Et in arcades ego

Last weekend we went to Cardiff. Trips away are trickier now we’ve got a cat: certainly weekends with K’s family have fallen into a slightly complicated routine. K. heads off on Friday; I stay until Saturday morning; and either I return on a late train on Saturday evening to put food down, or – as we did this time – a combination of automated feeder and work colleague visit lasts us till Sunday.

Even with the cat well provided for, such weekends always feel like a bit of a rush. This time, though, I got K. to join me when I arrived in Cardiff central, and we took a troll around the arcades off St Mary’s Street. The street had recently been paved, lending the whole quarter a much more welcoming feel. Still, I don’t doubt that when they closed off the uncrossable, nasty dual carriageway that was only used for through traffic, the retailers complained; they always do, and notably in Oxford when some of its best pedestrianizations were put in place. But the opening of the vast, sci-fi-sounding “St David’s II” around the same time must have put the willies up them.

If anything, the arcades felt rejuvenated: station and taxis at one end, large complex at the other, and pleasant walking along both, have connected up the arcades crosswise, and turned them into an ambling, genial experience of their own. I wouldn’t say we bought much from them, especially from the more chichi oil and vinegar shops, but I did manage to pop into Spillers (all together: the oldest record store in the country, you know), and I might have left with something.

Doing all this felt like I was slowing the weekend away down a bit. They always seem like a hectic fight between encroaching work commitments, boring responsibilities and the desire to see family and nice places. But you don’t feel like you can continue to fight, when you’re surrounded by the wrought irons of a Victorian arcade, or browsing Welsh rugs with may chang and lemongrass in your nostrils, or sat in a silly hipster coffee shop eating a plate of granola as big as your head.

And so the urge to do so evaporates, in a way that the weekend itself then very pleasantly doesn’t.

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This entry was posted in art, cliques, commerce, diary, entertainment, experience, family, far_away, local_independents, location, made_our_own_fun, music, person, pets, retailers, society. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Et in arcades ego

  1. 1looby says:

    I lived in Cardiff when I was little. I remember it as hard, dark, and gritty (I mean dirty, not exhibiting some some sort of romanticised proletarian life. How surprising to hear that it’s taken the hibiscus route to embourgeoisification.

    • smallbeds says:

      Some bits of the city still have that darkness: I think a lot of it comes from the local stone, which is probably a granite. You can see it in the older houses, even the prettier ones; you even see it in the cracks of the prettiness of Castell Coch, I reckon. But definitely the area around Hayes, the old market hall (which is, incidentally, lovely if fishy) and the arcades has had a lift. Air and light has flowed in.

      The effect has extended as far as pedestrianized St Mary’s Street: on the very day we were there, scaffolding was noisily and lengthily coming down from the front of the Cardiff Royal Hotel, revealing a newly painted and sandblasted exterior. It’s just a shame that it can’t really go much further: the area around the (also quite pretty in itself) central train station is still so awful and grim, and so badly planned in terms of access for buses, taxis and private cars.

      There’s something to be said for that old character, of course. Partly I think to keep that dark grittiness alive in his heart, my father-in-law has recently put up a framed print of Lionel Walden’s Cardiff Docks (image search here) in his home office. There can be beauty, in the grit.

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