My Cardiff Geography: Geraint Clarke, Magic Consultant

Have you ever sat in a coffee-shop opposite a man with a laptop on a Tuesday afternoon and wondered what he does for a living? Your guess was graphic designer, your friend guessed fireman… We decided to accost one of those men to find out, and you won’t believe his answer. Meet Geraint Clarke, Cardiff-based freelance magic consultant. And no – we had no idea what that was either, until we grilled him about it …

Geraint Clarke Magic Consultant

Q. GERAINT, WHAT ON EARTH IS A MAGIC CONSULTANT?

A. Essentially, I sell secrets.

My main job is creating tricks and designing campaigns for an American online business called Ellusionist. They sell the secrets to magic tricks online and I craft their campaigns for them, as well as coming up with some original tricks to publish.

Magicians on TV or at events all around the world use these secrets to blow the minds of their audiences.

The easiest comparison I can give is that Beyoncé had five songwriters for ‘Run the world’. Magic Creators are the songwriters to the Beyonce’s of magic.  

Sometimes magicians learn the secrets from other creatives to allow themselves to be the best performers. Like Jonathan Creek… except I don’t solve murders.

Q. HOW DID YOU GET INTO THAT? WE DIDN’T EVEN KNOW THAT WAS A THING

A. I have a background in marketing, and I created magic on the side. My friend Rory and I filmed product trailers and sold the secret to the tricks to magicians all over the world.

We split royalties cheques each month. I felt like a rockstar (or some sort of struggling songwriter), cashing in cheques for US dollars to the bank. Although this is actually way less glamorous than I imagined it was.

My tricks sold so well, they hit #1 in the bestseller list. Some magicians used them at their private events and some popular names have even used them on TV (and no – I can’t say who!).

I was lucky enough to gain the attention of some bigwigs in the industry and was offered an exclusive contract with Ellusionist.

I use my marketing background to develop their business as well as giving them exclusive rights to my original ideas. They’re the perfect client. It allows me to do other freelance work like voiceovers, blogging or consulting for other companies.

The only problem with being freelance is that both your postman (and your Mum) will think you’re unemployed, being at home during the day…

Q. DO YOU KNOW DYNAMO?

A. Yes.

Q. REALLY?

A. Yeah I was with him in London last month. He LOVES magic. You think he’d be sick of it by constantly being in the spotlight, but we sat down and he couldn’t stop performing.

He’s actually the one who inspired me to start magic. I saw him on MTV Base, back in the day. The next day I was in a book-store picking up a magic book. Ten years later, I’m lucky enough to know him. Great guy!

Q. IT LOOKS LIKE YOU’RE JUGGLING THE CARDS, WHAT IS THAT?

A. Everyone has seen fancy shuffles and thought “I’m not playing cards with that guy”. This idea of manipulating a deck of cards to flip, spin or spring them through the air is called ‘cardistry’.

It’s an artform in its own right, with tournaments, conferences and award shows.

This year I got to fly to Berlin as a sponsor of Cardistry Con and witness the best in the world at this art form. Nothing is more soul-crushing than being at an event where a 13 year old kid is better than you at something you’ve spent 10 years perfecting. I mean, I’m only 26, but even I felt old there.

To the We Are Cardiff readers out there that love to fidget and keep their hands busy, I’d definitely recommend cardistry as a hobby. You can practice in front of the TV, or pass time waiting for the bus.

My advice – start with the ‘charlier cut’ and work your way up to the harder stuff. It’s so addictive.

Q. IS IT SOMETHING YOU STARTED WHEN YOU WERE YOUNG?

A. Actually, I didn’t start magic or cardistry until I was 16. Before that I didn’t really have a fixed hobby.

I played rugby throughout primary school, took up boxing in my teens and quit karate after one lesson. I think there’s a lot of pressure on kids to determine what they love instantly. Or to dive all in on their first ever swimming lesson for example (excuse the pun!).

The truth is I didn’t love anything as a kid. I discovered my passion late, after trying a myriad of different hobbies.

I think everyone needs a hobby though, a creative outlet to forget about the stresses of everyday life. Something that’s 100 per cent yours, and can’t be determined by your job, girlfriend, boyfriend or parents.

Q. WHERE DID YOU GROW UP?

A. I grew up in Newport, with Cardiff being an adventurous train-ride away. My mother would take us to the old ‘Toys R Us’ by the station to spend any pocket money I’d earned. It’s been knocked down since – it used to be on the site where John Lewis and St David’s 2 are now.

It was back then I realised then the importance of hard work, as I could never afford that RC Hovercraft.

