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.   

A poorly drunk lady is comforted by another lady in a Christmas jumper
Thinking Out Loud

Black Friday

Remember when Black Friday wasn’t about greedy people grabbing giant tellies in Tesco or incessant emails from every company you’ve ever bought anything from ever? Black Friday was about swarms of drunken office parties, boozy mates and students home from uni who descended upon Cardiff and Swansea for the last Friday piss up before Christmas with a pocketful of payday pounds.

Sandra from accounts pukes her Malibu and coke into a city centre shrub while Linda holds her sequinned Santa hat and wishes she’d got that taxi home with Boring Barbara. In the queue for Walkabout Kelly finally gets to snog Steve who lovingly buys her WKD blues for the rest of the night. Gareth regrettably punches Dave in the smoking area for something they’ll both forget. Sian and Louise giggle while they piss behind the Christmas market sheds. Matt goes the full show off with his street performance of the Macarena and Anna gorges herself on chicken curry half ‘n’ half as she sits on the curb of Chippy Lane bedecked in tinsel.

What are your Black Friday tales? I’m talking festive binge drinking yarns not that 25% you had off an electric drill in 2016.

 

Christmas revellers on the streets, Christmas lights in the background, a man dancing in the road and a woman sits on the curb.
photo from Wales Online
Places To Go, Things To Do

Cardiff’s Winter Wonderland 2018

We haven’t been to Cardiff’s Winter Wonderland for a few years, partly because my husband is Buzz Killington when it comes to ice skating, partly because of the cost and partly because it’s one of those things I mean to do but just don’t get around to and then all of a sudden it’s February and I’ve missed it. Full disclosure, we had food, drink and ride tokens in return for a review. #ad and all that.

A few things have changed since we last went. The bar is two storeys high so not as rammed as I remember, the biggest ride has changed and the ice skating is now undercover, probably for the best in the rainiest city* in the UK.

winter wonderland sur la piste

It did drizzle while we were there but it didn’t dampen our spirits. You can take food bought at the stands into the bar so we ate and drank in the dry. Sur La Piste (see what they did there?!) was going for that après ski, wooden chalet vibe complete with stag antler paraphernalia and a rainbow of faux furs on the roomy booths. Word to the wise: if you want a mulled wine or mulled cider you’ve got to use the downstairs bar.  We were at the upstairs bar so I panic ordered a Rekorderlig.

Unsurprisingly, the food isn’t super cheap at £5 for a bratwurst in a hot dog bun and £3.50 for chips but it’s filling and cheaper than buying the family a meal in a pub or restaurant. Kids meals (chicken nuggets, chips and a fruity drink) were also a fiver each. The sauces were squeezed from an udder contraption which tickled my stepdaughter. Make sure you use the right condiment though, unlike the poor little kid we saw who made the school boy error of dousing his chippies in chilli ketchup. Service was a little slow but it was the first night so I’m sure they’ll get into a rhythm.

winter wonderland bratwurst

As we first approached Winter Wonderland (we parked on road near the museum but it’s easy to reach on public transport from the Vale, just get off the train at Cathays or Queen Street and walk) we were greeted by the screams of grown men calling for their mothers. Festive. We had the heebie jeebies just watching the source of the squeals, the 90M Tower, a new attraction this year that replaces the Big Wheel**. I damn near wet myself with terror on ferris wheels so this 90 meter high thriller was not for me. We hit a few of the tamer rides instead. I say “we” but I watched and waved whilst sipping my mulled wine.

