Tag Archives: living in cardiff

“Back to my roots” – Dan

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Cardiff born and Cardiff bred? Not quite in my case. I was actually born in Leicester; a bit of a mongrel really. Dad was born in Shotton, Flintshire, although his mother was a Welsh speaker from Gorseinon and his father a Mancunian raised in Hawarden.

Mum’s father was an RAF officer from Sussex, shot down and killed over Norway in 1941 before he’d even met his infant daughter. Mum’s mother (our Gran) was a dedoubtable lady of Scottish stock and temperament, one of nine children. After the war she married a Trinidadian civil engineer, and they moved to Sale in Manchester.

My parents met whilst teaching together at Eccles Grammar School in Cheshire, and after their marriage in Sale their careers took them to Northampton and then to Loughborough. In 1972, Leicester General Hospital was the nearest maternity unit, and so that’s where I came into the world. Within a few months we had moved to Newport in South Wales, and then two years later we alighted in Whitchurch, a relatively affluent suburb of Cardiff. By then I’d acquired a sister, and my parents decided it was time to stay put for a bit. And there we stayed for 20 years.

Our house was a Edwardian semi just north of the railway which divides the mean streets of Llandaff North from the leafy boulevards of Whitchurch. Our childhood was blissfully happy and we had a close-knit group of friends from the surrounding streets who all went to the same primary school, Eglwys Newydd, next to the brook in Glan-y-Nant Terrace. At the time, Eglwys Newydd had English and Welsh streams; I went into the Welsh stream in spite of neither of my parents being able to speak the language. Nevertheless, I flourished academically, despite being painfully shy and small compared to my peers.

A fork in the road came in 1983, when a choice had to be made about my secondary education. Would I go to Whitchurch High School, the enormous English comprehensive across the brook, or would I follow several of my closest friends to Glantaf, the (then) relatively new Welsh-medium secondary school across the tracks in Llandaff? My best friend Howard, neither of whose parents spoke Welsh either, had already decided that he wanted to go to Glantaf, so it was natural that I wanted to go there too. But Mum and Dad were concerned that they wouldn’t be able to support my studies if I was learning through the medium of a language they didn’t speak, so I went to Whitchurch.

I often wonder how things would have turned out if I’d gone to Glantaf. It was then, and is now, a very good school with some impressive alumni from the world of the arts and sport.

In any case, the choice was made and I went to Whitchurch High School. My experience in my early teens at that school broadly reflected a lot of people’s experience of the 1980s in South Wales: a feeling of confidence and ambition being crushed by the people in charge. In the early 80s, Whitchurch had grown to be the largest secondary school in Wales, with over 1000 pupils. It was divided over two sites in the village, with kids from places as diverse as Rhiwbina and Mynachdy on the roll. I felt swamped.

There was the added complication of my mother being an English teacher at the school. Luckily for me, she was well-respected by the majority of pupils so I didn’t suffer from any of the usual “teacher’s kid” treatment from my schoolmates. On occasion I did suspect I was being made an example of by some teachers, notably when I was given a week’s detention by the head of year for uttering the word “Smarties” during a Science lesson.

My time in Lower School was pretty miserable. But things took a turn for the better when I moved to Upper School in my fifteenth year. We were the first kids to take the new GCSE exam, the replacement for the O-Level. I’d narrowed my career choices down to two options: journalism or medicine. Instead of leaping in one direction, I took a compromise and chose a mixture of arts and science subjects. Partly, I suspect, due to the fact that neither of my parents had any background in science. I did fairly well at both (although I was a disaster at Drama due to my horrific shyness), and when A-level decision time came, I plumped for sciences, as I felt medicine was my chosen path. Probably one of the biggest mistakes I ever made; not that I knew it at the time.

At the same time, my social life had started to re-establish itself, mostly outside of school, through my membership of County Wind Bands and Orchestras. I’d eschewed the sexy french horn in favour of the deeply creepy oboe, but luckily it seemed the oboe section were the outsiders of the orchestra: the kids who were too cool for school. We formed an alliance with like-minded viola and clarinet players and other “edgy” types. Some of them had super record collections. I went from Ultravox to the Cure within 12 months. Girls from Howell’s School, Glantaf and St Cyres danced with me to to “Lovecats” and “This Charming Man” at summer camp. We went on coach trips to Manchester and London listening to The Pixies and The House of Love on our personal stereos. School was all about work, and this was play, with my exotic new friends from Glantaf, Howell’s, Stanmore and St Cyres. The music we played in the orchestras and wind bands was incidental: we were in it for the alternative social scene, which revolved around the legendary and dingy Square Club on Westgate Street.

As a result of this separation of work and play, and also due to some subtle nagging from my mother, I managed to avoid cocking up my A-levels and gained a place at Cambridge to read Natural Sciences. The story of the intervening years between then and my return to Wales over a decade later is for another time and place (check my 30 Day Song Challenge for some highlights), but eventually I ended up in London, in my late 20s, having accomplished not that much.

Luckily for me, London Welsh RFC was the place to be for the young Welshman about town, so I headed there. In 1998 I’d discovered Gwladrugby.com, an Welsh rugby fans’ website created by a chap called Rhys, a Welsh exile in London. The site soon became a focus for rugby-related social gatherings in London and a number of us went on trips to watch Wales play in exotic locations such as Edinburgh, Paris, Rome, Nottingham and Bedford. Wales’s victory over England at Wembley in 1999 was a particular highlight during the period.

