Category Archives: Personal Story

MaDCaff at L;ttle Sparks, Part 1 and Part 2

MaDCaff was delighted to be asked to be part of L;ttle Sparks, the first ever Welsh Mental Health Arts Festival. The Festival saw events across Wales from Cardiff to Caernarfon and many places in between.

MaDCaff put on two events, one at Theatr Soar in Merthyr Tydfil and another at the National Botanic Gardens of Wales. Both were new venues for MaDCaff, Theatr Soar provided an amazing backdrop with its beautiful organ and the Great Glasshouse at the National Botanic Gardens of Wales is a venue that is hard to surpass in terms of the splendor o the architecture and the flora and fauna are just amazing from the exotic planting to the flock of native sparrows that have made the glasshouse their home.

The other thing that was very different at these two events was the lack of Miranda. This is the reality o living with a mental illness. Bi-polar disorder is not an easy thing to live with and whilst MaDCaff celebrates the creativity of people with mental health conditions we also have to live with the not such fun aspects and in this case, Miranda had been unwell for months, so unwell that there was no way she was able to face being in a public stage, never mind M.C.’ing an event so that part was left to me, despite the protestations of certain people who didn’t really think I could do it… well, surprise, surprise, I did do it and it wasn’t too awful. So, lets see what happened at the two events.

Theatr Soar, Merthyr Tydfil

So, this was the first event MaDCaff had done outside Ceredigion and having never been to this venue, it took me some time to find it and then be escorted through the various lifts and corridors to reach the theatr itself. It’s not a big auditorium but it certainly is perfectly formed with a historic look despite it being opened in 2011. The organ has to be seen to be believed – this image is courtesy of Theatr Soar’s website


So, once we had all arrived and set up we realised that this was going to be a rather different MaDCaff with many more spoken word performers than musicians. I think this was due to the new location and also to Miranda not being able to round up all the musicians, as she would normally have done. We did, however, have one stalwart of the MaDCaff scene, Mr Dai Sharkey, always a vey popular performer, not just with the MaDCaff audience. Dai was with his gorgeous daughter, Sophie who accompanied him on several of his songs and a few solos. Sophie and Dai singing together are a delight to listen to, harmonising together in a way that only family singing together seem to be able to achieve. Sophie is going to be a great singer in her own right one day and being able to sing with her Dad is a great grounding for her.

Amongst the spoken word artists we had everything from “A Poem about Pain, Death and Loneliness” (yes, ok, that was me) to the antics of Fit Rich’s stand-up comedy. Richard Newnham is a really funny guy, whether he is on or off the stage and we were regaled with stories about dinosaurs as well as his trademark – tell me the name of an animal and I’ll tell you a joke about it. I think he must have a wealth of animal jokes in his head because he always has something funny in response. We had poetry rom Maggie Hampton and Sara Mackay, Disability Arts Cymru’s Directors who were let out of the office for the weekend. We heard Beth Mackay on the piano, pretending she couldn’t play it then secretly tickling the ivories when she thought we were all clearing up. The prize or best newcomer though, had to be given to Michael Breeze, and his poetry. Any poem that can incorporate Mobius bands is a winner as far as I’m concerned and we all really hoped to see Michael again.

The gallery below shows, in order of appearance, Sara Mackay, Maggie Hampton, Richard Newnham, Michael Breeze, Beth Mackay, Dai Sharkey and Sophie.

The Great Glasshouse, National Botanic Gardens of Wales

Despite being without Miranda again, this was a successful event, though weighted rather towards the spoken word artist again – not that there’s anything wrong with that.

Ruth Cooke and her guitar provided us with both songs and poems, all delivered in her inimitable style. Michael Breeze, who we discovered at Theatr Soar, came along and gave us some more of his poems. We think he probably has quite a collection and he’s good, really good, someone should be hammering on his door begging to publish his poetry (if they haven’t already).

Would you believe that in a small nice in Cardiff there are 2 Sara Mackays (one we know as Sara Beer for the sake of confusion avoidance) and both were in attendance and provided us with spoken word entertainment. There’s so much talent in that once it’s amazing that any real work gets done.

