Letters from Cardiff in lockdown: Peter Gaskell

Today’s instalment for the Letters from Cardiff in lockdown series comes from writer and actor Peter Gaskell. We’re looking for your stories, so please contribute to Letters from Cardiff in lockdown

Here’s from a culture-vulture, about what Cardiff means to me while under lockdown.

Peter with Thea Gilmore at Acapela Pentyrch in 2019

I am a writer and actor so lockdown has deprived me of opportunities to earn from public performance. I had been costume-fitted for a supporting artiste role in His Dark Materials just before filming was suspended; I just hope Bad Wolf can maintain their presence as the premier film producer in Cardiff after such success with the first season.

I miss Chapter Arts Centre, where Everyman Theatre has given me years of pleasure attending and acting, and the Sherman Theatre too, where I volunteer front-of-house. Some productions they have put on YouTube, e.g. by Gary Owen, whose Killology script in 2018 so helped win the Olivier Award for Regional Theatre of the Year for the Sherman.

It’s not all been deprivation though. I had a script (Pigs In Muck) produced as part of the Lockdown Monologues short film festival, and which is now being rehearsed by A48 Theatre Company for performance as a virtual theatre piece. A48 you may know for their graveside performances in Cathays Cemetery Heritage Trail and Tales last year.

As much as drama productions, even more than eating out and pubs, what I have been missing is live music. I was looking forward to the Roath Folk Festival at the Gate after enjoying the event last year, and more of Beethoven 250th anniversary celebrations at St David’s Hall after the 6 hour extravaganza in January which replicated the great composer’s 1808 premier of 5th & 6th symphonies in Vienna. St David’s Hall has provided a first class classical programme year after year, and I never miss a Beethoven concert there.

My consolation under lockdown is walking among the rhododendrons in Cefn Onn park while plugged into Beethoven Unleashed on BBC Sounds, which is featuring his work and life-story throughout 2020.

The Millennium Centre now closed till 2021, in the absence of live venues, I follow my musical friends on Facebook, some of whom were entirely absent from social media till lockdown since when they have taken to broadcasting their offerings from their parlours. Great though Virtual Open Mic is, hearing music played through a mobile phone speaker in an individual’s living room is no substitute for the ambient spaces of Cardiff’s fine concert halls.

Living alone, I’m relieved at last I’ve been able to ‘bubble’ though I haven’t been able to have contact with my daughter in London and I wonder if my young grandson will know who I am when we next have the chance to meet. As a fan of quizzes (once a Mastermind semi-finalist!), I’ve partaken of several online, including the Brains quiz hosted by Martin Williams. It makes you feel engaged though you’re not really interacting socially and at a disadvantage unless you have others in the same room looking up the answers!

Social distancing has become second-nature to me and I am happier staying away from crowds, particularly in shops, though as well as concerts, I’m missing my cricket at Sophia Gardens. Despite Cardiff Council writing off 70% of the club’s mounting debts in 2015, Glamorgan CC remains an impoverished club so I’ll be attending when the cricket season starts next month to support its continued existence; I’ll be gutted if it can’t survive the pandemic.

For exercise I love walking in natural surroundings, glad that Cardiff has more green space per capita of population than most cities. I don’t like indoor workouts but I am missing my regular swim at Maindy.

For my mental health, I shall keep using the opportunity the isolation brings to write. It keeps me buoyant, not just the creative expression but the hope my work gets commissioned or published somewhere. As well as scripts for film and theatre, I write poems and a novel for which I am trawling a list of agents to find the right ones to approach for the genre. That’s a chore but you need a break from seeking inspiration sometimes!

In response to more of your prompts,

1. What do I miss the most about my “normal” life?

Travelling more than 5 miles

2. Is there anything you’ve been surprised by in terms of not finding it as bad as you had thought?

Satisfyingly filling the time I used to spend watching sport on TV

3. Any tips for other people struggling with lockdown for whatever reason?

If others like the therapy of writing I’d recommend haiku. It’s a satisfying way of condensing your thoughts into 3 lines of verse. I recommend joining The Daily Haiku group on Facebook and check Georgia Carys William’s site for a guide to writing haikus. It’s a great supportive blog which focuses on promoting wellbeing.

4. Your hopes for the future, anything you’d like to take from this time into future life?

That we continue to take the stress off Nature, pollute less. Plant more trees and encourage wildlife to flourish.

Follow Peter on Twitter @thatpetegaskell

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