Whilst in London, Gwladrugby.com also provided me with the opportunity of meeting my wife. We spent several carefree years in London before something began to tug us back to Wales. I’d like to say it was hiraeth, but in fact it was a job I’d managed to secure, at the Wales Millennium Centre in Cardiff. And so, in 2003, we moved back to Whitchurch, to the street next to the one I’d grown up in from 1974 to 1990.

So finally I get to the point of this story: why I love Cardiff, and Whitchurch in particular.

Cardiff has had a terrible reputation over the years. According to many, our city centre is infested with binge drinkers and football hooligans. Hen and stag parties stalk St. Mary’s Street, rendering it a no-go zone for respectable folk looking for an enjoyable night out in one of Europe’s newest capital cities. This may be true. I’m not that fond of Cardiff city centre on a Friday or Saturday night, but that could be because I’m getting old.

On the other hand, Cardiff has been lauded as “better than London” by many of my London friends who’ve travelled here to watch sporting events at the Millennium Stadium, due to the proximity and density of pubs and restaurants in the city centre. Far better than the suburban wastelands of Twickenham and Wembley, for sure. And cheaper too, for the most part.

For me, the return trip to Cardiff for rugby internationals took a turn for the better after the completion of the Millennium Stadium and the Rugby World Cup in 1999. True, the Welsh rugby team’s fortunes had already been on an upward curve for a few months that year, with victories over England and South Africa, but since we started playing at the new stadium, it feels a lot more like a fortress than the old one and I really think it gives us an edge over visiting teams. Two Grand Slams in the last decade would tend to support this theory. Sadly the fortress effect doesn’t always work, but we’re a small nation punching well above our weight, so we can’t win all of the time.

I left Cardiff in 1990 and didn’t return for 13 years. During that time, another massive project was completed in the city. The Cardiff Bay Barrage was constructed and with it came the redevelopment of the waterfront around the old Bute Docks. In the early 90s the barrage and the wider redevelopment of the Bay were very contentious and many people questioned the long-term value of the project. Twenty years later those objections have been largely forgotten and Cardiff Bay has been transformed into an impressive waterside destination. I’ve worked in the area on and off for a few years since I moved back to Cardiff and I really like the Bay as a place to go, whether it’s for food, drink, a show or a film.

The Bay still feels a bit disconnected from the city centre. It’s partly a transport problem, but the regeneration has been concentrated around the waterfront and has left the relatively deprived areas of Butetown and Riverside which sit between the Bay and town untouched.

Until the mid noughties, the development of the Bay left the city centre looking tired and unappealing. People in search of a quiet night out would stay in the suburban peace of places like Pontcanna and Roath. But in 2010 the balance was restored with the opening of the new St. David’s 2 shopping centre, complete with a John Lewis department store and celebrity chef-branded restaurants like Jamie’s and Carluccio’s.

“Where’s the local identity?” you may ask. Most of these newcomers are chains; this could be any city in the UK. There are still plenty of Cardiff originals, such as the Cameo Club and Bully’s restaurant in Pontcanna, along with relative newcomers like The Potted Pig and Oscar’s. The big question is whether Cardiff can sustain places of this quality itself, through local residents, without having to rely upon big events to draw in the punters from elsewhere. That depends on the affluence of the city increasing. At the moment I don’t think it’s quite there.

When it comes to the arts scene, Cardiff is definitely there. As a boy in the late 1970s I went to see Star Wars at Chapter Arts Centre in Canton. More than 30 years later the place is still going strong; a recent refurbishment having injected new life and light into the building. Whether you’re going to see a film, show or just hang out in the bar with the great and the good of the Cardiff media and arts scene, Chapter is a wonderful destination.

Fairly recently I’ve also discovered a couple of groovy smaller venues: The Gate and the Globe in Roath, and Gwdihŵ in Guildford Crescent. Last year I was lucky enough to see one of my childhood heroes, David Gedge, play at the Globe with his band The Wedding Present.

I also saw the eternal loony Julian Cope play the Globe in October, and a toweringly beautiful and fierce set by the Throwing Muses, one of my favourite bands from the golden age of Indie Rock, at the Gate just a couple of weeks ago. The Gate is a former chapel just off City Road in Roath. An intimate venue with a friendly little bar; it’s a great place to get close to the performers, as I did when Neil Hannon played there last October.

Then there’s the WMC. As I said, I worked there before, during and after its opening in November 2004. One of the most ambitious building projects ever conceived in Wales, it very nearly didn’t happen. Several times. But through the hard work of a dedicated, passionate team of people, we got it open on time. It’s now part of the dramatic skyline of Cardiff Bay, and an institution that is respected and admired across South Wales and beyond. I love going back to the building and it evokes some powerful, proud memories for me. The centrepiece of the is the staggeringly beautiful Donald Gordon lyric theatre; probably the best place to see and hear live performance I’ve ever been in. Although I’m probably a bit biased.

Before it became the glittering, albeit slightly tarnished capital city it is today, Cardiff was little more than a collection of villages: Llandaf, Radyr, Llanishen, Llanederyn, Rhymney, Rhiwbina, Tongwynlais and the rest. And to a great extent it still is. Certainly my village, Whitchurch, retains a character of its own: a high street, the common, a village pub or two, small primary schools and some well-kept local shops. My favourite shop in Whitchurch is Martin Player’s butcher opposite the library on Park Road. Shops like this bring you closer to the producers of the products you’re buying, and you can see the care taken to preserve this closeness.

