Caerphilly Castle

Advertisements

Dick Whittington! A night out at the panto. 

This time last year, Rhondda Cynon Taff council invited us along to see Cinderella, a pantomime at Aberdare’s Coliseum Theatre and we had an absolute ball. So obviously we were absolutely delighted to be given the opportunity again this year, and last night me and Iris went along. As we live just over the mountain from the village used as the set for Sky One comedy series ‘Stella’ we’re big fans, and a member of the cast has joined the panto again. This year it’s Di Botcher, or ‘Auntie Brenda’, playing Fairy Auntie Bobells. Frank Vickery returns as Sarah the cook, and Maxwell James is yet again the heart throb of the show as Dick Whittington. Johnny Tudor (also in Stella, as well as 3 episodes of Gavin and Stacey) plays Alderman Fitzwarren. For me though, the real star of the show is Ryan Owen as Tommy the cat who has the best costume, the funniest lines and great songs including Taylor Swift’s ‘Shake it Off’. 

The costumes are really incredible. Tommy the cat is clad in tight Lycra with fur, heavy make up and pointy ears. Dick Whittington looks great in his stripy leggings, and King Rat has very sinister glowing red eyes! The wildest costumes, as always, are reserved for the pantomime dame. Sarah the Cook has some really impressive costume changes that made me and the rest of the audience laugh out loud! Iris gave me a look after one costume change that clearly said ‘what on earth is she wearing?’. The crew of dancers changed often too, with my personal favourite being the super sparkly rat costumes with long bumpy tails. The scenery was beautifully painted, and the set looked great. There were many location changes and they were done so well. 

The best bits of any pantomime are the songs, and there were some really great ones. Iris’s favourite was a slightly altered version of the Paw Patrol theme tune, and mine was a hilariously chaotic version of ’12 Days of Christmas’ that left me exhausted just watching. The actors must be so tired from doing that every night! The story finishes with a happy ending, of course, and a song from Hairspray that really got us up and dancing. A strange coincidence as we’d watched Hairspray on TV earlier in the day. 

As an English person in Wales, I still find the accent and the way people speak really fascinating. The panto is extra amusing because most of the characters have a Welsh accent, even though it wasn’t set in Wales, and there were lots of references to local places that got everybody laughing. Even me, with my limited knowledge of the area. 

I think the crew of dancers were mostly the same ones as last year, and some of them look really very young. Being part of the panto must be such an incredible thing to do as a child! The routines were wonderful, and Iris spent as much of the evening as I would let her dancing in the aisle trying to copy the dance moves. She’s pretty groovy, my curly haired girl. Audience participation is such a big part of the show. Lots of booing and hissing was done, as well as plenty of “Oh no we didn’t”s. 

Having ice cream from our favourite place, Sub Zero, available in the interval was an extra bit of magic that we didn’t expect. We had an absolute blast, and it’s started the Christmas season of nicely. Pantomime is such a big Christmas tradition, and being able to share it with Iris is great. She’s been talking about last night’s ‘Christmas Show’ all day today so it’s obviously stick with her even though the story and jokes mostly went over her head. 

There are only a couple of shows left at the Coliseum before it moves to the Park and Dare in Treorchy. If you’re looking for a really Christmassy thing to do with your family in the local area then this is it. It really gets you in the mood for the celebrations! Tickets are available here, from the RCT Arts website, but hurry up because they are selling out fast! 

*We were invited along free of charge in exchange for an honest review. All words and opinions are my own. Picture credit to RCT Council*

Camping in the forest yet again…2016 

Both of my children are asleep. They’re asleep upstairs and not on my lap, and they were asleep by 8:30. It’s some kind of miracle, so despite not really being in the mood for it I’m going to blog. 

It’s the third year in a row that we’ve spent the last week of the summer holidays in a tent under a rain cloud in beautiful North Wales. Search ‘camping’ in my search bar, and you’ll see that this was also our third camping trip this year. I really don’t think you can beat it for a family get away. There’s nothing quite like ‘unplugging’ your kids for a while and seeing them roam among the trees and play with nature rather than toys and electronics! 

We originally went to Beddgelert in 2014 because Trevor had such fond memories of camping holidays there as a kid. It’s like a trip down memory lane for him every year, in a good way I think. Although he has muttered ‘oh wow I think I have become my dad’ several times this holiday! Mostly when he was bumping his head on the lamp. 

