Wednesday, February 21, 2024

Book of the Month: Independent Nation

I've had this book in my reading pile for a little while. With the tagline 'Should Wales leave the UK?', it's written by Wales Online Welsh Affairs editor Will Hayward to scrutinise both sides of the discussion about Welsh independence. 

I felt this was a decent review of the situation Wales is currently in. While Will points out that the idea that independence will help solve all of Wales's many problems is simplistic, he also strongly makes the case that the current status quo isn't going to do anything to solve those problems either. This is something I've talked about before when discussing my feelings about independence - 18 months ago when my friend Chris asked me whether I could really see a future for Wales as an independent country, I replied that I couldn't really see much of a future in the UK. This book acknowledges that things are bleak.

The problems we see in Wales - the high poverty rates, the demographic shift in society, the low quality infrastructure and the ongoing post-industrial trauma in the population's health are all covered by Will. And he pulls no punches at the lack of action from the UK government to do anything about them - inaction that has lasted for decades under whatever flavour government has been in charge. 

Will doesn't have much time for the sloganeering of Yes Cymru, harshly skewering claims that Wales could get by selling water and energy. He points out that if Wales went independent without an economic plan it would be ruinous, but plans could be made and, indeed, some people are already coming up with ideas. Will believes a solution is for Wales to find its 'niche' in the world - something it would be world-leading in.

He also recognises that independence provides an opportunity to recalibrate the economy in Wales and focus on other priorities rather than 'growth'. A constitution for Wales could focus on social justice and quality of life for all the people who live here with economic policy flowing from that. It was encouraging to have some other possibilities included in a serious political work instead of discussions of the economy just being the de facto Western idea that 'wealth' is measured in money.

The flipside of the book is an examination of the current political system, which is exposed as seriously lacking. The idea that the UK can persist with an 'unwritten constitution' is deeply unsatisfactory - as is the idea of Parliamentary sovereignty, which leaves the people of the UK at the mercy of charlatans and thieves. This isn't a theoretical criticism; the corruption in our current government shows that.

So what is the solution? Will doesn't give an opinion, although he does offer a range of options, showing this isn't a binary question. The most interesting scenario he paints is accidental independence - asking what would happen if England decided to opt out of the union. That's a feasible issue if Scotland went independent and there was a nationalist swing in England that saw Wales and Northern Ireland as more trouble than they're worth. 

If I had one criticism of this book, it's the author's tendency to insert himself into the narrative. As readers, we don't need to know which coffee shop he's met a politician in, or how he talked to an academic on a Zoom call. I know why authors add this colour in to their narratives - and Will doesn't do it as egregiously as some people do - but it's a distraction. There are other occasions where Will adds colour very successfully - for example, providing a short synopsis of the Aberfan disaster and how the UK government misappropriated the donations that were given to help the families of the victims who were killed.

But overall, that's a minor quibble for a book that I would recommend anyone with any level of interest in Welsh politics should consider reading. 

Friday, February 09, 2024

International Ice Hockey

A couple of weeks back, my friend Steve mentioned that Olympic qualifying ice hockey matches were taking place in Cardiff this month. Great Britain had three games lined up as part of their qualifying campaign and we decided to go and watch. Bryan and Tony joined us for a fun night out.

We went to the first evening game of the tournament - Great Britain v China. I was expecting a reasonably close game - GB are 20th in the World Rankings, while China are 26th. However, it turned into a bit of a blow out, with GB racking up a 10-1 victory.

GB came onto the ice in attack mode and peppered the China goal with shots. We were sat behind the goal, and the netminder was kept very busy. He did well to only concede two in the first period, making a number of fine reflex saves. 

The second period was quite dull for us because we were sat behind the GB goal and saw barely any action. Meanwhile at the other end of the rink, GB scored five goals. GB scored again at our end in the third period before China finally got a goal. I was feeling a bit sorry for them by that point so cheered when it went in. It's a long way to travel from China to Wales to then get tonked. 

It's rare I'm in a crowd that's chanting "We want ten! We want ten!" Even rarer that the crowd gets its wish. But the tenth goal went in to a loud cheer. We then had the amusement of a broken scoreboard reading GB 0-1 China, because it wouldn't display a two digit score. 

It was a very clean game, with a handful of players serving two minute penalties in the sin bin, for fairly innocuous fouls. There were no silly fights or roughing, which meant both teams just got on with the hockey. GB used the boards well, sending the puck round to players on the other side of the ice to switch the play with devastating effect. China had some good players but they played more as individuals rather than as a team and could rarely get on the offensive.

Great Britain are playing Serbia and Romania in their next two qualifiers over the weekend with the aim of making it through to the next round of qualifying. 

Every time I go to watch ice hockey I remember how much I enjoy it. Even watching the techs wielding power tools and driving big vehicles as part of the playing surface maintenance is fun!

Tuesday, February 06, 2024

Making a tiny dent in the pile of shame

In the middle of 2021 I bought the starter set for the "second season" reboot of Blood Bowl. When I unboxed it I talked about all the lovely sprues of figures ready to be built.

And they remained on the sprue until last night, when I finally got round to building one figure - the star player for the Black Orc team.

Clipping fun!

So, a couple of things... This player's name is Varag Ghoulchewer. Except I modified the figure slightly. As supplied, Varag has half a corpse impaled on his shoulder spike. I didn't like the look of this so just left this piece off. 