For the past five years or so our lives in Whitchurch have revolved largely around activities with our children. We’ve been incredibly lucky to have access to exceptional Welsh-medium nursery and primary education in the village; it makes such a difference when these facilities are on your doorstep. And with kids come a new social circle. We have a jolly and sizeable Mums and Dads’ club who enjoy nothing better than lounging on each others’ patios in the sun, sipping wine while the kids chase each other around the garden.

Finally, there’s the allotment. Earlier this year our 30 month wait was rewarded with an allotment plot in Llandaff North, just around the corner from our house. The first harvests have been pretty fruitful; some spuds, beetroot and runner beans. It’s early days, but over the years I’m sure we’ll get the hang of growing our own and the crops will become more bountiful each time. Gardening is great exercise and being outdoors makes me feel particularly happy, even when it rains (which it does a lot in Cardiff). Coming back to my roots in Whitchurch has been a joyful experience and I can’t imagine life being any other way.

Dan Allsobrook is an IT consultant who lives and works in Cardiff. In his spare time he’s one of the editors of Gwladrugby.com, an irreverent, amateurish yet surprisingly popular Welsh rugby fans’ website, and is responsible for @gwladrugby on twitter. He writes about politics, music, food and many other things on his own blog, Eggnewydd and has been known to tweet as @eggynewydd too. He is married to Eleri and they have two young sons, Geraint and Rhodri. Dan currently lives in Whitchurch.

Dan was photographed near his allotment by Adam Chard

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“Cardiff has a thriving creative community” – Ardie

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A little over a year ago I found myself on a train with a rucksack heading to meet a friend in London. I had decided that I was going to move there. It seemed like a natural step, I had been at University in Southampton for three years and had grown used to my independence and suddenly I was back in Cardiff and living at home with my parents. I needed to get away. I had done the sums; I had enough savings to last me a few months’ rent in London while I looked for a job there, and I had a floor to sleep on for a few nights while we looked for a place to stay.

I had always loved London. The idea that there was always something to do – that there was always something going on – appealed to me. I had resolved that it would be impossible to ever be bored there. “Dull would he be of soul who could pass by A sight so touching in its majesty” said Wordsworth of London. It didn’t take me long to realise, however, that the idea of London had been romanticised in my head, that the hustle and bustle wasn’t a sign of stimulating activity, it was a sign of stress. This was a lot of commitment and a lot of money to hand over to something that I had just found out I didn’t want. I went back and forth in my head about what to do but I eventually made a decision that it wasn’t for me. I came home.

A year later I am in my hometown of Cardiff finishing up a Masters degree. Though study has taken up much of my time, it has not been the most important part of my being back. Cardiff has fuelled a lot of big things for me this year, and this past year will always be an important one to me. It is since being back that I finished my debut novel and found a publisher, something that I would never have dreamt of happening. Also, since the 1st of January I have found myself undertaking a project that sees me release one original song every day throughout 2011. These are certainly projects that take personal dedication, but I also think that it wouldn’t be too far-fetched to consider my geographical location in all of this. Cardiff has a thriving creative community. And it took a few years of my being away from here to realise that. I grew up here, and so perhaps I had forgotten to appreciate what was on my doorstep. Workshops, exhibitions, book groups, gigs, plays, comedy nights, music and arts festivals. Creative endeavours are springing up all over the city from thinkARK to the Cardiff Arcades Project to this website. I think the fact that this has only recently come to my attention is down to two things: 1) I had grown used to Cardiff and so wasn’t engaging with what it had to offer, and 2) This is a city that has grown up around me, and what it has to offer is growing all of the time.

As I finish up my course and begin looking for full-time work, my seeming desperation to move away from this city has entirely diminished. This is not to say that I would never move away, but there is currently nothing dragging me out of this city, and the list of things keeping me here is growing all of the time.

Ardie Collins is a novelist, radio producer, MA student, and singery-songwritery type person born and based in Cardiff. His debut novel is entitled ‘Cult Fiction’ and is about a man who, inadvertently and through very little fault of his own, sets up a cult. It was released on the 1st of September 2011 by Knightstone Publishing, and is available on Kindle. The Cooper 365 project can be found here. Ardie’s  main webpage can be found here. He is on Twitter as @ardiecoll and @coopersounds

Ardie was photographed at Trout Books in Castle Arcade by Amy Davies

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“The stranger arrives to a city, alone” – Wayne

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The stranger arrives to a city, alone,
In search of himself, in search for a home,
He stands in the street, the buildings are tall,
The stranger is big, at that moment he’s small,
So many faces, go rushing by,
The stranger don’t know if he’ll smile or he’ll cry,
But filled with excitement the stranger persists,
And wonders if true happiness really exists,
As days turns to weeks, and months into years,
There’s moments of fun there’s moments of tears
But the stranger works hard and the stranger fits in
And to his surprise things start to begin
His friends and his work and a place to call home
The stranger’s content and never alone,
He socially climbs and reaches the top,
He’s busy enjoying the stranger don’t stop
His life’s been a journey a beautiful ride
To a wonderful place with great friends by his side
The stranger is happy the stranger feels free,
I’m ever so glad that stranger is me!

Originally from Pontarddulais in Swansea, where he worked as a gravedigger, Wayne Courtney moved to Cardiff in 2007 and is now a full-time nurse and part-time events organiser. Wayne now calls Roath his home, and he is a regular in the pubs, clubs and coffee houses there, where he has been christened Roath’s Premiere Socialite.

Wayne was photographed in the beer garden of The Albany pub by Adam Chard

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“I rode the streets of Cardiff, stopping fixed gear riders like some sort of weird bike stalker” – Tim

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My wife Hannah and I moved to Cardiff from the East End of London in January 2010. It was something that we had been planning for around six months having had enough of London living after spending over 10 years there.

