Posted in Uncategorized

2013 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 8,500 times in 2013. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 3 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

Posted in Adventures with Alfie, Adventures with Mia and Millie

The Lost Adventure

While I was sorting through some old photographs, I came across some of an adventure the lady of the house and I shared with Millie and Alfie a few months ago. It was a great adventure and worth remembering.

It was a beautiful Autumn morning and Millie and Alfie had agreed to meet at our home to spend some time together. The Princess Mia was at school. We all had breakfast together, before heading off to find some new things to discover in the wonderful city called Cardiff, which is near to where we all live.

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We headed down towards Cardiff Bay, once a place to avoid, but now a bustling area where many Cardiff people love to go. Cardiff Bay is a diverse waterfront built around a freshwater lake known as ‘the Bay’. You will find a great mix of Cardiff attractions, entertainment and events, coupled with vibrant bars and shops that create a truly unique atmosphere worthy of any capital city!

Cardiff Bay is the area created by the Cardiff Bay Barrage in Cardiff, the capital of Wales. The regeneration of Cardiff Bay is now widely regarded as one of the most successful regeneration projects in the United Kingdom. The Bay is supplied by two rivers the River Taff and the River Ely to form a 500-acre freshwater lake round the former dockland area south of the city centre. The Bay was formerly tidal, with access to the sea limited to a couple of hours each side of high water but now provides 24-hour access through three locks. Cardiff Bay played a major part n Cardiff’s development by being the means of exporting coal from the valleys to the rest of the world, helping to power the industrial age. The mining industry helped fund the building of Cardiff into the capital city of Wales and helped the third Marquis of Bute, who owned the docks, become the richest man in the world at the time.

As Cardiff exports grew, so did its population; dockworkers and sailors from across the world settled in neighbourhoods close to the docks, known as Tiger Bay and communities from up to 45 different nationalities, including Norwegian , Somalian and Yemeni, Spanish, Italian, Caribbean and Irish helped create the unique character of the area.

After the Second World War most of the industry closed down and became derelict. But, in 1999, new life was injected into the area by the building of the barrage one of the most controversial building projects of the day but also one of the most successful.

We parked in our usual place outside the Coal Exchange in Mount Stuart Square. It is still being renovated and still looks a bit sad these days, but I am sure it will soon be restored to its former glory.

We had two pushchairs, one each for Millie and Alfie and as we set off from the car I really fancied a pushchair race, but as I looked across at the lady of the house, she did not look to be in a racing mood so I let the matter drop. If anyone fancies a few laps of racing pushchairs around Mount Stuart Square some time…

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We moved rather sedately down to the water’s edge and spent some time feeding the ducks. Millie and Alfie loved this. I had raided the good lady’s wholemeal bread allowance, so we were well prepared and the Bay ducks had a healthy meal that morning.

On previous visits to the Bay we have met the Welsh Ladies Football team, had a trip around the Bay and shared many cups of coffee and had breakfast in Subway on more than one occasion. As we fed the ducks I saw the following sign.DSC05141

I really fancied a trip up to town up the River. I mentioned the fact tentatively to the good lady who shares my life and when she replied, ‘As long as you are paying Fatboy!’ I knew this was a possibility.

We waited in the queue along with a large group of school students who were admiring Millie and Alfie. They were obviously kind, caring people because when the boat came in they promptly took all the seats and left the four of us standing forlornly on the quayside. The teacher, incidentally a friend of ours, looked a little guilty as the boat pulled away and I knelt down to wipe the tears from Millie’s and Alfie’s cheeks. We decided to stay and wait for the next one so the two dear grandchildren played around the area and it meant when the next boat came in we had the choice of seats.

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It was BRILLIANT.

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We had a great view as the Lady Katherine chugged across the Bay, past the St David’s hotel where the rich and famous hang out (although I must say from the outside the building looks a bit like a sixties housing estate), up the Taff under the Bay Bridge, past the Channel View Leisure Centre and the Marl where I played many a game for North Clive Street Youth Football team, round past Taff Terrace, up Taff Embankment under the Railway bridge by Cardiff Central and we came to a stop next to Cardiff Castle and Bute Park. It was a splendid trip and well worth parting with three pounds, well six actually because the lady of the house had yet again ‘left her purse at home’.

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We strolled through Bute Park and then up into town.

The strange sounds coming from Millie and Alfie’s tummies reminded us it was lunchtime, so we made for Howells – one of the great department Stores in Cardiff.

James Howell’s first step towards the present Howells department store began with the establishment of a shop under the Stuart Hall in The Hayes, a street near St Mary Street. From there the first part of the current store was built in the late-19th century, this part of the building includes an ornate facade that is visible on St Mary Street. In the 1920s a large and well-proportioned neoclassical extension was built up to the corner of St Mary Street and Heol-y-Cawl. A unique result of this extension was that Bethany Chapel, built on the site of an earlier chapel in 1865, was absorbed into the fabric of the building and its frontage was incorporated into the interior and is still visible in the store today, fronting onto the men’s department.