It was my Birthday – completely by co-incidence and having spent the previous year’s Birthday in agony with a newly prolapsed disc, on my own, it was rather nice to be with company and doing something rather more cheerful. So, to celebrate, I did a completely improvised monologue about suicide, forgetting that I was being broadcast to the whole of the Great Glasshouse, not just the MaDCaff audience, but it turned out ok and I had a complete stranger tell me that she had been moved to tears – I think it was a compliment, or at least I’m going to take it that way.

The Gallery below shows, in order of appearance, Sara Beer, Ruth Cooke, Rob, Michael Breeze (these two seem to have colluded on the pink trousers) and Sara Mackay.


Whilst both events went well, despite a smaller audience than MaDCaff  is used to, at least we trod some new ground, having always wanted to extend MaDCaff  beyond Ceredigion, so we certainly achieved that. There was just one thing that was not quite right, the lack of Miranda and all I can say is that we missed her and both MaDCaff  and I want our Miranda back… get well soon, we need you.


The MaDCaffers travel to MediaCityUk

Apologies for the lateness of this entry. Both of us have been dealing with health issues since we got back from Salford (nothing to do with the trip). It’s shocking how fast time passes when you’re not having fun. But I really want to share with you, dear reader, the trip we went on. It’s mainly a pictorial record.

So this was all about The Epic Awards, an annual awards ceremony to celebrate the best in voluntary arts. Each country had a winner, plus there was a people’s choice category, an award for organisations working with young people and another for disability organisations. MaDCaff was the winner of the Wales category, with the Cardiff Photomarathon as runners up. But I was pretending that I didn’t know this because I wanted Miranda to have a surprise on the night.

So Salford seems like a long way from Wales – and it is, not just in miles but the whole experience could not be further from rural Wales unless we went to Vegas.


Getting ready to leave Wales – with our new Hoodies

So we arrived on Thursday evening and I certainly did not have in mind for MediaCityUK what it actually turned out to be. I thought it was going to be a big building in the middle of Salford. Google maps was not a lot of help as it made the whole place look like a building site – you can even see cranes…

MediaCityUK building site

MediaCityUK building site

What I should have done is look at Apple Maps which gives a much better impression of what’s actually there.

MediaCityUK in 3D mapping

MediaCityUK in 3D mapping

So it turns out that once you’re inside MediaCityUK it’s a bit like a gated community, in a literal way, so if you try to drive into the complex you will come up against a rising road blocker – you can just see it at the end of the street, below…


Driving into MediaCityUK


See the rising road blocker?

So, the interesting thing (you can try it for yourself (Opens in new window)) if you try to drive (using Google street maps, not a car) you are shown this…


Nope, you’re not driving in there

So, anyway, there we were in a mini city, admiring the view from the Holiday Inn

IMG_0057 - Version 2

View from Hotel

And being amazed at the green lighting in the hotel bathrooms

Green lighting in bathroom

No, it’s not a creepy mortuary scene from a horror film, it’s an accessible bathroom

So we treated ourselves to posh pizza at Marco’s and crashed out for the night.

The next morning we had a bit of time to explore,

beach bar

Some of the strange things we encountered, including huge outdoor TVs

strangely shaped benches

Curly wurly benches

Miranda pointing to MaDCaff on hoodie

Miranda shows off the brand

The afternoon was given over to a series of seminars in the Salford University building. The seminars were hosted by Sheila McClennon, and included various local starts of the voluntary arts, some very impressive people. (See our Tweets from the event if you are interested).


Sheila Mcclendon chairs the session

After the seminars we had a break to go back to the hotel and prepare ourselves for the evening. We chose to get ourselves hoodies printed up so that we wouldn’t have to worry about getting dressed up, though I wasn’t prepared for quite how hot the hoodies were to wear which meant I had to keep taking mine off and on again.

Holiday Inn as the sun sets

Holiday Inn as the sun sets

The evening session was held at one of the BBC buildings and we were given an escort for the evening who was very attentive indeed. We were offered a choice of two tables towards the back of the room and having chosen one we saw the people from the Kent Society for the blind, including a blind woman with her guide dog. None of the other parties were escorted to tables – is this positive discrimination?? I’m not complaining. I certainly wasn’t complaining on my second glass of champagne. The ‘nibbles’ were absolutely delicious as well and we ate enough of them that we didn’t need any dinner afterwards.

