Every Man Needs A Shed

Life and games (but mostly games) from Tony Boydell: Independent UK games designer, self-confessed Agricola-holic and Carl Chudyk fan-boy. www.surprisedstaregames.co.uk What was that beardy bloke going on about?

Archive for Wales

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Jean Genial

Anthony Boydell
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Newent. Glos
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*phew* Another week bites the dust.

Finally able to extricate myself from the attentions of nervous and needy staff, I pulled away from the Llandudno office and - at the 'big roundabout' - decided that today (Thursday) I'd go straight on down the A5 through Llangollen. It's a green and pleasant route that's mercifully quiet this time of year and, about halfway along, rumbles past the Rhug Estate:

Quote:
Rhug Estate, Corwen in Denbighshire is the main estate and home of Lord Newborough. The present house was built in 1799 and extended by Charles Henry Wynn when he reached 21 years of age when he became absolute owner. In 1911, Rhug Hall had 60 rooms with 14 servants living in. The present Lord Newborough, the 8th Baron inherited the estate on the death of his father who, by all accounts, was a rather eccentric character: a Boy's Own war hero who made five trips to evacuate troops from Dunkirk, blew up the German docks at St. Nazaire and ended up in Colditz! After the war he returned to farming; he died in Istanbul in 1998 and his ashes were shot out of an 18th-century cannon.


I mention this in passing because, through my paternal line, Lord Newborough is a distant cousin (!); I am related to a country nob and no mistake*. Thus, stopping off at the Estate is really just a 'family visit', isn't it?

The Estate, as you would expect given the way British history works, has it's own Chapel and - with cramping calves - I pulled in to the grounds for a leg-stretching nosey. The Chapel is now maintained by Cadw, the Welsh Government's historic environmental service, and for the princely sum of £4 I was granted admission:


From the outside, it's small and tidy and unremarkable...



...but on the inside...



...the roof is incredible...



...the panels on the walls, all unique, are sublime...



...the paintings...



...the ceiling panels...



...and the Angels!


I was the only person on the site apart from 'Jean', the Liverpudlian receptionist, who nipped off - as soon as I'd paid - to the Vestry for a warmed-up chicken tikka masala. When I'd soaked my eyes to saturation with the ornate, medieval beauty (see above) I returned to the gift shop whereupon 'Jean' started a conversation that looked like it would never stop! Hardly able to get a word in edgeways, 'Jean' narrated her life story to my polite nods and 'hur-hum's; the poor flower, trapped eight hours a day in a silent pre-Seasonal tourist attraction, was evidently starved of human interaction...and she wasn't letting me go without a (verbal) fight!

Eventually, with still a good three hours of travelling ahead of me, I took my leave and bade this genial prisoner farewell. Looking back on the photos, there are many worse places to be stuck in for one's job! Rhug Chapel is a real gem.

*awaits inevitable Boffonian/enoonian interjection
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Fri Apr 28, 2017 12:00 pm
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Ice Cold In Llandudno

Anthony Boydell
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Work colleague Craig, and myself, returned from a day's system support to glorious sunshine at the B&B. Ah, how we basked in the Spring glow as we ambled up the stepped gardens, admired the tadpoles wriggling through the quiet-fountained pond and aurally-delighted in the twittering of birds.

Half an hour later, as we set out to hike to the Iron Age village promontory, we were caught in a blizzard of hailstones and a wind cold enough to freeze the piss in your bladder! Cursing, we scuttled to the Cottage Loaf pub for a warming burger and pint of fizzy, fermented apple juice. Finally feeling our fingertips and toes once more, we determined to exercise our full bellies with a walk along the Llandudno pier, hoods up and teeth a-chattering, in the chill sunset.


Peering up the Pier: no fisherman, or jellyfish, at the end.


Oddly, in the far distance, through the forest of windmills, I could see Rhyl and Prestatyn bathed in a Summer's glow of their own - in stark contrast to our Arctic ambulation. Bugger.

