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
Things To Do

You’ve Got Dragons by Taking Flight Theatre Company: a theatre show for everyone

You’ve Got Dragons has been touring Wales for a while now and still has a fair few left so if you haven’t caught it yet, do take your kids (and the grandparents and some friends and anyone else you can work your charms or magic on) along.

You’ve Got Dragons is based on the book by Kathryn Cave and is a delightful tale about a child’s journey to come to terms with inner dragons. Worries, fears, anxieties… they’re all dragons and they sneak up on most of us at one time or another. Lots of people get them. Even really good people get them. And sometimes they are hard to get rid of. So what can a young girl with a bad case of the dragons do?

One of my children has anxiety and I know what an impact it can have. This show is an ideal way to look at the issue with a creative eye. It’s also a lovely, Wales made family friendly show. I’ll be taking my brood along this Easter holidays, having been lucky enough to catch it with my working-in-theatre hat on.

The show is fully accessible and intergenerational featuring creative captioning, BSL and audio description at every performance. Taking Flight Theatre Company have been at the forefront of making theatre more accessible for everyone in Wales and You’ve Got Dragons is no exception. Taking Flight have been brilliant at working with blind, visually impaired, deaf and hard of hearing people on developing theatre that includes everyone. They’ve got a captioned BSL flyer and an audio flyer all about the show over on their website: Taking Flight.

All of the remaining Wales theatres are members of the hynt scheme so if any of your family need a carer when they go to the theatre they can apply for membership and get a ticket free of charge for their carer, companion or Personal Assistant. More info on hynt on their website: hynt

With toe tapping music, this highly visual, sensitive production is a humorous and touching exploration of the dragons we all face.

“Dragons come when you least expect it. You turn round… and they’re there.”

TOUR DATES (if you click on the venue name you’ll be taken to their website where you can book tickets ’cause I’m nice like that!)

The Torch Theatre, Milford Haven – Wednesday 12th April 1pm and 3pm

Chapter Arts Centre, Cardiff – Thursday 13th April 6:30pm / Friday 14th April 6:30pm / Saturday 15th April 2pm and 5pm

Wise Words Festival, Canterbury – Monday 1st May

Newbridge Memo – Saturday 20th May 2pm (Relaxed Performance)

Park & Dare, Treorchy – Wednesday 24th May 1pm

Theatr Brycheiniog, Brecon – Saturday 27th May 11am and 2pm

The Mission Theatre, Bath – Sunday 28th May 1:30pm and 3:30pm

also…

FREE WORKSHOPS at Chapter Arts Centre before the show – Thursday 13th April 5pm, Saturday 15th April 12.30pm & 3.30pm

Join them before the show in the theatre foyer to make tactile model houses which even light up! Or you can make a shadow puppet and test it out on their mini shadow screens. All for free with your ticket to the performance.

Accessible to all- this activity will be BSL supported and audio described. 

 

You’ve Got Dragons is a co-production with Abertillery Met and Creu Cymru.

Things To Do

Free Family Dance Festival (yes, FREE!) this Easter Holidays

This weekend I ended up at Chapter with my boys (Chalk age 8 and Cheese age 4) and my nephew who we shall call (for reasons unbeknownst to you) Ross age 2.

We stumbled across a FREE (yes I do mean to shout that word) new dance event for families that’s touring Wales during the Easter holidays. Chapter’s Coreo Cymru programme and National Dance Company Wales have picked four delicious short dance pieces by four very talented dance companies.

Animatorium by National Dance Company Wales premiered at Green Man festival in 2016. This incredibly skilled group of dancers kept all three boys rapt and asking questions “why are they on the floor?” “is he eating his jumper?” “what do the tags on their jackets mean?”

Bounce by Harnisch-Lacey Dance is a high energy mix of breakdance, acrobatics and contemporary dance that had my 8 year old gymnast saying “wooooah” and prompted a chat about climate change and global warming on our walk back to the car.

Into the Water by Up & Over It mesmerised my 4 year old, so much so that he wriggled his way to the front and sat watching it on his own cross legged. “that was amazing, how did they do that with their hands?!” It was a really sweet piece with amazing hand dancing. You might have seen them on Britain’s Got Talent or YouTube (if you engage with either – I don’t really so hadn’t seen them before).

Homo Irrationalis by Karol Cysewski was very funny and a big hit with the boys. The 4 year old has been muttering “stupid behaviour” daily since we saw it. Three hilarious male dancers took us on a journey through evolution. The boys enjoyed trying to guess which creatures they were at different points.

As a bonus we got to join in with a ceilidh at the end of the show led by Up & Over It. I know it’s some people’s idea of hell but for me it’s the ultimate in family-friendly-join-in-if-you-fancy activities. The 4 year old and I threw ourselves about with gusto (that Gusto, he’s always one for a knees up) while the less keen 8 year old guarded the 2 year old.

It was a gloriously sunshiney day for the first ever Family Dance Festival and as it’s part of a tour you can still catch it across Wales. For my fellow Vale of Glamorganers it’ll be back in our neck of the woods at the end of the Easter hols in the Bay. A good excuse for a stroll across the barrage and some free (yes, FREE!) dance.

Chapter, Cardiff – Friday 7th April 4pm and 6pm / Saturday 8th April 12pm, 3pm and 5pm

Theatr Brycheiniog, Brecon – Sunday 9th April 3pm and 5pm / Monday 10th April 12pm and 3pm

The Hafren, Newtown – Tuesday 11th April 3pm and 5pm / Wednesday 12th April 12pm and 3pm

Riverfront, Newport – Tuesday 18th April 3pm and 5pm / Wednesday 19th 12pm and 3pm

Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff – Friday 21st April 3pm and 5pm / Saturday 22nd April 12pm and 3pm