Miranda holds 2 glasses of champagne

Miranda says “Cheers”

Epic Cake

Epic Cake

So by this time Miranda has started to spot that we might be there as winners so it was probably just as well that Wales was the first category to be announced and guess what… we won. What we didn’t know was what we were going to win.

Miranda holding glass plate and Rachel holding framed certificate

MaDCaff winners

Miranda with glass plate

Miranda with glass plate

It’s a really beautiful plate and here’s my best attempt at getting a picture that does it justice.

Glass Plate

Glass Plate

So, we sat and clapped everyone else, each of the winning groups had a short video compilation of the work they do and it was great to see what the voluntary arts in the UK are doing, the difference that their work makes and the ingenuity and creativity that goes into it. Knitted Knockers were the group that won the People’s Choice award and it seems to have captured people’s attention as they were featured on breakfast TV the next morning. But it was Quazar the Guide Dog that was the star of the show if you ask me. He wasn’t content with all the attention being on his human and made sure that everyone knew he was there – without the slightest bit of misbehaviour.

Kinitted Knockers - showing what they do

Kinitted Knockers – showing what they do

Quasar the guide dog, accepting his prize

Quasar the guide dog, accepting his prize

By the time it was all over were just about ready for bed, but I couldn’t resist taking a few more photos of the amazing, surreal place that is MediaCityUk.

Media City panorama 1

Media City panorama 1

Media City panorama 2

Media City panorama 2

Media City pavement lighting

Media City pavement lighting

The next morning we did a little bit of exploring, including a trip on the tram – which was not what I thought it would be at all – it’s very modern and new as well as completely accessible, no portable ramps. So we were heading for a particular shopping venue, all because I had spotted that there was a particular shop that I absolutely had to visit, a shop that I have never come across before. I’ve bought items from the brand but never seen a whole shop dedicated to it.


Lowry Outlet – map

So here’s where it went a bit wonky. Thinking we needed to take a tram to get to this place was the first mistake, but I was confused by the fact that a lot of shopping centres are called ‘The Quays” or “xxx Quays” so we headed for the stop called “Anchorage Quay” but the Quay in this instance was nothing to do with the place we were heading to. What we didn’t know what that we had taken ourselves about a mile from our destination, which was probably no more than 100m from where we started. Not only that but it was starting to rain. We kept thinking that it would be just round this corner, then that corner and when we finally came up it….

Lowry Outlet Centre - steps, steps and more steps

Lowry Outlet Centre – steps, steps and more steps

Yep, steps forever.

But at least we had found the building. After which I left Miranda to recover with a cuppa while I went off to find the shop I was looking for.

This Mall, it turns out, does not have a very good rating and perhaps I should have read before setting out but I didn’t really care as where else am was I going to find and entire shop dedicated to … have you guessed it yet?

Outside Dickies shop in the Lowry outlet


So I will now publicly apologise to Miranda for dragging her through the rain to a place she didn’t have the slightest interest in, but I just couldn’t give up the chance to see a whole shop dedicated to utilitarian workwear. It’s unlikely I’ll ever be in Salford again so it was a case of seize the opportunity.

So after I had satisfied my lust for waterproof trousers, we left the mall and went back to the car the short way, passing through MediaCityUK central to catch a farewell picture.

Miranda waves farewell to Goodbye MediaCityUK

Goodbye MediaCityUK

So goodbye MediaCityUK, it was nice knowing you.

Yes, we are being noticed, and getting some interesting questions…..

