Saturday, December 31, 2022

December 2022 - stepping into Christmas

December is a month dominated by Christmas and the build up to it. This photo of one of my nephews made me laugh. I feel like doing this sometimes!

My December started with the sad occasion of attending the funeral of Glyn Price on the 1st December. Glyn was a well known Shrewsbury Town fan, podcaster and fanzine editor. I had sat close to him and had a nice chat with him at the Cheltenham away game on 1st October. A couple of weeks later he announced he had been diagnosed with cancer and 5 weeks later he passed away. 

My brother, Dave, took Glyn's funeral, at Glyn's request. The hall at Barnabas Church in Shrewsbury was packed with well over 300 people attending, including representatives from the football club. There were lovely tributes to him from family, his work colleagues, and his fellow fans. It was a sad start to the month. 

Going to the Shrewsbury game the Saturday after the funeral was slightly surreal. I saw Shrewsbury beat Lincoln City for the second time in the calendar year. A few days later I was wearing my blue and yellow bobble hat to Barry's game against Cwmbran Celtic in proper "big coat weather". It was the start of a sustained period of cold weather that did for the next few fixtures for Barry. 

Being in Shrewsbury for a few days at the beginning of December meant I finally visited the new Salopian Models shop. The proprietor was selling off some Games Workshop items, so I added some Tau Empire Stealth Suits to my ever growing 'pile of shame' of unbuilt models. 

Still that's something for me to do in 2023! I've also added an expansion pack for Dungeon Bowl and a star player for my Blood Bowl team of giant rats this month. So the pile of shame is as large as ever.

We had a nice Saturday in Monmouth in the middle of the month, meeting up with Cathy's uncle and aunt. We discovered a lovely toy shop, where I bought myself a wooden train that is meant to be a British Rail Class 07. I couldn't resist the vintage 1970s blue and classic British Rail logo. 

That train actually kickstarted something for me as it was my first "Toy of the Day" post on Instagram. I've decided to revive my Insta to post a picture of a toy of the day every day until I run out of toys in my house, or until I get bored. 

We were back in Shrewsbury for Christmas, staying with my Mum and her cheeky hound, Fred. 

We travelled up on Christmas Eve, with a traffic-free clear run that is a contender for best journey up to Shrewsbury in a long while. I went with Dave for our traditional Christmas Eve pint in the pub followed by the midnight communion service at the Anglican Church.  On Christmas Day we had Christmas Dinner next door in the new big kitchen that Dave and Esther (my sister-in-law) have had built. It was a lovely meal and time together.

We stayed for a few days after Christmas as well, which meant we could see some friends and have fun with the Shropshire-based nieces and nephews. As Christmases go, it was a nice relaxing break and a good way to see out what has been a very busy year.

Sunday, December 25, 2022

A Hoggy Happy Christmas

The blog mascots - the Pantpert Hogs - wish you a very merry Christmas. 

The "boys" like to dress up for various occasions and Christmas is no exception.

It's been a busy couple of days. I went to two services so I have some more carols to add to that particular audit. Post has been disrupted by strikes and we seem to have had fewer Christmas cards than last year. But the annual audit is coming...

Tuesday, December 20, 2022

Snack of the Month - we're going to eat the zoo, zoo, zoo

My final "Snack of the Month" for 2022 is a packet of cute animal-shaped biscuits that make up the "Leibniz Zoo". These are another Snack of the Month that was sourced by Cathy, who nabbed the last bag on the shelf in our local Lidl. 

The cute giraffe on the front caught her eye. Packaging design for the win!

There's a cute design on the back along with a recommendation for deer snacks - which is a tenuous enough link to Christmas to make this a seasonal snack!

There is a decent volume of bite-size biscuits in the bag. I was reasonably impressed by how many were in there. 

And the variety of shapes was impressive too. A proper zoo of creatures, including ducks! This is one of each type - but there were three or four of most of them. The duck was the rarest as the one in the picture was the sole one in the bag. There were lots of horses. 

As plain biscuits go, these were nice. They tested like a more buttery version of a rich tea biscuit. They weren't very sweet and they were good dunked in tea.

I won't be rushing back to the zoo, having tried these once. But I did really like the rhino biscuit - here's a close up to close the review!

