Tag Archives: Pontcanna

“Cardiff’s buildings may change, but the feel of the city never does” – Bazz

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That famous Thomas Wolfe quote – “you can’t go home again” – doesn’t really apply when you’re referring to Cardiff. Buildings may change, but the feel of the city never does.

When I was growing up, to take a trip down to Cardiff Bay seemed nothing short of ‘danger tourism’. It might just be my over-active imagination embellishing these memories, but the Docks were like the set of a post-apocalyptic film back then: derelict warehouses seemed to be everywhere. Now it’s one of the gems of South Wales: a hive of family-friendly activity as well as late-night revelry.

The Hayes, in the town centre, used to be where you went to get your bike fixed (Halfords), or your photos developed (Jessops, which had a little robotic man in its shop window that haunted my dreams for a worrying period of time). In late 2009, I came back from a long trip to Australia to discover the retail Mecca that is St David’s 2, built over that once-dreary site; a centre so impressive that people from as far afield as London prefer to come here to do their shopping.

The fear of missing out is a powerful one. If you’re coming back to this city after moving away, you’re not coming back to the small village where nothing ever changes; where everybody shops at the local petrol station. You’re coming back to a city where exciting things are happening, be it in sporting, cultural or business terms (or all three). I’m appreciative of the fact that I’m living in Cardiff at a time when it’s experiencing a renaissance.

Some people are quick to drop everything and leave for another city, or country, and in some cases that’s understandable. For me, I have cultivated many friendships over the years that I would find hard to turn my back on so easily. Many of these were formed at places such as the gym in Sophia Gardens, which hosts the richest tapestry of characters I’ve ever encountered. One of the more outlandish individuals is a Phil Collins lookalike who accessorises a skimpy leotard with a bumbag. I’ve made some great friends there (though not so much with Leotard Man, for obvious reasons), and the storylines that have emerged from within the four walls of a single weights room have convinced me that I will one day write a book on these people.

I went to Ysgol Gyfun Gymraeg Plasmawr in Fairwater. It’s an amazing school. There were only three years there when I started because it had gone from being a lower school to a new, standalone institution. It meant that everyone knew each other, which was definitely not the case in the rest of Cardiff’s huge schools. My little brother goes there now, and to hear of all the developments it’s undergone since I left (including, to my eternal jealousy, an astroturf pitch and a new gym) reinforces my belief that the Welsh language continues to grow in the city.

Most of my friends in their mid-twenties are teachers, and I realise that my teachers in Plasmawr – back then, all around the same age that I am now – were still finding their way; their experiences as educators were just as new as ours were as pupils and, on reflection, they did an impressive job. English classes were a highlight, and my teacher Mr Jones was an inspirational presence who had a profound effect on the path I chose upon leaving school.

I wasn’t the perfect student by any stretch of the imagination, and my friends and I were prone to the odd displays of smartarsery. In history class one day, our new teacher immediately regretted asking our disruptive group if one of us wanted to take the lesson, because one of us stood up and did just that. But those are the good memories you take with you.

Studying for my undergraduate degree in Aberystwyth some years ago, I encountered certain Welsh people from outside of South Wales from whom I got the impression they thought people from Cardiff were somehow ‘less Welsh’ than them. Now most of them live here. A microcosm of North Wales can even be found in Canton, adding to the melting pot (or, better yet, fruit salad) already inherent in Cardiff’s DNA.

Three years ago, I was lucky to be accepted into Cardiff University’s International Journalism Masters programme. In a large group of students, I was the only Welshman (and one of only three Brits) on the course, and the UN-like environment of the ‘newsroom’ was incredible. It was interesting to see these foreigners’ perceptions of my hometown too. Maybe they were just being polite, but they seemed utterly sincere when they told me they loved Cardiff. It was a unique experience at the Bute Building in Cathays Park.

