“An Ely Tale” – Mab


I am from Ely. A lot of people don’t believe me when I tell them this. They listen to my polite, merely Diff-tinged accent, and think – she can’t be an Elyite! Elyopian? No way! They think I am telling fibs. I would like to drag them by their slender wrists to the house I grew up in, a tiny dwelling the size of a tooth. It’s not a fairy tale, I’d like to say; this is the garden in which my father used to shoot cats; this is the kitchen with women instead of appliances…

I didn’t like Ely. Some people seem to have a Grand Avenue of a time but, as fairy tales go, I found it a bit Grimm. I escaped into books at an early age, then I escaped to private school – Howell’s, in Llandaff. I had an assisted place. Getting on the crowded bus in my Harry Potter-esque uniform, with its crest-chested blazer, pinstripe blouse, and straw boater in summer, attracted some attention. But I was glad to get away. As soon as I was over the bridge, I began feeling better. When I think back, now, I realise it isn’t Ely I dislike – it’s poverty. Ely is a large council estate, and the stain-glass windows and red-carpeted entrance of Howell’s School were a luxurious balm to the cracked glass and bare stairs of Home.

Ely had such a powerfully negative effect on me that, by extension, I also disliked Cardiff. Caroline Street, with its porn shops, chippies, and army surplus stores seemed to summarise life as far as I could see it. Sex, food, and death; the gutters full of misery and fag ends. My mother came from a long line of housewives, a slave to her husband, her ovaries, and the kitchen sink. She got pregnant with me when she was 17, and that was considered a late start. I wanted more, but Cardiff didn’t seem to have the thing I was looking for.

I was the first in my family not to have a kid in her teens, and the first to finish school. I even went so far as to do an MA. However, I was also very overweight, and very withdrawn. For a period of about 8 years, I hardly spoke, a condition that was only later diagnosed as Selective Mutism. Then, aged 23, I escaped to Japan… The rich pink cherry blossoms and deep red maple leaves were an even greater balm than the décor of high school. I lived in an artist house next to a mountain, and began speaking again. But by the end of three years, I felt like returning…

I went to London, with the intention of moving there, but came back to Wales after one day. Cardiff was as grey and dull as I remembered – but things were beginning to change. I remember the Arms Park being taken down, and I didn’t feel sorry. I took pictures of the Millennium Stadium being built up, and I was glad. This new building was bigger and brighter – it had ambition. I saw the Bay transform itself from grey sludge into sparkly shops, eateries, boat tours, and buildings. To me, it felt like the dingy city of my childhood was suddenly sparking into colour; as if the dowdy, drab-haired housewife was finally putting on her glad-rags, painting her nails, getting a perm… Monotomy and monogamy were set aside, as Cardiff became – well, a bit of a tart.

Cardiff began selling herself. The stadium drew in the visitors, more than ever before; the Bay was a draw, St David’s 2 was built… The people of the city have cashed in, with Cardifferent T-shirts, I Loves the Diff badges, those fab place name cards that were launched just the other day. I bloody love it. There’s more going on here, it seems: less of the boring Male Voice Choir stuff; more of the South Wales Gay Male Choir stuff. There’s spoken word, comedy, and burlesque. Cardiff Identity Festival. Cardiff Design Festival. The Cardiff Story. Cardiff has become the Diff – that long, moany ‘keaar’ sound dropped. Good riddance, say I.

The only problem with the flirty bird the city has become is the possibility of over-sell. Prostitution, instead of promotion. Casinos, strip bars, Hooters. Sometimes I worry the city is going to turn into a massive Caroline Street…

Not that much of this has spread into Ely. It’s still as poor as it ever was. My sister lives on Snowden Road, where the Ely Riots took place. The price of bread is what caused it. Now there is a Greggs. My nephews tuck into ring doughnuts as they walk home from school, mattresses springing from front gardens. The brightest thing in the grey suburb is, as it ever was, the orange bus – bendy instead of double decker, but still there, to take you – fortunately in my case, unfortunately for others – away.

Mab Jones is an award-winning comic and performance poet. She often uses the Diff dialect in her work, and is member of B.A.D. (British Accent & Dialect) Poets, who translate famous poems into their native tongue. She performs all over the UK, and has two anthologies forthcoming with Parthian Books. Please check out her website for details: http://www.mabjones.com/

Mab was photographed in Splott by Adam Chard


“three floors of music and a cold staircase guide you skywards” – Richard

richard arnold by Ffion Matthews

Cardiff is rapidly changing; the new shopping mall is only the physical side of this growth coming to fruition. It is colossal; it is grand, yet it is anonymous. Now progress is natural, and I am little too young to daydream in sepia but I am concerned that any sort of unique character in Cardiff is becoming too rare a delicacy. What Cardiff will look like in the future is a mystery to me, but I would like to briefly write about a place that I hope survives the evolving landscape, where others have fallen (the Point). That remains, even if just for my own selfish memories.

