Thinking Out Loud

Troubling Bubbling

Has life gone completely back to the pre-Covid normal or did I miss an announcement?

I watch the news, I read, I’ve had to stay up to date on guidelines for work but as I scroll through those photographic square glimpses into other people’s lives on Instagram, I have to wonder if we’re the only ones doing it our way.

I’ve not yet driven further than 5 miles from home, not because we can’t but I’ve had no reason to go anywhere so far. My parents and sisters family live close by and the parks and beaches that we’ve been to since I finally and joyously got my car fixed have been less than 3 miles from home. It was thrilling enough to walk around a park that’s not the one behind our house so I’m in no rush to go yomping further afield.

I’m cool with the longer journeys, no judgement here at all. Do what you’ve got to do. I know we’re lucky to have family living so close unlike some. Living in a town with a range of supermarkets, parks and beaches means the old 5 mile rule wasn’t as hard hitting as in more rural areas.

I’m thinking more of the photos of baby showers and birthdays with large groups of adults huddled together for a photo. Lush, I’d love to see my mates in real life in close proximity. I haven’t yet but next step would be distanced meeting up on separate picnic blankets at a park or on a distanced walk. I’m not outraged I’m just confused.

We’re still only doing a big shop each week. I have no desire to go to town shopping, it’s not something I miss massively. Except for trying on bras before spending a fortune on them. Maybe, as a family we’re just easing out of it more slowly than others. We’ve seen a select few people but it’s nothing like I’m seeing in my social feeds.

Are people not bubbling with just one other household? Are they (are you?) bubbling with lots of other households? Or are they/you just so over the lockdown that as long as they/you’re in someone else’s garden anything goes?

In Wales, I understand that at the moment we’re only able to make an extended household with one other household and it’s got to be the same household until lockdown’s lifted and if you’re meeting another household it has to be outside. Interested to know what other non-shielding families are doing.

With more businesses opening up there’s a general vibe of things all being over and just having to get on with life but that’s jarring with the government guidelines. I could see all my girlfriends if we happened to be in Morrisons at the same time but we couldn’t meet as a group in someone’s living room? I could drive to Bristol to drink in a pub with my mate but I wouldn’t be able to stay over in her house. Are you finding bubbling troubling?

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.

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 – 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