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Two Cardiffs Caught on Camera: Images of a City, Stories of its People

We Are Cardiff photographer Jon Pountney publishes ‘Cardiff before Cardiff’

Cardiff Before Cardiff book cover jon pountney

During the 1970s and early ’80s, hundreds of prints and negatives of Cardiff were taken by the photographer Keith S. Robertson.

These were left forgotten in drawers in an artist’s studio in the city, with the photographer being told that his years of work had been burned and destroyed.

However, exactly two years ago the photographs were finally recovered by another photographer, Jon Pountney, who realised their value immediately.

The result of his restorative work on the photographs, and the reaction generated from the people portrayed or who have seen them, is published this week by Y Lolfa in a new book called Cardiff before Cardiff.

Jon Pountney
Jon Pountney

“I discovered the prints and negatives whilst renovating Warwick Hall, a building in the Gabalfa area of Cardiff, and was instantly struck by the quality of the prints,” explains Jon Pountney.

“The pictures were amazing; ordinary people going about their day, looking as if they could step off the page… What was very striking was the rich vein of community, smiles, winks and laughter.

“A couple of these pictures were stamped ‘Keith S. Robertson’, but that was all. So I created a new blog, called Cardiff before Cardiff, and shared a few photos on the website in an effort to learn more about this photographer. They were seen by a journalist, who subsequently put a number of the prints in a newspaper. The response was immense, and resulted in me being able to reunite Keith with his photographs once more.”

In Cardiff before Cardiff, Robertson’s powerful black and white images show the people and streets of Splott and other areas of Cardiff during the 1970s and the early ’80s, and Pountney’s work revisits some of those same areas today, showing how little has changed, and vice versa.

“Ever since I found those photos, I’ve been shooting Cardiff in a response to Keith’s work,” adds Jon. “It’s inspired me to step out into the streets of Cardiff and make the work I’ve always wanted to do. In this new book, my pictures appear side by side with Keith’s, and I couldn’t be prouder.”

Alun Gibbard
Alun Gibbard

The book’s author, Alun Gibbard says, “What has breathed life into Cardiff before Cardiff is the response of the city’s people. On seeing the black and white images in the press, on the blog and Facebook, people began to respond. Someone would recognise themselves in a photograph, or their father, mother or child. Some saw photographs of their family for the first time.”

Jon Pountney and Alun Gibbard will be signing copies of Cardiff before Cardiff in the city’s WHSmith on Thursday, 20th of December between 4 and 5pm. YourCardiff has also published an interview with Jon today.

 

 

 

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“This is still the place I want to be” – James

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This is the place…

I’ve always thought there are two types of home: the one you have, and the one you want. Roath was definitely the latter for me. I moved here from Stoke in 2002 and straight away it felt right. In a short space of time I met an incredible group of friends, and this, together with my love of the city, gave me a sense of belonging. Aged 23 I thought this is the place I want to be.

Recently I’ve begin to question the choice I made 10 years ago. There are those friends who move away to bigger cities – some come back, some don’t. And there are those who never make the journey and ask themselves that meaningless question, what if? Big cities are naturally more conducive to creativity, offer more opportunities, and provide a bigger network to plug yourself into to find out what sparks, if any, may fly. Of course, you know this, but still, what if?

When I find myself thinking about this, I put on my running shoes and go to the one place I love more than any other in Cardiff – a home within a home – the Rec (aka the Roath Recreation Ground). I must have run, and walked, around this small park hundreds of times, and spent countless hours there lying under rare summer sun until my pale skin turns pink. It’s hard to convey why I love it – after all it’s just a park – bit if pressed I would say it’s a combination of the space and the skies above it. I’ve seen the most amazing sunsets, and formations of clouds and light, over the Rec. It may sound pretentious, but I feel like those skies have sheltered me over the years whenever I’ve been feeling low.

The final key ingredient that makes the Rec so great is the people who inhabit it. On any one night you can watch people playing rounders, rugby, football, cricket, or just reading, talking, and drinking until the sun goes down. It’s a reminder of how vibrant and eclectic this city is – I remember seeing one football game where each player wore the football top of their country of origin and no 2 shirts were alike. Having a garden is a luxury, but it’s not essential in Roath, as there is always the Rec.

When I’ve finished my run I always turn off my iPod and walk across the width of the Rec towards the Community Centre. I don’t think about work the next day, or what I’m going to do when I get home. I try not to think at all. Instead I just listen to the evening and look around me. It always gives me a sense of calm, and reminds me of how lucky I am to have this on my doorstep. Moments like this brush away all of my doubts and reaffirms that this is still the place I want to be.

James Nee works for The Festivals Company (where he directs the occasional promo and is the Director of ffresh) and is the creator of ernest – a collective of artists based in Roath who make short films and sketches. He currently lives in Roath.

James was photographed on Roath Recreation Ground by Jon Pountney

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“Rhiwbina is a great place to see what community spirit is really like” – Beth

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You always realise how much you miss home when you leave. When you come back, you realise that home is the thing that’s been missing. When I left for university six years ago, I was relieved to leave home at home and get on with living somewhere else. However, coming back to Cardiff has been the best move I could have made. When you live here you don’t realise how great you really have it; with the fantastic range of things to do, mixture of places to visit and the friendliness of Welsh people. But there’s one place in Cardiff I class as ‘Home Sweet Home’.

If you’re looking for somewhere friendly, cute and a little bit different, I’m going to big Rhiwbina up to you.

Yes, it is thought of as being a slightly older person’s hang-out and yes, it may not be your first destination choice on a Saturday morning but there is a lot going on. Dr Who was filmed here, nostalgic festivals are held here and community spirit is second to none so why wouldn’t you want to visit?

