I guess Cardiff has always felt like a city that I always knew through association. Kind of a like a friend of a friend. I come from Cornwall and have always felt a bond and a close affinity with my group of friends. We aren’t a big bunch, but we are a tight bunch, friends for life, that kind of thing. When I left Cornwall in 2002 to go to university, I chose to study Fine Art at Bristol. Far away enough to be far away but close enough to be close. Painting and photographing things from my home and creating work which revolved around displacement and memory. Cornwall was always my muse.
I was lucky though that my best friend Jon had moved just over the Severn, a 40 minute train ride away. Cardiff, a city in Wales; a city in another country! Memories of the times visiting Jon in Cardiff revolve around the studenty side of things. His house in Cathays, Chippy-alley, endless queues waiting to get into the CIA, St. Mary’s Street and the big cinemas, the tunnel under the Severn. The usual sort of things. But I remember it well and always thought that it seemed like a great place.
After uni, Bristol stayed as my base and I stayed on after I finished university. Jon moved to Bristol and other friends (Dave, Alan, Becky, Lauren and Ruth) all ended up in the city at some time or another. It was like a little Cornish ex-pat community! This didn’t last forever, as the call of the motherland, home, took hold and most of them moved back down to Cornwall.
Now, I fast forward a few years to Feb 2011 and my next liaison with Cardiff takes place. I had grown up, I had got a job, and I had got a girlfriend! A sort of serious one. I was still in Bristol, but said girlfriend was working in Cardiff at a new museum (The Cardiff Story) that had just opened. Both of us working away from the city that we lived in led to lots of money being spent, lots of arguments and tiredness and meant that really, only one thing had to happen. We had to move to Cardiff. Something I never thought would happen. This place that I kind of remember from drunken shenanigans and fun years before had never had ‘home’ written on it for me, but the things you do for love eh?
But moving to Cardiff still didn’t mean that it would become more than an acquaintance. It was still nothing more than something which I knew, but only a little bit. I was driving out of the city every morning to go to my job in Weston-super-Mare, and driving back in the evening, knackered and not wanting or feeling like exploring this city that has so much to do. I felt, again, that I was in Cardiff for somebody else, not for myself. Not for my own reasons.
I felt isolated, lost and a little demoralised. I didn’t really like it here (if I am honest, I cried the first night I was here. But keep that to yourself!). We moved to Adamsdown; to a sweet little two bedroomed house with a little garden and a toilet beyond the kitchen! We had paper-thin walls and everything that went on either side of the house was heard with excruciating honesty and intimacy! It was a kind of baptism of fire. I missed my peaceful existence in Cornwall. The sea and the light. All I thought Cardiff existed of was seagulls and bin bags. And neighbours who made too much noise and didn’t walk their dogs. Their dogs liked to bark!
But through this, friendship came from unlikely places and my horrendous commute found other poor souls who were doing the same thing. We ended up lift sharing and my soul began to settle. Home is where the heart is? Home began to become Cardiff.
I am a photography lecturer and jobs are always a little hard to come by so the commute existed for nearly 18 months. It was intense and insane. 550 miles a week and £450 a month. This couldn’t go on. I prayed for (not religious!), wished for (pennies in wishing wells) and trawled the job sites for new jobs in Wales. There must be something. Eventually, there was something. I got a job. And another bonus, it was on the right side of the bridge. A job and a sort of promotion! I am half way through my second year teaching at this college and life is looking up. Friendship has been a constant fuel for me, and in my new college I am blessed with a multitude of friends. Barmy, warm, generous, wickedly funny, kind and lovely!
Cardiff has become my home. Said girlfriend and I were engaged, but have parted ways. We had bought a house. In Roath. Near the park. I ran around it and tried to get fit. We went to galleries, gigs, exhibitions and we took in the beautiful country around us. Garth Mountain was a particular favourite. Things change and life moves on. We are now friends, but Cardiff remains a constant. I am still here and I am still enjoying it. The future hints at excitement and intrigue, and things to be happy about, but also lots of things to think about and work out.
Canton is now ‘home’ and Chapter has become a favourite haunt. Makes me feel involved and connected. Instead of running around the park, I have joined a gym and am getting fitter!
Home is supposed to be where the heart is, but my heart will always remain in Cornwall. For me, now, home is where the soul is. And my soul is happy here. Cardiff has the city element which is important for all of the things that it brings, but it is also always near to the country. I make my artwork here and feel confident and inspired. Wales, and in particular Cardiff, has a heart and a bruised beauty which makes it a wonderful place to be. Perhaps I have found my new muse.
Richard Shaffner is a lecturer in photography. He was born in Maidenhead, grew up in St. Ives, and currently lives in Canton.
Richard was photographed in Chapter Arts Centre by Joe Singh.
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