Friday, June 30, 2023

A "strong and Northern" snack of the month

Phew! Almost missed the deadline for Snack of the Month. This month its a packet of "Hendo's" that I think was sourced in Home Bargains. 

The snacks are flavoured with Henderson's Relish. There was a good explanation on the back but I could only get a photo when the packet was empty.

Consistency-wise Hendo's are very similar to other lentil snacks like Pop-chips. 

They hadn't skimped on the flavourings and the chips had a little powdery coating.

I'm not familiar with Henderson's Relish but these didn't make me want to seek it out. There was an unpleasant after-taste. Maybe it was just a bit too strong and Northern for me.

Wednesday, June 28, 2023

Kicking off my Women's World Cup sticker collection

After boycotting the World Cup sticker album for Qatar 2022, I've decided to start collecting the Women's World Cup stickers for this summer's competition in Australia and New Zealand.

I decided to start big, ordering the starter set and a box of 50 sticker packets directly off Panini.

However, before that arrived I bought a couple of multi-packs of stickers in the supermarket. 

The very first sticker in the very first packet from a multi-pack was a shiny one - the team badge for Canada.

In the 60 stickers in those multi-packs I didn't get a single England player. One of the host nations, Australia, was very well represented, though, with the badge and five players - ten per cent of the stickers!

There were six stickers inserted in the album when it arrived, including the first England player I stuck in - Beth Mead. However, Beth has had a cruciate injury since November so I don't know if she is going to make it to the World Cup.

However, it's the centre-pages that really grabbed my attention. Broadly speaking it's a "star players" section with action shots of the best players from each team on a shiny sticker. 

But what the designers have done is very cleverly photoshopped in an abstract background of different shapes that match the design printed on the pages. It produces a visual effect which I think is probably the best one I've seen ever done by Panini.

The lay out of the team pages is also nicely done, with the pages arranged in a variety of different formations instead of the usual straight rows of squad photos. The central feature pages then elevate the whole sticker book to a new level. 

I'm really pleased that such care and attention has been paid to the pinnacle competition in women's football.

Sunday, June 25, 2023

This postmark is a hoot!

I arrived home after a week away to find an eBay purchase waiting for me - a package from Germany with another philatelic passport for my collection.

This passport was issued at the German stamp show in Nuremburg in 1999. It's not complete but it has an interesting mix of stamps from different countries and what is probably one of my favourite postmarks of all time!

Saturday, June 24, 2023

Why I was disappointed with Toy Story 4

Spoilers follow for all the Toy Story films

[2023 edit: This post was originally written when TS4 was released in cinemas but for some reason I never posted it. However, I re-read it recently and I still feel this way about the film. And now, with rumours of Toy Story 5 rumbling, I thought I may as well post it with a few minor edits.]

There's a law of diminishing returns on sequels. I still rate Toy Story 2. I thought Toy Story 3 was OK, but never felt the need to watch it a second time. 24 years after the first Toy Story movie, Woody and co returned for a 4th cinema outing.

There are some real pro points to the film. Rabbit and Ducky are great new characters and they gave me the best laughs. Duke Kaboom, voiced by Keanu Reeves, is another brilliant new character with probably the single best line in the script. The animation is high class. Bo Peep's sheep steal the show with their antics. The Pixar geek in me loved seeing a nicely animated Tin-Toy in a cameo appearance.

But overall, something just didn't sit right.

This is Woody's film. The film quickly establishes that his new owner, Bonnie, doesn't give a crap about him. She strips him of his sheriff's badge and then throws him back into the cupboard, rejected. Worse still, when he finally escapes the cupboard, her klutzy dad literally stamps on Woody's face twice. It would appear carelessness is genetic.

Weirdly, Woody is still obsessed with caring for Bonnie. He stows away with her to kindergarten to make sure her first day goes alright. Then he fixates on protecting the toy she makes on her first day, 'Forky'.

Even if you haven't seen the film, you'll have seen Forky. He's on all the posters. He's a spork with a crudely applied mouth and googly eyes. He is also easily the most annoying Pixar character ever. Unfortunately for the film, after Forky's appearance all the other established characters, who we have come to know and love as we shared their adventures, are brutally relegated to background characters. Rex, Jessie, Mr Potato Head, Hamm, the aliens, Bullseye, Jessie and even Buzz are now just wallpaper to the Forky story.

