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“Riverside? Why do you wanna live round there?” – John


Clare Place doesn’t exist.

On all correspondence, my address reads Clare Street. None of the walls of my house are on Clare Street. My front door leads out to Clare Place. My back door leads out to my back yard, my back yard leads out onto Clare Place. When I applied for a residents’ parking permit, Cardiff City Council’s highway department offered me a permit for Clare Street. I told them I lived off Clare Street, on Clare Place.  If I leave my bins outside the front of my house, on the pavement of Clare Place, they do not get collected, they only pick up from Clare Street. I have become the main food supply to seagulls that – as a result of the non-bin collection – have nested on my bedroom windowsill.

I discovered seagulls don’t sleep. One seagull swooped down, flapped his wings in my face, and snatched a bacon sandwich from my hand as I was closing the front door behind me.  Now I take the bins to Clare Street.

When I book a taxi, I tell them, 37b Clare Place. “Do you have a postcode?” CF12 6CE, I tell them. “OK, a taxi will be with you in ten minutes”. Thirty minutes later I ring Capital Cabs asking them where my taxi is. The taxi driver had waited outside 37b Clare Street for fifteen minutes, and then left.

My council tax bill is addressed to Jackson David, 37b Clare Place.

When a native picks up on my Valleys’ accent, they think I commute. “Long way to travel isn’t it. Haven’t you got any hospitals in the Valleys?” I tell them that there are plenty of hospitals in the Valleys; I also tell them that I have lived in Riverside for seven years. “Bit rough round there innit” followed by “lots of ethnics” and finally “why do you wanna live round there?”

I tell them the rent is cheap, there is a great community spirit, it’s a five minute walk to the city centre, train and bus station and – just for fun – it’s the new Shoreditch.

Riverside is a triangle; the base, Fitzhammon Embankment, running parallel with the River Taff and overlooked by the Millennium Stadium. On Sundays the embankment is transformed. You can buy ostrich burgers farmed in Tenby, organic potatoes from Llanrumney, and oysters from Tonypandy at the Riverside Real Farmers Market. It is a great place to catch the  First Minister of the National Assembly mingling with his voters who have cycled down Cathedral Road from Pontcanna. Every other day of the week, you can hang out on the embankment with the destitute, prostitutes and seagulls at drunk corner.

Two roads, Tudor Road and Cowbridge Road East, then lead off opposite ends of the embankment and come together and join at Riverside Primary school. A mural on the school wall depicts children from various nations holding hands in and the words, “We all live together in Riverside.”

The first time I switched the television set on in Clare Place the screen showed blue skies, then a plane smashed into one of the twin towers. I thought it was a movie. One week later I was awoken at three am by screams. I pulled back my coverless duvet, opened the curtains and witnessed fourteen Cardiff hoodies being chased by the restaurant staff of the Riverside Cantonese who were waving machetes. I thought they were shooting a film.

“So where exactly in Riverside do you live boy?” I try my best to explain to the patient as I wash his balls. Does he know the mad house? “Nope”.

In 1984, Gerald Tobin became so frustrated with a dispute he had with Cardiff Council that he started to put banners up outside his house. He then barricaded himself in. The house was mentioned in Matthew Collins’ Blimey as a piece of outsider art, Tobin had depicted a picture of Munch’s Scream on one of his boards. My favourite board has the slogan “Nightmare on Clare Street”. His house is now totally covered in boards. You sometimes forget that there is someone living there. From my bedroom window I get to see what he has written on the flat roof of his kitchen. “Tony Blair You are the Devil’s Spawn” is a treat only few of us Riverside residents get to see. I feel special every morning when I open my curtains, until a seagull pecks at the window and stares blankly at my bloodshot eye. So I asked him why, why here? He replies, “It’s the new Shoreditch”.

Do you know Backpackers? “Nope, but my back needs a good scratch.” I look at his moles and his psoriasis, and reach for the latex gloves. I double up. What about Club Rumours?

On the weekend, the seagulls are quiet. It is peaceful until five am, when drunks leave Club Rumours. Glass bottles smash on the pavements, arguments between lovers are muffled by my pillows, friends singing Abba medleys and the slurp of tongues diving into another’s throat flow through my not-very double glazing. I realise why the seagulls are quiet on the weekend. They go to sea.

The tetraplegic in the bed opposite shouts through the curtains, “You know, Bill, the parachute club, guaranteed to get a jump.”  Bill laughs and coughs up black mucus. “Pass me one of them sputum pots, they wants to take a sample”. I wonder what for. Bill has cancer of the brain, lungs, heart, lymph nodes and lower intestine. I have no idea why they need to do any more tests. Then my foot kicks over a sputum pot under the bed that he has been collecting, and so I wipe the spit off my Vans (all the other nurses wear Crocs, but I wear Vans) with the soiled sheets that I have just removed from underneath his nakedness.

Well, have you seen the ambulance that’s permanently parked in-between a hearse and an old British Telecom’s van, complete with the fading image of Busby the bird on the side? “Nope”. Well. That’s where I live.

I fall asleep listening to the seagulls having a quiet conversation about the sub-standard food waste. “Riverside is changing for the worse”. Then lights dance around the bedroom, a real ambulance pulls up outside the old ambulance. Out jumps a prostitute, screaming “e’s fuckin dying, he’s ‘aving an overdose, do something!” I climb out of my bed, my feet are freezing on the trendy wooden floorboards, I make a mental note, again, to buy a nice Persian rug from Grangetown Ikea. The floorboards creek underneath my feet, and the gulls turn around and stare. I tip toe to the window, open it, an articulated lorry rumble-shakes the picture of Johnny Cash on wall above the dresser that was left by the prior tenant,  and shout at the prostitute who now has blood sprouting from her ears to SHUT THE FUCK UP.

“E’s dying man, for fuck sake e’s dying.” Then the boyfriend / pimp walks out of the ambulance holding their crackhead dog (that has frightened my cat into living in the airing cupboard). “It’s too late, e’s gone.”

The real ambulance back doors slam hard. The Johnny Cash picture gives in and jumps from the wall. The paramedics stare up at me, shaking their heads. The prostitute stares at me, the pimp stares at me; all shaking their heads, the gulls stare at me. Problem? I shout, and slam the window, close the pink curtains, and catch a glimpse of my naked body in the long wardrobe mirror.

“You know the ‘ouse of taboo, Bill,” slurs the five day old stroke victim from the cubicle. “Aye,” says Bill. “Well he lives next door to the ‘ouse of taboo.” Bill turns onto his back, looks down at his clean crotch, “I have that licked a few times in the ‘ouse of taboo.” I hear a buzzer from the other four bedder and throw Bill a gown, get dressed I better get that. “Oy don’t leave me here all alone and cold.”  I open the curtains, the tetraplegic stares at me, “Better get the buzzer boyo, hurry along.”

The automatic doors don’t automatically open. I slide them apart. Pull out a cigarette and borrow a light from a patient sheltering from the rain. Thanks, I say to him. He puts his pointing finger over the hole of his tracheotomy, “No problems”. I walk away from the University Hospital and head to my house in a street that doesn’t exist, while not contemplating any other professions.

John Davies has moved to Cardiff three times – in 1999, 2001, and 2010 (the last two times, he’s moved back to the same house in Riverside). John performs under the name John Mouse, and is a self employed music promoter. He is married with two young children and supports Swansea City.

John was photographed in Riverside by Adam Chard