Tuesday, October 31, 2023

Our scary cute Hallowe'en

Cathy has arranged some suitable toys on our mantelpiece for Hallowe'en.

I particularly like how Jack Skellington is next to Sally... Brown from Peanuts. Is he moving on to a new Sally squeeze? 

This chap is new to the mantel this year.

And the mummified Grogu is also a new addition.

We also have some spookified Cars characters - Luigi and Guido.

A Lego Hallowe'en scene

A vampire mad scientists lab with Frankenstein's monster in Playmobil. (The ghost also lights up!)

A Sylvanian Families little cat in a ghost costume (cuteness overload!)

And a bucket of bats who can zipper their wings together to keep warm!

It might not be very scary but I love our seasonal display of toys!

And if you want to see the mantel on TikTok, you can!

Thursday, October 26, 2023

Disneyland train delays

I was just about to get on the Disneyland train, for a leisurely trip around the park, when the attendant stopped me. "We have a problem with the train," he said.

Cue a group of engineers and maintenance guys gathering on the platform trying to work out what was wrong. 

However, the worst thing about the delay was that I was there without any of the other members of my party. And there were no other people from the UK near me in the queue. I was just about to make a joke about 'leaves on the line' when I realised the French, German and Spanish families near me probably wouldn't get the reference!

Eventually we got moving and I got to see Disneyland from the train. It gives an odd view of the park. My dad once said that travelling by train meant you saw "the backside of cities" and, it seems, the same was true on this train ride.

I liked the view of Thunder Mesa, home of the Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, though. It seemed to lean and loom more from this angle. 

There are a couple of 'vignettes' that are only visible from the train. There was a trope of abandoned vehicles...

Frontierland station was the only other station open besides Main Street. 

Discoveryland station looked eerily deserted as we choo-chooed through. 

And then I was back at Main Street again. My train photography skills were as bad and uninspiring as on the regular railways.

Wednesday, October 25, 2023

Cymru in Disneyland

In my post about Disneyland Paris I said I didn't get a good picture of the Welsh characters on the It's a Small World ride. So my sister sent me a picture.

She also took a picture of me eating a healthy lunch!

It was delicious.

Tuesday, October 24, 2023

Disneyland Paris

For the first time in seven years, Cathy and I left the country on holiday. We went to visit the most magical of lands... Disneyland! We took over 1,400 photos. Here are a handful for your enjoyment.

Because it was nearly Hallowe'en, Disneyland was decorated in autumnal and Hallowe'en decorations. There were pumpkins everywhere!

We saw all the big stars including Mickey and Minnie...


...and Daisy (in the Hallowe'en Parade)

Minnie was also in the Hallowe'en Parade with a giant horn of plenty symbolising harvest.

We went with my sister, Sarah, brother-in-law, Dan, and their three kids, Iona, Jura and Finlay. We mixed and matched going on various rides together. Finlay joined me on the Mad Hatter's Teacups.

My favourite ride was the Thunder Mountain Railroad. I liked it so much I literally bought the t-shirt. In the evening I got what I think is a great photo of it, all lit up.

Other rides I enjoyed included Star Tours (well, naturally...), the Ratatouille ride and the Cars Road Trip. And, of course, It's a Small World!

There were some Welsh representatives in the visit to all the cultures around the globe, but I didn't get a good photo of the little Welsh people. However, it's not just humans depicted on the ride - there's animals too!

The main Parade attracted a big throng of people. Cathy got a kerbside view and took some great pictures.

There were also plenty of other places to take selfies and other funny photos.

We had a bit of rain one afternoon we were there, but our final morning was bright and sunny again. The last ride I went on was the classic carousel.

And then, sadly, it was time for us to go. We left the castle behind, looking stunning in the sunshine.

Saturday, October 14, 2023

Books of the Month - a double dose of George Orwell

Two books this month - one about George Orwell and one written by him that I hadn't read before. 

On Nineteen Eighty-Four by DJ Taylor is described as a 'biography' of Orwell's most famous book. It's divided into three parts looking at the sources, creative process and reception given to the novel. 

The first section examines the elements of Orwell's personal history, career and previous novels that fed into the development of the key themes of Nineteen Eighty-Four - the paranoia, the malleability of truth, and the brutal reality of totalitarianism. I found it fascinating how the themes of powerlessness follows most of Orwell's main protagonists who are trapped in various circumstances although none as blatantly evil as poor Winston Smith's world. 

