two sport twofer!

Last Saturday I managed my latest "twofer". It's always a special day when I get to go to two games and this time it was in two different sports - and neither of them was football!

About a week before, my brother, Dave, messaged me to ask if I had anything planned for Saturday as he had been offered some tickets for the Wales v Australia rugby international at the Principality Stadium (which I still call the Millennium Stadium). I didn't have any firm plans. Dave then decided to make a full day of it and asked if I fancied going to the ice hockey game that was due to start at 7pm. I thought that sounded like a great idea and the "two sport twofer" was on!

I suggested to Dave that he try and get to our house a bit early as rugby traffic can be a nightmare. He arrived late morning, we had lunch and then went to the Stadium. Because it was raining, we decided to go in early, and because the roof was closed and in rugby you can take your drink to your seat, we were able to sit in the dry and watch all the build up.

A friendly steward saw we were trying to take a selfie and offered to take our photo.

There was quite a pre-game show, with marching bands and large choirs performing just about every Welsh themed song you could imagine, from Yma o Hyd through to Sospan Bach, with The Green, Green Grass of Home, Delilah, and Cwm Rhondda along the way.

There was also a significant amount of pyro - the things that look like wheelie bins were actually massive flamethrowers. I didn't get too many photos as they all went off because I filmed a video of most of the display instead.

But you can see all the smoke in the air just as the teams lined up for kick off. A lot of this came from the fireworks that exploded in the roof beams. 

Our seats were near one of the try-lines. We had some good views of attacking line-outs. First for Australia...

...then for Wales, in the second half. 

Wales were winning for most of the match, but Australia came back into the game, Wales ran out of steam and eventually the Aussies won 39-34. The regular fans sitting around us weren't too happy and the consensus of the grumbling was that it was time Wales found a new coach.

Having been lulled into a false sense of dry security being sat in the stadium with the roof closed, going outside into the rain was a shock. We walked down the Taff Trail to the ice arena and got there with almost an hour until face-off between the Cardiff Devils and Coventry Blaze. 

Ice rinks aren't really the place to go to dry off after walking in the rain, but the cafe was warm. We had some food there and sort of semi-dried out. 

We were sat right behind one of the goals. The steward was very friendly, but this time Dave took the selfie without any help. 

We both noticed a very small player in the line up waiting to have their name called out during the introductory line ups. It turned out they were actually the game mascot rather than a member of the roster.

Speaking of mascots, we were next to the 'singing section' of fans. At one point the Devils mascot, Taz, was in the crowd banging a drum and leading the singing. Taz had a shirt with the number 666 on the back, which made me laugh. 

Previously, the Devils mascot was called Lucy Fur, but I think that joke was a bit too clever for most people so now it's Taz like a Tasmanian Devil. 

The game itself was low-scoring. Ot was 1-1 and the end of the first period and the next two periods were completely goalless, despite the Devils having a player advantage at least five or six times as a succession of Coventry players spent two-minute stints in the sin bin. 

As the game went into overtime I texted Cathy to say we might be later back than planned, but barely had I sent the text then Coventry scored the sudden death winner and the game was over. Only 16 seconds of overtime had been played. 

The Blaze players crowded over near where the away fans were cheering to celebrate the win.

The rain had just about stopped so we got home without getting much wetter. We even stopped off in a supermarket on the way home to buy some mince pies. We ate them while watching the World Cup highlights show to round off the sporting day. 

Sunday, November 20, 2022


Cathy coined this phrase when I was complaining about over the top Christmas themed marketing. 

Like Pot Noodle rebranding for the holidays as Pot Noël and promising festive flavours in their cracker shaped gift set.

I'm not having a go at Pot Noodle here. This is reasonably amusing, and at least they've made an effort, however ludicrous.

I was more disappointed with the flimsy box for the "Jaffa Hamper" that McVities is promoting.

It's the thinnest cardboard possible, and while I wouldn't turn down a Jaffa Hamper, it felt a bit cheap.