Sunday, December 18, 2022

More religious marketing

We had some leaflets through the letterbox this week (nicely wedging the letterbox open when it was below freezing outside!) including this small one-sided leaflet that piqued my interest.

I find religious marketing interesting, and this in particular caught my attention because of the level of knowledge it assumes recipients will have about what it is promoting.

I presume this leaflet was a mass delivery rather than targeted, as it arrived alongside a leaflet for a roofer. Given that, I feel quite comfortable dissecting it because its not as if anyone thought "I know who would be interested in this" and sent it to me.

Also, I'm not mocking the event. If people want to spend 10 hours praying, starting at 8am in the morning on a Saturday, then they are free to do that all day. I'm sure there are worse activities people could spend 10 hours doing.

But having said that, I'm curious about the thought patterns of the people who have paid to have this printed and distributed. What is a 10 Hour Watchman Prayer? Are we supposed to just know that? Who is the Watchman? What is he praying for? There is no clue provided here.

It's teaser marketing. I could Google all this or look at one of the many social media channels included on the leaflet. But there's no call to action to find out more or discover why I should spend 10 hours praying on a Saturday in January.

That's assumption 1 - that I would know what this is all about without needing an explanation. 

Assumption 2 is that I recognise the name Mike Lakoju. Is Mike meant to be a big draw? I feel I'm supposed to recognise his name and think "I want to go an pray for 10 hours with him!" But I have no idea (sorry Mike) and this leaflet gives me no clue why I should have an idea, or even why he is important enough to have his face on the flyer.

Except it says Pst. I interpret that as meaning Pastor, because clearly they didn't have enough space to write the word out in full. However, that's another assumption that people would know that. It's not like 'Rev' being short for Reverend, which I think would be more commonly understood. 

The way it's written it's almost like they're whispering a secret - "Pssst! With Mike Lakoju!" 

There's also a dropped capital letter in the name of the church. Usually St John gets a capital letter on Evangelist, as it's part of his name. (There are other St Johns, like St John the Baptist.) That typo isn't going to influence my decision whether to go and spend 10 hours praying with Pst. Mike (because I wasn't going to go) but it's just another aspect of this marketing that feels less than optimal.

I'm curious how many people will turn up to this event after having the leaflet pushed through their door. (I'm not curious enough to go along to the event, though!) If I was going to predict how many people will come along as a result of this, I'd be surprised at one.

Reviewing this leaflet has been a good exercise in reminding me of good marketing practice. Firstly, identify a target audience. Explain who you are and your CV - why people should make an effort to attend your event. Make it clear what you want people to do and what benefit they will get from it. And include a call to action - in this case a 'come and join us' would do.

Friday, December 16, 2022

Winter Village Sideboard

A new location for our Lego Winter Village this Christmas. Cathy cleared the sideboard in the dining room.

Santa's workshop is in the middle of the Village.

The gingerbread houses are on the west side.

While the elf clubhouse is on the east side, next to the train line.

We have added in a few bonus little sets that we've acquired over the years, like some Christmassy market stalls and lots of decorated trees. They make the village look bustling and busy.

Tuesday, December 13, 2022

Improving the World Cup

We are now at the sharp end of the World Cup. In my blog post summing up November I mentioned that I'm not fully engaging with it. There are several reasons, but the overarching theme is that it's an egregious example of "sportswashing" by an undemocratic authoritarian regime. 

My personal protest about the World Cup is boycotting collecting the football stickers, although I have been given a sticker of the Wales team (thanks Clare!)

So, obviously a major improvement would be less corruption, no more blatant profiteering by the grifters in charge at FIFA, and a tournament where football comes first instead of being co-opted into a crass money-making scheme. Well, I can dream.

But away from the institutional level changes, what about the way the World Cup is structured? 

This World Cup was weakened from the start by having a laughably uncompetitive host nation playing in it. My fellow Barry fan, John, suggested a solution to me last week as we prepared to watch Barry play Cwmbran Celtic. (I'm not sure whether this was John's own idea or if he heard it from someone else, but I heard it from him so I'm going to give him the credit.)