Before reading this book I didn't know that Orwell spent some of the second world war developing propaganda, in a building that matches the description of the Ministry of Truth where Winston works. Orwell's boss there had the initials 'BB', the same as Big Brother. 

Another major influence on Orwell was his experience fighting against fascism during the Spanish Civil War. Here he saw first hand how lies were spread by his own side by Stalinists operating on instructions from the Soviet Union. A lot of his anger about that was channelled into Animal Farm which is an allegory for the way the communist revolution in Russia morphed into grim totalitarianism. But several of his experiences in Spain reappear in more subtle ways in Nineteen Eighty-Four as well. 

The second section details the process of writing the novel and particularly the impact on Orwell's health. Taylor paints the picture of Orwell writing out of a sense of urgency, feeling he had to get Winston Smith's story written to explain exactly why totalitarianism was so dangerous. I was left in no doubt that his sense of mission to complete the book pretty much killed him. He died not long after publication, although he was aware that the book was a massive success.

The third section is an account of what came next as Nineteen Eighty-Four took the world by storm. It covers how the book was weaponised by the CIA and banned in the USSR, turned into stage plays and movies (one of which had different endings on different continents) and of course added several words and phrases to the lexicon (which I wrote about in the early years of this blog).

I haven't read many books about books because it feels a bit meta, but I was captivated by this story about a book that took the life of its author and then proceeded to take on a life of its own. 

And so on to book 2 for the month...

Fresh off the back of reading about Nineteen Eighty-Four, I finally read Homage to Catalonia, which was George Orwell's account of fighting in the Spanish Civil War. This was a contemporary account of the conflict, printed before the war was resolved. As a result it assumes the reader knows what's going on - so I spent the first few chapters looking things up on Wikipedia. 

Orwell is very honest about how serving at the front was a mix of extreme boredom interspersed with moments of chaos and naked danger. He discusses how he is aware of his conflicting feelings - that war is terrible, but glorious; that it's a good thing to shoot and kill fascists but that the men in the other trenches aren't really that different to him; and that this was the most important thing he could be doing and at the same time felt completely pointless.

But Orwell's main message is directed at his readers when this was published. He wants to set the record straight about what was really happening in Spain behind all the propaganda that was being published in the papers back home. The misinformation war is nothing new and this is one of the earliest examples - as the Stalinist faction in the forces fighting against Franco's fascist uprising gradually took control and saw the liquidation of their political enemies on their own side was of prime importance. 

As they took control, the Stalinists perpetrated various untruths about their erstwhile allies while imprisoning and disappearing many of them. Orwell had been attached to an 'anarchist' militia unit and suddenly found himself regarded as a traitor and an enemy. Fortunately he was able to escape alongside his wife who was also in the country, while many of his comrades in arms were caught by the secret police and thrown in prison. 

Orwell's fury at the betrayal of what he considered to be a genuine egalitarian socialist revolution that he saw when he first arrived in Spain is palpable. He is unequivocal in blaming the Soviet Union and their agents for this and grieves for the opportunity that the ordinary Spanish peasants and workers had taken away from them because the Soviets deemed it expedient to discourage, and then suppress, an actual revolution. 

There are lighter moments, and the usual one sentence observations that cleverly summarise an injustice or political worldview. Orwell is good at picking almost farcical elements in stories that make them memorable - whether that's the inefficiency of the Spanish secret police turning over his wife's hotel room in Barcelona, or his account of taking a sniper bullet through his throat and what he thought about his 'final thoughts' when he assumed he was done for. The short conclusion to the book after leaving Spain ends with a prescient vision of sleepy England being rudely awoken by war.

Homage to Catalonia has been critiqued several times by historians. Some of Orwell's account lacks veracity. But that's easy to say from the safety of the 21st century, with Franco safely long-dead and Stalinism a distant, unstudied memory. Orwell acknowledges his own biases and invites the reader to consider their own. He has the advantage over most of his critics because he was actually there. At times his descriptions are vivid enough to make me feel like I was too. 

Wednesday, October 04, 2023

Football stadium sticker fun

I liked this pillar of sticker vandalism under the South Stand at the Meadow last time I went to see Shrewsbury play. 

In fact, I liked it so much I turned it into a TikTok bit!

(Yes, I'm now mucking about on TikTok)

Tuesday, October 03, 2023

Secret coded railway logo

I spotted this artwork on the wall of a hotel bar in Manchester when I was up there at the end of September. Just an ordinary picture of a train, you might think...

But that logo is the logo that Lego use on their trains! 


