Archive for the Bute Park Category

Cardiff, City of Cycling?

Posted in Bute Park with tags , , , , , , , on February 22, 2017 by telescoper

Two recent news items about Cardiff caught my attention so I thought I’d do a quick post. The first piece was about the terrible state of traffic congestion in the city. This doesn’t affect me directly as I normally work to work and back, but it has definitely got much worse in the last few years. The roads are regularly gridlocked, a situation made worse by the interminable and apparently pointless roadworks going on everywhere as well as absurdly slow and dysfunctional traffic lights. There’s a common view around these parts that this is being allowed to happen – or even engineered – so that Cardiff City Council can justify the introduction of congestion charging. This would be an unpopular move among motorists, but I think a congestion charge would not be a bad idea at all, as what the city really needs is to reduce the number of motor vehicles on its streets, to deal with the growing problem of pollution and long journey times.

One day, about six years ago,  I was almost run over three different times by three different vehicles. The first was near the car park in Sophia Gardens, where there are signs and road marking clearly indicating that there is a speed limit of 5 mph but where the normal speed of cars is probably more like 35; the guy who nearly killed me was doing about 60.

Next, in Bute Park, a heavy lorry belonging to the Council, engaged in some sort of “tree-management” business, thundered along the footpath past me. These paths used to be marked 5mph too, but the Council removed all the signs when it decided to build a huge road into the Park and encourage more vehicles to drive around inside. The lorry wasn’t going as fast as the Boy Racer of Sophia Gardens, but the size of the truck made it just as scary.

Finally, using a green light at the pedestrian crossing at Park Place I was narrowly missed by another car who had clearly jumped a red light to get onto the dual carriageway (Dumfries Place) leading to Newport Road.

I have to say things like this aren’t at all unusual, but that is the only time I’ve had three close encounters in one day! Although most car drivers behave responsibly, there seems to be a strong concentration of idiots in Cardiff whose antics are exacerbated by the hare-brained Highways Department of the local council. There are many things to enjoy about living in Cardiff, and the quality of life here is very good for a wide range of reasons, but of all the cities I’ve lived in it is by a long way the least friendly to pedestrians and cyclists.

Which brings me to the second news item, which is about Cardiff City Council’s ambitious new Cycling Strategy, which aims to double the number of trips made using cyclists over the next ten years. That still wouldn’t reach the level of Cambridge, where 30% of all journeys in the city are done by bicycle.

Cardiff has a long way to go to match Cambridge and further still to be like Copenhagen, one of the loveliest and most livable cities I’ve ever experienced, partly because of its traffic policies.

In the interest of balance I should also point out that I was once actually hit on a pedestrian crossing in Cardiff by a bicycle steered by a maniac who went through a red light. In this case, however, I did manage to push him off his bike as he tried to get away, so he ended up more seriously hurt than I was. I was hoping that a friendly car would run over his bike, which was lying in the road, but sadly that didn’t happen.

I hope in their desire to increase the number of cyclists, the town planners don’t forget those of us who travel on foot!

Flaming June Again

Posted in Art, Biographical, Bute Park, History with tags , , , , on June 10, 2016 by telescoper

Since we’re in the middle of a modest heatwave I thought “Flaming June” would be a good title for a blog post. Until a few years ago I always thought that “Flaming June” was some sort of folk expression or quotation from a poem, but it is instead the title of this Pre-Raphaelite painting by Frederic Leighton of a lady wearing what looks like a dress made out of old curtains. Apparently the oleander branch seen in the upper right symbolizes the fragile link between sleep and death. It looks to me like she must be attending a lecture…

But I’m rambling. This has been an exhausting week, probably because I a few days off last week and have come back to one of the busiest periods of the academic year. The examination period is over so there are scripts to mark,  examiners’ meetings, class lists and the like, all parts of the arcane business of academic life. In fact I’ll be spending the first three days of next week in Cambridge where I’m External Examiner for Physics, and I have a lot to do here before I go.

