Category Archives: The People

Music, poetry, and metropolitan life – interview with Agiris

Are you a fan of trip-hop? Dense lyricism? Modern gothic aesthetics? Have you spun Mezzanine by Massive Attack a bit too many times? Then check out Agiris, the musical project of poet turned musician and Cardiff resident Ryan Draper. His sound skirts the border between poetry and trip-hop, delivering a sound that pushes electronic music to catharsis. Ben Newman sat down with the  songwriter to discuss all things music, poetry, lyrics and metropolitan life.

Agiris is a collaborative project, correct? How did this collaboration with Sunbane come about?
You’re partially right. Agiris is the solo manifestation of my artistry as a writer and performer. You could say it’s a sort of character for me to explore my creativity, but it also allows me to exhibit an artform that I wouldn’t necessarily express as just Ryan. As Agiris I’ve been working towards the completion of my first mixtape, ‘Anima’ and a lot of the work produced for this project has been a collaborative effort. I’ve worked with a range of producers including Sunbane, Jonatan Bäckelie and Bexxo, composer/pianist Ezra Nixon, photographer/videographer Seanen Middleton, make-up artist Lauren Labram and iron-cast melder Ashleigh Harrold. Sunbane has contributed a significant amount to my work and we’ve got a pretty co-operative partnership going on. As well as helping me to enhance some demos and producing some of the tracks for my mixtape, I’ve performed alongside him at this year’s HUB fest and supplied vocals for a track on his upcoming Alchemist EP (out Dec 14th), which will be my very first release to hit all the streaming platforms. Synergistic vibes all round.

Q. Do you tend to write lyrics after listening to his production or does lyric writing come first?

My mixtape has been written for a long time now. I revealed Agiris back in May of this year and the time since has been about finding the right music to dissolve the words in. There was one production that I received from Jonatan where I wrote a completely original track over it, but everything else has been lyrics first.

Q. You’ve defined your music as “poetrip” which indicates a fusion between trip-hop’s aesthetics and poetic lyrics. Aside from this genre-lyric relationship, what else does poetrip stand for?

It’s mainly that the focus is on the words. As mentioned before, most of the tracks were written and performed as poems or spoken word pieces before having the music to accompany them. The mixtape itself flows between very structured and rhythmic verses and fluid, soft spoken interludes with a more poetic delivery. I’d like to think that the reader could delve into the lyricism of any of my tracks and extract the messages or the emotions of what I’m trying to say from just reading or listening to the words alone. I suppose the music is there to enhance the experience but also act as a gateway to the lyrics. I’ve also found it uncomfortable to express what I do as rap. Rap brings to mind very specific connotations which I feel I don’t quite fit into. Poetrip, to me, suggests a more image invoking or story-telling genre and one that allows for a bit more flexibility.

Q. Considering your background in writing poetry, how have you found the transition to writing lyrics? Do you tend to follow a similar writing style/method or is it a totally different thought process?

It’s odd. I’ve always written with the rhyme in mind so that hasn’t changed. With spoken word you can sort of take the structure any where but with music I’m very aware that I need to ride the instrumentation just right and allow for more constriction. I’m discovering the art of flow!

Q. Both lyrically and sonically, Agiris tends to delve into dark sounds and textures. Who are your major inspirations for this sound? Are there any lyric-writers/vocalists you tend to look to for inspiration?

For the past few years my favourite music to listen to has been dark electronic pop and alternative R&B (FKA twigs, Banks, Abra, James Blake, Sevdaliza, Kill J). My mixtape has been massively influenced by the likes of Portishead and Tricky, but particularly Massive Attack and their Mezzanine album. I’ve always wanted to re-create its deliciously atmospheric soundscape. Lyric wise- I love the way Bjork writes. She writes without any sort of conditioning. The freedom in her lyricism is tangible to me. Lorde is also a terrific writer. I could just read her album and feel the music in the words.

Q. Out of these inspirations, who would be your dream collaborator?

I’ve actually thought hard about this because I wouldn’t want to feel too intimidated if I were to work with someone I look up to. I’d get too nervous and make a t*t of myself. So bearing that in mind, I’d have to say NAO. Some of her darker tunes are my favourite songs and I LOVE her unusual, honey-sweet voice. Her lyrics are so poetic too: “You’re a holiday, a glass of ocean slipping down my throat and landed on my hopes”. I’ve actually met her and she was incredibly humble- it was like talking to an old friend, so I think we would actually write something great together.

Q. Do you view and evaluate music a little differently now that you’re making it?

Yeah, sadly it has sort of diminished its impact ever so slightly. Before, I would be mesmerised by music and wonder how the hell the artist could come up with something in bewilderment. I still get that! But now I’m working on the software and recording for hours at a time, I’ve started to view the whole concept of music in more technical terms. Sometimes I just need to be found in the right moment and the magic comes flooding back.

Q. Your last track, Monstratum, was sonically your most challenging song yet, nodding to genres such as drone and industrial. Where do you see your sound going in the long-term? Was this more left-field and confrontational sound an indication of your future work?

Monstratum’s concept is about the universal capacity for evil and so I wanted music that was aggressive and haunting to convey its idea. It’s probably the heaviest moment on the Anima track listing. Anima is a very conceptual project and my aim was always to tie it together with a cohesive sound. Before Anima and Agiris, I was making music as part of a duo that was very sarcastic and humorous with simple pop/hip-hop beats. Anima was born out of a need to want to be taken more seriously and to use Agiris as a vessel in which to challenge myself and my insecurities. I was sort of hiding behind the humour before because I was afraid to be sincere and declare myself as someone with true, artistic intentions. Now that I’m getting more comfortable with it, I’m excited to continue to use eclectic sounds and maintain an alternative aesthetic.

Q. Before releasing Monstratum, you released a quote from Carl Jung’s essay ‘On the Psychology of the Unconscious’ regarding the nature of evil. Do you derive a lot of intertextual inspiration from psychology and literature?

It’s funny, it’s kind of like a self-fulfilling prophecy for me. I was trying to find a stage name for myself and I kept coming back to the colour silver, the moon and the soul. Eventually I decided upon “Agiris Anima” as a sort of indirect translation for “Silver eyes to the soul”. I cut it short with Agiris but I realised that most of what I was writing about fit with the Anima title. I knew it translated from Italian to ‘soul’ before I knew of the Jungian archetype. I’d also written the basis for Monstratum before I knew of Carl Jung and then I researched some of his quotes and particularly his concept of integrating the shadow. I noticed my poetry aligning with his philosophies and the notion of the Anima became the catalyst that sort of made everything slot into place as a project. I’ve also used a snippet of a philosophical conversation between Dr. Jordan Peterson and Russell Brand. I found the dichotomy of these two individuals, who are both viewed as radicals of the left/right paradigm, just calmly talking about philosophy together to be a notable anomaly in today’s divisive political climate. I took a snippet of where they mention Jung’s alchemical axiom ‘Insterquilnies invinetur” (that which you need will be found where you least want to look) and I used it to introduce a track called “Truth Is…Vacant” which talks about how, in my opinion, the ignorance of truth has been elevated in our culture.

Q. How was HUB Festival? You’ve got lots of experience performing poetry, but I imagine performing music live for the first time was nerve-wracking. Got any live dates planned soon?

For a first-time performance, I think it went well. But it’s that thing where you know you can give it so much more. It’s going to be a challenge to deliver on stage exactly what I have envisioned in my head, but I’m determined to get there. I’m hoping to secure a Mixtape Launch gig next year.

Q. For lack of a better term, your aesthetic is underpinned by something that’s distinctly urban. How does living in a city like Cardiff affect your writing and artistic approach?

I write a lot about mundanity, pessimism and feeling stagnated. I thought this derived from the isolation of the valleys, but I seemed to write more about those concepts living in Manchester and Cardiff. I lived right in the centre of both cities and could still feel intense isolation amongst the metropolitan buzz, perhaps more so than Tredegar. Despite that, I still get motivated living in the city to want to share my work and meet other creators. I like to use Cardiff’s locations for a lot of the scenes in my music videos too.

Q. Cheeky question: when is the mixtape dropping?

If all goes to plan, it’ll be an initial free download release on the 1st of March 2019. Hopefully with a full-platform distribution to follow.

If Agiris seems to hit the right note with you, then keep your ears primed for a new single that drops December 14. For more, check out his music and keep up with him on:

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Meet Sully’s tortoise lady – Ann Ovenstone, MBE

The last place you’d probably expect to find the International Tortoise Association is tucked away in someone’s back garden in the sleepy town of Sully, in the Vale of Glamorgan. And, yet, that’s exactly where it is. The Association and its sanctuary are run by Ann Ovenstone MBE (she is known to friends and associates as ‘the tortoise lady’), and she’s helped along by a team of dedicated volunteers.

A few weeks back, I went along to meet Ann and visit the sanctuary, to make a small documentary Ann the tortoise lady for the BBC (it was shared on BBC One!! I know, check us out!!). You can watch the final piece here, although it’s edited down from about an hour’s worth of chatting and wandering around the wonderful sanctuary…

But there was loads more we discovered on our chelonia tour (chelonia being the generic term for tortoise/turtle/terrapin) than I could fit in the short video, so I thought I would share the rest of the visit here.

