Rolling back blog history

What’s with the reminiscing stuff? First I get asked to reflect on my own ancient history – politics wise – and then there’s the urge to ensure that all my blogs are got in the same place, again. This latter task is proving tedious technically (anyone out there a Notes Designer who can do me a dump from my Domino Blog?); emotionally jarring (have to read every word and relive the memories), and altogether too time consuming/diverting when I should be writing about now.

Guardian Blog 2003

What the Guardian Weblog looked like in 2003 when it announced the Best British Blog winners

Basically I’ve been through lots of iterations: first off was a Blogger blog (it was this that got the much dined-out-on shortlisting in the inaugural Guardian Best British Blog competition in 2003). These blogs got transferred into several versions of the cutting-edge Lotus software based on Domino Blog, which I had a small part in helping to shape before it was consumed into IBM.

This software allowed me to do things that freebies like Blogger and WordPress couldn’t then do, and it was all hosted on the office servers, so it was effectively free.  And, IMHO, it looked great too.

Peter D Cox in 2003

Using Domino Blog in 2003 until about 2009, this was an early design

Of course, as a by now famous blogger (well, I knew how to do it technically, could string two words together, and got angry about things – the pre-requisites I suppose) it was clear I’d get to have other blogs too. The biggest, and to date the one which has atracted most online comments, often hundreds, was that for the HitItForSix campaign. In the campaign to save the historic Sophia Gardens (part of the Bute Parks) from the desecration of an international cricket arena it was clear, even in June 2005, that people needed a web place to go if they were to campaign effectively. Copies of plans, papers, proposals were often ‘available’ but effectively lost in obscure places and frequently ‘disappeared’ as quickly as they were published. Archiving and recording on H46 was a powerful tool for campaigners and journalists.

HitItFor6 web blog

The campaign blog for HitItForSix, campaigning against Glamorgan Cricket Club's massive cricket arena (and originally ice-rink and pavilion)

Hundreds of blogs later we ultimately lost the campaign  as local politicians rolled over at the lure of a Test Cricket Match in Cardiff. Footnote Tweet:Value of Ashes to Cardiff: prediction June 2009 £116M http://ow.ly/2cfhA , report to #cdfcouncil says £3,577,000 http://ow.ly/2cfhB Compute? 16 July 2010.

Food Blog

The food blog, a nice diversion while it lasted. I'd still like to write a food column: any offers?

Another flattery-got-the-better-of-common-sense-diversion was a food blog. From September 2007 until November that year I managed to write pretty consistently about food eaten, seen and cooked: from sauerkraut to Nigel rip-offs it was great fun while it lasted (and all the blogs are on this site, hence the pre-dominance still of food in the categories!).

Once I became ‘retired’ using the office servers was no longer an option so some consolidation was necessary. Blogger seemed v inflexible and not very designery, and WordPress seemed the choice of ‘serious’ bloggers, which I liked to think I was. So the, as yet unfinished, task of moving things over began.

And there we are. Well almost.

January 30th 2009 saw my first Tweet, though it took about six months to work out what it was all about. Now, 3442 tweets later, I think I’ve got it sussed, have been described as “Cardiff’s acid Tweeter” – a description repeated by the city’s leader at a recent meeting, and by the South Wales Echo (27 July 2010) as one of the five tweeps (people who do) to follow. Tweeting has filled a big hole in the blogsphere for me: giving almost instant reposts to news and events; highlighting and commenting in 140 characters on things that take my fancy; and following others of a like mind (and not) who do the same. It’s great.

And just in case you miss them. I archive them here, on the blog. A neat development. For now, until it all changes again.

So, in seven years blogging has changed a lot, technically and in the writing. The short-and-sharp gets Tweeted. Much comment gets cuckoo’ed out onto other people’s blogs where you fight for a voice amongst an often crowded space. And nice people ask you to write for them. All in all then, I’ve become a bit of a philandering blogger.

And a postscript: Much of what I have written and the illustrations would not have been possible without the amazing web archive feature on http://web.archive.org/. Let it be a lesson: very little on the web actually disappears.

Another sort of writing?

Not only do I fail to keep this blog up to date (Tweeting has to substitute sometimes for active engagement here), but I don’t get my homework in on time either.

