“It has been a city of firsts for me” – Claire

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When my granddad left Wales at 16 to rejoin the rest of his family up north avoiding the pits and the trade his fatherʼs, and grandfatherʼs, I donʼt think he imagined he would have family members settling in his home country again. Till his final days he remembered the lighthouse at Roath Park Lake, Christmas shopping at the market and cakes and tea in David Morgan and still when he would stumble over my name and what I did for a living, he would remember I was the one who was now living back in Wales.

Cardiff held a place in his heart, and memory, long after other aspects faded, and I know how he feels.

It was a Sunday night with the rain pelting down when I first set foot in Cardiff after the endlessly train journey from Newcastle to Walesʼ capital. After trudging round the city for ages looking for somewhere decent for food (Cardiff was different in 2002 with no restaurant or piazza cafe sections just a Walkabout and closed shops) we stumbled into Toucan Club. Squashed between dubious clubs and chain bars on St Mary Street, it wasnʼt the venueʼs first incarnation, neither was it its last, and the bar had a lot of work to do. My first impressions werenʼt great and if all went well with the job trial the next day this city could be my new home. It was the Toucan that made helped make my mind up, and I wonder if I had fallen into one of the other bars on the street if my decision might have changed.

From Newcastle to university at Manchester, I was looking to start my career at the Western Mail, with a small monthly pay packet and the initial premise of six months on permanent night shift. Well offers like that donʼt come round every day! So I packed my bags, bunked in one half of a friendʼs double bed for a month before finally settling into my new life in Cardiff.

In many ways it has been a city of firsts for me. From the first time I lived in a house that had a banana tree and a boat in the front garden – the best house on Elm Street – to the first time I learnt to run for fun, not something I had considered until Bute Park came calling.

As the months turned into years, the city evolved and changed around me and I have also not stood still. Iʼve been the arts reporter living in Barfly and Clwb till the early hours hanging onto to every note bands played, partying hard, staying at house parties till well past their sell by date squeezing every last drop out of them. Iʼve changed careers and started ventures with friends I never imagined, putting on new plays with Dirty Protest and feeling huge pride as people squeeze into Yurts, bars and warehouses practically sitting on strangerʼs laps to see theatre. And Iʼve settled down, happily drinking earl grey tea and getting in an early night to make the most of the weekend.

Best friends have come and gone from the city, and each time I wonder how I will start again. But I am always surprised. The city has a way of putting new people in your path, some who will stick for a lifetime, others for the moment. Now Cardiff is where I have actual roots, with a partner, a shack of a house that is being slowly remodeled and a garden which is starting to bloom.

But wherever I go or whatever I do, Cardiff will always mean these things to me – pots of tea and the Archers in Elm Street with Eluned, Moloko on late weeknights and early morning Splott Market with Nicki, coffee and boy watching with Fi in Shot, Western Mail nights out, wrap parties with the best of Core, wrestling the X-Box from D, wild nights with Jess, endless gigs and giggles with Gemma, cinema trips, ripping houses to bits, and hot chocolate over Roath Lake with Steve, running training with Lou in Bute Park, getting Dirty with Tim, El, Mared and Catrin and a whole host of others in the Yurt, circus fun and party nights with Ellie, putting the world to rights with Siriol and the beginnings of fun times with Dolly and Lals and cakes, Catan and Gilmore Girls.

I hope thatʼs the start of a very long list and that just like my Grandad the happy times in this city will stick for a lifetime.

Claire Hill currently works as a director in television, and divides spare time being film reviewer for BBC Radio Wales Evening Show, one quarter of Dirty Protest, jewellery maker, official silencer of talkers in Cineworld, excellent cake baker and enthusiastic cyclist. She currently lives in Splott.

Claire was photographed in the Milgi garden by Adam Chard

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We Are Cardiff at Big Little City – Launch of Phase Three, 22 June 2011

The rather wonderful Big Little City project that has been underway at the Cardiff Story Museum is having its Phase Three Launch party on Wednesday 22 June 2011, from 5-7pm. We’ll be there – with a refreshed We Are Cardiff display – and hope you can make it too!

“Cardiff is like a smaller, friendlier version of London, and that suits me just fine” – Sarah

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It’s not often you’ll find someone who can say that a car park was instrumental in the biggest change of their life, but I can. Standing on the top level of the St David’s 2 shopping centre car park, dangling my camera over the edge to get what turned out to be a near perfect shot of the insane lines and shadows, I knew then that I really, really didn’t want to go home. That if I made the decision to move to the Welsh capital instead of London like I’d originally planned then it would be the best decision I ever made. Luckily for me it turned out to be right.