The association started in a relatively organic way – Ann got her first tortoise aged around five (it cost six pence from the local market – and she still has it!), and then as she got older had some other friends who also had tortoises. The animals started laying eggs, but no one really knew how to look after them, so Ann started researching … and over fifty years later, has pretty much dedicated her whole life to the care of these weird reptiles.

She works with UK Border Force to help identify illegally smuggled species, which can be  challenging and upsetting work – she says that some of the largest hauls can contain up to 300 animals, half of which are usually crushed to death in transit.

While a few smuggled animals can sometimes be saved, they can never be returned to their natural habitats, as there is too high a risk of introducing bacteria or germs they might have picked up here. Instead, these animals have to be tagged, and they must be returned by their new owners to be checked every six months, to make sure they havenot been sold on for profit. It’s complicated and time consuming business, but for Ann – who has spent a lifetime in the company of chelonia – it’s worth it.

The Association’s members work tirelessly to ensure the welfare of tortoises, including caring for the sick and injured, rehoming, events, breeding and hibernation programmes. All aspects of the tortoise life are undertaken at the sanctuary and the specialist expert knowledge of those involved ensures that all tortoises who are born, bred and live there receive the utmost in chelonian care.

Although Ann says tortoises are perhaps not the ideal pets (when compared to more interactive animals like cats or dogs), they are definitely full of personality – being in the sanctuary felt a little bit like walking amongst very small and quite nibbly dinosaurs. They especially like painted toenails, as Ann told me they think they’re tiny tomatoes (both of us made the mistake of wearing sandals on the day of filming …).

The sanctuary (aka Ann’s garden) is an overwhelming complex of small runs, sheds, ponds, industrial fridges (to help with hibernation) and warm indoor tanks (to help with incubating eggs). They hold open days throughout the year, and also provide services for members like taking in tortoises to hibernate in optimum temperatures, and incubating eggs to hatch. If you have a tortoise in your life, or are interested in having a weird, tiny, prehistoric looking reptile join your family, then head to one of their open days to find out more.

Find out more:

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We Are Cardiff – Helia Phoenix fifth on The Independent Happy List 2018!

YES YOU GUYS IT IS TRUE!!! We Are Cardiff’s director Helia Phoenix was nominated for the Independent’s Happy List 2018 – AND HAS MADE IT TO NUMBER FIVE IN THE LIST!!!!!

So this is The Independent’s tenth annual Happy List – naming 50 outstanding people whose volunteering, caring, fundraising, mentoring, charity work or selflessness make Britain a happier place to live

The Happy List was founded in 2008 as an antidote to the lists that celebrate status and big bank balances. Instead, it honours the “Great Britons” doing extraordinary things for others with no thought of personal gain; those who often go largely unnoticed and unrewarded.

Being called a Great Briton is a bit weird, but other than that, Helia is very excited and honoured and humbled and all the rest of it to be featured. A BIG THANK YOU to whoever nominated her!

Helia says:

“It’s really very exciting to be featured in the Happy List this year – I had no idea anyone had nominated me and it’s a real shock, especially when you read some of the other incredible people featured on the list. I started We Are Cardiff in 2010 because I saw there was a gap in the content I was seeing about Cardiff. I was reading endless negative news reports, and it just didn’t chime with the Cardiff I knew and lived in. My Cardiff has lots of people doing wonderful, selfless, altruistic things for the good of their neighbours and their communities. I see generosity of spirit and interesting alternative action and arts and culture all around me everyday, and I just thought it deserved a platform where it could be promoted and celebrated.

“We Are Cardiff has achieved loads since then – we’ve made a documentary film, won Blog of the Year, been named as one of the world’s best city blogs, been interviewed for overseas travel documentaries, and we’re one of the top 20 most influential Twitter accounts in Wales. Get in.

“Despite everything we’ve achieved, I don’t think we’re quite there yet – there’s plenty I’d still like to do with We Are Cardiff, and earlier this year I got a grant from UnLtd. I’d like to try and turn the brand into a social enterprise, moving the mission forwards in its endeavours to celebrate and integrate people who live in Cardiff, whatever their backgrounds.

“I particularly would like to turn We Are Cardiff into a platform where people that are under-represented in the media/journalism/PR can develop skills and experience to follow careers in those industries. I remember when I was younger and first trying to forge a career in the media – I did work experience and had small jobs in various media organisations (I won’t say which) – but in every one, I felt hugely out of place. I was female, I’m of Middle Eastern origin – these were workplaces that were male dominated, middle class, overwhelmingly white and straight. I think we should be celebrating difference and I want We Are Cardiff to be more of an embodiment of that.

“I really want to thank everyone who has supported We Are Cardiff throughout the years; people volunteering their time, skills, and experience to try and make Cardiff a better place – through blogging, at least.”

Helia would like it to be known it was excruciating trying to write this without humblebragging.

Follow Helia on Twitter @heliaphoenix or Instagram @heliaphoenix.

As well as us, there were TWO MORE great individuals featured from Cardiff:

More about the Happy List:

Our world can often feel dominated by fame, cynicism, disgrace and greed. The Happy List offers a welcome chance to celebrate a different set of values, honouring those who help others without thought of enriching themselves – in many cases at considerable personal cost. That’s something we should all feel happy and optimistic about. If you know of someone you think should have been included, then please let us know and we will consider them next year. 

The Independent – The Happy List 2018

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New zero-waste store aims to make ripples in Cardiff

You might have spotted the super exciting Kickstarter campaign for a new zero-waste store in Cardiff called rippleAs you know, we LOVE small actions that turn into big changes. So today, Sophie Rae – the kick-ass woman behind the idea – tells us all about her amazing concept…

Sophie Rae KickstarterRipple, Cardiff’s first not-for-profit zero-waste store, has launched a Kickstarter to bring the shop to the city in time for a new wave of conscious consumers.

Inspired by the independent community of Cardiff, ripple founder and Cardiff native, Sophie Rae, launched the crowd funding campaign on 16th July at fellow not-for-profit business Big Mooose Coffee.

Pledgers have shown their support in vast numbers, with the campaign reaching 25% of its target within 72 hours! Here’s why you should back the project too:

So, what’s ripple about?

It’s simple really. Ripple is all about conscious consuming; from food to fashion choices. We think everyone deserves the chance to shop more ethically. When one person makes a change, everyone else pays attention, because ripples create waves. That, and you know… plastic.

Ripple_KickstarterCampaign_09 (1)

What’s wrong with plastic?

Don’t misunderstand us, we’re not anti-plastic. It’s a material that’s saving lives and has a much-needed purpose worldwide.

But single-use plastics? Yeah, they suck. BIG TIME. Plastic bags, water bottles, coffee cups, straws, packaging, wet wipes, sanitary products… the list is endless and it’s getting longer.

The ugly truth

By 2050, it’s estimated there will be more plastic than fish, in our world ocean. Studies estimate that 8 million tonnes of plastic waste is dumped into the ocean each year and by 2025, that’s set to double.

Worried yet? Us too. Plastic packaging accounts for an eye-watering fifth of the cost of your weekly shop. What if you could shop package free? Well, we’d all be saving a lot of money and precious resources.

refillable containers at ripple

So what is a zero-waste store?

To help the people of Cardiff pass on plastic, ripple will offer over 120 bulk wholefoods and encourage customers to bring their own containers, jars, tubs and bags to refill every time they shop. And because the team believe in treating every creature with kindness, they’ll be be stocking the best natural and cruelty-free home and beauty products too, from eco laundry detergent to shampoo, soap and washing-up liquid.

There’s even going to be some sustainable homeware and ethical fashion thrown in for good measure. Think bamboo socks and organic cotton underwear!

Sophie tell us:

I watched Blue Planet II in 2017 and was deeply shocked to see the devastating harm humans are having on our planet. Since then, I’ve felt pretty ethically queasy. My zero-waste journey started not long after, I’ve been making small changes to help lighten my personal plastic footprint.

The campaign is helping create sustainable foundations for ripple, so our impact can be bigger and bolder than we could have ever imagined on our own. It really is a  community project, led by the people of the city.

I hope ripple will change the way Cardiff consumes, so that we can turn Wales’ capital into a true green city. That’s what ripple is all about:making small, sustainable changes to help create a bigger impact.

Ripple_ToteBag-Kickstarter (1)

Ripple’s Kickstarter campaign will close at 11:59pm on Sunday 29th July, when the target of £30,000 must be reached or no funding will be released.

To help entice supporters to pledge, ripple has collaborated with local independent businesses to offer rewards, including zero-waste starter kits, Hot Pod Yoga class passes and ethical accessories from Cardiff-based fashion brand Maykher.

To support the campaign, find the pledge page here or follow ripple’s
journey across social media at Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

kickstarter tickets (1)

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Meet Flameholder, aka Ruffstylz, aka Dan Lloyd – hip hop pioneer, emcee, activist

Today we have the pleasure of chatting with Flameholder, aka Ruffstylz, aka Dan Lloyd – Cardiff based hip hop pioneer, emcee, activist. 

I grew up in London until I was about seven or eight years old, enough to get the London attitude towards life into me but not long enough so it consumed me; making a three year detour through living in Kent to coming to Cardiff was great for me I think in that it gave me the best of both worlds – that big city energy mixed with some breathing space.

In Kent I was there when hip-hop started to blossom, me and my friends were actually out there dragging our lino round to different places, breakdancing on the streets and seeing the early hip-hop classic films when they came out. It was Michael Jackson’s Thriller era too, it was a blessing to be there around the start of these huge cultural phenomenons.

