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/

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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.

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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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Bye Bye Christmas

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So, it’s over. All the hype, the stress, the rushing around. All the glitter and fakery and terrible films. All the smiles and “Merry Christmas”‘s. All the friends and family (well, they’re still there but let’s face it we only make the effort at Christmas).

I love Christmas. I mean really love everything about it. I love watching cheesy Christmas films, all the tinsel and glitter, even my least favourite jobs of writing cards and wrapping presents. It’s all part of the excitement, the sheer joy of living a little faster, a little brighter, a little more social.

And now it’s over.

I am sunk in the post Christmas melancholy that always starts a new year for me. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not unhappy or depressed, just a little sad, a little listless, a little wistful.

I’ve been very lucky in that all my Christmases so far have been good ones. There has always been enough of everything – presents, food, good company. My decorations are cherished and all hold pleasant memories. Even my cats sit and stare at them sometimes, without feeling the need to mess with them. Well, one of them did pee on the wrapping bag a year or two ago but I’m sure people didn’t mine their wrapping paper smelling slightly of cat urine.

The prospect of taking down the trimmings is a daunting one. There’s a lot of work involved and it’s not as rewarding as putting them up. Having said that, I will enjoy the memories as I pack and January is about the only time I ever feel my house is relatively uncluttered. That’s what comes of being someone with a lot of “stuff” in a tiny cottage.

I’m not a hoarder by any means (at least that’s what I tell myself) but when you add up the books, the witchy stuff and a seventeen-year-old son there’s not a flat surface in the house that isn’t crowded.

Looking back on this Christmas, I’ve had some lovely times. In the run-up we went Christmas shopping twice with friends (to Cwmbran and Chepstow, both of which pleasantly surprised me), visited Winter Wonderland (which was a complete bust for reasons), watched far too many cheesy films, and filled the house with beautiful things.

I even tried my hand at making some beautiful things as a craft project for a friend.

We spend Christmas Eve with my daughter and her housemate and had such a great time. We were royally spoiled with a feast that would have fed an army (to be technically correct it would have to be a really small one, who wouldn’t mind living for a while on a handful of Pringles and a sausage roll, but the point is there was more than enough for us).

We played Cards Against Humanity and Truth Bombs which turned out to be not as shocking as we thought it might. It seems we all know each other too well. We played the same game the following day and it didn’t turn out quite as well. (sorry Linda for starting the complaining thing).

On Christmas Eve we picked up my cousin’s son who stayed with us until Boxing Day. His mother joined us Christmas Day. What a brilliant Christmas Day! Not only did we have great company but my son cooked Christmas Dinner and it was spectacular.

Efan likes to cook. Mostly, he likes to bake but when he cooks his attention to detail has ensured there has been very little we’ve been unable to eat, if anything. For Christmas Dinner this year he decided, instead of the purely traditional he would make a “Winter Veil Feast” from his World of Warcraft Cookbook, followed by cinnamon and butterscotch pie inspired by the PC game, Undertale.

Think herby turkey cooked in cider with rough-chopped onion and…stuff. (I wasn’t allowed to interfere so don’t know the details. I do know that we bought more alcohol this Christmas than I have for years and most of it was for ingredients). Add apple and pear stuffing made with wholemeal bread, honeyed carrots, and the usual Christmas vegetables and you have an amazing feast. There was one slight hitch with the gravy, as I’ve never explained to him that in order to activate cornflower you have to heat the liquid, but fortunately we all like thick gravy.

The pie was to die for and we even had snow cookies later on in the day. None of us had any complaints I can assure you.

On Boxing Day, Efan enjoyed another Christmas with his father, and his step-family, and I spent an entire day eating crap and watching films on Efans mahoosive monitor that he’d brought down as we don’t have a television. Somehow my film watching developed a drag queen theme and I was introduced to Cherry Pop and Too Foo Wong and revisited an old favourite The Adventures of Priscilla Queen of the Desert. To keep my foot in reality I also watched Transamerica which I’d never heard of but absolutely adored.

My greatest regret about this Christmas is that I’ve been too ill to socialise as much as I planned and wanted. I’d planned to visit family I don’t see often, including my sister and niece, but I just wasn’t well enough. I’m still not. I think I’m going to have to stagger visits over the next couple of weeks. I’m so sick of being sick and good health absolutely tops the list of my hopes for 2018.