In between all the meetings I had to attend yesterday I noticed that it was the 9th of June, a date of enormous cultural significance for those of us born on Tyneside, as Geordie Ridley’s famous music hall song The Blaydon Races begins “I went to Blaydon Races, ’twas on the 9th of June… The original Blaydon Races were horse races and site of the course is long since gone, but the name has recently been resurrected as a road race involving people on foot rather than on horseback. Incidentally, the usual “Whit Week” holiday in late May or early June is still referred to on Tyneside as “Race Week”.

All this reminded me of the occasion – over twenty years ago – when I entered the Great North Run for the first time. Nowadays this race – the biggest mass participation half-marathon race in the world, with 50,000 competitors – is run in September, but in those days it was held in June. As it happened, there was also a heatwave the first time I did it. I remember lining up at 9.30 on a Sunday morning on the start grid (I was number eleven thousand and something) while the stewards went round pleading with all the participants to take plenty of water as they went around as it was going to be very hot indeed and they didn’t want people suffering from dehydration.

In those days I was quite a keen long-distance runner and was fairly fit. I wasn’t that concerned about the heat but took the advice to heart and determined to stop at all the water stations on the way from Newcastle to South Shields. When we started I also took care not to go off too fast over the first mile or so, which is basically all downhill from the Town Moor to the Tyne Bridge. Not that you could go fast anyway, as the track was so crowded with runners.

I remember the wonderful feeling as we emerged onto the Tyne Bridge and took in the splendid view of the bridges along the river. When we got to Gateshead the crowds were out in large numbers cheering everyone on and I felt completely elated. The first water station was near Gateshead athletics stadium, and I took a drink there as I did at the next, and the next. After Gateshead the route heads towards the Felling bypass at about 4-5 miles and then the runners can see a long climb in front of them. A large thermometer showed the temperature on the road to be about 45 Celsius. Fortunately the people living in houses either side of the road were out in their front gardens offering encouragement and sometimes had their hoses out to shower people as they went past. At one point there was a fire engine that had made an impromptu fountain by the side of the road too.

Unfortunately, as I near the ten mile mark I started to feel a bit strange. I had never actually taken on water while I was running before this race; I never felt the need for it when on training runs. My stomach wasn’t used to the water sloshing around while I was running. I felt quite sick by the time we got to the top of the climb but when I saw the sea and felt its breath on my face I cheered up and descended the steep downward slope towards the seafront near Marsden Rock.

There’s a good mile and a half along the seafront to the finish, however, and I was definitely struggling really badly by then. I could see the finish line but it felt like it wasn’t getting any closer. I slowed to a crawl but kept going, finally reaching the grandstand where a large crowd shouted encouragement. I must have looked dreadful because I heard several people shouting out my number along with “keep going, son”  and “you’re nearly there”.

Eventually I got to the finish line but the feeder lanes were quite busy then – I was finishing at about the peak  time of about 1hr 50 – so I was forced to slow right down because of the people in front of me.

As I crossed the line, I stopped running and was immediately overcome with nausea. I bent over, hands on my knees and emptied the contents of my stomach – mainly water – all over the grass. I felt absolutely dreadful but, after a quick check from the St John Ambulance crew who were on hand, I recovered and found my folks who were nearby. After we got home and I had a shower I felt fine.

About a week later, when I had returned to my flat in London a letter arrived for me. I opened it up and found a small passport-sized photograph, with the caption “YOUR MOMENT OF TRIUMPH”. It turns out there was an automatic camera near the finishing line that snapped everyone crossing it along with a shot of the digital clock showing their finishing time. The idea is that you could order a blow-up of the picture for £25 to put on your wall.

In my case, though, the picture showed not a moment of splendid athletic achievement, but a bedraggled creature puking uncontrollably while those around him looked on in disgust. I didn’t order the blow-up of my throw-up.

Over the years I did the Great North Run a number of times – six or seven, I don’t remember exactly – and a few marathons too, but the strain of running on the roads around London gradually told on my knees and I had to stop because of recurrent pain and swelling. Eventually, a few years ago I surrendered to the inevitable and had arthroscopic surgery to sort out the damage to my knee joints. That seems to have fixed the problem, but my running days are over.


