Sunday, December 31, 2023

Football recap - December 2023 and the rest of 2023!

I made it to just one game in December, on the very first day...

Game 32: Notts County 2-3 Shrewsbury Town

Reason for going: When Shrewsbury were drawn away at Notts County in the FA Cup, my Nott-supporting friend Paul said we had to go! So we did. 

Point of interest: Ryan Bowman scored a hat-trick after three woeful defensive errors that became memes for how bad they were. The first goal came after a Notts defender just fell over instead of clearing the ball. It was very hard to cheer the goal because I was laughing so hard. 

And then the fixtures conspired against me for the rest of the month. On Saturday the 9th I was working. Barry Town's home game on the 16th got swapped for an away game. I was driving up to Shrewsbury on the 23rd but getting there in time for Shrewsbury's home game was a bit too much, logistically. Shrewsbury weren't playing at home on Boxing Day. And then on the last Saturday of the year I had other plans. So, that means December 2023 is a one game month!

Despite the low tally of games for December, 2023 as a whole calendar year has actually set a new record for me. I went to 62 games since my first game of the year on the 2nd January at Llantwit Major. 

Futbology has given me a handy summary

Futbology also produces a map showing all the new grounds I visited in 2023. There were a lot in Port Talbot, but I got a decent spread of football grounds across England as well.

As I am the kind of nerd who dissects his football attendance data, I have a breakdown of the games I have been to as monthly totals. This past year I set new monthly records for February (8 games), May (6), July (7) and September (5). I also equalled previous records in March and November (both 5 games). 

If I equalled all the monthly records in 2024 I would end up going to 76 games. That feels like a lot!

Wednesday, December 13, 2023

The unexpected return of Red Laser

My latest action figure acquisition is a brand new G.I. Joe figure issued in the Super 7 Reaction range of... Red Laser. 

But this is no ordinary member of Cobra, the villainous terrorist organisation locked in conflict with the G.I. Joe heroes. Because Red Laser was never a member of Cobra. 

Red Laser first appeared as a character in the British Action Force toyline produced by Palitoy from 1982 to 1985. He was the technical genius working for the evil Baron Ironblood who, in the British storyline, functioned as the overall commander of the forces known only as the Enemy. 

Baron Ironblood gets name-checked in the data file on the back of the card...

So what is going here? Why has this character been released as a G.I. Joe figure some 40 years later?

Well, back in the early 80s, Palitoy became a subsidiary of Hasbro. In addition to figures, vehicles and playsets designed in the UK, it also had access to Hasbro's production lines in other parts of the world. 

Several G.I Joe vehicles and accessories ended up in different livery as Action Force vehicles. Some swapped sides - the Cobra FANG helicopter became an SAS attack helicopter, for example. Other vehicles received a slight tweak. 

And some of those vehicles came with fully articulated figures. Most Action Force figures came with straight arms and legs. G.I. Joe figures had knee and elbow joints along with twisting waists. The Action Force articulated figures were some of those G.I. Joe figures produced in different coloured plastic. 

As you can imagine, when people started collecting G.I. Joe figures, American collectors were suddenly very interested in these weird yet familiar looking characters that had been sold in the UK and Europe. Red Laser, in particular, was a red version of the Cobra Commander figure. Original Red Laser figures are now quite pricey!

The original Action Force figures and vehicles that Palitoy developed were unceremoniously dumped in 1985 with "Action Force" becoming the European name for G.I. Joe and the full range of G.I. Joe characters replacing the British-designed figures. The Enemy was replaced by Cobra and Baron Ironblood disappeared - although there was a story in the Action Force comic strip that Ironblood reinvented himself as Cobra Commander.

Hasbro has given a couple of nods to the original British toy line in recent years but this is the first time any of those characters have been released outside conventions and other exclusives.

The Super 7 toy company produces a number of "retro style" action figures under its Reaction brand. Recently Super 7 have been licensing toy lines from several different places. I'm not sure what their relationship is with Hasbro but they have acquired the rights to create some retro looking figures based on established G.I. Joe characters.

And, technically, Hasbro own the rights to all the old Action Force characters as well. In a delicious recreating of the past, Super 7 has used a different colour plastic in its mould for their Cobra Commander figure!

And in a twist, this time Red Laser is as straight-armed and straight-legged as many of the original Action Force figures he fought alongside and against. 