I grew up in St. Davids, Pembrokeshire so the move for me seemed a little closer to home, especially as my parents are still there and my sister was in St Mellons. Hannah’s maternal family hailed from Cwmbran so there was a connection for her too.

Nonetheless, we were filled with trepidation as we followed the removals van down the M4 towards our new home. We were fortunate enough to have found a house to rent that overlooks Roath Park Lake and gives us the space we need – a far cry from our 2 bed flat in Whitechapel. Bibiche, our elderly, grumpy, overweight cat is still coming to terms with the notion of a garden though.

We had always planned to start a family once we had moved so we were overjoyed to find out that Hannah was pregnant after we’d been here just over a week. Everything was falling into place and we were beginning to feel that we couldn’t have made a better choice of city to move to.

In London, I had pretty much always commuted to work by bike and for the last years or so had got into fixed gear cycling. Riding fixed means riding a bike with only one gear and most importantly no freewheel – your legs drive the rear wheel forwards AND backwards and effectively act as a rear brake. When you’re riding, your legs can’t stop for a break, you just have to keep on pedalling.

A massive scene has grown up around this in London and is now incredibly popular with couriers, commuters and hipsters alike, but I was interested in whether there was a similar scene in Cardiff and if so, could I meet like-minded riders and drop myself in once I moved.

After a couple of weeks of investigation I didn’t really come up with much in Cardiff – the only group I could find was Fixed Gear Wales (now The Foot Down), run by a chap called Tyron out of Swansea. I saw that he was organising an alleycat (an unofficial urban bike race with checkpoints that riders have to hit on their way round the route) and decided that I should make the journey to Swansea, take part and see if I could get the lowdown on anything that might be happening in Cardiff.

I came a pitiful 17th, but had made myself known to the Fixed Gear Wales guys and some of the Trackdropouts lot from Bristol. However, the consensus was that although there were some riders in Cardiff, there wasn’t what you would call a cohesive scene. I got some names of the riders they knew about and headed back to London.

Once we’d moved to Cardiff I decided to harness the power of Facebook and set up the Fixed Gear Cardiff group. I then posted a few notices on other similar groups and contacted the guys whose names I’d been given. I even took to riding the streets of Cardiff, hunting, down and stopping fixed gear riders when I saw them like some sort of weird bike stalker!

Another great help was Martin from the Bike Shed in Pontcanna. Around the same time he was looking to get riders together to play bike polo in Cardiff. Luckily it’s a sport that attracts the fixed gear contingent, so there was a lot of crossover between the groups.

18 months on and Fixed Gear Cardiff is still going. We’ve put on a number of races, get together socially and the polo side of things has really taken off with the Cardiff boys entering and winning a number of tournaments. There’s also a close relationship with Swansea and we often ride together socially and competitively.

More importantly for me it’s been a great way of getting to know some people and making some great friends – from university students to university professors, couriers to hairdressers.

In addition to the impact cycling has had on our Cardiff life, we have found incredible friends and support through the many local baby, health and community groups that exist in the city.

Our son Austin is now nearly a year old and we’re really settling in as a family. Our London life seems a bit of a distant memory now. We truly feel at home in Cardiff, a city that can sometimes feel as small as a village, and wish we had made the move earlier.

We’ve bought a house here now and can’t imagine living anywhere else. Cardiff has given us more roots than we ever could have hoped for in London and I don’t think we could imagine being anywhere else right now. Things are moving pretty fast for us and the city and the people in it seem to be supporting us all the way.

Unfortunately I still work in London so have to be away more than I would like but on the brighter side I get to leave the big smoke and come back here at the end of the day.

Tim is 33 years old and is an technical consultant for Skinkers, a mobile app development firm in London. He has a passion for heavy metal, tattoos and bikes and lives with his wife Hannah and son Austin in Roath. Tim set up Fixed Gear Cardiff in 2010 and hopes to give the “scene” a little more attention over the coming months

Tim was photographed in the rose garden at Roath Park by Adam Chard

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“In Cardiff: from student, to teacher, to mother” – Laura

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I live in Cardiff with my husband and our little girl, Ada who will be turning two in October. I moved here in 1999 from Derbyshire to study at Cardiff University and have lived here ever since (if you overlook a short stay in Bristol while studying there in 2003). I studied for a Physics degree and then trained as a teacher (in Bristol). I chose to do my main teaching placement in Newport, to get back to Wales, which lead to my first job at the same school.

Cardiff is a city all of my own, which none of my family know. I first lived in Talybont halls of residence, then moved to Roath as a student, working in the Woodville (The Woody) and revising in Roath Park. Now I have moved over the river to Canton to escape my student roots and bring up a family.

I have studied here, worked here and met my best friends are here. I met my husband here and have had my first baby here (at home in our bathroom!) I proudly say I am from Cardiff where ever I go in the world, and tell people about this lovely little capital city.

As I mentioned, I got my first job in Newport, teaching, which proved to be too much for me as a shy 23 year old so I decided to give myself a break, handed in my notice and amazingly got the most perfect job at the University of Wales Newport. I ended up working with schools but not stuck in the classroom and it felt like a holiday for the first few weeks! After a year or so at UWN, I moved to the University of Glamorgan within the same project and am now the Science Co-ordinator for First Campus and still love every minute of it.