Later in the week, we had another fabulous day with our friends, and later still a cinema trip with my daughter to see The Greatest Showman. Man what a film. It’s old style musical at its best. Okay, it’s been pointed out that as a social commentry it’s wanting and the “freaks” could have been given a bigger role, but at the end of the day it was meant to be pure entertainment and what lessons it has to teach are secondary rather than of primary concern. I am unashamed and unapologetic to announce myself totally fangirl about the film.

This was my daughter’s “unicorn shake” from our dinner at TGI Fridays after the show. It was so amazing we had to photograph it for posterity.

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New Years Eve was spent with my ex and his new family, and given I really wasn’t in the party mood, we ended up having a brilliant time. I really struck lucky in that department. When my ex started seeing the lady who became his wife all I hoped for was that she would be good to my son, I never thought I was about to gain a whole new family. I’m forever thankful, especially as Stacey had promised to include me in the granny flat with her mother when I’m too old to take care of myself. Not that she has a granny flat yet but I’m still hopeful.

And now we’re back to reality, with only a few days left before it’s back to the normal grind of everyday life. I’m hiding in my bubble for just a few days longer with the prospect of a Lord of the Rings/Hobbit marathon still to look forward to.

So that’s about it for my stellar Christmas this year. As I wave goodbye to the sparkle and glitter, start thinking about taking down the trimmings and saving for next year, I can say bye bye and thanks for the time of my life.

 

Here’s to next year. There are only this many sleeps to Christmas.

 

Holidays at Hogwarts

Last weekend we went on a trip to London, to the Werner Brothers studio tour of “The Making of Harry Potter”. It’s the third time we’ve been, but this time was quite different. It was “Hogwarts in the Snow”. Many of the exhibits were the same, but many had been transformed. It was so wonderful I almost don’t have words to express 😀

There were five of us this trip. Lori, my daughter, Hannah, her housemate, Efan, my son, his friend Seren and me. Of the entire group, only Hannah isn’t autistic and how she puts up with us I’ve no clue.

On arrival at the studio, you go into a lobby from which opens the shop, the restaurant and the entrance to the attraction. The lobby is surrounded by posters of the cast at various stages of their development but is usually empty.

 

This time, however, there was a wonderful addition

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“Honeydukes” the main shop at HP is an amazing place. I was utterly blown away right from the first time by the fact that there is just as much detail and just as many treasures here as in the experience itself. The chocolate frogs are gorgeous. This, too has had a facelift for Christmas

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The great hall also had an amazing facelift with this

 

Becoming this

 

Many of the tableaus and set interiors had Christmas Trees or other trimmings. I didn’t take as many photographs as I should have, but here are a few of the interiors, both decorated and not.

 

One thing that I particularly liked this time that wasn’t here before was the little demonstrations throughout the exhibition. For example there was one about wigs

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and there was one about snow – how different types of snow, made from different materials (such a plastic, glitter, paper and silicone) were used for different effects.

All my favourites were still there, such as the wall of paintings with a video that explained how the effects of the moving subjects were achieved, and the interesting piece of information that members of the production team were models for quite a few of the paintings.

Being a geek, I particularly enjoyed the videos about make up, animatronics and special effects. I even like to browse the technical drawings.

 

One thing that caught my eye in the wardrobe department were these anime-like sketches of Ron and Harry.

 

An addition for this year, that I haven’t seen before is the Enchanted Forest, which is not for those afraid of spiders

 

At the very end of the exhibit is a 1/25 scale model of the entire castle. It absolutely fascinated me from the very start, and I spent ages looking at all the videos about how it was built

 

 

However, this was nothing to what it was this time and I will leave you with the breathtaking image of Hogwarts in the Snow!

 

Safari

So, we went on a trip to West Midland Safari Park with an Asperger Support Group. It was…interesting.

We usually go on these trips with our friends Annamarie, Taylor and Isabelle, and this one was no different. Another thing that was no different was my inability to actually get anything done in the mornings. This time I had extra things to do, like making sandwiches and packing a bag so it was bloody chaos.

Financially, things were dire as there had been a mix up with Efan starting college and the tax credits were down to one third. this was unexpected so I hadn’t been able to prepare and we were therefore skint. Usually, when we go on day trips we eat there or at the services. This time, we had to tighten our belts and we packed a bag with goodies – eventually.