Picture this…

It’s a miserable Saturday morning (let’s face it, the Welsh weather has been somewhat of a letdown) and you don’t fancy a venture into central Cardiff battling the crowds. Instead, you decide to take a trip to Rhiwbina to the north of the hustle and bustle. With the choice of Coco’s Hairdressers for a quick snip, Aquarius Revived for a nice beauty treatment and Fragrant 227 for a relaxing massage, you find you’re already feeling refreshed.

But all that spoiling and relaxation is hungry work … which is where the Olive Branch Cafe and Bookshop comes in. Friendly staff, a comfortable atmosphere and delicious Carrot Cake awaits you. This is always a first choice stop off for a bite to eat and a quirky Maltesar–based milkshake!

After you’ve had your fill of tasty homemade food and attractive lattes, take a stroll to Rhiwbina library to browse the display of books, have a walk around Caedelyn Park or why not see what vintage home shop The Nest has in stock? If, however, you’ve decided your day so far has been thirsty work, visit one of the many pubs in Rhiwbina like the Butcher’s Arms (where there’s a farmer’s market every Friday morning), The Deri Inn, The Mason’s Arms and The Nine Giants.

With excellent links to the city centre and only 10 minutes by foot to Whitchurch village (with its selection of nice eateries and shops), Rhiwbina is somewhere to spend more than an hour of your time and a great way to see what community spirit is really like.

Beth Rees is a keen writer, poet and film lover with a very sociable side. She loves meeting with friends, going to Zumba and sitting in her pyjamas with a big slice of cake after a hard day’s slog. She writes a poetry blog (http://shakespeares-sister.tumblr.com/) and would love to write her own book someday. Beth lives in Rhiwbina.

Beth was photographed at the Olive Branch in Rhiwbina by Kayleigh Ancrum

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“I still have the ration book I used to buy sweets from the shop next door” – Jenny

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Jenny Criddle - childhood

My memories of growing up in Cardiff are clearest from the age of around four to five years. We lived on North Road in the Maindy area of Cardiff with extended family, which consisted of my grandparents, an aunt and an uncle.  We had a front room, used for special events and which also housed the old piano which I would learn to play from the age of seven.  The middle room was where our family of four lived and it contained our table and chairs, easy chairs, the very large old radio, coal fireplace and gas cooker.  In an age where we want our space, I can only be amazed that we all fitted in there and never seemed to be aware of how small it must have been. The back room was where my grandparents lived. Upstairs, there were several bedrooms and this always seemed very big to me as a child. I used to love climbing the extra little set of stairs up to the attic room and from there we could see right into the Maindy stadium when sporting events took place.  Our little family had the front, very large bedroom for us all to sleep in and I do remember how cold it was in the winter, especially getting up in the morning.  It never took long to get dressed.

One of the first personal events that I can clearly recall is the birth of my sister who, less than a year later, burned her arm and was taken to hospital. Her physical scars remain to this day but while they have faded somewhat my recollection of that day has not. I also clearly remember my first day at school, at the age of five. As I had had to wait until the actual day of my birthday to be able to attend, I was very keen to start in Allensbank Primary School.  The faces of some staff and children who were at the school with me still remain in my memory.  By the age of seven I was allowed to walk to school on my own, a freedom that children would rarely be given now.  From there I went to Cathays High School, which was just literally just across the road.  One day, as I sat at my desk in school, I watched a small plane as it circled outside my window and then crashed down into the road just next to my family home. The thing I remember most was how concerned I was about my mother’s safety and I asked to go home. The plane had tried to avoid the Maindy Stadium where a sports day was being held, with many children there.  It did manage to do this thankfully but unfortunately the occupants of the plane did not survive.  As I lived so close to where the plane came down, I was interviewed by a reporter from the South Wales Echo and remember how strange it was to see my name and account in the paper not long afterwards.

As our family home was located on the main road, my parents refused my request to have a dog. My mum was afraid it would get run over by the closely passing traffic but compared to the traffic today it must have been fairly light as I was allowed to walk on my own to the library further up North Road on a Saturday morning.  I was also allowed to walk up to the Plaza cinema, now a block of flats, without adult supervision.  We only had a small back yard in which to play outdoors but there was a large covered area that served as a utility room, complete with mangle. I well remember being allowed to turn the handle and watched as the water was pressed out of the clothes on washday, which was always Monday, come rain or shine.  However, growing up in post-war Britain, the side-roads became an extended yard in which to play. They were not busy with vehicles, except for the occasional horse and cart selling fruit and vegetables.  We skipped and played marbles and hopscotch for hours on end.  Even though we did not live in an affluent area, I remember it as a happy and carefree time.  Front door keys were never needed as all I had to do was put my hand inside the letterbox to pull the string and gain entry.  In those times it was easy to close off a street for a street party and I clearly remember the one held for the coronation of Queen Elizabeth. I still have photos of that event, with myself and my sister dressed in costumes made by my mother for the occasion. The Diamond Jubilee has been a good excuse to get them out and show them to younger members of the family, creating amusement. As I looked at the photos, Cardiff seemed a much different and far away place as, indeed, our modern life-style does, compared to the one I knew as a child growing up in post-war conditions.  I still have the ration book that enabled me to buy sweets in the conveniently located shop next door to our house.

We often used to walk from North Road to Roath Park and I recollect walking there while holding onto the pram that held my baby sister.  We would walk up to Whitchurch Road, through to Allensbank Road and down Wedal Road.  I remember getting so excited as I realised we were almost there and our first stop was always to feed the ducks. The highlight of the visit was to sit in the little boats and pedal them around the small area reserved for children.  It is great to see so many people of all ages still enjoying the simple pleasures that Roath Park has to offer.

