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“Cardiff’s buildings may change, but the feel of the city never does” – Bazz

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That famous Thomas Wolfe quote – “you can’t go home again” – doesn’t really apply when you’re referring to Cardiff. Buildings may change, but the feel of the city never does.

When I was growing up, to take a trip down to Cardiff Bay seemed nothing short of ‘danger tourism’. It might just be my over-active imagination embellishing these memories, but the Docks were like the set of a post-apocalyptic film back then: derelict warehouses seemed to be everywhere. Now it’s one of the gems of South Wales: a hive of family-friendly activity as well as late-night revelry.

The Hayes, in the town centre, used to be where you went to get your bike fixed (Halfords), or your photos developed (Jessops, which had a little robotic man in its shop window that haunted my dreams for a worrying period of time). In late 2009, I came back from a long trip to Australia to discover the retail Mecca that is St David’s 2, built over that once-dreary site; a centre so impressive that people from as far afield as London prefer to come here to do their shopping.

The fear of missing out is a powerful one. If you’re coming back to this city after moving away, you’re not coming back to the small village where nothing ever changes; where everybody shops at the local petrol station. You’re coming back to a city where exciting things are happening, be it in sporting, cultural or business terms (or all three). I’m appreciative of the fact that I’m living in Cardiff at a time when it’s experiencing a renaissance.

Some people are quick to drop everything and leave for another city, or country, and in some cases that’s understandable. For me, I have cultivated many friendships over the years that I would find hard to turn my back on so easily. Many of these were formed at places such as the gym in Sophia Gardens, which hosts the richest tapestry of characters I’ve ever encountered. One of the more outlandish individuals is a Phil Collins lookalike who accessorises a skimpy leotard with a bumbag. I’ve made some great friends there (though not so much with Leotard Man, for obvious reasons), and the storylines that have emerged from within the four walls of a single weights room have convinced me that I will one day write a book on these people.

I went to Ysgol Gyfun Gymraeg Plasmawr in Fairwater. It’s an amazing school. There were only three years there when I started because it had gone from being a lower school to a new, standalone institution. It meant that everyone knew each other, which was definitely not the case in the rest of Cardiff’s huge schools. My little brother goes there now, and to hear of all the developments it’s undergone since I left (including, to my eternal jealousy, an astroturf pitch and a new gym) reinforces my belief that the Welsh language continues to grow in the city.

Most of my friends in their mid-twenties are teachers, and I realise that my teachers in Plasmawr – back then, all around the same age that I am now – were still finding their way; their experiences as educators were just as new as ours were as pupils and, on reflection, they did an impressive job. English classes were a highlight, and my teacher Mr Jones was an inspirational presence who had a profound effect on the path I chose upon leaving school.

I wasn’t the perfect student by any stretch of the imagination, and my friends and I were prone to the odd displays of smartarsery. In history class one day, our new teacher immediately regretted asking our disruptive group if one of us wanted to take the lesson, because one of us stood up and did just that. But those are the good memories you take with you.

Studying for my undergraduate degree in Aberystwyth some years ago, I encountered certain Welsh people from outside of South Wales from whom I got the impression they thought people from Cardiff were somehow ‘less Welsh’ than them. Now most of them live here. A microcosm of North Wales can even be found in Canton, adding to the melting pot (or, better yet, fruit salad) already inherent in Cardiff’s DNA.

Three years ago, I was lucky to be accepted into Cardiff University’s International Journalism Masters programme. In a large group of students, I was the only Welshman (and one of only three Brits) on the course, and the UN-like environment of the ‘newsroom’ was incredible. It was interesting to see these foreigners’ perceptions of my hometown too. Maybe they were just being polite, but they seemed utterly sincere when they told me they loved Cardiff. It was a unique experience at the Bute Building in Cathays Park.

My favourite part of Cardiff is the sprawling Pontcanna Fields. There aren’t many cities that can boast a park where you are literally surrounded in all directions by greenery, and it’s one of the prime examples of why the city is one of the greenest in Europe. You can even see Castell Coch from the fields, which emphasises Cardiff’s accessibility to other distinctly non-cosmopolitan regions. Whether I’m there walking the dog or running with my friend, this place has a calming effect on my soul.

As a youngster, I had no reason to go to Cathays or Roath – now I’m there regularly. It is the bohemian heart of the city, and the elite unit of Cardiff’s intelligentsia that is my quiz team has often been known to storm the competition at the magnificent Pear Tree bar on a Sunday. (In the past, we’ve been affectionately referred to as the ‘Seal Team 6’ of quiz teams – mostly by ourselves.)