Cardiff – The Video

Posted in Bute Park with tags , on September 24, 2012 by telescoper

Here’s a nice video promoting Cardiff as a perfect place to be a student.  I presume it doesn’t mention the Opera because that’s for old fogeys like me rather than bright young things like them, but it does feature quite a few other things that might surprise you if you’ve never visited the city before, including Bute Park…

Parks and Prizes

Posted in Bute Park on July 22, 2012 by telescoper

It being a nice day I took myself off for a stroll through Bute Park this afternoon. It was actually a bit warmer than I’d expected so I confined myself to the shady tree-lined bits. It was nice to see so many people enjoying the open air, sitting on the grass, picnicking, playing sports and even just strolling around like me. Walking along by the river bank I saw this guy practising a tightrope walk.

That’s something you don’t see every day. Well done, that man.

Anyway, when I got home I checked my email and found an angry message complaining about Cardiff City Council’s ongoing campaign to win itself an award for what is known as the Bute Park Restoration Project. The link invites people to “vote” for the project, but gives no option to vote against it. One wonders how many Cardiff City Council employees have been busy hitting the vote button over the last few weeks.

I’ve added a few comments to the page, pointing out that the Bute Park Restoration Project has not involved restoration as much as over-development and exploitation. The loveliest parts of the Park, those I wandered around today, haven’t been touched by the Restoration and are all the better for it. What has happened elsewhere are new buildings and roads that are both unnecessary and damaging. I accept that the restoration of the animal wall is a positive move, but the damage to the rest of the park, especially Coopers’ Fields, caused by excessive deployment of heavy vehicles and temporary buildings far outweighs the benefit.

For much of the summer large parts of the park have been inaccessible to the general public, and the paths overrun with heavy vehicles:

Bute Park is beautiful, but it’s beautiful despite the Restoration Project and not because of it. It will be scandalous if it wins an award.

Still, at least it’s not as bad as London. A couple of weeks ago I travelled to London to participate in an event at the Royal Society. It was a nice day so I decided to walk from Paddington, an easy route through Hyde Park and down past Buckingham Palace. Unfortunately, I found Hyde Park almost entirely blocked by temporary buildings and maximum security fences owing to something to do with the Olympics. Later on, after negotiating a way through the resulting maze, I discovered that The Mall was also closed off to make way – believe it or not – for the beach volleyball. Whatever that is. Finding a route around all that added almost an hour to my journey. I wonder how long it will take them to reopen everything after the Olympics?

I wonder if next year the Hyde Park Restoration Project will be in line for an award?

Pictures in the Park

Posted in Bute Park, Cricket with tags , , , on June 28, 2012 by telescoper

We’re  approaching  the end of June, and the weather is for the most part typical for a British summer. Rain.

Yesterday evening, however, as I walked home through Bute Park, the weather was sufficiently clement to allow cricket on Pontcanna Fields, which lie on the west side of Bute Park, across the Taff from the city centre.

I stopped and watched for a while, taking in about ten overs. I don’t think there have been many occasions in the last month or so when play has been possible either here or in the nearby SWALEC stadium where Glamorgan play. Or try to;  they’re having a lousy season even when it’s not raining.

The pitches here are notoriously lively – the ball bouncing and darting all over the place makes them very difficult to bat on – and in the game I watched I saw three consecutive deliveries resulting in dropped catches. Let’s just say the fielders must have been out of practice…

Anyway it’s a lovely sight to see people out in the open air enjoying recreational activities in this part of the Park. It’s what a Park is for.

It’s a pity about the park on the other side of the river. Coopers Fields seem to be regarded by the Council as a lorry park and storage area for heavy equipment rather than a place of recreation.

…with the damage caused by all this traffic never repaired. Grass does eventually re-grow if it is given time, but sadly this doesn’t happen in Bute Park. No sooner has one set of temporary buildings been dismantled when another is set up. Indeed, preparations are already under way  for another “event” on this park, with trucks already churning it up again and fencing being deployed to deprive the public of access to it.

