Thinking Out Loud

A Rambling Moan about Virtue Signalling at Christmas

Those facebook posts saying “haven’t sent any cards this year as I’ve donated to charity instead so I’ll say Merry Christmas here” kind of miss the point of a Christmas card.

I don’t send as many as I used to but I think that’s to do with laziness and an ever shrinking social circle and my utter ineptitude at keeping track of addresses.

The idea that it’s an either or, a binary choice of cards versus charity is what gets my goat. I buy charity cards so a donation goes towards those organisations, I’ve used Scout Post so the local scouting groups get a little boost to their fundraising. Today I’ve received a card from a friend who’s included a reminder of her fundraising for a marathon, along with her very new address.

Typing a generic Christmas flavoured message for a social media post via your smart phone while killing time on the toilet or mid commute doesn’t bring the same moment of glee that opening a brightly coloured, handwritten envelope does.

There’s a loneliness epidemic and for some people at Christmas, a little reminder that you’ve thought of them goes a long way. Especially for people who aren’t connected online.

The public statement of “I’m not doing *insert Christmas tradition* because I’m donating to charity instead or having an ethical Christmas or teaching my children about what’s important in life” can read as “I’m better than you”, “my heart is bigger than yours”, “you are an unethical shit”. Giving a gift to your partner or buying a present for your child shouldn’t make you feel bad.

We’ve never spent gazillions of pounds on Christmas because we don’t have lots of money. More often than not my husband and I give each other tickets or vouchers for gigs, shows and local restaurants. Our kids have had presents bought second hand from eBay or gumtree. I’ve made Christmas presents like handmade quilts, dressing up costumes, photo albums, paintings, chutney etc. We don’t splurge. I’m not a fan of consumerism for consumerism’s sake, we don’t need more stuff.

But isn’t it lovely when Christmas is about generosity? I get my kids involved in ideas for what their dad would like so they can wrap and give him something and learn about the joy of giving not just receiving. I’m not talking fancy things, it’s stuff like his favourite chocolate bar. Generosity isn’t just presents and cards but time and energy. Trips to our local theatre, long dog walks around Christmas trails, carols at church, Christmas crafting with kids, inviting family and friends over, all those get togethers.

Perhaps I don’t quite get the idea of not giving or receiving as an ethical choice because we already don’t spend as much as a lot of people. Instagram has been a tad galling at times, people buying Christmas Eve box pyjamas that cost more than the main gift my youngest will be getting. “stocking fillers” that cost the same as the tickets I’ve bought for someone else.

When Father Christmas asked our boys what they’d like for Christmas (their sister opted out of meeting him this year, sad times), one said Lego and the other said a puppet. They know it’s not about presents, some of their favourite parts of the day are seeing their cousins and playing charades.

It also makes me wonder how much other people spend on cards. I’ve spent under a tenner. Should I stop this tradition to give £10 to a charity? Would it be the same if I saved £10 by not buying that bottle of wine or those books and gave that money to charity? I know there are extortionate stamps to buy too but I’ve sent half with my dad to get disseminated around family by hand in another part of the country.

It’s a tad disingenuous to be promoting an ethical stance of asking for charity donations in lieu of presents when you promote products for other people to buy. Standing behind the less is more hashtag when everything you already have is beautiful and perfect and lovely. I’d quite like a perfume for Christmas because that’s the one bottle I use through the whole year. Last year I wanted a mirror because we’d had the same one in the living room that had belonged to the previous owners about a decade before. It hasn’t gone to landfill or even a charity shop, the old mirror just moved rooms. When you also talk of having Christmas abroad in another culture away from all the stuff at the end of a year of fancy holidays and posh homewares, it jars with people who are in a financially less privileged position.      

I can air this knowing that the Instagrammers who inspired the previous paragraph won’t read it because they treat Instagram and blogging as their daily paper, they curate it to ensure that they only have what they perceive to be high quality content. This translates as only reading what’s written by their friends. They can’t believe their luck that they’ve got book deals and gazillions of followers but they don’t support or engage with the lowly regional oiks and upstarts, they don’t help nurture the blogging ecology.

I’m not advocating for these people to splurge even more of whatever money they’ve got on pointless, vacuous presents. I just wish they’d stop making me do little sicks in my mouth when they say they’re not buying their partner a gift for ethical reasons and they’ve asked for charity donations from other family. Of course you don’t need or want presents, you’ve already got everything. Your life is already perfect and you get “gifted” shit all year round so why should Christmas be especially gifty?   