I want to be here when Cardiff reaches its tipping point and gets the global recognition it deserves as one of Europe’s finest capital cities. It won’t be long.

Bazz Barrett works in PR and lives in Pontcanna. He blogs for therugbycity.wordpress.com, tweets as @bazzbarrett and can sometimes be found avoiding leotard-wearing Phil Collins lookalikes in the gym – a workout in itself.

Bazz was photographed at the War Memorial in Alexandra Gardens by Ffion Matthews

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“I need to be in a place where people are friendly and everything’s on your doorstep” – Jessica

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I have lived in Cardiff since I was born. I was never very adventurous in a travelling sense and stayed here to do my Foundation Course in Art & Design, and then for my degree in Graphic Communication. I can’t say I’ve ever regretted it. In fact I probably made the best decision. All through university we were told that London was the place to be for new designers. I frankly had a bit of a panic, because London is just so daunting to me.

I need to be in a place where people are friendly and everything’s on your doorstep. I know Cardiff like the back of my hand because I’ve lived in most areas. I was born in Pontcanna, lived in Ely for a bit, then in Grangetown, Llanishen, Llandaff, Thornhill, and when my mother decided to move out into the country I stayed and continued my tour, moving to Penarth, Cardiff Bay and finally Roath, where I mingled with my fellow students and loved every minute.

I met my partner not long after starting university and we’ve never moved from Roath. We now live in the heart of Roath and there’s so much to do. It’s amazing. The galleries, coffee shops, restaurants, awesome little independent quirky shops and funky bars are in abundance – not forgetting Roath Park. It’s just such a lively place to live and we’re lucky to have a number of friends all living in the same area.

We’re always popping to The Pear Tree on Wellfield Road for a cheeky drink, and mingling with the locals at The Claude or The Albany. We’re both also really lucky to work in the area and I count myself even luckier to be able to work for myself from home. I’ve worked in the design industry since graduating in 2009 and I’ve done everything from designing Christmas wrapping paper (all year round) to mobile application design for iPhones and iPads. Now I’m freelance and work from the comfort and convenience of my little studio under the name Jessica Draws. As I have the time, I’m getting involved in the community as best as I can. I’m in talks to supply some craft shops with my handmade greetings cards that I currently sell online and I am also involved in The Sho Gallery’s summer exhibition Art Flare (on Inverness Place), where I am displaying some illustrative prints and cards which are also for sale. My next stop hopefully is to be involved in the new St Mary’s Street Market and Roath’s Saturday Craft market. I’ve got lots of plans and I’m still getting in touch with local businesses to over my branding and marketing services.

It’s not just Cardiff that’s getting some Jessica Draws shoved in its face. I love to draw and it’s what keeps me cheerful, and so the illustrations I do aren’t always for clients. Some recent work I created for fun around the recent Marvel film releases was featured on some prominent online blogs (here and here), which triggered some awesome responses and a few commissions (now available in my etsy shop too).

Drawing is what I do and I like to think of myself as re-designing the world, one illustration at a time.

Jessica Donnan (also know as Jessica Draws) is a freelance designer and illustrator. Since graduating in 2009, she has worked in many areas of the design industry. Check out her online shop where you can find lots of goodies, and have a gander at her blog, where she posts giveaways, competitions and her latest news.

Jessica was photographed at The Pear Tree in Roath by Ffion Matthews

 

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“I’ve embraced all the opportunities Cardiff has offered me” – Anna

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You never really stop to think about what you like about the place you live, do you? You just, sort of, live there. You go through the motions, ride out the bad times and enjoy the good times; but you never really stop to think what it is about that place that you love or just what it is that keeps you there, do you?

Well, that’s how Cardiff’s always been for me, anyway. The seven years I’ve lived here have definitely been mixed, and it’s only during the latter few that I’ve truly settled and stopped gazing at the Severn Bridge!

In fact, when I was first asked to do a We Are Cardiff entry I remember stalling for ages before telling Helia (founder of WAC), “to be honest, I’m not sure I really like living here.”

I can’t really pretend that my ending up here was the result of informed, well thought-out ‘life choices’ like you’re encouraged to make by teachers at school. My decision to move here seven years ago from Pembrokeshire, for university, was shaped largely by circumstance really, and my decision to stay here after university was, at first, a reluctant one.

