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, 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

Mwah Ha Halloween Half Term

October half term is here and no doubt there’ll be a glut of Halloween related activities on offer. I’m not a massive Halloween fan. There, I’ve said it. Why can’t we just carve a pumpkin, dunk some apples and wear a sheet to be a ghost? What’s all this decorating the house faff about?

What’s jumping out at me so far:

Memo Arts Centre, Barry

One Man Shoe Monday 29th October (2pm) £7 / £24 for 4

A family show with puppetry, slapstick and magic. My youngest currently wants to be a ventriloquist when he grows up so it sounds right up his street.

The Little Mix Experience Thursday 1st November (6.30pm) £13.50

This Little Mix tribute act were incredibly popular last time they were in town.

Dyffryn Gardens

Lots of activities on offer here and it is a lovely day out.

Autumn Apprentice Trail Saturday 27th October – 4th November (10am-3pm) entrance fee but event is free

Whack on your wellies and join in with five tasks like raking up piles of autumn leaves.

Pumpkin Carving Saturday 27th October – 31st October (11am-3pm) £4 per pumpkin plus the entrance fee

If you don’t fancy tackling this in your own kitchen, make the most of the stencils, carving sets and helpers at this event.

Make It Mondays Monday 29th October (12-3pm) entrance fee but event is free

Craft activities.

Cook on a Campfire Friday 2nd November (12-3pm) £2 plus entrance fee

As the name suggests, you get to cook on a campfire.

Amelia Trust Farm

Pumpkin Patch Trail Saturday 27th October – Sunday 4th November

Kids Crazy Headwear Monday 29th & Tuesday 30th October £5.50 per child, pre book on website

Mini Beasts & Pond Dipping at the Farm Saturday 3rd November £5.50 per child, pre book on website

Penarth Pier Pavilion

Snowcat Cinema: The Curse of the Wererabbit – scratch ‘n’ sniff experience. Wednesday 31st October (2pm-3.30pm) £7.50 / £6 concessions (50p extra if you buy on the door)

Watch this family film from the makers of Wallace and Gromit with a special scratch ‘n’ sniff card. Fancy dress is encouraged. No adverts so arrive for a 2pm start.

Mountain View Ranch

Halloween Daily Events Saturday 27th October – Sunday 4th November (11am & 1pm)

Room on the Broom read by the Ranch Witch (11am & 1pm)

Marshmallow Toasting at Creepy Creak (2pm-3.30pm)

Spooky Pumpkin Trail (all day)

All activities are included in the entrance fee of £23 for a family of 4 and £28 for a family of 5. Wrap up warm, take a flask and a picnic and have a lovely time. Dressing up is optional. Last time we went we bought delicious pizzas and hot chocolates in their café which I’d thoroughly recommend.

St Fagans National Museum of History

Halloween Nights Monday 29th – Wednesday 31st October (6pm-9pm) £15 adults, £8 children, under 2s free but recommended for ages 4+

I really want to go to his. Expect Halloween special effects display across the outdoor Museum, Creepy Craft workshops, wand making, ghost stories for children and adults, Halloween character walkabouts, live music, lantern parade (no naked flames), Burning of the Wickerman (!) and a Scare Zone for bigger frights with a 12+ age advisory! The timing makes this perfect for those of us working over half term with older kids.

 

Sadly, they’re not running their usual Halloween event at Hendrewennol Fruit Garden this year. No pumpkin picking for us.

Let me know what you think of any of these goings on if you get a chance to try them out.

Thinking Out Loud

Baps. World Breastfeeding Week 2018.

Baps, boobs, breasts. Whatever you call them, in case you missed the memo, it’s World Breastfeeding Week 1st – 7th August. First up, I’m not a card holding member of the Breastapo. I am not a lactivist. I’m pro breastfeeding but not in an anti-formula feeding way.

I breastfed my two sons. Feels an age ago now because it was an actual decade ago the first time and 2012 the next. I had two different experiences but more about that later.

Why did I chose to give it a go in the first place?

  • Less expensive! When you’re on Statutory Maternity Pay this matters. Big time. Boob milk is free.
  • Less washing up! We’ve never had a dishwasher (except for that table top one that never got plumbed in so was just a glorified cupboard) so I saved myself hours of hand washing bottles and teats.
  • Less faff! Getting out of the house with a baby is challenging enough. I’m a disorganised mess and the massive changing bag I lugged everywhere was already fit to burst, was there even any room left for bottles? And all that measuring and warming up and cooling down. Yeesh.

So basically, I’m lazy and poor so breastfeeding seemed like the way to go. I didn’t read all the baby rearing books in the world, I didn’t go to any birthing classes (“they’re how much?!”) and I was the first of any groups of friends to have a baby. I didn’t feel any pressure to do it and I’d done jack all research. I was clueless.

First time was bloody challenging. It hurt, I bled, I got mastitis that was thankfully caught and treated very early on, my baby wasn’t gaining weight at the rate the charts said he should. He was borderline failing to thrive and I was having nightmares about him fading away into nothing. The breastfeeding support at St David’s hospital was vital, the lady running it reminded me of my Grandma with her Yorkshire accent and no-nonsense approach. I talked through what my health visitor had suggested (a bottle of formula at every breast feed) and she helped me work out something that helped my first born to beef up but also built up my supply. I topped up him with a bottle of formula each day, breastfed every two hours and pumped after each feed. It was awkward, it was the worst of both worlds but it worked. My baby was finally growing at a rate the health visitor approved of; I was able to slowly decrease the formula and we got back to feeding on demand with just breast milk.