That is often the way with novelty Christmas packaging - I think everyone realises that. However it's another thing that makes me feel nonplussed with the whole hyped shebang.

This year I've found the seasonal focus on Christmas has really got to me. It's not just that the festive shopping season starts earlier each year, but this year it feels really incongruous. We have the backdrop of rising energy and food costs, a political leadership vacuum, and the despair-inducing slide into irreversible damage to the planet.

And yet, Christmas is marketed at us with a ferocity I haven't felt before. Perhaps because I've never felt so vulnerable. Or it might just be triggering my cognitive dissonance. We are being urged to pretend everything is fun and festive, but I don't feel like joining in the fantasy. 

Wednesday, November 16, 2022

Cheesy cultural appropriation

I saw this for sale recently when I was looking for cheese to add to burgers. I was intrigued so I thought I would give it a go.

I'm pleased to report it worked really well as burger cheese in a cheeseburger. But there is a little nagging feeling that this is cultural appropriation of some kind - especially since this "Welsh rarebit" cheese was made in Leicestershire!

Rarebit has been a Welsh staple dish for so long that a joke about Welsh people eating toasted cheese is in an Elizabethan era joke book that Shakespeare seems to have used as one of the many sources he borrowed from. 

The joke is that at a Welsh wedding there were ten cooks because each guest toasted their own cheese. Those hilarious Elizabethans!

Anyway, Tesco has brought Welsh rarebit into the modern era of packaged sliced cheese. I liked it. I'll probably buy it again despite my misgivings about this culinary cultural appropriation.

Tuesday, November 15, 2022

Quack of the Month!

On a recent trip to the Knap in Barry, Cathy and I saw this very pretty white mallard duck.

Photo: Cathy

We also heard it because she* had a loud, persistent quack! Definitely our Quack of the Month!

*I am reliably informed by expert-in-all-things-duck Cathy, that only lady ducks quack.

Sunday, November 13, 2022

Snack of the Month - sweet cinnamon "chocolate"

Is "white chocolate" really chocolate? That's a question to prompt arguments. Ritter Sport just call this bar "white cinnamon crisp" and leave chocolate out of it. A wise move.


I am a big fan of cinnamon flavoured things. Hot Tamales candy, the Extra Fire gum that Wrigleys used to sell, cinnamon flavoured breakfast cereal, pretty much anything. 

And the cinnamon flavour of these bars is acceptable. However they are also incredibly sweet. And I say that as someone with a high tolerance for sweetness.

Based on the consistency and sweetness it feels like the "crisp" in the cinnamon crisp is cinnamon infused sugar. 

The overall verdict is this is too sweet to eat a whole bar in one sitting, at least on the first go. Maybe by building up tolerance over time I could, but I don't really want to desensitise my palette like that.

Saturday, November 12, 2022

Categorising "speculative" fiction

I was in a recent conversation about what classed as 'speculative fiction' and how it was different to science fiction. This followed an observation that when established authors decide to write stories set in the future they prefer to describe it as speculative fiction rather than science fiction. 

To me there is a difference. Speculating on how the world might turn out doesn't necessarily relate to changes in our scientific understanding of the world, which is a cornerstone of science fiction, nor does it depend on the ability of humans to deploy science to push back boundaries.

There was also a question of alternate history (alt-hist), which is also 'speculative', but that seems quite clearly defined already so we can save the term 'speculative' to apply to stories of a possible future instead of a different version of now. 

A suitably spacey photo...

I also divvy up sci-fi into science fiction and space fantasy (also occasionally called 'space opera'). This roughly follows the rules of 'hard' and 'soft' science fiction, although I'm not keen on those distinctions. They are dated and don't really capture the intersections of scientific progress.

The old rule used to be that 'hard' science-fiction bent or changed one rule of science, while in 'soft' science-fiction, pretty much anything goes. Keeping the former as science fiction, I'd describe space fantasy as advanced technologies separated by vast time periods from our present, or unconnected to current human history at all, like the Star Wars films being set 'a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away'. 