They say home is where your heart is, but sometimes you connect with a place that isn’t where you were born. For me that’s Cardiff. It’s where I do my socialising, nights out, shopping, filming… everything.

Q. WHAT’S YOUR FAVOURITE PART OF CARDIFF?

A. In the winter it’s Coffee Barker or Tea Barker (Royal Arcade in the City Centre), but in the summer Cardiff Bay is unbeatable. A mellow atmosphere and incredible choice of things to do.

My serious drinking days are over now. I think I took my liver hostage in university, but I used to love summer evenings on Mill Lane.

Q. WHAT PART OF CARDIFF DO YOU LIVE NOW?

A. I recently moved just outside Cardiff to Llanharan. It’s a quaint barn conversion that has the convenience of a CF postcode, but without the noise of a student party in the apartment above me… like my old place.

Q. ANY FINAL WORDS OF ADVICE FOR THOSE WANTING TO GET INVOLVED IN THIS WEIRD UNDERGROUND HOBBY?

A. If you see me around Cardiff and want to ask me a question on any of the above, don’t hesitate to come over and say hi.

Incase you don’t see me round the city, feel free to get in touch if you’re interested in learning magic or cardistry. I’ll point you in the right direction. You can follow my Geraint Clarke lifestyle blog or find me on social media @geraint_clarke.

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Women of Wales in music: Chloe Jackson-Nott investigates

Photojournalist Chloe Jackson-Nott recently completed a project on women in music in Wales, about the lack of women in the industry and how we can address it. Take it away, Chloe!

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women_in_music-11
Niamh Doyle and Rebekah Price, presenters on Dragon Radio. All photography by Chloe Jackson-Nott.

My photography mainly focuses on music. There aren’t many female music photographers around, so within my work I wanted to photograph and talk to women in other parts of the music industry: whether that be, in a band, solo artist, radio presenter, photographer or enthusiastic gig-goer.

I found eight young women in different parts of the industry. They all do different things within it, and they agreed to speak to me and allowed me to photograph them.

Firstly, Daniele Lewis is a singer-songwriter from New Quay, West Wales. I stumbled across her at Sŵn Festival when looking through the schedule for female artists. Unfortunately, I didn’t get the chance to speak to her on the day but I did see her perform and she has a lot of friends and family around supporting her. Her performance had a calm vibe to it but at the same time you could see all of her enthusiasm and that she loved being up on stage.

I then spoke to Fenne Lily just before her show at Sŵn Festival in Clwb Ifor Bach who had travelled from Bristol to perform in Cardiff. She has strong views about how to get to where you need to be in the music industry and how you need to fight your way to the top, especially being female.

Before I started to find women to talk to about this, I knew I wanted to speak to Katie Hall from Aberdare as I have worked with and seen her band Chroma play live multiple times. She’s incredible. When she performs, she’s lost in performance – she doesn’t care what other people think about her. She’ll be dancing around the stage, giving enthusiastic facial expressions. You can tell she is very passionate about her music and take advantage of being the lead singer of a band with two other male members. She’s a great role model for young girls who want to make it big one day in music.

I also spoke to Dani Hewitt from Treherbet and Samantha Bull from Aberdare who volunteer with Young Promoters Network where they have worked with many women, including myself, who want to take the next step in music. They realised that all of the girls were coming to them for advice noticing that there were no other female role models for them, so decided to create a community called WOMEN (Women of Music Events Network.)

I then went to the students of all music courses at University of South Wales and found Ellie Strong from Cardiff who aspires to be a successful drummer, which is someone I had yet to come across so jumped at the chance to speak to her. She performs at Café Jazz every Monday to practice her skills and perform to a small crowd. Finally, I was asked to photograph two radio presenters from Dragon Media at University of South Wales who happened to be both female so spoke to them to get a different view as they were not in a band or aspire to be artists.

Women of Wales in music

Samantha Bull, 26, Aberdare, W.O.M.E.N

“There aren’t enough women in the music industry, progress is being made but it is slow. There is so much could be done and must be done to counteract the inequality that we as women face in the industry. From the culture that surrounds us and society it has been ingrained in us from a young age that all girls are in competition with each other. Take that thought and push it out of your brain. We need to come together and start supporting each other and celebrating each other’s achievements.”

Dani Hewitt, 26, Treherbet, W.O.M.E.N Cofounder

“There are a lot of men working in the music industry that I could look up to but not a lot of women that I could identify with and follow in the footsteps of. I volunteer with the Young Promoters Network and a lot of the girls starting coming to me and looking up to me to help them. It became a community where we supported each other with developing skills. As there aren’t a lot of female role models, I decided that I should be one for now for young girls who want to achieve their dreams and goals.”

