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“Cardiff’s hockey community is rich and diverse” – Lucas

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When it comes to sports, there’s a great deal out there for a person to get involved with. But like so many boys that went to school in the city, a strict diet of rugby or football in the winter and cricket or baseball in the summer was the menu for my sporting education. That said, it’s far from a secret that I have never been (and never will be, for that fact) any good at football. I remember the success of the men’s field hockey team at the 1984 Olympics fired a desire to play that sport, but with no opportunity to try the sport at school, the interest soon faded. So as a much younger Cardiff boy, rugby was my sole sport. I enjoyed it, as it seemed to be ‘for me’. A sport with a good mix of competitiveness and ‘physicality’. And if it wasn’t for a ‘seminal incident’ (aged 16 outside a Llandaff pub – that left me with a fractured jaw and a couple of weeks of soft foods) that knocked my confidence in the national sport I probably would have stuck with it.

The sport held onto me, post playing, as I got rigged into coaching juniors for a while. But for me, rugby was fast becoming a spectator sport. For years, a void steadily opened in my life, creating a space for a new sporting challenge. And a challenge did indeed coming knocking on my door. A challenge that would not only require the use of a stick, but also to learn a skill, which had resulted in so many cuts, bruises and broken lips, courtesy of the childhood walls and pavements of Canton. I had to learn to skate. Hockey was beginning to sneak into my life.

Progress was slow at first. Not least as I had to save for kit (no mean feat, when you’re a twenty something, with an almost religious attendance at the Philly!). First came the stick. A second hand lumber. But it meant I could join in, running around like a mad man, whilst my mates glided almost effortlessly around our training ground (read: the car park attached to a Llanishen office building).

Slowly, but surely, stick was joined by skates and then came my first pair of hockey gloves – a second hand pair of red leather gloves, that were far too big, seemingly manufactured for the Hulk.

The summer was good that year and a nightly pilgrimage to our ‘training ground’ was followed by a return trip, with bloodied knees from over-ambitious skating, or the odd errant stick. It was a tough apprenticeship, but one that was to lead to some great experiences and also some great friendships. Like many other sports, hockey isn’t just about the time on the court, but it’s more about the community. And Cardiff’s hockey community is rich and diverse.

In time, the guys playing in the car park moved indoors, as roller hockey started to experience a renaissance during the late 1990s and informal training sessions, lead to the formation of my first team. Around the same time, a team mate who had been playing on the ice, virtually since the old Welsh National Ice Rink had been opened, suggested that I might enjoy stepping on the ice. I never found the transition was a complete success, but as training sessions were generally followed (and sometimes preceded) by a couple of beers in Kiwis, I stuck with it!

And I’m glad I did. Playing both roller and ice hockey, I’ve been lucky enough to be stood on the blue line and hear Mae Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau played at internationals in Deeside and also at the home of the New York Islanders, in the US.

After a few years, study and career somehow distracted my enjoyment of the sport I loved and I gave up ice hockey, followed soon after by roller hockey. Years passed. I got married, became a dad and the rink was knocked down for the mighty St David’s 2. Despite previous passion, I was blissfully unaware of the building that was to become affectionately known as the Big Blue Tent, being built as a temporary replacement home for the City’s ice sports. During physio for a slipped disc in my back, I was offered tickets to see a Devils game at the Big Blue Tent. Curiously, I accepted.

I hadn’t watched a match for years. The Cardiff greats of Lawless, Hope, McEwan & the Cooper brothers long gone. It was a new barn and it was Elite League hockey. It was all strangely different. But what surprised me, was that it also felt oh so familiar. It felt like home and an unexpected, long dormant feeling stirred in me, urging me to strap on my skates and get out on the ice pad of this unfinished looking building. An old, but familiar face suggested the urge could be fed, by getting touch with a guy who’s known as ‘Big’.

