“Penguin on a down slope” – Tim

Tim by Ffion Matthews

I am childish.

I have an early childhood memory that I can’t shake off. It is of a penguin racing game where the penguins go up some stairs and then slide serenely down the chute to the bottom and then start back up the stairs… again… once more… + 1… repeat…again.

At that young age, philosophically, my budding pea-brain didn’t consider those king penguins to be trapped in the Labours of King Sisyphus and neither did I consider them chipper-as-it-goes stoic penguins from the wildlife documentaries. Rather, I just liked them and thought of them as simple penguins getting on with life, with steady ups and exciting downs – enduring, definitely doing their thing as long as my batteries lasted.

Cardiff?

My thoughts about penguins date from when I lived in Kent the county you might know as the Garden of England and my penguin racing game was purchased at a garden centre on the outskirts of Maidstone called Notcutts.

It has been lost somewhere since…

What of Cardiff?

When I moved to Cardiff five years ago in my first week in the city I saw Gavin and Charlotte out (I would later see Gavin and Stacey) and in the shop down the road found Penguin Pile-Up (pictured). In actual fact I bought Penguin Pile-Up fully expecting it to be the penguin racing game – I was wrong. The penguins in Penguin Pile-Up shuffle on a shifting outcrop and risk toppling at any moment.

In 2005 there was a big march in London about climate change. I went up on the train.

Is London Cardiff?

Back in my Cardiff home the march and the news coverage changed the way I thought about my environment, so even more profoundly did the groups I joined and the Cardiff people I talked to about climate change…

Cardiff Transition Project is Cardiff.

I like Cardiff. I like it heading for a pub after work on a Friday, when I might get an occasional weightless feeling like it’s pushing back at me with less friction than normal.

Penguin on a down slope.

Tim Fisher is a community organiser for childrens’ rights charity Tros Gynnal. He also is a keen project planner for Cardiff Transition, having organised Octobers Feed Cardiff event and recently received nomination to the Wales Green list for work with Canton Carbon Cutters. Plus he is an amateur writer, blogger and furniture decoupage-ist … don’t you know. Tim currently lives in Splott.

Tim was photographed outside Shree Swaminarayan Temple on Mardy Street in Grangetown by Ffion Matthews

penguins on a down slopy by Ffion Matthews

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“We moved to Cardiff in 1971 – and have loved living here ever since” – John’s story

John Meredith Jones

Although I am a native Welshman, I had been working for the civil service in London for 30 years when I was relocated to Cardiff. Although apprehensive at first, my wife Mary and I bought a home in Whitchurch, and we moved permanently on St. David’s Day, 1st March 1971, and it has been our home ever since. It is good periodically to retrace and recall the path we have been privileged to tread. Retrospection often brings clarity to occurrences that have mystified us for a long time past. On reflection, it is good to be reminded that ‘our lives have fallen in pleasant places’ and that we have a most beautiful inheritance – in Cardiff – our happy home!

When we first came here from the metropolis of London, probably the most renowned cosmopolitan city in the world, Cardiff was a junior city, its status having been granted in 1905. It didn’t look or act like a city. Furthermore, it was only in 1955 that it was designated the capital of this small principality of Wales. In the early 1970s there was a general feeling that, although WWII had ended nearly three decades ago, Cardiff was still licking its wounds. There was a lot of demolishing and rebuilding evident. There was a lot to be done to justify Cardiff as a respectable city of stature, both nationally and internationally.

Regeneration has been the hallmark and the impetus throughout the last 30 years, in industry and commerce. White-collar employment has predominated, replacing big industries’ demands. Manufacturing is now directed mostly for home/domestic market. The building industry has generally been kept busy particularly with new construction and upgrading and modernising houses. Likewise the catering industry, due to the preference for spending holidays in the UK, rather than overseas, has benefited from the changed public decision.

Religion in the city has, of necessity, through falling number of adherents, undertaken a slimming exercise within traditional denominations. Congregations have united and many churches have been declared redundant. With the inward flux of new nationalities there has also been growth in new religions, and consequently, in the building of new meeting places and temples.

The siting of the new Wales Millennium Centre in the docks area in 2006 has attracted new clientele to the area. It is the venue for arts and cultural events, complementing the well-established St. David’s Hall. It is also the home of the Wales National Opera and Orchestra, and the headquarters of the National League for Welsh Children and Youth – the URDD. Coupled with the establishment of the National Assembly for Wales in 2006, the Senedd, all these new structures enhance the status of the waterfront and are a marvelous advertisement to spread the name of Cardiff abroad.

This city is well endowed by the Bute family (three generations), Lord Davies of Llandinam and his two spinster daughters, Roald Dahl and many other benefactors. Cardiff can boast of its Castle (as well as Castell Coch); its unique Civic Centre (arguably the best in Britain, if not in Europe); its post-war rebuilt Llandaff Cathedral (together with the remarkable statue of Jacob Epstein’s ‘Christ in Majesty’, and a completely rebuilt organ); and a greater acreage of parks and open spaces per head of population than, it is said, of any other UK city.

