Thinking Out Loud

Working from Home

With Coronavirus forcing lots of us into a self-isolation, social distancing hibernation, many of us will be working from home for the first time. Not me. I’ve worked from home for the last five years.

Instagram would have you think I sit on my bed in tasteful loungewear with a slim expensive laptop, photogenic dog and a classy mug of posh coffee. Not so. That, my friend, will give you backache. And hairy, stained sheets plus fancy strong coffees give me tummy cramps and aggravate my piles.

I get dressed every day. I walk my youngest to school, get home and open up the big laptop at the dining room table because I’m so messy I’ve filled up my lovely bureau. Then I work. With my two scruffy dogs snoozing at my feet but barking when the post comes. I put on the kettle at 10:25 so I can drink my tea while listening to Pop Master and cursing any fool who dares to phone at half past ten. Who does that?!

Then I do some more work, eat my lunch at my desk (because it’s the dining table) and then get back to work. Sometimes I go out for meetings, take the dogs around the block but you get the picture. I drink too much tea and there’s a fair bit of daydreaming but I don’t switch the telly on, I don’t go on long lunches and I always wear proper clothes.

How I’m going to carry on as usual with the kids home next week is another thing. I’ve been seeing loads of home schooling resources and top tips, both primary and high school have given links and all that for home learning in the coming weeks. Which all sounds very jolly but not so fun while I’m trying to work.

So, my top tips for working from home:

  • Get dressed, be comfortable but get out of your damn pyjamas and have a shower
  • Pace the tea drinking
  • Pause for Pop Master
  • Skype or phone your colleagues instead of an email once in a while
  • Get a bit of fresh air for a break, walk, take your lunch into the garden, do some parkour (not really, just checking you were paying attention)
  • Don’t have your kids home with you.

Ok, we have to suck it up on the last one. I understand why we’ve come to this. It’s surreal, it’s scary and being stuck in the house getting cabin fever is something we can take on the chin if it helps stop vulnerable people getting ill.

Four bright daffodils of varying sizes bob amongst their leaves and stalls in a planter.
Thinking Out Loud

Belated Happy St David’s Day

A belated Happy St David’s Day for 1st March. With it falling on a weekend I know a lot of schools were doing Eisteddfodau on Friday, Monday or, like my son’s (and a fair few others I’ve spoken to through work), they’re doing a whole Welsh week, Welsh fortnight or an entire enquiry topic on Wales or what it is to be Welsh.

In a time when it feels very hard to be proud to be British with the far right hijacking the union flag and with a dangerous buffoon in charge, it’s comforting to be able to celebrate my national identity and Welshness through food, crafts, song, poetry and flowers.

The local response to the recent floods in Wales has shown that sense of community, of looking out for each other and getting on with it while Westminster fights and fannies around ignoring the issue.

Wales often feels like the underdog and we’re not very good at shouting about what we’re doing well or doing first. We were the first country in the UK to introduce the charge of single-use carrier bags (2011), an opt-out organ donation system (2015) and an Older People’s Commissioner (2006).

I was at a conference a couple of years ago and a speaker ran a session about well-being without any reference to the Well-being of Future Generations Act (2015) then it clicked – I was in Liverpool and the act is a Wales thing. The seven well-being goals are inspiring a bill that’s going to the UK government. Well-being is at the heart of the new Curriculum for Wales. Again, at conferences in England I’ve listened to other delegates moan about the Gove style archaic approach to education, the narrowing of curriculum, I was confused as it didn’t match up with the changes I know are happening in my child’s primary. Then I’d remember, ah of course, we have a different approach.

I’m proud to Welsh, I’m using the language more, I love living here. I’m not proud to be British. In addition to usual traditions of gorging myself on welsh cakes, decorating the house with daffodils and making yet another papier mache dragon, I’m going to quietly go about being community minded and doing good things, but maybe, just maybe for once, shouting from the hills about it.

A close up of three items hanging in a wardrobe. It's unclear what the items are but two seem to be satiny, one with a Japanese inspired floral pint and the other more of an abstract bird print. The iten in the middle is a sequinned dress with long fringing.
Thinking Out Loud

Fast Fashion Slow Blogging

Back in September I took the 30 day pledge and didn’t buy any new clothes for myself through the whole of the month. Oxfam’s Second Hand September campaign was about addressing fast fashion, reusing, rewearing and recycling rather than sending piles of clothes to landfill. I didn’t actually end up buy any clothes at all, second hand or not, and my main challenge with my own wardrobe is much loved stuff just not fitting anymore.

Why am I only blogging about this now? Two months late is a bit much even by my usual delayed standards. I did an Instagram post about it at the time but was reminded of it by the fabulous exhibition at National Museum Wales in Cardiff that’s been curated by their Youth Forum to run alongside Dippy on Tour, the UK’s most famous diplodocus skeleton cast. It’s in the temporary exhibitions space next to the gift shop until Dippy leaves at the en of January so you’ve got plenty of time to go and have a look. Not only have they curated a collection of items belonging to museum staff but they’ve also created some amazing creatures and scenes out of recycled clothes and bags with a focus on the impact of fast fashion on our precious planet. The dinosaurs didn’t see the end coming but we can do something about our own destruction of Earth. My boys loved the umbrella pterodactyl and I was blown away by the colour, quality and creativity. A big shout out to the lovely volunteer who showed some cool bones and fossils to us.

A display at the museum of a meteor model blasting into shop sale signs reading "Going Going Gone!"
One of the displays at the museum of the impact of fast fashion on our planet.

So back to the whole fast fashion thing. I have been guilty of stocking up in Primark, buying new for a treat but I’m also a big fan of buying second hand gear on eBay, there are some astonishing bargains to be found. I’ve bought from Oxfam’s online shop too (yes, that’s a thing). I’m a hoarder and I’ll rewear my old favourites on repeat. Some going out gear has been downgraded to day wear or work wear. If anything, I need to Konmari the heck out of my clothes. Yes, I still have cocktail dresses from uni (all found in the sales). When do they become vintage?!

Oxfam has shedloads of stats on the environmental impact of fast fashion, the exhibition at the museum is full of little nuggets of knowledge about it all too. I’ve cringed in the past reading some Instagram blurbs from fashion or mum blog influencers who spend obscene amounts of money on clothes under the guise of quality over quantity. I can’t afford to shop beyond the high street and even that’s a bit of a push for things like jeans and bras. What I’ve tried to do is think about versatility and timelessness, whether it sparks joy and fits me properly rather than because it’s the latest thing. I’ve never been into the throwaway bit of throwaway fashion because I can’t bear to part with clothes that I’m sentimental about.

Maybe it’s part of getting older but I don’t care if I’m not dressed like everyone else and I’ll keep on wearing it until it gets holes (and even then, if I really love it I’ll still wear it, who am I trying to kid?).

There were some pretty judgey comments on posts about the 30 day campaign, from people who couldn’t believe it was a struggle to avoid buying new for a month. I can’t afford to buy new every week but if I’m going out out there’s every chance tat I’ll have a trawl through ASOS. I have bought a ew dress this month but it’s not a one off outfit, I know I can use it for weddings or christenings as well as drinks out or a posh meal. I didn’t buy new shoes or bag to go with it, I know it’ll go with what I already have.

Four items of clothes hang. From letf to right: a pair of blue ripped jeans, a chambray long sleeved shirt, a rainbow woollen jumper and aspotty shirt dress.
One of my old Primark hauls. In my defence, these were bought in the summer of 2018 ,
they’re still regulars in my wardrobe and all are still in good condition.

 

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.