Samantha Bull, 26, and Dani Hewitt, 26, running a W.O.M.E.N panel (Women of Music Events Network) panel at Swn Festival 2016 to inspire young girls to achieve their dreams in music.
Samantha Bull, 26, and Dani Hewitt, 26, running a W.O.M.E.N panel (Women of Music Events Network) panel at Swn Festival 2016 to inspire young girls to achieve their dreams in music.

 

Fenne Lily, 18, Bristol – Singer

“I think there are enough women in the music industry but not women who are actually doing what they want to do, because it’s quite easy to see a girl with an acoustic guitar and tell her she’s can be the next ‘Taylor Swift.’ I think it should cater to women more instead of having men setting up their career and choosing for them. I’ve been brought up by a lot of music as I was attending festivals at a young age so I knew this is definitely what I wanted to do with my life and have decided to build a career out of it. If it’s something you want to do, don’t let society’s opinions stop you.”

Fenny Lily performing downstairs in Clwb Ifor Bach on Saturday 22nd October.
Fenne Lily performing downstairs in Clwb Ifor Bach on Saturday 22nd October.

 

Danielle Lewis, 21, West Wales – Singer

“In the 10 years I have been performing live from school, my local scene at home, playing in Australia to moving to the city in Cardiff, I have seen a lack of women in music in all areas of the industry from playing to sound engineers and producing. It still seems to be a very male orientated business and as a female artist myself I have felt looked down at numerous times. I recently recorded my latest CD with a female producer for the first time and she herself agrees on the shortage. I do think we are becoming more aware of this and I look forward to a new wave of more females in the industry.”

Singer Danielle Lewis, 21, from New Quay, West Wales, performing on the Horizons stage at O'Neils on Saturday 22nd October.
Singer Danielle Lewis, 21, from New Quay, West Wales, performing on the Horizons stage at O’Neils on Saturday 22nd October.

 

Singer Danielle Lewis, performing on the Horizons stage at O'Neils on Saturday 22nd October.
Singer Danielle Lewis, performing on the Horizons stage at O’Neils on Saturday 22nd October.

 

Katie Hall, 21, Aberdare – Singer

“There are definitely not enough girls in the music industry. It shouldn’t be the defining feature of you band that a girl is the front woman. There are so many talented and inspiring musicians that are girls. I think the way to inspire more girls to work in the music industry is to shatter that glass ceiling that’s oppressing women everywhere. The way we do that is challenging promoters attitudes towards women in bands so they give them more gigs. We need to inspire girls from a young age to get involved or pick up an instrument, and support the women who are currently involved in music to reach their full potential as artist.”

Lead singer of Chroma, Katie Hall, performing in Undertone, Cardiff on Sunday 23rd October.
Lead singer of Chroma, Katie Hall, performing in Undertone, Cardiff on Sunday 23rd October.

 

Lead singer of Chroma, Katie Hall, performing in Undertone, Cardiff on Sunday 23rd October.
Lead singer of Chroma, Katie Hall, performing in Undertone, Cardiff on Sunday 23rd October.

 

Ellie Strong, 20, Cardiff – Drummer

“I think there’s a common misconception that there aren’t a lot of women, but there are plenty of women in music; just not enough making grungy rock and shredding guitar! But then there are some gems like jazz and rock drummer Cindy Blackman, currently killing it in the band Santana.. I think what the current women in the industry need to realise is that ‘music’ isn’t a term to be taken lightly; it’s not always about image, which seems to be the case nowadays. So my advice to singers is that they should listen to Jill Scott’s raw vocals instead of whatever is in the charts, and to instrumentalists – keep doing your thing. Prove that we can do it just as well as the boys.”

women_in_music-08 women_in_music-09

 

Niamh Doyle, 20, Cardiff, Radio Presenter

“I believe that there are a few women who are extremely big at the moment, but that’s only a fortunate few. The advice I would give is to keep up their YouTube platforms, as this is a platform where anyone; gender, age, or race is welcome and as it is such a large platform, it is accessible to everyone around the world. We are also at a time in our lives where society is beginning to change the status levels between men and women; women are beginning to become more noticed and taken seriously. My final advice to women would be to never give up and to just keep their end goal in mind.”