CD cover for end of course readings with Philip Gross

CD cover for end of course readings with Philip Gross

Homework? Yes, during term time I’ve been trooping off to Cardiff University – well actually to the National Museum in Cardiff – for a weekly dose of “Creative Writing”. The other stuff. I thought I’d better ‘fess up, so here’s a piece I wrote explaining all about it. (Recycling is good!)

And if you’d like to hear how we got on, here’s the recording of the end of term bash – some great stuff from others (I do a monologue which somehow manages to squeeze in the Manic Street Preachers). Oh, and Wales Book of the Year Author Philip Gross does beautiful readings at the end.

Creative writing at the Museum, 2010 class six homework: 300 words on  your creative writing course Course tutor, Susan Morgan

I have been a professional writer for nearly 50 years since that first, paid-by-the-word, journalistic prose appeared in “Teen Scene” in the 1960s. Hundreds of thousands of those  pesky words later there has been: art criticism, news reporting, voiced radio scripts, appraisals, tender bids, university essays, presentations for groups ranging from 2 to 2000, Tweets, blogs, and reports, endless reports of immense expense to clients and comparable cost to the creative abilities of syntax, choosing the bon mot, engaging one’s audience, presenting facts, drawing conclusions, and, above all, staying awake. I am a creative writer!

Alarmingly though, not a “creative” enough writer even though I could boast – if asked –  of a slim volume, half a century ago, of youthful poetry, some voiced on the Home Service radio program “Poetry Today” by the stellar Mary Wimbush.

So, off to the University of Cardiff Creative Writing at the Museum Course where I was to to spend 10 weeks focusing my gaze on every conceivable aspect of the Seven Estuary. I was to discover one of the world’s most important tidal reaches, rich in biodiversity, archaeological remains, myths and historical occurrences. This would provide an abundant resource, based on lectures from scholarly, witty and erudite members of museum staff, and objects from the National Museum itself, for the simple task called “home work”.

Go write a monologue. Produce a short poem. Collect an interview. Experiment with riddles and kennings. In short, discard those years of practice and produce succinct, accessible, vivid and above all well constructed pieces that communicate in a way that can grip, move, inform and, ideally, change people’s perceptions and lives!

That’s what others in the group did with varying degrees of, and often very profound, success every week. As for me?  Well I’m signed up for the Autumn.

Why we live in Cardiff: guest blog

This Guest Blog was requested by WeAreCardiff and appeared on their blog on August 27th 2010

Yes, I am still, frequently, asked the question by uncomprehending friends “why do you live in Cardiff?”. As a south Londoner (political history here), I migrated here via the very beautiful countryside of north Warwickshire.

My work as a consultant took me from the heart of England all over the UK, quite a bit of Europe and even North America. But I had a client in Cardiff that meant five years of staying almost every week at the Holiday Inn (now the Ramada); stays that included the delight of Michael Jackson’s suite. An artificial kind of “getting to know you Cardiff” maybe, but it planted a seed that led to me renting a flat for six months to work on a book.

Llandaff, one of Cardiff's many 'villages'

Then, much later, the suggestion to my partner that we try a year in a rented flat in Llandaff to see if we really liked Cardiff. A year after when we were being kicked out we had to decide: to relocate permanently or return to leafy Warwickshire. The decision was taken out of our hands when the house there sold and, on the same day we found a home in Pontcanna, we bought it. We didn’t know then that this was one of the most desirable parts of the city, and that we were surrounded by Welsh speakers and media personalities. As time went on, we met with like-minded immigrants, as well as delightful neighbours who had been in the area for 40 or 50 years. We tried, repeatedly, to improve our Welsh.

It took a while to get to know the extraordinary delights of the adjoining Pontcanna and Llandaff Fields

Llandaff Fields in Autumn

Llandaff Fields in Autumn

and the way they form part of the Bute Parks. The arrival of Dryw – black, four legged and a terrier explorer – accelerated our learning. However, we quickly discovered that many of the things we most liked about Cardiff were under threat. First it was Sophia Gardens – the city’s first public park – and the idea of giving a privately owned company a huge amount of public space in which to develop a commercial cricket ground.

Sophia Gardens in its glory days

Sophia Gardens in its glory days

The “Hit it for Six” campaign successfully fought off two major applications for development in this grade 2* parkland, but the promise of a “test match” and of some fleeting international exposure saw the council roll over like lapdogs and agree to the desecration of the park. An action that can never be reversed.

