Caerphilly Castle


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*

It takes a village 

DSCF1482.JPGThat’s the saying, isn’t it? I think long ago parents did have a village, living close to their own parents and siblings and other members of the extended family. I often wonder how things would be different for me if I’d had my children in Bristol. I suspect my kids and my sister’s kids would spend a lot of time together. I imagine shared babysitting duties meaning we’d all get a bit more time off. I’d have my mum too, and my little ones would probably have sleepovers at her house the way my sister’s children do.

That’s not how it worked out for me though, and two years and five months into parenting I’ve just realised that I do have a village. Right here in the valleys.

Parenting can be isolating. I often wonder if I’d actually be happier if I had a job outside the home. Would the contact with other adult humans make me feel better? In reality, I doubt it. I have no idea what I’d do. I wouldn’t earn enough to cover childcare for two making it pointless from a financial point of view. Plus, I actually really do love that I can spend all of my days with my children until they go to school.

We’re good, me and my two, at getting out of the house. Between playgroups, going to the library, having lunch in a cafe occasionally and spending as much time as we can outdoors in all weathers, we don’t sit around the house much at all. Now that Iris is in nursery two mornings a week, I get some time alone with Astrid. I have some time alone with Iris during Astrid’s many naps. Things are calmer. We still have horrendous days when I just can’t cope with them at all (last Monday was a real bitch) but generally I’m not stressed out or struggling to get through the days.

Last week I went to see a show. Ballet and circus skills and beautiful music. It was so beautiful. It was written by a friend I met through breastfeeding group, and so many of us turned up for it. To support her. That’s when I realised that they’d turn up for me too. These wonderful women are my village. Some of them brought gifts when Astrid was born. A few offered to bring us cooked meals. One looked after our guinea pig when we were away. We’ve been away camping with some of them. They’ve passed on clothes and toys when they don’t need them anymore, and we’ve passed ours on too. We started a crochet club and taught each other.

More than anything though, I’m so grateful for them just being there. 

We set up a private Facebook group last year, with just a handful of mums in it. I know I can post about anything in there. Even if it’s just a little rant about lack of sleep, or advice about weaning or nappies or something. Somebody will reply. Every time.

You need other parents when you become a parent. Well, I did anyway. I was sure my current friends would do just fine after having kids, but actually I did need the ones who had kids more. You can’t understand the guilt or the worry or the love before your children come along. I thought you could, but you definitely can’t.

I know I’m not the only parent who quietly bubbles with anger when a childless person says they are tired.

You can’t bother your childless friends at 3am when your baby won’t sleep and you’ve worked yourself up into a bit of a state. At least one of your parent friends will be up anyway, in a similar boat. You can’t worry about breastfeeding, weaning, nappy rash, school applications, birthday parties, not being the weirdo mum at the school gate, teething or potty training with somebody without kids. You’ll just bore them to sleep. I know, because I used to be bored by parents and how much they talk about their little ones.

It’d be really  wonderful to have my mum, my sister, my best friends and their kids all on my doorstep. There have been so many occasions when I’ve longed for that, and even a few times when I’ve got overwhelmed and gone back for a bit of a break. I imagine I’ll always feel like that to some extent. Last week my closest friends ever made the drive over the bridge and hanging out with them and their little ones was just so great. I will always always wish we could do that more often.

But we can do it. Not every week because the trains are expensive and so is the bridge toll. But it is possible.

And even when we can’t, I have my new village now. A village within a town in the valleys of South Wales.

It feels like home.

A quick peek at Cefn Mably Farm Park 

This afternoon we found ourselves at the birthday party of one of Iris’s little buddies. I still can’t believe that so many of her friends are turning two, and that her turn is not very far away. We planned to go into the farm early, before the party, to have a bit of a wander around. It didn’t work out like that. We spent the morning at the outdoors playgroup Iris goes to once a month, then followed that with lunch in the supermarket. By the time we got to Cefn Mably and waited for Iris to wake from her van nap, the party was about to start. 

The big two spent some time exploring the big indoor soft play area while Iris partied with friends, but I didn’t even take a look. The kids seemed to enjoy it though. When the party finished we only had an hour before the whole park closed. We crammed quite a bit in! 

There are a lot of different animals to see! Iris is a real animal lover, and loves to chat away to them. She’s completely unaware that they don’t understand her. “Oh hello little horsey, you’re a nice horsey, your feet go nick nock nick nock”. They’re all really used to people and pretty much every species were at the fences, trying to get our attention. So late in the day, we had it almost to ourselves. I like it like that. 