If you’re giving presents and sending cards, that’s fine, you do you. If you’re not then great, you can do you too. Just bear in mind that whichever side of the fence you fall, the moment you start preaching or showing off about it on social media is the moment you alienate someone.

  

theatre, Things To Do, top tips

Cheapskate Top Tips for Theatre Trips

It’s that time of year when finances feel stretched by the urge to splurge on personalised Quality Street tins or extravagant advent calendars. I’ve been pulling together another post of family friendly theatre highlights for the festive season but when you’ve got fancy food and Christmas dos competing for your pennies maybe a family trip to a show has fallen off your list.

I’m here to say (in the words of Celine Dion) “think twice” and to share some of the ways you can cut the cost of tickets this Christmas.

1. Groups

Most theatres and arts centres offer group ticket deals. It can take a bit of organising but it can be so worth it. Could you arrange it with a group of families from your children’s school or a sports club that they go to? Deals and offers vary but don’t ask, don’t get. If you ask, some theatres can send extra flyers to promote a group trip. If you’re a theatre keeno it’s a great time of year to share the love and persuade other families and friends to join you for a social at a show.

2. Go small

The biggest and most expensive productions can be a real treat but lower price and smaller venue don’t mean it’s any less of a treat. We saw a show at Chapter one year for only £5 each and it was AMAZING. Take a chance on a company you’ve not heard of before or try out a more local arts centre rather than trek to town to the massive venues.

3. Early Bird

Some venues offer early bird ticket deals so it can make money sense to book as soon as you can.

4. Sherman 5

For people living close to or in Cardiff, Sherman 5 can help remove barriers to going to the theatre, maybe you’ve never been before, can’t afford it or want to join one of the Sherman 5 Communities like their Deaf Theatre Club or Theatre of Sanctuary: their Refugee and Asylum Seeker Community. I’ve joined as part of a community group to introduce new families to the theatre. They put on extra experiences, pre show events as well as making tickets far cheaper at £5 for adults and £2.50 for kids. shermantheatre.co.uk/sherman5

5. Time Credits

If you’ve not heard of Time Credits, look them up. They’re a voucher type payment for volunteering and can be “spent” at a wide range of places around the UK so could help offset the cost of a theatre visit. Check with the theatre first as they don’t all accept them and sometimes they’re limited to certain shows. timecredits.com

6. Gifted

Instead of paying for tickets and presents, make the trip a gift experience. Last year my granddad gave me money to get something for the children. Instead of using it all on more toys and tat that we have no room for, I bought them tickets for a theatre show at Christmas. They knew it was from their great granddad and it was a lovely treat. I know very young kids can fail to really get the gift experience concept but if you’ve got relativesasking you for ideas for Christmas presents, either tickets or maybe a voucher for your local theatre would be a good idea.

7. Hynt (Wales only)

Have you heard of the hynt card? Hynt is the national access scheme for theatres and arts centres in Wales. It’s a card scheme for people who need a carer at the theatre and they’ve got listings of shows with accessible features. If your kid or anyone else in your family needs additional support, go and apply if you haven’t already as membership gives you free tickets for carers. If anyone in your family needs captions, BSL interpretation, audio description or touch tours check their listings page. Same goes for Relaxed and Dementia Friendly performances. It’s an Arts Council of Wales initiative so it’s only in Wales. hynt.co.uk

8. Concessions

Concessions are basically discounts for all sorts of reasons. Don’t ask, don’t get. If you’re taking anyone over 60 with you, ask about discounts. Not every show or every venue will have this concession but they do exist. Not heard of any reduced tickets for people on statutory maternity pay (the poorest I have ever been in my life) but lots of theatres also have discounts for students, unwaged people, under 16s, under 25s and even under 30s.

9. Plan ahead

This is the stuff that can get a bit boring but you can save by doing a bit of prep. I’m useless at this. I’m a last minute Larry. Car parking can cost a fortune, especially if you’re going to a city centre venue. Some theatres have deals with car parks (Wales Millennium Centre for example) but if they don’t their box office staff should be able to advise you on the cheapest car park. This is the kind of thing you need to arrange when you’re booking. We’ll sometimes leave extra time to find free or cheaper on road parking and a bit of a walk rather than spend a fortune in a rip off NCP multi-storey. I don’t always have the car so we’ll get public transport.