A trawl through the friend’s Facebook friends located the aforementioned ‘Big’ and with the niggling thought of ‘why do they call him Big’, I made it down to a Monday night training session. The 6ft7inch guy I met welcomed me to the team and over the coming weeks, the passion was well and truly re-born.

I can’t even hazard a guess at how long I’ve been back playing – is it four years, five years? Who knows!? – because it feels like I’ve never been away. Sure, I’m older, no doubt much slower (maybe a little wiser!?), and less skilful, but hockey is still my passion. It’s my release from every day stresses. It’s the place I go to be ribbed. It’s the place I go to rib others. It’s my sport.

And what makes ice hockey special is that I play for the Cardiff Ice Hounds. Sure there are other teams playing out of the Big Blue Tent – some bigger, some more established, more successful – but at the end of the day, we play a sport that forces us out of our own city, to play away matches, pulling on our jerseys, representing our home City.

I play for the team, I’ve captained the team, I’ve coached the team and I’ve helped run the club at committee level. We’ve tried to establish the team to offer so much more than just a place for people to get involved in playing competitive ice hockey, but to also provide an opportunity for people to get involved in hockey as a spectator sport – for free. We’ve worked to put Cardiff’s amateur ice hockey on the map.

The City is the home to the sport that we love. We are the Cardiff Ice Hounds and Cardiff is us. And in return, at home and on the road, we are Cardiff.

Lucas Howell currently plays for the Cardiff Ice Hounds as one of their ‘veteran’ defencemen. As far as the old grey matter will allow, he’s been playing hockey (ice and roller), on and off for about 15 years and in that time he’s toured to New York with the Cardiff Titans, represented Wales in roller hockey, captained the Bridgend Bullfrogs & Cardiff Ice Hounds and coached just about every age group in roller hockey, from tiny kids, through to adults. He still misses his two front teeth – lost to hockey. Whilst now living in Splott, his ‘official’ roots make him a passionate Canton boy.

Lucas was photographed in the Big Blue Tent in Cardiff Bay by Doug Nicholls

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“The wonderful bubble world of Cathays” – Tim

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Just over three years have now passed since I first started life as a student here in Cardiff. three years of living in what, I, personally can only characterise as a bubble. A big shiny bubble cast from the disposed fairy liquid bottle that is the ‘studentville’ land of Cathays. This bubble is itself filled with smaller bubbles, with posh, flip-flop wearing, hands-free talking, ‘Walkabout loving’ numpties living inside. These smaller bubbles bounce along in unison to an overplayed Kings of Leon track in the glorified infant school disco that is the Cardiff Student Union. Wait a second … it gets better. These bubbles are not bouncing around without purpose, oh no, they do have purpose these bubbles … yeah; they call it ‘a degree’. So this bubble world is now even better, because all the bubble people bounce around in lecture halls to the bemused expressions of unshaven ‘slightly good looking in a weird way’ lecturers who have no idea why they themselves are even here in this strange smelly bubble world.  So, all we need now is Sean Bean to narrate this, because it’s already looking like an O2 advert.

Allow me to speak personally about my place in this bubble world. When I first arrived in Cathays as a fresher, I was an Alien. I was at first, bubble free. Before I knew it however, I was walking around in a bubble that was a lot bigger than everyone else’s. To put it more plainly, I was a massive twat. Living in the absolute shite hole that is Senghennyd Court, or rather ‘Senghetto’, (yes, I was not the only massive twat) myself and my bubble friends drank a lot of alcohol, damaged a lot of playing cards and drank a lot of alcohol. Looking not too dissimilar to a homeless man’s first bubble bath, my bubble self and my bubble friends soaked Cardiff by crowding into pubs and clubs dressed as golfers, becoming emotionally attached to fish and chip shops workers and constantly singing, or rather belching the words ‘House G!’ everywhere we went, in homage to our decrepit nest.

