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“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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“Cardiff and its people have shaped who I am today” – Andrew

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I first lived in Cardiff when I was a student at University of Glamorgan. It was only a year and a half (I dropped out, you see, all the best people do) but it was a proper eye opener for a wide-eyed indie kid from West Wales.

I find it hard to describe what Cardiff means to me, it’s become such an important part of my life. I lost my virginity here, had my first poem published here (in The Yellow Crane); I’ve gigged, marched, lobbied and protested here; gigged, danced, sung, drank and fallen over here. I bought a house here last year. It’s my home.

I went to my first gay club in Cardiff. Nerys and I were both 18, and I went to Talybont Halls to get ready before going out. I cringe to think of what I was wearing. Skin-tight grey pinstripe trousers, a black shirt, knockoff Patrick Cox loafers and more eyeliner than Robert Smith. We drank vodka, pretended we were Poppy Z Brite vampires, kissed and got a taxi to Club X. I can’t remember much of the next six months, but I definitely can’t drink like that these days. Sadly, I think my bohemian vampire days are over. But shh, don’t tell anyone, I still like the eyeliner though.

I live in Splott, on a tiny street in a tiny block near Moorlands Park. When I had my offer accepted, I turned into a Time Team detective; spent hours on Ancestry.com and old-maps.co.uk. I discovered that in 1890 a lady called Ellen Rörstrum lived in my house, and was probably the first occupant. When my Dad and I removed the old suspended floor from under the stairs, we found a rusty old Victorian hatpin. Part of Ellen’s life was suddenly in my hands. I felt I knew her. I could see this woman bringing up the children who survived past infanthood, mourning the ones who didn’t. Many have remarked on the cheerful feeling in my house; I hope I’m making it as happy a home as Ellen.

I’ve written quite a lot about Cardiff, you can’t seem to help it, if you live here. Most of my main characters live in Cardiff for a while, and even though they all leave, they always return. I had a short story selected for publication in Peter Finch’s Big Book of Cardiff in 2005. Nothing much happens in the story, two friends say goodbye as one leaves to live in Australia; but I wrote is as if the city was a character. That’s pretty much how I actually see Cardiff. Every landmark, whether they are famous and well known, or (in)famous to me personally, is a facet of the City’s character; every person, every shopper, every landlord, waitress or singer is a thought that flits through the City’s mind. I have the same relationship to Cardiff as I do with the people I love. Sometimes they get on my nerves, sometimes they don’t; sometimes we argue, sometimes we kiss and make up; but I love and accept them, warts and all.

Cardiff and its people have shaped who I am today. I wasn’t the confident, shouty, positive person I am today back then when I moved here ten years ago. I had an awful job back then, working for a black-hearted financial institution that tried to ruin my life by keeping me back. When I turned thirty in 2007, I decided I wanted a whole change of career. I now work for RNIB Cymru, Wales’ main charity offering support and advice to blind and partially sighted people. Part of my job is to go out to schools and deliver assemblies on the importance of regular eye health checks, how to keep your eyes healthy, and how to guide a blind or partially sighted person. After working for various terrible employers for more than fifteen years, I now genuinely love my job. No two days are the same; I might be training Kirsty Williams, leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats, one day, and running a focus group in Rhondda Cynon Taf the next. We campaign for the rights of blind and partially sighted people across Wales, and I am lucky enough to work closely with Cardiff, Vales and Valleys, (formerly Cardiff Institute for the Blind), a fantastic member organisation that supports, motivates and exists for the blind and partially sighted people of Cardiff and the Vale. Not content with that, CVV also operates in Swansea, Neath Port Talbot, Rhondda Cynon Taf and Merthyr.

I learned to knit in 2004. It started as a little hobby, and has turned into an obsession. I curated an art exhibition as part of Queer Cymru in 2005, and the entrance to my section of the exhibition space was hung with knitted jellyfish, that visitors had to duck under to access. The risk of being stung was minimal. I’m now busy designing four knitting and crochet patterns that will be on sale in a lovely new knitting shop in Canton called Calon Yarns. Lynne, the owner, not only has an amazing shop, she really wants to be part of the community. Calon Yarns runs workshops and events and all sorts of great community projects. Best of all, Lynne introduced me to a crowd of people as a ‘knitwear designer’.

Cardiff also holds another first for me. This is where I grew up. This is where I’ll stay.

Andrew Craig Williams was born in 1977 and is from Ammanford in Carmarthenshire. He has lived in Cardiff for ten years, where he is a writer, artist and music maker. His website is andrewcraigwilliams.com, where you can download his music, read some of his work and get his free knitting patterns. He suggest you also check out rnib.org.uk/cymru, cardiffinstitutefortheblind.org and calonyarns.co.uk. Andrew currently lives in Splott.