It became clear, sadly, that this was part of an ongoing process of degradation and development, usually claimed to be for “worthy causes”.

40 years of encroachment of the Bute Parks

40 years of encroachment of the Bute Parks

Each of these individual uses may have seemed to have some merit, but taken together they have added up to a 40% removal of public space from one of the country’s most important historic landmarks. Sophia Gardens was effectively finally lost when the cricket stadium was built, but we all thought Bute Park itself was untouchable. The allure of money from the Heritage Lottery Fund and weaselly words of support from them, enabled the council to build a new access road to enable it to undertake public events more easily. A 5000 people petition asking for a moratorium on development in the Bute Parks was dismissed in a council meeting in seconds.

At this point anyone would question why they would still want to live here. Now, there is as much to get angry about in Cardiff, as there is to enjoy.  As chair of Cardiff Civic Society, a charity not a political or single-issue campaign, I have a responsibility, not to be angry (well, not just angry) but to try to ensure that Cardiff’s historic past, and just as importantly, its future, is in the ownership of its citizens. Not, as so often seems, taken for granted by its politicians as their right to propose and dispose of at will.

We are coming up to an important time for those who make bad decisions: it’s the Welsh Assembly elections next year, council elections in 2012. It’s a good time to reflect on what has happened, and what we might want for the city in twenty years’ time.

Cardiff has the potential to be a fitting capital for the country where many of us still want to live. Indeed, it can and should be a world exemplar of many of Wales’ policies for the environment, sustainable economic growth, high standards of built design and caring for a remarkable and complex history.

It won’t be that in 2020 unless we, the people who have grown to love the place, make it so.

Picture by Adam Chard taken for WeAreCardiff

Peter sits on an access bollard by the new Bute Parks access road bridge: “its presence allows the noise, traffic and pollution of an arterial roadway into what was once one of the most preciously tranquil areas of the heritage park. The massive, industrial strength bridge (for 40 tonne lorries) has the design footprint of a monster and less subtlety than the second Severn crossing. It destroys something given in trust. It’s an irrevocable act of vandalism that history will join those who campaigned against it and roundly condemn as a folly of 21st century politicians seeking civic aggrandisement above civic duty.”

A Phoenix rises from The Persians

I cannot imagine that there are many who had the good fortune to see The Persians (background story) over the past two weeks, who doubted that we were present at one of the defining occasions of English-language theatre in Wales.

The cast of Mike Pearson's NToW production of The Persians

Even the London critics somehow managed to find themselves seated, not in West End luxury, but on a hard bench, clad in a regulation green poncho and exposed to the elements deep in the heart of the Brecon Beacons.

All have heaped praise on the National Theatre of Walessixth production in this year’s inaugural programme of The Persians, directed by Mike Pearson.

“They have scored a coup”, The Observer; “Pearson’s superbly imaginative and intense production, at once timeless and modern, has a rare, raw power. This is great theatre – and a thrilling mystery tour for its audience”, The Telegraph; “a production that is both minimalist and massive in its scope and marvellous in its realisation,” the Hereford Times; “what is impressive about Mike Pearson’s production is the totality of the experience”, The Guardian; “some of the finest creative talents working in Wales today… melded together to produce a unique and exciting drama, probably accompanies most artistically fulfilling production to date”, Michael Kelligan; “with the eery music, some wonderful acting and the amazing setting, this is another hit for National Theatre Wales”, Western Mail.

Yes it is all this and more. But for me, on quiet reflection, there is a story behind the production that I haven’t yet seen discussed.

The Persians represents in many ways a Phoenix like rebirth of one of Wales’s greatest theatre companies –  Brith Gof. Firstly, director Mike Pearson, conceptual designer Mike Brooks and composer John Hardy were all key players in Brith Gof’s history. Richard Huw Morgan, John Rowley and Gerald Tyler are all actors who have worked often for extended periods for the company. So, as they say: they have form.

I was a trustee of the company when its Arts Council Wales funding was terminated in 2000. The company’s last grant was £52,500. We decided that Brith Gof – always much more appreciated outside of Wales than in it – should continue as long as we could find the money and the directors had the artistic ideas. Mike Pearson and fellow directors Michael Shanks and Cliff McLucas were eventually offered jobs with regular income. In the end, we had to call time in 2004.