The bonus was that he would take a bottle so when I first left him overnight (at 6 months on a hen do with regular breast pumping breaks) he would take expressed milk but if needs be he would take formula. I’m grateful to the formula milk for helping to give my tiny baby a much needed boost and for helping me to carry on breastfeeding as long as we wanted to.

I had no pressure from my husband to breastfeed, the opposite in fact as he could see me struggling and in pain. My mum was brilliant. Practical, supportive and again, no pressure. She breastfed me because we lived overseas when I was born and her friend advised she try it because she’d not and her baby struggled with the brands of milk in the shops changing so often depending on what got delivered to the island.

Second time was a dream. He latched well, fed on demand, he grew, I was comfortable. Happy days.

I know it’s not always easy. I know it’s not always possible. I know all the focus on the otehr benefits of breastfeeding make it hugely emotive and stir up those toxic responses to the topic like guilt and defensiveness. I just wanted to focus on the practical side of it: less expensive, less washing up, less faff.

I’ve never been an official breastfeeding mentor but I’ve been there for support and advice if real life friends have needed it. I’ve breastfed in all sorts of public and private spaces and I hope anyone who saw me or sat with me felt even just a tiny bit more confident about doing it themselves.

 

Thinking Out Loud

Maternal Mental Health Awareness Week #RealMotherhood

It’s Maternal Mental Health Awareness Week. This year’s theme is #RealMotherhood #NoShame and a reminder that getting real about motherhood is healthy for everyone.

I was first pregnant a decade ago and my youngest is 6 so maybe I’m too far removed from my own experience to be sharing it here but we all have a part to play. Supporting our friends, neighbours, colleagues and families is so important. It’s OK to not be OK.

I went to a friend’s wedding when my first baby was 2 weeks old and at the do I just remember feeling, how to describe it? Out of it? Woozy? Years later I tried explaining that I felt isolated, excluded, that everyone else was having a whale of a time and I was… I was content but not me. I was sober for a start! It was a scorching July day and I needed to breastfeed my shrimp of a child in the shade (because he might spontaneously combust in the sun, right?) so I ended up sat on my own in the shade of a marquee while everyone else basked in the sun. Jealously glancing over at friends drinking and laughing and looking fabulous, not the state I felt in flip flops because proper shoes didn’t fit my trotters and leggings under my dress because it wasn’t as boob accessible as I’d naively assumed when buying it. A mum of a friend came over and talked with me. She’s not someone I knew well but I was so thankful. She talked to me about my job, dance, all sorts. It felt like the first time someone saw through the fog and not some mother and baby package.  It wasn’t out of pity, it wasn’t patronising, she chatted away and listened, it was as simple as that.

Of course I loved my babies and of course they do take over but remember a mum of a newborn is more than a milk machine. She might be like a swan, looking serene and graceful on the surface but underneath she’s paddling away trying to stay afloat. She might be physically battered but she’s possibly mentally battered too.

With at least 1 in 10 mums developing a mental illness during pregnancy, or in the year that follows, it is so important to raise awareness of maternal mental health: tommys.org/maternalMHmatt…#MaternalMHMatter @TommysMidwives

I was fine, I am fine. Not everyone is. I had a wobble, I didn’t have a diagnosed maternal mental health condition. For every joyful #blessed #mama out there, remember that it’s not the same for everyone. My second time around was so much easier for me. No cabin fever, I felt more in control, I didn’t have nightmares about my newborn fading away into nothing which I didn’t tell anyone about because I knew it sounded worrying.

7 in 10 women will hide or underplay the severity of their perinatal mental illness #everyonesbusines everyonesbusiness.org.uk @MMHAlliance

Sometimes the best support is not trying to get someone to talk about their feelings but just being there. If they’re not ready for visitors, just send a hello by text. In those earliest of days the best visit was my mum bringing a Sunday roast around for us, making no demands to coo over the baby or cwtch her grandchild but being a practical help. It’s the offering to take the dogs for a walk, doing the ironing, making cups of tea instead of expecting to be waited on hand and foot. (Note to self: remember all this for when the new niblings arrive in the next couple of months.)

I set up this blog partly in response to the gazillions about babies and toddlers. Mine are older and my parenting experience isn’t about nappies and baby vom anymore but the pregnancy and the mad year that follows is so important and you don’t forget it.

As for #RealMotherhood I suppose I’m part of the problem. I tend to share photos of the lovely things we do, the brilliant places we go and on my personal social media their smiling faces. Should I be more real and photograph the tears and tantrums? I really don’t think it would have helped my 9 year old this morning if I’d snapped him in a grump and I’d feel the same.

Just take my word for it that for every photo of a wholesome daytrip we also have a Saturday morning watching cartoons and eating cereal. For every matchy matchy special occasion outfit that my boys wear there’s a mismatched set of pyjamas or school joggers with a hole in the bum (the 6 year old has done this to three (yes THREE) pairs of joggers this year). I’ll try to post some Instagram shots of my week’s chaos to give you a flavour of my real life.

If the content of this post has made you think of anything that has happened to you or someone you know and you feel upset, worried or uncomfortable then please visit Maternal Mental Health Alliance for a list of support services. I am not an expert in anything.

If you want to join in with the #RealMotherhood 5-day Challenge then just share your piccies and posts about the barefaced reality of motherhood. Warts and all. Keep it light and silly or use it as a chance to be truthful about your own experience. Let’s not judge ourselves by unrealistic standards.

 

#RealMotherhood #NoShame @TheBlueDotProject @MMHAlliance #everyonesbusiness #MaternalMHmatters