We came to Cardiff and I became a right little nerd (there’s a family video of me that might make you want to end my life). I went from being the sort of kid who wouldn’t be scared to get in a fight to a shy and vulnerable type. I went through the typical growing up process and after years of introspection, curiously questioning everything about life and learning individuality I reconnected with my early hip-hop roots when I tried writing lyrics. I instantly came out with something that had talent in it but I was really aware of the corny bits. I definitely didn’t want to let it go though, I had a spark and I knew that if I kept changing what I didn’t like about it I’d be left with what I did like. Hip-hop was a huge part of the development of my confidence.

It was in Cardiff I became fully fascinated with music, always listening for what was new and interesting. In particular I’d become fixated on remixes; if something was a remix I had to hear it. I loved Shep Pettibone, he was a producer who did remixes for everyone up to Madonna and the way he sampled and played with people’s vocals was a whole new world to me. I started using a mechanical double tape deck to make remixes of tracks using the pause button. I got really good at it and pushed the boundaries of the equipment I was using beyond what it was meant for but people never really heard them, I didn’t push my talent out there enough. Part of me thinks if I was focused enough with what I was doing then I could have been a nationally recognised Radio 1 DJ today or something similar. I think it’s good to tell people thoughts like that about what we feel we haven’t achieved, we all probably have them in our head to some degree.

I periodically kept up the writing, called myself Ruffstylz and became really focused on the strength of maximising the power of words – the same principle behind what poets like Saul Williams and Buddy Wakefield do. I sharpened it and sharpened it until I felt I got rid of the weak spots. Ultimately though the Cardiff music scene was still apathetic at the time, before the 2000 mark. I was passionate about getting things going with emceeing or DJing but I could barely find anyone with the same enthusiasm.

I moved back to London for two years and started to make some sort of name for myself. I was received there in the way I’d always wanted. I also got myself into music journalism, I wrote for Ministry (Of Sound) magazine, Music Week and Hip-Hop Connection. The biggest thing I did was being sent to review Eminem’s show by his record company. A big part of my passion was in wanting urban music to be treated with the same respect as all the jangly indie stuff that was celebrated by the radio and I tried to bring more light to the talent in the UK that I felt was unfairly overlooked.

I came back to Cardiff when I’d ran out of money and the time was right for me and two friends Dregz and Kaptin (now head of music at Boomtown Fair) to start a night called Higher Learning at The Toucan Club (the best club in Cardiff hands down if you ask me).

Boom, that was it, as soon as we provided a stage for local talent all that untapped energy I knew was in Cardiff exploded and I lost count of the amount of classic nights we had. We brought everyone from Task Force to Rahzel and Arrested Development there. People loved it, it was amazing. Also my friend Dan came up with the idea of starting a label called Associated Minds. We did it, grew to a team of eight and put out loads of great material. I never felt the press in the area ever really recognised us or supported us but we played all over the UK. Me and Beatbox Fozzy had a really special and innovative show that killed it everywhere we went. Fozzy’s one of the most talented people I’ve ever met, he’s never stopped blowing my mind.

We once supported Rhys Ifans’ group The Peth, they nearly took us on tour with them. I also went to work for and then be tour manager for Killa Kela, a beatboxer who’s performed with Prince, Pharrell Williams and Justin Timberlake. It was an honour to be around his talent and his whole team Spit Kingdom operated properly to a world class standard, it was highly inspiring.

A number of years back I went to a theatre audition in London my friend Jason Camilleri (the aforementioned Dregz) at Sherman Theatre/Welsh Millennium Centre referred me to. As a result of getting it I got trained in acting, improvisational skills and physical theatre. We then put together a show called Freestyle Forums with the directors Kwesi Johnson (someone who’s addicted to always trying something new) and Felix Cross from Nitro Theatre where we performed a 20 minute play about a young person getting involved in a gang and getting stabbed, then we’d say to the audience we’d perform it again and this time at any point they could put their hand up, say “Freeze”, we would freeze still, then they could come down and take the place of the main character, make different decisions and see if they could make the story have a different outcome while we improvised the rest of the play around them in freestyle rap.

In addition to being really innovative it had a good social purpose of making young people think about how they have the option of making different decisions in bad situations. We did a few performances in schools. I was playing the leader of the gang and in a school in Bristol one of the boys who seemed like he was part of a little gang of troublemakers came up to me and said “Whoa, you’re evil” with wide eyes. It made me happy that I did it well enough that he wasn’t just laughing along with the badness. We also did a Whose Line Is It Anyway variation style of the show where we improvised freestyle along with video footage. All of this really used us to the full, it was super challenging and very satisfying when we succeeded.

I then got involved in a show called Serious Money with director Mathilde Lopez. She’s a genius, working with her is perfect. I had to convert two Ian Dury songs into rap versions for the cast to perform. The Guardian gave it 4 stars. Then I was in Praxis Makes Perfect by National Theatre Wales which was Gruff Rhys’ group Neon Neon’s album/theatre show combined into one. It was immersive theatre, where the set, the actors and the audience all move around each other all the time. The response was overwhelming, damn near everyone treated it like one of the biggest triumphs in theatre from this area. I’d always wondered to myself if I’d be able to act and I never guessed how all these things I got involved with would move me into new and uncharted territory each time.

Following that I was getting very dismayed with the state of the world and I really latched onto some of the internet documentaries that came out that decoded and explained how society actually works. I loved the Zeitgeist films and ended up supporting the Zeitgeist Movement heavily, just because it was so inspiring and the ultimate in open-mindedness. I suppose you’d call it activism. I also went and got involved with the Occupy Movement in London, Cardiff and Bristol and gave a talk about the idea of a resource-based economy at Occupy Bristol and also at Cardiff’s Philosophy Café (I’m actually the only person I’ve seen who’s been allowed to speak there who’s not an academic). Occupy was amazing as an open forum on the streets but the only thing they weren’t really willing to question was money itself. Zeitgeist has the best ideas I can find but I realised in the end it’s too intellectual for people, we need something that communicates the same messages that hits them in the heart. I think Russell Brand came really close.

I’m not a vocational person, I’m a leaf in the wind just trying to do good things. I’m allergic to settling for second best; I think I’m a visionary who can see the potential of society and I’ve done everything I can to try and contribute to its growth. I want an unprecedented, historic, life-changing, global spiritual evolution – the big one we’ve all been waiting for but have been made to feel too small to talk about or create. The removal of limits in our minds and the will to change our social system from a competitive to a cooperative one. The reclaiming of us living in a way where we’re hungry to dive into the mystery of life. Metaphysical thinking. The reduction of science to its appropriate size in the grand scheme of things and a humility for the sheer brain breaking, mind-boggling unknowable size of everything we don’t know, in line with the indescribably beautiful poetic way the whole of existence works in perfect harmony. Let’s go for Utopia. If anyone has the resources to go for the best meal/the best job/the best house/the best partner then we’re all over it. Apply the same thoughts to changing the social system and people go ‘Whoa…’ and say it’s not possible. All it is is fear and negativity and negativity is weak.

i don’t feel comfortable talking about myself, it makes me self-conscious straight away because with everything I do I want people to take away the meaning or inspiration of what I’m showcasing and do something with it themselves but I can say throughout all of this Cardiff has been a great base to do my thing in. There’s nothing specific I could say about why but it just continues to have this lovely extended circle of hundreds of really cool people who are interesting and interested in things, I feel you can talk to people here in Cardiff and they listen.

Dan Lloyd now performs and produces as Flameholder: find out more …

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Shahina was intimidated by mainstream gyms – so she set up a ladies-only gym in Canton

This week we want to introduce you to a superpowered small business owner … who set up her own gym in Canton. Meet Shahina, and welcome to Haya Fitness!

So my name is Shahina Ahmed and I am originally from London, Westminster where I worked in retail. I was manager of Tie Rack, which sadly closed down not long after I left to move to Cardiff. I am not saying there is a connection … but it is a coincidence.

I had never come to Cardiff before meeting and marrying my proud Welsh husband Mo. We met online and hit it off straight away. After marrying I decided to move to Cardiff, at the time Mo had just started a graduate job and couldn’t move to London.

That was 13 years ago. My first memories of Cardiff were all how green it was and how much more space there was compared to London. The first place I visited was Tesco Western Avenue because that’s how lame Mo is (talk about romance!).

I moved to Mynachdy and have stayed put here. We love being amongst the community of the place. I have also done so much sightseeing I could be a tour guide but having kids you have to find ways to keep them entertained.

My favourite places in Cardiff differ depending on what I am doing, if it’s hanging out with Mo then it has to be City Road. It’s vibrant and energetic. Mo and I are both Muslim, and City Road offers loads of Halal and Muslim friendly places (plus Mo seems to know every restaurant and shop owner so they give us the VIP treatment wherever we go). With the kids I love St Fagans, the Museum and Cardiff Story Museum – they keep the kids entertained but  are so educational – so they are always learning. I also think it’s really important the kids build their Welsh identity, and these places help with this.

About a year ago, I opened Haya Fitness Ladies Only Gym. I was a gym novice but wanted to get fit and healthy again after I had had kids. I wanted to be a strong, confident and healthy mum and I knew fitness would lead to a generally healthier lifestyle. I was pretty intimated by mainstream gyms, I had no idea what to do and having loads of men around made it that much more scary.