Andrew was photographed by Amy Davies outside Metros

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“I always knew I wanted to join the family business” – Dennis

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When I was a child, I used to tell people my ambition was to open a Clark’s Pie shop at the top of Snowdon! I always knew I wanted to join the family business that had been established by my grandmother, Mary Clark, in 1913. It was a thriving company by the time I was born in 1930, and before leaving school at the age of 14, I was already working at my parents’ shop at 454 Cowbridge Road East, just around the corner from our family home at Victoria Park.

This was in 1945, and the end of the Second World War. Canton and Grangetown in particular had seen much damage and significant loss of life, especially during the Cardiff Blitz of January 1941. I clearly remember nights spent in the air raid shelter in our garden, and the bomb that dropped on Lansdowne Road, shattering windows in our shop. It was business as usual soon afterwards, but with food on ration, the number of pies we could produce on a daily basis was limited.

We had no fridge at our premises, so a local butcher used to store our meat for us. One of my jobs was to collect the meat at 7am before production began. Because of the rationing, customers would queue for hours before the shop was due to open. On Saturdays, families would often send their children along to buy pies, and they would begin queuing from as early as 6.30 in the morning. On days like these we would sell out of pies within 45 minutes.

But it wasn’t all about work. Canton was a wonderful place to grow up and I had plenty of friends in the area. I spent many hours playing tennis in Victoria Park, opposite my family home, and played football for the Victoria Vikings. Always a keen gardener, I had an allotment near Llandaff Cathedral from the age of 14, and I was a member of Wesleyan Methodist Church and an Officer in 9th Cardiff Boys Brigade.

Everything changed in 1948 when I was called up for National Service at the age of 18. I was stationed at RAF South Cerney near Cirencester. I was lucky enough to secure a much sought after job as a driver, but, despite this, I wasn’t happy about being away from family and friends in my beloved Cardiff. I came home every weekend and, because I was in church every Sunday, some of the congregation didn’t even know I’d been called up!

The Boys Brigade was an important part of my early life and one of my proudest memories is when 9th Cardiff Company reached the finals of the Cardiff Competition. The finalists were to parade in the Assembly Room at City Hall and I was at the front swinging the mace. We were all nervous and knew we would need to put on an outstanding performance to win. I took a last minute decision to throw the mace up in the air at the end, knowing there was a risk of hitting one of the chandeliers that hung from the ceiling. The risk paid off. I managed to catch the mace without dropping it, the chandeliers remained intact and we won the competition!

In May 1955 I opened my own Clark’s Pie shop and bakery at 23 Bromsgrove Street, Grangetown. As well as a small number of staff that I’d employed, my mother also helped out during the first week. Things were up and running in no time and the shop soon became established. We have seen some tough times over the years with the BSE crisis and economic recession, but in 2005 we celebrated the shop’s 50th anniversary with a surprise visit from Frank Hennessy who sang some of his songs for staff and well-wishers.

I celebrated my 80th birthday in 2010 and, as a surprise, my family arranged for us all to see Cardiff City play. We had a meal beforehand in the corporate suite, met Craig Bellamy and I got to choose and award Man of the Match to Jay Bothroyd. Cardiff City won 4-0. The whole day was perfect and felt like a dream.

A year before I turned 80, I was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. I had been worried about my memory for some time and was referred to the Memory Clinic at Llandough Hospital. It was upsetting to receive the diagnosis but I am determined to be positive and live a full life. Two of my three daughters now run my Grangetown shop, but I am still actively involved in the business. My family give me a lot of support and I go out for social trips with two Care Workers from Crossroads Care (both called Janet!) during the week.

This means I can still do my own shopping, enjoy meals out and visit the garden centre. I have a good laugh with Janet and Janet and we often talk about our memories of Cardiff. Mine go back much further than theirs though!

Dennis Dutch was born in August 1930 to Arthur and Winifred Dutch, the third
of five children. The family lived at 23 Victoria Park Road West and Dennis
attended Lansdowne Road Primary then Cardiff High School. Dennis left
school at the age of 14 to work at the Victoria Park shop with his parents
before opening his own Clark’s Pies shop and bakery at 23 Bromsgrove
Street, Grangetown, in 1955.

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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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“Cardiff, it has been the most wonderful dream” – Sarah

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When I first came to Cardiff on a University open day in 2007, rain soaked and fearful, I never expected that this would be the place that I would make my home. At the time I thought that Cardiff was just a place to study, and that after my undergraduate degree, I would move back to my real ‘home’.

And yet, four years later, I have fallen head over heels with Cardiff, and it is a love affair that looks set to continue as I have just accepted an offer of a postgraduate diploma in Broadcast Journalism right here in this beautiful city.

You see, after four wonderful years, Cardiff has become my true home. That may sound cliché, but it’s absolutely true.

In this city I have lived my life, and become an adult. I have gained my independence, experienced freedom for the first time, and learned how to cook.