Woody believes that Forky is Bonnie's most important toy right now and blah, blah, blah, oh who cares, Woody? More importantly, why do you care? Bonnie doesn't want to play with you! Why don't you just let her be and if she's so stupid as to lose her stupid spork toy, that's on her. Tough love, Woody! Give her some tough love! Maybe then she will take more care of her toys.

Anyway, there's some stuff about how Woody never got over Andy, then he sees Bo Peep's lamp in an antique store and goes in looking for her. At this point the film goes creepy and weird.

We have already had a flashback scene where Bo Peep is sold 9 years previously, presumably on Craigslist or something. She asks Woody to come with her and he says no because Andy needs him. Clearly he is haunted by this, so goes into the creepy, weird antique store. There he meets an old doll who blames her failure to be played with on a defective voicebox, which could be replaced by Woody's voicebox. Her henchmen - a bunch of ventriloquist's dummies - try to rip it out of him until Bo Peep turns up and rescues him.

I quite liked the recasting of Bo Peep from toddler's nightlight to independent woman living her own life by her own rules as a "lost toy" who has actually found herself. She is a feisty, clever, strong-minded role model of a lamp now. I warmed to her.

Various shenanigans ensue. Keep an eye out for the third Combat Carl figure waiting for his high fives. Woody needs to rescue Forky for Bonnie. That means going back into the creepy antique store. There's some stuff with Buzz. Woody ends up sacrificing his voicebox in return for Forky, and then the doll in question ends up rejected by the little girl she desperately wanted to have play with her anyway. (Another kid comes along before the end of the movie so the voicebox thief does get her play companion in the end. Not sure what the message is there. Kidnappers and extortionists get a happy ending too? It feels like anything is possible in America these days.)

So we get to the end of the film and Woody has given everything. His badge is gone. He's had his face crushed. He's been rejected and abused every which way possible. He has been overlooked, abandoned, lost and no one has even noticed he is missing. He has even given away his voicebox - his essential self, as it were, and still Bonnie only really cares about a crummy spork.

And then he has a choice. Stay with Bo Peep - who he has already seen leave his life once before - or stick with the ingrate brat who now owns him. Well it's a no brainer, right? He's got to finally put his own worth over his sense of duty and stick with Bo. Except for some reason the way it played felt so wrong.

I've really examined my feelings on this, and I think this is the reason it felt wrong: Actually, Woody was selfish all along. He always said that Andy was the most important thing. He let Bo leave with just her sheep for company on that dark and stormy night, because Andy was the most important thing. Because, in turn, he was important to Andy. He got played with. He was the leader of the room. He was in a position of respect and authority.

All that stuff about Forky being important to Bonnie was actually about Woody being important to Bonnie, even though she didn't know about it. His self-identity as the important toy was being lived vicariously through Forky. He was there when Forky was made. He was the one who introduced Forky to the gang. He was the one who sat up all night trying to stop Forky jumping into the trash. He was the one who cared, who knew that Forky was oh-so-important to Bonnie, even though there was so little evidence to show that none of the other toys picked up on it.

And that selfishness came to the fore as the other toys were relegated to background characters. Yes, Woody stayed with Bo Peep, but he left Bullseye! He left Buzz! He left Slink! He left all those other loyal to the hilt friends - the ones who braved death on the roads and the elevator to save him from Al the Chicken, the ones who had turned down the safe life of being adored behind glass for him, the ones who had held his hands as they seemed to face imminent immolation in the incinerator at the dump.

There was barely a goodbye.

I know we are meant to see this as Woody's triumph. He finally sheds the sense of duty that consumed him even to the point of robbing him of his voice. He steps out and puts himself first - and we are meant to think this is him actually doing this for the first time. He tastes freedom for the first time.

But when he does it, really he's just revealing his own dark side of selfishness.

And that's why I think I left the cinema feeling more than a tad depressed. A beloved character turns out to be less of the heroic toy cowboy and more like a flawed human.

I didn't need this sequel.

(If you watch it, keep it playing right until the very end for the final Pixar logo.)

Friday, June 23, 2023

Sticker politics

While enjoying a trip to North Wales, I've noticed several pro-indy stickers. This one was well positioned near the entrance to Castell Caernarfon.