The Ice Skater ride was one of those spinning ones that I vowed never to go on again after being forced onto a similar one at Barry Island. The kids (ages 12, 10 and 6) loved it. It’s exciting, fast and covered in bright lights. The Fun House is awesome. It’s massive, took ages to get around and is only 2 tokens per person. Think classic fairground cake walks and Danny and Sandy at the end of Grease. For smaller children, the reindeer ride was gloriously Christmassy, blasting passengers with fake snow.

winter wonderland ride

We didn’t ice skate last night, saving that for another time with friends while Buzz Killington holds the bags. As I told the kids, we can’t do everything every time. Winter Wonderland has the potential to be one of those experiences with kids where they turn into brats asking for all the treats, more rides, more drinks, those maddening flashy light things. It works best for us to tell them exactly what we’re doing and not doing. So “we’re only ice skating tonight, don’t ask about the rides” or “you can have a drink, pick one ride each and we’ll share some churros”. Ah yes, the churros. Big hit and good for sharing. £6 for 6 churros and dipping sauce.

Skating sessions on the Admiral Ice Rink are 1 hour including time to put on your skates so get there 15 minutes before your slot. No under 3s on the ice, kids under 7 need an adult. The penguin things are £5 to hire per session. Group bookings give you a bit of a discount (buy 10, get 1 free etc). It’s cheaper if you pre book and the off peak prices start at £7 for kids or £27 for a family of 4 (Christmas Eve and NYE are the most expensive. Obvs). This year they’re also holding several Relaxed Access Sessions with lowered lighting, sound and number of skaters which is worth looking into if someone in your family has an autism spectrum condition or sensory sensitivity. Full details on cardiffswinterwonderland.com, call 029 2009 9087 or email info@ice-skate.co.uk.

winter wonderland skating

If Cardiff’s Winter Wonderland is the kind of thing you’d usually put off until the Christmas holidays, give it a go on a random November midweek night. It’ll be less crowded, you’ll get a better deal on skating and it means you’re spreading out the treats. Cardiff’s Winter Wonderland and Admiral Ice Rink are there in front of City Hall and the museum*** until 6th January 2019.

* true story. http://www.freeflush.co.uk says so and they’re rainwater harvesting experts using Met Office data

** It is tradition while watching the biggest scariest ride for Buzz to retell his tale of his mate Simon who had one too many purple ciders before being spun meters in the air above Winter Wonderland and sprayed the crowd with his purple vomit.

*** Tim Peake’s actual spacecraft is at the National Museum until 10th February. We’re mega excited. The exhibition launch day is this Saturday 17th November 11am-4pm and is free. Not connected with Winter Wonderland but it’s right next door so you could combine the two in one visit to Cardiff. Be warned: the 17th November will be very busy in Cardiff, especially on public transport as it’s Wales v Tonga at the Principality Stadium.

theatre, Things To Do

Christmas Show Overload

A trip to the theatre is a real festive treat. I know I go to a heck of a lot of live shows all year long because of work but there really is something magical in dragging the entire family to watch a classic children’s story or fairy tale come to life. It feels decadent and wholesome, charming and silly. It doesn’t have to mean panto and it doesn’t have to mean spending shedloads of money.

Family Friendly Shows in Cardiff and the Vale this Christmas

Sherman Theatre

Wind in the Willows / 1 – 30 December

£16 – £26 Range of prices. Previews (1 – 3 December) are cheaper so worth checking out. Under 25s are half price.

We’ve loved the annual Sherman Christmas show for many years and this sounds like it’ll hit the spot again. The classic Wind in the Willows story by Kenneth Graham will be brought to life with live music. There’s a lovely option to have a letter from Father Christmas for your child on their seat when you arrive. There are also accessible performances including Relaxed Performances.

The Magic Porridge Pot / 3 November – 30 December

£9. Recommended for ages 3-6.

Perfect for under 7s this show is overflowing with songs, music and fun. It’s a classic fairy tale by The Brothers Grimm, retold by the very funny Alun Saunders.

Chapter

The Giant Who Had No Heart in his Body / 22 – 23 December

£5. £17 family ticket. Aimed at ages 7+ but a comedy show for all ages. (Wins the CHEAPEST TICKETS award from me.)

