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
- Sign up for the weekly We Are Cardiff newsletter
- Check out what’s going on with We Are Cardiff Press
- Like us on Facebook
- Squawk @ us on Twitter @wearecardiff
- Follow us on Instagram/WeAreCardiff