I also thought how great it would be if I could just take the kids with me instead of arranging babysitting. This is the niche for Haya Fitness  – it is run by women for women, it’s welcoming and inclusive for all ladies. It’s aimed at offering women both a place to get fit and is an easily accessible gym venue with classes. We have two hours free parking in the car park opposite, there is a buggy parking zone for mums and a wide enough variety of equipment and classes to keep everyone zoned in.

We are open 9am to 9pm Monday to Friday (we close a bit earlier on weekends), I have created 6 new part time jobs for mums and students and have 6 freelance gym instructors and PT’s working out of the gym. We have classes running daily which includes HiiTs training, Legs, Bums and Tums, Dance, Zumba and different types of workshops.

Many people think I am a gym fanatic and that is why I opened up the gym, Im not, I am a busy mum of 3 who wanted to easily get into a gym to lead a healthier lifestyle without feeling self conscious about myself. Now its great, I can go to work, take my baby Esa who is 6 months old, attend classes and feel good that Im allowing other women to exercise.

I searched high and low for a location but everything was either too expensive or not located in a place where women would want to go to – especially in the winter when it becomes dark early. A space came up in Canton off Cowbridge Road East opposite a Tesco Metro, it used to be a snooker hall and it was perfect. A busy high street, safe to attend at anytime of the day, big enough to accommodate my grand plans of a proper gym, studio for classes, a kids zone and I even threw in a Sauna for good measure. In fact the place is so big I have also added a Hair Salon.

Im located on 1a Leckwith Road and it seems the place has so much local history, builders were coming in saying remember it as Bills Snooker Hall  or remember drinking in it when it was the City Sports Bar. I remember on Contractor who came to price up a new ceiling, he was an older gentleman and said he remembered it when it used to be dance hall and he had his first dance with a girl there, so sweet. Canton is such an amazing place too there is a real sense of community there. I shop local and its great to see other businesses thriving. Everyone was so helpful too from City Print who helped do our sign and staff t shirts to Toolbox who seemed to have everything we needed when we were kitting the place out too. I cant forget Brian and Tracey Landlord from the Canton Cross Vaults next door who are the loveliest people in the world.

I dislike the reputation it has, Canton is a thriving place and more people should know about it.

When I am not working I love taking my family out around the city. I have compiled a “busy mums top list of things to do with the kids in Cardiff”:

  • Museum
  • Cardiff Story Museum
  • Cardiff Castle especially when they have events on
  • Taff Trail on the bikes or scooters
  • Cardiff Bay Barrage park for the skate park, the sand park, ice-cream and walk along the barrage itself
  • Cardiff Bay Boat Trip – £10 gets you onto a boat with the family
  • Victoria Park especially in the summer as they have the wet play
  • Thompson park for a nature orientated day out
  • St Fagans – just amazing
  • St David Shopping Centre, build a bear and the lego shop give hours of entertainment
  • All the Libraries and Hubs across Cardiff

Any We Are Cardiff readers can try out the gym using the code WRC2018 and if they quote We Are Cardiff will receive 10% off prices.

FOLLOW HAYA FITNESS ONLINE:

Haya Fitness website

Haya Fitness Facebook

Haya Fitness Twitter

(That’s Shahina on the left)

Big thanks Shahina! Til next time …

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TEDxCanton speakers announced!

As we (very excitedly) announced a few weeks ago, TEDxCanton is happening on 19 May! We’ve been announcing our AMAZING speakers and performers all week on Twitter, but here’s a roundup. The event is sold out, but tickets for the viewing party at Printhaus will be on sale next week!

Lia Moutselou and Becca Clark

Becca and Lia are community food waste trailblazers. Together they run Wasteless Suppers, which bring together local food businesses, food lovers and passionate people to create positive change and reduce food waste.
Lia is a self-taught chef and the director of Lia’s Kitchen, running pop-up food events, cooking classes and social enterprise projects around the world.
Becca is the director of Green City, a community of local green experts who are passionate about sustainable living and the environment, which offers fun, affordable and practical workshops, events and activities.

Follow them: @greencityevents @liaskitchen @moutselia

Stepheni Kays

Stepheni is an integration officer for the Swansea City of Sanctuary project. After leaving her home country in 2008, she was granted asylum and began studying a degree alongside her full-time job. She graduated in 2016, and began a Master’s in human rights shortly after.

Stepheni passionately believes that the effective integration of refugees and asylum seekers can make communities better for everyone, not just for new residents.

Follow her @madamekays

Sabrina Cohen-Hatton

Sabrina is an experimental psychologist and deputy assistant commissioner in the London Fire Brigade. Her unique perspective allowed her to research decision-making in places where most psychologists can’t – actual emergency incidents – from the viewpoint of the operational commander.
Sabrina’s work included fitting helmet-mounted cameras to capture incidents from commanders’ point of view, followed by cognitive debriefs afterwards to analyse their decision-making process. Her findings changed the way that rescuers respond to incidents.

Follow her @sab_cohenhatton / sabrinacohenhatton.com

Matt Callanan

Matt is a former worldwide DJ and music producer turned filmmaker. He is also the founder of kindness project We Make Good Happen.
The project started after meeting Bill Murray in George Clooney’s house (yep), and now he hides £10 notes in public places (#Tenner4Good), encouraging people to use the money for a random act of kindness.

Follow him @matt_4_good / @wemakegoodhappn / mattcallanan.co.uk

John Parker

John is the chair of the London Tree Officers Association, and an arboriculture and landscape manager. He promotes urban forests and the benefits of green spaces, from better social cohesion to improved child development.

Follow the London Tree Officers Association @LTOA33

 

Josh Doughty

Josh is a kora player, which is a 21-string lute-bridge-harp used extensively in West Africa.

He started learning the instrument from age 8, and was spotted by the Master Kora musician, Toumani Diabate. In 2007 Josh was invited to Bamako, the capital of Mali, to study under Toumani in his home.

During this time Toumani became Josh’s teacher, mentor and friend. Josh would spend hours playing Kora with him, improving his skills and immersing himself in Mali culture.

Follow him @joshdoughtykora / joshdoughtykora.co.uk

Jon Vaughan-Davies

Jon is a lifelong magic fan. When a friend invited him to perform his fun blend of psychological illusion at an event in a pub one night, it led to many more pubs and many more nights. From predicting people’s choices to future headlines, he has a keen interest in why we want what we want and how understanding that can help us all to make better and more informed choices.

 

Lorna Prichard

Lorna, who will be hosting TEDxCanton, is a former TV news reporter now focusing on comedy. In the last year she has performed at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, established her own comedy night ‘Howl’ in Tramshed and started a regular all-female comedy night – ‘Howling Women’ – thought to be the only one outside of London.

She’s also bilingual and also technically a world record holder having taken part in a 96-hour comedy marathon in Banbury.

Follow her @lorna_corner / @howlcomedy1

You can read more about the team of volunteers behind the organisation of TEDxCanton here!

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Polly Thompson talks Cardiff, and a new kind of living

Our reporter Jenny Jones speaks to Cardiff resident Polly Thompson today, about her move from the city to London in the ’90s – and back again last year, and the new kind of living she’s found here.

I’m that common person, who grew up in Cardiff through the bleak and grey 80s and then couldn’t wait to leave. In fact I found out about We Are Cardiff when I read James’ piece ‘Cardiff – it’s where you’re between’ and couldn’t believe how similar our stories were, almost exact parallels. I came across it by accident, just lost in endless scrolling one night on the internet, maybe I saw a link to it on Twitter. James’ experience of wanting to escape ’80s Cardiff totally resonated with me.

I was living in London at the time I read it – a couple of years ago. I was jobless, living for cheap in an old people’s home near Tottenham that was up for sale (I was part of one of those guardian schemes that stop squatters moving in by letting legitimate tenants live there for peppercorn rent). It was a disgusting place, with damp on all the walls, plasterwork that crumbled to the touch and squelching carpet over soaked underlay in every room, including the kitchens and bathrooms. But it was cheap. Really cheap. And in London, cheap housing is not to be sniffed at.

I left Cardiff when I was 16. I couldn’t wait to leave. There’s a big age gap between me and my older brother and sister, so they were already long gone from home when I was growing up, flown the coop, abandoned me in the nest. My was already in his 60s when I was born so my only real memories of him feature his disappearance into dementia, which started almost the second I was born.

By the time I arrived on earth, my sister had married and moved to Caerphilly, with children of her own just a few years younger than me (I’m nearly 16 years younger than her). My brother had slipped away and was living in some off-grid community in north Wales. Neither were around to watch the end of dad’s life. They barely visited, and didn’t register in my young mind as siblings. I saw how hard it was for my mum, working part time, trying to bring me up, and care for my father who was getting more and more confused. He almost never knew who I was, and so we had a strange relationship – he was a dad but also a not-dad, just some crazy old man who lived in the house.

I hated school. I don’t know how it’s possible to enjoy or engage when your home life is so mad. I felt isolated all the time. We lived in a small two bed house in Roath. I think it was somewhere around Alfred Street, but I’ve never been able to find its exact location. All I remember are heavy velvet drapes and dark wooden panels that were so fashionable in houses for a while.

