When my granddad left Wales at 16 to rejoin the rest of his family up north avoiding the pits and the trade his fatherʼs, and grandfatherʼs, I donʼt think he imagined he would have family members settling in his home country again. Till his ﬁnal days he remembered the lighthouse at Roath Park Lake, Christmas shopping at the market and cakes and tea in David Morgan and still when he would stumble over my name and what I did for a living, he would remember I was the one who was now living back in Wales.
Cardiff held a place in his heart, and memory, long after other aspects faded, and I know how he feels.
It was a Sunday night with the rain pelting down when I ﬁrst set foot in Cardiff after the endlessly train journey from Newcastle to Walesʼ capital. After trudging round the city for ages looking for somewhere decent for food (Cardiff was different in 2002 with no restaurant or piazza cafe sections just a Walkabout and closed shops) we stumbled into Toucan Club. Squashed between dubious clubs and chain bars on St Mary Street, it wasnʼt the venueʼs ﬁrst incarnation, neither was it its last, and the bar had a lot of work to do. My ﬁrst impressions werenʼt great and if all went well with the job trial the next day this city could be my new home. It was the Toucan that made helped make my mind up, and I wonder if I had fallen into one of the other bars on the street if my decision might have changed.
From Newcastle to university at Manchester, I was looking to start my career at the Western Mail, with a small monthly pay packet and the initial premise of six months on permanent night shift. Well offers like that donʼt come round every day! So I packed my bags, bunked in one half of a friendʼs double bed for a month before ﬁnally settling into my new life in Cardiff.
In many ways it has been a city of ﬁrsts for me. From the ﬁrst time I lived in a house that had a banana tree and a boat in the front garden – the best house on Elm Street – to the ﬁrst time I learnt to run for fun, not something I had considered until Bute Park came calling.
As the months turned into years, the city evolved and changed around me and I have also not stood still. Iʼve been the arts reporter living in Barﬂy and Clwb till the early hours hanging onto to every note bands played, partying hard, staying at house parties till well past their sell by date squeezing every last drop out of them. Iʼve changed careers and started ventures with friends I never imagined, putting on new plays with Dirty Protest and feeling huge pride as people squeeze into Yurts, bars and warehouses practically sitting on strangerʼs laps to see theatre. And Iʼve settled down, happily drinking earl grey tea and getting in an early night to make the most of the weekend.
Best friends have come and gone from the city, and each time I wonder how I will start again. But I am always surprised. The city has a way of putting new people in your path, some who will stick for a lifetime, others for the moment. Now Cardiff is where I have actual roots, with a partner, a shack of a house that is being slowly remodeled and a garden which is starting to bloom.
But wherever I go or whatever I do, Cardiff will always mean these things to me – pots of tea and the Archers in Elm Street with Eluned, Moloko on late weeknights and early morning Splott Market with Nicki, coffee and boy watching with Fi in Shot, Western Mail nights out, wrap parties with the best of Core, wrestling the X-Box from D, wild nights with Jess, endless gigs and giggles with Gemma, cinema trips, ripping houses to bits, and hot chocolate over Roath Lake with Steve, running training with Lou in Bute Park, getting Dirty with Tim, El, Mared and Catrin and a whole host of others in the Yurt, circus fun and party nights with Ellie, putting the world to rights with Siriol and the beginnings of fun times with Dolly and Lals and cakes, Catan and Gilmore Girls.
I hope thatʼs the start of a very long list and that just like my Grandad the happy times in this city will stick for a lifetime.
Claire Hill currently works as a director in television, and divides spare time being ﬁlm reviewer for BBC Radio Wales Evening Show, one quarter of Dirty Protest, jewellery maker, ofﬁcial silencer of talkers in Cineworld, excellent cake baker and enthusiastic cyclist. She currently lives in Splott.
Claire was photographed in the Milgi garden by Adam Chard
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