Archive for Cardiff

A Tale of Two Cities 

Posted in Biographical, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , on June 5, 2017 by telescoper

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times..”

As planned on Saturday evening I stayed at home,  cooked myself dinner, opened a bottle of wine, and watched an old film on DVD. Self-indulgent, I know, but a good way to  have a pleasant evening while avoiding  the crowds at the UEFA Champions League final.

Some time after 10pm  I checked Twitter to see what the score was (4-1 to Real Madrid), and just to check that nothing untoward had happened before or during the match.

It hadn’t, but that was exactly when news was coming in of another terrorist attack in London, this time on London Bridge and in the area of Borough Market. Stories were initially very confused, and I went to bed before a clear picture emerged.

I checked the news feeds again when I woke up and felt the saddest I’ve ever been on a birthday, but still determined to go to Der Rosenkavalier. The best way for us all to beat terrorism is to carry on regardless.

Likewise I didn’t think twice about coming to London today for the Euclid meeting this week. That said, I did arrive very late. Torrential rain overnight in Cardiff, combined with a blocked gutter, led to a flood in my kitchen. I had to call a useful person to fix it the problem, which delayed me by a few hours. Fortunately it was only rainwater in the leak, not nasty stuff backed up from the drain.

Now I’m in London where it is also tipping down, but at least I’m in a pleasant hotel and looking to get a good night’s sleep. The sound of rain can be restful, at least when it’s not flooding your kitchen.

I made my way to the hotel, which is in Bayswater, after a wine and nibbles reception at the workshop. I have never stayed here before and it took a while to find. I was a bit nervous too, as the place is remarkably cheap by London standards. Before correctly locating the hotel I wandered into another establishment on the same street with a similar name. It was quite obviously a brothel, and they politely directed me to the correct address. The hotel turned out to be fine, though obviously without any of the ‘extras’ that would have been available at the other place.

I can’t stay the whole week here as I have to get back to Cardiff to vote on Thursday, but it’s been nice to catch up with news of the Euclid mission and to meet some old friends. There are about 400 cosmologists here in London for this meeting, some of them familiar some of them less so. The mission won’t be launched until 2021 at the earliest, and it’s unlikely I’ll be involved very much, but it’s still exciting to see it all taking shape.

Cose da sapere su Cardiff

Posted in Bute Park, Cardiff, Football with tags , , , , , , on June 1, 2017 by telescoper

Cardiff is gearing up for the UEFA Champion’s League final between Real Madrid and Juventus which takes place in the Principality Stadium on Saturday night. Cardiff University has produced this nice video featuring some students from Italy telling visitors about `things to know about Cardiff’, which I thought I’d share here:

There’s also a Spanish version here.

As you can imagine there’s quite a lot of disruption going on in the City ahead of this event, which is expected to attracted over 200,000 visitors. Last night one of the main roads was closed to allow the construction of a temporary footbridge to help manage the flow of people from Bute Park into the Stadium in the period just before the kickoff. There is only one small exit from the Park opposite the ground, which would probably cause considerable congestion, so the bridge will provide another route out, over the famous Animal Wall.

Cowbridge road was closed to vehicles and pedestrians for this operation, which I assumed would mean a bit detour for me on my walk home from the pub last night. Nevertheless, out of curiosity, I followed my normal route until I reached the construction site. A small group of people and a couple of very friendly policemen were there. I asked nicely if there was any possibility of getting past the road block rather than walking all the way around by side streets, and one of the officers said that if I waited for about 5 minutes they were going to open it up temporarily and let people through, which they did.

Cardiff Castle and Bute Park are being used to host a few thousand `Corporate VIP Guests’ during the weekend of the Final. For that a huge part of Bute Park – the entire area of Coopers Field – is closed to the public. Not only that, but the temporary buildings that have been erected there will cause so much damage to the grass that it will have to be completely re-seeded. This area will not be re-opened to the public until September at the earliest. This seems a very heavy price for the ordinary folk of Cardiff to pay for an event very few will be able to attend.

As well as congestion and crowd control, there is also the threat of terrorist activity (especially in the wake of the Manchester bomb). This morning as I walked into work I saw several groups of armed police officers. I’m not sure if they are intended to make people feel more secure, but they just made me feel nervous.