Because of the nature of my work, part of my experience of Cardiff and the surrounding area has been through working in the local schools and universities. I have visited the tiniest valleys schools, where Cardiff really is the ‘big city’, and also worked in inner city schools where the kids are far tougher than I will ever be. Nevertheless, I have found all of the people I meet to be totally welcoming, proud to be Welsh but happy to accept me as an honorary Welsh-woman.

Socially I have been lucky enough to fulfil the life long dream of singing in a band (or three). I paired up with an ex-boyfriend to become Silence at Sea – this is also how I met my husband, he was a groupie and then ended up joining the band! I was then invited to sing with the lovely Little My and also with the prolific Pagan Wanderer Lu. We performed in Dempsey’s, Barfly (RIP), Clwb Ifor Bach, Bar Europa (RIP), Toucan Club (when on Clifton Street), Chapter in Cardiff and many more places including Bristol and London. The music scene in Cardiff is just amazing and I am so happy to have been part of it…I have taken a little step back since having a baby…

Now that I am a mother, I have discovered another side to Cardiff; the abundance of activities, venues and child friendly places where a new, first time mum can go and sit, meet other new mums and feel supported, rather than totally lost and overwhelmed by your new situation. I met one of my closest mum-friends through ‘Buggy Fit’ an exercise class where you run around with your baby in their pushchair, getting lots of stares and confused looks from passers-by! Chapter has gone from an evening social hang-out to a great place to meet other mums for a drink and a chat about babies; Thompson Park is the best place for feeding ducks in Canton, and Victoria Park has swings and at least three slides for little ones to try out once they find their toddler feet. Not to leave out Roath, this is where you can find Cafe Junior, where it’s easy to hang out with friends while little ones run around, that is my life at the moment…from student, to teacher, to mother.

I am now learning Welsh (my first exam is this week) and my daughter will be attending a local Welsh language school. I am definitely not planning on leaving Cardiff any time soon…

Laura Roberts is 31, mother to Ada and wife to David. She has worked at Duffryn High School, Newport; University of Wales, Newport and is currently the STEM Coordinator for First Campus based at the University of Glamorgan. She lives in Canton where she has bought a house with her husband is currently trying to decorate it as well as look after Ada, their two cats and three chickens. Laura enjoys playing sudoku, reading science fiction novels, watching films, listening to music, sewing and baking.

Laura was photographed at Cardiff University’s Physics Department by Adam Chard

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“It has been a city of firsts for me” – Claire

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When my granddad left Wales at 16 to rejoin the rest of his family up north avoiding the pits and the trade his fatherʼs, and grandfatherʼs, I donʼt think he imagined he would have family members settling in his home country again. Till his final days he remembered the lighthouse at Roath Park Lake, Christmas shopping at the market and cakes and tea in David Morgan and still when he would stumble over my name and what I did for a living, he would remember I was the one who was now living back in Wales.

Cardiff held a place in his heart, and memory, long after other aspects faded, and I know how he feels.

It was a Sunday night with the rain pelting down when I first set foot in Cardiff after the endlessly train journey from Newcastle to Walesʼ capital. After trudging round the city for ages looking for somewhere decent for food (Cardiff was different in 2002 with no restaurant or piazza cafe sections just a Walkabout and closed shops) we stumbled into Toucan Club. Squashed between dubious clubs and chain bars on St Mary Street, it wasnʼt the venueʼs first incarnation, neither was it its last, and the bar had a lot of work to do. My first impressions werenʼt great and if all went well with the job trial the next day this city could be my new home. It was the Toucan that made helped make my mind up, and I wonder if I had fallen into one of the other bars on the street if my decision might have changed.

From Newcastle to university at Manchester, I was looking to start my career at the Western Mail, with a small monthly pay packet and the initial premise of six months on permanent night shift. Well offers like that donʼt come round every day! So I packed my bags, bunked in one half of a friendʼs double bed for a month before finally settling into my new life in Cardiff.

In many ways it has been a city of firsts for me. From the first time I lived in a house that had a banana tree and a boat in the front garden – the best house on Elm Street – to the first time I learnt to run for fun, not something I had considered until Bute Park came calling.

As the months turned into years, the city evolved and changed around me and I have also not stood still. Iʼve been the arts reporter living in Barfly and Clwb till the early hours hanging onto to every note bands played, partying hard, staying at house parties till well past their sell by date squeezing every last drop out of them. Iʼve changed careers and started ventures with friends I never imagined, putting on new plays with Dirty Protest and feeling huge pride as people squeeze into Yurts, bars and warehouses practically sitting on strangerʼs laps to see theatre. And Iʼve settled down, happily drinking earl grey tea and getting in an early night to make the most of the weekend.

Best friends have come and gone from the city, and each time I wonder how I will start again. But I am always surprised. The city has a way of putting new people in your path, some who will stick for a lifetime, others for the moment. Now Cardiff is where I have actual roots, with a partner, a shack of a house that is being slowly remodeled and a garden which is starting to bloom.

But wherever I go or whatever I do, Cardiff will always mean these things to me – pots of tea and the Archers in Elm Street with Eluned, Moloko on late weeknights and early morning Splott Market with Nicki, coffee and boy watching with Fi in Shot, Western Mail nights out, wrap parties with the best of Core, wrestling the X-Box from D, wild nights with Jess, endless gigs and giggles with Gemma, cinema trips, ripping houses to bits, and hot chocolate over Roath Lake with Steve, running training with Lou in Bute Park, getting Dirty with Tim, El, Mared and Catrin and a whole host of others in the Yurt, circus fun and party nights with Ellie, putting the world to rights with Siriol and the beginnings of fun times with Dolly and Lals and cakes, Catan and Gilmore Girls.