Surprisingly, we weren’t late arriving at the bus. We weren’t even that last which was heartening for a good start to the day. The coach was only half filled so we even had a double seat to ourselves which, when you’re both as big as Efan and myself, is bloody lovely.

Finally able to relax, I had a good journey and was well up for it by the time we arrived. There was a bit of faffing about which got the organizer a bit stressed but then the magic moment arrived and we drove through the gates into the safari.

We started on quite a high note, with the rhino’s. It seemed to be a little family group and one of the youngsters was clearly having a beef with Dad. Sadly, I didn’t manage to get a picture of them ramming each other, but they make a pretty handsome family in any event.

Through a gate, we found ourselves in a crazy situation. Apparently, if in a car, you can obtain animal food in order to feed some of the animals. Oh, imagine what a better world it would be if only you were permitted to feed the tigers. (In other words imagine how much better it would be without the kind of people who would try) Anyway, back to reality. Cars had stopped all over the place – some on the grass, some on the verges, and some diagonally across the road – yes people were that inconsiderate.

Some animals were having a great time, as were their human feeders.

Then there was this guy

He’s the one in the back. Notice the evil eye; the way he’s looking at that car. A short while later, we drove past him and just as we did so, he took a run and slammed full tilt into the side of the car. (It was the car directly behind the one seen in the picture). At the time, a little boy was leaning out of the back window and a tiny little girl, sitting on her father’s lap was pretty much dangling out of the front. I apologize. I was shocked to shit and didn’t think to photograph.

I have no idea if the little boy’s arm was hit. I didn’t hear a wail so I figure he pulled back in time. It must have scared the hell out of him, though. The car was dented to hell with a deep gouge from his horns. And the little girl? I would like to say that father immediately dragged her inside and closed the window, but sadly no. He pushed her even further out in order to be able to lean out and look at the goat himself. Two words. Tiger feeding.

We then embarked on a two and a half hour drive in blazing heat, on a coach filled with autistic children, where the majority of time we were simply queueing with no animals in sight. The children were great, but I was bored to tears. We did get to see some animals though.

I didn’t like the elephants. They did this kind of dance. I think you can see a little that the one with his back to us is doing it – kind of swaying and kicking his leg out. There was also a moment when I thought they were going to rush at the coach. I don’t know what that was all about. I know animals “dance” through stress and mental illness when kept in captivity but this was a little family and the enclosure was huge. Be that as it may, it made me feel sad and uncomfortable.

The camels, on the other hand, were hilarious. They were so over us. They made sure we were aware that they were bored with visitors now and if they really had to walk past us let alone look at us, we had pretty well better think ourselves damn lucky. They would just walk slowly in front of you, pause for a while making sure you knew you were going nowhere until they decided you could, then amble off. The ate everything, and I mean everything – grass, camel food, a radio ariel, a hat.

Some of the biggest attractions are the white tigers and white lions. They were absolutely beautiful animals but the fields in which they grew the fucks they gave to visitors were, and always had been, barren. Nevertheless, I did enjoy seeing these beautiful creatures. It was hilarious as well, hearing a father telling his daughter about how the male lion looked after all his “wives” and killed animals to feed them and the cubs. Er yeah, that’s right – not. I badly wanted to tell the poor girl that it is, in fact, the lionesses who do the hunting while the lions sit around looking pretty and having homosexual relations with he other lions when they’re not fighting for dominance. THAT would have opened her father’s eyes sure enough.

The blue bonnet you can see is that of a very unfortunate car that broke down in the middle of the white lion exposure. The family inside seemed very nice, if rather shaken, and definitely did not try to feed the lions.

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The giraffes were a complete hoot. They seemed really at home with humans, cars and all. They look a bit weird when they walk, ungainly, but they are the sweetest things and actually seem to be enjoying themselves. Sadly, by the time we got to where they were, they’d moved off so I never got any photographs of them playing, so this is the only snap I have,

The cheetahs were my second favorite (behnd the penguins) There were two enclosures, one on either side of the wooden fence and the cheetah’s form one side seemed to be talking to the others through the fence. Who knows, maybe they were.

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I wish I had a better picture of the stag. He was a magnificent beast,

These are called “painted dogs”. I think they’re a kind of hyena and they’re super cool, I love them.

Last but not least, the ostriches and my personal favourites the penguins. Rather than photographs, I have videos of the penguins but I cant post them on here.