The beach, shadowed by the Great Orme, laughed coldly at our frozen faces as the tide rolled in:




Still a beautiful vista, though.
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Wed Apr 26, 2017 1:15 pm
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Whales in Wales

Anthony Boydell
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After such a lovely weekend, basking in the sunshine and mooching about the garden, it was a proper chore to have to drive back to North Wales for work; the Easter holidays are over for the boys too so, luckily, I got to drop Arthur off at school first. No sightseeing on the journey, it was as quickly as possible to the office to support the latest 'go live' and deliver (even) more training. Ho-diddley-hum; money may make the world go around BUT rhubarbing on to business support staff about task queues and RAG statuses certainly hoovers up the afternoon in the blink of an eye so, as is my routine, it was back to the B&B for a quick-change then supper watching the fat gulls scrounge on the Conwy quayside. Blazing and blue the great Arch may have been above me but there was one Hell of a breeze gusting in off the Irish Sea; the Touran was a-rockin'*

The board gamers were squeezed in to one half of the restaurant bar because - shock! horror! - now that the weather had brightened up, everyone and his Father-in-Law/Boss/Probation Officer had come out to twat white balls around 100 acres of reclaimed silt. No matter, Ed and Aaron and Tim and myself bagsied the window seats and set up Mr Alan Paull's criminally-overlooked (but highly-regarded by those in-the-know) Confucius:


Halfway through clear-up, I remembered I needed to snap the board state: note me (purple) in a criminally picked-on last place.



My action: sail to distant lands for this fabulous Emperor's reward card.
Aaron's action: send his army in to the last Invasion tile space.
My action: Swear and sulk and curse and moan and grumble.


I know how to play it in my head but stumbled through letting everyone else know; Aaron remembered bits from a while back too so, between us, we managed to piece things together for the other two. Playing pace was brisk and there was much giving and receiving of gifts which lead to the inevitable "What? I have to pay for YOUR candidate in the examination rather than mine...because you slipped me this f**king gift?! Damnit!" and so on. Aaron ran away with it all, in the end, but it was fun to give the old hoss a new airing. Funnily, Confucius was recently higlighted as "a hidden gem of board gaming" on Geek and Sundry (!):

http://geekandsundry.com/3-hidden-gems-of-board-gaming-you-s...

(time to give it a Twenteens facelift and a reissue, surely?!)


Ed and Tim lagged behind for a chat and then we suddenly found ourselves the only ones not 'in a game' so, naturally, we put ourselves 'in a game' and I chose the "something in about an hour" New Bedford:


I managed to 'land' three of the four KS promo tiles, thanks to my 'furthest out' little ship, plus a sack load of cash (from stolen goods via the Chemist Shop) and a VP-rich Seamen's Bethel for a (first ever) game-winning 26 points!


I meandered about the room, after Tim left, and managed to blag a three-player Linko! with Dewi and Denise. Apparently, Dewi has only lost at this once so it was extra-pleasing to hold him to a 40-40 tie after three rounds! My seven 1s were followed by, yes, _his_ seven 2s and he let me take them back (!); I played them again next turn, unchallenged, leaving me four 8s to end the round and steal his almost-certain victory away from him: huzzah!

I needed a toothbrush, so drove around for a bit in the hurricane until I found a 7-11; confusingly, when I parked up at the B&B - in the shadow of the Great Orme - the air was as still as a mouse's millpond. Where had all that angry air gotten to? I'll be blowed if I know.

*consequently, no-one came a-knockin'
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Tue Apr 25, 2017 6:35 am
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As is my wont...

Anthony Boydell
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...I'd finished blah-blah-de-training-blah and took myself, last Tuesday, back to the B&B. The Deganwy road to Llandudno, in preparation for the coming holiday season, was stop-and-bloody-started with roadworks (as seems to be most of the North Wales coast). Trying to find a short-cut, I ended up in the middle of an Estate and proximal to a 'Public Right of Way' path squeezed between two houses.

"There be big hills in that direction" I mused and, ignoring the bruisy sore pain in my left heel (that I've had since Sunday morning), I went for a climbing walk in the beautiful late afternoon:


(clockwise, from top left, around a Google map snapshot: a glinting Conwy; a prominent up-swelling of land; a prominent up-swelling of a human (with the Great Orme in the distance); "I remember when all of these fields were just fields..."; have panorama function on iphone, will travel; up my secret passage.