It has been both instructive and rewarding to search the archives to see just how much Brith Gof has given to The Persians. Anyone who saw the Welsh production of

Brith Gof's "PAX" at St David's Hall, Cardiff

“Gododdin” (a remarkable film archive is here, persist with it, the video’s not great quality) in the Rover car factory, Cardiff in 1989, “PAX” in St Davids Hall in 1991, or, even Mike Pearson’s two-man show “In Black and White” with disabled actor Dave Levett in 1992, will see the theatrical connections. The use of extraordinary musical soundscapes originated with John Hardy and Mike Pearson’s work with Test Department in the 1980’s. John Hardy’s (interview here) creativity and musical inventiveness hasn’t lost any of its edge in spite of him being a much in demand composer for mainstream film and television (and still, thankfully, based in Wales).

In the last few productions by Brith Gof – such as Hafod, technology began to appear but hand-held video cameras had to be attached to the performers with trailing cables. In The Persians we have a chorus member with a tiny handheld wireless camera and the remarkable camera work of Pete Telfer projecting the live-action onto video screens. The integration of recorded segments of video is also an inheritance from the days when such things were much more technically challenging.

Some things in the Persians are different: as Mike Pearson explains in his interview with me working with a classic text – brilliantly translated by Kaite O’Reilly – was one of his self-set challenges. It was also in English, where much of Brith Gof’s work had been Welsh or bilingual. And whilst I have no idea what the budget of the production was, I imagine that the generous Arts Council Wales and Welsh Assembly Government funding to NToW (£3M over three years) gave the team a little more flexibility than they had in the old days.

For me then, there is much satisfaction in seeing how 15 years of theatrical development in Welsh theatre could have such a stunning, successful and critically acclaimed rebirth. Many theatre companies throughout Europe owe a debt to Brith Gof. I am glad that the National Theatre of Wales, albeit by a kind of proxy,  and The Persians has been able to honour it so well.

Footnote: there have been some excellent comments that add to my story and, rather than take the credit for knowledge that I didn’t have, I ask that you click on the comments, if you haven’t already done so.
Good news that the archive may get a new life too!

My political groundings – a guest blog


This Guest Blog was requested by Cardiff East and appeared on their blog on August 12th 2010

I had no idea when I was in my middle teens that there were people who didn’t know about politics. At school, after a quick brush with kings and queens, even then coming to the conclusion that they were of little use, we moved on to British Social and Economic History. By 15 I knew about the Chartists on Kennington Common (which I walked on every day to school), the difference between a Luddite and a Leveller, and the importance of the antislavery movement and the suffragettes.

Kennington Boys School, Hackford Road, Brixton, London

Kennington Boys School, Hackford Road, Brixton, London

If my post war, run down, Victorian housed, but inspirationally teachered school wasn’t designed as a socialist nursery, it certainly managed the task well. What gave us all such a practical grounding, and even more importantly, a desire to be involved in, politics? I was recently asked to reflect on the impact of my school and began to think that it was something to do with the extraordinary mix of teachers – all men of course – in that period just ten years after the Second World War.”

There were a few, almost past retirement, who’d kept the school going during the war, still wearing black gowns, and bemoaning that, even in Brixton, we didn’t learn Latin, and insisted on good handwriting. (Thank you for that!). There was another group who had taken the fast track teacher training course after serving in the war among whom were two Battle of Britain fighter pilots, one with facial surgery scars that constantly reminded everyone of his contribution to a civic society. And then there was the new blood, unsullied by tradition or war service, and fired with egalitarian ideas and ideals.

On reflection this was perhaps a unique mix of teachers who shared an absolute passion for education through which we would become active, involved, and intelligent citizens. What was extraordinary, was that this was not a grammar school in Westminster or Harrow, but a secondary modern in a deprived part of south London.

We were taught to have a voice. We had a school Parliament that met regularly. I still have some of the school magazines that we, the pupils, produced on a duplicator (see Wikipedia for explanation of this). For three years running I led the school’s debating team which won most of the Rotary Club competitions across London.

Not surprisingly, with such a good grounding in how government worked, many of us at 14 and 15 became involved in politics.

Hugh Gaitskell

I watched, too young to be a conference delegate as Hugh Gaitskell passioned, “There are some of us, Mr Chairman, who will fight and fight and fight again to bring back unity and honesty and dignity, so that our party with its great past may retain its glory and its greatness”.