Niamh Doyle, 20, student at USW and radio presenter at Dragon Media
Niamh Doyle, 20, student at USW and radio presenter at Dragon Media

 

 

Rebekah Price, 22, Cwmbran, Radio Presenter

“Music is an incredibly important thing in my life. I’ve always loved talking about it, listening to it, as well as making it. But I will admit that there has been times where I have stood back and questioned whether realistically, as a woman, I would be able to move forward in the industry. Negative thinking I know, but this was partly because I’d recently become aware of the gender divide within music festivals. When we look at festivals in particular, which essentially provide a platform for a large collection of artists and musicians, we can see that typically there is only a small percentage of female acts being seen.”

Rebekah (CORR) Price, 22, student at USW and radio presenter at Dragon Media.
Rebekah (CORR) Price, 22, student at USW and radio presenter at Dragon Media.

 

 

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Cardiff – Get Home Safe: late night antics in the city

Photojournalist Lorna Cabble spent three months hanging out with her camera, after hours – photographing the city’s late night scene. Over to Lorna to explain more about her project.

UNITED KINGDOM, WALES; January 24, 2017. Image from my recent project "Get Home Safe", shot between September and December, 2016. These images were shot while working with Cardiff Street Pastors, a voluntary based organisation that aim to protect people while they're on a night out in Cardiff on a Friday and Saturday night.
UNITED KINGDOM, WALES; Autumn/winter 2016. Image shot while working with Cardiff Street Pastors, a voluntary based organisation that aim to protect people while they’re on a night out in Cardiff on a Friday and Saturday night.

During my second year as a student in Cardiff, there was a lot of publicity on the attacks that had happened to female students around the Cathays area, and I couldn’t stop thinking about it – the subject struck a chord with me. It was really in our faces, so I just kept thinking “I really need to do a project on this, or it’s going to bother me.”

I didn’t know where to start, so I started photographing students being students on the streets of Cardiff (students are so great) and ended up seeing a poster for the “Student Safety Walk”, an organisation that gets students (both male and female) home safe, or looked after when they’re in a bit of a mess – so I contacted them to see if they’d mind me tagging along.
For this project I was probably out in town at night at least three times a week. The Student Safety Walk went out twice a week, so I made it out with them as often as I could around work. I was also out on just general shoots, and with Cardiff Street Pastors a few times too. 

UNITED KINGDOM; WALES; 24 January, 2017. Images taken from various nights with the "Student Safety Walk", a volunteer based organisation created by student, Alastair Babington that sees to the safety of students while on a night out.

UNITED KINGDOM, WALES; January 24, 2017. Image from my recent project "Get Home Safe", shot between September and December, 2016. These images were shot while working with Cardiff Street Pastors, a voluntary based organisation that aim to protect people while they're on a night out in Cardiff on a Friday and Saturday night.

UNITED KINGDOM; WALES; 24 January, 2017. Images taken from various nights with the "Student Safety Walk", a volunteer based organisation created by student, Alastair Babington that sees to the safety of students while on a night out.

The things I saw were a bit shocking, but in an amusing way more than anything. All I kept thinking was “how are theses people not cold in their outfits?”, while I was wrapped up in a coat and scarf and freezing!
There was a guy who had a whole bottle of scotch to himself, he was just completely unable to do anything, and threw up every five minutes, we had to get him an ambulance – it was a bit scary. His housemates came out of the student union a while later and saw him while we were waiting for the ambulance, so we filled them in on what was happening – but they left him. That was really shocking for me, and kind of made me realise why I was documenting the kind people looking after him and others in similar positions to begin with.
I did see a few worrying scenes where there would be a guy trying to take a girl home – but she would have no idea who he was – so it was good to see that being stopped. And I also saw taxis reject a lot of lone females, or groups of females (as well as males) as their journey home wasn’t long enough for them – or sometimes they were too drunk (which I kind of understand, but it’s worrying that they’d then have to walk home). I also saw some really lovely scenes where people were just kind to each other, so it balanced out.

UNITED KINGDOM; WALES; 24 January, 2017. Images taken from various nights with the "Student Safety Walk", a volunteer based organisation created by student, Alastair Babington that sees to the safety of students while on a night out.

UNITED KINGDOM; WALES; 24 January, 2017. Images taken from various nights with the "Student Safety Walk", a volunteer based organisation created by student, Alastair Babington that sees to the safety of students while on a night out.

UNITED KINGDOM; WALES; 24 January, 2017. Images taken from various nights with the "Student Safety Walk", a volunteer based organisation created by student, Alastair Babington that sees to the safety of students while on a night out.

UNITED KINGDOM, WALES; January 24, 2017. Image from my recent project "Get Home Safe", shot between September and December, 2016. These images were shot while working with Cardiff Street Pastors, a voluntary based organisation that aim to protect people while they're on a night out in Cardiff on a Friday and Saturday night.