Further extensions were added throughout the 1930s, 1950s and 1960s, causing the building to show the architectural trends of the Late Victorian Era to the Modernism of the 1960s.

Howells Department Store was originally a family-run business, owned and managed by the family of James Howell. In the 1950s, the store was sold to Welsh banker Sir Julian Hodge, who subsequently sold the store to Mohammed Al-Fayed, owner of the Hose of Fraser chain, meaning the store ceased to be an independent department store. The store is still owned by House of Fraser, although the chain was bought by Icelandic investment company, Bauger late 2006. In the 1990s the Victorian frontage on St Mary Street, neglected for the best part of 50 years, was cleaned and restored, greatly enhancing the building’s appearance.

The building is Grade 2 listed. It also has a great restaurant, which is the most child friendly place in Cardiff.

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We had a great time there; Mille and Alfie ate their lunch, played together and watched some episodes of Peppa Pig. The lady of the house and I had tea – served in little silver pots and in Howells you always get a little jug of hot water without asking. Total class!

After leaving Howells, I wanted to catch a bendy bus back to the Bay but the dear lady wanted to walk. It was a nice day so I did what I was told; I mean we agreed to walk back to the car, still parked near the Coal Exchange.

It was a good walk on a bright clear, warm day. We had not even reached John Lewis and the two little ones were asleep, dreaming no doubt of ducks and boats and castles and posh shops. We walked down Bute Street, a street full of friendly faces

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We put them in the car, drove home and carried them into bed and still neither woke up.

It had been a great adventure, but the best part of all was the fact that the friendship between these two beautiful little cousins was growing closer.

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It had been such fun!

The lady of the house graciously allowed me to bring her some refreshments as she rested. It was a good end to the day.

Posted in Musings

Perpetual sunshine produces a desert.

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I came across this quote some years ago on a calendar I used to keep on my desk when I taught in Cogan Primary School. It has stuck in my brain through all that time. It’s an intriguing thought. On the surface I guess it means that if every day has sunshine and no rain, eventually nothing will grow; you need rainy days to go with the sunny days to enable growth to take place.

In a way life is just like that!

If things always go smoothly and we never experience pain or heartache, then our lives become dry and barren. We cannot appreciate the good days in our lives, if we never go through those tough times. While we may hate them as we go through them, but when they are replaced by the happy times in our lives, we are able then to appreciate the good days because of the bad days.

It is told that once Elgar, the great musician, was listening to a young girl singing. She had a beautiful voice and a well-nigh faultless technique, but she just missed greatness. “She will be great”, said Elgar, when something happens to break her heart.” There are things which only sorrow can teach.

It has been said said that sorrow is the source of the great discoveries in life. It is in sorrow that you discover the things that matter, and the things that do not matter. It is in sorrow that you discover the meaning of friendship and the meaning of love. It is in sorrow that you discover whether your faith is a merely superficial ornament of life or the essential foundation on which your whole life depends.

The sorrowful times in my life have not been many, but the tough days we had, were hard.

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Among the most difficult of times was when Boo lost her beloved dad when she was nineteen. He went to work one morning and never came home. He had a stroke at his desk and was rushed to hospital where he sadly passed away. Boo never had the chance to say goodbye. She was at the age when she needed him more than ever. He was a wonderful man in every sense of the word but he died too young. He never lived to see any of his children get married, never saw his grandchildren at play or his great grandchildren smile.

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Jean still weeps often.

We will never forget the miscarriage Boo suffered in our early married life, we were young and inexperienced and it hit us so badly. It took us so long to get over it. They were dark days. There were other days when we barely had enough money to live on and making ends meet was a constant battle.
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I still struggle with the loss of my both my parents within a few months of each other; although we always knew that once one had died the other would follow soon. They were remarkable people, who just lived for each other. My dad passed away while we were on holiday three thousand miles away and the fact that I never got to say goodbye to him hurts so much. The journey home was a difficult one in so many ways. A few months later my mum left her house one day to  come on holiday with us, was taken ill in the car and she never returned to the home she loved. She died quietly in my arms in hospital.

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In more recent times, the pain of seeing our daughter and son in law struggle with infertility was tangible and we questioned God as to why he would allow this to happen.

The sometimes long journey through these ‘rainy days’ has helped shape us into the people we are today. We can enjoy our happy days because of those sad days.

It is in sorrow that a man discovers God. It’s been said, “When you come to the bottom, you find God.”

There is a deep sense in which it is literally true, that sorrow has its own unique blessedness to give.

As you struggle with sorrow in your life, always remember that after the rain has stopped the sun will come out….

Perpetual sunshine produces a desert.

