Wednesday, 1 February 2012

Enjoy a spot of peace

Below is my “Big Day Out” column from the Saturday, January 28, 2012, Swansea edition of the South Wales Evening Post.

Enjoy a spot of peace
A big day out!
RICHARD THOMAS heads to ….
the Botanical Gardens at Singleton Park in Swansea.
WHY? Although the gardens are at their most stunning in August there is still lots to see even in the winter months, with up to 200 different plants having been seen in flower during this time of the year. Set within the tranquil surroundings of Singleton main park, it is a very relaxing place to sit, relax and maybe seek some inspiration for your own garden.
WHAT’S THE BUZZ? The beautiful Botanical Gardens are based in the old Walled Garden which was used as the kitchen and flower garden by the Vivian family from 1853. Today the gardens contain fine specimens of rare and exotic plants from across the world. There’s plenty to take in, the Botanical Gardens house one of Wales' premier collections of florae, with spectacular herbaceous borders and large glasshouses packed full of displays. The gardens are also home to Ty'r Blodau, an educational and visitor centre available for school visits, workshops and meetings.
ANY HISTORY? In 1847 John Henry Vivian purchased Veranda House for his son Henry Vivian and his wife Jessie. Less than a year later, sadly, Jessie died giving birth to their son. Distraught by his wife’s death, the rich industrialist resolved never to live in the house and by 1853 only the estate lodge remained, the principal part of Veranda House
having been dismantled. St Paul's Church in Sketty was built as a memorial to Jessie and a bronze and red granite statue of Henry Vivian still stands near St. Mary’s Church in the city centre.

By 1919 the Singleton Estate as it had become had amalgamated some 12 farms to amass 250 acres. That year the Swansea County Borough Council decided to purchase the land

from the Vivian family for use as a public park. Daniel Bliss, who was trained at Kew Gardens, was chiefly responsible for the purchase of the estate and in 1920 began to oversee its transformation into a public park and garden. Today’s Botanical Gardens is largely the result of his vision.

WHAT TO TAKE? Singleton Botanical Gardens are free for the public to visit. Parking can be found on Sketty Road outside Singleton Park. Inside the park is the fabulous Pub On The Pond serving great value food everyday of the week for the whole family. With their Squire Deal you can enjoy two main meals for just £10! There’s even a children’s adventure playground just outside, so dress warmly.
LOOK OUT FOR? The glasshouses simulate a variety of different climates from around the world: in the hot Desert House environment you'll find cacti and succulent plants, while in the Tropical House you can see plants found in the rain forest and tropical jungles. These include the comprehensive collection of orchids and epiphytes such as bromeliads and tillandsias. In the Economics glasshouse you’ll find plants that come from mostly sub-tropical regions and some Mediterranean countries, and that are of economic importance, including sugar cane, coconuts, olives and coffee. This glasshouse also contains a colourful collection of begonias.
WHEN TO GO? The gardens are open everyday until 4.30pm. Regular plant sales take place in the gardens every Saturday.
TELL ME MORE: You can find them at Singleton Park in Swansea. For sat nav users the postcode is SA2 8QD. Phone 01792 298637.

Game on at centre

Below is my “Big Day Out” column from the Saturday, January 21, 2012, Swansea edition of the South Wales Evening Post.


