Cardiff and I didn’t begin auspiciously; I’ve found that the best relationships rarely do. Friends have suggested that that’s a reflection on my own social ineptitude but, in this case, it’s irrefutable proof of this city’s ability to charm you into a three year relationship off the back of a farcical first date.
If you were to conjure up an image of a sodden Central Square on a bleak Spring day, you might be inclined to agree that the combined effect of the overbearing conditions, fast food outlets and an array of characters best described as ‘colourful’ would be conducive to a sobering first impression. Dismissing any initial angst that might have crept in as a product of sheltered, rural naivety, I made my way to Cathays Park.
The ambience inspired by the Edwardian architecture here was altogether more agreeable, and I advanced into the Bute Building with a sense of purpose. Once inside I was informed that the next introductory lecture wouldn’t be taking place for another two hours, and promptly left again. But having spent an unadventurous youth in rural Dorset I rapidly became disorientated amidst my new surroundings – and to make matters worse, the rain had cranked up to apocalyptic levels. I huddled in a bus stop.
I had become a vagrant.
Worse for wear and somewhat dispirited, a cup of coffee and the subsequent lecture nonetheless brightened my mood – and my outlook was further bolstered by a member of the welcome committee, who laughingly assured me that the prevailing meteorological conditions were anomalous and that I would enjoy city life. I now know the first part of this statement to be marketing at its most deceitful. On the second count, however, she couldn’t have been more correct.
Within six months I had been blown back to the city by the winds of whimsy, this time as a fully fledged Welsh resident. Two years on, I remain convinced that I’ve struck the jackpot.
Having perused this blog time and time again, it is hard not to wholly plagiarise the sentiments with which I agree wholeheartedly. Cardiff is the perfect introduction to real life, particularly for a small town émigré. Whilst large enough to make every trip the opportunity to discover something new, it is small enough to know intimately. A capital city that retains the feel of a secret, close-knit community, it is a city of contradictions – and all the better for it.
My friends, perhaps dazzled by bright lights, used the university application process to head for London. That (coupled with the fact that it’s home to my beloved Fulham Football Club) means that I frequently find myself wandering the streets of the Big Smoke. There can be no doubt that it is an exceptional city to work, a sprawling metropolis unrivalled in its social and economic opportunities. But to live? Not for me.
It may be that the dangling of the economic carrot obliges me to migrate there sooner rather than later, but I have a feeling that I will always be drawn back to Cardiff and its nuances – the arcades, Bute Park, Tiger Bay. Even the Millennium Stadium holds a place in my heart, despite the pain that has been inflicted on my home country upon its hallowed turf.
I know of few cities that blend high street amenities, waterfront café culture and unspoilt greenery so successfully within the confines of a few square miles. To me there are few more idyllic afternoons than lunch at the New York Deli and a stroll along the Taff. It’s a city designed for living, and I can only hope it stays that way.
As a sport fan, it’s a near-perfect location. There are few other cities in the world which you can leave your house and be within walking distance of regular international rugby, football and cricket and the accompanying carnival atmosphere. The ability to see the world’s most expensive footballer tearing Wales’ opponents apart and be home within twenty minutes is a convenience shared only by the residents of Madrid, and it’s one that I treasure.
In 12 months time, my stay in south Wales is due to come to end – and I don’t know what I’m going to do about it. Whatever jibes that are unfairly directed its way by those who live blissfully in their ignorance, it is an immense privilege to call myself a Cardiffian.
Alex Norton is a final year undergraduate at the Cardiff School of Journalism, Media and Culture and currently serves as News Editor for the newly launched monthly ‘The University Paper’. Like all proper students he lives in Cathays, and in his spare time he’s either travelling to football matches, reclining in Coffee Barker or walking around the city in a daze asking people if they’ve seen the last two years of his life. He can be found on Twitter @thealexmancan.
Alex was photographed at Cathays Park by Joseph Singh