Can you guess the plot? It started when I was introduced to a lovely Welsh boy through a mutual friend, whilst I was back living at home with my parents after a break up and a break down in Cambridge. He was the nicest person I’d met in a long time, and everything started to click. We umm’ed and ahh’ed then fell in love and my god was it glorious. We sent letters back and forth, and took advantage of snatched weekends together during the summer. Wandering around, getting to know the people and the pace of the city and, of course, hanging out on the roof of the car park every now and again. It’s quiet up there. There are no cars, just empty spaces and amazing views of the city. Plans to move to London disintegrated – who needs a big wheel and a jam packed underground when you can have green space and as many hoagies from the New York Deli as you can manage?

It wasn’t just a courtship with the lovely Welsh boy – I felt like I was dating Cardiff as well and let me tell you, it’s a pretty great date. Delicate sparkling snow flakes in the winter, the biggest library I’ve ever seen, fresh flowers in the spring and as much sushi as I could get my grubby little paws on. I was smitten.

Although the LWB never gave me flowers he did bring me back a spherical panda (Hi Eric!) from a trip to Macau in October, so I quit my job in Cornwall and packed my bags in November. I’m not saying the two were related but it was a pretty sweet gesture, heh. November is probably not the best time of year to move; aren’t all cities cold, wet and dreary during winter? Cardiff felt like it was holding a warm spot for me though as a welcome party and I was grateful. I got a job working for the Council where I could (and do) walk to work, and moved into an apartment that couldn’t be more central if it tried – we live on top of the shopping centre (it’s amazing for location, killer on the wallet).

I’ve lived here for seven months now but it only took me about a fortnight to hand over the keys to my heart to this city (plus the boy who lives in it, of course…) I genuinely, unashamedly love Cardiff. As an English transplant, I love feeling like I’m living in an episode of Gavin and Stacey, being surrounded by Welsh people and laughing to myself at how bad my attempts to pronounce the place names are.

This place is amazing. I grew up in Cornwall, in a rural town by the sea. It’s idyllic but slow paced – nothing much happens there. Cardiff in comparison is like a smaller, friendlier version of London and that suits me just fine. Living where we do we’re right on top of the action. Fancy a takeaway? We’ll pop to the infamous chippy lane. A sudden need for chorizo, wheat free crackers or obscure flavours of pop-tarts? I can pop to Wally’s on my short walk home from work. (There is never a time in my life, by the way, where I don’t have a need for pop-tarts. After all eat every flavour of pop-tarts is on my Life List).

I wrote a Life List just before I moved. It now has a whopping 123 items on it, and the longer I live here the more I add. There are so many opportunities available to me it seems a crime to ignore them. I can tick off try a pole dancing class, take ice skating lessons and spend a day watching films in the cinema. I can work my way through try 100 cheeses and with the help of the friendly locals I’ve met through twitter I should be well on my way through my try 100 cocktails bid by the end of the summer (and probably pretty sozzled too).

There always seems to be something happening here that I want to be a part of. I barely meet anyone that wants to move away and I’m starting to understand why. Bands play here! And not just any old band but good bands, that people actually want to see! This was something of a revelation to me. Falmouth did not get good bands, just so you know. Of course, it’s not just the music. There are food festivals and exhibitions and twitter meet up events that I get to be involved in. There are Secret Supper Clubs and trampolining classes and a shop that only seems to sell olive oil and vinegar. There are walks to Cardiff Bay to stare at the slightly disturbing memorial to Ianto Jones and then a stop off at Eddie’s Burgers to load up on chilli cheese fries. God help me but I’ve even started watching Dr Who. (I’m actually starting to enjoy it too but don’t tell the other half, he’ll gloat for weeks). Living in Cardiff has made me a bit sad that I’m not a real Welshie – the sense of love and pride for their country that Welsh people exude is infectious.

It’s a cosy little life we’re building, here. Whenever I go back to Cornwall now I feel a bit displaced. The town I grew up in is so altered these days it could almost have been a different place completely. When the LWB proposed to me in February I couldn’t have been happier. Cardiff feels like a warm blanket, wrapping me up and keeping me safe. Planning our future together – where we want to live and what we want to do, who we’d like to be – has brought the most joy to my life. The fact that I can do it in a city that I actually feel like I can call home and mean it? The icing on the cake.

Sarah Hill is a 27 year old recent Welsh convert. She lives with her fiancé and pet panda in the city centre and spends her spare time making lists and reading a lot of books. You can find her on twittter (@miametro) or on her blog. She’s also the editor and creator of Télégramme Magazine – issue 3 of which is due out as soon as she stops hiding under the duvet. She currently lives in the city centre.

Sarah was photographed on the car park on the roof of St David’s 2 by Amy Davies. You can see more snaps of Sarah’s photoshoot here.