Clwb Ifor Bach, or Welsh Club to those of an English disposition, sits on Womanby Street, in the shadow of Cardiff Castle. It looks unremarkable. Illustrated posters of upcoming events line its outside wall. Occasionally a queue and puffs of cigarette smoke line the air as mobile phones illuminate the dark, the time reminding impatient hands how long they have been waiting. Other times the emptiness of the cobbled street follows with the absence of bodies on the dance floor. On such occasion the emptiness is only exaggerated by a green laser, which trickles from bulb to the tapping feet of the few dancing. My mind is filled with fond memories of my friends and I dancing to Le Tigre, Hot Chip, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and miming the Smiths to the unimpressed ceiling.

There are three floors of music and a cold staircase to guide you skywards. Music seeps from each level creating a cocktail of sounds. People crowd to talk, their tones varying from the joyous to the bleak. Eyes lined thick with mascara are the most telling in sadness, a trail of black make up thinly descends down their cheeks.

The majority of the time you barely catch a glimpse of smiling expressions as groups rush from room to room chasing a song, meeting people, enjoying the playground that is Clwb Ifor Bach.

I enjoy the scope of fashion you see paraded in Clwb Ifor Bach, it accepts the eccentrics. Its red brick interior provides the backdrop to polka dot dresses, arms swathed in tattoos, flat caps tilted to impossible angles and piercings protruding from the faces of strangers. The eclectic tastes of the punters are mirrored by the different types of music played there. From indie to dubstep, drum and bass, electro, pop and (although rare) hip hop. It is nice going out to a night, and the songs not being inane and bile educing as Lady Gaga crooning that she wants to ride your disco stick. Wales is a country that loves music, and Welsh Club caters for those whose thirst goes beyond the Radio 1 daytime playlist.

We live in a western world connected by chains and franchises that mean every city centre is all too familiar; any mystery vanquished under the strain of luminous logos and the sea of striped shirts and squeaky-clean shoes. In Clwb Ifor Bach there is a sea of styles, of stories waiting to unfold, of romance and rejection, of bravado and bravery spurred on by music, alcohol and dance moves. It has been the host of many of my happy memories, and I hope it will continue to be a venue that will offer a haven from the beige discothèques that line the more commercial St. Marys Street.

Richard Arnold is in his third year at Cardiff University studying History and Politics. He currently lives in Cathays.

Richard was photographed at Clwb Ifor Bach by Ffion Matthews

Richard Arnold by Ffion Matthews


“With dreamy ideas of castles, doubledecker buses, pubs, and all the stereotypes Americans impose on Britain, I moved to Cardiff” – Joni

Joni by Ffion Matthews

I came to Cardiff on a productive gap year. But I stayed because I fell in love.

A studio flat in Washington, D.C., working at USA Today and a lovely bunch of friends weren’t enough to keep me happy in 2007. I had just turned 26 having spent my early twenties slogging in the newsroom as a sub-editor, then graphics editor, then online travel editor. So with dreamy ideas of castles, double-decker buses, pubs, and all the stereotypes Americans impose on Britain, I moved to Cardiff.

Cardiff wasn’t an obvious choice. People where I’m from in the states think Wales swim in the ocean. My logic went something like this:

I had $20,000 to spend on one year of education abroad from the Rotarians of West Texas. Britain awards most master’s degrees in one year. It also gives you free health care as an international student, lets you work up to 20 hours a week, and allows you to get a visa to work after you graduate. (Though some of these perks may change.)Then an old professor told me Cardiff had a good journalism school, and I was sold. So that is how I came to be in Cardiff.

It was temporary, though. I was going to get my degree, round out my journalism skills and probably go home. But Roy Noble of all people read the stars before I did. Some Rotarian who had heard me speak to his club in Aberdare told Roy he found an American he should interview. On Thanksgiving Day 2007, I went on his radio show. He told me Cardiff has a funny way of making people stay. The next summer, Cardiff worked its funny magic. I fell in love.

A year later, my now husband and I moved to Llandaff’s skinny Chapel Street. This village within Cardiff reminded me of a Neighbours within Albert Square – full of stories, history and soap-style drama lurking in the corners. Keen to keep up with the pace in online journalism, I created a local news site: Llandaff News. It was my experiment with WordPress, Twitter, and the social media sphere. It was my attempt to tell the stories of Llandaff and give more people a voice. But it’s become my reason and place to engage with my new home. Llandaff is where I live.

I’m still very much American. I sing Oklahoma with gusto after a few drinks. But I’m a Cardiffian and Llandavian, too. And I love it.

Joni Ayn Alexander is a multimedia journalist, lecturer, blogger, and PhD student. She spends a lot of time reading about journalism and hyperlocal media because that’s what her thesis is all about. When she can find the time, she practices journalism on Llandaff News. She’s American. She’s not British – yet. She drinks so much diet coke she’s been known to make artistic towers with leftover cans. (Small towers,
mind.) And she loves fried chicken. She currently lives in Llandaff.