While it may be too windy to catch my meditative commentary, perhaps, you get the general idea:

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Sat Apr 8, 2017 6:25 am
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Blaidd Spirit

Anthony Boydell
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Mrs B has got a rather splendid alarm clock on her side of the bed: its light fading up from glimmering first twinkle of dawn to fully-over-the-horizon sun burst over an unhurried 10 minute period. Gone are the eye-popping ding-dongs, klaxons and panicked honks of traditional alarms to be replaced by the relaxing, Vaughan Williams-esque emergence of day. Ah, bliss-upon-bliss because this morning was not to be a stupid o'clock rumble down to Cardiff but - instead - a take-your-time-and-get-there-by-lunchtime quest to Llandudno; thus, with my suitcase packed and an iPhone stuffed with podcasts, I bad farewell to Mrs B and Arthur and sallied forth up the Marches.

It was bright and brisk all the three-and-a-half hours; not even a roadworks traffic jam in the last 20 miles - nor a drunkenly-swerving recovery truck - could spoil the shimmering sea view from the stoodstill A55. I wound the window down and turned up the stereo (Kamakiriad by Donald Fagen) and breathed deep of the salty air. Lovely. The sun was contrastingly, thickly be-clouded six hours later as I watched the gulls screaming over the Conwy estuary (and the trains trundling through the Deganwy level crossing) - stuffing cheap chicken in to my slavering maw. Seasoning my fingers with lemony freshness, I made my presence known to the most splendid people you could ever hope to meet in the top left-hand corner of Wales: the Snowdonia Dragons.

Aside: Whilst beveraging a massive OJ&L, I was surprised and delighted to see Mr Phil Dennis - lurker and sometime commentator on The Shed - amble in to the Bar. He usually haunts the Aberystwyth (Western) region but (like me) is up here for a handful of days; oddly, he will be returned South East before the end of the week and we shall see him all-over-again, Friday, at The Prince of Wales in Ross-on-Wye!

My table for the evening would comprise Dafydd and his fiancee Yvonne (both harkening back to my very first visits in 2013) and an earnest young gentleman called Tim; the latter clutched a Settlers of Catan box that contained all manner of multi-coloured cards and plastic tokens and represented a 'new game prototype' which was pitched to me as "Dead of Winter meets Agricola"! Intrigued and, as is often the case when I'm at the Golf Club, happy to acquiesce to someone else's game choices, we were treated a slightly-muddy overview and rules explanation. In the general 30 minute-or-so session, it turned out less like Agricola and more akin to a co-operative New Bedford with DoW sprinkles, a slightly-wonky traitor element and a defiantly non-zombie re-theme: werewolves attacking a medieval village, the occupants of which were trying to dig enough silver out of a mine to forge monster-defeating weaponry. It had the stilted flow and overly-complicated rule-set of an early prototype but had the spark of something intriguing; we sent him off with some layout clarification suggestions, component improvements and logic tweaks - I look forward to seeing what he does with it at the next iteration, certainly.

In return, Tim - and the happy couple - agreed to another play test, this time for Magnificent Men In Their Flying Machines. It went well, I think, though Tim seemed to have lost his way during the Practice phase and drafted himself an appallingly inflexible deck. Dafydd, on the other hand, delighted in playing the damage-happy German Count and revved over the finishing line to be the sole pilot to reach Paris that round; despite being the most villanous, his armor-clad special power gave him a five point victory over myself even after taking all of his Infamy in to account. Sometimes the bad guy(s) win

To close, albeit much earlier than I'm used to because of the erratic Golf Club opening hours, Yvonne pushed a current favourite to the fore: The Manhattan Project: Energy Empire.





It's a pleasant enough worker placer that reminded me of Lancaster (sort-of) mashed up with, well, pretty much any other WP game you care to name and a dash of 20th Century (but no auctions). The only way to really work out what was going on and what to do about it was to play, so that's what we did. Mind you, now that I've seen it rumbling along, I might do a little better the next time...if there is a next time, of course, as no-one Down My End has a copy (and I wasn't startled enough to want to go hunting for one myself).