My dad died when I was ten and my mum when I was thirteen, and so I ended up moving in with my sister in her new-build-box-house. I remember being young as pointing the TV aerial towards Bristol so we could watch Channel 4 instead of S4C – I never learned to speak Welsh, and besides that I felt like being Welsh was a strait jacket I couldn’t escape. It didn’t feel cool, it felt parochial, not something to be proud of. I wanted desperately to move where things were happening, to somewhere so big I could get lost within it and forget about all the crap things I’d experienced as a child. I wanted adventure and neon and to stay up all night. And none of those things felt possible in Cardiff in the 1980s. I would have preferred New York, but London was a pretty good second on the list.

The second I was old enough to leave, I did. I had barely any money but my sister surprised me by paying for my coach ticket and then handing me an envelope with five hundred pounds in it. She’d been saving up for me since I’d started living there. I’d told her what my plan was when I moved in, and apparently she had believed me.

I won’t bore you with the details of what happened in London, but here’s the short version. I went to art college, made good friends. Had a few boyfriends and one girlfriend. Fell in love with one of the boyfriends. I mostly lived around south London, as that’s where was cheapest, around Peckham and Deptford. To say I lived thriftily is an understatement – but I was where I wanted to be, and that was the most important thing.

I learned to turn off my Cardiff accent. I very deliberately cut ties to home. I told people I was from the West Country if they asked. I never wanted to come back to Wales. Never.

Fast forward 20 years. I’m divorced now, and after a couple of years where I actually had money, I’m broke again after some terrible decisions – very bad timing in buying and selling our married flat, which ended up with both of us divorced, in negative equity, having to bear the debt of fifteen grand each, which I am still paying off (although I’m almost completely debt free). I was technically homeless for a bit, a couple of months sofa surfing with friends until I managed to get myself back on my feet (and it really was sofa surfing – no one I know in London has a spare room). I spend most of my time drawing and illustrating, which is what I love and prefer to do but it’s not a steady job and so I do days of supply teaching around it.

It was the day I visited the Haringey food bank that I realised the cost of living in London was breaking me. Most of my friends were happily married or “consciously coupling” with children, and had moved out into north west London. Some of them are struggling too – squashed together in one bedroom flats, carrying their prams up and down the stairs. But they’re together. There’s probably little that’s as depressing as getting divorced when you’re in your early 30s. It should be the decade you’re making babies and growing a family and having widening waistlines but it doesn’t matter because you’re all together and that’s what counts.

Instead I was edging closer to 40 and worried about making rent, I was worried about being able to eat, what was I doing with my life. I was swinging in the other direction from almost everyone I knew – I was single, working jobs I hated to pay for £800 a month for a room in a communal house full of twenty somethings, with a shared bathroom that was always covered in other people’s hair, and a kitchen I’d stopped storing my food in as people openly helped themselves to whatever they wanted.

I was drinking a lot, alone. One of those days I was in the kitchen bitching about the rent – which had just been hiked by £50 a month for each of us – when my Australian housemate told me a couple of them were thinking of moving out and joining a guardianship scheme, where you get moved into empty properties to stop squatters and pay next to nothing. Did I fancy joining them?

I did, and so I did, and for the next year the worries about money eased up a little. But it’s a very unstable existence. You can be moved on from the place you’re staying whenever the landlord sells it (or decides to remove you). The places are often in a state, they may have been empty already for years, and it takes a lot to renovate a place that’s like this.

I was lucky – one of my housemates was a set designer, and very handy at building and repairing things. But I had just moved into my fourth place in 18 months when it hit me – I couldn’t keep living like this. I was exhausted, I was worried about money all the time. I was still drinking, all the time. It is a sobering (no pun intended) realisation to be a female that’s nearly 40, divorced, single, and living a life that is miserably itinerate.

I had come across James’ piece about Cardiff shortly after moving into the Tottenham residential home. It was a strange, squat building – seventeen rooms set across this weird sprawling building that only had one floor. I ended up living there for nearly eight months, during which time I started seeing a counsellor through a scheme that was training students for a nearby university, which made it a lot cheaper. And I tried to make a plan for myself.

During that time I started talking to my sister again on a more regular basis. I’m not sure why. We fell out of touch after I moved to London because I just wanted to eradicate the past from existence – it was easier to have no contact than try and renegotiate all the things that had happened every time I spoke to her. I think she understood. My sister sent me money every year after I left her house, up until I was 25 – always at Christmas, always £50. She stopped sending money the year I got married, which I told her about in a letter … after the ceremony had happened. I didn’t invite her to the wedding, which I feel guilty about to this day. She still sent me a card every Christmas, even then. I never sent her anything. I am objectively a terrible, terrible sister.

Anyway, during that time, I started thinking about moving out of London. From the second I arrived there I had never wanted to leave. But over the course of 24 years, things can change, right? I wasn’t the same person I had been when I arrived there. Sensing I was perhaps open to options, my sister suggested I come back to Cardiff to visit her for a weekend, for us maybe to spend some time together and for me to get some distance from London. I hadn’t been back for years – not since the late ’90s.

There was some big football thing on that weekend, she said, so it might be a bit busy in town, but she was looking forward to seeing me and showing me around. She booked my train tickets and emailed them to me (I’ll never really ever be able to pay her back for everything she’s ever given me, in terms of opportunity and opening doors for me).

I apprehensively boarded the train. It was the start of June, and I arrived in Cardiff to witness the hundreds of thousands of people creating a hot, crazy carnival in the city for the Champions League Final.

I think it’s fair to say that Cardiff astonished me. I’m sure the weather helped that weekend – scorching hot sunshine and blue skies – but it was more the scale of everything. That enormous stadium right in the heart of the city centre. The huge St David’s 2 shopping centre. All those high rises that seem to be exploding out of the earth all around. The Wales Millennium Centre. The BAY – and the barrage. It was a million miles away from the Cardiff I remembered – all squat buildings and bad weather and aerials pointed towards Bristol and verruca socks at the Empire Pool.

There is something tangible in memory that is beyond anything you can explain to someone about a place, however hard you try to. It’s a feeling, it’s colours, it’s a weight. Cardiff was grey and brown in my memories, and heavy, like a wool jumper soaked in cold rain. This Cardiff was somewhere entirely new, with bars and clubs and people with dyed hair, all dressed up, and a circus, and opera, and galleries. It was like the Cardiff I remembered was an entirely different place. While we walked around the stadium I struggled to remember how it had looked before with Empire pool there, even though I used to go swimming in it nearly every week.

On the Saturday of my visiting weekend we went down into the Bay, where I marvelled at the Millennium Centre, the Senedd. I don’t really remember going into Cardiff Bay as a child – it wasn’t the sort of place you’d go for a day out, like it is now. My only memory is driving through it once when I was really young … and my mum locking the car doors.

And now there were thousands of people – families, tourists, everybody – wandering around, eating ice creams. There was music blaring. We bought pints from some outdoor bar and walked around, people watching, place watching. I have never really been into sports, but Champions League was a really impressive event.

When the actual match was on we walked back through town to my sister’s house. She lives in Canton now, she has done for years – on a small side street off Cowbridge Road. It’s very old school – she knows her neighbours – everyone knows everyone on that street. Next door to her is a young family, who she sometimes babysits for in exchange for them looking after her dog. She said she had told them all about me, that I was coming to stay, and that we hadn’t seen each other in nearly 20 years. At first I found it a bit alarming, even intrusive that she would share information like that with total strangers – they’re just neighbours. My sister laughed at me when I said that to her. “I’ve spent more time with them than I ever have with you!”.

It wasn’t that that made me decide to move back, although it was a part of it. We got on better than I imagined we would. We’re quite similar, although I never would have been able to see it or admit it when I was 16. While at her house that night, we put on some Hitchcock films, ate popcorn and I idly checked rental prices in Cardiff. Just to check. If you’ve ever compared rental prices in London to Cardiff, you’ll probably be able to imagine what comes next.

I found a nice room in a shared house in Adamsdown, really near the city centre, sharing with three other girls – two Spanish girls studying postgrads at Cardiff uni and one girl from Porth who was a hairdresser. My sister persuaded me to send them a message – might as well go and have a look while you’re here, right? So I wrote some long rambling message to them on Gumtree about my situation in London, and how I probably wasn’t going to move in but would like to have a look … Sofia messaged me back and told me to come over anyway. I took the bus over there, and from the second I stepped into the house, something clicked. We had a glass of wine, and I ended up staying for dinner.

But I couldn’t do it … it seemed too drastic, too big a step. I went back to London, but within two months the management agency were in touch. The place had been sold, and was going to be knocked down so flats could be built there. We had to move. Again.

I packed up my meagre belongings – the ones that weren’t already in storage from the divorce – hired a van, and moved to Cardiff.

Unfortunately the room in Adamsdown was taken so I ended up in my sister’s spare room until Christmas, when Sofia messaged me and told me their new room mate was moving out – she was Greek and had decided eventually that Brexit would make it impossible for her to stay, and was going back to Greece. I moved into her room on New Year’s Day, and I’ve been in that house since. It feels like a whole new life, like it did when I first moved to London.

I didn’t think it would be possible to move somewhere, aged 40, and make new friends, and feel at home. It doesn’t feel like moving ‘back home’ in the sense that Cardiff never felt like home to me before. But I was so desperate to escape when I was 16, that coloured my view of everything. It’s also possible that Cardiff was fine back then. I just couldn’t see it.