When we finally got out from the safari, we went into the part. Efan and Taylor went off to play and I can’t believe what they got up to. My boy who had never been on a fairground ride in his life (pretty much) got hooked and he turned into an adrenaline junkie. The very fact that Efan had such an amazing day with his friend made this the very best trip I have ever been on. I slept all the way home.

Holiday

I’ve just come back from holiday, and what a holiday it was! There have been points when I thought the whole holiday was doomed, or cursed or something.

Over the past four years or so, we’ve been going on holiday each summer with a good friend I met through an Asperger Support Group, and her children. Apart from early teething problems between Efan and Taylor (two boys of similar age in a caravan was always going to be a little difficult) things went smoothly as did subsequent holidays. I can honestly say they have been some of the best holidays of my entire life (apart from the one in Pontins, of which the least said the better).

Last year’s jaunt to Tintagel was magical – literally, as we went to the Witchcraft Museum in Bodmin, and loved it – and I thought it would be very hard to top. It was, but this year we managed it.

The decision to go to North Wales was prompted by Annemarie as a nostalgic trip after a twenty-year gap. We have reasonably similar tastes, and I wasn’t reluctant to settle on moving northwards this year, especially as I have fond memories of our trips to Angelsey when Lori lived there. We got together over coffee and Chinese and found a lovely cottage in Blaenau Ffestiniog.

All was well until a few weeks ago when we were informed without ceremony that the holiday cottage had been sold and our holiday cancelled. Thank you very much! I since discovered that one family was actually asked to leave half way through their stay when the house was sold. I can’t believe anyone would be so callous or so stupid. A cautionary tale there folks. Whether legal or not, and it’s clearly a breach of contract, especially for those who’d already started their holiday (incidentally, they were German and therefore left stranded in a foreign country), it’s often more trouble than it’s worth to fight.As it was, the sale was propitious for us because if Haulfryn hadn’t been sold, we would never have discovered the amazing house we actually stayed in, in Porthmadog.

As it was, the sale was propitious for us because if Haulfryn hadn’t been sold, we would never have discovered the amazing house we actually stayed in, in Porthmadog.

The second booking was somewhat rushed and happenstance, in that we were originally looking at somewhere else, which had filled up while we were thinking about it and was no longer available. Frantic searching led us to Manns (www.cottagesinwales.com/) and Snowden Street in Porthmadog. The photographs looked too good to be true, but we booked and we were all set again.

We had to return home one day early for Efan to attend his college enrollment, so we made the rather ill-conceived decision to extend the holiday by one day the other end, and take a trip to Legoland Windsor, something we’ve been talking about for a while. Why, in the name of all the Gods did I ever think that might be a good idea? Not only did I volunteer for a day of driving and walking (my body sure did thank me for THAT – NOT!!) but I crammed just about everything Efan hates most into one hot, loud, bright, crowded, intense day. Yay me. No “Mother of the Year” award this year.

Day 1: Friday: Legoland

Yeah, it was something of a disaster, although not everything was truly awful. I have to admit that it’s an amazing place. They truly have something for everyone, from rides, to education centre, to miniature (and lifesize) models, to shops, restaurants, cafes, photo opps, shows, entertainment, lots of colour and lovely staff. The place is huge and the attention to detail astonishing. If you like places like Oakwood, Alton Towers and Disneyland, or if you’re a fan of Lego, Lego movies or just the weird and wonderful, this is the place for you.

Day 2: Saturday: Driving There

After a good night sleep in a basic hotel, we got back in the car and headed for North Wales. Ungh. Seven hours later, we arrived and I fell out of the car and cried. Well no, I didn’t but that’s what I felt like doing. Damn it was a long drive. We did stop off at a lovely little pub in…err…somewhere and had a fab meal, then detoured into Bala for petrol and for the first time in my entire life was served petrol at the pump. That was an experience that was well worth the detour. It was a freaking awesome petrol station. If you’re thinking “garage”, think again. It was two pumps on the pavement. Okay, the pavement was a bit wider than usual so you could squeeze the car in next to the pump and still leave room for someone to walk past without being on the road, but it was snug.

