Places To Go, Things To Do, Thinking Out Loud

Urdd Eisteddfod 2019 and Welshness issues

I’m Welsh but I’m not a confident Welsh speaker. On the daily, this doesn’t make me ponder on Welshness, on national identity and bilingualism but last week I took my boys to Cardiff Bay for this year’s Urdd Eisteddfod where it felt like a bigger deal on the Maes.

We were non Welsh speakers at a Welsh speaking event in Wales. We had a lovely day and we did feel welcome but also at a remove. I felt like a visitor, an outsider, somehow other.

The Urdd Eisteddfod is one of Europe’s largest touring youth festivals. As well as all of the stalls and activities on the Maes, there are loads of competitions for children and young people in things like singing and dancing following regional rounds. About 15,000 competitors take part through the week. The Urdd was set up to give children and young people the chance to learn and socialise in Welsh.

A sign post in Welsh language with the Pierhead building and Wales Millennium Centre in the background
Ble mae’r bar?

We toyed with sending the boys to Welsh school back in 2012 but our closest English primary school is behind our house. We cross no roads to get there, I can hear the playground from home and garden and it’s a cracking school.

The seven year old was in his absolute element in the Senedd display of the 2D and 3D art and design competitions. He’s a model making fiend and a puppet fan boy. He was so genuinely impressed with the paintings and drawings “wow, I can’t believe this one only came second, it’s a winner for me”, it was unsurprising when he looked up at me, his eyes glowing with creative crafting ideas and asked “how can I join in Mum?” like it’s Blue Peter and anyone can enter. Sorry babes, you can’t because you don’t go to a Welsh medium school. *insert sad child’s face* That’s where it feels excluding and exclusive. Which is understandable knowing that the Urdd exists for Welsh speaking children.

When I posted about this on Instagram I had a reply from a teacher at an English medium high school who told me that they had pupils compete so it turns out they don’t have to go to Iaith Cymraeg schools to participate. I did not know this. I thought the Urdd Eisteddfodau were a cultural rite of passage that my kids would have no part of in the same way that the opportunity wasn’t there for me as a child who grew up in Wales at English language schools. And that’s as a pupil who did extra Welsh (true story) and chose to do Welsh GCSE and A Level.

My Welsh is OK, I can get by to a limit. If you did A level French, that’s the kind of language vibe. Except it’s not. I’ve got an A Level in it but I don’t only encounter it at the boulangerie on my holidays. I work all over Wales so Welsh is at meetings, seminars, conferences, it’s in the lunch time chats and evening meals out, it’s sprinkled through emails, it’s on print, websites, in theatre productions, social media strategies. And that’s just work.

At the Urdd Eisteddfod we made an effort to use as much Welsh as we could all day. The 10 year old ordered his hot chocolate all by himself and enjoyed his “un siocled poeth”, the 7 year old  said “diolch” to pretty much everyone in Cardiff Bay.

They were in awe at how much Welsh I used (my children are very easily impressed) “how did we not know you can speak another language?!” I can’t, I’m really not that confident with it but I do try when I can. I felt guilty and lazy for not using it more at home when I do make the effort in work emails and events. I want to use Welsh with them more at home, beyond our current “nos da cariad” (good night love) and “pwy sy’n barod?” (who’s ready?).

Inside the roof of a teepee style tent with bunting and garland lights.
Inside the Children’s Commissioner for Wales tent

It was a lush day out though, one of those exhausting days where you walk for miles, while away time soaking up live music, have a nosey in every trade stall, race cars in virtual reality, golf, join a band, colour in, trampoline, make a bead bracelet, toast mshmallows and bump into a couple of people you know. As it was free entry this year I treated us to drinks and a fairground ride without the inward panic about spending all of the money.

It felt right to expose the boys to a world where people assume you can speak Welsh, it opens their mind up to realising it’s the first language for some people and it’s alive in Wales, not just something to learn in the classroom.

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/

Places To Go, Things To Do

February Half Term 2019 – Out and About

Sorry for jinxing the weather by optimistically writing this when the sun was still shining. It’s trying its best to come out again so let’s make the most of the tail end of half term with some fresh Welsh air.