I would like to say that when starting this article, I did actually plan just to refer to Cathays and University life in general as one singular bubble. This was so that later on I could make an insightful, meaningful point about the bubble bursting when you graduate and how all of us ex students have to struggle to find our place in this world. But then I thought fuck it, that’s boring and students annoy me too much now so I am going to have a good old fashioned moan about them. This is the thing really. I wanted to illustrate Cardiff University students living in bubbles because it is the one style of life that inevitably has to end, the same way in which bubbles eventually have to pop. When this experience does end, and your shaking the hand of that ‘bloke’ at the graduation ceremony, it feels very much like you’ve been popped by a massive drawing pin. You then find yourself flapping around on the floor, gasping for air like an ambitious fish that wanted to see more of the world outside of his fish tank. However after jumping out of the tank, he realises when it’s too late that he cannot actually breath in this world. I, myself am one of those graduate people and in between trying to be a sitcom writer, playing Fifa 12 and furiously masturbating, I sometimes chat with my friends about how different we all were back then or rather, ‘how silly we were’.

When you try looking at all this objectively, I think you actually realise that maybe, the bubble has not actually burst. Instead, the bitter little masturbating graduate inside probably feels like that they don’t deserve to be like they once were in their student days because life is now apparently ‘hard’. Well it’s not though is it? The fear is based on having to get a job isn’t it? A boring job that everyone inevitably has to get stuck into. So, to all you graduates out there, get back in your bubbles and bounce around like you once did. Bounce around and be annoying by talking to your friends in the street really loudly so that other people can hear how cool your are, go out and get blind drunk … I can hear ‘Sex on Fire’ already.

After graduating from Cardiff with some degree to do with Religious Studies, Timothy Collins currently still resides in Cathays, and outside of working in the University libraries he is attempting to get to grips with sitcom and comedy theatre writing.  He also does other things. For example … erm, what else does he do? Oh yeah. BUGGER ALL!

Tim was photographed in The Vulcan Lounge in Cathays by Doug Nicholls

 

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“Volunteering gives a great sense of satisfaction and achievement” – David

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I was born in Malta and spent my formative years in the West Country. I never expected to end up in Cardiff, but I have spent all my working and volunteering life in the city since 1996.

Equipped with a Master’s degree from Sussex University I began my new life here as a Social Scientist at Cardiff University. My existence as a young academic proved less than exhilarating so being a recent business graduate I decided to set up my own Cardiff-based security company. In order to accrue the relevant experience I embarked upon a series of assignments in a variety of private security companies in tandem with the odd specialist course. I took one-on-one boxing and martial arts classes under the auspices of my ex-military friends – who were already on “the circuit” – along with some close protection and surveillance courses.

Looking back this was an exciting time in a prosperous city and I was young and fearless. I worked as a bouncer at the Metro Bar in Charles Street for a while. Bizarrely this was with a Welsh friend who did the same degree as me when I was at Plymouth University a couple of years earlier. He had also gone on to do a Master’s making us the most educated bouncers in Cardiff with four degrees between us! John continues to manage the doors around Cardiff, despite earning a fair old whack as a Health & Safety Consultant, albeit with a black belt in Aikido. I was also a ‘bodyguard’ for a while working for media clients in Cardiff (which is not half as exciting as it sounds), a ‘private detective’ for a local solicitor (surveillance and serving writs) and even a ‘store detective’ in some of Cardiff’s most high risk shops (mainly arresting professional shoplifters in the city).

It quickly became clear that if I was ever to progress in the private security industry with the “right stuff” I would need some form of military experience. To that end I joined my local volunteer Territorial Army Unit for three years and went on to become a Cadet Instructor for a year. This was where the volunteer bug really took hold…

On doing a bit of research into local volunteering at the Wales Council for Voluntary Action’(WCVA, Fitzalan Place) I noticed that the Cardiff And Vale Rescue Association (CAVRA) were looking for volunteers right on my Cardiff Bay doorstep. The rest, as they
say, is history!