I hope thatʼs the start of a very long list and that just like my Grandad the happy times in this city will stick for a lifetime.

Claire Hill currently works as a director in television, and divides spare time being film reviewer for BBC Radio Wales Evening Show, one quarter of Dirty Protest, jewellery maker, official silencer of talkers in Cineworld, excellent cake baker and enthusiastic cyclist. She currently lives in Splott.

Claire was photographed in the Milgi garden by Adam Chard

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“City and slum, rich and poor, council estate and tourist attraction all in one small place” – Ceri

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In many ways Cardiff is my life . . . I mean, it’s where I’ve lived since I was born, where my father, his brother and sister grew up and where his father before him has always lived.

Every important event in my life has taken place in Cardiff, and even when I’m not here, home is never far from my thoughts. As I sit here at my computer desk, my mind draws a map route: out my front door, down and around the corner to the bus stop, up Newport Road and into the city centre.

My mind is set back to my childhood, and my obsession with going to Town, just for the sake of being around people and in that atmosphere that for me is peculiar to Cardiff, and Cardiff alone. So much has changed since that time, some streets are entirely unrecognisable and there are buildings now that didn’t exist even so short a time as ten years ago.

Yet I think most people would agree Cardiff is still the same in many ways. Despite its miraculous transformations, many areas of Cardiff have remained the same. Cracked pavements, grotty rubbish allover the floor, tired mothers screaming at their children to stop misbehaving while they ride the bus into Llanrumney.

It’s a whole world away from the images of a re-invented, metropolitan and happening hub of activity that Cardiff so dearly wants to be. How do these two different worlds co-exist in such a small place, all within one city? For me that is the bizare dichotomy of Cardiff. City and slum, rich and poor, council estate and tourist attraction all in one small place.

Most visitors to Cardiff only see what they want to see, the city centre with its landmarks, chains of shops and cinemas and The Castle. Part of me wants to scream “Stay in this part of Cardiff, isn’t it lovely?” and yet another part of me almost wants to urge them “No, if you want Cardiff go to Llanrumney, go to Ely, go to St. Melons. You might get your watch nicked or your car burned out but it’ll be interesting”

And that’s just it, I think for me the reason I love Cardiff so much, is because it’s interesting. No one can take that from it. It is where I grew up, it is where all the major events of my life have taken place, and in a sometimes scummy, grubby false sort of way, it’s a very honest city.

Even in the brave new areas of economic growth and recovery, it’s a little bit crap. Cardiff for me has always had an intriguing way of collecting together deterioration and renewal with a sort of “sweep it under the rug” attitude that says “No, don’t look over there, okay that’s a bit run down we won’t lie, but look at this! Isn’t this shiny?”

For me, what really sums up Cardiff is how people can’t help but love it even when they hate it. Everyone I’ve ever spoken to who’s lived in Cardiff for any length of time generally says something like “Yeah, it’s bloody rubbish here. I nearly got mugged the other day . . . still I wouldn’t wanna live anywhere else” or “I’m getting out of here . . . but I’ll come back sometimes obviously”.

So what? Perhaps some people do want to escape, but they always come back again. Maybe that’s just down to family ties but I think there’s a deeper love-hate, bitter-sweet feeling to Cardiff that people can’t quite detach from. Something about Cardiff draws people here and even when they find out it’s not all weird Armadillo opera houses and castles, they still want to stay.

When it comes down to it, Cardiff has personality. And you can tell what that personality is by talking to the people who live here, who were born here. The personality is, “Alri’ so wharrif I’m common? I’m proper nice when you gets to know me an’ I don’ care wha’ you finks anyway mate!”. People from Cardiff have a certain attitude that is somehow friendly and accommodating but also tough and self-protecting. Sure, they’ll be your best mate, and they’ll talk for hours about how bad it is to live in Cardiff, but so helps you if you insults Kaeerdiff!

That is Cardiff, and why I love it, because you can’t help but love it. Everyone who lives here, even if they’re from Belarus or Saudi Arabia, Portugal or Venice – they all become Cardiff. They talks Karrdiff, they lives Cardiff and they loves it like. And so do I! An’ you know wha’? I dares you not to love it!

Ceri John is a poet who sites his biggest influences as Edgar Allen Poe, Dylan Thomas, Ted Hughes and the singer/songwriter Mike Scott. He is currently looking forward to going back to college where he will study Social Welfare. He lives in Llanrumney.

Ceri was photographed by the War Memorial in Alexandra Gardens by Adam Chard

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“I’ve poured more emotion, grit and passion into the city in four short years than I thought possible” – Hannah

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In Cardiff I have lived, and lived I have.

Cardiff has been at the centre of possibly one of the most exciting times in my life.

Although it’s presumptuous to say so as I’m only 24 – I suppose I might have to wait a long time to I find out – but it certainly feels like the city has propelled me through an important and formative period.

My first memories of Cardiff were a rainy road trip for a university open day in my late teens – despite being a Birmingham lass, the open spaces and Civic Centre made the city feel huge and grand – a memory of a lecturer speaking about the acclaimed School of Journalism was imprinted on my brain throughout my time editing the student newspaper at Bristol University. I applied for the course during my last year at Bristol – and moved into a house with three assertive and curious journalism students on Donald Street in Roath.

Fresh out of Bristol – where students live in ridiculously pricey Edwardian houses closer to organic delis and wine bars than off-licences and hardware stores – Albany Road was a dream. It mirrored more of the ethnic diversity of Birmingham – it felt relaxed, cool and homely.

