Sunday, September 17, 2023

Book of the Month - Unfollow

Last Christmas I met up with my friend Edwin and one of the things we discussed was reading habits. I set myself the fairly modest aim of reading one book a month... an aim that I've been failing at for most of the year. So far I've only blogged two books (in January and March).

Anyway, my third book of the month for 2023 (in September!) is Unfollow by Megan Phelps-Roper. Its her autobiographical account of growing up in the controversial and reviled Westboro Baptist Church, whose crude and offensive placard protests became a recurrent media story in the late 90s and continue even now. 

I remember discussing Westboro's hateful campaigning with church friends back when Megan was active in the protests. A group of us watched the documentary that Louis Theroux made about the church. The general consensus was we couldn't understand how people who claimed to believe the same sort of things we did had gone onto such a horrible tangent and become fixated on condemning "sin".

But reading this book, the feeling I kept getting was that the difference between my experience of growing up in a religious household and Megan's experience was just a difference of degree. The idea of being specially chosen by God and knowing the Truth that the sinful world is wilfully ignoring is very relatable. When I was growing up I was very aware that I was different to most of the people I knew because I went to church and was 'saved'. 

I'm not even sure that Westboro's beliefs are that far off the mainstream for many churches like the one I grew up in. What made Westboro famous was the church's actions rather than their beliefs. When Megan outlines the underlying beliefs about sex and sexuality, the world being sinful and under judgment and salvation only being for the chosen few I felt myself thinking 'Yep, I've heard that'. 

Although it's a hard subject to read about, and personally slightly triggering, Megan's writing style is absorbing and really hooked me in. It's novelistic, with excellent use of foreshadowing. The chapter about Megan and her sister, Grace, planning their escape from the church that was also their family was tense and had me worried for their safety. The whole book reminded me of the way Margaret Atwood constructs horror stories grounded in mundanity.

It was interesting to learn the origins of Westboro. Arch-patriarch Feed Phelps was famous for being a white lawyer who would take on civil rights cases in Kansas long before the church started protesting. He made enemies and refused to back down despite opposition because he knew that he was right to combat racism - and it doesn't take much to see how that strong-willed belief in the righteousness of his cause went on to fuel Westboro's attacks on gay people and anyone else the church labelled as 'sinners'.

The prompt for Megan to consider leaving wasn't really anything external. It was church politics and a disconnect between what the church taught and how the church leaders acted that poked the first chink in the logical armour she had built for herself. But the cognitive dissonance she felt between how things ought to be and how things actually were nagged at her. 

Megan details the unravelling of her faith in a moving chapter. What's noticeable is how fast she went from questioning one thing to realising that everything could be questioned... and the 'correct' answers were no longer satisfying. From that point on she started planning how to leave - an incredibly hard and brave choice to make which has left her implacably estranged from her parents, siblings and other relatives still in the church.

I'd like to say the story has a happy ending. Megan escaped and found love and support from many people outside the church. She has gone on to become an advocate for LGBTQ+ rights and a critic of religious extremism. But the book ends with a plea to her family members who have shunned her since she left. She desperately wants the people she loves to leave behind the prison they have constructed for themselves and the hope in her closing words lends a raw poignancy to her story. 

Tuesday, September 05, 2023

A little stamp collecting weirdness

These are some slides from a recent mini-presentation I did in the member's evening for the British Thematic Association (the stamp collecting group I've been in for 13 years now).

Earlier this year we finally got round to properly sorting through the accumulation of stamp stuff that my Dad left behind when he passed away. In the boxes of stuff were some old, very tatty and disintegrating, stamp albums. Here are a couple of the album covers on my first slide from the presentation.

The albums were beyond saving, but some of the stamps in them were salvageable. Cathy embarked on a mission to save as many as she could. In the middle of this project, she handed me this page because she knew I would be intrigued by it.

Basically, pages in these albums would have the names of countries printed on the top, along with a couple of images of stamps from those countries. What Cathy had noticed was that the image of the stamp printed on the header was the same as the stamp mounted underneath. (In this case a low value stamp from Rhodesia & Nyasaland, which were British colonies in southern Africa.)

Soon, Cathy found lots more examples - as shown on this slide.

That might not be readable, so here are the headers and stamps...

