Seasonal cheer

We Are Cardiff will be taking a break for Christmas and the New Year. Enjoy yourselves, be merry. If you’re really missing us have a look through the We Are Cardiff archives to see if there are any stories that you’ve missed.

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See you on January 7th, 2011!


“My Welsh grandmother did not approve of our Kaardiff accent” – Keith


I was born just before the birth of the NHS, in what became St David’s Hospital, which I think means I was born in the workhouse! I moved into a new council house in Ely in 1952; I was one of the tiny percentage of children allowed to pass the 11+ from Trelai Primary, which was new then and has been rebuilt since. Seven years in Canton High School completed my transformation from an Ely boy into a middle-class student at Sussex University in 1966.

Curiously, it was only on moving to England that I realised that I was Welsh and not English. I only had one Welsh grandparent and my surname comes from Kent. Actually, my Welsh grandmother did not approve of our Kaardiff accent and started the move to the RP English I now use.

I married an English woman (though an Aberystwyth graduate) and we raised two children in England. We gave them both Welsh middle names. Holidays were often spent in Wales and I would tell the children something of the history and of the language. Before going to sixth-form college, our daughter decided to use her Welsh middle name, becoming Carys instead of Ruth. She went on to gain a First in Celtic Studies at Aberystwyth, which was followed by research into the development of aspects of Irish and Welsh at Cambridge. So if nothing else I have added a Welsh-speaker to the language gene-pool.

My wife and I returned to Cardiff almost seven years ago and we have been learning Welsh since we came back. So I want to write about my experience as a returning Cardiffian. In fact, I’m going to explore the old cliché “Thank the Lord we are a musical nation”, which was trotted out ad nauseam in the Ryder Cup coverage earlier this year. I have been a choral singer for around 30 years, but the biggest singing occasions I have experienced have all been since returning to Cardiff.

The first occasion was the Gala Opening of the Millennium Centre. I had watched the building being completed on my bike rides down to the Bay and absolutely loved the way the architecture reflected the landscapes of Wales. I was determined to be there for the opening celebrations, not with the big-wigs inside but with the people outside. A choir of at least 1000 people gathered on Roald Dahl Plass on a very unsettled November afternoon to rehearse the programme with Owain Arwel Hughes. He understood the occasion and helped the choir to generate huge amounts of hwyl.

We sang through the rain and wind and went to find refreshment before returning well after dark and with the weather worsening. The concert itself was exhilarating and we gathered a huge crowd, standing about 12 deep in a semi circle behind the choir and listening with rapt attention despite the rain. The climax was the singing of “Mae hen wlad fy nhadau”. Everybody sang with immense passion and it was at that moment I realised that post-referendum Wales was now not just a clichéd “musical nation” but a real nation with world standing.

This is an immense change. Cardiff is a world capital and most people are far more self-confident in their Welshness, even if it is an Anglophone Welshness.

I have also been involved in two major musical projects run by WNO-Max, the Opera Company’s outreach team. For me they were hugely emotional experiences with an enormous sense of community. The first, The Most Beautiful Man from the Sea, involved a choir of 500 that filled the big stage in the WMC. In over three months of rehearsals we became a huge family. It was the first time I had to interact with an audience without being able to hide behind the score and it was a huge boost to my-self-esteem.

Last year’s “On the Rim of the World” was a much smaller affair but involved moving around and acting, something I’ve not done since I was about 11. The sense of community was enhanced by the number of children and young people taking part. The opera was taken up by all the major opera companies in the U,K but only in Wales was it sung in four part harmony! In fact, in London the English National Opera had to stiffen the adults with professional singers even to get it done in unison!

Recently I was part of 2000 strong choir at the concert to mark the opening of the Ryder Cup. We were there to add hwyl to the singing of our National Anthem at the end of the concert. The three members of my choir, Canton Chorus, nearest me were a woman of Kent, just arrived in Cardiff, a French woman who has lived in Cardiff on and off for several years and a Californian woman of Welsh descent and married to a Welshman but who had only been in Cardiff for a couple of months. All took part with enthusiasm and a lack of self consciousness that spoke volumes for the way they had been made welcome in Cardiff. Julia, the Californian, was struck by the involvement of so many young people both on stage and in the many choirs around us.