There’s no way we could currently afford a holiday and for the dog to stay in kennels for a week, so camping is ideal for us. It wouldn’t be a family holiday without stinky Seb anyway. He’s like one of the kids. We forked out for a cattery for Margot and Galahad and that cost a small fortune. Luckily Batpig went to stay with a guinea pig loving friend and got so much attention he looked quite glum about coming home. 

Of course it rained. It always rains. 

To be fair, it rains almost non-stop in North Wales whether we’re there or not. It does feel like the rain clouds follow us a little bit though. It’s like the mountains of Snowdonia have a climate of their own. I keep my iPhone weather app set to show me the weather in Blaenau Ffestiniog all year round, and even when the sun is shining brightly everywhere else, it’s still raining there. We do virtually the same stuff every year. This year we vowed to slow down a little, do a bit less. I think we achieved it. We didn’t leave camp until lunchtime any of the days, which meant we had time for breakfast, a shower, and for the big kids to wander off to the play area for a while. It was nice. It took the pressure off. 

We always have to visit at least one castle (last year we visited what felt like about 400 castles) and this year we managed two. My favourite two. 

Dolbadarn is my favourite by far. It’s not even a castle as such. Just the ruins of one tower, high in a hill over Llanberis. Trevor and the kids always insist on having a sword battle on the steps, complete with chain mail costumes and wooden swords. You used to be able to go halfway up the spiral staircase in the tower, so it was a surprise to find out that you can now go all the way up to the top. Although this discovery did almost cause Trevor to die of shock, when the biggest kid climbed right up there and shouted “I’ve climbed right to the top!”. His “get down right now!” squeal gave away how frightened he was. He thought she’d jumped the barrier and was walking around the top of the walls! Actually you come out of the top of the staircase in a safety cage so you can’t fall off. It’s a pretty amazing view! 

Actually, as much as I like Dolbadarn, I like Llanberis for the park and the lake. We started our visit in Pete’s Eats, a pretty famous climber cafe near the start of the Snowdon path. It does pretty standard fried breakfast type food, but the kids love it there. It was slightly less fun this year as we were constantly bothered by wasps! Then we head to the lake. Seb is first to jump in, but Iris is quick to strip off and jump right in behind him. She started off paddling in pants and shirt, but it was only moment before she fell right in! It was absolutely freezing, but she doesn’t seem to feel it! After the dog and the kids had a paddle, we stopped by the play area for a while before hiring a row boat. I volunteered to look after Seb on the bank (which was a pretty easy job because he swam out and followed the boat around!) so that I could enjoy some rare sunshine while Astrid snoozed on me. Iris was chuffed to bits with her bright orange life jacket, but didn’t last long in the boat before they had to row back in and drop her off. Iris put on a performance of ‘acrobats’ in the bandstand to finish off a nice trip. 

My second favourite castle is Harlech, and I’ve never even been inside. 

This is because the dog isn’t allowed in, and somebody has to sit outside on the grass drinking takeaway coffee in the sun using the snoozing dog as a pillow. Without any kids. That somebody is me. Poor me. My short break outside Harlech castle was spoiled a bit this year by a loud and angry man who sat by me and shouted at somebody on the phone. Trevor and all four kids were having a great time inside though. Trevor was wearing Astrid in a sling, which meant Iris had to walk around and she handled it pretty well with a bit of help on the narrow spiral staircases. We followed up the castle visit with ice creams with flags in the top. 

The other thing we really love to do while we’re in North Wales is to travel around by steam train. Camping in the Forest is a great campsite for this, as it actually has a steam train station in the campsite! Our pitch was right by the station this year, which meant we had an excellent view of passing trains and we spent rather a lot of time waving at strangers as the trains chugged by. We caught the train from our tent to Beddgelert one afternoon, then visited Gelert’s Grave and had dinner in the Saracen’s Head before walking back in the dark. Iris rode on Trevor’s shoulders and decided that wearing a torch on your head is the most exciting thing ever for a two year old. 

I highly recommend the Saracen’s Head if you’re ever in the area. It’s hard to find somewhere that is accepting of toddlers, babies, noisy children and a wet muddy dog. The food is excellent too. I could eat the veggie burger every day and not get bored. The kid’s menu is great, and the desserts are just delicious. 