Cardiff City Football Club was another place I remember well, being taken there regularly by my father, who was also a keen football and baseball player.  He proudly told us how he had had trials for Cardiff City Football Club but this was curtailed when he was called up into the armed forces during the Second World War. My elderly mother still has an old suitcase full of medals and cups that he won playing locally in his youth.  Indeed when I began to knit, my father suggested that my first project should be to make a blue and white scarf. I remember this taking me some time but I proudly wore it to watch Cardiff City when it was finished.  I particularly thought of this when recent proposals to change their colour to red were announced.

We moved to the Whitchurch area when I was a young teenager and, while I remained at Cathays High School, my sister went to a Whitchurch school.  We now had a small garden and, it seemed to me at the time, a more affluent life style than before but I now realise that conditions were generally improving in the country as a whole as people settled back into civilian life.

My own working life was mainly spent in Cardiff too and, as an adult, I became a lecturer after studying in local colleges.  This chapter of my working life was the most interesting and even led me into Cardiff prison.  In case you are wondering, I was not an inmate but a teacher in the Education Department for five years.  Now, in retirement, we can enjoy Cardiff even more. The Bay, where once we used to go through the dock gates, at the end of Bute Terrace, to see the banana boats come in, has become a vibrant and interesting place to go and walk across the barrage, or sit and people watch.  The recent 2012 Olympic Torch relay was probably my earliest ever visit to the Bay, however, arriving in time to get a good viewing point, when Dr Who (Matt Smith) started the 6.30am run from the Norweigan Church.

My life in Cardiff has been a very enjoyable one with many fond memories and it has been good to see it develop over the years into the lively city that it now is.  There is even more to look forward to with the planned additions to the sports village, including the building of a Snow Dome, which has been promised for 2013 and we look forward to that.  I feel sure that Cardiff will remain a place where families can happily work and play, just as we have always done.

Jenny Criddle is a retired lecturer/ trainer and is actively involved in supporting voluntary work with young people. In April 2012, she went to South Africa with a large group to help build a Child Development Centre. Jenny and her husband also help with Spree Wales, an annual large youth camp as well as their local church events. Details can be found at www.bethesdacardiff.org / www.SpreeWales.com / www.rycsouthafrica.org

Jenny was photographed at Roath Park lake by Ffion Matthews. Next to that image is a photograph of Jenny taken at the same spot when she was four years old.

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“there are so many great green spaces in Cardiff” – Patches

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I may well have been born in Cardiff but my first real home began in Spring 2010 in Grangetown. They picked me up from the re-homing centre in Aberdare and I was a bit nervous when they first bought me indoors, took my lead off and told me I was home. I remember settling in fairly quickly though and enjoyed jumping all over the leather furniture and sitting in the window. It wasn’t long before I’d assumed the role of park warden for the park opposite our house. So many dogs coming and going but no one else seemed to be keeping an eye on them.

They really love me, the folks. They say I’ve made them into a little family. The three of us together. We cuddle up a lot and they throw my toys. I often call them The Ball-throwers. I really love my toys and I play with them all the time. They say I smile when I’m playing with them and it’s true.

I will never forget my first visit to Bute Park. It is huge! (Although a large dog did try and rugby tackle me which was scary). I loved the time they took me there for a picnic to meet a few of their friends not long after I moved in with them. I got a lot of attention. Lots of people in Cardiff know me. Apparently the first thing most people say to them now is ‘How’s Patches?’.

There are so many great places to go walkies in Cardiff. One of my other favourites is the Barrage. I like to try and go in the water but they don’t let me. I like walking around the museum, Roath Park, Sevenoaks Park, Thompson Park, Victoria Park … there are so many great green spaces in Cardiff.

It may surprise you to know that I am the Executive Director of a business in Cardiff called Patches & Co. It’s a website that sells bits and bobs….it’s all very cute. We like doing it and there’s a drawing of me in the logo, which was designed by The Boy (theboytattoo.com) who works over at Alpha Omega on St Mary St.

I don’t get on very well with other boy dogs. But I do have two good friends who are female and they live by me. They are called Ruth and Tamsin. Ruth gives me a lot of attention but Tamsin snaps.

Beyond Cardiff my favourite places are Criccieth and Tenby. I also often go for a ramble in the Vale of Glamorgan. In fact, take me pretty much anywhere outdoors and you can’t go far wrong.

Patches is a Parson Russell Terrier and has lived in Cardiff for two years. He is the executive director of Patches and Co (patchesandco.com) where he sells cute bits and bobs with the help of his doting humans Julie and Kai Jones. He is a very active citizen of Cardiff and loves the amount of green spaces on offer.

Patches was photographed in Alexandra Gardens, Cathays Park, by Doug Nicholls

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“Newtown, Little Ireland, Cardiff” – Mary

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Newtown (Little Ireland)

For almost 40 years I’ve been living in a leafy suburb in North Cardiff. I’m happy here and I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else – but my most vivid memories are of growing up in a very different part of Cardiff.  A tiny place called Newtown (‘Little Ireland’). I can clearly remember those six streets of drab grey terraced houses. There were no trees, not one visible blade of grass but  life in Newtown was anything but dull. And I loved it.