Last week Miranda and Rachel had a chat with Katherine Landergan who is a Graduate Journalism Student at City University, London, although she is actually from the other side of the pond. Katherine is writing about people with mental health conditions who have found unexpected  artistic benefits from seeing the world in a different way. She would very much like to talk to anyone who has experienced this personally. We are trying to persuade her to come down to the next MaDCaff as we think she will meet plenty people to talk to there, but it would help if she knew for sure that somebody would be up for talking to her.  She has written this introduction for us to share:

“I’m pursing a project about people who have channeled their mental illness to do positive things. In the past, I have interviewed a number of people with a variety of mental illnesses and I found most had one thing in common; they found their illness had some unexpected good sides to it. One man I interviewed was a talented musician, and he said having bipolar disorder has immensely helped him make beautiful music. Another woman, who also had bipolar disorder, said her illness helped her design creative sets for her university’s musicals.

“I’m hoping to find someone who has a mental illness, such as bipolar disorder or schizophrenia, and feels that the disorder has
helped them with their music or art. If someone is on the fence and would like to learn more about my project, I’d be happy to answer any additional questions they might have. My email is:, – if you would like Katherine’s phone number, email us at MaDCaff and we’ll pass it on.

“Here is a story I wrote in the United States:

Miranda’s Story


Miranda playing at Dai’s gig ‘Schizophrenic’

Hi, I’m Miranda and I am the co-founder of MaDCaff, and thought I’d share my story with you…

I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in 1993. I was 21 years old. I think it’s important to stress that back then we didn’t have the technology that we do today. I didn’t have the same freedom of information, and the ability to communicate with people from all over the world that I am privileged to enjoy today. I mention this straight away because I do believe that with knowledge, education, support, and self-awareness, people living with mental health problems can have a good quality of life.

Back in 1993 though, it was a very different picture. I was given a label, ‘Manic Depression’ they said, and some pills, and that was the extent of the ‘support’ I received. I had experienced a psychotic manic episode, which led to being hospitalized. I was confused, frightened, and very inept to deal with what was happening to me. I felt like I carried a dirty secret and felt very ashamed to have this label.

It wasn’t until my third admission to hospital in 2008 that I was fortunate to meet with someone from Bipolar UK. David, was a Bipolar UK volunteer, going into mental health wards and sharing his own story, and inviting people with bipolar to join Bipolar UK, an organization that went on to become very important to me. I was so touched by David’s story. I had never knowingly met another person with bipolar up until this point. His story was very similar to my own experience of the illness, and yet here he was, large as life and listening to my hypomanic ramblings.

I might add that between 1993 and 2008, fifteen years, not one of the professionals involved in my care had even signposted me towards the charity that is Bipolar UK!

When I became well again, I joined Bipolar UK. I later went on to complete a 3-day self-management training course, which has changed my life. Not only did I meet another 12 people with Bipolar, but I was also empowered to begin to take back control of this condition, realizing I held the keys to my own well-being. This was enormously powerful for me.

I later went on to train as a facilitator of these courses. I also did volunteer peer mentoring for Bipolar UK, and co-facilitated my local Bipolar UK self-help group.

I should say at this point that I have a background in Music and Dance; that I am a creative sort of person. Last year I noticed something was missing in my life – something to bring it all together, my experience of mental illness and my creativity. I talked it over with a friend, the idea of bringing together other musicians and dancers who also had experience of mental illness. Later this idea would become MaDCaff, open café events showcasing the talents of those who have been, or are affected by mental illness.

Dai Sharkey at Schizophrenic

Dai Sharkey at Schizophrenic

Last year, I was invited by a friend, Dai Sharkey to perform at an event he was putting on called ‘Schizophrenic’. He was working in partnership with Time to Change Wales, in an attempt to help break down the stigma surrounding mental health. This was right up my street. I had been well for almost a year, and relished an opportunity to sing my songs, and talk about my experiences. I did the gig, and met the TTCW team. (More Photos here) I then applied for funding from TTCW with the help of a very good friend, Rachel Stelmach, West Wales Field Officer for Disability Arts Cymru, and MaDCaff was born.

Today, with a clearer insight into my own triggers and warning signs, a significant support network, and new technology, I no longer fell alone with my label/diagnosis. I belong to an online group of people with bipolar disorder, as well as a couple of chat rooms. I also have an e-mail mentor from The Blurt Foundation. All of these things significantly contribute to my well being.

I have been well for well over a year now and I am so happy to be involved with TTCW and their campaign to end stigma around mental health.

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