Much of what remains from my childhood in Cardiff are photos my sister has now, that seem weirdly over-saturated technicolour compared with my memories. There are hardly any photos of my brother and sister, but my sister doesn’t care. She’s the archivist for our weird disintegrated family now, our historian, and she’s taken good care of these memories for me, when I probably would have burned them if I’d known they existed.

I’m glad they still exist. Me, aged about four, in some bizarre red woollen jumper that has  ‘cute’ repeatedly emblazoned across it (either to reinforce the message or set the record straight in case you saw me and thought I looked hideous), lying on a blanket in the flower gardens in Roath. This would be around 1980-something, the early 80s though, maybe ’82 or ’83. My dad has a ridiculous tash and I can’t even really describe what mum is wearing, she looks like a cross between Joan Collins and someone ready to dance around the Maypole. Other photos are from the fountains outside City Hall, me in a white dress covered in grass stains and mud, carrying water from the fountains over to some flowers I saw scorched and dying in a nearby flower bed. It is the sort of hopeless endeavour I’m attracted to that probably explains most of my relationships and the major choices I’ve made in my life.

Apart from now. This move feels a bit different. I hope I’ve approached it in a slightly less manic way. And I like Cardiff. It feels busy and buzzing. I’m impressed with Cardiff’s creative scene. There are so many co-working spaces and meet-ups and exhibitions and things going on, it’s been a very quick process to find out what’s going on and meet other illustrators, something that felt hard and intimidating in London (and often included an hour Tube ride to the other side of the city). It’s hard to describe the difference – in London there’s so much more going on, you do feel part of this huge machine – but then it can feel inaccessible, because you don’t know the right people, or that all the fun is happening somewhere else.

It’s still such early days of being back in Cardiff, I’m not sure what the future holds or whether I’ll stay here permanently. And I’m not saying there’s nothing wrong with living here – already I can see problems with inner city traffic, parking, public transport – especially compared to London.

But I’ve managed to pick up work here and it’s easier to walk or cycle to work in Cardiff then it was in London. Well it’s closer distances, although the roads could do with actual cycle lanes. And less potholes. But for the moment, I’ll take those.

Polly Thompson is an illustrator and teacher who lives in Adamsdown. Polly’s story was told to Jenny Jones. Her name was changed for this article, at her request.

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Setting challenging times for Velindre – a Greek running story, as told by Gwydion Griffiths

There are some avid runners amongst the We Are Cardiff volunteers, so we are delighted to welcome Gwydion Griffiths on to the blog this week. He ran the Athens Half Marathon, and while he might not be sure why he did it, he’s helped raise thousands for Velindre.

The day of the race had come. I had arrived to run the Athens half marathon and I was nervous, excited and apprehensive. I’d never run a half marathon before. Then the questions started. What if I don’t finish? What if I finish last? Does eating too many bananas give you the runs? I got to the starting point, regretting my decision to sign up for this. Looking around, everyone was lean, toned and fit. I was gutted; fortyish, fatish, unfit. I toyed with the idea of taking a few photos of myself with them, spending the morning at McDonald’s, and then picking up my medal after a few hours.

Why had I thought it would be a good idea??

I’ve been raising money for Velindre for years now. Cancer will affect one in two people born after 1960, and that’s sobering statistic. My relationship with Velindre stretches back decades. Just under thirty years ago, when I was studying for my GCSEs, my father was diagnosed with cancer.  Although a little too young at the time to fully understand the implications, I remember being devastated.  However, he received superb care from Velindre and lived to see me, and my siblings, Angharad and Iestyn, pass our exams, go to university and get good(ish) jobs. The cancer returned 12 years later, and this time he lost the fight.

It was a gut wrenching blow to our family, and our mother would be alone in north Wales. She’d made some good friends up there and we visited as often as possible, but she had lost her husband and we had lost our father. Then, three years ago, our mother was diagnosed with cancer. It was another crushing blow. We arranged for her to move to Cardiff to be near her children and receive fantastic care and treatment at Velindre and Marie Curie. She lived to enjoy a nice holiday in Italy, a country that she loved, with me, and spent some quality time with her young grandchildren.

And then 2017 happened. My wife was made redundant in February, my mother passed away in May, after her cancer returned, and then my mother-in-law passed away in August after being diagnosed with cancer. It was a horrible year for us.

Out of adversity, I wanted some good to come, and that’s why I set my Velindre fundraising and running challenge. So, maybe that’s why I ran the Athens Half Marathon – to remember my parents and raise some money for a fantastic cause.

Last summer, I had joined Canton Chargers and Skills running club, who run from Café Castan on Monday nights. Their advice, training and support proved inspirational. I’d also made a new friend, Andy Kreppel, who, despite being a devout Swansea City supporter, became my running partner. Off we’d go every weekend, running up the Taff Trail towards Castell Coch, or down to Cardiff Bay, enjoying chats about football, rugby, work and how much we hated running. One low point was running from Pontcanna to Penarth, about six miles, when it was chucking it down with rain. I was drenched.

Then came the heavy snow. I was miles behind on my training and needed to run. ‘It’s clearing up Andy. Do you fancy it?’ ’No’. He’d cried off like a big baby. So, off I went by myself, running through the snow like Sylvester Stallone about to take on Dolph Lundgren in Rocky IV, but a much less lean and ripped version. The training was done and I was ready. Of course, a special mention must be given to my wonderful wife who gave me time to go out training and her heartfelt words of encouragement. ‘I bet you feel all pious now, running around Cardiff like you’re bloody Mo Farah’ was a particular favourite.

But running around Cardiff isn’t quite the same as doing a half marathon race in Athens. And that was where I found myself, at the front of the race, surrounded by super fit looking athletes. I did what any sensible first-time half marathon runner would do: I went to the back, where I hoped all the slowest people would be. The headphones went in and I started listening to Elvis Presley’s Suspicious Minds, Live in Las Vegas. This would put me in the right mood; upbeat, with a fast tempo. I started feeling a little bit better.

Then the tap on the shoulder came. I was busted. I turned around and a very nice Greek racing steward pointed me in a different direction. ‘I think you are in the wrong place. Your number is blue and you need to be with them’. I don’t speak any Greek and assumed that something had been lost in translation on my registration form. I was placed at the front with people who looked to me like elite athletes. I tried to think of something to comfort myself with. I failed to find anything.

To my left, a man had his ankle on top of a metre-high barrier, stretching. I thought, if I did that I’m going to do some serious damage to my groin. I looked to my right. Another man was wearing what can only be described as a hunting vest. However, instead of bullets and cartridges, he had drinks, gels and sun cream in each compartment. He also had that tape on his legs that is supposed to be good for your muscles. All the gear! I had rocked up in Cardiff Blues shorts, a Velindre t-shirt and my old trainers. And then the race started.

As we passed the starting line, I remember thinking to myself, ‘only another 13 more miles to go’. Within the first mile, I was overtaken by hundreds, if not thousands, of runners. I didn’t mind. I hadn’t set my Strava App deliberately. I didn’t want to know how slow I was going—it’s not a sprint, it’s a half marathon, was my motto.

Then, at about two miles, the noise! There were huge speakers blaring out techno music. Bang. Bang. Bang. If I was in a nightclub it would have been amazing. But I wasn’t. I was running 13 miles around the Greek capital city, and I needed to focus. Then, at about four miles, the African drums came, spurring me on. Boom, boom, boom to the beat of my feet; every stride taking me closer to my goal.

I plodded around for what seemed like ages, and then I saw it, like an oasis in the distance. The finishing line. Off I went, foot down on the gas. Give it my all; don’t save anything for the swim back. I saw the clock — I’d smashed it. About 60 minutes off my target time. I’d nailed it! Unbelievable. And it was. ‘Bravissimo, bravissimo, one more lap to go’ shouted the nice Greek racing steward as I approached.

I was gutted. I was halfway. So, off I went again. ‘Tough times don’t last but tough people do,’ ‘If you’re going through hell, keep going’ and other such clichés raced through my head.

Round the corner, up the hill, down the hill, up another hill, down another hill. Bang, bang, bang Dalek music. Boom, boom, boom African drums. Past the collapsed Corinthian columns of the ancient temple and the old Olympic stadium.  Then, with a mile to go, in went the headphones again. Big Black – Kerosene. Nothing like some classic ‘80s Californian Anarcho punk to drive me to the finishing line.

I did it. I’d completed my first half marathon, in Athens, the birthplace of politics, philosophy, democracy and drama. The birthplace of the Olympics. A city I’d always wanted to visit since seeing photos of the Acropolis as a child.  The race itself took just under three hours (it was hilly) but the journey and all the training had taken about nine months.

None of this would have been possible without the support of the incredible Andrew Morris and Kylie McKee, and the amazing team at Velindre Cancer Research based in Cardiff. A charity that does fantastic work and is close to my heart.

About two years ago, I came up with a simple idea that I hoped would raise thousands of pounds for Velindre. Like most good ideas, it was born in a pub. I’d gone to watch Cardiff Blues record another rousing victory at the Arms Park and went for a few beers with two mates afterwards. I explained to James and Illtud that there were about 660,000 schoolchildren in Wales. If I could get them all to wear red and donate £1, that would raise a lot of money. They thought I was nuts. Undaunted, I ploughed on. I’d worked out that if 10 per cent of the schools took part, that would raise £66,000 and one per cent would raise £6,600. And thus, Wear Red for Wales and Velindre was born.