I certainly loved university; I enjoyed my course and made some great friends. But as soon as I graduated I was desperate to join the rat race and get to London, so I was secretly a bit disappointed when my boyfriend moved to Cardiff and suggested I stuck around and moved in with him, but it did make sense.

I remember having a conversation with my mum who said everyone should ‘do London’ at some point; I felt sure she was right. Despite having a job in Cardiff, I remember trawling the London job sites looking for my ticket out of Wales and I even secured a job there and was ready to make the move. Something stopped me from taking it and I carried on as I was, albeit unenthusiastically.

So the first few years after university in Cardiff were reluctant, to say the least. I watched my friends fly high in London and elsewhere and I resented staying here. I started to pave my own path – but at the back of my mind I always felt the Cardiff chapter was one I was simply skating over.

I’m not quite sure exactly when things changed; but I remember around two years ago driving across the barrage back into Cardiff Bay after netball training and feeling a real sense of contentment. It was a gorgeous sunset and I remember feeling really at ease.

Since then I’ve really changed my view of where I live. I’ve realised how much control you can have over your own fate and I’ve embraced all of the opportunities Cardiff has offered me. My roots have been firmly planted here now and I can’t imagine started afresh anywhere else. I’ve also realised the value of being relatively close to family in West Wales.

Of course, I’d be lying if I said that this is THE place for me or that I’m ‘meant’ to be here, but what was an initial reluctant acceptance has morphed into a ever-growing appreciation. Cardiff really is a great place to live, it’s become my home and I’m here to stay.

Anna Milewski works for the Federation of Small Businesses in Cardiff. Away from the office, she is an avid netball player (for MJM), an occasional horse rider and an average jewellery-maker. She loves the countryside and says there’s nowhere she’d rather be than on a deserted Marloes Sands in Pembrokeshire. Failing that, she’s happy wandering around Splott market on a Saturday morning picking up all sorts of tat for the flat – or having lunch in Cowbridge on a sunny Sunday. She currently lives in Cardiff Bay.

Anna was photographed in a field at Culverhouse Cross by Adam Chard

“I love sitting in the Packet and looking at the old photos of the ships” – Hannah

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When I first arrived here, Cardiff was an airport waiting lounge to me – a transitory, temporal place where I could have a rest before embarking on another journey.

I ended up here by accident after an exhilarating year of travelling and working abroad, which had ended abruptly with my parents splitting up and the acknowledgement of £8k’s worth of debt. Before I went away, I’d always lived with certainty; going to college, going to university, going travelling … arriving home was disconcerting on many levels, and it was compounded by the series of events that immediately followed it.

Armed with a first class degree and a misplaced sense of worldliness and entitlement, I assumed that offers of policy and campaigns jobs would be piled up onto my doormat when I got home. The reality was that, in 2009, everyone was struggling to find work, and apparently people aren’t entitled to Jobseekers Allowance if they’ve been swanning around south America for the past year. So, my boyfriend and I had to sleep on the floor of my parents’ tiny two-up, two-down house that was barely big enough to fit a double airbed in to. When they split up after two months, we had to move in to a holiday caravan.

Over the summer, I filled in 87 job applications, wrote articles for numerous websites and magazines and volunteered with a local charity. When I was finally offered a part time, six month research contract in Cardiff, it felt like it was the biggest career break that anyone had ever got, in the world, ever.

On the day I got the job, my friend took me out for a celebratory meal. As we drove around Roath Lake and bathed in the late summer sun on the Juno Lounge terrace, I thought ‘I can deal with this for a few months – it’s not Buenos Aires, but I can live here, it’s not too bad’.

We moved into a little flat in Heath, with one part-time, temporary job between the two of us. A week later, two bailiffs walked through the door and told us we had 10 minutes to get as much of our stuff as we could pack, and get out. The landlord hadn’t paid his rent for nine months, and the flat was being repossessed. We had nowhere to go. We’d paid agent’s fees, the first month’s rent and a deposit on the flat, mostly from cash advances on the credit card, and now we were homeless. Suddenly, the city seemed threatening and aggressive. It was telling us ‘this is real life, kids, deal with it. The fun part of your lives is over’.

Of all the experiences we had while travelling, all the sticky situations we got into and all the people that we met, nothing taught me more about life than those three months after coming home. Cardiff had given me some important life lessons, but it had also taught me that I can deal with a lot of shit that life can throw at me.