Yes Cymru stickers are common enough. However on a signpost in Llanberis there was a nice collection of stickers. Not sure what the Manchester City one was about, mind.

The Eryr Wen (White Eagles) is a Free Wales Army sticker. Nid Yw Cymru Ar Werth means Wales Is Not For Sale. 

And someone had embellished the obligatory Yes Cymru sticker with another sticker encouraging people to trust in the Lord always. 

I'm interpreting that to mean even God has got behind the Indy movement.

Thursday, June 08, 2023

Footballing with company - 2023 edition

In what may become an annual tradition, here is a round up of the football season that has just concluded with selfies of some of the people who I enjoyed it with. 

First up, the two Pauls. Between them I went to more matches with someone called Paul than without someone called Paul. This was at Llantwit Major v Barry on 2nd January. 

I went to lots of Shrewsbury games with one of the Pauls, including to Oxford, which was my 100th football ground. Paul was the selfie-taker on this occasion.

And I went to lots of Barry games with the other Paul although randomly, this is a photo from when we went to Ipswich v Shrewsbury and saw the statue of the great Bobby Robson. 

And this is from when we went to Caldicot Town to watch my friend Ben play. 

I managed to get a selfie with Ben too before the game. 

Lots of Shrewsbury away games meant several selfies, including with my brother, Dave, nephew, Zac and mate-of-Dave, new-mate-for-me, Dan. 

I also met up with Ken who now lives in Bristol, for Shrewsbury's game at the Memorial Stadium. Yet another game in the "temporary stand" that has been there as long as I can remember. 

And at Cheltenham Town I sat next to my friend Chris, who I first met in junior school way back in the nineteen-eighties.

I did my usual thing of inviting people along to Barry Town games. Tom, Jude and Seb came to their first football match. They picked a good game. Barry won 5-0 and won the league title. 

Connor was in town on a Saturday so he also got dragged along to a game at Jenner Park as well. 

And Steve came to a game too.

Steve was also my matchgoing bud at the Cardiff Met game that was my only 0-0 of the season and technically in a post-season game. Although we did see a penalty saved in the game and two more saved in the shoot out at the end of extra time. 

I also invited people to some random games. My friend Charlie (who I saw play as a goalie this season in a game where he let in 16 goals!) joined me for a trip to Llwydcoed. This is a selfie he took!

One of the first games of the season was up in Cwmbach. I'd been invited up by Allan who I got to know through my previous job. He's on the committee and properly committed to his local club.

As it was that part of the world I was joined by my friends Sara and Leanne who brought their twins. The children were having a camera shy moment!

My friend Tom often frowns in photos, but in Llanelli he seemed inordinately excited. 

However, Tom seemed to be at a normal level of excitement when we went to watch Portsmouth play Shrewsbury.

Football is great with friends and also great with family! Cathy came to a Shrewsbury game with us for my nephew Zac's birthday outing. 

My eldest niece, Joy, came to several games too. And sometimes agreed to be in a selfie. 

And I went to lots of games with Zac, including an evening game at the Meadow and seeing Barry triumph 6-0 in the Welsh Blood Service Cup Final in Newtown!

Roll on next season, and if you want to come to a game with me, let me know!

Wednesday, June 07, 2023

Football season review 2022-23 in figures

Here's my season in stats courtesy of the lovely Futbology App.

The blank team logo in the highest score is Aberystwyth Exiles. Their logo isn't included on the app. I'd never seen a team score 16 goals in a competitive game before this season. I doubt I will see it again. Cardiff Corinthians are probably going to be my all-time top scorers in one game. Strangely, a few months later I found out that a new guy in my office called Charlie played in goal for Aber Exiles in this game! He made some good saves in the game as well and prevented it being an even higher score. 

I went to 21 new grounds - one fewer new ground compared to 2021-22. They had a nice spread to them, though, with those far-flung grounds in England all places where I watched Shrewsbury play.

My new grounds in Cymru were all in the South. 

This southern bias is mainly because the furthest North that Barry played was in Newtown and it wasn't a new ground. Oddly, I've seen Barry play at Latham Park in Newtown more than I've seen Newtown play there!

Some other random stats

488 - the miles in the round trip to see Ipswich Town v Shrewsbury Town. I wasn't driving. 

