Cardiff Half for Cliff

Cliff was my grandad.

He was charming, funny, controversial at times, maddeningly old-fashioned but entirely committed to his family.

Generous with his time, he and my lovely Nanna Val were always there from school concerts to cherished days out to listening to my tales around the dinner table every Friday night.

Barry born and bred, he and my Nanna moved to Port Talbot in the 1960s where his charm and ability to strike up conversations with anyone made him the perfect fit as a sales rep at a local printing company.

He was just 60 when I came along as his first grandchild. He and my Nanna were the most loving grandparents I could ask for (at 91, my Nanna still is).

Some of my happiest days were spent with them. During the school holidays, I’d wake up from a sleepover at their home to have boiled eggs cooked perfectly runny for soldier-dipping.

We’d then go on outings to town, or perhaps somewhere further afield like Swansea, to do spots of shopping.

I loved searching shelves for pocket money treasures, with both my Nanna and Grandpa instilling me with a good understanding of value for money that I still use to this day.

Grandpa was an expert storyteller. He was vitally proud of his time in the RAF in World War Two and was posted to Burma. He’d regale us with tales from the time, including once finding a monkey in his accommodation.

Friday nights were dinner nights. My Nanna would cook delicious roast dinners with sides of French bread and an array of desserts that would put most restaurants to shame.

And after dinner, the record player would go on and we’d dance to La Bamba, Jive Bunny or ABBA. Grandpa was quite the dancer and spent Saturday nights on the dance floor with my Nanna at the Aberavon Hotel.

As I grew older and became an idealistic teenager with strong, liberal opinions, our relationship changed.

Friday night dinner became a time for debates, where Grandpa and I would thrash out our contradictory opinions over roast potatoes and trifle.

Politics, my future career choice, the news, nothing was out of bounds. I like to think this encouraged my love of a good debate.

As I passed exams and started college and university, he and my Nanna supported me steadfastly along with my mum and dad.

Grandpa was a huge believer in education and was proud to see me go to university and start my career in journalism (although deep down I’m sure he’d have preferred me to make the far more sensible choice of becoming a teacher like my dad).

He was also a proud wedding guest when I got married in 2008.

As Grandpa grew older, he stayed remarkably active and well. At 85, he still drove, socialised with friends and danced every Saturday night with my Nanna. He could still charm a room.

But old age did mean he needed knee operations. He’d put them off before, but by the summer of 2010 the pain was such that there could be no more delays.

A few days before his 86th birthday, he had the operation. On his birthday, we visited him on the ward with gifts and cake and he seemed in good spirits.

But not too long after, he sadly had a devastating stroke, the kind that meant he could no longer speak and lost the use of one side of his body.

At first, we had hope. But then we knew that he would not recover his speech, or his movement.

Every night was spent at the hospital, holding his hand, combing his hair and talking to our Cliff as his sky coloured eyes met ours.

My heart felt like an anvil. I felt as though I had this extra invisible weight with me everywhere I went.

We had a month of this, a month of limbo, a month of watching our Cliff, a man of fierce independence, try to communicate but not being able to.

After this month, a long month that stretched and stretched, I got the call asking us to come in as he was slipping away.

I was fortunate enough to get there to tell him how much I loved him. Because, oh, how I and we loved him.

He died later that night.

My Nanna asked for donations in lieu of flowers to the Stroke Association in his memory and raised around £2,000 in his name.

That’s why a little over eight years later I’ve decided to run my first half marathon – the Cardiff Half Marathon – for the Stroke Association in his memory to help other families affected by strokes.

I’ll be blogging about my training efforts as we get closer to the day – Sunday 7 October 2018.

This one’s for you, Grandpa.

Advertisements

An autumnal Bluestone break

It’s a bit of a tradition for us to spend a weekend in Bluestone in late September.

We usually go around my birthday and it’s a lovely time to mark autumn’s arrival. I love autumn and it’s a pretty time of the year to visit Bluestone and see the hundreds of trees turn gold and shed their leaves.

