Places To Go, Things To Do

The Big Pit

Boom! It’s National Museum Week 2019 so I’ve been thinking about the last museum I went to, Big Pit National Coal Museum, Y Pwll Mawr. I bloody loves museums I does. The best of them stir a little something in your soul, leave some new knowledge nestled in your brain and get my kids buzzing with the experience. The Big Pit delivers on all three.

The first time I visited, I was excited to get free entry with my Blue Peter badge (which I’ve sadly lost, do they do replacements?) in about 1990. Another time, aged about 18 with my 9 year old brother the day after watching How Green Was My Valley, he produced a white cotton handkerchief to mop his brow because that’s what they’d done in the film. A few weeks ago we took our own similarly aged children and it’s still a thrill to travel in that dark lift 300 feet underground, to stoop through the tunnels, to momentarily stand in darkness, feel the terror and thankfulness that life has changed.

One of the themes of Museum Week 2019 is #WomenInCulture and the vital role of women in the mining industry and mining communities is explored in the Pithead Baths exhibition. Women were only banned from working underground because the inspector was shocked at their state of undress. The work they did was so physically demanding that they were replaced with ponies. Ponies.

As a museum, the displays and experiences above ground have had a hell of a lot of work since becoming part of National Museums Wales, which gives so much more to explore than the 50 minutes down the pit, the shower block was especially effective with interactive bits. Plus, it’s been free to visit since 2001. FREE. (Think it’s £3 for parking though). It’s set in a unique industrial landscape, designated a World Heritage Site.The guys, real life miners, who lead the tours of the mine are essential, their wit, knowledge and warmth give visitors a flavour of the camaraderie and banter of the place.

That said, I’m not writing this wearing rose tinted glasses about the job of mining. My grandad, great grandad, great uncle, my dad’s cousins all worked in the mines of the South Wales valleys. My grandad hated it. “No son of mine is ever going to work down a mine.” The day he started working at the pits as a teenager, a body was brought up from underground (the deceased man is mentioned in part of the museum), so I can’t say I blame him and he worked his arse off to have a career in another sector.

I am, however, writing this sat in the second largest town in Wales that only sprung into existence on this scale because of the coal industry but I’m also writing this in a time when we’re looking for cleaner energy sources than fossil fuels. Museums are powerful when you can make those connections.

The Big Pit

For more info, opening hours, directions and all that, head here: museum.wales/bigpit/

School Days, Thinking Out Loud

Babies Starting School

My social media is abuzz with school admissions posts and wails about “my baby” going to school. Excuse me while my lack of sympathy and I snicker darkly yet sagely into our milky tea.

I hear you, I do, but I also raise you this: MY BABY IS GOING TO HIGH SCHOOL. They will eat him alive. He is tiny and geeky and high school is not the nurturing, learn-through-play haven of Reception. He will be spat out at the other end as a legal adult.

Ok, he’s not a baby. He’s 10. Double figures and all that. And yes, I may well be projecting my own fears about moving from Primary to Comp. I blame Grange Hill. My comprehensive school looked like the fictional hell hole, it was populated with the same permed, mean eyed, all-knowing teenagers. I was definitely going to get my head flushed down the toilet or be tricked into taking an acid tab. One of the boys in my year 6 class who had an older sister there assured us that it was a rite of passage. The toilet thing, not the drugs.

I’m still yet to ever have my head flushed down the loo or trip on acid (in the words of Zammo “just say no”) and if I’m honest, I’m sure my son will be fine. He’s friendly, he’s sensible, he’s a good guy and he’s feeling cautiously confident after plenty of visits to the school and transition days.

I’ve written about it before, this ever marching time of childhood, not standing in the way of them moving on and developing, of celebrating change and not infantilising them when they’re not babies anymore.

Don’t let your 4 year old see you cry when you drop them off that first week. Please. It’s not about you. Letting them see you panicked, upset or overwhelmed is unhelpful. The same goes for all those future residential school trips. Imagine starting a new job with your partner, parent or friend crying at the entrance. I’ll be doing just that very soon (the job not the weeping) and I’d prefer a thumbs up and a snazzy new lunch box.

My step daughter’s been in high school for two years now and is having a grand old time of it. We see her so much less than we used to but that’s a whole other blog post. I’m sure my son with throw himself into a new school, make new friends, have great experiences but it’s still the great unknown. Think of all those positive things if your child’s starting primary school too.

Of course, I’m writing all of this before his Hogwarts letter arrives this summer and there’ll be a whole other level of worry going on.

School Days, Thinking Out Loud

To my children on the first day of school

Enjoy! I won’t cry, you won’t cry. That’s not our thing. No severe case of stiff upper lip, just a case of being a totally normal thing to happen at the start of September. I love that you love school, that you’re bright and a good friend.

You’ll get up to all sorts of exciting things this year. All of you. Trips and projects, odd crazes and funny stories. You’ll pick up fodder for anecdotes in your adult years. You’ll learn and you’ll grow.

I’m getting soppy. I should probably have started the school year as I mean to go on by laying out your uniforms and preparing your packed lunches but we’ll muddle through somehow.

And a special extra note for my step daughter: I hope you have a better first day than your dad did.

School Days, Thinking Out Loud

The Climb. Are they growing too fast?

The end of another school year is fast approaching. We’ve had the school reports and now come the moving on assemblies, leavers concerts and end of term summer productions* with photo montages and song choices selected with the sole aim of squeezing out parental tears of joy and pride.

The Climb** (by Miley Cyrus in the Hannah Montana era) gets me every year. The lyrics push me over the edge. I admit to crying every time they sing it. Turns out I’m a softy and a sucker for country pop. I’m also a sucker for a montage. It’s the best bit of any televised sports match and I love that we have the technology to do the same with our everyday non-sportsing lives.

Montage + uplifting song about overcoming obstacles + primary school children = weeping mess

That said, I’ve never been one for spouting “they’re growing too fast”, “I wish he was still a baby” and all that guff. They’re growing at the rate they’re supposed to. Thankfully. I love that they’re getting more independent because I’m lazy and they can do more for themselves. When they’re old enough and sensible enough to make you a cup of tea there’s a definite winning-at-life feel to the milestone. It’s a privilege to see them grow and develop. That’s what’s supposed to happen. Of course they were adorable when they were younger (even if in hindsight they were funny looking babies) but I don’t want to miss this stage in their lives or wish it away through some rose tinted nostalgia for the days when they were more dependent on me.

One of my favourite English teachers shared a poem with us in 6th form that stuck with me. Not so much that I actually remember the title or the poet but the archery analogy rings true. To make those we love fly as high and far as they can we have to use strength to pull them in close and steady but then we have to let them go, trust them to soar. Our kids have all had some sort of metaphorical mountain to climb this year so let’s celebrate those journeys and not fantasise about them morphing into their younger selves like Benjamin Button.

 

*A few weeks ago I asked my step daughter if she had a leavers concert. “No”, she told me and glared at me as though I’d suggested something utterly ludicrous. My husband later told me that we had tickets to go and watch her in a school show. I mentioned to her that I’d thought she wasn’t doing one. Following an audible sigh and a roll of the eyes she explained “it’s not a leavers concert it’s Summer Production” (yes, the capitals were also audible). It was brilliant whatever it was called.

**https://youtu.be/jpTYG_Sqqdg