Our other favourite place to eat is Tan y Bwlch train station. We drove to Blaenau Ffestiniog, where Iris got upset and could only be cheered up by spending her pocket money on a wooden cat called Gringo in a lovely shop called This and That. We had a long wait for the train so got cakes and milkshakes for the kids in a cafe, before strolling over to the station and finding a carriage. This is our third year, yet Seb’s still not keen on the trains. He settles once he’s on, but he stays under the seat and won’t look out of the window. Iris is the opposite, and it’s a big job just to make sure she keeps her hands and head inside the window! As well as great food, Tan y Bwlch station has a little train themed play area. Although they’ve enjoyed it in previous years, the novelty of it is wearing off for the bigger two. Which is a shame in a way as Iris has just reached an age where she really appreciates a good play area. Once we’ve eaten and had a play, we like to head down the hill to the lake. Another lake! Guess what Iris wanted to do? 

The biggest kid insisted on actually changing into a bikini and getting in. Why don’t kids feel the cold? A little while later we had a bunch of wet shivery kids and only a few minutes to get back for the last train! We’re that sort of family. The kind that leaves everything to the last minute, but it’s usually because we’re too busy having fun.

We made a decision to use our last whole day as a campsite day. We’d have to walk the dog but we wouldn’t take the van anywhere or go anywhere specific. It was lucky we hadn’t planned much because the rain was absolutely torrential. It had kept us awake all night and it was relentless until mid afternoon, when it finally eased up. Everything was drenched. We hung out in the tent quite a bit, but the rain was so loud we could barely hear each other, and we were a bit worried it’d continue into the next day and we’d have to pack the tent away in it! We finally decided we’d just have to face it, so we all put our waterproofs on. We were one pair of trousers short, so poor Trevor had to brave the downpour in his jeans. We took the long forest walk and ended up walking all the way into Beddgelert. I had Iris in my back in a carrier. She was wrapped up really warm and in waterproofs, and she slept for most of the walk. In Beddgelert the kids spent the last of their holiday pocket money in a gift shop, and then we headed back the short way. On arrival back at the campsite, most of our waterproof gear had failed and we were all drenched through. Iris was still in my back but was looking pale and was shivering! I thought we’d made her poorly with our daft walk in the rain and I felt so guilty. I took her straight to the shower block, stripped her off and put her under the warm water. Iris has only just got over her fear of showers, but she would not be convinced to get out and get dressed! She just kept pressing the shower button again and again while I waited. Not long after she returned to her usual colour, she decided to get out. Immediately she began to shiver again, so I wrapped her up and we snuggled under the covers in bed for a while. She was fine once she warmed through, although both her and Astrid developed a cold the next morning! And that was that. One last meal at the Saracen’s Head, one last night, and one more breakfast in the forest. Time to pack up. We were all a bit gutted. Actually, we’ve been back over a week and I’m still gutted. I’d been anxious about taking Iris away when she’d just decided she doesn’t wear nappies anymore. She had quite a lot of accidents because she didn’t really know where she was or where she could go to the loo. We carried a potty everywhere with us and she did use it a lot. However, it turned out to be a very good time and place for her to learn. Her accidents all happened outdoors, mostly on the forest floor! I’m already looking forward to next year. It’ll be the best one yet, I reckon! Astrid will most likely be walking, and Iris will be three! It’ll be the week before she starts at school, and the week before the biggest kid moves to high school. How exciting! 

A tale of two trips

I think it’s unlikely that anybody will ever accuse me of putting forward a Pinterest-perfect life. I don’t even use a camera and I have no idea what a flat lay is. Besides, most of what I write is about how badly I cope with life in general, and parenting too. This is another of those. Sort of.

On the advice of Cardiff Mummy Says (check out the stuff to do in the summer holidays posts! So useful!) I took Iris and Astrid to National Museum Cardiff yesterday. And again today actually. But not because we had too much fun yesterday and couldn’t wait to go back. Nope. Yesterday, in typical Mouse family style, was a complete disaster.


I’m not even going to go there really. I don’t want to revisit it. Let’s just say Astrid screamed. A lot. All day long actually. On the train, in the pushchair, in the sling, during lunch. All day. We went to the museum but we only really saw the foyer. Oh, and we bumped into a friend of mine and I couldn’t even talk to her because I was a flustered mess and on the brink of tears. So that was nice. The only positive of the day was when the kids finally fell asleep and I caught a Pikachu. Yep. I’m addicted to Pokemon Go. That was on the way home.


So why would I put myself through it all again?

I don’t know. Because I’m not particularly sensible? I’m a sucker for punishment?