Game on at centre
A big day out!
RICHARD THOMAS heads to Crossfire in Swansea.
WHY? With a total of 53 computers spread over two floors, all with all with 17-inch TFT monitors and fast response times, Crossfire is Swansea's best Internet and LAN multiplayer gaming centre.
WHAT’S THE BUZZ? The first-floor gaming room holds 25 computers, laid out in banks of five for ideal team play. Their gaming PCs run on Intel Core 2 Duo processors with 2GB RAM, and Radeon HD4870 or GeForce 8800GTS graphics cards. Every gaming computer has a wide range of games totalling over 400GB, all with their own speakers and headset, for you to use according to preference. Each computer also has a high-quality optical wheel mouse, although, hardcore gamers may prefer to bring their own mouse that they are more used to using. And all computers are networked together so you can play against any number of other players in the building at once.
ANY HISTORY? The history of video games goes as far back as the 1940s, when in 1947 Thomas T. Goldsmith, Jr. and Estle Ray Mann filed a US patent request for an invention they described as a "cathode ray tube amusement device."
WHAT TO TAKE? There is a small charge to use the computers and play the games. Basic internet access, including web browsing, using web mail and instant messengers only costs £2 per hour for members and £2.40 per hour for non-members. Full games access including all the games, plus internet access is £3 per hour or £15 all day for members. For non-members this is £3.60 per hour or £20 all day. Membership is only £10 for a full year and only costs £5 to renew for each subsequent year.
LOOK OUT FOR? There are lots of games, the most popular are the World of Warcraft and Modern Warfare 3.
WHEN TO GO? Crossfire is open all week but in the evenings between 5pm and 9pm and again on Sundays between 10am and 2pm you can enjoy a four-hour session for only £5! Also approximately once a month, Crossfire run an all-night gaming session, from 9:30pm until 9:30am for £15 per head, or you can go for 24 hours for only £25 total. For any all-nighter, you will need to reserve your place by paying either in full or just a £5 deposit. You can pay this using Paypal or a credit card via the Crossfire website, where you can also find information about the next all-nighter.
TELL ME MORE: You can find Crossfire in Swansea’s city centre opposite the Dragon Hotel. For sat users the full address and postcode is: Crossfire, 46 Princess Way, Swansea, SA1 5HE. You phone on 01792 461144 or email them at More information can be found on the Crossfire website at

Bingo! A top day out

Below is my “Big Day Out” column from the Saturday, January 14, 2012, Swansea edition of the South Wales Evening Post.


Bingo! A top day out
A big dat out!
Castle Bingo in Morriston. 
WHY? There are lots of big cash prizes to be won at Castle Bingo in Morriston including prizes of £4,000 and more!
WHAT’S THE BUZZ? Castle Bingo has bingo halls scattered across South Wales with eight purpose built bingo halls in locations including Swansea, Bridgend, Cardiff and Newport.
Castle Bingo in Morriston was first opened in March 1993 and is renowned for its friendly and social atmosphere, as well as being lucky for its members, who have won to date over £4 million on the National Bingo Game. Many of Castle Bingo’s visitors travel from as far as West Wales to play at their favourite bingo club.

ANY HISTORY? Castle Leisure which operates the Castle Bingo chain is one of the oldest private companies in South Wales and has been based in the same Cardiff office continuously since 1856. The history of the game is much older, however.
Bingo or Housey-Housey, as it used to be called in Britain, began in Italy with the Italian lottery in the 1500s. From Italy, the popular pastime is believed to have migrated to Britain and other parts of Europe including France, where Le Lotto as it was known was played by the French aristocracy in the 1700s. Bingo as we know it today was used in 19
th century Germany as an educational tool to teach children the multiplication tables.
In the early 1990s a misconception about the Gaming Act was that if bingo was played using playing cards instead of numbers this would allow public houses to get around the law, which prevented bingo being played for cash prizes in a public place, however, since the Gaming Act has no description of how bingo is played this was to prove false. Despite the law a large number of public houses continued to play the game and still do so today. The government has since legalised all forms of small stakes bingo in public houses.

WHAT TO TAKE? On Saturdays prices start from as little as £4 for an eight page book during morning sessions and £8.50 for afternoon and evening sessions but these prices are different on other days. Hot drinks are available in the club’s coffee bar and just across the road is a McDonalds drive through.
LOOK OUT FOR? The Castle Jackpot where you can win £4,000. All you have to do to win is shout “house” on 45.
WHEN TO GO? Castle Bingo is open seven days a week with sessions starting as early as 12pm and as late as 9.35pm. Monday evenings is the biggest value session of the week, however, with all your bingo for just £10, and with five big £500 second half houses.
TELL ME MORE: For sat nav users the address and postcode is: 41 Clase Road,
Morriston, Swansea, SA6 8DS. You can phone on 01792 772211.

For more information about game prices and start times visit the Castle Bingo website at