Final Note: I really should remember to dispose of my supper detritus before spending a spiffing evening elsewhere; the cloud of stale oil and secret herbs-and-spices almost knocked me off my feet when I opened the driver's door come 10.15PM! The windows were open again, then, for the dark drive up the peninsular.
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Tue Apr 4, 2017 6:30 am
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Drive!

Anthony Boydell
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Another week, another journey through the top-hole topography of Wales; this time I'm in the office for the morning then returning to a route I used to follow a lot - before arranging it such that I'd "go there, straight from home" - which takes me right up the big, bleak, brilliant middle:



Merthyr Tydfil
Built on mining, in modern times they're digging away an entire overlooking mountain for it's coal (exclusively train-ed to a nearby power station). Currently aspiring to be "just a shit-hole" but falls somewhat short...though there ARE traces of a more architecturally-beautiful Past:


The Cefn Coed Viaduct - I love a good viaduct, me!


Trevithick's tunnel - part of Trevithick's Tramway, which (kind-of) started the entire railway thing.


In to the Brecon Beacons
You only need to go North a few miles from the modern day grimness of Merthyr to find yourself driving along a valley chained with reservoirs; part of the way homes the Brecon Mountain Railway - a relatively-recent Heritage line that follows some of the original Brecon/Merthyr route:






(taken by me, the first time I ever went that way)


Brecon
The road (the A470 that takes us all the way to the tippety-top) loops back on itself (due to the big, rocky things) to a gentle Brecon arrival:



Now, if I take a left - at this point - I'll head off West towards Cardigan Bay where my Pa, little sister and little brother live BUT straight on it is and sort-of parallel with the Black Mountains to my right. I'll be getting hungry about now...

Builth Wells
Home of the Royal Welsh Showground (and not much else TBH), Builth is a third of my journey completed; a good milestone to pick up some lunch (and petrol).



Rayader
It only takes a few moments to pass through the centre of this little market town but it's the FIRST town on the banks of the River Wye, 20 miles from it's source.



Around-and-about is the Elan valley, extending 30 miles West to Aberystwyth and Cardigan bay; a few miles more and I'm about halfway between North and South Wales and entering the Snowdonia National Park.

Dolgellau
For a couple of years (2013-15), there were some major roadworks re-building the main route up to Dolgellau with attendant LONG queues and waits; it's all clear now, however, and a good forty minutes of surrounded-by-mountains-and-not-much-else will ensue.


Dangerous beauty.

Falling short of entering Dolgellau town itself, I'll skirt around (foregoing a visit to the Fairbourne railway and passing the Trawsfynydd Nuclear Power Station - see above) to head for the slate-mining capital, and blue Snowdonia game end-station, of:

Blaenau Ffestiniog

50 Shades of Grey.

From now on, it's regular going on a well-familiar road; I'll give a cheery wave to Dolwyddelan Castle (on the hill, on my left)...



...as I beetle along towards Betws y coed, Llanrwst...


This is a bugger to drive over; you are quite blind to traffic coming the other way!

...and, finally, up the (River Conwy) estuary to:

Llandudno


If I gauge it right, I'll just have time to grab a fast-food supper and scoot along for a session at the Conwy Golf Club with the Snowdonia Dragons!

So, all of this (above, and below) is what I'll be doing today.


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Mon Mar 6, 2017 6:26 am
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I hate my job. I love my job.

Anthony Boydell
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A week's work in Llandudno always sweeps by in a blur and, come Thursday lunchtime, I'm klump-klumping over the car park's speed bumps and approaching the main road. It's a key decision point, this junction, because:
- going LEFT is the Eastbound A55 North Wales Expressway to Chester, Wrexham, Oswestry and down the Marches;
- going straight on is the Conwy river road to Llanrwst, Betws-y-coed, Llangollen (Telford's A5) and Oswestry etc etc; and,
- going right is the Westbound A55 North Wales Expressway to the Menai Straits and either Llanberis (and Snowdon) OR Bethesda and Pont Pen-y-benglog (Telford's A5), joining up - eventually with Betws-y-coed and the rest.