We’re so lucky to have so many lush parks, beaches and countryside for walking and exploring. Over half term, there are a few special events and activities dotted around so, whatever the weather, get out and about.

St Fagan’s National Museum of History

On St David’s Day, this half term staple has family friendly craft activities themed for Wales’s special day. Perfect day to grab a slice of bara brith from their bakery. Free entry as usual but it’s about a fiver for the car park.

Amelia Trust Farm

A lovely little farm for a tootle around, Amelia Trust Farm have a February Half Term Farm Funday on 1st March with both morning and afternoon sessions. Full details on their website http://www.ameliatrust.org.uk £8.50 for bouncy castles, soft play, ball pit and more.

You can also do Bertie the Birdman’s Bird Trail. Each child is given their own card binoculars , bird booklet and a pencil to keep. £2.50 per child. 

Don’t forget that Five Mile Lane is blocked for road works at the Barry end on the way there but you can take the scenic route through rural Vale or a detour via Culver House.

Beach Academy Wales at Ogmore Beach

Celebrate World Wildlife Day on Sunday 3rd March 11am – 12.30pm by searching, handling and spotting Beach Creatures with Beach Academy Wales on beautiful Ogmore Beach. £5 per child, free for their adult, aimed at age 6+ but younger siblings welcome. Text 07966 572293 or email beachacademywales@gmail.com to book.

Places To Go, theatre, Things To Do

February Half Term 2019 – Shows

I know the weather is glorious at the moment so you might not be thinking of indoors things this half term but I’ve been hunting theatre shows for a birthday treat this week. Thinking of my imaginative boy with his love of magic and reading, this is what I’ve found.

The Small Space Theatre, Barry

Family Magic Show

New for 2019, Family Magic Show, suitable for ages 8+ starts this half term in the smallest magic theatre in Wales. Tuesday 26th February, 5.30pm doors for 6pm, show tickets £12.50. thesmallspace.co.uk

Sherman Theatre, Cardiff

The Giant Jam Sandwich

The Giant Jam Sandwich for ages 3-7 is based on the children’s picture book which tells the tale of four million wasps invading a quiet village. It’s had great reviews and the trailer looks suitably silly. Friday 1st March, 12pm & 3pm, tickets £10. shermantheatre.co.uk

New Theatre, Cardiff

Billionaire Boy

For toilet humour and David Walliams fans, Billionaire Boy is at the New Theatre for most of half term. 26th February – Saturday 2nd March with evening and daytime shows (Tues 7pm, Wed 2.30pm, Thurs & Fri 2.30pm & 7pm, Sat 11am & 3pm), tickets start at £13 with £3 off for under 16s. newtheatrecardiff.co.uk

   

Places To Go, Things To Do

February Half Term 2019 – Castles

I’m never quite sure if it’s totally worth my while to pull together these lists of stuff to do and if anyone actually reads them but I’ve started so I’ll finish.

February half term doesn’t have the relentless Halloween theme of October. This collection isn’t everything you can do but just a few ideas. I’ve not been paid by any of these places to promote them. Some are in the Vale, some are a short drive or a public transport trip away. First up, castles.

CASTLES

One of my kids had to do a picture of a castle for his school Eisteddfod entry this year. (First year in a while that a homemade papier mache dragon wasn’t added to the collection on atop our bookcase.) So many to chose from! Did you know that there are more castles per square mile in Wales than anywhere else in Europe?! Here are a few for February exploring:

Castell Coch

It’s a Victorian folly that you might recognise from the old telly version of The Worst Witch. If you download the Cadw app and the Digital Trails section you can use it to hunt fairies with augmented reality tech.

Adult £6.90, family £20, kids £4.10

Caerphilly

Head a bit further down the A470 and get yourself to Caerphilly to check out the biggest castle in Wales. This medieval castle is a great day out with impressive dragons.

Adult £8.50, family £24.60, kids £5.10

Cardiff Castle

Bang in the capita city, the castle gives you the chance to explore 2000 years of history. From the Roman fort to the tunnels that Cardiffians used for shelter during World War II.

Adult £13, family £38, kids £9.25, under 5s free. Costs extra for the house tour. If you live or work in Cardiff, apply for the Castle Key for free entry.

A large dragon's head with Caerphilly Castle in the background
Caerphilly Castle’s dragons