Here are some examples of books I've read in the four rough categories...

Alt-hist - changes details in the past to create a different set of events, or a different contemporary reality. The Plot Against America by Philip Roth explores how the USA could have adopted Nazi ideology in the 1930s. I'd also include Jasper Fforde's books about Thursday Next here and any other books about a world that looks a bit like ours but is different in some way.

Speculative fiction - starts (broadly) with where we are now and predicts what might happen in the future. This can drift towards science fiction when something novel is introduced (like triffids, for example) but the emphasis is always on the human side of things rather than the technology. Well known examples would be The Handmaid's Tale, or Nineteen Eighty-Four and Brave New World (in a previous generation). JG Ballard's books The Drowned World and The Drought fit more here rather than in science fiction.

Science fiction - stories that revolve around or focus on a particular discovery, advance in knowledge or change in technology. 2001: A Space Odyssey and I, Robot fit here because humans discover or introduce something that changes the world. I feel this is getting rarer as a genre in terms of new releases. However, the Expanse novel series is a good example of how this genre can still produce new compelling stories.

Space Fantasy - examples would be Dune by Frank Herbert, the Culture novels by Iain M Banks, novels set in the Warhammer 40,000 universe, and several of Alastair Reynolds's books. I enjoyed reading Adrian Tchaikovsky's books Children of Time and Children of Ruin, and both of those belong in this category. 

These are just my own categories and I'm probably inconsistent. But then I'm only classifying books for my own enjoyment, so it probably doesn't matter which category books end up in. 

Monday, November 07, 2022

Finally finished Farscape!

Yes, we have finally frelling finished Farscape! 23 years after I first watched most of the first season on BBC2, I can tick this series off. 

Sometime towards the end of last year, I was reminiscing about Farscape. Cathy bought me a copy of the DVD box set for Christmas. Unfortunately, it was on a region-specific DVD and we didn't have a multi-region DVD player. However, these days DVD players are old technology and we could buy a new multi-region DVD player at minimal cost.  So once that had arrived and we had set it up... we could start watching the show from the beginning of the first series again. 

The basic premise of Farscape is an accident befalling an astronaut called John Crichton who is testing a new spaceship, the Farscape Module. The ship unexpectedly causes a wormhole in space, his ship passes through it, and then on the other side of the galaxy he meets a bunch of different aliens who have all similarly been uprooted from their lives. Thrown together, they gradually become his loyal friends. Well, loyal-ish. They often have their own agendas and aren't always trustworthy.  

One of the things I liked about Farscape when I first saw it was its use of puppet creations made by the Jim Henson Creature Shop. While they still had recognisably humanoid tendencies, including two front-facing eyes, noses and mouths in roughly human proportions, the diminutive Rygel and the hulking Pilot who was embedded into the living spaceship, Moya, both looked properly alien. The rest of Moya's alien inhabitants were all people in make up or latex masks as is pretty standard in science fiction series. The one exception is a very human looking character called Aeryn Sun, a female "Sebacean" who becomes the love interest for Crichton as the seasons progress. 

Personally, I felt the puppets still worked. However, there is also plenty of grainy CGI, which was ground-breaking in the late 90s and early noughties but looks distinctly dated now. The quality of each episode is variable. Some are tightly scripted and have a clear story arc. Others are looser in their approach and seem to have characters wandering around for no discernible reason other than to kill a few minutes of runtime. 

However, the show had some neat ideas. When Crichton first arrives on Moya he's immediately injected with "translator microbes" that explain how he can understand all the other aliens. The idea of a spaceship that is mainly organic and genetically engineered is still novel. The show also developed its own vocabulary of swear words. "Frel" was an obvious replacement for an English word beginning with f. There was also "dren" which roughly translated to crap, and "tralk" which correlated loosely with slut. 