I started as a team member 10 years ago and have progressed up the ranks to a Trustee and Director. I knocked the idea of starting up a company on the head and paid the mortgage with a job at the Assembly. Though I would never be rich I would be making a difference to the local community doing something I loved – if only part-time. When money is not the motivation a different side of the human condition emerges…

CAVRA was founded in 1998 at a time when flooding was overwhelming the emergency services in Cardiff and the Vale. It is an entirely voluntary search and rescue organisation, and a registered charity. Our purpose is to provide back-up personnel and frontline assistance to the Emergency Services (Police, HM Coastguard etc) in a range of situations, including searches for missing persons, during times of adverse weather conditions, natural disaster or civil emergency. We are a lowland search and rescue unit specialising in flood and swift water rescue as well as recovery. At present CAVRA has around 30 volunteers. We are highly trained in First Aid and some of us have specialist skills in land search, All Terrain Vehicle (ATV) rescue, dog handling and water rescue. We also have a Rescue Boat on permanent standby in Cardiff Bay.

Career highlights include receiving a volunteer of the year award in 2007 for getting police officers to work using 4x4s when the snow had closed most of the roads. I was also a Rescue Boat Medic when one of world’s most dangerous events the Motor Ski-ing Championships came to Cardiff Bay. I have previously been a Director of Training and Public Relations but my current role is Director of Aquatic Operations and Specialist Aquatic Body Recovery (SABR). I essentially fulfill four roles as a Rescue Boat Coxswain, rescue swimmer, medic and dog handler.

Bobby is my latest dog and the only dog I have trained in Search and Rescue. I rescued him myself from Croft Kennels in Bridgend. I was looking for a medium sized dog that I could train up as a Cadaver Dog. I ended up with a large boxer-cross who has an uncanny knack for finding the living! Boxers are not normally good search dogs but Bob is crossed with something (we don’t know what!), giving him some invaluable traits. Normally Search dogs are air sniffing tracker dogs trained to national standards.

Bob has been obedience trained externally but Search trained in-house (we also have Newfoundlands and St Bernards trained by our own dog trainers). He works as an off-lead Search and Return dog. If he senses something, or someone, who shouldn’t be in a given area he ‘points’ (snout down, right leg up, tail straight). If he sees a motionless human he will ‘approach’ and lick their face and paw their chest. If there is no response he will ‘return’ to me or the nearest team member. He also does his ‘Chief Moral Officer’ bit when the team is tired and the waiting relatives are anxious – a waggy tail and a pat on the head work wonders especially when the Newfs and St Bernard’s want to play.

Five year old Bobby thinks it’s an elaborate game. To him, all missing people are a reliable source of cheese or treats which require his personal attention. Though when he has his ‘uniform’ on he seems to enter a different mode of thinking – I think he knows he’s working at some level. He lives with me at my Cardiff Bay flat. His hobbies are loudly sighing, competitive begging for food and endurance sleeping. And they say dogs turn into their owners..!

Volunteering gives a great sense of satisfaction and achievement. It also gives you a window on Cardiff you would never ordinarily get a chance to look through.

There is of course a darker side to Search and Rescue. The harsh reality is that there are some missing people who you will not reach in time. Some have been missing for so long that exposure will have claimed them. Increasingly people want to take their own lives. No matter what the situation, CAVRA strives to provide some form of closure for the family and loved ones involved. Saving a life is the highest calling a volunteer can be asked to undertake but we always prepare for the worst case scenario.

Previous generations may have called this the ‘Dunkirk spirit’ – but people still come and volunteer when needed and they are often the un-sung heroes. They do it because they care about their community and the people in it. They want to put something back.

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David Wills works at the National Assembly in Cardiff Bay where he is jointly employed as a Senior Policy Advisor to the Welsh Conservative’s Policy Director and a Political Aide to the Deputy Presiding Officer and Member for South Wales Central. He was formerly a Social Scientist at Cardiff University and is currently a Member of the Association of Business Psychologists, where his research interests include: Organisational Psychology, Psychological Hardiness, Leadership Profiling, Situational Awareness and the Development of Performance Indicators for Elite Groups such as Endurance Athletes, Specialist Police Units and Special Forces. In his spare time he writes screenplays and books on the theme of Psychological Resilience and Leadership.

