Overlooking Colin’s books


I will have lived in Cardiff city centre for two years next month and it’s safe for me to say that I have enjoyed almost every minute of it.

I realised it was time to get a place of my very own after house-sharing for a while, I knew it had to be somewhere central for several reasons (but mainly because I do not want to have to own a car or learn to drive).

So, while you’re parking your cars on your driveways and entering your houses through white UPVC doors, I enter mine through a relatively artless grey door opposite Dorothy’s fish shop on the eponymous “Chippy Lane”, furtively tapping in the code in case anyone is watching.

Living so centrally comes with its upsides. It’s close to most of the best restaurants in Cardiff, with establishments such as La Brasserie on the same block and Yo! Sushi just around the corner and if ever I feel like catching a movie I am never more than 2 minutes walking distance from two of the largest cinemas in the city.

From the privacy of my balcony I have seen the St David’s 2 shopping centre, John Lewis and the new Cardiff Central Library rise from the ground. I have seen Welsh rugby players viciously assaulted after a night on the booze and witnessed enough alcohol fuelled altercations to quell any desire I might have had to watch a round of boxing again. I have been awoken on a Saturday morning by choruses of hooters and singing fans during the dozens of match days that have passed by during my tenure; an atmosphere that can easily be likened to the tangible buzz experienced by ordinary people in ordinary streets on VE Day, 1945.

I have witnessed (and documented) businesses coming and going, such as the ill-fated Fab Mash and the excellent Wok to Walk. I was invited by Apple to be inside at the opening of St David’s 2 and have eaten and drank at nearly every single restaurant, pub and bar in the CF10 postcode area. I’ve had it good and I’ve made the most of it.

The problems which naturally go hand in hand with residing in such a high profile area are fairly self-evident. Drunken party people shouting and screaming until at least 5am every morning (if not later) and piles of polystyrene trays adorning what is my “front garden” every match day being just two examples.

I have consciously attempted to make living in this area as safe and serene as possible for everyone who has chosen to try it out by setting up a residents committee. I try to encourage this committee to meet as often as possible; the only problem is that most tenants rarely stay as long as me. They seem easily scared away by the noise and characters of the night-time.

Stepping off of the street, in through the door and up into a lift does sometimes seem like entering Narnia – especially if you do it at 1am on a Saturday morning. Up here I have a new (built in 2003) apartment with a modern kitchen, two bedrooms, two bathrooms – all the mod-cons, a far cry from the battered sausages and rissoles down there.

Once you close the double-glazed doors, draw the curtains and sit down in front of the telly you could be in any suburb, anywhere. Soundproofing is clearly a matter that the original builders didn’t skimp on and for that I am grateful.

There have been annoyances and frustrations (as you would expect) since the area has been a massive building site for at least the last five years;  like road closures and dug up streets as the works went on to spruce up St Mary Street, meaning that I never knew if my Sainsbury’s delivery driver could get to me or not.

But, with this I have witnessed the capital grow and many changes for the better have come of it. St Mary Street now looks much better. The partial pedestrianisation has worked out well and from what I hear is to be completed later this year.

Trade is now flourishing in the nearby arcades and St David’s 2 is welcoming millions of visitors, shoppers and eaters. A world away from the throng of temporary fences, hard hats and cranes that comprised it just 6 months ago.

Cardiff is coming of age. Amenities are being added all the time that make it viable to make a home here, like the opening of Tesco and Sainsbury’s on St Mary Street, both of which close at 11pm.

A year ago I was cooking a chilli and realised that I did not have an onion. It was 9pm and I walked the streets trying to find one, with no luck. There was nowhere to buy regular groceries; M&S on Queen Street closes at 6pm and Sainsbury’s 8pm. I would have had to walk to Grangetown or Cathays had I not had the bright idea to ask a kindly chip-shop owner at The Red Onion (yes, really) if I could buy one from him. I explained my dilemma and he gave it to me, refusing to accept any money. Now that’s community spirit!

Living in Cardiff city centre could, I suppose, be likened to Manhattan living, but on a smaller scale and without the glitz and glamour of Broadway (although we do have St David’s Hall and the New Theatre).

Now that there is a little one on the way it is time to leave this all behind.

I will be sad to leave.

7 Comments

  1. This is a great post, really insightful. I live on Westgate Street and since moving to Cardiff (in January 2010) I’ve already noticed a change. The opening of Sainsbury’s has made a big difference, along with the already established Tesco. I agree, you need the convenience stores in the centre. If you want people to live in the centre, they need the facilities.

    We don’t get much noise on Westgate Street (as the pubs don’t let people out onto it after 9 PM) but I imagine if you lived nearer St Mary’s Street you’d have more problems.

    Wish you all the best with the move and be interested to know if your perceptions change once you’re living out of the the city centre.

  2. Interesting blog post. I’d often wondered what it would be like living in the centre of our “capital village”. Cardiff is a ‘proper’ city and yet it’s still got a human-scale to it: it’s possible to walk down the High Street and bump into friends and acquaintances.

  3. Very nice post. The closest I have gotten so far to living in the city centre was Mackintosh Place in Roath two years ago. I have a feeling I would get frustrated with all the drunk people every weekend on Chippy Lane, but I certainly wouldn’t mind living that near Cineworld and the new eastside.

    It is always sad to leave a place we have come to love behind, but I am certain you will find your next place to become even more of a home, where you can see your child grow up and enjoy the family life.

  4. Great well written post. I have always thought about living in the city center but worried about some of the points you raised.

    I think its nice that you experienced it and made an impact on the other residents / community. Although I agree with ‘Thierry’ above, you have a lot of exciting times ahead.

  5. Interesting post about living in the city. I have also been living in the Centre for a year or so and the lifestyle and convenience has really given me a very positive experience. I live above one of the arcades and am currently looking into the future of these arcades. In the last few weeks there does seem to be an increase in business of the shops and arcades do generally seem busier, however there is still a question over their future. I was wondering if you had any thoughts on the future of these areas and what you felt maybe needed in the future to keep them a lively as they are. If you are interested we are going to be taking over one of the empty shops to discuss this further from 2-3 July. http://www.ark-lab.co.uk

    Look forward to hearing from you.

    Julian

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