It all started with The Great Irish Famine during the 1840s. Thousands of people lost their lives and thousands more faced starvation and destitution. During that time Cardiff was going through rapid development and the Marquis of Bute made arrangements to bring over a large number of Irish families (mostly from west Cork) to provide the labour to complete the building of Cardiff Docks. He settled them into purpose built housing near the docks and the Newtown community was born.  A vibrant self perpetuating community – spanning four generations – lived and thrived in those six streets.  Most of the men and some of the women too worked on the docks And once they were complete the people of Newtown continued to work in or around the Docks. The men became dockers, steel workers, foundry or factory workers. The women (who weren’t at home looking after their children) worked in some of the many other small manufacturing industries, like the Cigar Factory, or in local offices as shorthand typists and clerks, or in the retail industry as shop assistants.  Early maps indicate that Adamsdown was part of Newtown but the Newtown I knew consisted of just six streets, these were: Tyndall, Street, Pendoylan Street, Roland Street, North William Street, Ellen Street and Rosemary Street. We had several corner shops and a few public houses. but at the core we had our Church –  St Paul’s –  where we prayed together and had our baptisms, our weddings and our funerals.

Newtown was situated between the Docks and Splott. It was surrounded by railways, walls and feeders to the dock – rendering it a virtual island. My family lived in Pendoylan Street, and when I say my family I really do mean my family.  My Grandmother – who worked for Edward England on the Dock unloading potatoes – had thirty seven grandchildren. All but six of them lived in our street. The rest of the houses were occupied by other relatives or friends.

No-one had a telephone, but there was a Public Telephone Box at the end of Tyndall Street, opposite the Church.  I remember someone putting a piece of carpet on the floor of the phone box. I have been told that the Priest’s Housekeeper used to polish the phone and occasionally put fresh flowers in there. Oh, there is so much to tell about the Newtown but I have neither the time nor the space here. But I shall jtry to give you a snapshot of what it was like living there.  As anyone who lived there will tell you that doors were never locked and what little we had we shared.  It was a common occurrence to go next door or across the road to ‘borrow’ a cup of sugar, a couple of rounds of bread or a ‘drop’ of milk. The first family in our street to have a telly were ‘the Welsh’s’ and we would queue up to watch it. Needless to say everyone wanted to be Terry Welsh’s best friend.

In those days everyone had a tin bath which would be brought into the living room every Saturday night and the younger children would be bathed in front of the fire. The first one to have a bathroom was my Aunty Nora (my mother’s sister) and us older ones would have to put a shilling in the Mission Box for African babies if we wanted to have a bath.

Babies were delivered assisted by the appointed unofficial Street Midwife (in our street it was Mrs Slade) and when there was a death in the street the same Mrs Slade would oversee the washing of the body while an army of women would take care of cooking for the family, helping with the children and preparing the front room where the corpse would be laid out ready for a good old Irish Wake.  The wake could last two or three days and nights. As children we would be encouraged to knock on the door to pay our respects – the smaller ones having to be lifted up to peer into the coffin and say a little prayer. The men would take it in turns to stay up all up all night sharing a couple of bottles of Guinness and maybe a drop of the hard stuff too, recalling stories and telling tales involving the deceased.

Before any of us had television we entertained ourselves – there was always someone to play with in the street. We played games of baseball, football, Rugby (touch & Pass), Cricket Alleligo, Leapfrog, Bulldog, Hopscotch, Allies, Buttons and Rat Tat Ginger, We’d sling a thick rope on the arms of a lamppost to make a swing. Summer days seemed to last so much longer then. Towards the end of October we’d start collecting old wood, newspaper and orange boxes in preparation for Bonfire Night. Our Bonfire was generally built at the top end of the Street.  Window panes would crack and putty start to melt before we’d hear the siren and wait for the big red fire engine to lumber into the street.  Luckily I don’t remember anyone being injured – although for the life of me I cannot understand how any of us escaped.

The streets always seemed to be alive.  I have memories of Hancock’s Draymen with their two big shire horses delivering beer to the Fitzy’s  Pub at the top of our street and of being woken up most mornings by Sammy the Milkman who yodelled as he cycled his way through the street to make his doorstep deliveries. Throughout the week we had a variety of tradesmen selling their wares, Gypsies would come around door to door selling pegs and lucky charms. Then there was the baker, the greencrocer, the fishmonger and Robbo, the ice cream seller on his motorbike, who was later replaced by Mr Dimascio in his van. They had fierce competition from my Auntie Annie though – she made her own ice cream and sold cornets and wafers and toffee dabs too from her back kitchen. I also remember Mr Cox who  came over the bridge from Union Street  to sell custard slices from the back of his green van. There was also the pop seller; the laundry man, the salt and vinegar man; the coalman and the essential ‘Jim The Ashman’ with his famous ashcart – keeping  the streets clean. I promise you I am not just looking through Rose Coloured glasses.  Life in Newtown was at times tough, tempestuous and tragic, but there was a lot of love and laughter in those streets and – most importantly of all – an overwhelming sense of community.

Sadly a Compulsory Purchase Order during the mid sixties began the demise of Newtown.  It’s Church, houses shops and pubs  were demolished and its community scattered to the four corners of the city. Remarkably the community survived – we still had a Newtown Identity. So thirty years on, inspired by a poem recorded by Tommy Walsh, entitled Newtown: the Parish of St Paul’s,  a group of us former residents got together and formed The Newtown Association.

I am pleased to say we achieved our aim, which was to record the History of the Newtown community, to keep its memory alive, and to provide the people of Cardiff with a source of educational archive material about the Newtown community,  And in March 2004 we unveiled a permanent memorial to the significant part which the people of the community played in the development of this wonderful City.