Civil Aid Voluntary Rescue Association (CAVRA) are always looking for volunteers. No experience necessary. You provide the time – they provide the training. http://www.cavra.org

David and Bob were photographed on the Cardiff Bay Barrage by Doug Nicholls. To see the rest of the photos from the shoot, see Doug’s We Are Cardiff set on Flickr.

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“Cardiff’s nightlife might be a haphazard affair…” – Adam

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Arriving in Cardiff fresh and slightly chubby-faced in late September 2001, I couldn’t have predicted I’d still be here, more than 10 years later. Through a combination of Cardiff’s unique charms and my heroic lack of geographical ambition, I lived in such far-flung nether-regions as Cathays, Roath, Canton … and Roath.

Like a lot of people, my first three years in Cardiff were spent slowly – oh so painfully slowly – refining my interests from ‘drinking heavily in terrible bars during the week’ to ‘drinking heavily in more interesting bars at the weekend’. But one of the ways that I can track my time in Cardiff is through the music venues and events that have come and gone while I’ve lived in the city.

I arrived in Cardiff at the tail end of Cool Cymru – when the Manic Street Preachers (post-Richie) and the Super Furry Animals were some of the biggest indie names around. The Millennium Stadium had just been built, Tiger Bay had been refurbished within an inch of its life, and Charlotte Church was still young enough to have not realised opera was for losers.

Coming from a small-ish town in the South West (Yeovil), the prospect of live music most nights of the week was something to get excited about, and the Barfly (now replaced by the weirdly named Bogiez) more than provided. Tiny gigs by bands who would later go on to much greater things – The Libertines, The Futureheads, and, err … Grand Drive – stick in my mind.

The Toucan – a Cardiff institution with a habit of closing and re-opening down the road several times a year – was on St Mary’s Street when I first started to frequent it, providing a reason to venture into Hell’s Hen Party. Even with its weird giant pillars blocking views of the stage from almost all positions other than right-down-the-front, some formative musical moments occurred in that place. All the big names of the (then) burgeoning UK hip hop passed through – Jehst, Braintax, Mystro, Rodney P … and when the Toucan moved to Splott (and then eventually back into town before closing for good) it was never quite the same.

Down in the Bay, initial enthusiasm about its face-lift had faded to a general acceptance that studio flats, executive hotel rooms and ‘world’ cuisine were probably not going to be producing the sort of cutting-edge culture that Cardiff was craving. The Point – a beautiful renovated church –  was hosting some incredible gigs for a few short years (Four Tet, Cinematic Orchestra and Deerhoof stand out). And the Coal Exchange was always there for bigger bands – with a set by Mogwai remaining the loudest thing I’ve ever heard. But both these venues went the way of the Dodo, occasionally re-opening in name, if not in spirit.

The closure of key musical venues in Cardiff is a constant throughout during the decade I’ve lived here. Its always sad to see the passion of promoters dashed on the rocks of reality – but unfortunately, although Cardiff has some great musical culture, it doesn’t have the strength in numbers to support much in the way of an ‘alternative’ scene. We can basically only handle one or two successful venues at a time – and the only place that has ridden this bumpy road successfully for the entire time I’ve been here is Clwb Ifor Bach.

My first forays into Clwb were for Friday night mind-manglers – with Hustler running tings on a decidedly student-ey hip hop tip. I saw my first ever dubstep set in Clwb – way back when Digital Mystikz were just emerging out of Plastic People in London, and long, long before dubstep was providing the soundtrack for everything from shit mobile phone adverts to shit mobile internet adverts.