I was a steward – with arm bands – at the massive “Let’s Go With Labour” rally that took over Battersea Park and its funfairs built for the Festival of Britain just a few years before. Here Gaitskell addressed the biggest crowd I’ve ever seen. Months later he was dead. And in Scarborough in 1963, this time as an official delegate of the Southwark Labour Party, I first heard Harold Wilson.”

By then I had began to work in local government at first for Southwark Borough Council as a junior, very, clerk in the health department. In those days the Chief Medical Officer personally assessed the fitness of every member of the council staff. My job included carrying the pee bottles that were an essential part of a checkup. The red brick, Victorian, council offices were immediately opposite the terraced house in Walworth Road where we met as Southwark Young Socialists. That house now is called John Smith House and was for many years the Labour Party HQ.

Dame Evelyn Sharp is acknowledged as one of the most outstanding and formidable Civil Servants of her day. Dame Evelyn was the first female Permanent Secretary and she received equal pay ten years before other women in the Civil Service.

More experience in local government as a junior committee clerk in planning was a prescient move it now seems. Soon however I got my taste of “real” government in the Information Office (as it was so quaintly called) of the Ministry of Housing and Local Government run by Dame Evelyn Sharp, or the Minister – depending on which view of history you take – Richard Crossman.

Richard Crossman, politician, author

In the 1960’s there was an absolute division between the civil service and the politicians. As a press officer our only function was to provide information. The notion of massaging the news simply didn’t exist. That didn’t mean not trying to get the best publicity for the ministry’s work, but it did mean avoiding at all costs anything that smacked of media manipulation or massaging a minister’s ego.

I happened to share a grand office that faced onto Whitehall itself. Two rooms along were a team of people, some arriving for work in the early hours of the morning, who hand cut the press clippings from national and local newspapers that would enable me to write the minister’s daily press summary. Nine copies, carefully typed on a manual typewriter, with no means of alteration, had to be ready by nine o’clock: or else. I never discovered what “or else” actually meant.

Because of my job role, I did actually get to meet the Minister. On one occasion he even sent for me, an event that sent his private office and my boss, and his boss, into a civil service spin. I had, apparently, upset a reporter on The Times. After crossing the acres of carpet to his desk Crossman asked me what had happened. I explained it had been late as I answered the phone to an irate reporter demanding information that couldn’t be given since, at 6:15 pm the Registry, where all files lived, was already closed. I told the journalist I’d get the information the next morning, and thought that was that.

Crossman explained that, without knowing anything of what had happened, he had told the editor of The Times that if his reporters upset his press officers he would simply stop speaking to the newspaper. Conversation ended, I crawled out, humbled. You don’t forget that kind of leadership.”

Working there I was lucky enough to have friends in other departments including Number 10, the front door of which I crossed on many occasions – delivering packets for more important people! I knew that the politicians of that era were dedicated, principled and very hard-working. So what might be different today?

Certainly a blurring of the distinction between the public civil servant and the politician. Spin doctoring on taxes? We now have it, for better or worse.

Scrutiny of our politicians? Almost certainly less than 40 years ago. Not least because we have had generations who didn’t have the kind of grounding in how to engage in civic life that I, and I’m certain much of my generation, had.

John Profumo, Secretary of State for War before his sex life brought down Macmillan's government in 1963

I know how local and national government works, at least in principle. I sat in the House of Commons, for example, during Macmillan’s Profumo Affair speech when an exhausted prime minister tried to save his rotten government. That bit might sound familiar, but the speeches were different, the people were different.  The next day there was extensive verbatim coverage in newspapers of record: no 24-hour rolling news bites and instant ‘expert’ analysis to make up our minds for us. We were given the means by which to make informed judgements and reach opinions based on some historical understandings, and of course our own political views.

My father became a councillor in that 100% Labour run rotten borough I had worked for.  I was to leave London and Labour; the party several times, as principles got thrown out with bathwater. But I became an enthusiastic founder member of the SDP and stood several times in local government elections with “Liberal Support”. But unlike my dad, I regarded narrowly failing to win council seats as a good result!

Moving to Wales 15 years ago I’ve had to learn much about politics. Those history lessons about nationhood came in really useful. There is so much to admire and take from Wales’ unique cultural perspective. There is also much to depress: the tribalness of politicians who say they deplore just that very thing; the lack of competence in public life; the dissonance between citizens and their elected representatives.”