Mary Sullivan lives in Penylan with her husband Vincent to whom she has been married for forty four years. They have five grandchildren and a great grandson. She is Chair and Co-founder of The Newtown Association – an organisation set up in 1996 to record the history of the Newtown community and to keep its memory alive Mary currently works as an administrator for Communities First in Cardiff Bay – an area very close to where she was born.

Mary was photographed in the Newtown memorial garden by Ffion Matthews

Related: you might also like to read THE HISTORY OF TYNDALL STREET – AND THE LOST COMMUNITY OF NEWTOWN, “LITTLE IRELAND”, CARDIFF

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“Music – Culture – Politics – Parties – Great Outdoors” – Maka

Ode to Cardiff

The million pound deals in the biggest docks, where our black gold was swept out to sea to fuel the rest of the empire. That was just a memory, a memory dredged up by Gran as we took the thrill of the double decker bus to town.

Those docks became Tiger Bay as we became the washed up dock town at the end of the line. Bringing people of the world to a corner of Wales, changing the face of the place as town turned hesitatingly to city to Capital City. As a pride in a nation a language and an idea was formed around this new title.

In school we studied the docks as History, the mix of cultures that brought injera, plantain and pickled herring to our shore. The sailors, the dockers, the chancers, the old hopes of new lives. We were told of an idea to redevelop ‘the bay’, we went to Butetown, to see the tower blocks marked for demolition, to see change set-in as a glitter of steel and glass descended. In the new bay, we were told, the water was supposed to be clean enough to swim in; we looked at the black-running Taff and laughed.

As the bay was building we forgot to care. We were making music and music had changed. Squirrel and G-Man showed us how we could take our guitars and drums and play like 24 hour party people. Chapter Arts front bar meant a different world now for us, teenagers getting to play psychedelic dance jams to rooms full of grown ups. Now gigs, now girls, now long hair and baggies, then bleeps and fleeces.

The Indie Chart on the Chart Show was full of rave, the hills around Cardiff were alive to the sound of this music. Adventures planned from service station to station, forest to forestry. New best friends made and lost in forgotten nights as we danced imagining the world would have to change now.

Music had its hooks in, and Cardiff was the place to be pulled about. In the face of poor promoters DIY was the answer. Clwb Ifor Bach let us try, and the Toucan, and Dempsy’s, and we found Rajah’s, a busted up pool-hall in Riverside that let us play and DJ and dance all night.

That set the tone, music was all: Oval Sky, Dark Bazaar. Kah Buut Sounds, Optimas Prime, Pink Pussy, Tiger Bay warehouse raves, SOUNDWAVE, Adi Boomtown, Secret Garden. Twenty years of making and taking music in and out of Cardiff.

Been all over the world, but keep coming back. As well as friends, family, work and opportunities, Cardiff has great open space at its heart, stretching from the Castle all the way up the Taff. And escape is all around, places so near it’s amazing you feel so far away: west to the beaches of Monknash, east to the top of Machen mountain, north to the Garth, south to Flatholm island. Walking, climbing, surfing, taking in the views, getting out of our little city.
The smallness leaves us equally cursed and blessed. Sometimes you can’t escape, and everybody knows your name, your business. Sometimes it’s hard to get stuff going, to build up a scene, to get bars and clubs busy and bubbling. Sometimes it feels like the city planners don’t listen to us, and are throwing away everything that makes the city special and individual for the sake of massive mall clone-culture.

But there are chances here to get involved in anything you want, from intellectual flights of fancy to making a fool of yourself. I’ve enjoyed drumming at the SWICCA Carnivals; performing at Blysh; reflecting on the future of the city at the Nutopia Symposium; dancing as a righteous pineapple at Chapter; and more, and more.

As well as being a place to party, Cardiff is now the political centre of Wales. Social justice has an illustrious history across our country, and it still has echoes in our modern capital – the Senedd attempting an openness and accessibility of government that other nations envy. I’ve been fortunate to work for organisations that have successfully lobbied and pushed for changes to policy and governance, realising that people and organisations can shape legislation here. This gives a sense of ownership and accountability missing in Westminster.

We’re still finding our feet as a nation, and a capital city, still struggling with the dual identities that come from seeking to embrace Welsh and English; heritage and modernity, fairness and conservatism, the past and the future, hedonism and responsibility… but this is a great place to be while we try.

Music – Culture – Politics – Parties – Great Outdoors – Family and Friends – All I need to get by.

Now my work, will and wanderlust takes me away from here for the next few years, which is odd, unsettling and exciting; but Cardiff, my adopted city, will always be my base, my place, my home.

Mark Maka Chapple grew up in a little village outside Caerphilly and started promoting discos in the local village hall when he was 14. Llanishen High brought drums and the first band of many. Years of playing and promoting led to seven years lecturing on music and performing arts, then onto a career with Save the Children, eventually managing the Wales Programme – working across Wales and the west of England. A deployment to Zimbabwe ignited a passion for humanitarian work, one that’s led to him now leaving Cardiff to pursue an international career in South Sudan. He has lived in Roath for the last nine years, and still DJs, drums and performs in various venues and festivals in Cardiff and across the country when he gets the chance.

Maka’s tips for a good time in Cardiff are: Milgi’s, Gwdihw, WMC, Roath Park and Madhavs. For the best view of the city head up the lane past the Ty Mawr pub in Lisvane to the top of Caerphilly Mountain, hop in to the field and soak it up.

Maka was photographed in Bute Park by Ffion Matthews

 

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“ME is debilitating, misunderstood, confusing and unpredictable” – Pippa

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12th May is International ME awareness day. You know ME, it’s the lazy people’s disease? Well, it’s estimated that over 28 million people now suffer from it in the world and in the US alone, more people now have ME than AIDS.

