Almost unlikely existence 

It’s exactly two years since the day Iris was conceived. It might be a little weird that I know the exact date, but I just do. 

It goes without saying that she is the best thing ever ever to happen to me. I mean, just look at her. She’s perfect. 

  

This date, and my search for information about my great-grandmother, has got me thinking. What are the chances? The chances of Iris being exactly who she is. Of me being exactly who I am. 

Iris is half me and half Trevor. Obviously. I met Trevor on eHarmony, but he didn’t show up as one of my matches. We matched on pretty much everything, but he didn’t show up until I widened my search because he lived so far away. I almost didn’t do that. 

I almost didn’t do the Internet dating thing either. I hadn’t been single long. I was a bit sick of relationships. I did it because I thought it’d be fun. It mostly wasn’t fun and I nearly quit it a few times. 

I almost wasn’t single. I had been in a relationship that I was very unhappy in for a very very long time. I wasn’t ready to leave though. I wasn’t brave enough. I’d been suffering terrible terrible migraines, but it took a migraine so bad that I had a seizure for me to realise that the unhappy relationship was the cause of my stress and that stress was the cause of my migraines. I realised that in the waiting room at Southmead Hospital where I was with my mum. I almost didn’t go to that CT scan because my boyfriend wouldn’t come with me. I only went because my mum could come. I was too scared to go alone. 

I almost went back that day, but I didn’t. I went to my mum’s house and I never went back. 

The existence of Iris depended on all of these things that almost didn’t happen. 

But it’s bigger than that. 

She wouldn’t exist if I didn’t, and I wouldn’t exist if my mum didn’t. My mum only exists because my grandmother met my grandfather. Would that have happened if my grandmother hadn’t been adopted? Probably not. 

It’s looking fairly likely that my great-grandmother was forced to give my grandmother up for adoption, way back in the 30s, because she was suffering with depression. Can you imagine how awful that must have been? I can’t. 

Yet that awful thing that (may have) happened, means that my mum and me and Iris (and the rest of our families) are here. It means we are exactly who we are, and not other people completely. 

I’ve given myself a headache. 

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Joan Rosalie Gardener

That’s my great grandmothers name. She died before I was born but I never would have known her anyway. 

 My Nan was adopted. She was adopted by a family who adopted other children too, but they kept their birth surnames. My Nan always knew her mother was called Gardener too, but that was all she knew. 

It’s all she wanted to know. As far as Nan was concerned, her parents didn’t want her so she didn’t want them either. We don’t think she ever tried to find out any more information. If she did she didn’t ever talk about it. If it was mentioned she just said she wasn’t interested and that was that. I can kind of understand the sentiment. 

My mum has always felt different. She had grandparents out there that she never knew. She felt like a big chunk of who she was had been hidden from her. 

I guess we all assumed Nan’s mother was unmarried. That was probably the most common reason for adoption around that time, 1937.  

We’ve since found out that wasn’t the case. She was married. She was married before she became pregnant and to my Nan’s father. They were married in Brighton the year before. So why the adoption? I’m sure they had a very good reason, but we can’t find it. We’d love to know. 

Our only real hope now is to find somebody who knew them. For that we have to look on the Isle of Wight. They moved here and lived in Ryde for most of their marriage, we believe. 

“Mrs Gardener was well known as a member of the Women’s Royal Volentary  Services for her work in connection with Ryde Darby and Joan Club”. 

This is what the local paper said of her, after her death in 1974. Surely somebody must remember her? 

   
 

The circumstances of her death really shocked me. Mum went searching for a simple death certificate and found a coroner’s report. There surely must be a living person on the Isle of Wight right now who can remember the depressed woman found dead near the golf course. I can’t imagine this is something that happened there very often in the 70s. 

Did the depression start before the adoption? Did the adoption trigger the depression? Did she struggle with this her whole life? I wonder if we’ll ever know. 

Her husband, my great grandfather is believed to have moved back to Brighton shortly after her death. Possibly to live with his sister. His name was George Henry Rowland Gardener and he later died in Brighton. They didn’t have any more children, as far as we can tell. 

Please share this, particularly if you have contacts on the Isle of Wight or Brighton. I know it’s a long shot, but we really would love to find out more about our hidden relatives. Any information at all would be wonderful. 

*edited to add – Joan’s maiden name was Gibbons. Just in case this helps to jog anybody’s memory* 

Pontypridd Lido 


Originally built in 1927, Pontypridd Lido was once a popular visitor attraction in the area. Unfortunately it fell into a state of disrepair and closed down in 1991. It stayed like that, crumbling and growing weeds, until about a year ago, when work began to restore it. (There’s a pretty cool short video here that shows just how crumbly it had become!)


  
It finally opened to the public last month, after what felt like a ridiculously long wait. It’s located inside Ynysangharad Park (known locally as Ponty Park), which is a fantastic park even without the lido.  It has crickets fields, tennis courts and a bandstand, as well as lovely gardens and loads of green space. The play area closed when they began work on the lido, leaving local children without a play area for almost a year! When it reopened in August, a few weeks before the lido, it became clear that it was worth the wait though. It really is quite brilliant! It’s got plenty for both big kids and tiny ones, including a huge sand pit that Iris absolutely adores. It even includes a wheelchair accessible swing and roundabout, which is excellent. As biggest kid put it ‘it must suck to come to a play ground when there’s nothing you can go on’.


