“Cardiff has a thriving creative community” – Ardie

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A little over a year ago I found myself on a train with a rucksack heading to meet a friend in London. I had decided that I was going to move there. It seemed like a natural step, I had been at University in Southampton for three years and had grown used to my independence and suddenly I was back in Cardiff and living at home with my parents. I needed to get away. I had done the sums; I had enough savings to last me a few months’ rent in London while I looked for a job there, and I had a floor to sleep on for a few nights while we looked for a place to stay.

I had always loved London. The idea that there was always something to do – that there was always something going on – appealed to me. I had resolved that it would be impossible to ever be bored there. “Dull would he be of soul who could pass by A sight so touching in its majesty” said Wordsworth of London. It didn’t take me long to realise, however, that the idea of London had been romanticised in my head, that the hustle and bustle wasn’t a sign of stimulating activity, it was a sign of stress. This was a lot of commitment and a lot of money to hand over to something that I had just found out I didn’t want. I went back and forth in my head about what to do but I eventually made a decision that it wasn’t for me. I came home.

A year later I am in my hometown of Cardiff finishing up a Masters degree. Though study has taken up much of my time, it has not been the most important part of my being back. Cardiff has fuelled a lot of big things for me this year, and this past year will always be an important one to me. It is since being back that I finished my debut novel and found a publisher, something that I would never have dreamt of happening. Also, since the 1st of January I have found myself undertaking a project that sees me release one original song every day throughout 2011. These are certainly projects that take personal dedication, but I also think that it wouldn’t be too far-fetched to consider my geographical location in all of this. Cardiff has a thriving creative community. And it took a few years of my being away from here to realise that. I grew up here, and so perhaps I had forgotten to appreciate what was on my doorstep. Workshops, exhibitions, book groups, gigs, plays, comedy nights, music and arts festivals. Creative endeavours are springing up all over the city from thinkARK to the Cardiff Arcades Project to this website. I think the fact that this has only recently come to my attention is down to two things: 1) I had grown used to Cardiff and so wasn’t engaging with what it had to offer, and 2) This is a city that has grown up around me, and what it has to offer is growing all of the time.

As I finish up my course and begin looking for full-time work, my seeming desperation to move away from this city has entirely diminished. This is not to say that I would never move away, but there is currently nothing dragging me out of this city, and the list of things keeping me here is growing all of the time.

Ardie Collins is a novelist, radio producer, MA student, and singery-songwritery type person born and based in Cardiff. His debut novel is entitled ‘Cult Fiction’ and is about a man who, inadvertently and through very little fault of his own, sets up a cult. It was released on the 1st of September 2011 by Knightstone Publishing, and is available on Kindle. The Cooper 365 project can be found here. Ardie’s  main webpage can be found here. He is on Twitter as @ardiecoll and @coopersounds

Ardie was photographed at Trout Books in Castle Arcade by Amy Davies

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“Cardiff and its people have shaped who I am today” – Andrew

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I first lived in Cardiff when I was a student at University of Glamorgan. It was only a year and a half (I dropped out, you see, all the best people do) but it was a proper eye opener for a wide-eyed indie kid from West Wales.

I find it hard to describe what Cardiff means to me, it’s become such an important part of my life. I lost my virginity here, had my first poem published here (in The Yellow Crane); I’ve gigged, marched, lobbied and protested here; gigged, danced, sung, drank and fallen over here. I bought a house here last year. It’s my home.

I went to my first gay club in Cardiff. Nerys and I were both 18, and I went to Talybont Halls to get ready before going out. I cringe to think of what I was wearing. Skin-tight grey pinstripe trousers, a black shirt, knockoff Patrick Cox loafers and more eyeliner than Robert Smith. We drank vodka, pretended we were Poppy Z Brite vampires, kissed and got a taxi to Club X. I can’t remember much of the next six months, but I definitely can’t drink like that these days. Sadly, I think my bohemian vampire days are over. But shh, don’t tell anyone, I still like the eyeliner though.

I live in Splott, on a tiny street in a tiny block near Moorlands Park. When I had my offer accepted, I turned into a Time Team detective; spent hours on Ancestry.com and old-maps.co.uk. I discovered that in 1890 a lady called Ellen Rörstrum lived in my house, and was probably the first occupant. When my Dad and I removed the old suspended floor from under the stairs, we found a rusty old Victorian hatpin. Part of Ellen’s life was suddenly in my hands. I felt I knew her. I could see this woman bringing up the children who survived past infanthood, mourning the ones who didn’t. Many have remarked on the cheerful feeling in my house; I hope I’m making it as happy a home as Ellen.