I have suffered from ME for 13 years, since I was 14. I got glandular fever and it simply never went away. Instead it mutated into a new, terrifying beast. ME is debilitating, misunderstood, confusing and unpredictable. Even the name is debated. Many people prefer the term CFS or Chronic Fatigue Syndrome over ME which stands for Myalgic Encephalomyelitis. It is pure medical semantics, but they both generally describe the same condition – depending on your doctor’s preferred interpretation! The prognosis is ill-defined and unknown too. The best anyone can tell you is that if you contracted is when you were under 18 then you stand a better chance of one day getting better than if you contracted it over the age of 18.

I first came to Cardiff because of my disease, but this was ultimately an extremely happy and serendipitous event. I had been told by my doctors I wasn’t well enough to go to university, but that wasn’t a very sensible thing to tell me, a stubborn over-achiever –  Cardiff was near enough to home for me to be a part time student and have my wonderful mother drive me to each lecture, then straight home to bed again. The understanding and kindness afforded by Cardiff University’s English Department – especially Prof. Martin Coyle – was what made me first love the city. I didn’t just feel welcomed by the university, but the place. After battling through school and a system not set up to understand my disease, I was met by people determined to help find a way to make it easy for me to study because they saw the passion I had for the subject. Without their dedication I would never had gained the confidence to explore Cardiff, make friends here and make this city my home. I cannot imagine living anywhere else in the UK.

Cardiff Council on the whole is pretty terrible with regards to disability – but the people more than make up for that. Certain councillors and fabulous people like journalist Hannah Waldram (ex of Guardian Cardiff) have helped me, for example, when the council wouldn’t let me park outside my home (pretty vital when you often need sticks to walk with!). Also, Cardiff is a small enough city (and a flat one!) to make city living easily accessible to me.

The welcoming, friendly mood of the city has helped me grow in confidence with my illness. The stigma with ME/CFS is so strong I have spent much of my life terrified to tell people I am ill, but of course you have to. Firstly, because you need to know if your friends are ok with it otherwise they’re pretty lousy friends, and secondly, because people need to know they are encountering people with the disease – otherwise how will we ever help spread awareness?

I feel I have received such positive reactions from my friends in Cardiff. It’s been so different from other experiences when people are too uncomfortable after a while to talk to you again. Even my parents have lost friends because of my illness – it made their friends embarrassed, uncomfortable. Instead, the people I have met and come to cherish in Cardiff, if they don’t know about it, they ask, or they just accept it. Perhaps in Cardiff we’re all slightly odd and so we are ready and willing to accept each others’ foibles and issues. Who knows? Whatever it is I can’t help but feel it is unique to the city as it is an attitude en masse that I haven’t experienced anywhere else.

I have always loved music. My ME only really got very severe when I was 19 and before that I was training to be an opera singer. I come from a musical family too and so, unsurprisingly, the often-dubbed ‘friendly incestuousness’ of the Cardiff music scene is something that I cherish about the city. We are so lucky here to have a ridiculously talented pool of musicians and music professionals; Gruff Rhys, Future of The Left, The Gentle Good, Swn, Spillers Records, Musicbox. I do a lot of music photography and my favorite event each year to shoot is undoubtedly Swn festival. I hate stadium shows, I hate the impersonality of the photographs they produce. I like sweaty, cramped gigs where you feel the music, which is what Swn provides. Shooting that passion and energy is exciting and energising in itself. Each year I have been lucky enough for my photos to be used by various news outlets such as BBC and Guardian Blogs, so even in the face of this horrible disease, I make sure when I am having good periods, I make them count. I don’t miss out. I am trying my damndest to build a life and a career that can sometimes be dipped in and out of, although it is often an impossible struggle, and the older I get the more difficult this seems to be.

Each year I live in Cardiff I watch it develop, become more creative and exciting with the introduction of things such as Third Floor Gallery. And yet one of the most exciting artistic elements of the city has stood here for nearly 100 years. Once described by a Daily Telegraph art critic as Britains “hidden artistic gem”, The National Museum of Wales in Cardiff is my favourite part of the city and I still remember my first visit there in technicolor with each painting and sculpture still perfectly arranged in my mind. I remember seeing some of the Monet Rouen cathedral paintings and being bewildered. I’d seen others in the series in the Musee D’Orsay in Paris but some of them had been missing, and they had been here, in Cardiff, in this beautiful white marble home. In short, its collection of art is breathtaking. It houses such important and beautiful pieces that take so many people by surprise. The gallery works as a metaphor for Cardiff. We get a bad wrap for being the “binge drinking capital of the world” and such, but when people actually take the time to truly experience cardiff, walk through the rooms and study the pieces and “gems” that make up this city, they are astounded it was here under their noses all along and that such a small corner of Wales can house such talent, compassion, and culture.

At times I have been almost completely well, which has been magical. I have managed to do long distance swimming (keeping as fit as possible is definitely the key to keeping on top of the disease), I’ve travelled the world (if only to sit in the sun, but that doesn’t make me much different from anyone else), and I’ve enjoyed a full social life. I’ve had to fit all of my life’s experiences, however, into about 20% of my time, because the flip side to the last 13 years have been overwhelmingly debilitating, unpredictable, and totally devastating relapses that take months to years to rehabilitate from. I get to a point where I am in bed, struggling to reach for a drink, or turn over without help, unable to hold a book. I’ll need help getting to the toilet, washing, brushing my hair, dressing. Most people’s belief of ME is that it makes you tired. Which it does, but in the most extreme way that would be, in layman’s terms, more akin to military sleep deprivation. However, it also causes many other symptoms relating to your central nervous system, cognitive problems – the most common being a ‘foggy’ brain with short term memory loss and concentration problems, muscular pain (fibromyalgia), a compromised immune system leading to higher rate of infection and constant flu like symptoms, sleep disturbances, photo and phonophobia and many more besides. When I relapse I am unlucky enough to be put in the worst five percent of M.E sufferers. Some people with M.E/CFS experience a more constant low level tiredness which is no less debilitating or upsetting – there are simply varying levels of severity of the disease. To be in the most severe five percent means I have been ill enough to be hospitalised, and many sufferers even need feeding and oxygen tubes – Something I am grateful I have never had to experience. In short, M.E can kill you because you are left without the energy to keep yourself alive.