And who knows? Maybe Red Laser's unexpected return could even herald the return of the evil Baron Ironblood himself one day!

Monday, December 04, 2023

Chrimbo Snack of the Month - Christmas pudding crisps

I really wanted to like these... I mean, I like Christmas pudding and I like crisps. So...

Here's the rationale behind the crisps.

And if you want to know what's in "Christmas Pudding Flavour", here you go.

They look like normal crisps.

Close up of the flavouring.

Conclusion: Well, I wanted to try them for the blog and at least I got a Snack of the Month post out of it. But they won't become of my yuletide traditions unfortunately.

Sunday, December 03, 2023

Football recap - November 2023

A short round up of November's games... 

Game 27: Caldicot Town 0-0 Tredegar Town (Caldicot won 5-3 on penalties)

Reason for going: My friend Ben was playing for Caldicot and my friend Steve who also knows Ben was free to come with me. So off we went.

Point of interest: I had a run of 30 games without seeing a nil-nil until this game. Strangely the previous nil-nil was also with Steve and also went to penalties. This was the fourth penalty shoot out I've seen this season. (And Ben scored his penalty, which was fun to see.)

Ben waves hello

Game 28: Barry Town 1-0 Guilsfield

Reason for going: To support Barry. (Although this was the first time I'd seen them for about a month.)

Point of interest: This was apparently the 150th Welsh Cup tie played at Jenner Park. An extraordinary stat, really.

Game 29: Caernarfon Town 2-3 Barry Town

Reason for going: Caernarfon was one of the few remaining Cymru Premier grounds I hadn't seen a game at, so this was on my "hit list" at the start of the season.

Point of interest: I made my debut as a co-commentator on Bro Radio for this game, after answering a call out by Daley Chapman for whether anyone was going to the game. It was tremendous fun. We got a great view from the commentary position as well.

Game 30: Shrewsbury Town 2-1 Port Vale

Reason for going: we were on our way home from a week in North Wales, so this fitted into our travel plans nicely and I got to go with my brother and eldest nephew.

Point of interest: there was a sad memorial before the game for four local teenagers who died in a car accident the previous weekend. The 1,600 Port Vale fans in the sold out away end all joined in with the minute's applause. 

Game 31: Barry Town 1-1 Penybont

Reason for going: There wasn't a particular reason. It was a Barry home game and I tend to go to them even on cold Tuesday evenings in November!

Point of interest: Barry were wearing their special charity festive kit featuring a penguin and a reindeer. The kit is majority black and Penybont were playing in a mainly white kit. I don't think I've ever seen a black kit v white kit game before. 

And that's the five games for November, which equals my personal record for November games.

Saturday, December 02, 2023

Recap of the month - November 2023

My November started with a weekend in Newport on the "Type 1 Family Weekender", which is a special weekend hosted by Diabetes UK for families with a child with type 1 diabetes. All the groups were named after woodland animals, and my group - the kids aged 8 & 9 - were known as the bears.

One of their first activities was to design a mascot for the team. We couldn't settle on the name Billy or Bob for our bear, so he ended up as Billy-Bob. 

You might notice Billy-Bob has an insulin pump and is holding his own teddy bear mascot. 

I had a great time on the weekend. The outdoor activities were a bit wet but huge fun and the indoor laser tag was probably the most exercise I've had all year. (It's a low bar, to be honest.)

At the risk of this recap being too work-focussed, I'm also going to mention World Diabetes Day on the 14th November.  I was invited by the Diabetes UK Cymru team to a special event at the Senedd, which included a tour of the Senedd building for the young people from Wales involved in the programme I work with, Together Type 1. 

I liked these maps in the Senedd building that show the topography and electoral boundaries in Wales. 

My friend Sara joined us for the tour so we had a selfie opportunity. You can see me branded up in my Together Type 1 hoodie.

I also snuck in when the young people had a photo with Eluned Morgan, the Welsh Government Health Minister. I'm the old guy looking old next to all the young 'uns. 

Shortly after World Diabetes Day Cathy and I had a week away in North Wales. I've already blogged about it. It was a great relaxing break and we had a lot of fun dodging the rain and eating unseasonal ice creams. 