I trialled it during the glorious Euro 2016, asking 13 friends if their kids’ schools would ‘Wear Red for Wales and Velindre’ when Wales took on England on that sunny Thursday afternoon. All the schools agreed and we raised £3,500. Then I took the idea to Velindre. They liked it, and in 2017, through Velindre’s hard work, about 80 schools and companies took part and raised £20,000.

In 2018, on the eve of the first Six Nation match, Velindre had received 344 registration forms: 185 from schools, 139 from companies and organisations such as the Welsh Government, and 20 from individuals. They all took part in Wear Red for Wales and Velindre 2018. Each person had donated £1 – and we just heard the total amount raised is now in excess of £100,000!

Next year’s date for Wear Red for Wales and Velindre has been set for Friday 1st of February 2019, when Wales open the Six Nations, taking on France in Paris. It’s easy to take part, just get your work, school, university, club, gym class, pub, choir, or whatever, to Wear Red and donate £1 per person. You make the difference. Please donate at Velindre’s website.

Gwydion Griffiths, lives in Pontcanna, Cardiff with his wife, eight-year-old daughter and two cats. Having previously worked for S4C and Cardiff Blues, he now works in Business Marketing for the Welsh Government. A season ticket holder at Glamorgan Cricket, Cardiff Blues and Wales football he can be spotted plodding around Llandaff Fields and is thinking of participating in another fundraising race.

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Meet Charlotte: teacher, tailor, sewer, superfly

Have you ever wanted to learn to make your own clothes? Do you want to embroider swear words or cross stitch your wifi password? Fancy making gorgeous, unique home furnishings?

Well, we have found the woman for you. Twin Made (aka Charlotte) is quickly becoming our favourite creative micro-business in Cardiff. Operating out of a shipping container at the Bone Yard in Canton, she runs INCREDIBLE creative workshops to help you make anything from retro skirts to lampshades – no experience (or common sense, in our case) necessary. T

We were lucky enough to experience her circle skirt workshop this weekend and were so impressed that we asked her to tell us a little bit about her recent journey from secondary school teacher to full time creative queen!

Hi, I’m Charlotte. I have just left my day job to see if I can make my craft business in Cardiff into my full time job! Current feelings: scared, excited, worried, elated, overwhelmed, underwhelmed, a whole mixed bag of emotions! 

I am the Boss Lady at Twin Made. I often rope my husband in – have two colourful creative containers at The Bone Yard in Cardiff, slightly hidden but conveniently located in the heart of Canton. We run creative workshops, sell craft supplies, and rent sewing equipment.

It all started about 13 years ago, when doing a standard 9-5 job in a library. I got royally dumped by someone I thought, but definitely was not, THE ONE; he just happened to be the one who was still in the pub at the end of the night. About a month after our split, when he was off with his new fiancee,, I decided that I really needed to get a hobby that wasn’t just drinking two bottles of wine for a fiver ( or at least something I could do while drinking this admittedly questionable wine).

I had always been creative and had been to art college. I moved to Cardiff because I loved the band Mclusky, but also to study Graphic Communication at what was then UWIC. I dusted off my art supplies and started painting and knitting and making all manner of creations. My bedroom in a crappy shared house, in Roath, soon became the creative haven for a business I proudly called Boozy Floozy Designs. I would sell my makes on Etsy and Folksy and at local markets.t was great fun and I got to meet lots of Creative Cardiff types. Later on my twin sister Kathryn got involved and we rebranded and relaunched as Twin Made.

About five years ago I did a Design Technology PGCE at the Cardiff Met and became a qualified teacher. This was a really steep learning curve but I realised I was able to transfer my skills in a more creative way and at weekends I began to run workshops in Cardiff and London with my twin sister, teaching people how to create lampshades and embroidery.

During this time I met my now husband (out mutual likes were gin and embroidery). He was my dream man *insert emoji heart eyes* and he encouraged me to go ahead and find a more permanent home for Twin Made. And so it was that two years ago we moved in to the Bone Yard and set up a colourful new home.

Look! It’s Helia and Hana from We Are Cardiff after making their circle skirts! No sewing experience necessary, just lots of lolz

We run a wide range of creative workshops, such as lampshade making, modern embroidery, macrame and our very popular dungaree dress class. All our workshops are designed so that in 2-3 hours you can come to Twin Made, learn a new craft, and create an item to take home having gained the confidence to make more. The workshops are always very creative, relaxed, and are a great opportunity for people to forget their worries and, without too many distractions, engage in a new skill or refresh an old hobby. We also host craft parties, one-to-one sessions, and corporate events.

This year we are looking to increase our craft supplies and our range of equipment hire, as well as teaming up with lots of local makers to create more excellent workshops. I love reusing any leftover fabrics and am currently working on a exciting range of colourful collars and capes, all created from leftover textiles from our workshops.

In short, then: come and visit us in our colourful containers, support your local creatives, and even if you buy just a card we really appreciate it all. I’m looking forward to making Twin Made bigger, brighter, and giving it my all as my full time job!

Give us a follow to see what we are up to next! You can find us on Twitter, or if there’s something in particular you’d like to make/do email twinmadethings@gmail.com .

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Meet The Jutes: Cardiff’s answer to Pavement … via Addis Ababa

Hold on to your pants, one of our favourite Cardiff bands (who played at our book launch back in 2015) are dropping their debut album this week as a Christmas gift to you all! Here’s Robin from the Jutes to take you through the album track by track, along with a video (made by our very own Jameso) and some gorgeous album art….

You can listen to Rumours in the peloton by the Jutes below, and don’t forget to follow them on Twitter: @TheJutes

Track 1: Permutations among the nightingales

A scene-setter rather than a first song, really, this was an instrumental guitar piece I’d had knocking around for a while that we quickly jammed and recorded in the studio. We recorded all of the basic tracks for this EP in one hectic day in the Music Box this spring – live as bass, drums and guitar, and pretty much in the same sequence as the track-listing.

Sadly Dan – our bassist – couldn’t make it, so Adam deputised on bass as well engineering/producing with his brother Paul. Adam was a complete monster – playing all these songs for the first time on the day we recorded them. I imagined this as the soundtrack to a shot of a car driving towards the vanishing point in the American mid-west at sunset. Not sure that explains the frog noises.

Track 2: Light a match

An attempt at a punchy, crowd-pleasing first proper song, we tried to channel Yo La Tengo and the Lemonheads, with hopefully some Real Estate guitar on the chorus. It’s one of only two songs on the EP about anything – distracting yourself from existential boredom by chit-chat and getting drunk. I tried to go full J Mascis with the guitar solo, but perhaps mustered up a slightly virile Norman Blake from Teenage Fanclub.

Track 3: Dear Susan

I really love Orange Juice (Edwyn Collin’s early-’80s fusion of the Byrds, Chic and fey Scottish teenagers with plastic sandals and fringes like Roger McGuinn) and this is intended as a straight-up homage.

The first line (“Evidently my dear Susan”) seemed like the sort of comically overblown thing Edwyn Collins would sing, though I couldn’t quite manage the voice – which Alexis Petridis described as like “a tipsy man launching into an after-dinner speech with his mouth still full of port and walnuts”. The lyrics are an aggressive take-down of religious extremism, which should hopefully sort a few things out.

Track 4: Gallic Way

When I formed the band I basically wanted us to be Pavement, but we could never manage their nonchalant slacker charm. Sounding like you don’t care and still being good is really hard! This is probably as close as we got. I think Neil nailed the drums, which sound like someone very drunk falling down the stairs holding a pint and somehow not spilling a drop.

The lyrics are fairly Malkmus-pastiching, but those are the sort of lyrics I like – a collection of (hopefully) striking images and phrases rather than a coherent narrative. No-one listens to lyrics beyond the first verse and the chorus anyway. The chorus refers to a traumatic haircut I once received where the hairdresser maintained eye-contact with me – in the mirror – throughout, seemingly never once looking at my hair/head, and relying on some sort of echo-location to avoid cutting my ears.

Track 5: Persian Regret

The name for this song is taken from the Jutes range of hard-wearing interior paints. The concept (for the song rather than the paint range), is that you (YOU) have just stepped out of a taxi in down-town Addis Ababa and into a club where this music is playing. Full disclosure: I’ve never been to Addis Ababa or listened to any Ethiopian music. Paul made some throat-noises, as this is what he presumes happens in Addis Ababian nightclubs.

Track 6: Borderline

This starts as a charming tale of love thriving in the tedium of low-level espionage, but quickly resolves into gibberish. Quite an unorthodox pronunciation of “archipelago”, but I’m sure Mick Jagger has done worse. After a straight-up American 90s college-rock first half we tried to seamlessly weld a 70s psych-rock outro onto the back like a backstreet mechanic. I enjoyed trying to play guitar like Neil Young, anyway.

Track 7: Plane

Another contender for most-Pavementy-song (an attempt to channel Here from Slanted and Enchanted), this was the first song we wrote as a band, and the last one we recorded. Despite playing it for over two years, 6 songs into the session I experienced some sort of studio-induced dementia and had to do star-jumps in the car park until I could remember how to play it again. Paul (producer and long-time friend and collaborator) reminds me that this is the second time I’ve used the line “sold up and moved to Tibet” in a song, which could tell you something (I’ll plagiarise anything: including myself).