There are other worrying medical abnormalities associated with your body being too tired to regulate itself too. For example, last June I was in a hypoglycemic coma (though I’m not diabetic), and more recently spent nine days in hospital because I had a rare form of migraine that mimicked a brain tumour – all caused by my brain and body being exhausted from the ME.

Sadly, and I can honestly say I understand why this would happen, many ME sufferers cannot overcome the horrific reality of their illness, especially in adulthood where it can break up marriages, cause infertility (if you are well enough to look after children at all), and leave you unable to work. The desperation is made all the more pressing so little is known about the disease. Unsurprisingly, the suicide rate among ME sufferers is very high. Some months I manage to work part time as a photographer. But many I can not. It drives me mad. The unpredictability. Not knowing when you might relapse is heartbreaking sometimes. You learn life is about compromise early on with ME. You learn you don’t get to socialise unless you pace yourself and rest and you don’t get to work unless you pace yourself and don’t really let yourself have too much fun.

Many people believe that ME is a modern illness – an indulgence, if you will. It is anything but. ‘They’ think the modern world panders to eccentrics, that ME is ‘allowed’ to go on and it is almost too painful to write the things I have been told over the years to this effect. Obviously the most common stigma we have to overcome is that often, because we have good periods and bad periods is that people will say we don’t look ill. Also, it is impossible for some people to accept that even young people in their 20s can be disabled. This sounds weird but it is true. I have a disabled badge for my car, but I still have to argue most trips to the supermarket, as I am being helped out of my car by my boyfriend, that I have the right to park in a disabled space. People see a young person with no disfigurement, not in a wheelchair and cannot connect that with disability. The fact that swimming has been my main physiotherapy causes similar problems too. I often need help getting into the pool, but when I’m in the pool I am pain free because my body and blood pressure is supported and can move so much more freely. So I can’t be ill, right?

ME is anything but a modern disease, however. Literature chronicles people dying of ‘failing’ going back hundreds of years and there is a strong argument that this ‘failing’ in many cases could have been ME. For example, if you had ME just 50 years ago you were either put in a mental institution, many believing this ‘refusal’ to move being some sort of madness, or died from not having the energy to feed yourself or from the inability to fight the constant infections you were subjected to due a compromised immune system and a lack of antibiotics. There was no sick pay. If you couldn’t work, you couldn’t earn, you couldn’t eat, you couldn’t live. I grieve for those who have suffered from this disease before me. We are still in the dark ages. We still desperately need more research as every glimpse of ‘proof’ or theory is disputed by each country’s scientists, but at least we live in a time where this disease is now ‘indulged’ enough to mean that ME sufferers have medical help to be kept alive.

In Wales we are worse off than most areas of the UK for ME specialists. We have one consultant in Newport and there is a pain management centre in Brecon, but even people like me aren’t eligible for funding for it. And it is for pain. Not ME. This illness ruins lives. I was almost better then an inexplicable relapse put me in hospital and left me unable to work for an unknown length of time. Many people severely affected even need oxygen and feeding tubes. It is so much more than people think and the USA is doing fantastic research, but here we need to improve understanding and increase research funding.

So please support International ME Awareness Day. The best thing you can do is to learn a bit more about the disease – The best place to do it is at the ‘Get Informed‘ page at the actionforme.org.uk charity site. On May 12th, tweet the link, post it on your profile and help increase awareness and understanding for this stigmatised disease. We need the government to put more money into research. You can also support the Facebook page for ME awareness day. Or donate to ME Research UK, the UK body funding biomedical research into the disease.

You can see Pippa’s photography including music photography online at pippabennett.com and she writes a blog about her experiences about living with ME. She currently lives in Cardiff city centre.

Pippa was photographed at Clwb Ifor Bach by Adam Chard

 

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“Cardiff – I wouldn’t change you for the world” – Adam

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Dear Cardiff,

We see each other every day, but after a lifetime of acquaintance and a decade of cohabiting I thought it was time I told you what you mean to me. I’d like to think we had something special, but I know that I am but one of many for you. While you have played a truly exceptional role in the way I grew as a child and developed as a man, I often ask myself if I have had any influence on you.

I don’t remember the first time we met, but growing up on the other side of the M4, you were a neighbour that we would often visit and who would offer me exciting peeks at a different world. My earliest memories of you are summer afternoons in Roath Park, Christmas breakfasts with Santa in the restaurant in Howells and the metallic and sea salty tang of fresh fish in the indoor market.

As my teenage years progressed and village life became claustrophobic, your friendly neighbour became a Mrs Robinson figure, offering new and more mature experiences for me. I couldn’t wait to learn to drive so that I could spend as much time as possible in your shadow, and a weekend cinema job and new friends provided even more excuses to spend time away from home. Even when I chose to study at the University of Glamorgan, you were only a train ride away.

You’ve witnessed my peaks and my troughs; you hold secrets that I have never shared with anyone else and through it all you have kept my glass half full. It is within your borders that I met my partner Yusuf and the people who have become my best friends.