Road_Closure_Map_A3-Preparing-Cardiff-

It’s quite easy to infer what the biggest concern is for the security services. The presence of vehicle barriers all round the city and the suspension of all vehicle traffic within a wide perimeter of the various fan zones suggests that they are worried about potential attacks involving cars or lorries running amok among the huge numbers of pedestrians. It’s sad that we have to think of such things, but these precautions seem entirely necessary.

I was toying with the idea of taking photographs of some of the security measures but on reflection thought that might not be a wise thing to do in case I was mistaken for someone plotting an atrocity!

My own plan for the Final is to shut myself in my house, batten down the hatches, cook myself a nice dinner and drink a nice bottle of wine. I’m completely neutral as far as the match is concerned. Whether it’s Real Madrid of Italy or Juventus of Spain, may the best team win!

Cardiff, City of Cycling?

Posted in Bute Park, Cardiff 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!

The Trump Protest in Cardiff

Posted in Biographical, Politics with tags , , , , on January 31, 2017 by telescoper

Last night I joined in a protest in Cardiff against Donald Trump’s executive order curtailing the US refugee programme and suspending the right of entry to the USA to people with perfectly valid documentation who were born in Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen. In effect, it’s a Muslim Ban. Coincidentally, the Muslim countries exempted from the order include Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates are all places where Trump has business interests.

This unconscionable and unconstitutional order has led to detentions and forced deportations in clear violation of the Geneva convention. There’s a Nature piece giving some examples of scientists it has affected, to illustrate the damage done already. I find it a disgrace that our government has failed to voice its disapproval of this order, and I’m apparently not alone. Despite just a day’s notice, thousands turned out for protests across the United Kingdom, including Cardiff, where we assembled at about 6.30pm near the statue of Aneurin Bevan on Queen Street.

queen-street

Despite the pouring rain the numbers built up impressively until the street became very crowded. It wasn’t very easy to count the people there but I’m very confident that they numbered well over a thousand. That’s not as large as the demonstration in London that happened at the same time, but it’s a start.

There were some speeches and chanting and lots of witty signs and we marched up and down Queen Street making an enjoyable noise. It was all very good-humoured, but behind it all was a deep sense of alarm that the President of the United States of America has revealed himself to be nothing but a fascist. Yes, I mean a fascist -that’s precisely what he is. More and more people are going to come to that conclusion over the next few weeks and months and if and when he ever does come to the United Kingdom on a State Visit, there’ll be demonstrations against him. Our political masters may be prepared to sell this country to Trump, but I don’t think ordinary people will stand for it.

Women’s March in Cardiff 

Posted in Cardiff, Politics with tags , on January 21, 2017 by telescoper

Lots to do today so I’ll just make a note that this afternoon there was a Women’s March in Cardiff along with many around the world (including a huge one in Washington DC) to protest against misogyny and discrimination.

Here’s the scene near the statue of Nye Bevan on Queen Street (looking toward the Castle)  just before the March started around 1pm:

Love and respect to all who took part!

Collapse at Sophia Gardens

Posted in Cardiff, History with tags , , on January 10, 2017 by telescoper

If the title of this post attracted the attention of cricket fans then I apologize, because it’s not about goings-on at the SWALEC Stadium in Cardiff but at the Sophia Gardens Pavilion which no longer exists (for reasons which will become obvious) but was an entertainment and exhibition venue built in 1951 as part of the Festival of Britain celebrations. You can see a (rather hilarious) Pathé News item about a fashion show held there in 1952 here.  It was also the venue in 1958 for the Empire and Commonwealth Games, held between July 18 and 26th, for boxing and wrestling matches. Owing to post-war austerity, the supply of building materials was heavily controlled so it was necessary to adapt a war surplus aeroplane hangar to provide the framework for the Pavilion. The hangar was obtained from Stormy Down aerodrome near Pyle, Bridgend in late 1949. The cost of dismantling and transporting it was £3,400 and rebuilding it in Sophia Gardens was estimated to cost £40,000. The Pavilion when completed seated approximately 2,500 people, and the final cost of construction was £80,000. It was opened officially on Friday 27th April 1951.