John's suggestion was to introduce a team composed of players from teams that didn't qualify for the World Cup. The all-star team would play off against the host nation for the right to compete in the World Cup as the "FIFA World XI". I think Qatar would have struggled to beat such a team. 

I like this idea. Having the wild card World XI would mean that incredibly talented players who just happen to play for smaller nations who rarely or never qualify could appear in a World Cup. There are plenty of players for whom this would have been a great opportunity. Wales have had several world class talents over the years who never had the privilege of playing at a World Cup. 

A different possibility would be for each team to start the competition with a smaller squad, say just 18 players. After the group stages, half the teams are eliminated. The players from the eliminated teams get put into a "draft". The qualifying teams pick players in order of the teams' world ranking prior to the tournament. They pick 3 players each and can use them in the next round. Meanwhile, the rest of the players go home.

After the round of 16, the players from the eight eliminated squads go into a draft and are eligible to be picked again, with teams picking two players each. After the quarter-finals, players from the four eliminated teams are put into the draft again and the semi-finalists can all pick one extra player to take their squad up to 24 for the semi-final and final.

This means that stand-out players from smaller nations have a realistic chance of a winners medal. Admittedly a player could play for a team that was eliminated in the group stages, get drafted to a team that lose in the round of 16, get picked again for the quarter-finals and play in a losing team again, and then get picked by one of the semi-finalists. 

As long as the fourth team the player played for won a semi-final and the final, they would be a World Cup winner, despite potentially being on the losing side five times in the competition. I would find that darkly amusing, which makes it worth doing.

It would also benefit weaker nations that get out of the group stages and progress - imagine if Australia had been able to add Kevin de Bruyne to their team, or if Croatia had been able to draft Richarlison after they knocked Brazil out. 

I think it would also break down some of the nationalistic hubris surrounding international football. FIFA makes a big thing about the 'football family' and how football brings people together. Turning international football into intra-national football would really bring that about. 

Wednesday, December 07, 2022

Birds, bees and boars

The build up to Christmas in Cardiff includes the opening of the 'red and white' stalls in the city centre. One of our favourite stalls features the ceramic creations of Sian Davies.

We have bought several of Sian's lovely characters over the years and this year we have added a few more to our collection. Here are our new arrivals. 

The penguin might end up in with our Christmas ornaments, but the others are year-round companions. I was particularly taken with the spotty pig. We already had a pink pig and a black pig, but we didn't have a spotty one, so he had to come home with us!

You can see more of Sian's work on her Instagram or like her page on Facebook. (I'm not on commission - I'm just a fan!)

Tuesday, December 06, 2022

November 2022 - a month in review, part 2: Occasions

November was a very busy month, including the loss of Cathy's Grampy, Jim. (See the month in review part 1.)

November is Cathy's birthday month, and with her birthday falling on a Saturday this year, we made a full day of it, starting with pancakes at McDonald's for breakfast. We then went to Cowbridge for a wander around and lunch - where I had pancakes again! Then in the evening we went to the Wales Millennium Centre to watch My Fair Lady

We went with June and Terri, but June was distracted during the pre-show selfie!

The show was very good, although there was a big delay midway through the first half because the revolving scenery stopped revolving and the unmistakeable burning smell associated with a blown motor was very apparent. The cast seemed to cope well with having a set that didn't spin any more, and there was some energy in the second half as it looked like they had to improvise some routines.

At the end of the month, we became godparents again - our third time. I made the joke that this meant I was The Godfather part III. This time it was in a Catholic church, which means I've now become a Catholic, Anglican, and non-denominational godfather. I am an exercise in ecumenism.  

Our latest godson (they've all been boys so far) is Herbert, son of Tom and Helena. Tom was a regular footballing companion when they lived in Cardiff, and I got to know Helena when the three of us were in the same Welsh class together. 

Midway through the month, my new boss started with the team. It has been a tough six months adapting to a new organisation with a much bigger remit and audience than I had in my previous job. I'm hoping that now our programme can start to kick on, having been in a holding pattern over the summer and autumn. 

The same week that my new boss started, I gave a Zoom presentation to the British Thematic Association. I talked about 'philatelic passports' that are issued at stamp shows with the idea that people would go round various stalls and stick in stamps from different countries. I have collected a few of these ever since going to the big Stamp World London exhibition in 1990.