Anyway, we eventually arrived – here

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Then we found

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Struggled up the front steps to find

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For some reason, I didn’t take any other photographs of the house. Gods know why, because it was far and away the best holiday cottage I have ever stayed in. This was the living room. The kitchen was huge, and also had a television that size over an enormous scrubbed-wood kitchen table. The bedrooms were fabulous and comfortable and the bathroom!!!!! My only possible niggle about the bathroom (think black marble, carved wood chest and African statues, and a completely separate shower room with an OMFG shower) is that it was up two flights of stairs. Thankfully there was also a toilet on the ground floor.

Day 3: Sunday: Portmeirion

OMG! What a start to the holiday.

Port Meirion is an amazing place. It was built as a folly and used as a film/music video set. Here’s a link so you can find out more about it. I strongly suggest you take a look because it’s fascinating. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Portmeirion

It was a magical day, and Portmeirion was absolutely as magical and fascinating as I’d hoped.

 

Day 4: Monday: Llanberis

I hadn’t been too sure what to expect with our trip to Llanberis. We’d planned three things – a visit to the slate museum, a ride on the lake, narrow gauge railway and a tour of “Electric Mountain” the hydro electric plant. We only managed the first two, but boy was it worth it. The slate museum was a lot better than it appears in the photographs. It looks bleak, but it really wasn’t. The blue tinge and clean lines of the slate made it a truly satisfying and peaceful place.

I got to decorate my own piece of slate and, given the only colouring materials were pencils or felt pens, I was fairly happy with the outcome.

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Next, we went on the railway. If I’m honest, it didn’t really float my boat, although it did rattle my bones. Taylor is a big fan of railways, especially steam engines, so this one was for him. I think he and Efan had a great time, which is what counts. I won’t be running back to board one of these trains but I’m quite happy to sit on the station with an ice cream and wait.

As you can see, I wasn’t particularly inspired to photograph the experience.

After the ride, we didn’t have time for the power plant, which was pinned for another day. I was more than ready to head home, to more of our luxurious little bolt hole. Little did I know of the horrors that awaited us.

Alright, it wasn’t that horrific, but the parking situation pissed me off. You should understand that after driving long distances, walking is very painful for me and even a couple of yards is a big deal. On the first day, we noticed a “No Parking” sign outside the house and assumed, rightly, that this was meant for everyone other than the people staying in the house – ie us. We parked outside and everything was rosy. We couldn’t get too close to the end of the street because there were defined bays with a hatched area at the corner (ie I couldn’t park on the bit right at the end).

I’d noticed that there was a disabled bay next door but one, and it had a car in it the whole time. This, admittedly, made the space available for the next door neighbours pretty tight if we were parked outside our house. I hope this makes sense. On the first night, I had no idea that the owners had an agreement with the next door neighbours that neither would park outside the other’s house, so we parked without care, not realizing that we hadn’t left quite enough room (I assume) for the neighbour’s car AND we moved the traffic cone, which we realize now belonged to the neighbour.

When we returned from Llanberis the neighbour’s car was parked in such a way that left nowhere near enough room for me to park outside our house. I ended up parking in the public car park across the street. Because I have a blue badge I didn’t have to pay but that wasn’t the point: it meant I had to walk across the car park, out onto the street and over the road. For an able bodied person this probably wouldn’t have been a big deal at all, but to me, it was a pain (literally). I grew increasingly frustrated as the week progressed and it became more and more obvious the neighbour was playing games with us. I only managed to park outside twice in the entire week. Even then, I made absolutely sure that my front wheels were as close to the lien as reasonably possible without leaving me open for a parking ticket. It wasn’t a huge issue, but a matter of daily frustration. I hope the neighbour was left with a warm fuzzy feeling of triumph right until karma kicked his ass.

Day  5: Tuesday: Castles

Today we ventured further afield to Conwy Castle and Caernarfon Castle. Efan has always loved castles and I’m not averse to crumbling masonry myself. Oh, who am I kidding? I LOVE castles. I love the magic and myth, the sense of romance and the history that soaked into the ground like all the blood that was spilled on it. I’d passed Caernarfon Castle a couple of times when travelling to Anglesey and I’ve wanted to visit for a while. It’s where the Prince of Wales is Invested. Don’t let me get started about what I think about that. This post is not for political ranting.

For some reason, I didn’t take any photographs of Caernarfon castle, which is odd because that was the one I most wanted to see. Oh well. To be honest, it was underwhelming in comparison to Conwy, which just blew me away. Conwy has some strong ties with my area (through Rhys Ap Tewdr if you’re interested) and I was glad that was the better castle, even though Caernarfon was the better preserved.