The family of venues that began with Moloko (home of the much-loved drum’n’bass Thursday nighter that launched High Contrast’s career) and now includes Buffalo and 10ft Tall has proven another resilient strain of Cardiff’s nightlife. Buffalo is still the closest thing Cardiff has to a trendy East London hangout, and although Cardiff Arts Institute looked like a strong contender for that crown for a few happy years, it too became a victim of the Cardiff curse: shitloads of interest and enthusiasm, but not enough punters through the doors.

That pretty much brings us up to date, and I’m about to hotfoot it over the bridge to Bristol after nearly 11 years in Cardiff’s familiar folds. Bristol’s a bigger city – it doesn’t suffer from the Cardiff curse. But what are the odds of running into half a dozen people you know on a random night out in Bristol? Cardiff’s nightlife might be a slightly haphazard affair, but there’s something reassuring about seeing the same faces in the same places wherever you go.

Don’t be a stranger Caerdydd …

Adam Corner is a male human who lived in Cardiff until 2012. He loves music, food and fine wines (e.g. Buckfast). He does research on the psychology of communicating climate change at Cardiff University and writes about this kind of thing for the Guardian. Nose into his life on twitter @AJCorner.

Adam was photographed at Catapult Records in the Duke Street Arcade by Doug Nicholls

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“Laser, smoke machine, and two spinning turntables” – Doug

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It finally dawned on me one day last summer that I think of Cardiff as home and have done for quite a while. It seems obvious now but it took a rare visit to the village that I grew up in to make me realise quite how much of an impact this city’s made on me.

I was back in England for a friend’s wedding and felt detached from the once-familiar surroundings. The accents didn’t sound right. Road signs were monolingual. I was a long way from the coast. People weren’t wearing pyjamas in supermarkets.

It was late last century when I first drove a car-load of belongings over the Severn Bridge with no idea of whether it would be a temporary or permanent move. To put a historical perspective on it: it was around the time the National Assembly for Wales was established, the Rugby World Cup was about to come to Wales and Cardiff Bay was preparing to open for business. As with many things in my life it turned out alright, more by luck than judgement.

Things were happening here. The promptly-constructed Millennium Stadium brought FA Cup finals and other major events to Cardiff while an over-budget, delayed Wembley Stadium was under construction. Cardiff City developed from third division mediocrity to Premier League hopefuls. Just last year the Swalec stadium put the Wales back into England and Wales cricket as the Ashes came to town.

Things outside the sporting world were gathering momentum too with gigs, clubs and daily trips to the basement at Catapult Records to keep tabs on new releases. It wasn’t long before I was immersed in music in Cardiff and I loved it. One of the main things that struck me about the city then – and it still does today – if you want to get involved, you can. This is where a compact capital city has its advantages.

I found my own slice of Cardiff, promoting and playing records at one of its true gems, Clwb Ifor Bach. It was one of the first places that really defined Cardiff for me when I arrived here. I managed to get a foot in the door, helping out at the now-defunct Hustler Showcase events and ended up doing a five-year stint with monthly club night Sumo.

Those heady days may be behind me but I still love that place. Guest DJs loved it. I’m guessing a few other people did too because they kept coming back each month: laser, smoke machine, and two spinning turntables.

Meanwhile, back in 2011, things are still happening here.

You only have to look to autumn’s Swn festival to see how well things can work in this cosy, friendly city. If anyone ever suggests that the ‘biggest bands’ don’t come here, the chances are they probably already have – and delivered a memorable gig to 100 grateful people in a city pub.

Whether you’re into music, arts, sports or something else, there are a lot of talented, creative, hard-working people in Cardiff and that won’t change any time soon. There are also a lot of people who know how to enjoy themselves. Often they’re the same people and that’s one of many things that make this city great.

Ten years after graduating from a journalism degree in Cardiff, Doug is still here and these days can mainly be found at home in Splott, at work for the Welsh Assembly Government in Cardiff Bay or running around Cardiff training for some event or other. Online: @dougjnicholls on Twitter or D_J_Nicholls on Flickr.

Doug was photographed at the Imperial Cafe by Adam Chard

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