Monday, September 25, 2023

Snack of the month: in memory of Margot

An unusual snack of the month choice this month, as it's a chocolate bar from a memorial service for my friend Margot. 

I met Margot when I started working as the manager of the Children and Young People's Wales Diabetes Network. Margot was the manager of the network in the north west of England. She had been in post for a few years when I started and she quickly become one of the people I asked for advice on how to do things. 

In the seven years I did that job Margot never stopped being that person. She had an encyclopaedic memory for details of decisions made in meetings, and plans and strategies and all kinds of arcane pieces of medical guidance. Frequently I would receive a cryptic email reminder for something that all the network managers had been asked to do several months previously, and I would have to email Margot and ask what it was about. She always knew. 

Margot was one of the best networkers I ever met. She was the person to ask who was the best person to ask about things - and could give a quick history on virtually every key player in NHS diabetes care. She knew all the stories and gossip - which big names were squabbling, and who had been slighted by not being invited to speak at a conference and so on. Who to ask about stuff, and importantly, who not to ask. 

A couple of stories... Once a year we had one of the national network meetings in Leeds and those of us who had to travel a distance would go up the night before. Margot asked if those staying over would like to get together for a meal at her favourite restaurant - Bibi's. The chairs and managers of several networks said yes. It was only when we all arrived that Margot told us it was a special ABBA night with a live tribute band...

Another story - back in 2018, I organised a 'cinema tour' showing the documentary of Bike Beyond in three cinemas in Wales, including the Scala cinema in Prestatyn. Margot was a Prestatyn girl and decided she had to attend and represent her home town. If I remember correctly she was the first person to book a ticket for her and her colleague. Afterwards they joined me, Sara and Sid - who was one of the riders with type 1 diabetes who cycled across the USA - for a curry where a mix up with full sugar coke caused havoc with everyone's blood sugar levels!

It's a slightly silly memory, but I will always appreciate Margot's enthusiastic kindness in coming to the film showing. It meant a lot to me at the time, and still does. She is standing just behind me in this photo that Sid took:

I had a phone call to tell me that Margot had passed away just before I switched jobs back into the world of diabetes in the summer. It still felt a bit unreal when I was sat with a row of my former colleagues in the memorial service which was held at the hospital chapel in Leeds, almost opposite the children's diabetes centre where Margot worked.

At the start of the service Dancing Queen by ABBA was played. I'll not be able to hear that song without thinking of Margot now. 


And the chocolate bar? Well, Jonathan who worked with Margot told me they had sourced the Margot chocolate bars from an importer of European chocolate bars. Someone who opened one after the service said it had a very strong rum flavour - we all thought Margot would have approved!

Having sampled my bar at home, I can confirm it did have a very strong taste of rum, so much so the coconut in the filling was barely noticeable. If you hanker after rum flavoured chocolate bars I think this might be the one for you!

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.