As a nation, we have some extraordinary aspirations: for examples, a carbon neutral country, to have our own distinct education system, and a determination to safeguard the culture of Welsh and English speaking Wales. But to me, it seems to be a place that still has to discover for itself those virtues that are so obvious to incomers. And to set those standards and aspirations in public and political life that I so took for granted in my teens.

The South Wales Echo –  27th July 2010 – recommended Peter D Cox as one of  five tweeters to follow on Twitter. The other four were Oprah Winfrey, Stephen Fry, Geraint Thomas and Your Cardiff.

A personal view – looking forward to Cardiff 2020

This is a longer version of the article published by MyCardiff

Mermaid Quay

The Bay: Cardiff's attempt at a Barcelonaesque vibrant waterfront, with graceless, industrial estate architecture that is already dated, worn and well past its sell-by date.

He who rejects change is the architect of decay.  The only human institution which rejects progress is the cemetery. Harold Wilson, Prime Minister for a total of seven years and 279 days

The city is embarking – again, after an abortive start on Plan One – on the major exercise of deciding what it wants to be like in the future, stretching until 2026. And the “Local Development Plan” also has to explain how we are going to get there, no easy task. Mine’s easier: I have been asked for an opinion: “what would I like Cardiff to be like in 2020?”; I don’t have to be restricted by annoyances like projected population growth, a disintegrating environment, and the collapse of the market economy as we have known it. The future slate is clean, it can be what we want.

This kind of question usually predisposes that the future necessarily means change (bad) and that we don’t like – and should get rid of – what we’ve got.

On the first supposition, I am firmly of the Harold Wilson school of change: 40 years of working with organisations, managing change in its many disguises, has proven to me at least: change is inevitable, without it you die (institutionally, organisationally, physically – in the case of buildings and people).

What’s important is how you manage the change, whether you feel as an individual you have some control of the process. The most life-changing events can be managed, enjoyed, embraced, if one feels involved, a part of the event, not just a swept up bystander with others making the running. It follows then, that to welcome a new vision of our city, we must be an active part of that change, not let others – politicians, property developers, bankers – pursue their own agendas to their own benefit. For the reshaping of a city, we need its citizens to have the biggest, loudest, most effective voice.

When I ask people to name Cardiff’s great buildings the list is usually the same: the Stadium, the Millennium Centre, the ….. and the list runs out.

Well, for my money, I endorse every users’ perception of the Millennium Stadium as one of the finest in the world – as an experience. As a visual delight it fails: it’s in the wrong place, it can only be seen as the engineering feat that it undoubtably is from places few people go (try a boat on the river). It has absolutely no connection with its environment, its place. We can admire its existence, that doesn’t mean we have to pretend that it’s a great addition to the built landscape of the city. It is not.

And the Wales Millennium Centre fails to reach the highest goals of a landmark building for not dissimilar reasons. Compare and contrast it with a Stirling Prize short-listed building by Zahad Hadid the architect who was run out of town by vested interests, a rabid national newspaper (no names) and petty minded parochialism of the nastiest kind. The WMC is – like the Stadium – a huge success for what it does, not what it is. We are, like obedient pets, grateful for what we have. But as, presumably grown up sentient human beings, we have a right to be disappointed in what should have been.

As for the past: I have a developed aversion to bulldozers, perhaps it was living in Birmingham in the 60’s seeing a ring road carve the heart out of the city, or working in Plymouth and experiencing the – probably well-intentioned – razed city centre, flattened in a way Nazi bombers hadn’t completed and covered, with no doubt scarce resources but limited imagination, a post-war vision of concrete inhumanity and greyness. Cardiff has mostly escaped such wholesale slaughter of its heritage, though the city council continues to plunder the assets of its heritage parklands, school playing fields and public spaces.

Mostly it’s the industrial past that has gone. The dock lands have been barraged to make a  feeble, Barcelonesque imitation of a waterfront. Where there were industrial buildings we now have a sweeping motorway of urban road (with more traffic lights than any other road in the world I am certain) going from nowhere, to nowhere, and lined by some re-used buildings, but largely identikit housing of the worst kind.