Bits of this model were fiddly to build, particularly getting his head piece complete with the tusked chin-guard right. (I'm not totally sure I've got it glued together entirely correctly.) I ended up using a video off YouTube to help me get that part of the model assembled. 

As I've modded the figure I've renamed him Garav Foolchewer. He will still have the star player's characteristics, skill levels and abilities. 

The second thing is that this dent in the pile of shame feels more significant than it really is. Yes, I have finally built a model from the second season starter box. But there are still two full teams in the box that are untouched on their sprues. Plus I have bought two other teams that are still on the sprue since I last listed all the unbuilt stuff I had. 

My current roster looks like this:
Human team - built and half painted, along with an ogre who needs to be repainted because he's currently in the wrong colour scheme
Orc team - built and mostly painted 
Lizard-men team - built and almost completely painted (including the bonus kroxigor figure)
Skaven (giant rat) team - built and painted, except for two star players who are (recently) built and unpainted
Necromantic Horror team - built and half painted
Wood elf team - built, unpainted. Although I have a treeman figure to go with this team who is mostly built and painted.
Human 'Imperial Nobility' team plus star player plus ogre - all on sprue
Black Orc team plus troll - still on sprue. The star player is built though!
Norse team - still on sprue
Elf (Elven Union) team - still on sprue

That's ten teams with four currently untouched in the pile of shame! 

But still, I've made a tiny little dent.

Saturday, February 03, 2024

Snack of the month - pickled plum crisps from Japan

These crisps were in my Christmas stocking although I think Santa Claus may have had some help from my sister, Sarah (hi Sarah!)

According to the packaging Sweet & Sour Pickled Plum is a popular flavour in Japan. I can see why. The crisps were a unanimous hit among the three people (including me) who tried them. Cathy liked them a lot. Bryan gave them the thumbs up too. 

I wasn't sure what to expect with these. I was a bit trepidatious after the last crisps to feature as my snack of the month were totally disgusting. Pickled Plum tasted like a slightly sweet salt and vinegar flavour. The sweetness gave the vinegar flavour a tangy edge that was very moreish. The crisps were nice too, crunchy but not cut too thick and not too oily, either. 

So overall, a very nice snack which maintains the success rate of decent snack-of-the-month snacks for 2024.

Friday, February 02, 2024

Football recap of the month - January 2024

Into the new year with a bang! 

My game numbering continues from December.

Game 33: Haughmond 1-0 Wem Town 

Reason for going: I was in Shrewsbury for the weekend and went with my nephew to watch this Shropshire County Premier League game.

Point of interest: The Shrewsbury Sports Village was my first new ground of the year. It's where the Shrewsbury Town Academy team play.

Game 34: Shrewsbury Town 0-1 Wrexham

Reason for going: Thanks to the FA Cup draw this was the first time Salop and Wrexham had locked horns in 15 years. Plus there's the whole Hollywood thing. 

Point of interest: This was the first sell out at the Meadow since the season they narrowly missed out on promotion and ended up losing the play off final at Wembley. Also - this was my 200th Shrewsbury game in my records.

Seven photographers! Usually there are two max.

Game 35: Cardiff Corinthians 1-1 Cardiff Draconians 

Reason for going: I fancied a local game instead of trogging to Aberystwyth to watch Barry.  (Although if I had gone on the bus to Aberystwyth I would have seen Barry win.)

Point of interest: The Corries play on a pitch that is half a cricket pitch. It's right next to the railway line so there's a good view of trains trundling past. They also have a clubhouse with a wall of old photos and news clippings. I love a good clubhouse wall full of archive stuff. 

Clubhouse full of history

Game 36: Cardiff Metropolitan WFC 0-1 Barry Town Ladies

Reason for going: This seemed a good way to fulfil my football fix for the weekend. One of my aims for the season was to see a women's game so this ticked this box too.

Point of interest: This was the 10th game I've seen at Cardiff Met's home ground in Cyncoed. It's the first time I've seen a Barry Town team win there!

Bonus football watching

I'm not counting it in my list of games, but this month I was able to watch my nephew, Zac, play for his Juniors team. He scored a screamer and set up two other goals in a 4-3 win.

Thursday, February 01, 2024

Recap of the Month - January 2024

The first month of 2024 was very busy. I had two trips to Shrewsbury and two days in London, where I made the most of an evening to myself and visited the new Lego Shop in Battersea Power Station.

But first, a couple of "train" photos. 

New Lego minifigures released!

New silly photo opportunities in Asda!

The first trip to Shrewsbury was to see Shrewsbury play Wrexham in the FA Cup. More details to follow on my football recap thread. The second trip was for a combined birthday weekend, that included my youngest nephew's birthday party at a soft play centre, my brother's actual birthday. and seeing my mum on her birthday eve! So there was lots of present-opening and other fun. 

Mum and Dave shared a cake 

And Fred willingly got wrapped up in a blanket!

There has been some other sporting action as well, with two Blood Bowl games. You can read up on how the orcs lost to the lizardmen here, and how the humans beat the dwarfs here. I also managed to read a hefty science-fiction book (over 500 pages) which was my book of the month

On the final weekend of the month the Friends of Grange Gardens supported an activity morning as part the RSPB Big Garden Bird Watch. It was well attended as kids built bird feeders and learned about nests.

I was on bird wrangling duties, looking after Terry Dactil, the orange hoopoe from Newport. (He had a complicated back story.)

Thankfully I survived my encounter! So, here comes February. Let's see how quickly it flies past.