I didn’t really know Cardiff despite growing up only half and hour away in Pontypool. I don’t remember coming here as a child apart from the odd Christmas shopping trip. I was well into my thirties before anyone took me to Roath Park.
Newport became the usual night out of choice for most of my friends, but there was a small group of us who’d stay on the train. Safer in Cardiff, quieter than Newport and more exciting – our first taste of Brains in the Park Vaults followed by the Philharmonic and chicken curry off the bone. Or long days in the Old Arcade to watch the rugby before missing the train home.
Cardiff was abuzz by the time I got back from a uni stint up north and started working here in 1996. You couldn’t pick up a paper without reading ‘the eyes of the world will be on Cardiff’ for something or other. There was a palpable air of anticipation about the city.
We had European Summits, referenda, a barrage and our first five star hotel, the Millennium Stadium and Centre, a Rugby World Cup, FA Cups, water taxis and cranes everywhere. It felt like just as one major event finished, another was revealed. Even London newspapers proclaimed Cymru was Cool – no need to tell us, we were living it.
It also awakened my Welshness. It was not something I’d been conscious of growing up in the Eastern Valley and I didn’t hear the language in daily use until I worked in Cardiff. But there was so much to be proud of from the city and the nation. I was signed up to Welsh lessons within the year.
This excitement of being in a city on the rise was what I loved about it, what made me want to live in the thick of it as 99 became 00.
I moved into my first Cardiff flat in the first week of the new millennium. Three storeys above High Street, I saw the city transformed in five years.
I had a bird’s eye view of the city. It was the explosion of St Mary Street – of minibuses decanting already drunks at the top end so they can work their way down towards the train home at the bottom. I’ve seen women fighting in their WRU pants and shop doorways used for everything you can imagine. And I’ve suffered through raging hangovers as a full military band – complete with goat – troops past at nine o’clock on a Sunday morning.
Then there were whole nights, sitting out on the roof of the building with best friends, laughing until the sun came up with a soundtrack of sirens, singing drunks and Cardiff Castle’s peacocks. All the while drinking so much rum that we couldn’t climb back down and through the window to get back into the flat.
I lived in an area not much bigger than a couple of hundred square metres for years – flat on High Street, office on the Hayes, more than enough proper old pubs in between, Cardiff Market and the arcades for shopping. I’d go three weeks without needing to get in a car.
One of the best parts of it was discovering the lively little community that shares that area – the people who work in the arcades and the pubs, who fill up the coffee shops in the days and the lesser-known late night bars in the night.
In the thick of it all at home, I’ve also been lucky enough to be involved through my job in a lot of the most exciting Cardiff events of the last ten years – from the opening of hotels and bars through a first Grand Slam in 27 years to the launch of the St David’s shopping centre.
As I turned 30 I left city centre life for a few years among the leafy streets of Pontcanna before finally landing in Roath five years ago.
Roath’s been a revelation – from the obvious walks round the lake and pints in the Albany to discovering Allen’s Bakery or that you can eat in at Troy. It’s everything I love about Cardiff concentrated into one small area.
I felt immediately at home in Cardiff and after my first decade, can’t imagine living anywhere else. I love that it’s a city you can walk across in half and hour, mostly through parks if the mood takes you. I love its creativity, friendliness, informality and that more often than not, it feels like the capital village of Wales.
Matt Appleby works as a PR consultant in Cardiff and can be found at www.about.me/mattappleby. He’s on the team that set up www.roathcardiff.net , helps out with Cdfblogs and writes a food blog www.easyteas.co.uk. He’d like to solve Cardiff’s public transport difficulties by reopening the canals and launching a singing gondola service. He currently lives in Roath.
Matt was photographed in Roath by Lann Niziblian