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

ceri-john-web

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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