Iris and I have swam in the new lido twice now. We took my mum, sister, niece and nephew the first time and on a really hot sunny day. It totally felt like we were on holiday in Spain, enjoying a hotel pool. You easily forget you’re in South Wales! The toddler splash pool is pretty chilly, especially under the fountain, but the two main pools are heated and lovely and warm. My niece is generally quite nervous of swimming, but once she’d taken a peek at the pool through the cafe window she was desperate for us to hurry up and get in.

Last weekend we went again, on a much cooler day, with Trev and the big girls. The lido closes for winter in a couple of weeks so we were keen for the girls to try it out before then. Although it wasn’t a warm day, the water was lovely and warm. As long as you keep your shoulders underwater it’s lovely! Because we went on a weekend family session, there were inflatables! A great big inflatable assault course and some pedalo boats, as well as lots of pool noodles, balls and floats. This time we tried out the showers and they were gloriously warm. It wasn’t really warm enough for sunbathing, but there were lots of non-swimmers making use of the plenty of sun loungers available.

There’s a cafe too, accessible from the play area but with a poolside window you can order at too. The prices aren’t too bad, but I can’t comment on the food. We haven’t eaten there yet, but the hot chocolate is pretty good. 

I can’t help but feel that we are really lucky to have such a great facility on our doorstep. I’ve heard lots of negative comments from locals about how it should have a roof, but I totally disagree. There are other pools around the area that are indoors, and it’s great to have something completely different. It’ll pull in people from the whole of South Wales next summer, I’m sure! I’ve heard that it’ll be used by various clubs during the winter, including a canoe club, which will ensure that maintenance continues all year round.

The best part of all? It’s free! At least for this year anyway. Next year children under 12 who live in the local area will be free, but everybody else will need to pay. More information on opening times is available here. We love it so much we may even go again tomorrow!

Obviously taking pictures in a swimming pool isn’t really the done thing, so I have none. To make up for it, here’s some more pictures of the play area.

   
    
    
 

Nobody asked me to write this or compensated me in any way. We swam for free because everybody does! 

The new wheels 

  
With three kids, a big dog and another baby on the way it was about time we got ourselves a bigger car.  Once the baby arrives in January we won’t fit in the old Focus Estate. Actually we barely fit now. The dog wedges himself in the foot well under Iris’s seat because he will not go in the boot! 

  
It’s a twenty year old Mitsubishi Delica and has a fair few bumps and scratches, but it’s way cooler than any new people carrier. It’s a bit of a hippy wagon. We love it! 

It’s got 6 seats in the back, and the middle row turns right around so the kids can face each other! The windows are blacked out so nobody can see in, and it’s got air conditioning! The kids love it already and we haven’t even been anywhere in it yet. Being so high up takes some getting used to! 

I think it’s time to start planning some big van adventures! 

Warren Mill Farm Park

  She used to be obsessed with ducks, but Iris recently moved her attentions onto chickens. I think this is partly to do with an episode of Twirlywoos where they collect a whole basketful of eggs. It makes Iris run wildly around the room yelling ‘cluck cluck cluck!’  I previously thought there weren’t any little farms around here where I can feed her interest, and then somebody told me about this place. 

It’s in Cowbridge in the middle of nowhere, way off the beaten track and not accessible by public transport at all. This makes it an impossible place for us to visit while Trevor is working, but it’s a nice spot for a weekend family afternoon out. However it’s very near to Hendrewennol fruit farm, which is another place we love to visit. Not just for the fruit picking, but for the fantastic natural play area. Hendrewwenol is easier to find, but once you get near you start seeing ‘farm park’ signs. Mostly handmade ones with the writing made from duct tape. 

You’re greeted by animals before you even get inside. There are rabbits and chickens running loose around the car park. I’m not sure it’s intentional or a good idea. 

It’s very inexpensive to get in. It costs a tenner for all of us, and we usually give the kids some change to buy animal feed from the friendly guy on the gate. 

  

I’ll be honest, the whole place looks like the old guy on the gate knocked it up from some bits of wood he’s been keeping in his shed for years in case it one day becomes useful. I’m slightly worried now that this is what Trevor has planned for all the wood he’s hoarding. I do love the way the place seems so homemade though.

 
 Some of the animals don’t seem to even have enclosures, or anywhere in particular to live. There are several holes in the ground all around the place, and occasionally a prairie dog will pop up and wait until somebody feeds it. They’re so tame they will eat from your hands. This is the best thing ever according to Iris, who spends much of her time at home trying to force feed the cats with dog food. Actually, lots of the animals will eat from your hands. Goats, chickens, ducks and rabbits. Some of the loose (escaped?) animals will even chase you for it. 