Well Iris was a bit gutted she didn’t get to see ‘Superworm’ and Trevor convinced me I was brave enough. I wasn’t.

I mentioned the whole thing to friends at toddler group this morning, and before I knew it we were all on a train. Four mums and five kids. I had backup. I had a TEAM now. I was brave enough after all.

Astrid was happier today. She napped early and Iris napped too. I arrived with well rested babies, and that makes the world of difference.

We had the best time. Especially Iris. Her favourite part was the worm exhibition, in particular the little house that feels like being a worm underground. There were windows containing other underground creatures, and predators peering down from holes above your head. The fox was quite sinister looking. I don’t fancy being a worm.

Iris, in her usual style, embraced the whole experience and even got into the worm and caterpillar costumes to wriggle about for a bit. She was squealing with excitement at the animals all around, and was extra excited by any animal that features in The Gruffalo’s Child. A tiny stuffed mouse was THE BIG BAD MOUSE, and the fox prompted her to recite a big chunk of her favourite book. Another of her favourite books, Superworm, was available to read in a little book corner with a shelf full of stories about worms and other wriggly creatures. We spent a while in there on the cushions. A relief for me, because I’m constantly exhausted.

 

The exhibition is really great! I hope we can get back and see it again soon. I actually learnt quite a bit too. I had no idea there was a worm called the Bone Eating Snot Flower, for example. But I’m glad to know now. Our friends dashed off, but with nowhere to go I followed Iris as she wandered around some of the other exhibits. I’m sure we only saw a small chunk of the museum as we walk slowly and linger for ages at the interesting stuff. A tree with a stuffed owl inside, whale bones, sparkly rocks, hairy dinosaurs, a huge screen showing volcanoes erupting. So much to see.

 
Plus the cafe is quite nice.

We’ll be back, for sure. And not just because Bute Park is full of Pikachus. On the way back to the train station I decided to treat myself and Iris to an ice cream. Astrid stole mine. As usual.

A little trip to Cardiff Bay

There’s not much that Iris likes more than all the different forms of transport at the moment. Wherever we go she’s squealing “look mummy, a plane/van/lorry/some other vehicle”. Luckily the narrow street we live on is not only a bus route, but also leads to lots of farms so we get a lot of passing tractors! When my mum suggested we get the train to Barry with my very pregnant sister and my little niece and nephew, Iris was excited. As we waited for them at Treforest station yesterday morning the sky was grey and it kept drizzling, so we decided to head somewhere other than the beach. Cardiff Bay is the obvious choice. Easily accessible by train, tons to do, and Techniquest to play in if the weather gets really bad. By the time we’d got off the train at the bay though, it was perfect beach weather. Oh well. For Iris, the train journey is the best bit of the day anyway so weather is unimportant! 


There’s a ‘beach’ set up in the bay at the moment, with a splash pool, huge sandpit and loads of fairground rides. The kids are all a bit little for most rides, but my mum took them on a couple. I was surprised Iris liked them. She quite often asks to go on those little rides outside supermarkets, but then starts crying when they start moving. Maybe seeing her cousins enjoy it gave her confidence? I hope so! I love seeing the three of them interact and play together. Soon Astrid will be old enough to play too, and then my sister’s new baby will join in. It is difficult to imagine day trips like this with five of them running around! Just these three were exhausting. Why do they always want to run in different directions? The only time they stayed still was during lunch, and they spent most of that hiding from each other in a storage cupboard belonging to the hot dog bar! 

Being 37 weeks pregnant, my sister needed frequent loo stops. Starbucks was an obvious choice, and the kids all enjoyed a babyccino. My nephew did enjoy it and was first to finish, despite what the look on his face says! 

When we visited Cardiff Bay on Iris’s birthday we took a boat trip round to Bute Park, so we decided to do that again. That boat wasn’t leaving for half an hour though, so we jumped on a different one. It took a 45 minute guided tour of the whole bay, and the views were lovely. The kids did a bit of boat and duck spotting. Me and my sister tried to resume our games of Pokemon Go (Cardiff is so much better than Pontypridd for Pokemon!) but it didn’t really work on the water. It just looked a bit weird! 