Sometimes I wonder  why they don’t just tarmac it all over and be done with it.

Operation Torch

Posted in Bute Park with tags , , , on May 24, 2012 by telescoper

Tomorrow, Friday 25th May 2012, the Olympic Torch Relay will arrive in Cardiff on its way across the United Kingdom to its eventual destination in London’s East End. Why this is so interesting I don’t know. I think it would be a lot more fun if they made a real race out of it; Olympic Torch versus Olympic Fire Extinguisher, for example. Instead the Bearer of the Torch (and associated entourage of security men) will head into Cardiff from the direction of Newport, run around randomly for a bit in the city to maximise traffic disruption, and then head into Bute Park where it will start off a “free” concert for 15,000 people.

Cardiff City Council has clearly gone a bit berserk in its desire to throw money around and try to create an event to bolster its sense of its own importance. Whatever happened to the age of austerity? We’ve obviously got money to burn!

For example, these Olympic Rings were put up some weeks ago in Cathay’s Park, in front of Cardiff’s fine City Hall:

Quite nice. Very few Olympic events are actually happening in Cardiff, of course, and those that are seem to be attracting negligible interest, so one wonders why it is necessary. It also cost £300,000. That’s about £60,000 per ring.  Just saying.

The preparations for tomorrow’s Bute Park extravaganza have been going on for two weeks, with a huge section (Coopers Fields) closed to the public, the intrusion of dozens of heavy vehicles carving up the turf, and the closure of the cycle paths.

Here’s a view through the railings at the area chosen for the “free” pop concert. Of course it’s not actually free. It’s just the people who are going to it that don’t have to pay. Tickets were apparently distributed by some kind of ballot, although I don’t recall ever seeing it advertised. Nobody I know managed to get any tickets either. I wonder who did? One possible explanation is that there are 15,000 tickets, and the number of people employed by Cardiff City Council…15,000. Coincidence?

The concert venue  is ringed with burger, pizza and chip vans and is sponsored by Coca Cola. Apparently the irony of marking a celebration of athletic achievement in this way seems to have escaped the organizers.

Last night I walked home through Bute Park. The weather was lovely and quite a few people were out in the Park enjoying the sunshine, crammed into the small part near the Castle that is still open to the public. Juggernauts like this were moving in and out of the Park along the footpaths:

Is this really the right way to treat a public park? You could say that it’s a special occasion, but a similar thing happened just a month ago, and no doubt other events will happen throughout the summer. It’s a park, for pity’s sake, not a building site!   The number of heavy vehicles thundering around the footpaths has increased enormously since the decision to build a new road entrance a few years back. The effect on the Park’s environment of all this traffic  has been devastating.

And then there’s this:

As this lorry turned to head towards the South exit of the Park – that’s the one that was supposed to have less traffic through it when they built the new road – there wasn’t enough clearance and it ploughed into the branches of a tree. The person who had been walking in front of the lorry saw me taking a picture and asked me to stop. They don’t want any evidence of the damage they’re doing, obviously.

You can bet your bottom dollar that Coopers Fields will be completely trashed by the 15,000 strong crowd tomorrow night. You can also bet that the Council will do all it can to conceal the cost of clearing up afterwards, even if it does bother to repair the damage. It’s very sad that beautiful Bute Park is being treated in such a way.

In fact I think it’s criminal.

Olympic Scale Disruption

Posted in Bute Park with tags , , , on May 18, 2012 by telescoper

Apparently the Torch is passing through Cardiff on 25th May 2012 ahead of the 2012 London Olympics. Some sort of celebration is going to happen in Bute Park that evening, and the preparations started earlier this week. Yet more heavy vehicle movements. Yet more temporary buildings. Yet more damage Cooper’s Fields (which will probably never be repaired). Yet more denial of public access to a public Park.

Any why on Earth does such a huge area have to be sealed off for two whole weeks just to make way for an event that will only last a few hours? What a waste of time! And I dread to think how much it’s going to cost…