Two and a half years later, after two jobs and three houses, I’m attempting to reconcile my original reaction to the city with how I feel about it now. My intention had been to live here for a few months, earn some money and go away again. I deliberately refrained from signing up to long phone contracts, making close friends or acquiring too many possessions, in the belief that I’d have to get rid of everything all over again. For the past two years, I’ve desperately tried to embrace this Zen-like impermanence to an extreme extent, but the people I’ve met, the jobs I’ve had, the houses I’ve lived in and the things I’ve realised have made the city into an inextricable and permanent part of me.

It’s easy to think of travelling as an all-encompassing cure to naivety, and while I still spend all of my money on travelling, I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s a very false, privileged and Western thing to do. Being in a place for, at most, three weeks, is an incredibly shallow way of experiencing it. Zipping between continents and not really penetrating the surfaces of places is fine, but now when I travel, I take the time to stay with local people; I attempt to get a sense of what it’s like to be in a place permanently, for better or worse.

I’m still only beginning to scrape the surface of what Cardiff has to offer. I am continually meeting creative, interesting people who are involved in all sorts of activities (like this website).

I love sitting in the Packet and looking at the old photos of the ships.

I love talking to my 80 year old neighbour in Grangetown and hearing about what this part of the city used to be like.

I love working in a place that is like a microcosm of the city.

In many ways, Cardiff has given me a much more genuine ‘life experience’ than I ever got by flitting around the world, by embracing the permanence of it as a place – its people and its culture, rather than treating it as a temporal space. I guess you can get as much or as little out of a city as you like. I’ve inadvertently put time into this city, and it’s rewarded me.

Hannah is a travel writer, designer and photographer, originally spawned in the mysterious depths of Nottingham. Following a bout of education and swanning around the globe, she arrived in Cardiff to work as a freelance researcher and designer in the voluntary sector before being lured into the dark art of parliamentary research. She spends her time travelling, taking photos, cooking, writing, designing and studying Spanish and human rights law. She currently lives in Grangetown, and you can see some of her work at www.hannahjohnson.co.uk.

Hannah was photographed at The Packet by Adam Chard

 

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“It all began for me with my first exhibition at Milgi” – SnowSkull

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Despite not growing up in the “bright lights” of Cardiff I have always felt drawn to the city with its many different cultures – this is where I found my feet so to speak.

From a young age I’ve always been interested in all forms of art. After school was art college, where my interests also took me into music, through someone I met who is still a very good friend. Our friendship influenced me to be one of the founding members of bands such as Funeral For A Friend, From This Moment On and Dignity Dies First. This in turn led us to touring the UK including Cardiff venues Clwb Ifor Bach, Barfly and The Point (both since disappeared). Also parts of Europe in the back of tour vans – which still hold fond memories today and the amazing people I have met along the way who have helped to shape my life. I love an array of different styles of music and I believe that all music is one – there’s simply good and bad in every genre.

Through music I found poetry and philosophy, which in turn has developed me into an abstract artist known as “SnowSkull”, so-called after one of my favorite poets Gregory Corso and influenced by such artists as Picasso, Basquiat and Jesse Reno.

My plan is to delve into other aspects of art to experiment and showcase the alternative contemporary art scene which is already established in Cardiff with the likes of Chapter Arts, Project Ten and Tactile Bosch (to name a few), and independent galleries like The Sho and G39.

But it all began for me with my first exhibition at Milgi – a vegetarian art cafe run by sisters Rebecca and Gabby Kelly. It was these two young women who gave me the opportunity to showcase my art and I will be forever greatful for their help and continued friendship. You’re always sure to have a good welcome at Milgi’s – friendly staff, good organic food and a homely atmosphere. You can even pick up a bargain at the Northcote Lane Market, held at the Milgi warehouse on the first Sunday of every month, which also hosts anything from exhibitions to comedy shows and workshops. The Kelly sisters are very supportive of the local art scene, as they were when they co-ran the Cardiff Arts Institute with Kaptin and Matt the Hat.

Although only open for a couple of years, I loved the C.A.I. It was like a second home to me. I remember nights when there were sometimes just me, Kaptin and the bar staff watching great producers such as Ital Tek, Linton Brown & Pangaea who have all gone on to greater things since their Cardiff appearances. Word of mouth soon spread and before we knew, it was a thriving community where music art and friends came together on a regular basis, kind of like ‘The Hacienda meets Cheers’. Just before Cardiff Arts changed hands I was asked to paint a mural on one of the walls – of which I am still very proud of. Unfortunately, due to new ownership, my art is gone, along with the good times and bad hangovers.