For me, it was a milestone. Since school I have had a mental block about learning the Welsh words to “Mae hen wlad fy nhadau”, I never felt Welsh enough to be able to sing it properly. However, I’ve almost cracked; the last line of the verse still foxes me but I’m almost there.

Apart from that, the occasion was a bit of bust from where I was but it was interesting to watch the part played by Prince Charles and see how the performers and audience responded to him. In fact, there were some massive breaches of protocol: he followed Carwyn Jones on to the stage and spoke after him. Several times the compere forgot to include him in the salutations, relegating him to one of the “Distinguished Guests”. I don’t think these were deliberate slights but take them as evidence that we are no longer in awe to the power of London. In fact, the comment by the compere that got the biggest cheer was: “Here in Wales we think of ourselves primarily as Europeans!”

Thank the Lord I’m a Cymro and we are a nation – a musical one at that!

Keith Underdown is a retired enterprise information architect who returned to the city of his birth almost seven years ago. Keith wrote his first computer program in 1969. Follow him on Twitter – @KeithUnderdown. He is a committed Christian, choral singer, allotment holder and cancer survivor. He currently lives in Gabalfa.

Keith was photographed at the Wales Millennium Centre by Adam Chard


A lifetime of supporting Cardiff City – Dan’s story


Ninian Park. What a strange name. What a strangely alluring place. Its shabby terraces, corrugated iron and wooden seats had been my home-from-home for the past 20 years or so. My dad had first taken me down the City (as we call following the local association football team here) for a promotion party game against Crewe Alexandra in May 1988.

And from the moment I sat in the grandstand that day until the final whistle when grown men with bad 80s perms and tight stonewash jeans invaded a little piece of grass and danced around and hugged each and just looked so bloody happy, I was hooked. I wanted to be that happy. Every Saturday please. No more BMX rides around Splott or shopping trips to town with my mum for me. No way. I was going to the happiness factory to dance around, have a bit of a laugh and forget about my biology homework.

Turns out we didn’t get promoted every Saturday. Most Saturdays we lost and it rained and there was no dancing and very little hugging. I can only blame my father. Taking me to a promotion party for my first ever game was the equivalent of taking a girl to Paris on a first date. ‘Yes darling, I’m always this romantic’ you’d say as she gazed into your eyes at an intimate Michelin-starred restaurant on the banks of the Seine while a waiter brought over oysters and champagne and the band struck up Beethoven’s ‘Ode to Joy’, knowing full well next week she’d be lucky to get half a cider out of you at the Labour Club and she’d better keep quiet as there was a good singer from the Valleys on.

And then last year, after two decades of bad dates, the old place was no more. Knocked down flat to have houses built on it, while the City moved to a brand new state-of-the art piece of Meccano across the road in Leckwith. Like most Bluebirds fans, I had mixed feelings about the move. It was painfully obvious the club needed to move with the times and have a place to call home that was attractive to people other than sadistic football fans and which could ring the tills seven days a week through hosting everything from business breakfasts to Bar Mitzvahs.

But Ninian Park was home. Having moved around a hell of lot over the past ten years (student accommodation in Liverpool to shared house to failed house purchases with girlfriends to sofas) and with neither of my parents living in my childhood home, it was the place I felt most comfortable on Earth. And it was being taken away too.

Ninian Park saw some sights in its time. Crowds of 60,000. Pope John Paul II. Bob Marley. And me.

Dan Tyte is a PR Director at Working Word. He loves debut albums, tea and, as you probably guessed from the above, Cardiff City FC. He’s on Twitter @dantyte, writes a column about man stuff for the Western Mail, blogs for Wales Online Your Cardiff, wrote about music for the dearly departed Kruger Magazine and other stuff for other national mags. He’s currently writing his debut novel, which you’ll all be reading on Eastern European city breaks in 2015.

Dan was photographed at Ninian Park by Ffion Matthews



“Layers of memories have grown around my life in Cardiff, like rings on a tree trunk” – Katrina


My Cardiff.

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, Katrina lives in Penylan and makes a game of NOT having her photo taken.

Katrina was photographed in Roath recreation ground by Adam Chard