When I first arrived in Cardiff I had my own ideas about what its arcades and alleys would be like. I assumed the arcades were places kids went to play pinball and the alleys were something I had to steer clear from at night. I could not have been more wrong.
In the four years I’ve lived here, I have spent countless hours wandering the arcades in the city center – visiting independent shops, enjoying strong tea and fluffy cakes, and imagining (in a rather over-romantic way) what the city must have been like in Victorian times. The arcades are captivating and certainly unlike anything I had seen in my hometown.
Equally, I have spent a great deal of time weaving my way through alleys in both Roath and Canton. Unlike arcades which are public and striking, the alleys are more hidden, more private. I don’t know their names but I know where they go. Using alleys – either to get to work or to clear my head – tells me that I know something about the neighborhood, signals familiarity, and makes me feel at home.
Although Cardiff’s arcades and alleys are in many ways in opposition to each other – the grand vs. the understated, the public vs. the private – I love them both equally and knew early on that I wanted to dedicate one of my City Writing sessions to them.
In the ‘Arcades and Alley’ session we talked about our preconceptions of alleys, examined how we used them, and discussed how they could be transformed through art. We weaved our way through arcades and wrote about people, sounds, and objects. Together we celebrated both the arcades and alleys of Cardiff and, despite the rain, had a truly enjoyable day. I cannot thank those who attended enough for sharing their stories and spending the afternoon writing with me.
One of the participants, Sean Wolfendale, wrote a lovely prose piece inspired by our discussions and a walk through the Castle Arcade. Please enjoy this and a few photos from the day below:
She is here to meet her connection. It is a popular place for them, the waiters, to meet. These arcades are commonly known secrets, known only to a few, but available to the ready within the masses.
She is still, and weathering the oncoming stillness within the arcade; this place of selective life. Her lavender scarf starts where her grey locks end and her grey blue eyes are locked on the castle facing the entrance. Her heavy winter coat protects her from the cutting breeze created by the arcade. I will know them when they arrive, not because they will meet her, though they will, but because they will not be one of the other select, one of the other genres of people who can come to this separated place.
They will not be a searcher, one of those who amble slowly but with purpose. The searchers come for a thing that cannot be found in the mainstream streets of the common currants that aimlessly flow through the capital. No. They come for alternative goods. Not an everyday, not an everyman, but a them item, an I item, an identity. It’s here in the vintage, the handmade, the retro, could be buttons, or second hands books, or speciality Welsh giftware. They will not be one of these people.
They won’t be a Cardiff professional. These move with haste. They know the arcades and the alleys, the gullies and the side streets. They get from A to B via F, G and then cutting through M&S. They aren’t here for business or pleasure. They aren’t here to be here at all.