And then to round off the month, I went to my first Christmas celebration of the season - with the very friendly Cwmbach Diabetes Group. I wore my Christmas jumper and had to have yet another photo with Sara. You can see I'm wearing my paper crown from the cracker, which makes me look even balder than usual. 

And as that officially kicks off the Christmas season for me, here's to a festive December. Hopefully we will close out the year on a high.

Thursday, November 30, 2023

Book of the Month: Shards of Earth

I'm just about scraping this book of the month review into this month. But I'm pleased with myself as I bought this book in Browsers Bookshop in Porthmadog during our  break in North Wales last week and have managed to read all 533 pages of it already.

This is the first big, fat science-fiction book I've read in several years. I used to read a few a year but since my reading animus unexpectedly evaporated during the pandemic I've barely touched any fiction. Getting thoroughly absorbed in this book felt like a slight reawakening.

I picked the book up because I recognised Adrian Tchaikovsky's name. I really enjoyed his book called Children of Time, which was a deep time epic charting the evolution of a sentient race of giant spiders after a terraforming experiment goes wrong. Among other things, it changed my feelings towards spiders. The follow up book, Children of Ruin, wasn't as good although this time it was octopuses evolving into a civilisation. I already liked octopuses, but there were a couple of other issues with the book as it wove in an alien life form that complicated the storyline. 

Shards of Earth is in a different future-verse. In this story, Earth has been destroyed by an entity called an Architect which turned the planet into an abstract sculpture. Thus began a war across known space between humans and their alien allies against the Architects who could appear without warning and destroy a planet, moon, asteroid, or anywhere else where humans were trying to live. 

The story focuses on an 'Int' (short for Intermediary) called Idris who is a human who underwent radical brain surgery to try and unlock psychic communication powers. Idris and his fellow Ints were able to eventually communicate with the Architects and ask them to stop killing humans - and they did, disappearing from the universe. 

And now it seems they are back, so it's up to Idris to save the human race again. He is helped on his quest by Solace, a genetically engineered warrior woman from the Parthenon sisterhood and the crew of the spaceship he had been working on as a deep space pilot. The story is well-paced, moving quickly across several interesting locations for fights, heists and daring escapes. 

This is the first book in a trilogy called The Final Architecture (which even has its own Wikipedia page already!). However, even though it's the first of three, the story does have a conclusion and could be read as a stand alone. I am keen to find out what happens next but this book doesn't end with all the crew in peril or anything really annoying like that. 

Tchaikovsky populates this universe with some interesting, and inscrutable, alien races. I like the way he leaves some of those races ineffable and hard to understand. In a weird way that felt realistic and kept the aliens alien. 

He also captures tensions between ordinary humans who both fear and need the genetically engineered humans of the Parthenon, and the Partheni who have become a bit isolated and don't really understand ordinary humans any more. The all-female soldier army is clearly based on the Amazons of old legends, although there was a touch of the Space Marines from the Warhammer universe alongside the female Martian soldier Bobbi, in The Expanse books. There is an interesting debate at one point over the ethics of genetic engineering that captured the nuance of what might be lost by smoothing out weaknesses in the human genome, but it's kept short and doesn't derail or overshadow the story.

Another race linked to humans are the machine intelligences known as Hivers. They were created by humans but subsequently gained their autonomy. They are formed of several tiny machines that aggregate to form disparate entities before reverting back into the general swarm of tiny robots. Conceptually, they were much more interesting than the average robot or android. I felt they were the best machine characters I've read about outside of the Culture novels by Iain M Banks. 

Amidst all the chaos and dread of the return of the Architects there are also some moments of warmth and humour. One line, delivered by a Hiver character was so acidly sarcastic it actually made me laugh out loud while reading it, while there were several other interchanges that made me smile. 

So, at some point, I will be getting book two in the series and hopefully it will hook me in to read it just as quickly. Keep an eye out for a future blog post review of it!

Monday, November 27, 2023

Wythnos yn yr Gogledd, Tachwedd 2023

We had another week in North Cymru as a result of a combo of a few days leave, two days off in lieu of a worked weekend, Cathy's birthday, the opportunity to go to a football match in Caernarfon, and the holiday flat we stayed in back in the summer being available (and very reasonable). Unlike my rather frenetic week off in October when we went to DisneyLand Paris which I followed up with an epic quest to Hartlepool, this was a proper relaxing, low voltage week away.