A warm, funny show with original music, puppetry and a sprinkling of magic. Likely Story Theatre bring their unique story telling style to this classic Norwegian fairy tale. A story of friendship, courage, adventure, an umbrella cow, a giant’s heart and a silly duck.

Wales Millennium Centre

The Bear / 12 – 31 December

£10. Babes in arms tickets £2. Recommended for age 3+.

Based on the Raymond Briggs storybook this is a really lovely theatre show for children and their families. It’s only 55 minutes long so perfect for younger kids. It’s in the Wales Millennium Centre’s smaller studio space, the Weston Studio rather than the huge auditorium. The Centre are holding free Christmas crafting activities too so you can spend longer in the building. I walked through the building this week and it’s looking amazing with all the decorations.

Second Star to the Right  / 30 November – 2 December

£9. Under 6s are £6 and under 2 year olds are FREE. Recommended for everyone, all babies welcome.

A cast of disabled and non-disabled performers from Odyssey and pupils from Woodlands High School restore hope to Neverland in this new production.

The Gate

Hansel and Gretel / 2 December – 16 December (Fridays and Saturdays only)

£8.50/£8 for adults and £6 children.

The classic Grimm fairy tale is brought to life with puppetry and music from Black RAT. We’ve seen a fair few of this company’s Christmas shows over the past 7 years and the songs and humour have been a hit with the children.

Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama

Cinderella / 3 – 5 December

£10. Under 16s are £8.

For something a bit different, try out this introduction to the orchestra for an age old fairy tale. Cinderella as you’ve maybe never experienced before with music, film and illustrations.

St David’s Hall

Tiddly Prom: Bert and Cherry’s Christmas Plum Pudding / 16 December – 19 December (10.30 and 12.30 each day)

£7.50

Ideal for under 5s, you can expect lots of silly songs to sing along to, a lively festive story and a large helping of musical plum pudding.

Ballet (3 different shows: The Nutcracker, Cinderella and Swan Lake) / Cinderella 19 – 20 December / The Nutcracker 21 – 24 December / Swan Lake 27 – 31 December

Ticket prices vary. Lowest is £8.25 for under 16s and £16.50 for adults at the 2pm matinees with a family ticket (2 adult and 2 children) for £46.50.

The Nutcracker, Cinderella and Swan Lake are also all at St David’s Hall in December. The Russian State Ballet and Orchestra of Siberia bring these 3 classic and enchanting ballets to Cardiff. There are lots of offers on including a multi-ballet saver. If your child is into ballet and has never seen a live performance, this could be a really special experience watching a popular ballet with recognisable music. The Nutcracker is set at nightfall on Christmas Eve and is perfect for this time of year.

*

If you’re really gagging for a full on Panto experience, here you go, these are for you. Oh no they aren’t. Oh yes they are.

New Theatre

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs / 9 December – 14 January

Cheapest standard ticket is £13. Family Offer 4 tickets for £79 (only some shows). There are about a billion different ticket price options so check with the box office what’s best for you.

It’s panto as you know it, big costumes, big sets and big names. This year’s includes Gareth Thomas, Mike Doyle, Samantha Womack and Chico!

Memo Arts Centre, Barry

Snow Queen “A Frozen Tale” / 14 – 17 December

£13. Children £11. Family group £45.

Barry’s amateur dramatic drama company BillBoard Ensemble are back at the Memo with panto. This year’s is based on the Hans Christian Anderson fairy tale of the Snow Queen featuring songs from Disney’s Frozen.

Paget Rooms, Penarth

Beauty and The Beast / 7 – 10 December

£10. Children £8.

Penarth Operatic and Dramatic Society return with their annual family pantomime.

Jack and the Beanstalk / 4 – 10 January

£14. Children £8. Family £42.

Owen Money heads up this panto from Rainbow Valley Productions. It will be in Penarth following a tour of South Wales.

 

Let me know what you think of these if you get to any of them and if I’ve left any out!