UNITED KINGDOM; WALES; 24 January, 2017. Image from my recent project "Get Home Safe", shot in Cardiff between September and November. Image taken from various nights with the "Student Safety Walk", a volunteer based organisation created by student, Alastair Babington that sees to the safety of students while on a night out.

 My next project kind of spring boards from this one: I’m photographing people who have been sexually assaulted and I’m getting their stories. I’m going for straight-forward portraiture with this one, and it’s basically aiming to encourage people to speak out about it and try and get rid of some of that stigma – like feeling like you’re to blame, or feeling like you can’t talk about it from fear.
Anyone is welcome to participate in this project, any gender, and an assault of any scale – it’s all important to me. For me personally, photojournalism is just being able to provide those who want/need it with a voice.
UNITED KINGDOM, WALES; November 14 2016. Portrait of Gary, the director of the charity that runs Street Pastors Cardiff. Gary has been volunteering since 2008.
UNITED KINGDOM, WALES; November 14 2016. Portrait of Gary, the director of the charity that runs Street Pastors Cardiff. Gary has been volunteering since 2008.

 

UNITED KINGDOM, WALES; October 31 2016. Portrait of 'MJ', an employee at St John's Ambulance working in Cardiff to help intoxicated people at night.
UNITED KINGDOM, WALES; October 31 2016. Portrait of ‘MJ’, an employee at St John’s Ambulance working in Cardiff to help intoxicated people at night.

 

UNITED KINGDOM, WALES; December 18 2016. Portrait of Alastair Babington, student and organiser of the Student Safety Walk at Cardiff University.
UNITED KINGDOM, WALES; December 18 2016. Portrait of Alastair Babington, student and organiser of the Student Safety Walk at Cardiff University.

 

UNITED KINGDOM; WALES; 24 January, 2017. Image from my recent project "Get Home Safe", shot in Cardiff between September and November. Image taken from various nights with the "Student Safety Walk", a volunteer based organisation created by student, Alastair Babington that sees to the safety of students while on a night out.

UNITED KINGDOM, WALES; January 4, 2017. The cover image of my recent project, "Get Home Safe". A shot of the alley way behind Park Street, known to a lot of students as "Rape Alley", the location of sexual assaults last year and the catalyst for this project, and the Student Safety Walk.

UNITED KINGDOM; WALES; 24 January, 2017. Images taken from various nights with the "Student Safety Walk", a volunteer based organisation created by student, Alastair Babington that sees to the safety of students while on a night out.

UNITED KINGDOM; WALES; 24 January, 2017. Images taken from various nights with the "Student Safety Walk", a volunteer based organisation created by student, Alastair Babington that sees to the safety of students while on a night out.

Lorna Cabble is in her final year of Photojournalism at the University of South Wales. Her favourite area of photography is theatre and social documentary: she is obsessed with people and their stories. When she graduates, she would love to work in theatres and to do as much NGO work as she can. She’s the resident photographer for This is Kizomba, Cardiff.

Lorna’s Facebook page / Lorna’s Instagram

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Finding direction – Niamh Doyle finds the joy of radio in Cardiff

We would like to welcome you to the first instalment from student Niamh Doyle, who’ll be talking to us about a passion she discovered while at university here in Cardiff.

Niamh Doyle

My name is Niamh Doyle and I am a third year Contemporary Music Performance Student at the University of South Wales, The Atrium and like some of you who will be reading this, I, myself and under six months away from graduating my three year degree. Who knew that the term ‘if you blink you’ll miss it’, was actually true, right?

So this particular post is for all of you third years out there who may or may not be panicking about what their future path may be, whether you’ll be able to pursue it, or whether you’ll be able to make a living out of it!

Consequently, this article (arranged in three musical quavers) contains my secret ingredient to how I escaped such anxiety and worry, how I found my new passion and ultimately, how I discovered my intended future career path.

However, my story begins at the very beginning of my second year here, where I remember regretting not 1) attending the fresher’s event fair in my first year and 2) ultimately ending in lacking in participation in an acceptable amount of extra curricular activities (excluding ballet, contemporary and guitar teaching, which with each, I only took up for a short amount of time).

Consequently, at the beginning of second year, I ended up dragging my flatmate (at the time) to the fresher’s fair, where I made the first step into radio.Less than a week later, I was notified with an email informing me on the dates and other information that was required for the interviewing process and only two days later, I became a co-host to the chart show at Dragon Radio. ‘The Rebekah and Niamh Chart Show’ continued solidly for a full academic year, where so many treasured memories and friendships were made.