The show managed to avoid being too cliched. There are quasi-fascist bad guys (the ironically named Peacekeepers) but that didn't drift into a rebellion versus empire scenario, and there are competing factions and races who are neither better nor worse options. There is also a spiritual element to the show, with an apostate priest called Zhaan as one of the main characters. Throughout the show there are hints of an afterlife and another plane of existence inhabited by the souls of the dead.

I'm not going to do a full plot summary, but the first two series have a lot more self-contained episodes, although the storylines are common to science-fiction series - there's a body-swap episode, an episode where a character gets marooned and ages in comparison to the rest of the shipmates, a planet where one of the characters is revered as a god, a planet where a character accidentally gets married and so on. Just about every science fiction series has some or all of these events occurring in some way. 

Midway through season two a definite story arc emerges. A new principle baddie, Scorpius, comes to the fore and he has a reason for relentlessly pursuing Crichton. The show also begins to focus more on Crichton's quest to get home. Seasons three and four explore this further, with Crichton having to decide whether he dare jeopardise the safety of Earth by returning. Season four ends on a cliff-hanger with Crichton and Aeryn turned into glass beads by an alien weapon. 

However, that was the last episode of the last season. The story could have been left on that very dark note, but two feature length TV movies - The Peacekeeper Wars - followed. These weren't included in the box-set but I was able to pick them up off eBay very cheaply before we got to the end of season 4, so we watched them straight after the season finished. 

I wasn't hugely impressed with the feature length episodes. There was some closure to the main story arc regarding accessing wormholes. However, the plot revolved around using a hidden race of aliens who could create some kind of aura that would make antagonists seek peaceful resolutions and that all just got a bit convoluted and contrived. Along the way one of the main characters died a heroic death which sadly felt a bit meaningless by the end of the film, given the way Crichton eventually forced all the warring races to back down and accept peace or be annihilated by a weaponised wormhole. 

However, overall, I'm glad I can now say I have watched the entire show. There were definitely some good stories, particularly in the first two series. Claudia Black, who played Aeryn Sun, captured the character of a Peacekeeper commando abandoned by her own kind magnificently and was probably the strongest and most interesting character across the entire run of the series. There was a lot of humour throughout as well and it was darkly amusing how every single plan went wrong in some way. Weirdly, that made it feel a lot more realistic than a science fiction TV show with rubber-mask aliens ever should!

Thursday, November 03, 2022

Non-buyer's remorse - wizard edition

The other night Cathy handed me this toy figure of a Troll made by Funko, and said: "This reminded me of you!" 

Bit harsh? Maybe. I don't mind Trolls. They're kind of cute. But what she was really saying was it reminded her of a photo she took at Greenbelt a long time ago when I was trying on a hat.

I didn't buy the hat even though it was blue and amber, making it the perfect hat to wear to Shrewsbury Town games. 

I also didn't buy it even though my nickname in the team I worked in at the time was "the word wizard". I even had a sign by my desk that my friend Matt made me. 

You might note that Matt spelled wizard with two zeds. That amused me and reminded me of Rincewind the wizard from some of Terry Pratchett's books, who had "wizzard" written on his hat.

Anyway, the troll reminded Cathy of the photo of me wearing a hat I didn't buy. I have had "non-buyer's remorse" about that hat ever since. This is the opposite of buyer's remorse when a person regrets purchasing something. This is one of the rare times when the opposite is true. 

I could have been a wizard all this time. But I didn't buy the hat.

Wednesday, November 02, 2022

October 2022 round-up and review

Well, another month, another new Prime Minister. Time will tell whether this will be an improvement. At the moment it feels like more of the same corruption and cruelty. 

However, while the news was full of politics, our personal news was that we resumed gig-going after a few pandemic-filled years. I've already blogged about the gig we went to in the middle of the month in Manchester, when we heard Counting Crows return to form. At the end of the month, we saw another long-term favourite, when Tony Wright, the singer from Terrorvision, visited Le Pub in Newport on part of his acoustic tour.