My favourite part of Cardiff is the sprawling Pontcanna Fields. There aren’t many cities that can boast a park where you are literally surrounded in all directions by greenery, and it’s one of the prime examples of why the city is one of the greenest in Europe. You can even see Castell Coch from the fields, which emphasises Cardiff’s accessibility to other distinctly non-cosmopolitan regions. Whether I’m there walking the dog or running with my friend, this place has a calming effect on my soul.

As a youngster, I had no reason to go to Cathays or Roath – now I’m there regularly. It is the bohemian heart of the city, and the elite unit of Cardiff’s intelligentsia that is my quiz team has often been known to storm the competition at the magnificent Pear Tree bar on a Sunday. (In the past, we’ve been affectionately referred to as the ‘Seal Team 6’ of quiz teams – mostly by ourselves.)

I want to be here when Cardiff reaches its tipping point and gets the global recognition it deserves as one of Europe’s finest capital cities. It won’t be long.

Bazz Barrett works in PR and lives in Pontcanna. He blogs for therugbycity.wordpress.com, tweets as @bazzbarrett and can sometimes be found avoiding leotard-wearing Phil Collins lookalikes in the gym – a workout in itself.

Bazz was photographed at the War Memorial in Alexandra Gardens by Ffion Matthews

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“Pontcanna Fields Forever” – Seren

serenrhys

Pontcanna Fields Forever

City summer skies

The green lungs of Cardiff breathe

Urban heat shimmers

The air is fresh and gentle but the June heat beats like a slackened drum, a constant slow rhythm of warmth intensifying as the sun reaches midday. It is the most perfect summer’s day in the city. In the heart of the capital, the urban rat race is a distant hum.

A huge green lung like a refreshing sigh.

In the heart of the city, in a vast area of parkland running alongside the River Taff, we lay, entangled in shades of gold and symbols, sharing a kiss against a bronze background like a Fin de siècle Klimt painting.

Nothing moves.

The long line of lime trees are frozen in stillness, leaves caught in the flaring June sun, and the world around us swims in the shimmering golden haze.

The sky is limitless. Blue. Cloudless. No birds.

I have just awoken from a deep sleep wine fueled daze. Our picnic remnants scattered. He is asleep. His eye lids flicker and he stirs, moving to resettle on my shoulder. I wonder what he is dreaming.

I raise my arms and s-t-r-e-t-c-h, blinded by the whiteness of the sun. Like a synchronised dance he shadows my movements but does not wake.

Where the picnic blanket ends I feel the irritable itch of grass blades on the backs of my legs. I imagine the criss cross red pressured welts that tattoo my skin – a testimony to our first summer outing in the city this year.

My body pulses sensations, with being alive and lying here with him in the summer heat.

I turn and look at the dappled grass, shaded it looks cool and inviting. The sensations of lying under the trees where the grass is soft and damp would be soothing but the thought of moving is too much to contemplate.

This beautiful never ending summer’s day is almost unbearable. The sun moves slowly on through the listless blue of the sky. I watch it, totally aware of my,
our,
own insignificance.

I shut my eyes and the sun pulses ochre against my lids.

Seren Rhys was born in 1970, in Llandeilo, Wales, spent her childhood in Ibiza and her  adolescence in Penarth. She has always been obsessed with taking photographs and has spent much of her life behind and in front of the lens. “I have this compulsion to record every moment; love, hate, anger, jealousy, anguish. Fortunately for me Confessional Art in the last decade has become highly fashionable.” Check out her blog here and her Facebook fan page here. Seren lives in Pontcanna.

Seren was photographed in Bute Park by Simon Ayre

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“There is as much to get angry about in Cardiff, as there is to enjoy” – Peter

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Yes, I am still, frequently, asked the question by uncomprehending friends “why do you live in Cardiff?”.

As a south Londoner, I migrated here via the very beautiful countryside of north Warwickshire. My work as a consultant took me from the heart of England all over the UK, quite a bit of Europe and even North America. But I had a client in Cardiff that meant five years of staying almost every week at the Holiday Inn (now the Ramada); stays that included the delight of Michael Jackson’s suite. An artificial kind of “getting to know you Cardiff” maybe, but it planted a seed that led to me renting a flat for six months to work on a book.