Penarth was my news ‘patch’; I made regular trips past the tinkytonk castle, cutting through Grangetown to get to the little seaside hilly village. Sunny days were spent walking along the pier talking to wrinkled sun-soakers, rainy days running in the dark to get to town council meetings and eating tuna sandwiches in Windsor arcade inbetween.

As a trainee journalist, I got to know the geography of Cardiff pretty quickly – how you can be thrown out of the city by getting onto the wrong link road in Cardiff Bay, how to navigate the gridded backstreets of Splott. I made the move from east to west Cardiff in 2010 – unbeknown to me at the time I was joining a foray of frenzied media types in my little terraced house which straddles the tiny loggerhead wards of Canton and Riverside (known locally as Pontcanna).

According to journalisted.com I’ve written more than 1,000 articles since July 2008 – all involving Cardiff people – finding out more about the city and what makes it tick.

I’ve visited a Cardiff jester whose Facebook-famous ferrets had escaped, walked around Canton with the council’s chief executive, filmed the unveiling of a new nose for the anteater on the animal wall, helped a young lady get a disabled parking bay on Womanby Street, been out with the Cardiff Street Pastors on new Year’s Eve, learnt how to knit, tried out the new white water rafting centre, ran the Cardiff half marathon, sat in more council meetings in County and City Hall than I can remember….

I’ve let the charm of Cardiffian phrases seep into my vocabulary, chatted to crooners from Tiger Bay on the bus, I have struggled with the rain which seems to come up from the ground, tottered in heels down St Mary Street, cycled through Bute Park with my eyes closed, cried, laughed, cheered and loved. In truth I’ve poured more emotion, grit and passion into the city in four short years than I thought humanly possible, and the result will be with me, and Cardiff I hope, forever.

Thanks to everyone whose made this time so valuable – you’ve deepened the imprint of a dragon-shaped stamp on my heart.

Hannah Waldram is the Guardian beatblogger in Cardiff. Birmingham born and bred, Hannah started up a website for her hometown called BournvilleVillage.com and continued blogging and running social media surgeries before coming to Cardiff. In her spare time enjoys all things dance.

Hannah was photographed at Cardiff City Hall by Adam Chard

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“With dreamy ideas of castles, doubledecker buses, pubs, and all the stereotypes Americans impose on Britain, I moved to Cardiff” – Joni

Joni by Ffion Matthews

I came to Cardiff on a productive gap year. But I stayed because I fell in love.

A studio flat in Washington, D.C., working at USA Today and a lovely bunch of friends weren’t enough to keep me happy in 2007. I had just turned 26 having spent my early twenties slogging in the newsroom as a sub-editor, then graphics editor, then online travel editor. So with dreamy ideas of castles, double-decker buses, pubs, and all the stereotypes Americans impose on Britain, I moved to Cardiff.

Cardiff wasn’t an obvious choice. People where I’m from in the states think Wales swim in the ocean. My logic went something like this:

I had $20,000 to spend on one year of education abroad from the Rotarians of West Texas. Britain awards most master’s degrees in one year. It also gives you free health care as an international student, lets you work up to 20 hours a week, and allows you to get a visa to work after you graduate. (Though some of these perks may change.)Then an old professor told me Cardiff had a good journalism school, and I was sold. So that is how I came to be in Cardiff.

It was temporary, though. I was going to get my degree, round out my journalism skills and probably go home. But Roy Noble of all people read the stars before I did. Some Rotarian who had heard me speak to his club in Aberdare told Roy he found an American he should interview. On Thanksgiving Day 2007, I went on his radio show. He told me Cardiff has a funny way of making people stay. The next summer, Cardiff worked its funny magic. I fell in love.

A year later, my now husband and I moved to Llandaff’s skinny Chapel Street. This village within Cardiff reminded me of a Neighbours within Albert Square – full of stories, history and soap-style drama lurking in the corners. Keen to keep up with the pace in online journalism, I created a local news site: Llandaff News. It was my experiment with WordPress, Twitter, and the social media sphere. It was my attempt to tell the stories of Llandaff and give more people a voice. But it’s become my reason and place to engage with my new home. Llandaff is where I live.

I’m still very much American. I sing Oklahoma with gusto after a few drinks. But I’m a Cardiffian and Llandavian, too. And I love it.

Joni Ayn Alexander is a multimedia journalist, lecturer, blogger, and PhD student. She spends a lot of time reading about journalism and hyperlocal media because that’s what her thesis is all about. When she can find the time, she practices journalism on Llandaff News. She’s American. She’s not British – yet. She drinks so much diet coke she’s been known to make artistic towers with leftover cans. (Small towers,
mind.) And she loves fried chicken. She currently lives in Llandaff.

Joni was photographed in Llandaff by Ffion Matthews

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‘I’ve loved Cardiff’s arcades for as long as I can remember’ – Amy

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It took me five years to fall in love with Cardiff. Maybe I’d been in love with it from day one, there was certainly some kind of mysterious force keeping me here. But I only realised how hard I’d fallen a few months ago.

I’m not a native Cardiffian. I’m not even Welsh (although for some time I did believe I had Welsh grandparents…). I moved here for the same reason I imagine many thousands do – university.

The strangest part about my decision to move to Cardiff was that I’d never even visited the city before I agreed to come and live here. It just seemed like the right thing to do. So up I rocked on day one, no clue where anything was, no clue about the history of the place, just sureity that this was where I was meant to be – and thankfully, I was oh so right.