By the time we got to Caernarfon I was completely knackered which is likely why there are no photographs. I’d thought I’d managed to take some, but hey ho.

Day 6: Wednesday: Beaumaris

Courthouse

Obviously, a historic courthouse was going to draw my attention! We stopped here briefly on our last visit when Lori lived on Anglesey, but I wanted to take more time about it. Last time we’d gone to the Gaol first then the courthouse, which was the wrong way round, so I was determined to do it right this time.

I was a little disappointed that there were no live actors here this time, but it was no biggie because the audio tour was fantastic and I thoroughly enjoyed every moment. I could have sat all day and read through the old court records of cases, crimes and punishments. They were harsh, and sometimes unfair but I believe there was, on the whole, more justice around then than now.

After the courthouse, we wandered past the beautiful castle (we were going to go, but to be honest I was a bit castled out by then)

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Just past the castle, through an absolutely charming courtyard, we found ourselves on quite a busy main street and found an intriguing American-style diner for dinner. It was all going so well before Taylor tried to stand, to find the bench wasn’t in one piece, and fell, breaking himself and his watch (not bones, fortunately). This kind of threw a pall over the day, which sadly only got worse from there.

Gaol

Sad Face.

When I last went to Beaumaris Gaol, I was completely blown away. We were met by a “warder” who gave us a quick tour, then let us loose to wander and talk to other live-action inmates about their experiences as prisoner or staff. I will never forget the young lad who talked us through his last walk to the gallows, or the poor mad woman in the punishment cell who I thought was a crying child and tried to shush.

This time…nothing. We’d already bought our ticket as a double back at the courthouse and when we presented them, they were clipped with a smile and a nod but not a word. We were then left in the tiny shop with nothing to do but either browse or pass through the only other door, which we did.

There was no warder, no actors, no graphpic depictions of torture on the walls, no real life stories or anything of much interest at all. Even the punishment cell was just a room with a sign that said if we wanted to experience what it might have been like to be locked up in total darkness we could close the door and switch off the light. Where’s the drama in that!

What happened Beaumaris Gaol. All you are now is an old building full of rooms with no particular purpose.

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Just outside the castle was a little cottage with painted windows. I have no idea what it was, or was perhaps meant to be but, on this occasion, it lives on in my memory as being far more interesting than the Gaol.

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Day 7: Thursday: Electric Mountain

I was looking forward to going back to Llanberis and taking the tour of Electric Mountain. Efan was excited too, I think because things like that are right up his street.

We got to the power station, bought our tickets and said farewell to Anne and Isabelle. Isabelle was too young to go on the tour and Anne has been on it before, so they were happy to wait in the cafe. I wish I had, too.

I got all the way into the first part of the tour, which was a film about how the power station was built and how it works. Put very basically, there are two lakes, one up top and one down below. When water is released from the upper lake into the lower one, it creates electricity. Because of its unique design, Dinorwig power station can go from zero to full power in under a minute while it takes a more traditional station the best part of an hour to achieve maximum capacity. For this reason, Dinorwig is essentially a “booster” station, called upon when there are major surges in demand for electricity, for example during commercial breaks in popular soaps, after major events etc.

So far, so good. I was enjoying myself – right up to the point where they started talking about 16km of tunnels deep under the heart of the mountain. Shit. I started to sweat. No amount of talking-to would get my hands to stop shaking and I finally faced the truth. Taking a severe claustrophobic into a tunnel miles under a mountain just wasn’t going to happen. What had their leaflet said? Guests suffering from claustrophobia may experience mild discomfort. MILD DISCOMFORT?! I abandoned the boys and ran. (Okay, I did explain what was happening to them first, and confirmed they were okay to go on alone. I’m not THAT irresponsible, but “Mother of the Year” floats even further out of reach).

I spent the next forty five minutes in the cafe with Anne and Isabelle feeling somewhat guilty and rather ashamed of myself. I should have known better really.

Even though I definitely did not deserve a reward after the Fiasco at Electric Mountain, which so should be the title of a book, Anne directed us to Pete’s Eats, an infamous cafe that has provided all day breakfasts to the people of Llanberis for 40 years. Well, well, well worth a visit. I have to admit I was expecting larger portions after what I’d been told, but I guess legends are never going to be quite what they’re bigged up to be. However, the food was absolutely top rate and they make a fabulous, and legendarily huge, mug of tea.