Whilst this show was continuing to grow however, at this point in my life, I was adamant that I was to go into Music Therapy. However, after venturing into a wonderful three months of work experience at a college in South Wales that summer, I soon discovered than Music Therapy just wasn’t for me. It was from that day on that I looked into other radio shows that I could throw myself into in my third year, which is where my second show at Dragon Radio started; £1 Wonders. It was also at this time that I found GTFM. On this station, I own my show, leaving me with two shows where I co-host, and one where I present and run the desk on my own.

All in all, radio saved me. At the beginning of third year, I had unfortunately discovered that I wasn’t so passionate for music anymore.

So what I’m saying, is if you’re still struggling for a career path and you’re sick of your parents asking you how you’re going to be making your money, take up a hobby that you’ve always wanted to take up, because quite frankly, that could end up being your muse!

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Caught By The River – This is Rat Island

So, you guys. I’ve recently started a column for the wonderful Caught by the River website, based on my wanderings (and wonderings) around and about the lovely River Taff.

Read my first instalment here: Wandering the Taff: This is Rat Island

I know, can’t I write about anything other than Cardiff, amirite? Anyway, two weird things happened after the piece was published. Firstly, after living on the edge of south Cardiff on “Rat Island” for nearly seven years and having NEVER seen a rat down here, I saw TWO within the space of two days – one running across the car park in Morrisons and one scurrying around in the bushes on Dumballs Road.

Wait … there’s more … secondly, what I thought was just a little bit of basic desk research into what is essentially a fluff piece about the place I live got way more complex. It turned out to be the question that kept questioning, itself, other people, and me.

In the piece I wrote for Caught by the River, my conclusion was that no one really knows where Rat Island was exactly, but that we have a rough idea (based on all my research): it was the land that lay between the River Taff and the Glamorganshire Canal, to the south of where Clarence Road Bridge is now.

This is the conclusion I had come to from all the many things I’d read, personal accounts, articles on the BBC, Wales Online, modern history books, etc. Fine.

You can’t actually see Clarence Road Bridge in the map below – it hadn’t been built at this point (1879). But roughly halfway down the picture, you can see James Street on the right hand side – imagine that carrying on to the left (westwards) and going straight over the water into Grangetown. That’s the horizontal line we’re talking about, just above where it reads ‘Dumballs Marsh’.

rat-island-location

(Map: Glamorgan XLVII (includes: Cardiff; Penarth; St Andrews Major – surveyed: 1878 to 1879, published: 1885)

But no, not fine. Writer, poet, historian, all-round good guy Peter Finch has done all of the due diligence with respect to Cardiff history when researching for his Real Cardiff books (recommended reading, students), and he responded to an email I’d sent him asking if he knew where the spot was with this: the general area was right – it was between the Taff and the canal, but rather than being south of where Clarence Road would eventually be built, it was actually north (up towards where the centre of town is): in between that bridge and the timber ponds, on an actual island created by the Taff, oxbowing its way down to the Severn and the sea beyond.

Peter, wonderfully poetic even when answering inane questions from Cardiff bloggers, wrote me this:

The Taff has always moved about. Thrashed about perhaps, as it traverses its delta. Rat Island, as I understood it, was a section of Taff’s bank made an island by the river ox bowing itself. This was  upstream of Clarence Road Bridge near The Dumballs. It was formed, according to Mary Gillham, following one of the periodic floods that plagues the Taff. Gulls and other birds nested there. Rats invaded along a revealed at low tide causeway in order to steal their eggs. The land became rat infested. The name followed.

That was Peter’s first email. Isn’t he a gem? Being in a mad rush, as I always am, I misread the ‘upstream’ part and thought he meant downstream …

But there’s a reason for that. All of the folks I asked – people who used to live here, and had the story handed down from parents or grandparents – had heard the area was called Rat Island because of the rats that were disturbed either when the HMS Hamadryad first to the area (in 1866), or when she was finally dragged away to be destroyed in 1905.

Even once the initial piece was published, I had some tweets also corroborating this theory:

It makes sense, but the area being referred to is south of the Clarence Road Bridge: quite a lot further south … and adding to the confusion, I had read somewhere else the area was already called Rat Island, long before the ship came to Cardiff in 1866.

So how does it all fit together?

The discrepancy between the locations – north of the Clarence Road Bridge, versus south?

I raised the possibility of the name referring to an area north of the bridge with the Cardiff Docks Remembered Facebook (where people share memories of the area and discuss such matters) and it was pretty much universally poo-pooed. No way, said people who had grown up around here. Their truth was in the tales from their parents and grandparents, and they had been definitively told. Rat Island was south, the area next to the Sea Lock, that would eventually turn into Hamadryad Park.