Then, much later, the suggestion to my partner that we try a year in a rented flat in Llandaff to see if we really liked Cardiff. A year after when we were being kicked out we had to decide: to relocate permanently or return to leafy Warwickshire. The decision was taken out of our hands when the house there sold and, on the same day we found a home in Pontcanna, we bought it.

We didn’t know then that this was one of the most desirable parts of the city, and that we were surrounded by Welsh speakers and media personalities. As time went on, we met with like-minded immigrants, as well as delightful neighbours who had been in the area for 40 or 50 years. We tried, repeatedly, to improve our Welsh.

It took a while to get to know the extraordinary delights of the adjoining Pontcanna and Llandaff Fields and the way they form part of the Bute Parks. The arrival of Dryw – black, four legged and a terrier explorer – accelerated our learning. However, we quickly discovered that many of the things we most liked about Cardiff were under threat.

First it was Sophia Gardens – the city’s first public park – and the idea of giving a privately owned company a huge amount of public space in which to develop a commercial cricket ground. The “Hit it for Six” campaign successfully fought off two major applications for development in this grade 2* parkland, but the promise of a “test match” and of some fleeting international exposure saw the council roll over like lapdogs and agree to the desecration of the park. An action that can never be reversed.

It became clear, sadly, that this was part of an ongoing process of degradation and development, usually claimed to be for “worthy causes”. Each of these individual uses may have seemed to have some merit, but taken together they have added up to a 40% removal of public space from one of the country’s most important historic landmarks.

Sophia Gardens was effectively finally lost when the cricket stadium was built, but we all thought Bute Park itself was untouchable. The allure of money from the Heritage Lottery Fund and weaselly words of support from them, enabled the council to build a new access road to enable it to undertake public events more easily. A 5000 people petition asking for a moratorium on development in the Bute Parks was dismissed in a council meeting in seconds. At this point anyone would question why they would still want to live here.

Now, there is as much to get angry about in Cardiff, as there is to enjoy. As chair of Cardiff Civic Society, a charity not a political or single-issue campaign, I have a responsibility, not to be angry (well, not just angry) but to try to ensure that Cardiff’s historic past, and just as importantly, its future, is in the ownership of its citizens. Not, as so often seems, taken for granted by its politicians as their right to propose and dispose of at will.

We are coming up to an important time for those who make bad decisions: it’s the Welsh Assembly elections next year, council elections in 2012. It’s a good time to reflect on what has happened, and what we might want for the city in twenty years’ time.

Cardiff has the potential to be a fitting capital for the country where many of us still want to live. Indeed, it can and should be a world exemplar of many of Wales’ policies for the environment, sustainable economic growth, high standards of built design and caring for a remarkable and complex history.

It won’t be that in 2020 unless we, the people who have grown to love the place, make it so.

Peter Cox moved his management consultancy business to Cardiff after emigrating here 15 years ago: it became a Wales Fast Growth 50 Company. He was a board member and trustee of Cardiff’s Chapter Arts Centre for seven years and its chair for two, putting in place its recent £3.5M RIBA award-winning refurbishment. He is now chair of Cardiff Civic Society, which has recently prepared a response to the Cardiff Council plans for a new Local Development Plan. He writes here in a personal capacity. Find him on his personal website or his Twitter @peterdcox. He lives in Pontcanna.

Picture: Peter was photographed by the new Bute Parks access road bridge by Adam Chard. Peter commented on the road: “Its presence allows the noise, traffic and pollution of an arterial roadway into what was once one of the most preciously tranquil areas of the heritage park. The massive, industrial strength bridge (for 40 tonne lorries) has the design footprint of a monster and less subtlety than the second Severn crossing. It destroys something given in trust. It’s an irrevocable act of vandalism that history will join those who campaigned against it and roundly condemn as a folly of 21st century politicians seeking civic aggrandisement above civic duty.”

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