I’ve written quite a lot about Cardiff, you can’t seem to help it, if you live here. Most of my main characters live in Cardiff for a while, and even though they all leave, they always return. I had a short story selected for publication in Peter Finch’s Big Book of Cardiff in 2005. Nothing much happens in the story, two friends say goodbye as one leaves to live in Australia; but I wrote is as if the city was a character. That’s pretty much how I actually see Cardiff. Every landmark, whether they are famous and well known, or (in)famous to me personally, is a facet of the City’s character; every person, every shopper, every landlord, waitress or singer is a thought that flits through the City’s mind. I have the same relationship to Cardiff as I do with the people I love. Sometimes they get on my nerves, sometimes they don’t; sometimes we argue, sometimes we kiss and make up; but I love and accept them, warts and all.

Cardiff and its people have shaped who I am today. I wasn’t the confident, shouty, positive person I am today back then when I moved here ten years ago. I had an awful job back then, working for a black-hearted financial institution that tried to ruin my life by keeping me back. When I turned thirty in 2007, I decided I wanted a whole change of career. I now work for RNIB Cymru, Wales’ main charity offering support and advice to blind and partially sighted people. Part of my job is to go out to schools and deliver assemblies on the importance of regular eye health checks, how to keep your eyes healthy, and how to guide a blind or partially sighted person. After working for various terrible employers for more than fifteen years, I now genuinely love my job. No two days are the same; I might be training Kirsty Williams, leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats, one day, and running a focus group in Rhondda Cynon Taf the next. We campaign for the rights of blind and partially sighted people across Wales, and I am lucky enough to work closely with Cardiff, Vales and Valleys, (formerly Cardiff Institute for the Blind), a fantastic member organisation that supports, motivates and exists for the blind and partially sighted people of Cardiff and the Vale. Not content with that, CVV also operates in Swansea, Neath Port Talbot, Rhondda Cynon Taf and Merthyr.

I learned to knit in 2004. It started as a little hobby, and has turned into an obsession. I curated an art exhibition as part of Queer Cymru in 2005, and the entrance to my section of the exhibition space was hung with knitted jellyfish, that visitors had to duck under to access. The risk of being stung was minimal. I’m now busy designing four knitting and crochet patterns that will be on sale in a lovely new knitting shop in Canton called Calon Yarns. Lynne, the owner, not only has an amazing shop, she really wants to be part of the community. Calon Yarns runs workshops and events and all sorts of great community projects. Best of all, Lynne introduced me to a crowd of people as a ‘knitwear designer’.

Cardiff also holds another first for me. This is where I grew up. This is where I’ll stay.

Andrew Craig Williams was born in 1977 and is from Ammanford in Carmarthenshire. He has lived in Cardiff for ten years, where he is a writer, artist and music maker. His website is andrewcraigwilliams.com, where you can download his music, read some of his work and get his free knitting patterns. He suggest you also check out rnib.org.uk/cymru, cardiffinstitutefortheblind.org and calonyarns.co.uk. Andrew currently lives in Splott.

Andrew was photographed by Amy Davies outside Metros

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Vote for We Are Cardiff in the 2011 Wales Blog Awards!

You heard us. You’ve enjoyed reading the stories on the site. If you’d be so kind, we’d very much like you to vote for us in the People’s Choice bit of the Wales Blog Awards 2011. You’ve got until October 21st to do it. If you REALLY want us to win, why not vote, clear the cookies from your browser, then vote again?? Ok, it’s not really in the spirit of the thing, I suppose….!

Anyway. We’ve made it through to the final for best community blog, and we also want to congratulate the other two blogs that made it through to the final of that category:

http://photonicanglesey.blogspot.com/ – by The Photon

http://rhuthun.blogspot.com – by Non Liquet

(they make for very interesting reading – I especially enjoyed the lively comments on the Ruthun blog)

So, make sure you vote for us. But don’t worry if we don’t win, we’re not sore losers. We’ll be carrying on much as normal. So stay tuned!