The weather was mixed but pretty good overall. We had a superb, crisp winter sunny day on Anglesey, when we got to visit one of our favourite beaches, Traeth Llanddwyn near Newborough. 

We also got ice cream and sorbet from Red Boat in Beaumaris. I had bara brith ice cream for the first time. It was delicious.

We had a day in Porthmadog, where I got to unexpectedly see a steam train in action. The railway has virtually closed down for the winter, but they had fired up the Double Fairlie to film an advert promoting Wales as a tourist destination. 

I saw Barry Town win with a late goal screamer at Caernarfon Town - and made my debut as a radio commentator for Bro Radio.

We had two trips to the cinema - one to see The Nightmare Before Christmas on its 30th anniversary re-release into cinemas. Cathy and I went to watch it together 28 years ago when it was on it's first UK release (18 months after it hit the screens in America). We also went to see The Marvels at the Galeri Arts Centre in Caernarfon - where the film started at the time advertised without having to sit through the gaudy tedium of multiple adverts. If I get a chance I will blog some thoughts about The Marvels, but to summarise, I'd suggest not bothering unless you have a good grasp of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, although if you like cats you might find it very amusing in its own right. 

We didn't visit any castles this time, although we drove under the watchful gaze of the battlements in both Caernarfon and Conwy. We did find time for a museum though - the Storiel in Bangor. It had several small, contained permanent exhibits and an interesting small temporary exhibition of sleep through the ages. I liked the local angle, including Bangor City FC memorabilia and the chair that Thomas Telford used to sit in when he stayed in a local hotel overseeing construction of the Menai Bridge. 

We even got to drive home via Shrewsbury to see the folks, and chose to drive over the Llanberis Pass. As we topped the pass near the youth hostel, we drove into sunlight. The mountain sides fell away, with the steep valley snaking away to Beddgelert enlivened by sunlight and for a moment it made me catch my breath at how beautiful it looked. It was an emotionally uplifting way to end a lovely week. 

Saturday, November 18, 2023

Snack of the month: European chocolate adventures

Last month we went to Disneyland Paris and while we were in France I took the opportunity to try some chocolate bars I hadn't seen before. I've decided to review them here but the delay between me eating them and me reviewing them means the reviews might be quite short!

The chocolate bars were:

Nougatti by Cote d'Or

Snax by Cote d'Or


Joyfuel - chocolat au lait & cookie dough flavour

Nuts by Nestle

By far the best ones were the Cote d'Or bars as they has really nice chocolate on them. I'd eat the Nestle 'Nuts' bar again, but it wasn't as nice as the Cote d'Or bars. The Balisto was OK as something to try. The Joyfuel bar was one of those protein power bar things that are on trend over here and are basically the equivalent of energy drinks in the beverage aisle. A lot of promises and a weird inauthentic taste. I mainly bought it so I could send a picture to my niece, Joy.

And on to the more detailed reviews...

Composition-wise, the Nougatti bar was pretty much what you might expect - a soft nougat wrapped in chocolate. It had enough consistency to get slightly stuck on your teeth, as nougat is wont to do. 

The Snax came in two parts and from the wrapper I thought it might be peanut butter in a thick chocolate shell with peanuts embedded in it. 

Instead, the central core was a whipped nougat, like you'd find in a Mars Bar. There was crisped rice in the chocolate which gave an added crunch. It also came in two pieces, which makes it a good bar to share. I scoffed both pieces myself, though - and too quickly to take any pictures!

The Nuts bar was like a Mars Bar, complete with nougat and soft caramel, except for a line of hazelnuts down the middle of it. It was a good combo although the sweet flavour of the nuts couldn't compete with the sweetness of the nougat, caramel or chocolate. Generally I find Nestle chocolate overly sweet and this didn't dissuade me of my opinion. 

Balisto was two thin biscuits with an unmemorable fondant creme on top. Like I've already said they aren't a bar I'd bother eating again if there were other options. I ate my Balisto in the dark in DisneyLand and didn't attempt to take any photos. 

The Joyfuel bar had a weird composition. I couldn't taste the 'cookie dough' flavour and there didn't seem to be any bits in it that were meant to be cookie dough, although it was chewy. 

It probably goes well with a can of Monster or a bottle of Prime. I'd certainly class it in with the stuff that is more hype than flavour. 

But my niece Joy liked the photo I sent her, so it was worth it.