10. You don’t have to buy everything

Theatres need to make money to carry on existing. Fact. Most of the theatres and arts centres I’ve worked with in Wales are registered charities with incredibly tiny budgets. If you have lots of money and you’re feeling flash then feel free to splash that cash but if the cost of Christmas is already making you twitch it’s OK to limit your secondary spend. Especially at the larger venues. It’s common sense but you don’t have to buy drinks AND ice cream AND sweets AND a programme AND some crappy flashing spinning thing. It can be lovely to have something as a memento but we’ve kept tickets or a flyer to put in a scrap book instead. I’m a cheap skate  and proud of it. Get drinks OR ice cream. Some venues let you pre book ice creams for a discount when you’re ordering tickets. Don’t get a noisy rustling packet of sweets each, get one to share and pop some little cups in your bag to share them out. It saves the fuss of passing the bag up and down the row during the show (if it’s the kind of show where you sit in a row).

The words BOX OFFICE glow in lights on the side of a wooden shed.
Talk to the staff in Box Office about any deals on offer, competitions and membership schemes that all help save money on tickets too.

A lot of this is common sense and I’m cringing a bit at potentially teaching you to suck eggs. It’s a lovely time of year to have a theatre trip as a treat but I know it can seem like an expensive experience. I’ve written this list to show that there can be ways of making it work and if it pokes just one extra person into going along to a live performance this Christmas then my work here is done.   

Places To Go, Things To Do

All Treats, No Tricks

Off with your kids over half term? Me neither. I’ll try squeezing in some mini jaunts to quell the FOMO beast but here are some of my top spots for this incredibly Halloween saturated week ahead.

Memo Arts Centre, Barry

Abominable Friday 25 October – Saturday 2 November (various times) from £3.50 in advance

Animation from the makers of How to Train Your Dragon about Yi meeting a Yeti and going on a quest to Everest.

There are loads of showings which include an Autism Friendly Screening on Tuesday 29 October at 11am for a more relaxed environment with the lights kept on low, the sound not quite so loud and a breakout quiet space.

Little Shop of Horrors Wednesday 30 October (4pm) £3.50 in advance

An amazing cast including Steve Martin and John Candy star in this 80s comedy musical about a plant with a taste for human flesh. Before the film they’ve got Halloween crafts in the café from 3.15pm.

The Nightmare Before Christmas Thursday 31 October (3pm) £3.50 in advance

Dress up in your Halloween gear for this Tim Burton animation about Jack Skellington. Before the film they’ve got Halloween crafts in the café from 2.15pm.

Oskar’s Amazing Adventure Friday 1 November (2pm) £7

I saw this lovely play in Edinburgh a few years ago and I’m so glad it’s coming to Barry. It’s about a puppy and uses songs and puppets. At the end the children can meet the performer and get to play with the puppets.

National Museum, Cardiff

Dippy on Tour Saturday 19 October – Sunday 26 January (10am – 5pm) FREE

It’s only bloody Dippy the Diplodocus from the National History Museum. He’s in Cardiff for a few months but this half term is the first chance to catch him here. There are some cracking Dippy themed events coming up like a Museum Sleepover on 16 November and a family friendly HUSH Silent Disco on 30 November.

Cosmeston Medieval Village, Penarth

Medieval Hallowe’en Event Thursday 31 October (10am – 3pm) £5 per child

Discover where the Monsters of Mayhem are hiding. For ages 5-12, accompanying adults are free.

St Fagans National Museum of History, Cardiff

Halloween Nights Tuesday 29 – Thursday 31 October (6-9pm) £13 adults, £10 children

We went to this last year and had I loved that the event tapped into the opposite of the overly Americanised plastic crap Halloween filling up supermarket aisles nowadays. There were traditional ghost stories steeped in Welsh history, folk traditions and ghostly guests. Suitable for ages 4-12 and their grown ups.

Pumpkin Picking Patch, St Nicholas

Pumpkin Picking Friday 18 – Thursday 31 October (9.30am – 4pm) parking and entry FREE, Crafts from £4.50, pay for your pumpkins

I’ve got a sneaking suspicion that this will be incredibly busy with instagrammers, I fear that the best pumpkins have already gone and there’s potential for a mini squash flavoured Fyre Festival but PYO veg has that irresistible wholesomeness about it. I’ve not been but with the closure of Hendrewennol, there’s an appeal to a local pumpkin picking patch. Let me know what you think.

Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama, Cardiff

The Mystery of the Raddlesham Mumps Thursday 31 October (7pm) £8

A dark and witty mix of storytelling and poetry from the BBC 6 Music Poet in Residence, Murray Lachlan. Bizarre and hilarious death stories told by a butler to a boy. Halloween outfits encouraged. From 6pm there’s a unique Virtual Reality prequel to the show. For ages 7+.

Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff

I Wish I Was a Mountain Tuesday 29 October – Friday 1 November (11am all days and 7pm on Tuesday) £7

Written and performed by former Glastonbury Poetry Slam Champion, Toby Thompson. Based on a fairy tale of a man who wishes to be turned into a mountain. Creatively translated into BSL by deaf poet Donna Williams at 7pm on 29 and 11am on 30 October. For ages 6+.

Central Park, Barry

Pumpkins in the Park Saturday 26 October (12 – 5pm) £2 for pumpkin carving

Online bookings have sold out but limited slots available on the day. Expect pumpkin carking, bouncy castle, fun fair, crafts and even a dog fancy dress show.

Scream Your Heart Out Saturday 26 October (7pm) £5

For adults only, this screening of the classic horror film Scream for over 18s is in the park, in the dark. Not a family friendly event, obviously.

Amelia Trust Farm, Barry

Pumpkin Patch Trail Saturday 26 October – Sunday 3 November (10am – 4pm) £2.50 plus entrance fee

Buy your trail leaflet from the café, solve the clues to find the pumpkin faces .

Creepy Crawly Shows Monday 28 – Tuesday 29 October (2pm) £3.50 plus entrance fee

Brave enough to meet rats, snails and snakes? Meet the creatures in these ticketed shows. For ages 1+.

These aren’t the only events and shows on this half term but it’s a starter. We can’t do everything and it can all get a tad overwhelming at times. This list is for when you’re looking for a treat.

Thinking Out Loud

The Summer of FOMO

This was my first summer holiday working full time with kids. We haven’t had the wholesome days out, the free days getting sandy on local beaches, the rainy messy crafting and baking. I’m not totally woe is me about it. Just a bit sad and full of FOMO. We had a week’s holiday at the end of August that we made the most of despite the weather and we’ve had some evening walks and jaunts while some of the usual hobbies and sports are on a hiatus.

Plus we do have a little more money. Not a lot but enough to stave off the usual empty purse panic.

I’ve not blogged in a millennia. My Instagram feels boring, impersonal and a bit blah. I think there’s a connection there. I didn’t start this up to just share photos, I have my own personal account for that. I started this off to share things to do and places to go, sure, but also to vent and be silly. The whole anonymous thing is doing my nut in and really doesn’t help. I’m toying with making my personal Instagram private and actually having my face in the Vale of Glam Mam stuff.

Haven’t fully thought it through yet.

What do you reckon? I’ve not come across many other anonymous parenting blogs so I’m wondering if maybe it’s not a thing for a reason. There is comfort in being anonymous when I’m dishing out the opinions but all my family and friends know it’s me so who am I hiding from really? 

Back to the FOMO and the lacklustre Instagramming. The connection is pretty clear, we’re doing less and making less. I’m not having the family experiences that I used to snap and share. Photos of my laptop make for crappy content. I’m not selling products or services, I can’t even do outfit shots because I’m still anonymous and besides, I wear the same few things on a rotation so I’m hardly #whatmamaworemonday fodder.

I guess I’ll just have to try getting a little more creative and remember to make the most of evenings and weekends, to stop being jealous of other people having a whale of a time and be a bit more grateful for what we can do.       

dance, Things To Do

Dance Days with NDCWales

Wowzers. We started our Easter holidays as we meant to go on: having an awesome time. More specifically, dancing. My kids and their mate had a whale of a time with National Dance Company Wales at Dance Days.

I drove us over to Cardiff Bay, parked in the Red Dragon Centre (because I’d rather buy a coffee and ice creams in Cadwalader’s to validate my parking than just throw pound coins away in a car park machine) and trotted over to the Dance House, the home of NDCWales in Wales Millennium Centre.