This year, we were pleased to discover the Pembrokeshire resort was hosting a Bwbach festival offering a range of autumnal and Hallowe’en activities including a Bwbach parade.

The festival also meant that scarecrows were hidden around the resort. The children loved spotting them from the scarecrow couple walking a poodle to the scarecrow fishing at the Bluestone lake.

In previous years, we’ve been treated with autumnal sunny weekends. This wasn’t to be this year but we packed waterproofs and wellies so we were prepared for the wet Welsh weather.

The weather meant we didn’t leave the resort during our stay. The children were content splashing in the swimming pool, tearing around the Adventure Centre and playing in the park. Our daughter spent an age splashing in muddy puddles during our break too.

As our son is learning about forests and the outdoors at school this term, he also took us on a hunt for acorns and conkers and both children were pleased with their acorn treasures.

The children also enjoyed other free activities such as making jingle sticks for the Bwbach parade and the Bwbach festival, where they could dance and sing along to live music.

Overall, a lovely family weekend away to see in the start of autumn.

Blogger note: We paid for our holiday in Bluestone and the resort was unaware we would be writing a review.

Swansea Bay 10K ✅

On the first day of January this year, I pledged to take on a new challenge and signed up for the Swansea Bay 10K.

I have never found running easy so I knew it would be hard, but I decided to run it for the awesome mental health charity Mind following my difficult experience of post-natal depression.

As today inched closer, my nerves grew. Although I’d trained for the best part of three months, a nasty cold meant I’d had to have a fortnight off earlier this month so I worried if I’d make it around the course.

I felt proud putting on my Mind running vest and taking my place among the runners. Shortly before the race started, the rain arrived to soak us through as we waited to get moving.

When it was time to set off, the atmosphere was exciting. I loved

seeing my fellow charity runners taking on the course.

The first few kilometres were okay as I found my slow pace and settled into it. So many supporters

braved the rain and lined the course to cheer us on with pom-poms, shakers and cow bells. Props to the man dressed as Donald Trump at around the 6K mark for making us smile.

From 7K onwards, I struggled. I’ve never run in such heavy rain before and found it challenging to dodge puddles and maintain momentum as the course narrowed.

But somehow I just kept going, one step at a time, and ran without stopping. Yes, I was slow but I was determined to run it all.

Seeing the 400m to go sign felt brilliant and I felt near to tears as

I finally crossed the line. I’d done what didn’t feel possible three months ago.

A huge factor in getting me around the course has been my training with the Pencoed Panthers running club, which I joined in June. Their support and ability to push me when my legs and mind want to give up has helped me achieve a 10K – something I hadn’t done since 2010 (and pre-children).

I’d like to say a huge thank you to everyone who has supported me and sponsored me so far. At the time of writing, I’d raised almost £200 for Mind thanks to your generosity.

The Gruffalo on tour – A review

As one of the best loved children’s books, Julia Donaldson’s The Gruffalo has enchanted children – including ours – for many years.

So when I heard it was coming to Cardiff’s New Theatre, I made sure booked tickets for a family afternoon out.

We took our seats in front of the deep dark wood and waited for the show to begin. Performed by a small cast, we were soon introduced to the book’s well-known characters – mouse, fox, owl and snake.

The well-known words of the story were woven into narrative and jolly songs. A particular highlight for me was the Madness-style song by Fox, which featured Madness-style choreography too.

The rapport between the cast was a pleasure to watch and the audience participation was pitched just right. Children were encouraged to speak the words from the book and to fill in the gaps. They helped the mouse by roaring and sitting with pin-drop quietness at the right times.

The snake had many of us – including the narrator – in stitches with his flamboyant performance. The owl worked well as a military-style character ordering poor mouse around before she outfoxed him.

Both of our children were asking for the Gruffalo and what a delight when he took to the stage in a costume of soft layers studded with purple prickles all over his back. He even had the poisonous wart at the end of his nose.