This was the second time I have done a presentation to the BTA. Last year I talked about my collection of stamps that feature the Statue of Liberty.  That presentation is available to watch on YouTube and my latest presentation will be available in a few months' time. (We limit access to presentations to members for a few months.)

And with all that going on, we also saw the start of a bizarrely-timed and controversial World Cup. I was in two minds whether to boycott watching the whole thing, but I am quite weak-willed as it turns out. Plus, Wales qualified - even though they had a very disappointing campaign. 

Despite watching more of the competition than I thought I would, I have been strong and boycotted collecting the football stickers. That has been hard as there has been a cohort of people collecting them in work and an active sticker-swapping group!

In terms of live sport, I only went to three football matches in November, but I did get to go to an international rugby match and an ice hockey game on the same Saturday to chalk up my first ever "two sport twofer"! One of the football matches I went to was the final game of Gavin Chesterfield's 15 year tenure as manager of Barry Town. The 2-1 win for Barry was also the 50th match I've attended at Jenner Park, so a personal milestone as well.

After all that, I'd hope for a restful December, but December is never restful!

Monday, December 05, 2022

November 2022 - a month in review, part 1: Loss

November started with a big loss in our family as Cathy's Grampy, Jim, passed away. We were able to see him in hospital a few days before he died to say goodbye. We had another opportunity to say farewell at the funeral service, which was held on the 21st November in the church in Gloucester he had attended for over 50 years.

I knew most of the stories that were told in the tribute at the memorial service, because Grampy was good at telling stories about his life, often with a humorous twist in them. 

Despite being christened Percival (like my paternal grandfather), he was given the nickname 'Sunny Jim' as a small boy. He introduced himself as Jim all his life. 

Cathy told me that Jim had fought in the Second World War in one of the airborne regiments, but he rarely talked about it. However, later in life he was contacted by a wartime friend and began attending regimental reunions. 

Jim slowly started to talk about his war experiences, including being on Sword Beach on D-Day, and losing his friend from Gloucester who signed up with him and died from mortar wounds. He fought in the Battle of the Bulge, and later witnessed the liberation of concentration camps.

The extended family all attended the final regimental reunion a few years ago, which included a thanksgiving service at Exeter Cathedral where the regimental standard was officially retired. 

At a reception afterwards, there were some Second World War re-enactors, invited as guests with their vintage weaponry and equipment. Jim saw how one re-enactor was holding a sten gun and told him he would lose a fingertip holding it that way. 

Jim then brusquely took the gun off the young man and adopted the correct position. I watched, unnerved, as the muscle memory laid down decades ago took over and suddenly Jim was in firing stance, holding a gun he clearly still knew how to use. It really brought home to me the way the war he rarely spoke about had shaped him. He also served after the war in Palestine - present in the country when Zionists blew up the King David Hotel that was the British government headquarters at the time - and then briefly in Vienna.

Jim was always very welcoming from the first time I met him when I had just started going out with Cathy, through the many years since. He would always thank me in his broad Gloucester accent for driving over with Cathy to see him. He would always ask me how Shrewsbury Town, and more recently Barry Town, were getting on - although he usually knew already because he kept an eye out for their results. And he was very persistent in trying to feed me cake. (He was frequently successful.)

I grew to love him like another grandparent. Although everyone called him Jim, through Cathy I was also able to call him Grampy, and it was a real privilege to be able to do that.  

I have started to think of grief as the process of remapping the world and we have already started to do that by noticing the gaps. Jim would always ring up on Cathy's birthday to sing 'Happy Birthday' to her. That didn't happen this year, reminding us both of the space that he occupied and has vacated. He will be missed in many other ways and at other times as we remember him.

Friday, December 02, 2022

Subbuteo in the modern era

I don't think this is an improvement! I'm not a fan of VAR (Virtual Assistant Referees).

(This isn't a joke. It's genuinely on sale on Amazon.)

I have a Subbuteo set at home. It's branded for the 1998 World Cup in France. I remember buying it in a sale in WH Smith's for a fiver after the World Cup was over.

I've played it once. Cathy and I had a game. She won. I doubt VAR would have come to my rescue in that game.