Saturday, March 25, 2023

Snacks of the Month - delicious dill and disappointing "delights"

I bought these crisps in a pub. They are amazing!

There's no pictures of the crisps because they look like crisps. And also I ate them. They had a real spicy tasty kick. Probably my best crisp discovery since finding out Rib'n'Saucy Nik Naks are sold in six packs.

At the other extreme of the snacking continuum, Cathy picked me up these to try.

I used to be quite partial to a Fry's Turkish Delight. And these were cherry flavour, and generally I like cherry flavour. (I still grieve the loss of cherry Tango from the soft drink pantheon.)

The seven bars in the packet were individually wrapped.

This next picture has my finger in to give a sense of scale. The chocolate enrobing the Turkish Delight was very thin.

These were unpleasantly sweet. The milk chocolate didn't work with the cherry flavour at all and not enough flavouring was added to the Turkish Delight to counteract the sweetness. The overall effect was pretty horrid and left me very disappointed.

Tuesday, March 14, 2023

Book of the Month - The Grieving Brain

I did finish this book in February - honest! I've just been slow to blog about it. 

As you may expect, a book about neuroscience and how brains function forced me to really think about what I was reading. That's not because it was hard academic reading. The book is written in a clear, approachable style with personal reminiscences and reflections that break up the summarised scientific research nicely. However, although the writing was light, the subject matter was heavy and so I kept having to stop and put the book down and think about it. 

I discovered this book through the Behavioural Science newsletter. and posted about some of the key points last year. I liked the analogy for grief of trying to navigate through a room in the dark, but someone has moved the furniture so you reach out for something and it's not there. I've written a few times how I miss my Dad the most in places where I would expect to find him. 

This book explains why this happens.

It has to do with how our brains get changed through attachment to people. We expect certain people to be present - caregivers to care for us; lovers to show love to us. Throughout the book, Mary Frances O'Connor explains how scans of the brain illustrate this attachment and which parts of the brains are affected, and then tells stories from her own personal grief experiences that correspond with what the brain science shows. It's both very effective at underlining the point and deeply humanising.

O'Connor's understanding of 'grief' as a concept is that the human brain - her brain, my brain, your brain - is trying to solve a problem. The problem is that an important person is gone from the expected routines and relationships. Grief subsides as the brain learns to fill in that person-shaped hole it expects to be there. Although, for some people that learning doesn't really stick, or never happens at all, and they are trapped in chronic, persistent grief. 

One helpful message was that it is normal to feel fine one minute and utterly bereft the next. Or not. And that, actually, you don't have to feel intense feelings all the time in the immediate aftermath of grief - in fact, it might be more helpful to your healing if you don't, because your brain carries on working through the 'problem' of your important person being absent at a subconscious level and the learning might happen faster that way. 

While we often encourage people to confront their grief and think about the person who died, it might be better to let people be distracted by other things. Forcing people to do 'grief work' might - might - contribute to them mislearning the new shape of the world and cause them to slip into chronic grief syndrome. 

For me, personally, having written several blog posts about grief, this book helped me make sense of a lot of feelings. Missing my Dad after an FA Cup Final, for example, knowing he wouldn't be ringing me up to dissect the game, was my brain learning that there wouldn't be that anticipated post-match conversation. It was a moment when my brain adjusted to circumstances as they were, not the sequence of events it expected.

That's not to belittle grief, quite the reverse. O'Connor makes the point that grief happens because we love people and loving people has an impact on us. Towards the end of the book, there is a moving passage explaining why we continue to love people who have died. Put simply, we can't help it - 

"The physical make up of our brain - the structure of our neurons - has been changed by them. In this sense, you could say that a piece of them physically lives on... these neural connections survive in physical form even after a loved one's death. So, they are not exactly "out there" and they are not exactly "in here" either. You are not one, not two."

I thought that was a beautiful description that helped me to make sense of my experience of grief. 

Friday, March 10, 2023

Recap of the month - February 2023

This monthly round up is a bit late because the end of February and the beginning of March proved to be very busy with a work trip to North Wales, followed by adventuring to the eastern side of England - but there will be more about that when I review March!

I didn't blog much in February because it was a very busy footballing month, including a new milestone on the first Saturday when I travelled with one of my footballing friends called Paul to the Kassam Stadium in Oxford. This was my first visit to that football ground and it became the 100th ground I've watched football at since I started keeping a record of football matches in 1992. 

The Friday night immediately before hitting my century of grounds on the Saturday I went to Abergavenny Town's rather dilapidated old ground, which was my 99th ground where I've seen a game. On both the Friday and the Saturday I was supporting the away team - Barry Town and Shrewsbury Town - and both times the team I supported won 1-0.

In total I went to 8 games, which was a new record monthly total for February. In addition to Oxford and Abergavenny, I saw two games at different grounds in Port Talbot. The Viking ship on the Port Talbot Town logo caught my eye.

I went to two Barry home games, and saw Barry play a game in Taff's Well too. I dragged my buddy Connor along to one of the games at Jenner Park. It was the first time he'd seen them since before the pandemic.

I even had a trip to Caldicot where I saw my friend Ben play for Caldicot Town against Tredegar Town. 

Due to an injury crisis at the club, Ben was playing in an unfamiliar role at right back. Despite that his team won. 

It wasn't all football though. In the middle of the month, we had a lovely Saturday with my sister, Sarah, and her three kids. We met them in Bristol and visited The Wild Place, which is a well-planned zoo park with a variety of animals kept in nice environments. The highlight was the walkways through woods populated with lynx, wolves, wolverines and bears. The bears were hibernating but we were able to watch them snooze on the den-cam. (Even if they had been awake, you're not allowed to play with them anyway.)

I went back to Oxford for a second time later in the month, this time with Cathy. We stopped to have lunch with a friend on our way to Haddenham, which isn't too far away.  Our friend, Colin, had passed away and we were on our way to his funeral. 

We got to know Colin because we became good friends with his daughter, Viv, when we started attending the same church as her back at the start of the century. He was a kind, gentle man with a good sense of humour. He was also a skilled potter and he gifted us several ceramic items that will remind us of him. 

Colin's funeral was in the parish church of St Mary the Virgin in Haddenham. We had visited the church before, when Viv and Ian got married there just over 15 years ago. 

Outside the church is the village duck pond. This is an important cinematic landmark because it was the film location for the scene in The Great Muppet Caper when Kermit, Fozzie and Gonzo land in the UK after being thrown out of the cargo hold of an aeroplane. I feel Colin would have appreciated that we stopped to take a selfie with it (see the picture at the top of the blog post).