Actually, it's not all that complicated: do I go along a boring-but-quick route or one of three progressively more scenic routes? This time I plumped for the Menai Straits / Bethesda path: clear-and-sunny views of Anglesey, the Straits and a stunning long valley:


Beginning to get a little overcast but breathtaking nonetheless!



There's quite a lot of this sort of thing for the next 40 or so miles until one pulls in to Llangollen...and I had plenty of time to take it all in because, as one of the main thoroughfares to North Wales, the A5 is peppered with temporary roadworks.


I encountered ELEVEN of these. AND a convoy-led resurfacing stretch. AND at least four giant trailer-pulling tractors.


Staring out at the darkening clouds, my large breakfast had worn off and I needed some (late) lunch:


From Llangollen, a Lamb Oggie that was bigger than my face!


Unfortunately most of it was thick, dense hot water crust pastry and inedible; the thin smear of lamb and carrot helped me survive as far as Craven Arms (on the Marches, 50 miles from home) when a bag of your finest beef hula hoops topped-up the 'engine'. I also managed to find some loot (secondhand bookshops FTW!):


Whomever shall build a Train in Snowdonia shall...gain a scrummy choc too!


That's all I've got to say, really; to be honest, I just wanted to share that magnificent (9Mb) panorama with y'all!

Good day.
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Sat Feb 4, 2017 6:40 am
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Heptapodcasting

Anthony Boydell
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Yesterday I was working...

...at a Staff Event, all morning, with my back to the window and _this_ view.
Mind you, I _did_ manage to sketch/summarise a design I've been noodling with for a couple of years now...



...during the workshop exercises, obviously, because (the rest of the time) I was paying 100%, fully-wrapt attention. Of course.

The afternoon was a lot of blah-blah though I did manage to salt myself away for 30 minutes with a Latte and a couple of chapters of Ready Player One.
The evening's entertainment came courtesy of my morning shift at Llandudno's Venue Cymru, where I'd noticed a movie I really wanted to see was playing.
Fifteen minutes of driving along the Promenade and up-and-around the Little Orme to Colwyn Bay saw me with the place to myself, for a short while: pick a seat, ANY seat...



...to watch:



Fortunately, NOT a visualisation of the (above) 1970s Pop Legend's classic but a provincial theatre replay of November's blockbusting intelligent science fictioner!



I thought it was wonderful, smart, heart-rending, hypnotic and utterly-satisfying (as was the late-night, all-you-can-eat Chinese Buffet supper upon my return to the slopes of the Great Orme).
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Wed Feb 1, 2017 6:30 am
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L'entant (blackcurrent) cordialle

Anthony Boydell
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Back in the Autumn of 2016, I was graciously invited to be a guest at Leiracon 2017 (Hotel Cristal Resort); I'd received the A-OK from Surprised Stare Games Ltd HQ to cover the cost of the flights and the hotel was gratis, so we only needed to cover the food and drink! Essen Spiel was awesome and the Heavy Cardboard gathering - a roaringly ale, burger and conversation-fuelled evening - allowed me to meet up and chat with Leiracon officionados Nuno Bizarro Sentieiro, Paulo Soledade and Vital Lacerda (look at me with all my name dropping: watch your toes, my dears!). Unfortunately, circumstances at home meant that the planned long weekend away in Portugal for Mrs B and me had to be cancelled: this weekend I have been perusing the Leiracon 'live photos' and reading the commentary with envy.

However, sweet are the uses of adversity because I was contacted by my good Designer pal Cédrick Chaboussit (Lewis & Clark, Discoveries) asking after the chance to play games while he was in Wales with his real work. 'Real work' would be in Aberystwyth, by no means an easy or quick jaunt from Chez Boydell, so we hit upon an alternative plan: pop over to mine at the weekend then nip off to Birmingham airport early on the Sunday morning - that would give us almost an entire day to talk, play-test and take the children out for a walk! Of course, that still left Cedrick with the dilemma of being in West Wales for three nights and not having anyone to play games with _so_ I rustled up an appeal on a UK Facebook forum with startlingly-generous (and quick) results: the Aberystwyth Boardgaming group was born (and long may it now continue)!