I was about to leave the office just now when I was reminded – by Derek The Weather – that at this time of year in 1982 (i.e. 35 years ago) Cardiff was in the grip of exceptionally severe weather. In fact it started snowing heavily on 7th January and carried on for 48 hours without a pause. It snowed so heavily, in fact, that the weight of snow caused the roof of the Sophia Gardens Pavilion to collapse:

cardiff-sophia-gdns

Fortunately no-one was inside. After the roof collapsed the Pavilion was demolished and the land it stood on is now a car park (a little way South of the cricket ground). I don’t know precisely when this event occurred, but it had happened by 13th January 1982. I know this because he collapse of the building led to the cancellation of a concert due to take place there on 13th January 1982 by Black Sabbath, which is apparently a popular beat combo of some sort.

Anyway, it looks like we’re due for some snow in the UK over the next few days although perhaps not in Cardiff and perhaps not heavy as 1982. Strangely, I have no memory of 1982 being a particularly severe winter. I was living in Newcastle at the time, but the weather maps suggest the severe conditions covered most of the country.

The “Pont” in Pontcanna

Posted in Cardiff, History with tags , on January 10, 2017 by telescoper

Regular readers of this blog (Sid and Doris Bonkers) will know that I currently reside in an area of Cardiff known as Pontcanna, which is part of the administrative district of the city known as Riverside.  Although Pontcanna does have a distinct identity as a community, there’s no precise definition that I can find of exactly where it is. Even Cardiff City Council doesn’t really recognize its existence: all my official mail has  “Riverside” in the address. Although I tell everyone I live in Pontcanna, I don’t have any official evidence that I do!

I’ve also often wondered about the origin of the name, as it definitely suggests a bridge of some sort (Pont is Welsh for bridge, cf  the French) and there are no bridges in the area. The name Canna is generally taken to refer to Saint Canna, whose name  is also associated with Canton, an area of modern Cardiff adjacent to Riverside but until the 19th Century a village in its own right. Since this is a very old name it’s logical to infer that the bridge is no more. However, the thing that always puzzled me is that the area of Pontcanna is actually quite small, and actually not all that close to the River Taff (the main river through Cardiff), which is even further from Canton, so there’s no obvious site for a bridge to have been, even if the bridge itself is long gone.

A chance conversation in a pub the other day however led me to a website that offers a solution to this conundrum., namely that the “Pont” in Pontcanna does not relate to a bridge over the River Taff, but over a small brook that used to run through the area shown on old maps and known (in English)  as the “White House Brook”.  This interpretation also casts doubt on the idea that “Canna” has anything to do with Saint Canna: it is possible that it derives instead from an old Welsh verb meaning “to whiten” although I’m by no means confident in that.

Here, according to my source, is the route of this brook:

cannamap

I’m sorry it’s low resolution, but it’s basically an annotated scan of a historical map. You can compare that with a modern map of the area around my house:

pontcanna

The River Taff can be seen to the upper right of the modern map. The White House Brook ran down what is now Cathedral Road before turning along the route of what is now Pontcanna Street. 

Construction of the  large houses on Cathedral Road, and others on surrounding streets, began around 1896, at a time when Cardiff’s population was expanding rapidly. Prior to that this area was mainly farmland, with a few cottages here and there. It is also part of the River Taff flood plain and was criss-crossed with ditches containing small streams, of which the White House Brook was the largest.

As the area became developed, water from these streams was diverted to form the sewer system for the new buildings and the White House Brook progressively dried up. What little remains of it now runs in a culvert, which eventually empties into the Taff.

The bridge presumably disappeared at the same as the brook went underground around 1896, but the most likely candidate for it is a small bridge that stood near a row of cottages that lay between a small church (at the site of the Presbyterian Chuch on Gileston Road, marked on the modern map) and the end of what is now Teilo Street. These can be seen on this map, which  Bryn Jones directed me to (see comment below):

pontcanna_1886

The “Pont-cana cottages” (sic) were also demolished to make way for the new houses on Cathedral road and new roads either side of it. The best guess for the site of the bridge is close to the junction between Teilo Street and Cathedral Road. Note that in the first  map, Pontcanna is marked to the River Taff side of Cathedral road which is probably where the bridge was situated, very close to the end of my street. I feel more justified than ever in saying that I live in Pontcanna!

P.S. This map also shows another location marked “Pont-cana” to the North, on what are now called Llandaff Fields. I think refers to Pontcanna Farm, presumably named after the bridge. Perhaps the Pontcanna cottages may have been homes for farm workers?

P.P.S. Incidentally, I learned from this site that until 1858, Cathedral Road was only accessible by paying a toll at a booth on Cowbridge Road! Even in the old days, Pontcanna was an exlusive area!