In this city I have loved. I have held hands under the neon glare of Winter Wonderland, shared whispered dreams for the future and danced in the arms of lovers.

In this city I have explored. I have wandered through kitsch, rambling arcades, sought bargains and eaten strange foods in new restaurants. I have lost myself in the winding terraced streets of Cathays, and I have rowed on Roath Lake.

In this city I have laughed. I have made great friends, shared experiences and cried over good-byes. I have lounged in Bute Park, celebrated birthdays and said met some wonderful strangers.

In this city I have been inspired. I have marvelled at the beautiful University buildings, and stared in awe at the war memorial. I have been a journalist and I have let this city sculpt the experiences that I write about.

I have worked, played and learnt so much more about the kind of life that I want to have. And I have been very lucky to do all of that right here.

Cardiff, it has been the most wonderful dream. Thank you.

Sarah Powell graduated from Cardiff University in 2010, and has since spent a year working as Head of Student Media and gair rhydd Editor at Cardiff University Students’ Union. She is due to spend next year studying Broadcast Journalism, and generally contemplating whether life will exist without gair rhydd. She currently lives in Cathays, where she spends a lot of time drinking tea and trying to write. You can find her on twitter @sarah_powell.

Sarah was photographed in the gair rhydd offices in Cardiff University’s Student Union by Adam Chard

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

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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

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“In Cardiff, if you do well you’re celebrated” – Jo

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I don’t have any Welsh roots as such. I’m a West Country girl born and bred although my Dad is a Londoner via Yorkshire… it’s complicated. Anyway, my Grandfathers last partner Frances was a full on Welsh wonder woman from mid-Wales who did the best burnt cooked breakfast ever and had a large collection of brass things in the living room of their London terraced house. She had a huge family who we visited a few times. I remember them being very rowdy and a good laugh. I’d also been on numerous holidays to Wales and once ran away from a man conversing to me in Welsh at the Eisteddfod. I was eight at the time and not prepared for a well-meaning Welsh man talking to me in a scary foreign language. It never occurred to me that I’d one day be calling the Welsh capital my home.

When I first started visiting Cardiff I was rather nonplussed about the city. At the time my best friend had moved away from Bristol and I was visiting her where she was living in Cathays in early 2008. St Mary Street did nothing for me and I was very quick to base my whole impression of the city on one street – that and my best friend’s dodgy live-in landlord who was keen to show us his metallically enhanced todger. Everything changed when she moved to her own flat in Roath several months later and I saw a side of Cardiff that didn’t involve drunk scantily clad girls and genital piercings.

After spending some wonderful weekends checking out the local area in Roath, the fantastic choice of cafes and restaurants, a huge beautiful park and an overall happy relaxed feeling about the place it suddenly occurred to me that I was missing out in Bristol, big time. It was then that I came up with a cunning plan to finally go to university which allowed me to avoid the issue of finding a new job and enabling me to move to Cardiff with a porpoise, I mean purpose. As a keen artist and musician I decided that a Media Studies degree would be a good idea. I still don’t understand my logic and spent many a night sobbing into the never ending pages of media theory. Putting on my best puppy eyes my friend took me in and I’ve been living in her compact flat near Albany Road ever since.

In the short space of time living in Cardiff I don’t think I’ve ever had so many fantastic opportunities. I get asked – asked! – to show my artwork. I get asked to play paid gigs. My blog even made it to the final of the Wales Blog Awards in 2010. Things like that don’t happen in Bristol. You’re either part of the scene or you’re an outsider. If you’re an outsider you have to work 200% to get involved with anything. In Cardiff if you do well you’re celebrated. In Bristol if you do well you’re criticized. I am an incredibly shy person and in a cold, hostile environment I can’t get out of myself. There’s a friendly feeling about Cardiff which has really had an effect on me. I feel comfortable which means I can take steps into areas unimaginable before.

Last year I decided that Cardiff was where I wanted to be indefinitely. Have I changed my mind this year? Of course not! It’s Cardiff all the way for me!

Jo Whitby started making music in 1995, admittedly her first song was about Christmas trees but she’s grown a lot since then. Teaching drums for a few years in Bristol Jo then wandered over the second Severn crossing (not the first one) in 2008 and started a new musical project called Laurence Made Me Cry. She gave birth in 2009 to an illustration business called I Know Jojo which she saw as a good excuse to draw characters from Doctor Who. Jo is also co-founder of the music and culture webzine Cat On The Wall. She currently lives in Roath.

Jo was photographed outside The Gate 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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We Are Cardiff at Big Little City – Launch of Phase Three, 22 June 2011

The rather wonderful Big Little City project that has been underway at the Cardiff Story Museum is having its Phase Three Launch party on Wednesday 22 June 2011, from 5-7pm. We’ll be there – with a refreshed We Are Cardiff display – and hope you can make it too!