At 55 minutes without an interval, it was a fun telling of the Gruffalo tale at a good length of time for young children. The cast and songs brought fun to the stage in an imaginative telling of Donaldson’s classic tale.

The Gruffalo is on tour across UK theatres until January 2018. Find out more here.

Blogger note: We purchased our tickets and the venue was unaware I would be writing a review.

22 things you’ll know if you’ve been on a family summer holiday in the UK

1. Packing the car is like a particularly perilous game of Jenga. One false move and that boot will never shut.

2. The front seat passenger will be contorted in all directions due to the extra luggage at their feet.

3. You realise “Are we nearly there yet?” could be a useful interrogation tactic. Especially when it starts five minutes from home.

4. The comfortable time threshold for a car journey is 90 minutes by which time you’re willing to spend £7 on a sandwich each at the services just for a change of scene.

5. The 50mph signs on the M5 seem like a cruel joke because you’ve covered 0.9 miles in 20 minutes.

6. When you arrive where you’re staying, you realise you’ve forked out a small fortune to stay somewhere that is a fraction of the size of your home.

7. When you’re settled in to your accommodation, Wi-Fi is slow to the point of uselessness or non-existent. No streaming here!

8. The children’s holiday money will be spent on day one, often within the first hour, on an overpriced and ill-judged purchase.

9. But they will still ask for more during every other day of your holiday. Especially when you’re in the vicinity of a shop. Which is pretty much all the time.

10. Gift shops will become scene of nightmarish negotiations when you refuse to fork out £7.99 for a frisbee that your child insists they need.

11. You will never have packed enough pants for the children. Even the contingency ones will be used up with unexpected incidents such as rushing down a soggy slide or running into seawater in clothes.

12. There will be public tantrums on monumental scales attracting a mixture of disgust/sympathetic gazes.

13. Shattered from lack of sleep, the children will insist they can’t walk so you finish the holidays with superb biceps.

14. You’ll find yourself incredulous at the cost of any tourist attraction. £60 to look at a garden? Are you kidding me?

15. The British weather means you must bring coats/sun cream/hats/wellies/flip flops for every trip out so a 6lb bag accompanies you at all times. And you’ll still have forgotten something.

16. You’ll only realise you’ve forgotten that important thing when you’re miles from the car.

17. Despite your meticulous route planning and sat nav system, you will get lost usually as a child announces that they really need a wee.

18. Your child will start singing their rudest song during a quiet, educational day out making you want to crawl under the nearest table. Bum bum song at the museum anyone?

19. Someone will drop their ice cream the second after you’ve paid for it.

20. Any dream of a nice meal out will be shattered by the reality of overtired children and frazzled parents. Cereal it is then!

21. The onsite entertainment will remind you of Phoenix Nights, but the kids will love it and worship the oversized animal mascot sent out to interact with them.

22. The lack of structure means the children won’t sleep so your days consist of parenting between the hours of 5am until 9pm, when you collapse in an exhausted heap, too tired for wine.

10 family-friendly places to go in Cornwall

For our summer holiday this year, we decided to return to Cornwall, somewhere we haven’t visited for almost a decade.

It’s a special place for us. It’s where we had our first holiday as a couple 13 years ago. And it’s where we holidayed with treasured friends after university.

So, almost a decade since our last holiday in Padstow, we returned to Cornwall with the children and a mission to fill our days with fun and places that made us stop and smile.

We stayed in Hengar Manor Country Park near Bodmin, which proved a great location to see the great things Cornwall has to offer.

Its location meant we were able to visit 10 places during our Monday to Friday stay. Here’s what we did and saw.

Disclaimer: Although these days out were fantastic fun, I can confirm that either we or one of the children had a tantrum at each lovely location due to tiredness/lack of food/sheer grumpiness.

1. Sandymouth Beach, near Bude

Our first outing of our holiday was to Sandymouth Beach near Bude. A National Trust beach, it is surrounded by stunning cliffs and has a myriad of rock pools to explore.

Our children loved the small waterfalls dotted around the beach and using the pebbles to decorate their sandcastle creations.