Day 8: Friday: Driving Back Again.

Sad day. It was an uneventful journey, on the whole, and in true cliche form seemed so much faster than the journey up. Granted it was a different route, but given we’d travelled more than half the way on motorway on the way up and almost none on motorway on the way down the strangeness was even more pronounced.

After dropping the others off at Tesco, Efan and I went to his college enrollment (a Mother Squee moment. My boy is a college man!), then we met up again for a last supper (tea) at Tesco before we separated.

Another holiday adventure safely navigated and survived with maximum enjoyment and minimal scarring.

Roll on October when our next adventure begins. We’re already planning next summer 😀

Nature’s Jewellery Store

My son, Efan, has recently taken up photography. He has a natural flare and an artist’s eye so watch this space as this boy is going places. and not just with his photography!

Yesterday, we went for a walk. It was a pretty crappy place, to be honest. The surroundings were beautiful, with an old oak forest and lake nearby. However, the place we went to was basically a bit of scrap ground with some sheds. Even here, however, Efan managed to take some spectacular shots.

I’m not the best photographer, and I don’t have the fancy camera he does, but, while he was taking shots and wandering around, I wandered too.

It’s amazing how much beauty can be found around us in the most unlikely places if we only open our eyes and truly look. The trees in our scruffy little corner were basically either bare or scrubby, yet the dying sunlight through them, with the backdrop of a surprisingly (for the Welsh valleys) clear blue sky, was simply astonishing.

Despite, or maybe because, the sun having begun to set, the colours were so vivid it was almost as if they’d been painted by a slightly over-enthusiastic artist. So many different greens. So many patterns, shapes and sizes.

Efan likes macro photography, mainly of flowers, their bright colours highlighted against a blurred background. He took some crackers yesterday, catching unexpected snails and insects. I, on the other hand, usually photograph landscapes, portraits and unusual features – the typical amateur photographer, I suppose. Yesterday, however, looking for vignettes for Efan, I looked around with different eyes. I looked more closely, and was astonished by what I saw.

There were too many things to discuss in detail, although the plethora of forms and colours of ivy in late summer might well be worth its own post. The thing that had the biggest impact on me was the grass.

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I’m not girly girl by any stretch of the imagination, but I can appreciate a big of bling (although I’d never wear it!) What I found, when I looked closely at the grass, was a whole shop floor of clear, sparkling crystal that would, I think, satisfy the most demanding connoisseur.

 

They even had the velvet to display the diamonds on

Things Animals Say

IMG_0608Today, I was sorting out my photographs and I filled a folder with pictures of my pets. Some of the photos just yelled out for a caption so I’ll give it a go. I’m numbering them so if anyone can think of a better caption for any of them, please feel free to post in the comments to give us all a laugh.

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1 What? Surely you weren’t intending to give Santa untasted cookies and milk

 

2. They’ll never find me now

 

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3. You’ve got to sleep sometimes. If it wasn’t for the ready supply of food and cardboard boxes you’d have been toast by now.

 

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4. Note to Self. The Kangaroo was lying.

 

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5  When I snap your fingers you will awaken. You will remember nothing but walks. No wait – nothing but bones and walks. Wait – nothing but food, bones and walks. There are no baths. The bath is a lie.

 

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6. My ancestors were wolves. I am so ashamed

 

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7 The voices are telling me to eat your soul…but a nice bone would do. Maybe some treats? A walk would be nice.

 

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8. You know showing me videos of walks isn’t going to get you out of actually taking me, right?

 

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9. Dog: Please don’t leave me alone with her. Cat: (trying to look innocent) Keep your mouth shut and I might let you keep one eye.

 

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10 This is an intervention. We, the animals feel your addiction to the shiny thing is taking over your life. You should walk away and concentrate on healthier pursuits…like treats and walks and brushes and stroking, lots of stroking.

 

 

 

 

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11 What do you mean I’m not a parrot?

 

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12 You’re my liddle buddy and I loves ya

 

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13 I hear you. I’m listening. Feel free to tell me all your troubles – but don’t you find it easier to talk and walk? Or maybe talk and eat?

 

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14 Don’t laugh. It’s taken me half an hour to get up here, let me rest.

 

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15 I’m…starving. Wasting away. Feed me. For the love of God, feed me.

 

I am obliged to note that we actually have three cats, but Charley is far too serious to get caught looking anything but suave