Being a very small venue we could get photos with him afterwards. We also got him to sign a copy of his new album. 

And yes, he did play some classic Terrorvision songs including a thumping version of Alice, What;s the Matter? that had the audience singing along. 

Something I first noticed when we went to see Garbage in 2015 was that the audience of gigs from bands that were big when Cathy and I were in our early 20s all seem to have aged at the same rate as we have! This was no different. We were probably some of the young 'uns. 

I went to four football matches in October, starting with Shrewsbury's game away in Cheltenham.  

It was a disappointing game for Shrewsbury fans, but I did get to sit to my old school friend Chris who was there with his son.

On the way in I also noticed this well-stickered sign bearing labels stuck there by fans from lots of different teams 

(I actually tripped on the step on the way out of the ground. Despite this sign!)

My next game was another Shrewsbury game, at home against the team from Milton Keynes that are pariahs in the game. We went to this as a belated ninth birthday celebration for my eldest nephew, Zac. The game we had planned to attend nearer his birthday, in September, got cancelled after the Queen passed away. 

Quite a gang of us went, including my mum and Cathy as well. Zac had invited some mates along and they all got to meet Lenny the Lion.

My final game of the month was in Portsmouth to watch Shrewsbury again. I drove down the morning after the Tony Wright gig and met my friend Tom who moved there last year to do a ship-building course. We took the obligatory selfie with a sign for Fratton Park in the distance. 

Afterwards I realised I knew those two cops doing the high viz photobomb. One of them, Chris, grew up round the corner from me in Shrewsbury. 

I liked Fratton Park, which was both large and somehow quite open. We were behind one goal - with a decent view when play was down our end. We saw Portsmouth score in front of us. We almost saw Shrewsbury score too, from this corner. 

And I managed to capture the split second after a Portsmouth defender had cleared the ball with his hand. It should have been a penalty but the ref didn't see it. Everyone behind the goal did though!

The game finished 1-1, a creditable draw for Shrewsbury.

The fourth game I saw was Barry beating Llanelli, which meant Barry went top of the league! Here's hoping they can stay there. 

Tuesday, November 01, 2022

How apps alter behaviour - personal anecdata

I like keeping a record of which football matches I see. I blogged about this last year. I like to use an app called Futbology - as featured in my review of last season - which acts as a way of finding games to go to, recording games I've been to, and marks various milestones along the way. This includes awarding 'badges' for noteworthy things like seeing the same team a certain number of times or attending games in different countries. 

I noticed I was due to get a badge - my 450th game attended overall - and I discovered something strange. I was reluctant to 'waste' the badge on a random game. I had a plan to watch Shrewsbury play in Portsmouth at the end of October and found myself planning to use that game to trigger getting the badge for 450 games. 

That meant I passed up the opportunity to go to a couple of games - not in itself a bad thing. Like any interest it's easy to get a bit obsessed and a football free weekend like the one I had in the middle of October is probably quite healthy. And, fortunately, everything aligned for me to hit the 450 game milestone at the game I wanted to hit it at. 

The reason I'm blogging about this, however, is because I realised that my relationship with this app had subtly changed. Before the app I never kept a record of my total games. I would not have known I was reaching 450 games. 

Knowing that I was reaching that total altered my game-going habits. Indirectly, the app shaped my choices. This is an example of how technology shapes our lives through unintended influences. My behaviour change on a micro-level is fairly unimportant in the grand scheme of things, but this kind of influence is being replicated in dozens of ways that we might not even notice. 

Our relationship with technology could well have an evolutionary impact on humans generally and we wouldn't necessarily know. I've blogged previously about how we outsource memories (referencing Futbology!) and the idea that we have digital doppelgangers who will outlive us as shadows on the web. I don't find that overly worrying or anything. It's just something I'm noticing.  It's fascinating being part of the overall evolution into a digital species.