It has ample parking, a lovely cafe overlooking the beach and well-tended loos.

Car parking is free for National Trust members, and £5.50 for non-members.

2. Bude

After our visit to Sandymouth, we decided to head into Bude itself for a stroll and a look around the lovely local shops.

And we also stopped for delicious fish and chips near the sea.

3. Porthcothan Bay Beach

Based near Padstow, Porthcothan Bay Beach is a stunning beach encircled by dramatic cliffs. It’s been featured as Nampara in Poldark, which is testament to how beautiful it is.

The children loved exploring the swirling streams on the sand and paddling in the clear sea.

There are chargeable car parks nearby and loos (you’ll need 20p to go though as the local town council runs the toilets after funding cuts by the local authority).

4. Padstow

After drying (and sand-dusting) ourselves off, our next stop was nearby Padstow where we whiled away a few hours exploring its shops, beach and harbour. We stopped for a Cornish cream tea and popped into Rick Stein’s bakery to lust after the delicate patisserie goods and doorstop bread loaves.

5. Lanhydrock

Rebuilt in 1881 after an extensive fire, Lanhydrock country house in Bodmin is presented with artefacts from the time meaning stepping over the threshold is like a walk into history.

The children loved exploring its 50 rooms and a spotting quiz kept our five-year-old enthralled as he tried to spot the items on the quiz sheet. Highlights included the vast kitchens, the nursery and seeing family photos and portraits of the Agar-Robartes.

Staff and volunteers dressed up in period clothes adding to the historic feel and we were lucky enough to hear a harpist perform during our visit.

Outside, the gardens and grounds are beautiful. Roses, topiary and wild flowers and a higher garden where the children loved hiding. Our daughter declared: “Flowers are my favourite,” as we left.

Parking and entry to Lanhydrock is free for National Trust members, but chargeable for non-members.

6. The Eden Project

In our previous visits to Cornwall, we had never made it to the Eden Project so it was on our wish list for this break.

With its aims of education and promoting environmental sustainability, it was somewhere we wanted to take the children to.

We started the day at the journey into space section. The astronaut training-style bouncy castle was a hit followed by the exhibition that walks you through the nine planets of the solar system. Our five-year-old loved hearing facts about each planet and the interactive rooms.

The highlight for us was visiting the rainforest and Mediterranean biomes. Filled with plants, fruit and vegetable plants and flowers from across the world, they featured walkways and bridges that take you high up in the biomes giving you a great view of the environments.

Sculptures and hands on activities caught the children’s imagination meaning they didn’t want to leave.

As a family-friendly venue, the project has plenty of places to eat, free water stations and all the facilities you need.

It isn’t a cheap day out, but it’s a unique charitable project on a huge scale, which is a must visit if you’re in these parts. You can save 10 per cent by booking online in advance.

You can also donate your entire entry fee to convert it into free access for a year, which is a good option if you’re a regular visitor to Cornwall. And children aged under 5 go free. Our entry fee was roughly £60.

7. Fistral Beach, Newquay

Newquay has been on my ‘to visit’ list for many years so we were lucky that the sun shone for our visit to Fistral Beach.

A massively popular beach with surfers and families alike, it has everything you’d expect including shops, bars and cafes for visitors.

With lifeguards on patrol, and notorious rip tides, bathers and surfers are told to stay within the yellow and red flag areas to stay safe.

With such dramatic views and a huge expanse of sand, we loved it here.

There’s free parking along the esplanade, but there are plenty of car parks in the area too.

8. Perranporth

The lovely village of Perranporth has an enormous beach and a huge expanse of sea.

With rock pools and dramatic cliffs, the children loved exploring it and sandcastle-building there. We had ice creams on the beach and the children buried themselves in the sand.

Perranporth itself is kitted out for visitors with pretty shops and cafes serving delicious food. There’s ample parking and facilities including showers to wash off the sea and sand.

9. Trelissick

This National Trust property offers a 18th century house, gardens, wooded walks and incredible views of land and sea.