The last stamp shown is the odd one out because it's from Bolivia, rather than being from another British Commonwealth country.

We also had a near miss with a half-cent stamp from St Christopher, Nevis & Anguilla mounted instead of the 1 cent stamp that's printed on the header.

And to finish, two more annoying pages. On the left is a page for San Marino where the stamp that matches the header is over halfway down the page. And on the right is a page for Poland where the printed stamp in the header is a Poland stamp that features the Statue of Liberty - which is one of the main themes that I collect, but alas, the stamp is not present on the page.

However, that Poland page has inspired me to keep an eye out for more of these old albums to see if I can find a page that has a stamp featuring the Statue of Liberty printed on the header and mounted on the page. I like a collecting challenge and this one might prove to be quite tricky!

Monday, September 04, 2023

Football recap - August 2023

After doing a separate football round up for July and saying I wasn't planning to do this for every month, I changed my mind. I've decided it would be nice to have a record of the games I go to this season. So, here's a list of the games I saw in August. (The numbering continues from where I left off last month!)

Game 8: Haverfordwest County 1-1 B36 Thorshavn (after extra time; Thorshavn won 2-3 on aggregate)

Ground: Cardiff City Stadium

Excitement rating: 3/5 (a deathly dull first half)

Reason for going: It was a qualifying round match for a European competition within walking distance of my house.

Point of interest: The first time I'd seen a club side from the Faroes since I visited there when I was 12.

Game 9: Swindon Supermarine 2-7 (seven) Poole Town

Ground: Webbswood Stadium (new ground for me)

Reason for going: My friend Steve supports Poole and invited me along.

Point of interest: Former Barry Town centre back Luke Cooper was playing for Supermarine. He didn't look very happy at full time.

Game 10: Canton FC 1-2 Cardiff Draconians

Ground: House of Sport, Leckwith

Reason for going: My friend Scott was going as his son, Sam, plays for the Dracs now

Point of interest: Sam scored the winner!

Game 11: Leeds United 2-1 Shrewsbury Town

Ground: Elland Road

Reason for going: A chance to see Shrewsbury playing at one of the biggest grounds in the country.

Point of interest: There were over 35,000 people there so this is probably the biggest crowd Shrewsbury will play in front of this season.

Game 12: Bala Town 1-0 Barry Town

Ground: Maes Tegid

Reason for going: I'd not been to Bala before, and neither had Zac!

Point of interest: this was my third new ground in 8 days.

Game 13: Barry Town 1-1 Colwyn Bay

Ground: Jenner Park

Reason for going: First home league game of the season for Barry - and the first ever league meeting between the two clubs.

Point of interest: Cathy and some friends came with me and so we all witnessed Colwyn Bay's first ever Cymru Premier goal.

Game 14: Cardiff Draconians 1-4 Cardiff Corinthians

Ground: Orange Llama Stadium (formerly Lydstep Park)

Reason for going: A chance to see the Dracs in league action.

Point of interest: This was my 500th game since I started keeping a record of going to games (and my 10th game at the Orange Llama Stadium).

Game 15: Baglan Dragons 3-3 Cwmbran Celtic

Ground: Evans Bevan Field

Reason for going: I'd not been to watch Baglan before and it was bank holiday Monday.

Point of interest: this was Baglan's first home game in the Cymru South league (the second tier of Welsh football) after back to back promotion seasons.

Painting the pitch lines before kick off!

Game 16: Newport County 1-1 Brentford (Brentford win 3-0 on penalties)

Ground: Rodney Parade 

Reason for going: to meet an online friend who supports Brentford before the game. However this didn't happen because of a train mix up that meant I travelled from Cardiff to Newport via Reading!

Point of interest: I was sat with a mate who said it was the first penalty shoot out he had ever witnessed. He was aghast when I said its the third one I'd seen this season.

And that's it for August. In total I went to 9 games in 9 different grounds - and 4 of them were ones I'd not been to before. 

Thursday, August 31, 2023

500 scorelines (more football data nerdery)

I freely admit I'm a football data nerd. I've blogged previously about my 'Book of Days' project and also how a football app has influenced my matchgoing

Last week I clocked up my 500th football match since I started logging going to football matches in 1992. This seemed like a large enough round number to provide a dataset for me to review to see which scorelines are the ones I've seen the most. I've gridded them up and colour coded them to show incidence rates.