We aren’t debating the European Convention of Human Rights or anything here guys. I am well aware this is a long gone name for an area that bears no resemblance to the marshy hinterland that inspired it – but that doesn’t stop me wanting to know WHY, does it??

There is, I think, anyway, a solution to this, that includes all of these seemingly conflicting perspectives and accounts: an ultimate answer that I – Helia Phoenix, non-historian, non-expert, super-nosey local person – will put forward as the only conclusion to this burning issue … this imperative question … that literally no-one – apart from me – is asking …

Where was Rat Island?

Here’s my theory. The entire area that fringes the main urbanised docklands – from the Bute Ironworks all the way to the south and east, where you can see the HMS Hamadryad hospital ship – would have been a muddy, marshy wasteland at that time – its only purpose really to keep people with infectious diseases away from the overcrowded docks and Tiger Bay. There was very little of interest on any of that land – either north of the future Clarence Road Bridge, or south of it.

So … it’s possible that the one spot was originally named ‘Rat Island’ – the small island next to the Ironworks, as pointed to by Peter Finch – but the name spread down (or was re-used) in the south, once the HMS Hamadryad showed up (or was hauled away), spreading its ratty citizens across the undergrowth that is now Hamadryad Park.

hamadryad_hospital_ship
HMS Hamadryad Hospital Ship on “Rat Island”, Cardiff. Photo from People’s Collection Wales

I won’t hold out for my Nobel Prize. But I did feel like I might have actually sort of solved something that’s been bugging me for ages.

I emailed Peter asking if he thought this might be possible. He agreed – that there were two things that were getting confused here …

Rat Island, the geographic island, i.e. a piece of land with water on all sides is the place you’ve spotted on your map. This is the one Mary Gillham suggests had birds nesting on it whose eggs were stolen by rats. Then there’s the local name for the whole district. Bill Barrett who died in 2013 and who was writing his piece on Rat Island for the Cardiff Book #3 (Stewart Williams Publishers)  in 1977 suggests that all the land between the canal and the Taff was known as Rat Island. He suggests that this went as far north as the Timber Ponds. These were where the Iron Works are shown on your map … it does seem to be probable that the whole slab of land took on the name of the island. 

So, Bill Barrett (RIP) might have got there before me. I wasn’t able to find a copy of his book anywhere (I’m on the lookout – please tell me if anyone finds one), but I’m happy enough with the result.

I did a lot of research for the initial piece (though it might remain inconclusive…), so if you’re interested in further reading:

Canal Park and Sea Lock Pond (Stuart Herbert)

The Hamadryad Hospital Ship (BBC Wales History Blogs / Phil Carradice)

#towerlives: Rise of towers and fall of Tiger Bay (BBC)

The Cardiff Coal Boom: The Chronicle Radio show (featuring Ian Hill from Save the Coal Exchange, author / historian Neil Sinclair, Juliet Lewis – Senior Lecturer at the Welsh School of Architecture), broadcast February 2017

Not really relevant for this piece, but lovely to follow if you’re on Twitter: @OldCardiffPics

Big thanks also to Peter Finch for indulging me. His latest book, The Roots Of Rock From Cardiff To Mississippi And Back, is available from Seren now, priced £9.99. View Peter Finch’s archive.

Images in this piece: both taken on the section of the Taff that runs through the now disappeared Rat Island: Instagram malayabbasi and heatherpatterson.

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Viva Vegan Festival Cardiff

Have you been to one of Cardiff’s seemingly endless array of vegan festivals yet? We sent student Maika Wagner along to Viva Vegan to dish the dirt. Not literally. The food actually sounds totes delish there.

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My interest in veganism is personal, as I became vegan for health reasons about four years ago. In between I had a stretch of being vegetarian. It wasn’t until later that I started to think about the treatment of animals etc. I think it’s important to promote veganism in a peaceful way instead of the militant way some vegans go about it. It’s important for people to see that it is not as hard as they think to be vegan and that one person can make a difference with their diet, not just to the animals, but also for themselves and their health.
My neighbours had a stretch of being vegan back in 2012, and at first I thought it was quite extreme, because I did not get the motivation behind it. At some point I was looking at weight-loss diets and found this one book by Attila Hildmann. My neighbour had it, so I tried the 30-day challenge and stayed vegan afterwards, as during that time I had read up on all the animal cruelty and it just didn’t sit right with me.

There have been many vegan festivals going on in Cardiff throughout the last year, this most recent one looked like it might be the biggest one yet: The Viva Vegan Festival.