Fresh from watching enormous metal tanks being installed at a Yoghurt factory*, an evening listening to the Sea on the Aber seafront while gaming and a second (quieter) session with good chap (and occasional Ross-on-Wye attendee) Phil Dennis**, Cedrick rolled - crunchingly - on to our drive yesterday lunchtime (it's a long journey across the middle o'Wales) bearing gifts: pie, chocolate, wine and a suitcase full of teasing prototypes!


A present passed on from Phil: a subtle (and delicious - thanks!) reference to Friday's blog post!


All of my boys were in the living room watching Voltron cartoons and nodded their 'Hello's when Cedrick popped his head around the door; most excellently, Arthur's first words to our continental guest were "Bonjour, monsieur" thus making me simultaneously proud-fit-to-burst and twinge-ingly melancholy at the pallid gloom Brexit has cast over our country. No matter! Beverages were made and consumed then, while Mrs B whipped together a delicious bacon & lentil soup with homemade bread, the rest of us popped our shoes and coats on and walked in to Newent. It is our custom to take a weekend wander: to browse the charity shops, pick up something fleshy and well-aged from the award winning butchers, to purchase a large bag of sweets for the young 'un and - most importantly - add another 4000 steps on to the rolling FitBit counter. After a damp, chilly hour or so, we returned from our foraging with way too much rump steak (the proposed Supper), English toffees and - for Cedrick - a generous wedge of Stilton cheese, which cost him about a 1/3rd of the price en France!

The soup was incredible and only the merest smears remained in the pot; bellies full, we retired to the Library for some gaming - soundtracked by a wittily-shuffling 2008 iPod (Psaap merging to PJ Harvey to Autolux to Crowded House and so on):

(A quick note: most, if not all, of the following prototypes are 'under consideration', so I present pictures for appetite-whetting but no more detail than appropriate)


Working name 'Dicequest': Arthur, Cedrick and I drafted cards and dice for rolling, assignment and scoring. Smooth, accessible and fun!



Name unknown: a tough, attacking two-player card game. Cedrick hammered me four-nil; we swapped decks in the middle to check 'balance'.



Snowdonia: Foothills - still very early days but taking shape; lots of notes taken.


Sizzling steak with caramelised onions, cheese bread and watercress served in fresh ciabatta with horseradish sauce*** provided a magnificent interlude before
a) I settled Arthur (after he had said farewell to Cedrick with a handshake and cheery "Bonne nuit!" - I'm so proud of my cosmopolitan lad!) with some more Harry Potter (almost done with this odyssey of a book); and,
b) Mrs B was able to join in the gaming fun:


JamSumo: Cedrick wiped the floor with all-comers - it was so comprehensive it was bordering on the rude!



Working name 'Nemo': a quirky, fun little 30-card deduction game with some set collection elements (the first game of the day that I managed to win!)



The camera has been drinking (not me).


The boys, by now, had all gone to their rooms leaving us grown-ups to wax lyrical about current news, parenthood and life in general. Cedrick's flight was around 9AM, so after further farewells, I agreed to get up early and see him off the property safely while the rest of the household snoozed. A fantastic day of warmth, laughter and companionship with a member of our International family!

*cue: jokes about "Having a Sherman" etc
**It's a small world: Phil knows my Dad. My Dad built him a stable block once.
***Yes. This _has_ become a food blog.
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Sun Jan 29, 2017 11:08 am
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And, after the fire, a still small voice

Anthony Boydell
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I'm off to Carmarthen ('Merlin's Fort') today (see above) for a 'long one' (meeting) and, rest assured, I shall be plowing my way through the December backlog of downloaded podcasts: Heavy Cardboard, BBC Comedy, Wittertainment and more. However, now that my post has popped up on the Geek or up your RSS, I would very much like to recommend this short (but extremely concentrated) piece from Ben Maddox of the Perfect Information Podcast; in fact, it's only 7 minutes long so stop what you're doing and listen right now:




He made me cry.

What did you think?
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Thu Jan 5, 2017 6:15 am
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