Monday, October 02, 2023

Football recap - September 2023

All the football matches I went to in September. (Numbers continue from previous posts.)

Game 17: Caerau Ely 3-0 Trefelin BGC 

Reason for going: it was a Friday evening cup game, and I hadn't seen an evening game at Caerau Ely since they had the floodlights installed.

Point of interest: the club had printed some programmes because some "ground hoppers" had phoned up and said they were only coming if there was a printed programme. I don't know if the hoppers turned up or not, but I got a programme.

Game 18: Pontypridd United 1-0 Barry Town

Reason for going: one of Barry's closest away games of the season.

Point of interest: I'm not a great believer in nominative determinism, but the referee was called Mr Pratt. He didn't have a good game. Ponty's winner was a contentious penalty.

Game 19: Taff's Well 1-1 Carmarthen Town 

Reason for going: I like going to Taff's Well. They have a proper clubhouse with the walls covered in memorabilia and club history. 

Point of interest: There was a goal scored at both ends of the pitch for a change - I have seen far more goals scored at the top of the fearsome sloping pitch than at the bottom. 

Game 20: Barry Town 1-4 Connah's Quay Nomads

Reason for going: This was the only Barry home game I could get to this month.

Point of interest: Connah's Quay Nomads have always been a hoofball team full of elbows and shoving at corners. Except they have evolved. This was one of the best footballing displays I've seen by a Cymru Premier team and they dominated Barry as easily as the scoreline suggests. Also it was very hot and I think this is the first time I've seen a game halted for a drinks break in September.

Game 21: Shrewsbury Town 0-2 Bristol Rovers

Reason for going: It was my nephew, Zac's, birthday and we went with a bunch of his mates instead of having a party.

Point of interest: This was my fifth game in September, marking a new high point for games in September for me. (The previous record was 4 games.)

I didn't get to any more games in the final two weeks of the month - but I did manage to see the Meadow again, through the train window on the way up to Manchester for a work event at the very end of the month!

Sunday, October 01, 2023

Recap of the Month - September 2023

I didn't get around to posting a monthly recap for August, although the gist of it was covered in my football round up. September was different, with fewer football matches but as much travelling - and a major life milestone towards the end of the month: our Silver Wedding Anniversary!

There have been several times in the run up to our 25th wedding anniversary that Cathy and I have discussed how we can't possibly be having a Silver Wedding because that's what old people have! And yet here we are and suddenly we are the old people celebrating being married for a quarter of a century.

We have been through a lot together. We have lost people we love along the way. And we have made lots of new friends - and some of them have made even more friends for us - since we got married. When we gathered some friends together to celebrate there were lots of kids to invite as well. 

We booked our friend Sian to come and do a photoshoot of us with everyone during the day - and that's her handiwork at the top of the post, when we got a few photos outside in the grounds of the venue. Sian would have been on our guestlist anyway, but she did a fabulous job coaxing our nephews, nieces and other younger friends to smile and pose nicely for photos. I've loved Sian's photography for a long time so it was great to actually be in the pictures.

Having family here meant I also got to watch a Rugby World Cup game with my sister and brother-in-law and the nieces and nephew who support Scotland. They were staying the night after the party and it was a rare opportunity to hang out with them.

My niece Jura in the photo under duress!

We had the celebration on the Saturday before our actual anniversary. On the day itself I had the day off work and we went to Porthcawl for a little look round the shops.

Jaffa Cake ice cream!

We stopped at Rest Bay for a snack in the car overlooking the waves. The wind was up and there was a nice wildness in the air there. It was a low key highly enjoyable relaxing day.

The celebration weekend was in-between two weekends with a Northern feel. The first one involved a trip to Leeds for Margot's memorial service. That was on the Friday and I stayed in Shrewsbury the weekend which meant I saw my eldest nephew, Zac, on his birthday. 

We also went to a football match with some of his mates - sadly a disappointing defeat for Shrewsbury Town.

The other weekend involved a trip to Manchester for a big work event. As a team we have been gearing up for this event since I started my "new" job back in July. It marked the launch of the new brand identity for the programme and a new name - "Together Type 1". 

Some of my team suitably branded up

I don't often blog about work but this was a very special day where I got to meet several of the young people with type 1 diabetes who are involved in the programme. They are a truly inspiring group of people and meeting them in real life was probably my highlight of a very busy couple of days where I was mainly in 'event mode'.

So, after a month of travelling and big events, both personal and professional, I feel I can relax a bit although looking at the calendar, October is going to be another month with a bit of travel in it too!