It's a simple grid - 'home' scores are down the left hand side and 'away' scores are across the top. 

The data

There are some caveats about the data. I excluded one game because it was abandoned after 15 minutes (when the floodlights at Jenner Park blew a fuse and robbed me of a twofer!) so technically there are only 499 games on the grid. The results are either after a full 90 minutes, or at the end of extra time in cup games that went to extra time. Penalty shoot outs aren't included.

I haven't divided the games up by type (league, cup, friendly). The 500 games in the dataset include results from games seen in all four countries of the UK and one game in the USA. It includes international matches, including three Olympic matches. There are two women's games.

The results

The obvious finding is that it's hard to score goals in football so it is far more likely to see a game where each side only scores 1 or 2 goals. I've seen marginally more games where the away team won 1-0 than games that the home team won 1-0. I've seen exactly the same number of games that finished in 2-1 victories for both the home and away teams. And the most likely score for any game I go to see is 1-1.

Where the numbers get more ragged things get more interesting. I've never seen a home side win 4-3, but I have seen three away teams win 3-4. I've seen teams win away 3-5 and 4-5 (which was a very memorable Poole Town game against Paulton Rovers), but I've not seen home wins by the reversed scorelines. 

The proper outliers are all memorable. The highest scoring game I've ever been to is the 16-0 victory for Cardiff Corinthians in the Welsh Cup last season. It's all out on its own on the grid. The 8-3 result was at the tail end of last season when Barry Town thrashed Afan Lido. The 2-7 is from this season - another Poole Town victory. (Poole seem to be doing their bit to keep my scorelines looking interesting.)

I will update this when I hit my next worthwhile matchgoing milestone. Maybe by then I will have seen a game end 4-3. If I can add to the smattering of weird scorelines on the fringes too, that will be a bonus.

Saturday, August 26, 2023

Sing-along landscaping leaflet

A leaflet came through the door and made me sing...

Cathy wasn't impressed when I sang "All types of patios, remind me of you!" to the tune of "All kinds of everything." I suppose it isn't much of a compliment.

It also wouldn't win a Eurovision song contest, like the original song did in 1970.

Friday, August 25, 2023

Theatre review - Keenor: The Original Bluebird

This week I was privileged to attend opening night of Keenor: The Original Bluebird, a one-man play written and performed by my friend, Rhys. Here's a review. 

Before I start I have to say this isn't going to be a very objective review. I met Rhys through going to Barry Town matches around the country. Last Saturday I was chatting to him in the Barry club shop. He has talked about this play almost every time I have seen him for months. So I know the hard research he put in to writing it, and the effort he put in promoting it. The phrase 'passion project' comes to mind - and I'm always impressed when people have an idea and then go on to actually make it happen.

Fred Keenor was the captain of Cardiff City when they won the FA Cup final of 1927 - which remains the only time the FA Cup has been won by a team outside England. It was Keenor's second cup final after Cardiff had narrowly lost in 1925. And the play starts with that, incorporating Pathe footage of the defeat before 'Keenor' made an entrance onto the set that was decked out as the Wembley dressing room.

My friend Sara, who is a Cardiff season-ticket holder came to the play with me. The venue was upstairs at Tiny Rebel Brewing in Cardiff. 

The play was in a room next to the kitchen, which wasn't sound-proofed, and occasionally we could also hear passing traffic outside. However, I didn't find the ambient noise a distraction - in a way it added to the performance because it the Wembley dressing room would not have been an isolated, tranquil place.

Rhys's research included talking to Fred Keenor's grandchildren alongside the biographies. The details added authenticity to the scenes set in Roath where he grew up, at Ninian Park where he played, and on the Western Front. Fred was in the 'Footballer's Battalion' and was wounded at the Somme. The contrast between the hollow 'victory' at the end of the War, and the triumph at Wembley a few years later was thought provoking. 

It's difficult to watch plays when you know the person acting - you tend to see them rather than the character they are playing. Perhaps the greatest compliment I can pay Rhys is that it wasn't long before I forgot it was him up there because I was absorbed in the story he was telling. 

Keenor has finished its first run now. However, there is another chance to see it next month if you want to see it too. 