15 Shrewsbury Town games - which is a new personal record in the 21st Century! I haven't been to that many Shrewsbury games in a season since I was a youth. This also included 'home and away' games against Cheltenham Town and Peterborough United and both teams 'did the double' over Shrewsbury.

3 Trophy Presentations

2 cup finals - both won by Barry Town

2 penalty shoot-outs

1 nil-nil scoreline (in May! It was my first 0-0 for over a year and 75 football matches)

Another highlight was seeing the son of one of my longstanding friends as Shrewsbury mascot for the day in a fantastic win over Cambridge United. We also took my youngest nephew and niece to their first ever Shrewsbury game and they even got certificates to prove it, although they were more happy about being given Easter Eggs. It feels like the flame is being passed on to a new generation of fans!

And some Futbology milestones

I loves me a Futbology badge. I picked up a few for total numbers of games, grounds and times seeing particular teams. 

(I blogged about this particular badge back in November because I realised my behaviour was being shaped by the app!)

Two badges for Cardiff teams - the Dracs...

...and Cardiff Met. Getting this badge for my only 0-0 game of the season was amusing. 

And finally, a day out in Brizzle earned me my first badge for another English football league club besides Shrewsbury.

Although there is something reductive in describing a season in stats, I feel this is probably the best way to summarise it!

Friday, June 02, 2023

Recap of the Month - May 2023

Random selfie of the month - Salisbury Cathedral cloister

May was a very busy month and I barely managed to blog. I missed writing my traditional Star Wars Day post. I was able to post on my blog about Tony Gwynn's baseball cards on Tony's Birthday - it was the first post in months on that neglected project. But apart from a snack of the month, that was it. 

So, what have I been doing? Well, Cathy and I have mainly been trying to sort out the stamp collection my Dad left behind. The collection is in several boxes and lots of it was still unsorted, over four years after he passed away suddenly. We had a date at the end of the month to take them to be valued. Although that turned out to be a waste of time, it was good to have a date to work towards. Deadlines focus the mind and all that. Plus it gave me the opportunity to visit Salisbury. 

After my disappointing trip to Salisbury, I contacted another stamp dealer who said they could collect the stamps from my Mum's house in Shrewsbury. So, we reloaded all the stamps back into the car and I set off for an unexpected bank holiday Monday trip. Mum was pleased to see me and her doggo, Fred, was almost equally as pleased!

In work I have been serving my notice period. We had a great event up in Merthyr Tydfil, which was my main focus for the first half of the month. Now I am starting to work on planning a handover and identifying what I can wrap up before I leave so I don't leave too many half finished projects behind. 

I went on my first Keep Grangetown Tidy litter pick of the year. Among the haul of rubbish on nearby streets I found a TV and an abandoned fish tank. 

Those were probably the most unusual items I picked up. We have started collecting discarded vapes for recycling as well, as the lithium batteries in them can prove a fire risk in rubbish lorries. So they went in a separate bag. Our litter picking crew found several, which adds to my theory that smokers are litterbugs, even when they are vaping instead.

Near the end of the month, Marco, our trusty and slightly battered VW Polo, successfully passed its MOT, so our little red car was clear to carry on motoring. Just as well, given I was ferrying stamps around the country!

Cathy and I had a cinema trip to see Guardians of the Galaxy Vol.3. I've enjoyed the Guardians movies ever since the first one came out almost a decade ago, as well as the contribution the Guardians have made to other Marvel movies, especially Thor: Love and Thunder last year. This film focused on my favourite character, Rocket Raccoon, and gave all the characters a satisfying character arc as this particular part of the Marvel franchise came to an end. 

And in the lobby I got to see what it would be like to be a Ken doll!

And even though Barry Town's season ended at the end of April, the football season continued right to the end of May. I saw six matches, including my first 0-0 of the season in a game that went to a penalty shoot out after extra time. I had not seen a 0-0 for well over a year - a run of 75 matches. 

I also watched five Cardiff Draconians games as they battled to escape the relegation zone in their league. 

The Dracs survived by winning their final game, against the team who were one point ahead of them and who ended up getting relegated instead. I was really pleased the Dracs stayed up and look forward to visiting the Orange Llama Stadium again next season.