I’ve seen you at your most extrovert, on match days when the city is a-buzz with scarves, inflatable daffodils and those bloody annoying horns. I’ve seen you at your most introvert when the clouds are low, the rain has driven everyone out of the streets and your eclectic beauty stands out the most. But without a doubt, my favourite times with you have been when nothing much happened at all. Sunny afternoons sitting in Bute Park watching the river run by on one side and the people on the other, or snuggled into any one of a number of your inns, drinking, talking, and laughing.

We may be quite different people now from those early days before you had all that work done (and may I say you are looking all the better for it!) and I was just a shy boy.  These days I see you more like an older sibling, that I may sometimes take for granted and regularly bitch about, but dare an outsider start to criticise you and I will defend you till the end.

We’ve been through our bad patches, indeed there was a time that I escaped every weekend I could, and when I couldn’t wait to “Get out of this job and out of this city!” But we worked things out and I wouldn’t change you for the world.

Adam Rees is a Communities First Officer for Cardiff’s Third Sector Council. His interests include Baking, books and crafts and blogs about it all at adam-rees@tumblr.com . He lives in Grangetown with his partner Yusuf and two dogs, Arthur and Edward.

Adam was photographed at his home by Adam Chard

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“It’s unusual to perform burlesque in a Masonic Hall, but it works for us” – Cherrie

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During my decade in Cardiff, I’ve gained a degree, worked in the music industry, been backstage at some of the greatest festivals in the UK, made some amazing friends, been to some of the best gigs of my life, and transformed myself into a burlesque artiste amongst many other things.

All of these things happened to me because I moved to Cardiff.

There are so many talented people here, from Santa Macabre – who makes jewellery that just blows my mind – to Ewan Jones-Morris and Casey Raymond who create fantastical music videos, the people who make Chapter Arts Centre so amazing, Swn festival, and Caroline Duffy – a beautiful graphic designer (a physical beauty and beautiful work!) to name but a few!

I have battled with depression for the past few years, and one day a friend handed me a flyer advertising burlesque classes, with the intention of going for a bit of a laugh. I was nervous, but agreed to try it out. We were introduced to Miss FooFoo La Belle and took our first, somewhat wobbly, high-heeled steps into the world of burlesque.

And what a world it is! That was four years ago, and since then I have become a chorus girl of FooFoo’s ‘Burlesque Cardiff’ troupe. After venturing into a duet or two, I slowly gained the confidence to become a solo performer in my own right, and so Cherrie Pips was born!

In the beginning of my burlesque life, fellow Cardiff performer Violet Noir was a huge influence on me. She really inspired me to make the leap and become a solo performer. I was captivated by her style and grace, and her music choices showed me I could be bold and unusual with my performance.

Burlesque Cardiff’s first outing was with 25 of us crammed onto the tiny stage at Ten Feet Tall, but we’ve come a long way since then. Our current home is at the majestic Guilford Hall, just around the corner from Gwdihw. It’s unusual to perform burlesque in a Masonic Hall, but it works for us! FooFoo LaBelle has put together some incredible shows for us, including a tribute to Hollywood, some memorable characters such as Beetlejuice and Tony Montana, and even some Mexican all-female wrestling thrown into the mix. She sets a new theme for each show, choreographing group routines, as well as performing her exceptional solos. We also have the gorgeous pole dancing doubles with Sminxie and Cariad Cwtch, to add an extra bit of tease to our shows.

Some of the starlets currently performing with Burlesque Cardiff are: Miss FooFoo LaBelle, Poppy Vanguard, Sandy Sure, Miss Betty Blue Eyes, Evie Wonder, Katie Von Cupcake, Sunshine Sparkle, GiGi Sextone, Scarlet Blush, Molly Toff Cocktail, Sassafras Sundae and Luna C Fur. Each performer has a unique style and our fans are equally fabulous! I love being a part of Burlesque Cardiff, because no two of us are the same. We are of all shapes, sizes, ages and abilities. Our troupe does not conform to consist of only skinny young girls – we are all different and that’s what’s so great about being a Burlesque Cardiff girl. We’re like a family, we support and love one another, and I wouldn’t want it any other way.

Cherrie Pips hails from Kidderminster, and moved to Cardiff to study for a Fine Art degree. She loves photography and collecting photographic paraphenalia. She teaches photography classes during each term at Celtic Learners Network, an adult learning initiative set up in 2010. She currently lives in Canton.

Cherrie was photographed in the bar upstairs in Ten Feet Tall by Ffion Matthews

 

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“floorboards creak out a secret or two” – Ivy

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Chapel

worms drill, silent in the wood
floorboards creak out a secret or two

this bench needs another polish
a neighbour exchanges a pointed word
to the woman next to her
who smoothes her old wool skirt and nods

at the couple glimpsed in the lower floor—
the wife goes through the little door
her husband holds open for her
her new hat trembles as she sits
he slips the latch closed behind them

when the priest speaks, the shuffles hush
everyone’s here for the word of God
he rests his Bible on a cushion
it’s still all true, last year’s sermon

out the windows, houses climb the hill
rooves of soot, limned with sunset

Ivy Alvarez is the author of Mortal (Red Morning Press, 2006), her first book of poems. While finishing her second book, she wrote poems at St Fagans National History Museum, which will be included in her third book (thanks to a bursary from Academi). She arrived in Cardiff in 2004 and, after jumping the appropriate hoops, swore allegiance to the Queen a second time and became a British citizen in 2010. She lives in Canton.

Ivy was photographed at St Fagans by Robert Bell

 

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