You can follow the woodland walks down to catch the ferry to Falmouth, wander through the hydrangea garden (some of the prettiest I’ve ever seen) or take in the views of the Fal Estuary.

Visitors can also explore many rooms of Trelissick House. Sit in the dining room and take the views of the sea. Take in the artworks and sketches sitting delicately on pretty period wallpaper. And read about the fortunes and fall of the original owners.

I particularly liked the exhibition about this, including period clothing dotted with golden coins, a visual way to tell the story.

We ate at the cafe, which offered delicious food and healthy options, which is perfect when you need to take a break from the cream teas!

A great few hours out!

Parking and entry to the house and gardens are free for National Trust members, but chargeable to non-members.

10. Summerleaze Beach, Bude

For our final day in Cornwall, we headed back to Bude for a visit to Summerleaze Beach. It’s near to where we first holidayed as a couple and is another huge beach filled with rock pools.

It’s also home to Bude Sea Pool, an open air swimming pool which provides perfect views of the beach and beyond.

A popular spot, it’s advisable to get there early as the nearby car parks fill up fast.

Where are your favourite days out in Cornwall? I’d love to hear your ideas!

My squad – two months as a Pencoed Panther

Running has never been my forte.

At school, miserable cross country runs were enough to put me off long distance running for life. I hated running around the drizzly field near Port Talbot steelworks, always one of the slowest runners. Sprinting was fun, thrilling; long distance running was not for me.

It was only as I neared the end of university that I started trying to run again. I did a few charity 5K runs and worked my way up to taking on two 10K runs for charity.

In 2010, I earned myself the dubious title of one of the slowest finishers in the Cardiff 10K.

I remember vividly being heckled by a male running club member who taunted me and a runner I’d befriended for being so slow. “You should be ashamed ladies,” he sneered, medal around his neck, taking no heed that we were running for good causes. Our only goal was getting over the finish line but that wasn’t good enough for him.

And that was one of the last times in recent years that I’d attempted running outside. Two children in less than three years and working full time meant I focused on gym classes when I could, my running days behind me.

In January, I decided to do the new year, new me, challenge and signed up for the Swansea Bay 10K, which I last did in 2009. It would be a motivator to improve my fitness and to get running again.

After being pretty unwell with postnatal depression after having my daughter, I decided to run it for the charity Mind, who do so much to break down the stigma around mental illnesses.

My plan to train alone faltered after a nasty chest infection in April/May. So after making a slow recovery, in mid June I went along to my first Pencoed Panthers training session feeling nervous as anything.

I wasn’t the only newbie that night and our lovely run leaders started us off with gentle walk runs using lampposts as our markers. I could barely run for two lampposts without stopping but their encouragement made all the difference.

At our second session, we covered 5K in walk running. And I really struggled. But when we got back to our meeting point, I felt jubilant.

And with each session since, I’ve felt my stamina and fitness improve. Some days are more difficult than others and some days are slower, but nothing beats that feeling of making yourself go a little bit further, a little bit faster.

And the encouragement of the fellow members makes all the difference. They are there to tell you to keep going, that you can do it, that you don’t need to stop.

On Wednesday, two months after joining the Panthers, I ran for four miles without stopping. Yes, I was slow. Yes, it was hard. But I did it. Those efforts sessions in the rain, those runs I thought I would never do all helped me to run the furthest I’ve run since the Cardiff 10K seven years ago.

So with five weeks to go, I feel the Swansea Bay 10K is doable. And it’s all thanks to my squad, the brilliant Pencoed Panthers, who have helped me cover more ground that I thought possible in two months.

I won’t be anywhere near the fastest runner in the Swansea Bay 10K. That’s not what it’s about. For me, it’s about getting over that finish line and raising money for the charity that made me feel less alone at the toughest time.

This post was inspired by the Sport Wales #OurSquad campaign to get more women active in Wales.

Find out more about the Pencoed Panthers here.

If you have a pound or two to spare for my Mind challenge, you can sponsor me here.