Joni was photographed in Llandaff by Ffion Matthews


We Are Cardiff – interactive exhibition opening soon for BigLittleCity

Excuse the lack of a We Are Cardiff story today … the hackflash minions (who run this website) are hard at work setting up the first ever We Are Cardiff retrospective!

It’s forming part of the BigLittleCity project at The Cardiff Story – the new museum dedicated to the capital of Wales.

We will be displaying photography and stories from We Are Cardiff so far, and inviting you to write your own Cardiff stories to add to our Story Wall in the gallery. We’ll be changing the display every couple of weeks, so make sure you stop by often to see what’s new!

BigLittleCity will be having its grand opening on Thursday 14 April, 5pm til late! After that We Are Cardiff will be exhibiting and inviting you to interact until 22 July!

BigLittleCity is a celebration of Cardiff and Cardiff’s creative talent for photography, art, film, writing, music and performance, animation, illustration, painting and graffiti. BigLittleCity is about the city and the experience of its residents and as such we are extremely focused on collaboration. The team has been invited to stage a four-month exhibition to help launch Cardiff’s prestigious new people’s museum The Cardiff Story at the Old Library building, The Hayes, in the heart of our city. Opening in March 2011, the BigLittleCity exhibition will showcase everything that is special about the Welsh capital and is set to attract tens of thousands of people. More here: BigLittleCity

So where is it?
The Cardiff Story is a new city museum for the capital of Wales, situated in The Hayes (between House of Fraser and St David’s Hall). More here The Cardiff Story

Come along and say hi! We’d love to see you there

“Fel Gog sy’n siarad Cymraeg ma’ gin i ddewis o fyw mewn 2 Caerdydd” – Bethan

We Are Cardiff - Bethan 015W.A.C. Bethan large jpegs

“Nai byth fynd i fyw hefo’r hwntws!”

Dyna ddudish i amsar maith yn ol. Wedi deud hynna, mi nesh i hefyd ddeud y baswn i byth yn mynd i fyw i ganol Saeson cyn i fi symud i Lundain am 8 mlynedd!

Caerdydd. Fel Gog sy’n siarad Cymraeg ma’ gin i ddewis o fyw mewn 2 Caerdydd- un Gymraeg, llawn barddoniaeth, Clwb Ifor Bach a chanu mewn cor cymysg. Neu yr un sy’n llawn pobol o bob tras, hil a iaith, yn amrywiaeth o straeon a llwybrau bywyd.

Dwi ‘di dewis yr ail.

Dwi’m yn saff pam ond dwi’n gofyn y cwestiwn yn y gerdd isod.

Pam lai?

Does na’m cyfieithiad i’r Saesneg
Dio’m yn golygu run fath.
Dau air syml iawn
Ond yn ateb perffaith I lot fawr.

Pam lai?

Llundain- y lle mwya’ unig yn y byd
Ond alli di byth fod ar ben dy hun.
“Why don’t we move to Cardiff?”
medd fy nghariad.
‘Ia. Pam lai.’

Ty i jesd ni’n dwy,
Gardd i neb ond ni,
Gallu cerdded i bobman
Pawb yn deud “hello”
Ond neb yn deud ‘helo’.
Prifddinas Cymru i fod.
Lle ma’r Cymry Cymraeg?

Ma’ nhw yma,
Mewn grwpia’
A ma’ na groeso cynnes i fi.

Ond be’ am fy nghariad?
Oes ‘na groeso iddi hi?

Dwi’m yn cau drysa’
Dwi’m yn un am ddal dig
Ond dwi’n ysu
I ddysgu
I wybod mwy am y byd.
Dwi ishio gwrando ar leisia’
Ar ieithoedd dwi’m yn ddalld
Byta bwyd sy’n hollol ddiethr
Dwi ishio byw!

Prif ddinas adra? Ella.
Ond ma’ hi’n ddinas newydd i mi.
Dwi’n barod am antur
Am newid
Bring it on!

Troi cefn ar fy mamiaith?
Na. Byth. No we.

Profi rwbath newydd?
Ia. Pam lai?

Bethan’s obsession lies in people’s steps- how they got to where they are and why they act the way they do? She casts judgement aside, gets rid of right and wrong and delves into that dark, grey area to find what makes them smile. She was raised in North Wales, went to London to train as an actress and finally found her place as a writer. Theatre credits include The Beach (National Theatre Wales), Patroiophobia (Sherman Cymru) KKK (RSC) Come to Where I’m From (Paines Plough). Her online credits include Such Tweet Sorrow (RSC), Cei Bach (S4C) and Hatty Rainbow (You Tube). Bethan’s latest play ‘Unprotected’ will be on at the WMC on Dec 8th and 9th. Che currently lives in Canton.

Bethan was photographed at the Senedd in Cardiff Bay by Simon Ayre