The growth of Cardiff as a city is so recent that most of its heritage buildings are Victorian. Thankfully, organisations like the Victorian Society, have helped to ensure that this heritage has largely been kept intact. The Cathays Park civic buildings complex is something of which every person should be proud. Just remember that it, and the city’s other fine buildings and parks, were built from the profits generated by the labour of those in the coal field valleys. We need to consider how to best repay that debt: how much of the future of Cardiff 2020 should actually be in the city itself?

What of this past should we try to emulate in 2020 and beyond? I think this city is most successful when it is like a village: a core of public buildings and open spaces, shops, services, places to work and live. All within walking or cycling distance. I live in Pontcanna which has exactly that and more. Guess what, it’s desirable (for which read expensive). There are other places like it, and together they make Cardiff a set of connected villages around the core of the city. That’s what has happened, perhaps we should make more of it, more like it. The future means thinking about those areas of Cardiff that have been developed without thinking about some of these key essentials, or where we may be trying to remove them – taking away existing green spaces for schools for example. Everywhere, and everyone, has a right to the best built environment even if we failed to provide it in the first place.

Where necessary housing development takes place we should be ensuring that the developers meet the real social cost of their schemes. I don’t mean just a cheque for so-called “106” schemes. I mean properly designed developments to include public spaces, properly maintained, with viable transport in place, and public services. If that means building a school, health centre, bus stops, cycle paths and shops before the houses, so be it. For too long developers have reaped the benefit (profit) of the housing boom, largely at a direct cost to the wider community in providing (often badly as a result) the infrastructure for living that is needed.

We will certainly see fewer people in 2020 commuting to work: carbon reduction will necessitate this, the development of technology will facilitate it, profits will drive it. We all know cars will be used less, we just don’t like doing it. In Copenhagen 36% of traffic is bicycles, it’s a target figure that Cardiff could match, with a fitter population and a more pleasant place as bonuses.

And by 2020 much current building may well be at its replacement lifetime: the shocking housing developments we are now throwing up will have a short life span thankfully. We need better designed communities that are sensitive to the environment of a “One Planet, One Wales”, and meet the needs of real people. No more reduced size furniture to fit reduced size living spaces. Sixty years ago we built homes fit for heroes, now we should build homes fit for people.

Perhaps, and perhaps this is wishful thinking, we could be building a city that looks like the 21st century and not some pastiche of the past, or gerry-built identi-kit factory warehouse architecture that we seem to have excelled in recently. This would demand that we take as much concern about the aesthetics of the future of Cardiff as we try to take in conserving its past. Excellence is not necessarily more expensive. But it is the bedrock on which our forefathers built Cathays Park and if, in the future, we want our great great children to admire our efforts, this is one big lesson to learn from the past. Excellence is a word to be attached to few modern buildings in Cardiff today. We must do better.

So in the future much could be just the same: fine heritage buildings, magnificent heritage parks: a place where heritage lives. But only if w what e take robust steps now to ensure that happens. The pressures to destroy nearly always outweigh those to conserve.

To be more demanding we must be more involved, stop letting others decide. In an era where public disenchantment with ‘the powers that be’ is rife, where politicians think election is a ticket to power not responsibility, where consultation means being told will happen, it is difficult to be heard and feel that a voice has an impact.

I want Cardiff 2020 to be the best of what we have, and the very, very, very best of what we can have. We can have that, but only if we first have a voice extolling a vision of a future for its citizens and not vested interest.

Peter Cox moved his management consultancy business to Cardiff after emigrating here 15 years ago: it became a Wales Fast Growth 50 Company. He was a board member and trustee of Cardiff’s Chapter Arts Centre for seven years and its chair for two, putting in place its recent, £3.5M, RIBA award winning, refurbishment. He is now chair of Cardiff Civic Society which has recently prepared a response to the Cardiff Council plans for a new Local development Plan. He writes here in a personal capacity.

Plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose

WalesOnline picture of March Cardiff June 2010

WalesOnline picture of March Cardiff June 2010

The Fascists were bussed into Cardiff yesterday  to object to Muslims in our community. Although apparently hosted by something called the Welsh Defence League the t-shirts in the photos I saw suggested Dudley, England rather than anywhere nearer. Unite Against Fascism got wind of the demo and arranged with the police for a counter demo: I suspect that 500 people marching from the Bay to City Hall was a truer indication – along with a 24hr strike by Muslim tax-drivers – of where Cardiff and Wales’ feelings lie.

