Malice Through the Looking Glass

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I have never been to a “Murder Mystery” dinner, although I have always wanted to. I envisaged it being a Cluedo-type event with everyone sitting around a table in 1920’s costume being very serious, rather like a game of Dungeons and Dragons.

When I received an invite from a carers support group I belong to, to attend an Alice In Wonderland themed murder mystery, I was intrigued, to say the least. I managed to persuade my friend, Annamarie to go with me but sadly she drew the line at dressing up. Not so many of the other guests. I was absolutely blown away by some of the costumes.

The setting was Miskin Manor, a beautiful hotel/spa on the M4 turnoff near Talbot Green. I’ve passed the entrance many times but had never been there before. It really is a beautiful place.

When we first arrived I was impressed, but a little intimidated by a knot of folk in the most amazing costumes. At first, I thought they might be actors but they turned out to be guests just like us (only braver).

Inside, the dining room was the most impressive I’ve been in for a long time.

I didn’t take any photos of the tables because if you’ve seen one restaurant table you’ve seen them all, and to be honest these weren’t the most inspiring.

On each table, was a pamphlet containing all kinds of information. There were snippets, reports, advertisements and puzzles.

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Even as we were taking our seats, actors began mingling. The scene was the anniversary dinner for Queen Alice of Wonderland. We were all attending the celebration at which she was due to announce some new laws. The initial cast of characters

The Red Queen

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Alice

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Humpty Dumpty (head of the army)

I can’t believe I didn’t get a picture of Humpty who was a bigger queen than all the others combined 😀

Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum

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wandered around, totally in character, chatting and dropping hints that only became obvious later. I can recommend to anyone who attends one of these events to mark every single word, and never think they know who did it, or even who it was going to be done to, until the end.

I’m not going to spoil the surprise by telling you who died or who dunnit in case you ever go to see the show yourself, but I can say this. The clues were pretty clear, but we were led up the garden path so many times and slapped in the face with so many red herrings we ended up not being able to see the wood for walrus (who sadly was unable to attend).

Later in the evening, we were joined by the lovely White Queen, who had escaped from her watchers and come in search of fresh blood. If any man in the room had been safe from the Red Queen, he certainly wasn’t from her mother the White Queen.

20180420_202153.jpgThe plot was so thick I could have stirred my coffee with it – if I had a coffee. Tea and coffee were conspicuous by their absence. I’ve never been for a meal in a fancy restaurant where they haven’t offered tea or coffee afterwards. It was the tin hat on what had been a singularly uninspiring meal. To be perfectly honest, the meal was the blight on the proceedings. It is the only reason I might hesitate to go to another event there. I can’t recommend it as a pure dining experience for sure.

I had the vegetarian option which turned out to be what the Red Queen helpfully described as a “donkey dick”. Basically, it was a giant spring roll stuffed with some kind of slimy green sauce stuff and really weird mushrooms that had me worried the whole thing had been infected by an alien spore. I THINK they were Enoki. At least that’s the closest picture I can find. At first, I thought there had been a mistake and there was chicken in there, then I cut it open and I couldn’t eat any more. This is a case where trying to be fancy shot them in the foot.

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It would have been better if there had been more vegetables to compensate but all they had were two dishes, smaller than dinner plates, bearing carrots, extremely soft roast parsnips and very dry cauliflower cheese. This was between 7 people. There would have been nine, but two didn’t turn up. Again, this was the first time I have attended a dinner at a fancy restaurant where there weren’t plentiful vegetables and the option of more.

Dessert was sticky toffee pudding, which was okay until I choked on date skin. And then no coffee 😦

Thankfully, the wonderful players of Smoke and Mirrors

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took my mind of the distinctly lacklustre food and I was too absorbed into the story to really care much what I ate, a fact the establishment probably counted on because I can’t see them getting away with serving food like that very often. I even got talking to strangers which was a big step out of my comfort zone.

My one regret is that my social anxiety and awkwardness didn’t allow me to get as involved with the actors and my fellow diners as I would have liked, but that was never going to happen and the small steps I took was a big deal for me.

At the end, the best contribution by a guest was rewarded with a box of chocolates, and the best sleuth was awarded with a bottle of champagne. I’m pleased to report that we got the murderer and the murder weapon, but got a little skewed on the motive. It was a satisfying end to a wonderful evening.

After the performance wound down, the actors stayed around to chat generally and to have their picture taken. I was sorry to leave, but at least I didn’t try to rip the underside of my car off with the massive, stealthy sleeping policemen, as I almost did on the way in. Thank goodness for Ann’s eagle eyes.

I have to say that more lights and some signposts would have been nice as that place is not as easy to get out of as it might seem, but we made it back onto the A4119 in one piece, and from thence home. A good night was had by all and I am still buzzing. I want more!