Having been held at the City Hall this Saturday, the Viva Vegan Festival attracted quite a few people who were interested in veganism or were already vegan. The entry fee of two pounds seemed reasonable enough for passers-by to give it a go. Being held in City Hall gave it a more official feeling than other vegan festivals in the city that I had been to. For £14 pounds, you could even have booked a VIP ticket in advance and get a goody-bag and also, most importantly, jump the queue.

If you didn’t fancy splashing out, there were some food trucks outside City Hall so you could have a taste of what was inside.

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The stalls featured at the festival were very diverse, ranging from different foods, over bath accessories, skin care, makeup, clothing, art etc, all the way to animal rights activists. Most of the stall-holders were not Cardiff based, but can be found online.

My personal favourites were Solkiki, Bohemian Chic Minerals, chaaboo and Flavour Fusion. However, the all-time favourites with the masses are Mr Nice Pie and The Vegan Bakery.

Solikiki is the most amazing raw chocolate (my favourites are his white chocolate salted peanut and white chocolate hazelnut). The chocolates are Fairtrade and it is ensured that a large amount of the profit goes directly to the farmers.

Bohemian Chic Minerals makes mineral makeup for extremely sensitive skin. Every product is hyper-pigmented, so a even though the tubs are small, they will stretch for quite a while.

Chaaboo makes amazing, cold-pressed, hand-made soaps. There are different scents and two different sizes, which allows one to buy a small hamper of test-soaps as a cute, cruelty-free gift. My favourite scent is the green-tea soap. Many people don’t realise that soap is often made from animal fat and it is nice to have an alternative without having to check the label.

Flavour Fusion is a sort of ‘vegan parmesan’, made from almonds and spices. You can either sprinkle it on top of food or mix it with some olive oil for a dip or pesto, for some amazing flavour.

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Apart from the stalls, there were also a variety of vegan talks and vegan cooking-demonstrations going on throughout the day, such as Jane Easton’s baking demonstration. She is the author of the Viva vegan cookbook and gave some great tips on baking, while also doing some myth-busting along the way.

I was born in Cambridge, but raised in Hamburg, Germany. Hamburg was probably one of the first cities to have a completely vegan supermarket. A lot of the vegan foods found in the UK are currently being imported from either the US or Germany, so it’s funny to be in a store here and start reading out german labels. There’s a district in Hamburg called Schanze. It’s the hip, young district and has a ton of vegan options, including a vegan ice-cream shop, which is amazing. But you’ll usually find vegan stuff even in normal supermarkets, although more limited than a health-food store. Also, many of my close friends in Germany are vegetarian or vegan, so it’s really easy when going out or going round each other’s houses.

Maika Wagner is 21 years old and was born in Cambridge, UK, but moved to Hamburg, Germany when she was five. From 2010 to 2011, she was on an exchange year in Lecce, Italy, learning the language and getting to know the people there. She moved back to Cardiff to study and is currently on her third year of Contemporary Music Performance at the Atrium.
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We Are Cardiff: our most popular posts of 2016

Hey you guys. So I meant to do this post an actual month ago, but the last six months have just taken it all out of me. Let’s not dwell on crazy world events that we have seemingly no control over though, right? Have a flick through this lovely list for some of our favourite stories of 2016.

Things an English person learns on moving to Wales

The wonderful Ellie Philpotts ruminates on rugby, lushness, the warm Welsh welcome, and why we gotta stick a dragon on everything.

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The history of Tyndall Street – and the lost community of Newtown, Little Ireland

Newtown (or “Little Ireland”) sprung up in the early 1830s to house the multitudes of Irish immigrants who had come over to work on the docks. When the estate was demolished in the 1970s, the inhabitants were scattered across the city.

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Should I move to Cardiff?

Yes. Yes you should.

Big wheel in Cardiff Bay

The winner of Cardiff’s worst cycle path …

It has since been resurfaced! A tiny win, in the face of global doom.

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Running real fast … Cardiff Half Marathon 2016

A photo-essay on the best costumes of this year’s race.

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Attention cheese lovers … Penylan Pantry to open Cheese Pantry

The Pantry opens its second location, turning Cardiff Indoor Market into a foodie destination.

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Wales: a good place for tribes to thrive

Talking music, entrepreneurship and everything in between with local legend Lucy Squire.

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Exploring Cardiff’s Printhaus

Ben Newman heads down to Cardiff’s Printhaus to explore the alternative arts scene.

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A guide to Creative Cardiff

We joined forces with I Loves The Diff to put together a city guide for the lovely Creative Cardiff project. Co-working, education, coffee shops, architecture – we cover it all!

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