Six months on I feel that Cardiff is not the same without the Arts Institute. It’s a shame because it seems that only commercial bars have the capacity to stay afloat. I have met people from all walks of life who have left their mark on me in some way or another. A big influence on my life is Kaptin – for me, one of the biggest personalities in Cardiff. He lives and breathes music and alongside local producers Stagga & Monky are known as the Chrome Kids – a family that I have recently joined. Chrome Kids are an electronic music and art collective. Our aim is to put on nights showcasing local talent. We also do a fortnightly month radio show on Radio Cardiff, generating an average audience of approx 500, but our intentions are to widen the spectrum.

I currently have a studio for my artwork at Warwick Hall. I share the building with an abundance of talent which varies from painters, photographers, ceramicists, graphic designers and installation artists who are coming together with plans to put on events and shows.

Music, art and poetry run through my veins and I have future projects involving all three. If I didn’t live in Cardiff I would never have had the opportunities I’ve had, or met the people who have influenced me. Who knows what the future holds – but at the moment I am happy to be living in Our Nation’s Capital – ‘Cardiff’.

SnowSkull is an abstract neo-expressionist painter and is part of the Chrome Kids family, Sleep Walk collective, DSY and The Nines. His hobbies include listening, looking, touching things and dreaming. Keep up to date on future shows and works at www.snowskull.blogspot.com or on Facebook or on Twitter @snowskullartist. He currently lives in Roath.

SnowSkull was photographed at his studio in Warwick Hall by Simon Ayre

 

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“I don’t think things would have worked out if I wasn’t living in this brilliant city” – Alex

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I moved to Cardiff when I was 18. All I wanted to do was leave home and get out into the world on my own, and university seemed like the best way to do this. I’m not sure why but Cardiff had always appealed to me, long before I’d even visited the place. I still to this day have no idea why that was.

From a young age I have been obsessed with film, mainly horror and fantasy but I’ll pretty much watch anything. I was watching films that should have sent me running and hiding, but from talking to my sister (the main culprit for letting me watch them) I was absolutely fascinated by them. The creatures and effects I was seeing on the screen captivated me. I went to my local college with the intention of getting into the world of special effects make-up, however I was shot down by a tutor who told me it was a pipedream and that it was completely unrealistic as a real career path. This “advice” sent me into the direction of graphic design but it was never truly what I wanted to do.

I was miserable, I disliked everything about what I was doing and I really needed to change my situation or forever think “what if?”. So I decided to have a go at getting into special effects make-up with a real “now or never” attitude and I haven’t looked back since!

I started doing special effects at home while learning the basics of make up at a local college. I’m my own biggest critic when it comes to my work but I knew I was doing something right when I uploaded the first pictures of my make-up to Facebook and I had a barrage of texts/calls/emails asking if I was ok. This carried on for a few months; experimenting at home, reading books and watching tutorials online and my passion began to grow into almost an obsession!! I realised this was my true vocation.

Probably the biggest thing to me career-wise was when I entered a competition with the Stan Winston School of Character Arts (only after a bit of arm-twisting from friends). The competition was for a zombie artwork/make-up and the unexpected happened – and I won! It was the first thing I had ever won of this nature and I was totally blown away by it all. My work was reviewed by Greg Nicotero who has worked on some incredible films but at the moment is most well known for his work on The Walking Dead…. And he liked it! It was like a dream come true.

Since then it’s been pretty non-stop for me, working on local projects with some amazingly talented people such as 441 films. I also have work coming up on a slasher movie being filmed in south Wales and a music video where I will be turning about 30 people into zombies and letting them loose on a local band by the name of Inhalite.

My knowledge is what I would consider basic in the world of special effects but I’m determined to carry on learning and developing, I send emails everyday to various companies and people asking them for even a few hours of work experience even if it’s just making tea or letting them use me to experiment make-up techniques on. Hopefully one day an opportunity will arise.

Cardiff has such a strong creative community and I don’t think things would have worked out like they have so far for me if it wasn’t for the fact I was living in this brilliant city. The fact is you’re only a short walk away from seeing something creatively amazing be it some graffiti on a club’s wall, a poster outside a shop or a local band doing a set in a small bar down a side lane, the city is full of artistic influence and no matter what happens with my career I’ll always happily say this is where it all began.

Alex Harper is a make-up artist working from his house in the heart of Cardiff. You can contact him and see more of his work at Facebook. He currently lives in Adamsdown.

Alex was photographed in front of the National Museum in Cardiff by Adam Chard

 

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