Heartened I took to my researches for something quite different and, serendipitously, in a way the internet drags one, fell upon a Punch 1914 short story about a canary. (A bird still at that time serving as gas watch in Wales’ mines, and to subsequently serve in the trenches.) You can download the entire magazine at the amazing Gutenberg project and read on your iPad’s nice new bookstore app.  As you read be grateful of what has changed even if it appears to be so little….

PUNCH, OR THE LONDON CHARIVARI
Vol. 147. July 1, 1914.

ONCE UPON A TIME: The Alien.

Once upon a time a poet was sitting at his desk in his cottage near the woods, trying to write.

It was a hot summer day and great fat white clouds were sailing across the sky. He knew that he ought to be out, but still he sat on, pen in hand, trying to write.

Suddenly, among all the other sounds of busy urgent life that were filling the warm sweet air, he heard the new and unaccustomed song of a bird. At least not new and not unaccustomed, but new and unaccustomed there, in this sylvan retreat. The notes poured out, now shrill, now mellow, now bubbling like musical water, but always rich with the joy of life, the fulness of happiness. Where had he heard it before? What bird could it be?

Suddenly the poet’s housekeeper hurried in. “Oh, Sir,” she exclaimed, “isn’t it a pity? Someone’s canary has got free, and it’s singing out here something beautiful.”

“Of course,” said the poet—”a canary;” and he hastened out to see it. But before he could get there the bird had flown to a clump of elms a little way off, from which proceeded sweeter and more tumultuously exultant song than they had ever known.

The poet walked to the elms with his field-glasses, and after a while he discerned among the million leaves, the little yellow bird, with its throat trembling with rapture.

But the poet and his housekeeper were not the only creatures who had heard the strange melody.

“I say,” said one sparrow to another, “did you hear that?”

“What?” inquired the other sparrow, who was busy collecting food for a very greedy family.

“Why, listen,” said the first sparrow.

“Bless my soul,” said the second. “I never heard that before.”

“That’s a strange bird,” said the first sparrow; “I’ve seen it. It’s all yellow.”

“All yellow?” said the other. “What awful cheek!”

“Yes, isn’t it?” replied the first sparrow. “Can you understand what it says?”

“Not a note,” said the second. “Another of those foreigners, I suppose. We shan’t have a tree to call our own soon.”

“That’s so,” said the first. “There’s no end to them. Nightingales are bad enough, grumbling all night, and swallows, although there’s not so many of them this year as usual; but when it comes to yellow birds—well.”

“Hullo,” said a passing tit, “what’s the trouble now?”

“Listen,” said the sparrows.

The tit was all attention for a minute while the gay triumphant song went on.

“Well,” he said, “that’s a rum go. That’s new, that is. Novel, I call it. What is it?”

“It’s a yellow foreigner,” said the sparrows.

“What’s to be done with it?” the tit asked.

“There’s only one thing for self-respecting British birds to do,” said the first sparrow. “Stop it. Teach it a lesson.”

“Absolutely,” said the tit. “I’ll go and find some others.”

“Yes, so will we,” said the sparrows; and off they all flew, full of righteous purpose.

Meanwhile the canary sang on and on, and the poet at the foot of the tree listened with delight.

Suddenly, however, he was conscious of a new sound—a noisy chirping and harsh squeaking which seemed to fill the air, and a great cloud of small angry birds assailed the tree. For a while the uproar was immense, and the song ceased; and then, out of the heart of the tumult, pursued almost to the ground where the poet stood, fell the body of a little yellow bird, pecked to death by a thousand avenging furies.

Seeing the poet they made off in a pack, still shrilling and squawking, but conscious of the highest rectitude.

The poet picked up the poor mutilated body. It was still warm and it twitched a little, but never could its life and music return.

While he stood thoughtfully there an old woman, holding an open cage and followed by half-a-dozen children, hobbled along the path.

“My canary got away,” she said. “Have you seen it? It flew in this direction.”

“I’m afraid I have seen it,” said the poet, and he opened his hand.

“My little pet!” said the old woman. “It sang so beautifully, and it used to feed from my fingers. My little pet.”

The poet returned to his work. “‘In tooth and claw,'” he muttered to himself, “‘In tooth and claw.'”