The boat took us back to the exact spot it left from and we went for another wander. Carrying some weird blue dolls they won on Hook a Duck, Iris and my niece spotted not an ice cream van but an ice cream bus! We’ve chased the ice cream van down our street enough times for it to be familiar to Iris, and she was very excited. Her chocolate cone was gone before the rest of us had barely started, and she finished off my nephew’s blue bubblegum one too. Greedy little thing! Astrid ate most of mine. You have to share everything when you’ve got kids! Not fair! 


Then the day was done. We squeezed in to a really overcrowded train back to Cardiff, then another one back to Treforest. My family all headed off home to Bristol while Trevor picked us up. It wasn’t much, but it was a great day for us. We don’t see my family even close to often enough, and I miss them so much. Seeing the little cousins play together is my favourite thing. I can’t wait for there to be five! 

Our family photo shoot with Sweet Whimsy Photography

IMG_5547.jpg

After writing our our #sweetsummerchallenge summer to-do list, we arranged to meet up with the lovely Donna of Sweet Whimsy Photography for one of her out in the wild photo shoots. I’ve never been a big fan of a studio photo shoot. They make me feel nervous and then I can’t manage a natural smile. The little ones are the same. I took them for a studio shoot quite recently and Iris went all shy while Astrid got upset. They managed one decent photo but neither kid is smiling. It was good enough for a grandparent’s mantelpiece, but not the kind of picture that brings back memories and makes you feel warm inside. For that you need to capture kids in their own natural environment, doing what they do best. The great outdoors!

We headed to Hendrewennol Fruit Farm near Cardiff to tick strawberry picking off our summer bucket list. It’s a favourite of ours, and a place we often pop into after a visit to the nearby Warren Mill Farm Park. As well as fruit fields, they have a lovely play area and the coffee is pretty good too. Donna had never been before, but was happy to meet us there and I’m pretty sure she’ll be going back with her own daughter!

Iris really got stuck in. Once we convinced her to only pick red ones and not the green ones, she filled her basket pretty quickly. It was a damp drizzly sort of Saturday morning, but we’ve never been the sort of family to let the weather hold us back. Even Astrid was happy to sit on (and eat!) the wet grass, and she really enjoyed her first taste of strawberries. You’re not really supposed to eat them until after you leave, but Astrid is too little to read the signs! It didn’t take long for the little ones to completely forget that Donna and her camera were there. I’m pretty sure Trevor had forgotten too. If I wasn’t so self conscious I could have done the same, but cameras pointed at me make me feel nervous! I needn’t have worried. I don’t look nervous and I’m pretty pleased with the shots of me. I have to admit that my favourites are the images of Trevor and Iris, who were having a really great time together!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The big two kids were in Lanzarote with their mum, lucky things, so they couldn’t be a part of the shoot. It’s a huge shame, but we’ve already decided that we’ll be doing another shoot with Donna in the future and they’ll be included next time. I think we’ll wait until Astrid is walking, so that they can be captured all running together.

I highly recommend Sweet Whimsy Photography if you’re in South Wales and want a family photoshoot that’s a little bit different!

*Donna photographed us for the purpose of this post and for images for her website/blog. We weren’t charged for the shoot.*

Our summer bucket list with #sweetsummerchallenge and Sweet Whimsy Photography

I was recently put in touch with Donna Loring of Sweet Whimsy Photography, a family photographer based nearby in South Wales who is challenging families to write a to do list for summer and then get outdoors and do all the fun stuff! I’m a big fan of a list. Especially a fun list! Definitely preferable to my usual stuff-to-do-around-the-house list. I set to work straight away writing a list, and in the few weeks since we’ve actually managed to do quite a few of these already! It’s been a lot of fun!

Go camping with friends

Splash in the sea

Search rock pools for creatures

Eat chips on the seafront

Go strawberry picking

Paddle in a lake

Climb a mountain

Go geocaching

Walk the dog in the woods

Visit Castell Coch

Take a boat bus from Cardiff Bay

Visit the splash park

Have a picnic

Pop bubbles in the garden

Build sand castles

Ride on steam trains

Camp in the forest

Visit the lido

Fly kites

Wander around a harbour

Painting in the garden

Play in the paddling pool

Have a BBQ

Visit Folly Farm

So if you’re finding yourself stuck for ideas when you wake up on these summer holiday mornings, try sitting down with your family and writing a similar list. Join in by tagging blog posts and pictures with #sweetsummerchallenge on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. For more information and some great free print outs and ideas head to Donna’s page here and sign up!

Pop back here tomorrow and I’ll be sharing the wonderful photographs from our shoot with Donna!