Guy, the organiser of Dance Days, greeted us with a smile at the door. Guy is calm, warm and helpful so put the three boys at ease and made them feel really welcome. Going along to courses and workshops like this in the holidays isn’t only about the facilitator, it’s also about all the other people you meet and talk to along the way.

Dance Days are our national dance company’s way of introducing contemporary dance to children and young people, using the choreographic ideas that their professional touring company perform around the world. For context, my boys don’t go to regular dance classes but their friend goes to street dance on the weekly and all three of them were buzzing when they came out. Experience level didn’t matter. There’s no specialist kit to wear, they take part in bare feet and comfy clothes so no one feels like the odd one out or a newbie in the wrong gear.

The outside of the Dance House with large printed words saying Ty Dawns and a massive Discover Dance poster showing a male dancer and a boy in school uniform copying his one legged, arms out pose.

The children don’t stay for the whole day. It’s split into two sessions of 3 hours for 7-11 year olds in the morning and 12-16 year olds in the afternoon. My dancing trio were 7, 7 and 10 and it was perfectly pitched at them and the other children in the group.

The date and timing worked out well for me (selfish!) as I had a work meeting in the Bay that morning but from all the little scooters that accompanied younger siblings at pick up time I think most families made the most of the location and school holiday by zooming across the Barrage during Dance Days. We also had a crack at the free crafting in the Wales Millennium Centre foyer on our walk back to the car.

You could opt to do one day at £15 or two days at £25 per child. I worked through the holidays and couldn’t get the logistics to work out for two days. It would have been more convenient for me to have them both in one place for a full day but I appreciate for the younger dancers that it might be a bit much and it’s not designed for babysitting or childcare (but that is a Brucey Bonus of taking kids to this sort of thing). If money’s a barrier, NDCWales also offer some Dance Days tickets at £5.

At the end of the hour session, the grown-ups and siblings were invited to watch a “quick sharing of what they’ve been up to”. The amount of work that they showed back to us was bonkers.

a group of 9 children in leggings, joggers and t shirts balance and freeze as a group with arms, legs and feet stretching out. They're in a dance studio.

I particularly loved the general positive vibe in the room. There were no show offs, they were all happy and silly but behaving respectfully, working together and listening to the dance ambassador who led the session. A diverse bunch of children of difference abilities and ages all worked together and shared something really special.

They didn’t just spend the three hours learning routines. They had creative tasks using Caroline Finn’s choreographic ideas that the company use in Revellers’ Mass, one of their 2019 touring productions. In this case, they were greeting partners as they met from opposite sides of the stage; what might start with a handshake or a high five becomes a back roll, jump or cartwheel. They also learnt a to dance part of the show, quite a gestural section that the children performed with real earnestness.

I’ve gone into so much detail about the “quick sharing” because I also ended up taking my sons to see National Dance Company Wales perform Awakening, their spring tour at Sherman Theatre, Cardiff. I’d been regretful about my possibly optimistic plan to take them to a night of three contemporary dance works. On the train. For the evening show. They were being boisterous but I’d paid my money so we’d give it a go. I’m so glad we did.

The piece that informed the Dance Days session was the longest of the night, it didn’t have the same visual trickery of the first two (which they loved but I’ll have to write that up separately so this doesn’t become a novella), it was later in the evening, past bedtime and I only had the dregs of the sweeties left. I needn’t have fretted. They were gripped. They gasped a little in delighted surprise and whispered “it’s the same music, we know this!” and subtly echoed the moves on stage that they’d remembered from Dance Days. That connection between physically putting their own bodies into learning moves, exploring the choreographer’s ideas, creatively problem solving then seeing actual real life dancers perform to the same music sparked something in them. Respect for the craft? A connection with the performance? Feeling involved in something exquisite and different? Maybe all of that, maybe none of it but it’s an experience that’s stayed with them.

a blackboard pillar has been written on with chalk with dates and times for Dance Days. A Dance Days flyer is stuck to the pillar with a magnet.
New dates are on the NDCWales website

Dance Days aren’t just for keeno dancing kids. The sessions for ages 7-11 are especially great for kids who are just happy to give something a bit different a go. Head over to the NDCWales website for details of future Dance Days: ndcwales.co.uk (CLUE: there are some coming up at the end of July)

*We were very kindly invited to take part in this event in return for a review. I bought our own tickets for the show at the Sherman. Dance Days are well worth the price and they do offer some bursaries if money is a barrier for you.