“One thing I love about being here is the squirrels” – Lily Mae

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I’m originally from Melbourne, Australia and how I came to live in Cardiff was a matter of chance.

I had never before been overseas and my life was beginning to stagnate in Melbourne. I had worked an amazing job at a gallery and attended a fantastic art college, but as that degree was drawing to an end I just couldn’t really see what I was going to do afterward. At the end of the school year there are always a few scholarships going and I found one that was for travelling. I applied for it and won.

My partner Gene and I got married, packed our bags and left Australia. We didn’t really know what to expect from our travels, but I think we just both felt that it was something we needed to do.

A lot of people tell me they think that is romantic.

We arrived in Berlin at the tail end of winter, from a very hot Australian summer (there had been bad bush fires that year) and wore every piece of clothing we had packed to try and adjust.

Berlin was amazing. We did so much and had so much happen to us in just six months … I met so many great artists, and had a solo exhibition; but there is little work there and we were running out of money so we had to look at our options. These were: move to somewhere we could find work and try our luck, or go home.

They say “you can never go home again”.

We knew there was work in the UK, and Cardiff is known to have lots of film and TV work (plus Doctor Who). So we took our chances and for the second time, blindly moved to another country.

I’d also been interested in Wales before, as a lot of my family came from here. I still haven’t had the chance to track them down as all I have is a tentative surname, Tibbet-Jones. That’s a bit frustrating. I always wanted to know more about my family and where this crazy drawing of mine comes from.

Before we knew it, Gene was working for some pretty cool companies and even did work on Doctor Who! Still when I think about Doctor Who, I think of Tom Baker, his hair, his awesome scarf (I gave Gene a scarf much like it once) and being frightened by the dodgy special effects.

I was working a lot on my art when I first arrived here, then I got a bit underwhelmed by the struggle to find my own employment. Minimum wage here is tough. In Australia, we have more of a selection of pay. Here, it really gets me down to see how many jobs pay so poorly.

I did eventually get some casual work at Chapter, which I was very excited about. However shortly after that I became pregnant and pretty unwell. I had to give up my job as I needed bed rest. It’s taken me a few months, but I am able to separate my association between Chapter and morning sickness, which is really good as it is such a great space to go and visit and I really enjoy their food.

Winter here was interesting. It was apparently colder and snowier than usual. I thought I couldn’t cope at first, but in January we went back to visit Berlin where it was minus seventeen degrees. When we arrived back in Wales to a measly minus two degrees, that amazingly seemed warm to us.

Cardiff was new, morning sickness was relentless and winter was isolating. I came to hate my bedroom and think of it as a prison. It was a pretty rough time, but when the end of winter was approaching Gene and I moved to a new house and left all of that behind us.

One thing I love about being here is the squirrels. Whenever walking past the university I’d watch the squirrels for a little while. My presence there confused passers by. But I’m confused that people can be so blase about squirrels. They’re the best thing ever, in animal form.

We began to see more of Cardiff and I finally got to know it as a city. I really like the parks here and like to catch the train out to random places and just walk for hours and hours.

What has surprised me the most is the culture shock I experienced. Every city is different, but I didn’t go through nearly the same struggle to adjust in Berlin as I did here. And the more history I read about this place the more confused I get; I recently found out about the trams they used to have here, and then tore up which, I assume, was to make way for the Queen Street we know today. I just think shopping centre after shopping centre kills any kind of culture or city atmosphere.

I’m not sure how long we are going to stay here. I’m never really sure of anything like that.

Lily Mae Martin is an artist. You can visit her website at http://www.lilymaemartin.com/. She currently lives in Roath.

Lily Mae was photographed at her studio by Simon Ayre

“Cardiff is a city in flux. And has been since the day I got here” – Neil

neil cocker

I moved to Cardiff in 1993 as a naive, and long-haired, student. It’s over 16 years (and almost half my life) later, and I still love the city. When I first indicated to my Dad that I was considering Cardiff as somewhere to study he pronounced that having visited several times in the 80s the place was a dump. A few months after his declaration we visited the city on a University open day – he was surprised by the transformation the city had undergone since his last visit. “It’s changed”, he said. “A lot”.

Cardiff is a city in flux. And has been since the day I got here.

Since I’ve been here the main catalyst seems to have been the Rugby World Cup in 1999. I remember looking out of the window of my first business, three stories above St Mary St, seeing people from all over the world thronging towards the stadium. And this influx of tourism bolstered the nightlife and cafe industry, and gave Cardiff a burgeoning European feel. And with the FA Cup being held at the Millennium Stadium for the next few years, the UK and the world would turn its attention to Cardiff every May. As I toured the world over the following years I suddenly found people in Japan, Australia, Germany and America knowing all about Cardiff, where once it had drawn a blank, or the inevitable “is it near London?”. Cardiff was again becoming a truly international city of note, since its post-coal decline.

As you walk around the city there’s a real sense of “growth” in every sense. Constant, dynamic, exciting change. There’s always something being upgraded, improved, polished.

I work in the creative and small business scene, and I’m constantly amazed by how many brilliantly talented people we have here. There are world-class artists, developers, entrepreneurs, comedians, and designers who are known and respected across the globe. But this is also tempered by a lingering small-town mentality that sometimes means people aren’t keen to be seen as ambitious or actively, and unfairly, criticise those that do achieve success. It may be part of a wider British malaise, but we sometimes lack a “Let’s just do it” attitude.

Having said that, this could just be hard-wired into the size of Cardiff. As a small city I’ve never felt that anywhere was too much hassle to get to, or out of the way. And there’s coastline and hills within 15 minutes of the city centre. Everything you need is right on your doorstep, and there’s always someone you know just around the corner.

I’m very proud of Cardiff. I’ve lived here longer than anywhere else and it’s very much my home. I honestly believe it to be one of the best cities in Europe.

Neil Cocker is an entrepreneur, managing director of Dizzyjam.com, and in his spare time he enjoys holding free events to bring creative people together, most notably through his Network of Creative and Cultural Industries (NOCCI). Visit his blog at http://NeilCocker.com and follow him on Twitter at @NeilCocker. He currently lives in Wenvoe.

Neil was photographed outside the Millennium Centre, Cardiff Bay, by Geraint Griffiths

We Are Cardiff – looking for volunteers!

We Are Cardiff is a project that aims to showcase residents of the city and their memories, stories and favourite places.

We Are Cardiff - Patches

We’re looking for volunteers to feature on our website! You provide us with your recollections, anecdotes, likes or dislikes about the city, and we’ll arrange a photoshoot with you at your favourite location to accompany your entry on our blog.

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There’s no word limit to your Cardiff story – it can be as short as one paragraph, as long a thousand words, it can be a narrative, it can be in the third person, it can even be a poem. We’ll provide you with a list of questions that you’re free to base your answer on, but they’re more for guidance than a strict rule. We’ll happily link to your blog / website / Twitter.

Wanna get involved? Email us at contact@wearecardiff.co.uk

We’re also interested in referrals of people who might not be online, especially grandmas or grandpas who have lived in Cardiff all their lives. We’re interested in everybody’s Cardiff story, not just the young and digitally able! If you think you know someone who’d be great for our project, please contact us at the address above.

Hope to hear from you soon!

Street scene - wing span

A blog about Cardiff, its people, and the alternative arts and cultural scene!

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