Sunday, August 20, 2023

Balancing act

Took a trip to the Knap in Barry yesterday. Weather wasn't great at first but then the sun came out. I amused myself by building some rocky towers.

They weren't the tallest towers but it was a bit too windy for them to stay up when they got to a certain height. However, every time they toppled meant I had the fun of starting over.

Saturday, August 19, 2023

Snack(s) of the month: biscuits and peas

After a 'double bust' in July, I'm blogging two good snacks this month.

The first snack was a gift from my friends Paul and Val, who brought me back some sugar biscuits from Menorca. 

These had quite a low fat content, which meant Cathy could snack on them too. The chocolate ones were our favourites, but honestly neither pack lasted very long.

The second snack was an impulse purchase called Pulse (without the im). 

There were plenty of peas in the packet. They were supposed to be salt and pepper flavour, although I couldn't taste much of the flavouring.

However, they were very moreish with a nice crunch and a good savoury flavour. I'd happily buy them again.

Friday, August 04, 2023

Football recap of the month - July 2023

I'm not planning to do a separate football post every month, but my main recap for July was mostly about me changing jobs. It didn't feel like there was also space for me to talk about football matches too.

This year I set a new record for football matches in July, going to seven games. Five of them were friendlies but the two competitive games I went to ended in penalty shoot outs and there was some other drama along the way as well.

Game 1: Barry Town 1-0 Canton Liberals

Entertainment value: 1/5
Reason for going: I'd not seen a game on the 1st July before.
Noteworthy fact: This is one of the last games played by "Canton Liberals". At the end of July the club announced they had changed their name to Canton FC.

Game 2: Cardiff Met 0-2 Cardiff Draconians

Entertainment value: 3/5 (mainly because its fun to watch Cardiff Met lose)
Reason for going: this was the first game for the Dracs under their new manager, Nana Baah and also my friend Steve wanted to go.
Noteworthy fact: see reason for going

Game 3: Barry Town 5-2 Cardiff Corinthians

Entertainment value: 5/5 (7 goals - and the Corries were a much better team than the scoreline suggests)
Reason for going: Peer pressure, and to see if the Corries are going to be any good this season.
Noteworthy fact: This turned out to be Barry manager Lee Kendall's final home game in charge as he unexpectedly resigned the following weekend.

Game 4: Haverfordwest County 1-0 FK Shkendija (1-1 aggregate after extra time. Pens 3-2)

Entertainment value: 4/5 (although the first 85 minutes were 2/5. The rating (was boosted by a very late goal and the drama of a shootout)
Reason for going: it was a Europa Conference League qualifying match held at Cardiff City Stadium - within walking distance of my house - and there was the added curiosity value of seeing a team from North Macedonia.
Noteworthy fact 1: the previous time I saw Haverfordwest the game ended with a penalty shoot out. Goalkeeper Zac Jones saved two penalties in both shoot outs.
Noteworthy fact 2: Haverfordwest became the only club from the Cymru Leagues to win a tie and progress in European qualifiers this season.

Hero keeper!

Game 5: Cwmbran Celtic 2-2 Taff's Well (no ET. Pens 0-3)

Entertainment value: 5/5
Reason for going: this MG Cup game was a last minute alternative after a game I planned to go to was called off due to Biblical levels of rain. Basically it was close enough to get to.
Noteworthy fact: this was my second game in a row that ended in a penalty shoot out - after Cwmbran scored twice in time added on at the end of the game. The Taff's Well goalkeeper saved the first two kicks he faced.

Game 6: Caldicot Town 3-2 Shirehampton FC

Entertainment value: 4/5
Reason for going: My friend Ben plays for Caldicot. He got an assist.
Noteworthy fact: Shirehampton were the first English team I'd seen this season.

Game 7: Shrewsbury Town 1-1 Notts County 

Entertainment value: 2/5
Reason for going: my friend Paul is a Notts County fan so we travelled up together along with Paul's wife, Val, and another Shrewsbury fan who is also called Paul. We all had lunch at my mum's house where Fred the dog made some new friends!
Noteworthy fact: with typical foresight, Shrewsbury had closed the old club shop and hadn't opened the new one yet, so no new shirt for me!

Pre-match canine shenanigans for Paul

Roll on August!