Fast forward five and a bit years (and it really does feel like fast forward) and I can’t imagine myself living anywhere else. Even after I graduated and got a job in Bath, 50 miles away, I took the decision to commute rather than move. Now, while commuting has the odd strange benefit, believe it or not, it’s not exactly a picnic, so what is it about this place that still keeps me in its clutches?

I probably don’t need to tell anybody reading this about the many marvels of Cardiff, but I think it’s only now that I’m not a student and I actually spend a lot less time here than I used to, that I really appreciate it for what it is.

I’ve ended up with a city centre flat surrounded, pretty much, by all the things I love. I have the wonderful Bute Park only a few minutes round the corner, the magnificent Castle is opposite and the extra special Victorian and Edwardian Arcades line the street I live on – I couldn’t really ask for more.

The funny thing is, a lot of the places that I love, I didn’t really discover until after I’d made the decision to stay here after graduation. It sounds blasphemous, but it took me until last year to discover Wally’s – if you can believe that – I’d walked past it a few times but for god knows what insane reason not been in. Jacob’s Antiques, just behind Central station is another place that I often find myself in on a lazy Saturday afternoon, shamefully again something I’d seen from the train window a million and one times before I actually went in.

I could go on (and on) and list a thousand other great places, but I simply wouldn’t have time, because there’s too many, and you probably already know about them. Suffice to say, now that I know what I’d be missing out on if I left, I’m more in love with the place than ever before, and I also know there are so many more gems that I’ve probably also missed just waiting for me to explore.

It’s my love of all things Cardiff that led to the sudden lightning bolt of inspiration I had just the other night. I’ve been taking part in a Project 365, where you take one photo a day for a year, when I casually strolled into the Morgan Arcade one evening looking for that day’s picture. I’ve loved the arcades for as long as I can remember, and I think it’s fantastic that there’s a place that’s so uniquely Cardiff literally on my doorstep.

I tweeted that it might be a cool idea to do a photography project based entirely around the arcades and since then it has snowballed, there’s been a lot of interest and it’s now a full-blown project. So now you see, I really can’t leave, because I’m committed now to seeing through my Arcades project develop into something that I can be proud of, and it’s hopefully something that other people will get a lot of enjoyment out of.

So that’s my story, in a very tiny nutshell. I wonder what else Cardiff will ensnare me with over the coming years? Whatever it is… I can’t wait to find out.

Amy Davies is a journalist and photographer living in Cardiff city centre. Having moved to Cardiff 5-and-a-bit years ago for University, and never having the decency to leave, she now calls it home. During the day she boards the train of fun for her daily commute to Bath working on a photography website, and most of the rest of the time she’s either taking photos, writing things, baking cakes or a combination of all three. Visit the Cardiff Arcades Project website for more details on her latest project of insanity.

Amy was photographed at Cardiff Castle by Adam Chard

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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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“I Heart Bute Park” – Lisa

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I’m very lucky to have my favourite place in Cardiff so close by. Living in a flat means I don’t have any green space to officially call my own, but Bute Park provides all the leafiness I need just feet from my front door.

I lived in Hirwaun, a little valley village, until eight months ago when I made the move to Cardiff. Back there, I had a little garden complete with mountain views, and whilst I often cursed its inclination to grow wild and unruly within seconds of my secateur attacks, it was a place of solitude, a tiny slice of grassy-ness where I could read, drink a cup of tea or glass of wine, or even just watch from the shelter of the house as rain hammered down or snow softly fell.

I’ve always spent lots of time in Cardiff. I spent years driving back and forth to and from Hirwaun for gigs, films, friends and the like before deciding to take the plunge and move. It has made my social life much easier!

As much as I now love being amidst music venues and coffee shops and cinemas and pubs, I feel a shot of nature is needed to stay sane, some natural surroundings necessary to counterbalance the city silhouette.

Bute Park provides exactly that.

Early morning runs become more pleasurable when exercised within its environs, the foliage and flowers and the glistening River Taff providing stunning distractions. The same features soothe and calm on a summer’s day when a blanket can be spread on the grass, under a tree, or river side and the day spent with wine, words, chocolate and conversation. When the rain falls or the wind blows, the park’s beauty becomes slightly rougher, trees bend under the blustery breeze; rain is glugged greedily by the Taff. After a snowfall it transforms into a real life winter wonderland, a sparkling white layer spread all around. The park illustrates the seasons in an impressive natural artwork, something rarely revealed within a city.

Bute Park is a place for activity or introspection, a place to go with friends or family, a place to walk your dog or stroll solo. It’s a place of history, home to Cardiff Castle, the Gorsedd stones and the Animal Wall.

Initially developed in 1873, the park was later presented to the council in 1947. Hundreds of thousands of people have passed through it over the years. It’s a place where the energies and histories and souls of the Cardiffians gone by can be felt, as well as the stories and passions and secrets and longings and evils and regrets of the contemporaries.

It’s a place that inspires me to write, which provides a platform for my fitness attempts, which allows me to think, and gives me that shot of nature needed to stay sane. I feel very lucky indeed to have Bute Park on my doorstep.

Lisa Derrick is a Development Officer for a community arts project in Merthyr Tydfil. Lisa won runner up place for best writing on a blog at the Welsh Blog Awards in 2010, you can read The Chocolate Takeaway here and find her on Twitter @lisajderrick. She also writes for Plugged In Magazine and has published articles on the Guardian Cardiff site. She is currently studying part time for an MA in English and Creative Writing at UWIC and has novel shaped hopes for the future. She currently lives in Riverside.

Lisa was photographed in Bute Park by Adam Chard

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