  The only animals you can’t feed are the pigs. They have a big sign telling you not to. I can’t decide if it’s because the food isn’t suitable or because they’ll eat your hands. 

Once you’ve fed the smaller animals you cross a small bridge over a stream. There’s a little catering hut there. I can’t comment on it as we’ve only ever had ice lollies. They were pretty good though, and very cheap. There’s also a play area here. It’s mostly bikes and ride on toys, plus a couple of swings and a little slide. One of the kids put Iris on a swing last time we were there, and she fell off landing in a huge puddle of mud. She spent the rest of the visit running around in her nappy. Thankfully it was a warm day. 

  

Up behind the play area are the bigger animals. There are ponies, more goats, some sheep, alpaca (or llamas, I never know the difference) and a really big mean looking ram. There were tiny little pony foals there recently. So sweet! 

Despite being basic and frankly a bit strange in places, I highly recommend the place. We’ve had two fantastic visits and the kids have had the best time. It’s one of those places I think we’ll find ourselves visiting often, especially if Iris’s interest in animals continues. 

  

When it comes in more than threes. 

You know those little periods in life where lots of little things go wrong? Silly little frustrating things that don’t really matter but build up to leave you feeling exhausted and just a little bit pissed off? We had a few days like that. 

It started on Friday. Me, Trevor and Iris hopped on a train to Cardiff, then we split and went on our separate ways. Iris and I to Bristol, to spend a weekend with my mum. Trev to Cornwall, to pick up our new wheels and drive them all the way home. Iris was no trouble. She’s so used to trains now, it doesn’t really bother her. She watched Twirlywoos on my iPad and stood on the seat to have a dance. Trev’s journey was long but went smoothly. It was all going well. 

At Bristol Parkway I got off the train with a pushchair, my chubby one year old and three big heavy bags to be greeted by a sign informing me that all of the lifts were being replaced and were switched off. Great. They do have staff there to help you, but they also have a lot of steps! From the platform to the bridge, a nice man held the front of the pushchair and went up the stairs first. This meant I had the weight of Iris, the pushchair and all of our stuff. Ouch. My poor hips. On the stairs back down I was informed it’s their policy that they can only help with empty pushchairs. Strange how only some staff are following this policy! So he carried my empty and not particularly heavy pushchair while I carried Iris and three huge bags. Still, it could be worse. All wheelchair users were being redirected to Temple Meads. Miles away, and with very poor bus links. I’m not sure how they’re getting away with it. Is it even legal to run an inaccessible train station? And why wasn’t I informed on the train beforehand? 

Saturday went without a hiccup. We had a really quite lovely family day out. 

On Sunday our crap luck continued. 

Trevor had dropped the new van off at the valeters, and left it there overnight as he was very busy finishing the decking in the garden. On Sunday morning he walked down to pick it up to find it wouldn’t start. Flat battery. The valeters had left the lights on. They were closed. The garage next door was closed. He failed to get the battery off himself, and walked back home feeling a bit pissed off. Then one of his power tools broke too. 

Meanwhile, we were out for lunch in Bath before visiting my grandfather. After waiting a lifetime for our order to even be taken, the manager plonked a scolding hot plate of bangers and mash in front of Iris. Before we had time to react, she’d stuck a finger in the mash and had burnt herself. Half an hour later and she finally calmed down, and none of us had actually managed to eat our food. We did complain, but nobody really cared. Poor Iris. 

Then on the train home that afternoon, Iris lunged off her train seat to get a better look at a guide dog that had just got on. I had hold of her leg, but her face still hit the floor and one of her brand new teeth cut into her top lip. She sobbed for the next half and hour and covered us both in blood, but finally calmed down and ended up lying on the floor stroking the guide dog she’d so desperately wanted to meet. I didn’t calm down for a whole day or more. I felt like the world’s crappest mother ever. Poor kiddo.  

 
It didn’t stop there. On Monday Trevor picked us up from playgroup as he was in town collecting his new glasses, and as we were still and waiting to pull out of the car park, somebody drove into the side of the car. The old car, thankfully, and there is only a tiny mark. It terrified me though, as they hit the door next to Iris’s seat and the noise was worse than the impact. Trevor was furious, and the offending driver wasn’t even shaken up. In fact she wasn’t really bothered.  She complained to Trevor that it was a brand new car like it was his fault. 

Why do these things come in such big numbers? They may only be little incidences and not a big deal, but really, why so many all in one go? How many days have to go by before I can be sure we’ve got passed it? I’m almost scared to go out. 

I know this is silly. 

I’m just in so much pain, and I’m so tired. I’m determined I won’t be stopped by the SPD this time. It’s not fair on Iris. We may slow down slightly over winter, but I don’t want her to miss out on seeing friends and family and going to playgroups. So I just keep going. Thankfully I now have a prescription for some stronger painkillers and a referral for physiotherapy. I couldn’t convince doctors to give me either of those when I was pregnant with Iris, so it’s definitely an improvement. It is so hard not to let little things really get to you when you have been awake all night because you need a wee every five minutes and you feel all unbalanced and hormonal.