Wet, black and red.
Growing up in London, that’s all I knew of Wales – constant rain, coal-black miners and dismissive comments by adults about red strikers.
And children like me being killed in Aberfan. Altogether a gloomy and dangerous place.
Then 30 years ago I had to come and live here, discovering Cardiff’s bus routes, libraries, supermarkets and DIY stores, its parks and people. Occasionally venturing into the even more threatening ‘valleys’.
The Cardiff NHS saw me through child-birth and the buggy pushed memories into my head as it navigated the streets, parks and shops. And babies brought friendships, but only to a point. My mum wasn’t around to babysit, I couldn’t go shopping with my sister, and my nan did not live round the corner. I shared no school-day memories with the swing-pushers beside me. And keeping up these crucial relationships kept the other mums too busy for an alien like me. We could thrive side by side, but we were different plants, growing from different stock, needing different nutrients.
Zoom past Thatcher, Major, Blair, Brown, the setting up of the Welsh Assembly and time working as a scientist, housewife, student and artist. Fast forward 30 Christmases, 10,950 days to meet people, four children, 1,560 weekly shops, and one broken marriage and I find Cardiff is my home. It’s the setting for most of my memories, the place I know best, the place I’m always glad to come back to, the place I’d never want to leave. The most constant factor in my life. I’m a fan.
Layers of memories have grown like tree rings. I walk its streets scanning each face, peering beneath the veils of age and discovering people I knew. Where did we meet? Was it…? Or was it….? Or were you…? But I’m sure I know you. And you’re sure that you know me. And one day our blurry memories may release the knowledge that eludes us now.
The streets are like the people – through the connections in my head, I see what my neighbours don’t see – my own good places and bad, my unique portfolio of connections.
But Cardiff doesn’t just hold the ghosts of the past. It constantly surprises me. Each time I walk down the hill, where I live, the light highlights something different. And I wonder how it’s taken me 30 years to see it. It’s familiar, yet unfamiliar. I can walk my local patch a different way each day.
It’s the same with people. Different circles suddenly reveal links I didn’t dream of, yet there are always new circles to explore. An unlimited source of new opportunities, new encounters, new possibilities for re-inventing yourself, new things to do. It’s big enough to vanish in, but small enough for cosiness.
I wouldn’t claim to be Cardiffian though. There are vast tranches of it where I never tread. Territorial, I fear to tiptoe beyond the boundary of my patch into the threatening unknown, as though I wore a label, “Alien, please target”. And after all, I haven’t read the Echo enough to be Cardiffian and I’ve worked in the valleys so much I’ve grown to love them too.
What am I then? Whatever my accent, I’m utterly, totally certain I’m not English. I don’t fit in over there. I’ve had 30 years without England and Wales has rooted in me, opening my mind, challenging my thinking, re-jigging my understanding, giving me a place to grow. I’d gladly be considered Welsh. Wet, black and red? How wrong can people be?
Katrina Kirkwood is now a digital and storytelling artist. She arrived here a very long time ago as a scientist working in medical research, turned into a mother, then an art student and now loves meeting an incredible variety of people throughout South Wales with her story-making work. You can find out more at her website, www.katrinakirkwood.org. Katrina lives in Penylan and makes a game of NOT having her photo taken.
Katrina was photographed in Roath recreation ground by Adam Chard