There were pony rides too, but they’d finished for the day. Plus loads of play equipment. Even old farm equipment and tractors for kids to explore. The kids had a lot of fun swinging and sliding, but we just didn’t have enough time for them to do it all. 

Astrid was upset about the heat (it was scorching here today!) so I spent much of the time sitting in the shade trying to calm her down. Actually, I rather like being able to sit back and know that Iris can run and climb and she’s safe with her dad and sisters. That’s the best thing about the weekend! 

We’ll be back, with more time and better planning, and I’ll write a proper review of the place. So far, we love it! 

Cinderella pantomime review @RCTCouncil

We really really got lucky when Rhondda Cynon Taf Council invited us along to see this year’s pantomime, Cinderella, at The Coliseum Theatre in Aberdare. I’ll be honest, the main reason I was excited was because The Fairy Godmother is played by Claire Hingott who plays Nurse Cheryl in Stella, one of our favourite TV shows! In fact she mentioned her Sidekick in Stella, Mrs Wong, several times during the panto which really had us laughing!

I know panto isn’t everybody’s cup of tea, but I’ve always rather enjoyed it for what it is – a lot of fun! The best part of this particular one for me was how local the whole thing is. It’s like Cinderella set in the Valleys, with loads of mentions for local places. I’m still pretty new here,  but that didn’t matter and I got all of the local jokes.

I’m so glad we managed to go on a weekend when the big stepkids were with us, as they probably got the most out of it. Biggest kid is ten, and calls herself ‘the TENager’ so I wasn’t sure she’d admit to enjoying it but she lapped it up. Both big kids were quite taken with Buttons (played by Kit Orton who is soon to play Tom in the Tom Jones Musical!), and so was I. He was lively and hilarious, and had us all roaring over and over. He also had the best songs, according to the kids. The whole panto included lots of their favourite tunes actually, and I caught them dancing and singing along several times! Iris spent much of the first half dancing some questionable moves as well as stroking the poor man sat in front of her. She somehow slept through most of the second half, but as she’s rather poorly I’ll let her off.

The costumes were really something. I particularly liked Prince Charming’s tights and wondered if I could squeeze Trevor into a pair. The Fairy Godmother and Cinderella had wonderful sparkly gowns, but of course the best costumes went to the ugly sisters (played by Frank Vickery and Richard Tunley).  Biggest kid was gobsmacked by some of the things they wore, and said ‘Where do you even buy stuff like that???’ in disbelief! My favourite costume though, was one of Cinderella’s, that changed from rags to ball gown in one strange turning-inside-out sort of movement in the middle of a song and in the middle of the stage!

From start to finish, we danced and laughed and sang along. That is exactly what you want from a pantomime. Cinderella hits the nail on the head. The jokes were cheesy but funny, the dancing was perfect, and the songs were just right.

I’m finally starting to feel the Christmas joy now, thanks to this magical afternoon of fun and laughing. It’s a great big merry Christmas show, and it’s not to be missed!

There are only a couple more shows at The Coliseum in Aberdare before it moves over to The Park and Dare where lots of the performances are already sold out. A family ticket costs £48 and tickets can be purchased from the RCT Council website.

*Rhondda Cynon Taf Council gifted us some free press tickets for the purposes of this review, but all words and opinions belong to me and my family.*


The day we became sad Stella super fans. 

I live just a few miles away, on the other side of a mountain, from Ferndale. This small town is the home of many of the locations used in Sky One’s ‘Stella’. 

We’ve become a bit addicted to it lately. I started watching series one to pass the time one afternoon when Iris was asleep on me. We’re into series three now and still enjoying it. 

So, as we’re so close by, we decided to use our dog walk one Sunday to find some of the familiar spots from the TV series. 

Yes, we’re a bit sad. I know. 

Finding the house was easy. Not many streets end suddenly with a wall like this one does! My picture is a bit blurry as we passed by quickly. We didn’t want to annoy any of the residents. 

Next we decided to find the bench on the hill that the characters all use when they need some time to reflect. It was not an easy walk! Even if I wasn’t 30 weeks pregnant I still would have struggled, I’m sure. Poor Trev had to carry Iris up there and said his thighs were burning!  

On the TV they often walk the dog up here. Actually, in one episode Stella’s daughter even comes up here with a prom! It’s actually a good drive away to the bottom of this road. It would be a good couple of hours walk! We were disappointed to find that you can’t get to the exact spot as its inside a private farm, and there isn’t even a bench there! 

You can get pretty close though. This yellow grit bin here…

…is this one here.  

 You can see why they chose the spot. The views are really quite amazing! Especially when the Autumn sky is so clear and blue. It was definitely worth the trek!