“Six steps this way, eight over there, switch partners …” – Marc’s Cardiff story

Marc Thomas photographed for Project Cardiff

Yesterday. I just moved into my new flat in Cathays. It’s the first flat that I’ll ever share with my wife but we shan’t be living in it until the wedding is over because we’re Christians. That’s July 24th, 2010 (tomorrow). Nearly 3 years since I met her.

I guess those two things are the most important circumstances for our marriage. Christian and Cardiff. Had one of those not happened, we’d never have met.

***

“We’re going to be late, Marc,” she had said, “Have you got money?”

“Ei. Don’t worry. The later we get there, less chance we’ll have to pay,” I told her, “Shouldn’t have to pay to dance at a ceilidh anyhow.”

I turned Two Gallants off on my speakers, or possibly it was Bob Dylan, I don’t remember now. Plan had been to head on over to the Christian Union ceilidh that we had organised for Fresher’s Week in my second year of university and dance a bit, goof off and then go home. I was treasurer of Cardiff Uni Christian Union, which was basically a joke because I cannot add up. In fact, while clearing out my desk drawers, months after finishing in this position, I found £300 of CU money, which I had already explained away in the accounts.

Music over, lights out, door closed, lock done, we made our way from 26 Richards Street over to St. Marks out on North Road, by the Gabalfa Flyover. Never went before, never been since. Things had begun to jar with the old girlfriend, but now we were walking hand in hand to St. Marks, totally unaware of what would ensue or rather what wouldn’t follow.

We arrived and jumped in through the side door so that we didn’t have to pay – against my principles, paying to dance to folk music – and said, ‘hello’ to all of the faces we recognised. Hundreds of bright young faces filled the forward glance around the room. Dancing in time, seeming to be swaying eternally and jigging to the beat of a band of musicians vastly unexperienced. The caller called something furious. Six steps this way, eight over there, switch partners etc, etc. By day, he was a theology student.

The dance ended.

“You’ll need to get into pairs,” he screamed, “and once you’re in pairs, get into two sets of pairs.”

She gripped me tight. I let her. I was such an idiot back then. There was a girl with blackish hair falling down her forehead and her boy in the corner. The boy had a broken arm with a green cast on it. The girls hair was flicked to the side and I remember thinking to myself something derogatory about emos. He was a kid I’d said hello to previously as he was studying politics, as had I. We got together in a huddle and did the moves that the caller called.

The basket is infamous in ceilidh. The idea is, the guys put their hands around the girls waists and the girls hold on tight to the boys shoulders while all four in the basket swing around. Eventually, the girls go horizontal under the influence of the momentum or centrifugal force (if this exists in such dances).

We did so.

Swinging round, all four faces fixed upon the fulcrum of all three other faces, and sometimes, if fast enough, ones own face, the girls went levitating and something must have happened.

There was no lightning, neither of us saw a vision nor was there a hand brushed against another. We didn’t even realise that something had happened and went all our separate ways. The old girlfriend and I went to my house, the girl went to hers and the boy to his.

***

Four months later, I started going to a new church – Glenwood in Llanederyn. I recognised few people. A lot of stuff had happened since September: old girlfriend was gone and a memory. I had been surprised at how quickly she disappeared from memory. But that was the politics of ancient history, taught in the schoolroom of where I was at so that the children of the thence present, wouldn’t repeat the mistakes of their former fathers.

Hannah was there. Mousey emo girl from barn dance now looked a lot different in the light of new possibility. I didn’t remember her. She recalled me though.

Things got started from there. The rest isn’t history, it’s not even the present, it’s the future. I’m 22, in love, she’s 21 and an arts student at UWIC, and in love. We’re almost young but it’s taken us a long time to get so young… and mostly it happened in Cardiff.

Marc Thomas is a 22 year old student. He speaks 3.5 languages and studies Magazine Journalism in Cardiff University. He is the founding editor of Journal of Plastik, an online magazine which promotes creative culture in South Wales through in-depth articles and features. Check it out at http://journalofplastik.com. He can also lick his elbow. He currently lives in Cathays.

***

“I lost all dignity in front of that aesthetically pleasing boy” – Ellen

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Cardiff is six years’ worth of moves and kettles and fudge covered non stick pans, six years of house parties and Neighbours into Radio 4 into “I’m blossoming into a middle class liberal,” and six years’ worth of heartbreak, back scratching kisses and instant intimacy gone wrong then filed under “but that’s what you do at university”.

One of my earliest memories is being in Talybont halls of residence, and taking photos of a hedgehog with its head stuck in a crisp packet instead of helping it out, and one of my most recent memories is watching the kids from next door laying their plastic toys out in the road to die and nearly causing a car accident. I remember the days of post-house-party tears caused by student-targeting thieves who snuck in and took your phone and your laptop, and how I lost all dignity in front of that aesthetically pleasing boy when I threw up in a hedge after the summer ball.

I remember stumbling upon the wooden sculptures in Bute Park and decisively considering a move to Pontcanna before backtracking back to Roath, I remember thinking more about going to the Riverside Market then going and I remember the dairy induced stomach ache after the Cardiff Castle Cheese Festival.

I regret the places I had to avoid post-boy breakup and the restaurants I still haven’t been to, and I maintain at some point I will go to the bingo, play air hockey and visit Techniquest all on the same day. I rejoice in Chapter for the Shakespeare Reading Group which helped inspire a hint of confidence in my own voice, and the owner of the now shut La Casca, who always remembered what type of coffee I wanted and made me feel strangely relevant for five minutes on lonely days. Your backdrop is always important in terms of development and Cardiff has borne witness to and helped me transcend from insecure confused teenager to indecisive slightly befuddled woman, and I thank it.

Ellen Waddell has lived in Cardiff since she was 19. She enjoys the theatre though never goes and her turn-ons include greek yoghurt, doc martins and writing about herself in the third person. She often laments at the lack of places to play table football in this fair city and is sure if she hadn’t become a musician she would have made a top rate life model. She thinks being paid to sit naked and get stared at by artists seems alright. Her favourite childhood film is Willow and one day she hopes to give Warwick Davies a high five and a home made award for services to humanity. Follow her twitter: @ellenstarbuck. She currently lives in Roath.

Ellen was photographed on City Road by Simon Ayre

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

lily_mae_martin

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.

lucas howell

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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