Real Cardiff: The Flourishing City by Peter Finch – review

Writer Ben Newman gets stuck into Peter Finch’s fourth instalment in the Real Cardiff series.

How well do you know Cardiff, really? For a city of only roughly 350,000 people, nestled between valleys and the sea, there is a surprising amount of history, tales, fables, and important spots that remain hidden to the majority of us. Thankfully, Peter Finch’s Real Cardiff The Flourishing City has been published and is, to date, one of the most readable yet comprehensive histories of Cardiff.

By splitting the book into five main parts – Central, East, North, West, and South – Finch interprets how the city’s linguistic, cultural, artistic, and economical heritage is preserved and built upon today, whilst contextualising how all these factors contribute to Cardiff’s booming trade. No matter which part of the ‘diff you live in, there will be some coverage of it in it here, and may make you approach your morning commute or next trip to the shops a little differently.

The book opens with a short discussion about Cardiff’s role as a boom city, before descending into an overview of the city’s history. Finch then muses on the cultural melding, or lack thereof, between Cardiff and the northern valleys, and how economic and population pressures may push Cardiffians out into the valleys. It is an interesting discussion to be had where Cardiff’s influence and parameters end, with Finch stating that “Cardiff finishes at the roundabout just south of Castell Coch.” This book attempts to discuss more than just Cardiff itself, but the degree of its wider influence in the fabric of south Wales.

Furthering on that, the author discusses how the city is changing architecturally, with our beloved skyline being threatened by all sorts of wider economic advancements. The book opens by providing a full framework of what has happened and what is to come, threading in loose descriptions of a multitude of factors. Whilst Finch does not go into impressive depth in this book, he does display an amazing breadth of knowledge; this book is not necessarily for those inclined to the nitty-gritty, but more for those who want a full understanding of what it means to be Cardiff.

Finch, already famous for being a wonderful writer, employs a direct and simple writing style, with the kind of preference for understatement you see from any old man telling a story. Even if he shies away from hyperbole, he still manages to capture the contradictory and idiosyncratic nature of Cardiff. His writing is underpinned by an implicit understanding of what makes us Cardiffians tick, allowing his writing to gravitate towards highlights that would naturally interest locals.

Without wanting to spoil too much, the book traverses through geographical spots throughout each part of Cardiff, focusing on those bits that appear relatively different or important. In a way, it is as if Finch is taking you on a tour – albeit a politicised one – throughout spots in Cardiff. He starts off with easy parts such as Queen Street, before slowly making his way through the nooks and crannies of central Cardiff, ending in the quieter streets of Tredegarville. This occurs throughout each section, beginning at a central hub, and slowly meandering out to the peripheries. Each street reveals something different and hidden away. To give them away here would ruin the experience, but the important point Finch takes away from each idiosyncrasy is that Cardiff deserves to be treasured. Underpinning his textual tour is an argument that we, like the rest of Wales, need a plan. Issues such as traffic concerns, architectural issues, and Cardiff’s disconnect from Welsh culture are all discussed, leading to a book that not only entrenches itself in the city, but in the city’s concerns, troubles, and future.

Real Cardiff is, at heart, a book for the people of Cardiff, half-love-letter, half-history.

***

You can buy Real Cardiff: The Flourishing City from Seren Books

Author Peter Finch has a number of events throughout the rest of 2018/9 where you can join him on walks through the city, or hear him talk. Make sure to check Peter Finch’s Twitter for more details, but we recommend:

Saturday 8th September, 2018
Banging Out The Poems at The Park Hotel
Cardiff Book Festival. 3.15 pm at Cornerstone, Charles Street
A brief literary history of one of Cardiff’s major landmarks. Peter Finch, author of the new Real Cardiff The Flourishing City, tracks some of the creative outrages perpetrated in the name of literature at this 150-year old institution. We’ll also hear a little about how, in an age of windpower, the world’s greatest coal port has boomed again. Cardiff – as much a destination now as it is a place to live.

Tuesday 23rd September, 2018
Real Cardiff The Flourishing City
Rhiwbina Library. 7.30 pm.

Thursday 18th October, 2018
Arts Society Central Cardiff Walk
Psychogeography and the Real City

Friday 9th February, 2019
The Cardiff Mash Up
Mezzanine: The Seren Cornerstone Poetry Festival, Charles Street, Cardiff, 2019
The polymath poet, editor, essayist and psychogeographer presents his newest work on the city.
12.00 noon.

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