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“City and slum, rich and poor, council estate and tourist attraction all in one small place” – Ceri

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In many ways Cardiff is my life . . . I mean, it’s where I’ve lived since I was born, where my father, his brother and sister grew up and where his father before him has always lived.

Every important event in my life has taken place in Cardiff, and even when I’m not here, home is never far from my thoughts. As I sit here at my computer desk, my mind draws a map route: out my front door, down and around the corner to the bus stop, up Newport Road and into the city centre.

My mind is set back to my childhood, and my obsession with going to Town, just for the sake of being around people and in that atmosphere that for me is peculiar to Cardiff, and Cardiff alone. So much has changed since that time, some streets are entirely unrecognisable and there are buildings now that didn’t exist even so short a time as ten years ago.

Yet I think most people would agree Cardiff is still the same in many ways. Despite its miraculous transformations, many areas of Cardiff have remained the same. Cracked pavements, grotty rubbish allover the floor, tired mothers screaming at their children to stop misbehaving while they ride the bus into Llanrumney.

It’s a whole world away from the images of a re-invented, metropolitan and happening hub of activity that Cardiff so dearly wants to be. How do these two different worlds co-exist in such a small place, all within one city? For me that is the bizare dichotomy of Cardiff. City and slum, rich and poor, council estate and tourist attraction all in one small place.

Most visitors to Cardiff only see what they want to see, the city centre with its landmarks, chains of shops and cinemas and The Castle. Part of me wants to scream “Stay in this part of Cardiff, isn’t it lovely?” and yet another part of me almost wants to urge them “No, if you want Cardiff go to Llanrumney, go to Ely, go to St. Melons. You might get your watch nicked or your car burned out but it’ll be interesting”

And that’s just it, I think for me the reason I love Cardiff so much, is because it’s interesting. No one can take that from it. It is where I grew up, it is where all the major events of my life have taken place, and in a sometimes scummy, grubby false sort of way, it’s a very honest city.

Even in the brave new areas of economic growth and recovery, it’s a little bit crap. Cardiff for me has always had an intriguing way of collecting together deterioration and renewal with a sort of “sweep it under the rug” attitude that says “No, don’t look over there, okay that’s a bit run down we won’t lie, but look at this! Isn’t this shiny?”

For me, what really sums up Cardiff is how people can’t help but love it even when they hate it. Everyone I’ve ever spoken to who’s lived in Cardiff for any length of time generally says something like “Yeah, it’s bloody rubbish here. I nearly got mugged the other day . . . still I wouldn’t wanna live anywhere else” or “I’m getting out of here . . . but I’ll come back sometimes obviously”.

So what? Perhaps some people do want to escape, but they always come back again. Maybe that’s just down to family ties but I think there’s a deeper love-hate, bitter-sweet feeling to Cardiff that people can’t quite detach from. Something about Cardiff draws people here and even when they find out it’s not all weird Armadillo opera houses and castles, they still want to stay.

When it comes down to it, Cardiff has personality. And you can tell what that personality is by talking to the people who live here, who were born here. The personality is, “Alri’ so wharrif I’m common? I’m proper nice when you gets to know me an’ I don’ care wha’ you finks anyway mate!”. People from Cardiff have a certain attitude that is somehow friendly and accommodating but also tough and self-protecting. Sure, they’ll be your best mate, and they’ll talk for hours about how bad it is to live in Cardiff, but so helps you if you insults Kaeerdiff!

That is Cardiff, and why I love it, because you can’t help but love it. Everyone who lives here, even if they’re from Belarus or Saudi Arabia, Portugal or Venice – they all become Cardiff. They talks Karrdiff, they lives Cardiff and they loves it like. And so do I! An’ you know wha’? I dares you not to love it!

Ceri John is a poet who sites his biggest influences as Edgar Allen Poe, Dylan Thomas, Ted Hughes and the singer/songwriter Mike Scott. He is currently looking forward to going back to college where he will study Social Welfare. He lives in Llanrumney.

Ceri was photographed by the War Memorial in Alexandra Gardens by Adam Chard

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“It is the last outpost of a memory, an Alamo to encroaching American invaders” – Spencer

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I have hesitating trepidation in revealing my Shangri-la in the city. The influx of anything approaching trending would upset what I have found. Luckily the very nature of my choice negates such an occurrence for you see dear reader… I have selected Garlands as my choice memory of Cardiff, having patronised its loving environ for over ten years and at one point had my own table and regular order. I have occasionally got too busy to regularly attend, but like catholic guilt, I am always drawn back to its pleasure.