Posted in Adventures with Alfie, Adventures with Mia and Millie, Family

Disneyland Dinas Powys

Alfie stayed the night, as he has been doing every Sunday since his mum changed her working days to the first part of the week instead of the latter part. Usually, Millie calls over and spends most of the day with him. They are growing close and are becoming great friends as well as cousins. The lady of the house was on nursery duty, so it meant I could have a little lie in after the busyness of the past week. It was about 8.15 am that I heard the first shouts of “Rog…Rog’ from the bottom of the stairs. It wasn’t the lady of the house calling me to get on with my chores, but my little friend Alfie wanting to play. Some months ago, Alfie’s parents were teaching him animal sounds…. ”What does a cat say? What sound does a lion make and so on, until someone said, “What does Nanna always say? In response to this the whole family shouted….”Rog!’ … and from that moment Alfie has called me Rog. It’s kind of cute and I don’t take it as a mark of disrespect from the little fella.

We were all excited about Millie’s visit today. We always love it when she comes to play on a Monday.  She came to our house just after dropping her big sister at nursery. I think that she thinks she is coming to Disneyland Dinas Powys as she turns the corner into our street. The lady of the house had switched on the Christmas lights outside – her impression of National Lampoons Christmas Vacation – even though it was daylight. True, it was a dark and dreary December day, but once Millie and Alfie get together every day is a bright and happy one and I am sure she just felt the lights were an added bonus. Actually I am dreading the bill next time round, I am sure it’s going to be massive. I’ve been creative in thinking of ways to save money. Last week I was fed up of watching the fifteenth consecutive episode of Knots Landing on Sky plus, that I told the lady of the house I was going to the cinema. I told her to put her coat on and she asked if I was taking her with me? She didn’t look too happy when I told her that I wasn’t and that I was just turning the central heating off! It’s only fair…  I am surviving on a pension!

Today, both Alfie and Millie smiled broadly when they saw each other. We hope that when they grow up they will remember these happy and special times.

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They played first with the Disneyland Express train set.

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This is the latest addition to the little piece of paradise that the lady of the house is creating for our precious grandkids. During December our dining room is transformed into what can only be described as Disneyland Resort Dinas Powys. The whole room is decked out with everything Disney. Soft toys, dolls, decorations… the lot. The Christmas tree is full… and I mean FULL… of Disney character ornaments, collected over the past years. Family friends and relatives from far and near bring their kids to participate in a Disney Treasure hunt on our tree – with a prize to the one who can collect the most names.

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I always feel sorry for Tinkerbelle who has the most uncomfortable place of all to spend the Christmas period.

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….and always without a word of complaint… OUCH!

Last Christmas her collection of Disney baby princess dolls was lined up looking out of the front window. It looked a bit like a scene from the Rocky Horror Show but at least it kept the carol singers away!

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This morning we had a bit of trouble keeping the train on the tracks but the addition of a couple of straight tracks solved the problem. Millie especially adored the little train with its sounds and music. She especially loved the Disney carriage, which has Minnie dancing romantically with Mickey. She gazed longingly at it for a long time. So cute!

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Alfie succeeded in knocking the train off the track half a dozen times as he ran excitedly round it trying to jump over it when he needed to!

Afterwards they spent some time checking out the characters. They were able to name and find loads of them. We were really impressed.

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We had Toy Story playing in the background and soon they were sitting side by side on their very own settee watching the film with a snack. It’s not just old people who have elevenses – Millie and Alfie love having a mid morning snack.  Toy Story is just one superb film; I love watching it too!

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One day soon they will be all grown up and will no doubt meeting in Starbucks. We hope they will remember our little house where their friendship was nurtured… such happy and special days.

Later in the morning we sat down for a story. I have started training them to become Roald Dahl fans and today we read The Enormous Crocodile. It’s a great tale about an enormous crocodile that loves to eat fat. juicy children. I am not too sure what Millie thought of my props, but they enjoyed the story… at least Millie did when the crocodile changed hands!

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Alfie loved feeding the crocodile with toast, hoping I am sure to avoid being eaten himself. He’s a canny lad!

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Millie and Alfie both cheered and clapped. The three children played together happily before the girls had to leave to visit their grandma.

When Millie’s mum arrived she had with her a huge Victoria Sponge for us – not quite Bruce Bogtrotter proportions but big enough for us to realise today’s diet would not last too long! I loved it, the lady of the house loved it and so did Alfie!

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Mia loved playing with the enormous crocodile and I could see the enormous crocodile eyeing her up as a tasty snack as lunchtime was approaching. Luckily, being a princess, she had her magic wand with her, so she was able to keep the dreaded animal at bay. As she left she cast her spell on him so he cannot move until she returns.

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In a similar way these beautiful children cast their magic spell on us and enchant us every time they visit. Come back soon little ones!

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Mia, Alfie and Milie… you are loved!