I grew up in a small village eight miles outside of Cardiff. Cardiff was the big town we were allowed to get the bus to on Saturdays. The last bus home on a Saturday was ten past five! One of my last school trips in primary school was to Cardiff Bay- “Europe’s most exciting waterfront development”- the slogan sticks in my mind with the image of remaining piles of coal and remnants of industry amongst promised development. A few years later, along with my friend Paul, I was a school-rep on Cardiff Council’s Young People’s forum. We only went for the free sandwiches and time off school. At the time County Hall, Atlantic Wharf was virtually the only new building down the Bay. Little did I know then I’d be spending so much time there.
While I have amazing memories of Cardiff as a child- being smuggled into rugby matches at the Arms Park under my dad’s jacket and picnics in Bute park stick in the mind- by the time it came to go to university I knew I wanted to be somewhere else, learn new neighbourhoods, and new people. I only went as far as Bristol, but it was so big, so different, so vibrant and mixed –I still miss it sometimes. But strangely, being in Bristol only strengthened my love of Cardiff, and Wales.
I’d said I’d never come back, I probably sneered slightly at my friends who never left. A year or so after graduating I got a job working for an MP in Bristol. Although I’d grown up with actively Labour parents, and been a member of the party as a teenager, my membership had ‘actively lapsed’. Politics was far from my mind in Uni. I’d marched against the war, voted green, maybe even voted lib dem. It didn’t matter to my boss that I wasn’t a party member- she must have seen it in me. After a while, I wanted to do further study. I was really interested in the things going on in Wales, in Cardiff. Since I’d been away the Assembly had been established, there seemed a new momentum and purpose in Cardiff- like it had begun to realise its identity as a capital city.
I’d never actually lived in Cardiff, only in the leafy privileged green belt. It was exciting looking for somewhere to live, from Splott and Roath to Llandaff North and eventually Canton. I remember house hunting- we kept getting confused between City Road and Cowbridge Road East. Seems ridiculous now, but although I’d always said I was from Cardiff, I realised I didn’t know its geography, the short cuts, the hidden gems. I landed on my feet and have loved Canton ever since. I love living in a neighbourhood where you can walk to work, to parks, the shops, and back from town at two in the morning when it seemed like a good idea at the time. And I love living in a city where as well as all those things, you can be on the beach, in the mountains, or the rolling countryside in within half an hour.
Maybe a little bit of me felt like a fraud when I decided to stand as a Councillor for Canton two years ago- I’d only been living here for five years. But then it’s a neighbourhood where people do come and go, a mixture of old and young, new radicals and die-hards Cantonians. And now my home, and that of my family.
Friends from other parts of the UK still can’t quite understand how we still have such a close knit group of friends from home, from school, from Cardiff. That’s the thing you can’t pin down. We all gravitate back to Cardiff- we don’t want bigger, maybe we don’t even want edgier- it’s our comfort zone, I’m proud to say my comfort zone, and I salute you for it Cardiff.
Cerys lives in Canton, Cardiff. She works for the National Institute of Adult Continuing Education (NIACE) and is a Labour Councillor, representing Canton since 2008. Cerys has worked in education for the last six years, and been an active in Labour politics for far longer. You can follow her on twitter @cerysfurlong. She has one daughter and currently lives in Canton.
Cerys was photographed at Canton Library by Ffion Matthews
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