Located in Duke Street Arcade opposite the castle, Garlands entices with a tobacco stained, penny university aesthetic, the old world Italian allure familiar from films and holiday brochures; perhaps such a place never existed, but these kind of coffee houses continue to offer a faux decadence of fonts, painted pillars, plastic chandeliers and brass decor which has now become a decadence all of its own.

As coffee shops become more standardised (and Garlands is itself a sort of 80’s standardisation) in low- slung cushioned comfort, it is a pleasure to be forced to sit upright like an adult whilst consuming. Garlands harks back to places where people could think, discuss, and plan within a city, yet away from distractions. One can do this elsewhere but well lit, bright colours; open spaces and urban (not urbane) noise can work against this.

By contrast, Garlands has soft brown hues and hushed voices, a more respectful climate than the abrasive places. Here, you will not hear overweight voices bandy out repulsive terms like ‘skinny’, ‘frappe’ ‘latte-a-chino’, the same voices who only a few years ago would have violently rejected such terms (often with violence). This is a place with coffee machines that don’t look like they are about to rise up against the human race, there is none of the spluttering distain of the modern machinations, instead the very mechanical elements themselves are in harmony with the more reserved eatery nature, and its artificial nurture, in unison.

Consequently as I’ve noted, it is a place to think, and many a song lyric/idea has been formulated or completed within its  walls. When I began frequenting, they used to have the Independent newspaper every Friday, making it an ideal place to catch up on the arts supplement over the free coffee refills. The paper has stopped there but the coffee refills continue (for around £1.50 you can have one free refill – sometimes more).

The food is delightful and as simple or complicated as any rival, whilst retaining a delectable character missing from the countless identical test tube paninis the western world over. Ranging from the simple toasted teacake (which you may have to ask for), to the Italian experience jacket potato (capable of summing up an entire country’s cuisine in a potato), via the cream cheese, smoked salon sandwich (alas no capers any more), there is something to sate any visiting town patron. Homemade cakes are proudly displayed in cylinders of sin, next to a fridge containing water, juices and various forgotten carbonated genres of refreshment.

Here is a place to reflect whilst listening to Gershwin, classical excerpts, or themes from motion pictures, and whilst the music may err toward Classic FM, this is no bad thing. Give me this over the nasally forgettable, mid-Atlantic tones of a thousand strumming, anodyne singers called Ryan, Sarah, Ben or Fiona any afternoon.

I suppose its main attraction for this writer is the way it avoids the visitation of the young who seem repelled by its lack of identifiable corporate logo or multi-media advertisement. Garlands is not the community where people jump off loud, high objects whilst making wide eyed hand signals, nor does it display full coloured, sweaty, laminated representations of its wares. It simply has a menu with words like ‘sandwich’, and entrusts the reader with enough intelligence to know what this is. It’s probably too much of a gamble for a youth raised on spoilers and plot revealing trailers. Even when I was young, I wanted to distance myself (when taking my coffee) from the noise of excited bores talking at disbelief over the previous nights substance inspired travail (“man, Ollie was so wasted”). I craved a more ecumenical church, where lecturers, grandmothers, aspiring jobless elitists (like myself), families, crazies and yes even some young people could freely take refreshment in the haven of a reminder of a more homily, intelligent time, where people didn’t ask you if you wanted confectionary on your coffee.

This though is where the contradiction resides. As I’ve noted above, Garlands is also has its own ‘corporate’ identity familiar to anyone growing up in the eighties who was dragged endlessly around town by mothers or family. For me, it is a prompt to being little (and probably slightly bored), eating crisp jacket potatoes with mother whilst playing with a Transformer, asking (and getting) a rare ice cold glass of coke and perhaps a Welsh cake. It is essentially the last outpost of a memory, an Alamo to encroaching American invaders. That’s right… I’m using the confusing yet apt allegory of an America invading itself, replacing our cherished heritage of coca-cola with a skinny-choco-frappe-a-lingo, taking away all we hold dear. I will hold out in my fortress of drawn fireplaces, ginger beer, and cutlery in baskets and take refuge under its gingham moon, shielding myself behind soft paintings until the day is won.

Only please, please please, dear Garlands, bring back capers to the menu and the Independent every Friday and credit my life-partner for the pictures you have of hers on the wall. Then all will be well.

Spencer McGarry is a Swansea born composer living in Cardiff. He is currently halfway through a project to record and perform six albums in six different styles (under the oft misunderstood as arrogance moniker ‘Spencer McGarry Season’) and is a part of Businessman records. He is an avid reader of popular science and religion and inexplicably believes that all pets suit the name Napoleon. He lives with his life-partner near a small Tesco’s outlet. Check Businessman Records on Big Cartel and Spencer’s Soundcloud.

Spencer was photographed in Garlands by Adam Chard

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