Cardiff has an enviable history for the excellence of its educational facilities, catering from the toddler to the oldest adults, ‘from the cradle to the grave’. The university has fostered a happy research relationship with Welsh industry and further afield. For centuries the educational system was geared towards producing professionals (teachers, solicitors etc) to satisfy English demands. With the comparatively recent legal equal validity of both the English and Welsh languages in Wales, it has undeniably caused recurring problems (in staffing and administrative matters), but also given marvelous opportunities denied to the Welsh language and speakers since – and including – the Tudor period.

Shopping in the city has been revolutionised during the time I have lived here. The establishment of large department stores in shopping precincts has resulted in the mass closure of the small-to-medium family retail stores. This has had an enormous social and economic effect on all the traditional villages and shopping areas. The old “corner shop” has virtually disappeared. It has also resulted in a plethora of charity shops as an alternative to a host of depressing empty shops – a Hobson’s choice for the shop owners.

I remember in earlier years there were only a few instances of violence or mass-misbehaviour in sporting events – an exception possibly was when Cardiff and Swansea were engaged in a football cup-tie! But recently, such bad behaviour has proliferated. Many reasons have been advanced for this, the foremost being as stated by our Prime Minister: “cheap alcohol is turning this country into the Wild West”! The majority would agree with him, I think; I certainly do, and like many others, now prefer to worship the sport from afar and watch the games that are televised. I would still visit live rugby matches though – they are civil and well regulated.

On reflection also, we have bidden farewell to all the street vendors who vocalised their wares in days gone by. The only daily visitor now is the postman and he is usually a silent dropper. The one I miss most is the daily milkman who delivered his “pinta milka day” invariably before breakfast and often before we were awake.

Perhaps one the greatest of all the changes during our 30 years in Cardiff (and indeed throughout the UK) is the change in attitudes, particularly in our personal relationships. The chords that bound together families, for example, are no longer as powerful as they once were. Economic demands were possibly the first to cause this rift – when mother had also got to seek paid work, often during antisocial hours.

One other constant irritation is the traffic congestion and parking facilities. The number of commercial and private vehicles on the roads has proliferated enormously and this is coupled with the poor state of road maintenance. This escalating problem will have to await another Solomon to resolve it. Meantime, I’m afraid, the holes in the roads, both the mains and the subsidiaries, will only get bigger and oftener.

Would I want to move from my present home in Cardiff? The answer is a loud and resounding NO! Thirty-nine years established here surely also qualifies me not to call myself a Cardiffian, and proud of this vibrant city.

I still remember about 25 years ago when crossing over in Niagara from the Canadian side to the United States, the caustic remark of the American officer who examined my passport – “Cardiff? where in heaven’s name is that?”

I recall also when we first arrived here we received a letter, properly addressed to Cardiff, which had been incredibly misdirected to the corresponding town in the USA. It was subsequently returned to us with the astonishing red ink addition on the envelope – “Try Wales”! Now I believe the whole world is aware of Cardiff, if only because of its international sporting connections with the Millennium Stadium.

It is also good to be reminded of our antecedents! To be reminded that it was a product of the 19th century industrial revolution. Were it not for the exploitation of iron ore and coal in the hinterland, Cardiff might still be a fishing village! Its remarkable wealth was the product of the extraction of those minerals from the earth’s belly at the vast human effort and sacrifices of the inhabitants of those three Welsh valleys. Yes, we should be proud of those men and women – and be grateful.

And to end, foremost in my mind is the old hymn –

“Count your blessings, name them one by one,
And it will surprise you what the Lord has done”.

I find this profound in its simplicity. Yes, give thanks where it is due – including, for 39 years of happy living in this part of Cardiff, and for the friendships we’ve found here.

John Meredith Jones was born in Braichgarw, Tal-y-bont, and gave a lifetime’s service to the civil service. He currently lives in Whitchurch.

John was photographed with his wife Mary up a hill somewhere in Wales, sometime in the 1950s.

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“I packed my bags, without a job, without a place to stay, without any friends, and Cardiff embraced me” – Roopa

RoopaCheema small

Been there. Got the t-shirt.

I do not live in Cardiff. But I used to. I am from Canada and live in Toronto.

I hated to fly. I was not “afraid” to fly, meaning I was not afraid of terrorists or the plane crashing. I just hated the whole experience and so did my body. I would always find myself sick at the other end of my destination. I hated it so much, in fact, one summer I was willing to take the 36-hour train ride from Toronto, Ontario to Halifax, Nova Scotia (Canada is really effin’ huge). I thought to myself, “Roopa, if you don’t get on the 2-hour flight to Halifax now, you may never fly again.” I got on that flight in the summer of 2002, victoriously.

The next summer I braved the 8-hour flight and went to Cardiff.