For more information on Smoke and Mirrors, who also do bespoke (that’s made-to-measure for us commoners) events for parties of 10 to hundreds, in locations from castles to living rooms

http://www.hauntedmysteryweekend.co.uk/index.html

https://www.facebook.com/Smoke-Mirrors-531710810179136/

Past It

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A friend recently introduced me to the art of genealogy, and of course it’s become an obsession. Thanks to Ancestry.co.uk and Find My Past I’ve discovered a lot, not only about my family history, but the history of the valley where I live. The above photograph is the main street of my town in around 1910. The building on the right with the white columns is Barclays Bank which is the first place I worked after leaving school. It’s now a children’s day care center.

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Although there is evidence of occupation in the Rhondda since Neolithic times, and there is plenty of evidence for settlements throughout subsequent history, with an Iron Age hillfort, medieval earthworks, two castles and even an abbey.

Until the sixteenth century Penrhys, on a mountain overlooking where I live, was one of the holiest places for Catholic pilgrims in Wales. This was due mainly to the Holy Well. The well was originally a spring, sacred to the goddess Brigid, who is responsible for holy wells generally and healing in particular.

There is a legend that, at some point, a statue of the Virgin Mary appeared in a tree beside the well. No one was able to take it out of the tree until a building was erected to house it, so a little chapel was built where the statue was housed until 1538 when, during the dissolution of the monasteries it was taken to London and the chapter burned to the ground.

The chapel didn’t stay down for long and was rebuilt before of the end of the century where it remains to this day

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Near the chapel, higher up the mountain was a monastery which included a dormitory for travelling pilgrims. Although not technically a monastery in its own right, but a manor of the Cistercian abbey in Llantarnam, it became very prosperous, probably due to this enterprise.

It wasn’t until the discovery of coal during the industrial revolution that Rhondda really took of though. In 1801 it had a population of under 1000 people, by 1901 that had risen to over 100,000 with immigrants from all over Wales, the south of England and even Italy. There are still a fair number of Italian cafes and fish and chip shops scattered around. Italian ice cream is a particular favourite.

It seems as if most of my family come from either mid Wales or Somerset, its members migrating to the Rhondda during the heyday of the mining industry. The Somerset contingent were both coal and tin miners, while the Welsh contingent were farmers. One of my relatives by marriage was a warden at Brixham Prison in London, but by and large once we arrived in Rhondda we stayed here. From the start of coal mining in Rhondda to the very end, my family were miners.

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Contemporaneous reports compare the Rhondda to a “wild west” town, with mud streets and a godless population. Houses were cramped and close together with its characteristic terraces of miners’ cottages, one of which I live in today.

In the mid-eighteenth century a cholera epidemic swept through South Wales. The cramped and dirty conditions were an ideal breeding ground for the terrible disease. During the worst outbreak in 1842 over 50,000 people in England and Wales died.

The cholera epidemic was followed by a breakout of smallpox, so severe a separate isolation hospital was built in Penrhys in 1907.

Another illness which badly affected the valleys was influenza of which my great grandfather died in 1901.

John Hughes, John Robert Evans, John James Hughes Harold Yapp William Hughes

My great-grandfather, John James Hughes is the one in the center, with my grandfather, John Robert Evans is the good looking on to his right (our left). All of the men in this photograph were miners.

John Robert Evans

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One of the major causes of death among young men in Rhondda was coal mining accidents. The Senghenedd disaster in October 1913 killed over 400 men and wiped out families leaving women and children destitute. 60 victims were under 20 years old with some as young as 14.

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Due to the dreadful conditions of the “wild west” and the godless nature of the miners (although I suspect much had to do with encouraging the miners to work harder and suffer the conditions with a better grace) the valleys were ripe for evangelism and there were two “great” revivals, one in 1869 and a bigger one in 1904.

In the run up to the great revival my great grandmother’s brother, David Leyshon,  became an evangelist and in the late 1800’s, he travelled to Lancashire where, in the 1901 census his occupation is listed as “evangelist”. He returned to the Rhondda in 1904 after the tragic death, in a mining accident” of his brother William (23 years old). His wife, Annie, remained in Lancashire where their daughter was born in 1906. In the 1911 census, Annie was living alone with the children in Lancashire.

My father started work in the mines at 14. He’d been successful in obtaining an apprenticeship as a car mechanic but the family needed his income. As apprenticeships were unpaid he had no alternative but to turn to mining. He retained his love of cars all his life and spent a lot of time under the bonnet of a car, not always successfully to my mother’s annoyance.

My parents John Samuel  and Marion Evans, with my grandmother Mary Jane Hughes (wife of John Robert Evans) and aunt Audrey Olwen Evans (Leigh)

And then there was me

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