I’m glad there’s some funny guitar halfway through. For me, the worst thing that’s happened in music in the last 20 years is the dominance of self-obsessed earnestness – in indie music and X-factor pop. When people talk to each other, they constantly use irony and humour, but when they pick up a guitar or a microphone they so often rely on po-faced seriousness. Whatever happened to Chuck Berry singing about his ding-a-ling?

The Jutes are:

Robin Wilkinson: guitars, vocals, songs, arrangements
Neil Williams: drums, arrangements
Adam Rustidge: bass, keys, percussion, production, engineering, mixing
Dan Holloway: bass inspiration, arrangements
Paul Rustidge: production, engineering, mixing, head of logistics
Recorded at Music Box, Cardiff
Mastered by Charlie Francis at Synergy Mastering

Photos courtesy of Lorna Cabble and Peppe Iovino, from the We Are Cardiff Press launch party in November 2015.

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Jenny moved to Cardiff … because of Human Traffic

This week’s up close and personal comes from an old raver who moved to Cardiff in 1999. Her inspiration: Justin Kerrigan’s clubtastic Cardiff-based flick, Human Traffic. Here’s Jenny to tell us more.

I can still remember the first time I saw Human Traffic. Sounds ridiculous, but that film changed my life. I was living in Exeter and I messed up my A level exams, and so ended up with shoddy grades, unable to get into any of my university choices. I only just managed to get into Reading, but I didn’t like Reading at all. Most of my friends were off travelling, and I just didn’t seem to click with anyone there. One night, my flatmates suggested we watch a film before we went out. One of them had this new film, Human Traffic, on video (VHS!!! Imagine). I’d heard vaguely about it but couldn’t afford to go to the cinema back then, so hadn’t seen it.

We watched the film in the communal area (which was basically the kitchen), all wrapped up in blankets, sitting on uncomfortable kitchen chairs, smoking spliffs and drinking beers, totally absorbed in the whirlwind 99 minutes of clubs, drugs, pubs, and parties, all set in this magical narnia called Cardiff. The soundtrack was amazing, the people seemed friendly, the city like a neon playground inviting you from club to house party, back to club.

I realise, obviously, that the film’s not without fault. The dialogue is clunky sometimes, the storyline abjectly ridiculous. But it’s not really about any of that, so none of that matters. It’s about capturing a moment in time. It’s about being a certain age, being part of a scene, when you might never have really belonged anywhere before. And by those standards, it might as well be Citizen Kane. That’s certainly how I felt about it.

Also Danny Dyer. It is most definitely about Danny Dyer.

I was super fed up with Reading, and my friend Pete was at uni in Cardiff, and so during the first term I bought myself a railcard and took the train there to visit. There was some event on at Solus in the student union – maybe Carl Cox, or something? The entire union was covered in camo netting – it was everywhere. By this point, drugs had entered my recreational lexicon. I hid the pills in my bra and we distributed them amongst us when we got in there. Pete’s flatmates came with us too, they were still in that slightly awkward initial freshers phase, where you sort of have to hang out together because you haven’t met your tribe yet, but they were all lovely, if awkward.

I was off my face, ended up snogging this cute blonde that lived in a student flat a few buildings away from them. The music was a mixture of trance and hard house. It was epic, driving music, with enough weird psychedelic sounds to keep your brain tweaking while you danced and stamped away, blissed out.

Pete and his flatmates ended up meeting loads of new friends that night – we all went back to someone else’s flat in Talybont South, where they produced endless amounts of weed and bongs, lungs, shotties. I never really liked weed so opted to just keep drinking booze and smoking fags. We hotboxed ourselves in that tiny living area until it started getting light, when we all stumbled back to Pete’s flat, shading our eyes from the dazzling October skies.

We couldn’t sleep, of course, so after a few hours fitfully rolling around on the floor, Pete decided we needed a fry up and then to go back to the pub. We didn’t bother showering – I think I just about managed to brush my teeth – and back out into the wilds we went, all wearing sunglasses, clutching cans of Oranjeboom, heading up to Cathays to The Warm As Toast Cafe (Twat … RIP!) for ‘breakfast’.

After we’d managed to hold down the food, Pete started getting a second wind. We headed for the nearest pub – can’t remember which one it was now, one on the way into town. It might have been Inncognito, which later became Cardiff Arts Institute. It was late afternoon by this point and they had DJs setting up in there. We alternated between pitchers of beer and pitchers of cocktails, and although it’s almost impossible to get pissed the day after a massive session, the day-after drinking always felt so nice: like a big cushion around your come down. (I would find out years later was actual real come downs were like: when you’ve got an unforgiving 9-5 and you haven’t slept all weekend and by Wednesday you think everyone hates you and wtf does your life mean and literally want to fall into a hole and die).

Feeling slightly more sprightly, we decided to head into town. It was only about 5pm at this point and all the shops were still open, so I got a whistle stop tour of the most important independents: Hobos, for natty threads; Catapult, for all your dance music; and Spillers, for indie, rock, and everything else. I bought a London Elektricity CD from Catapult (I still have it!) and a Spillers t shirt which I wore over my shirt for the rest of that night.

We went for a burger in the Gatekeeper, and Pete bumped into some friends from his course, who were heading into Clwb Ifor Bach, which really was a ‘Welsh club’ back then: we were only allowed in as we went in with some Welsh speakers, and I got given a membership card to sign that promised that I was learning Welsh (something I’ve still not managed to master, despite having lived here for nearly 20 years now – good job they don’t check up on you anymore).

The night gets hazy after that. Endless trips to the damp loos, as Pete got some charlie off someone in the queue. Sneakily smoking spliff on the dancefloor. I can’t even remember what the music was now, maybe some sort of indie night. The crowd was completely different though. Fewer students. More young professionals.

We got to bed around 2am and slept til about 3pm. I woke up already late for my train, and had to get a taxi to the station. I made it with seconds to spare. I got a Burger King when I was back in Reading and slept through all of my Monday lectures.

And that was the first of many such weekends in Cardiff. I was back in Cardiff every weekend during that first term. I bumped into Meic again (the blonde guy I’d snogged that first night), and soon we were an item. Eventually realised there was no point in travelling back and forth all the time. My heart was in Cardiff. Not necessarily with Meic – we split up after a few months – but in the city. Pete moved in with his girlfriend so I took his room and moved in with his flatmates. Turns out we were a tribe all along!

I thought I might apply to Cardiff Uni, but my grades hadn’t been great, and I didn’t really know what I wanted to do – I just knew I was much happier doing anything in Cardiff than I had been in Reading or back in Devon.

I gave up on the idea of uni altogether and started working. Like lots of people, I guess, I was temping, doing all sorts of different things, and then just sort of fell into working in events. I think I got to have the best of both worlds, back then: I hung out with students all the time. I even went to a couple of lectures, just to see if I’d enjoy it. But I didn’t really.

My memories of those days revolve around the nightlife. I made so many good friends on nights out – people I’m still close to now. Friendships forged in sweaty hugs and toilets and on dancefloors across the city. I even ended up meeting some people that had been extras in Human Traffic itself – extras in the house party scenes towards the end. They told me they’d wanted to make it as realistic as possible, so they were all smoking spliffs and drinking beers. TRUTH.

The venues were key. The Emporium, for example – where I spent so many nights – was where part of Human Traffic was filmed. You can even see some of its posters in the background of the scene where Jon Simm tries to blag his way into the club – apparently this scene was shot in the manager’s office.

Then there was Welsh Club. The Toucan. The Hippo. The Model Inn. Club M. Club X. Gretzskys. Metros. Apocalypse or Vision  or whatever it was called by  the end (it then turned into Primark … and is now some other high street chain shop). The Student Union – Solus upstairs, and Seren Las downstairs. The Philharmonic. Evolution and the party bus from town to the bay. Barfly. Sugar. Moloko. The Point. There was some place behind a fancy dress shop on Clifton Street we’d go to for after hours parties. And we used to go to everything: techno, drum & bass, the reggae parties down the Bay. Hard house was more of a push for me but I’d still go.

There were some nights we wouldn’t leave the house until midnight. These days I can’t remember the last time I was even awake at midnight without there being a baby crying or a dog with the runs demanding to be let out of the house. How things change!

Venues open and close. Unless you were around Cardiff at the start of the 2000s, you probably don’t even recognise half those places I’m talking about. The union is all coffee shops now. I read something recently about how students and young people don’t rave or drink or take drugs anymore, and it made me sort of sad, double sad, for them – that they won’t experience all those amazing things – but also myself. I miss those days. I miss being young and carefree and not having kids or a mortgage to worry about and being able to spend all night roaming around the city, smoking rollies with tramps and going back to random houses for parties.

Don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t change my life now for the world. I just wish I’d revelled in those days, in that time a bit more. Also it was a weird time in terms of the internet – right early days, so it’s not like I can just flick through Facebook albums whenever I feel nostalgic. I barely had a mobile phone at that time, and I certainly didn’t have a digital camera until nearly a decade later.

As for Human Traffic now? I actually haven’t watched the film in ages. It’s a treat that I save up for myself when I’m poorly. I love doing that really boring thing of “I know where that is!” when they’re in some of the outdoor scenes. And I know I’m not the only one that really loves it: because I still see articles about the filming locations or interviews with Justin Kerrigan popping up every so often.

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Jenny Jones is an events manager who dreams fondly of her youth. She currently lives in Fairwater.

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