I ended up in Cardiff because I had a met a Welsh guy in university. He was in Toronto on exchange. He made me fall in love with all things Welsh. He was very patriotic, but in an endearing way. We became very good friends. Unfortunately, before I was to make my way to Wales we had a falling out and I ended up in Cardiff without knowing a soul. You know what, though? I would not have had it any other way. Cardiff became mine and mine alone. I did not have to share those memories with anyone.

I arrived at the train station and hailed a cab to the Cardiff Backpackers where I had paid for three nights. I was ready to meet Welsh people and delve into Welsh culture, only to be driven through a very East Indian part of town! WHAT??? I am Indian! I did not want to see Indian people! I wanted to meet Welsh people!

I found a place to stay in Cathays via the Cardiff Free Exchange. I met my future roommates outside Cardiff Castle and trotted back to their home. I could not believe how cold it was in Wales. It was late April and the nights were freezing! I know. A Canadian girl who cannot handle the cold? Canada cold and Wales cold are two different colds: Canada is dry and Wales is damp. The cold got into my bones like no other cold. And because heat is so expensive in Wales my roommates only turned it on for one hour in the morning and maybe two hours in the evening. I even had to buy a winter duvet for sleeping.

Next thing I needed was a job.

I went to St. David’s Centre and looked around. I went to shops I recognised and landed an interview at The Body Shop (we have those in Canada, too). I continued walking around and found myself on The Hayes and in front of MVC. I had many years of music and video retail experience from Canada and thought they might like a foreigner who is into music. I walked in and heard U2. I am a huge U2 fan and I took it as a sign. I knew I was going to get that job.

My days at MVC were so much fun. The staff was awesome, the customers were nice (especially when they found out I was Canadian and not American), and I have never been hit on by so many men in my entire life! White boys in Wales sure do like their brown girls.

Going to Clwb Ifor Bach, drinking at the Owain Glyndr, buying jewellery in the arcade, visiting Caerphilly Castle, trying to understand why everyone thought people from Merthyr Tydfil were weird, stumbling around drunk and taking pictures on the stairs of Marks & Spencer’s, walking to and from Tewkesbury Street in Cathays to MVC on The Hayes are just some of the memories I hold dear of Cardiff.

Cardiff, to me, means overcoming a fear of mine and finding out more about who I am. I packed my bags, without a job, without a place to stay, without any friends and Cardiff embraced me. I have nothing but fond memories. Everyone was so nice.

In 2006, my old friend from Wales (the one I had had a falling out with) and I rekindled our friendship. I was over the moon because he and I were meant to be lifelong friends. Two years later, in the summer of 2008, I returned to Cardiff and found it as lovely as ever.

I fell in love again.

Roopa Cheema is a high school geography and dance teacher in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. She likes to rock out. She used to live in Cathays.

Roopa photographed herself wearing a Spiller’s Records t-shirt

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“Pontcanna Fields Forever” – Seren

serenrhys

Pontcanna Fields Forever

City summer skies

The green lungs of Cardiff breathe

Urban heat shimmers

The air is fresh and gentle but the June heat beats like a slackened drum, a constant slow rhythm of warmth intensifying as the sun reaches midday. It is the most perfect summer’s day in the city. In the heart of the capital, the urban rat race is a distant hum.

A huge green lung like a refreshing sigh.

In the heart of the city, in a vast area of parkland running alongside the River Taff, we lay, entangled in shades of gold and symbols, sharing a kiss against a bronze background like a Fin de siècle Klimt painting.

Nothing moves.

The long line of lime trees are frozen in stillness, leaves caught in the flaring June sun, and the world around us swims in the shimmering golden haze.

The sky is limitless. Blue. Cloudless. No birds.

I have just awoken from a deep sleep wine fueled daze. Our picnic remnants scattered. He is asleep. His eye lids flicker and he stirs, moving to resettle on my shoulder. I wonder what he is dreaming.

I raise my arms and s-t-r-e-t-c-h, blinded by the whiteness of the sun. Like a synchronised dance he shadows my movements but does not wake.

Where the picnic blanket ends I feel the irritable itch of grass blades on the backs of my legs. I imagine the criss cross red pressured welts that tattoo my skin – a testimony to our first summer outing in the city this year.

My body pulses sensations, with being alive and lying here with him in the summer heat.

I turn and look at the dappled grass, shaded it looks cool and inviting. The sensations of lying under the trees where the grass is soft and damp would be soothing but the thought of moving is too much to contemplate.

This beautiful never ending summer’s day is almost unbearable. The sun moves slowly on through the listless blue of the sky. I watch it, totally aware of my,
our,
own insignificance.

I shut my eyes and the sun pulses ochre against my lids.

Seren Rhys was born in 1970, in Llandeilo, Wales, spent her childhood in Ibiza and her  adolescence in Penarth. She has always been obsessed with taking photographs and has spent much of her life behind and in front of the lens. “I have this compulsion to record every moment; love, hate, anger, jealousy, anguish. Fortunately for me Confessional Art in the last decade has become highly fashionable.” Check out her blog here and her Facebook fan page here. Seren lives in Pontcanna.

Seren was photographed in Bute Park by Simon Ayre

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