A love letter to Cardiff

This evening, after nearly 6 years here, I started packing to leave Cardiff. And while my overriding thought was, “Why do I have so many clothes?!”, I have to admit, it’s emotional. This city has been many things to me, not least, for years now, my home.

Cardiff, I hated you when I got here. Naïve, terrified 18-year-old me did everything I could to spend as little time here as possible. I spent my first morning here on the phone to my mum, sobbing, hiding in my bathroom so my new flatmates wouldn’t hear me. I didn’t know anything or anyone here. The unfamiliarity, the rain, the scary new housemates, all these people so… different to everything and everyone I knew. I already had friends. I already had a home. Why cheat with this imposter?

My heart was back in Bournemouth, and so that’s where I was too, as often as I could be. After lectures finished on a Thursday I’d be on a train. I dread to think how many miles my mum clocked up on the road to the station and back – rainy Thursday nights we now reminisce about when we make the same journey. “Do you remember when I was in first year, and I hated Cardiff?…”

But gradually, I came to realise – home doesn’t stop just because you left. Home had started to move on. And at the same, sneaking pace, you began to lure me in too. Now my heart really was confused. Gradually, as the train pulled out of the station, my heart would give a little tug backwards. I’d start to wonder what I was missing. A vintage fashion fair, one weekend. Wow, I thought. We don’t have those at home. I’ve never been to one of those before.

And gradually, I began to test it. Test the water, and test myself. Try not going home this weekend – just see. If it’s horrible (and part of me, rabbit-in-headlights, still expected it to be), you can go home next time, vindicated. You can shake your head in disbelief as you tell your mum, you just don’t understand how horrible it is. You can gesture around at the kitchen you grew up in; it’s not like here.

I tested it, and Cardiff, you passed. I stayed. It took months, but then you didn’t only grow on me, I began to revel in you. All this newness! So many opportunities – places, and people, and sights and sounds, tastes and jokes and moments – home began to look smaller. And stiller. As it should be. Now my heart was no longer trying to keep up with both Here and There, I could see them both for what they were. And what they are still.

And what are you, Cardiff? You are glorious. You are the place I met some of my truest, greatest friends. You are where I danced, throat sore from singing and cheeks sore from smiling. You are where I learnt so much – not just about what I was here to, but about myself. You are where I learnt how much I loved my subject; so much that my heart signed me up for a fourth year. You are where I achieved, from the smallest victories (my first attempts at home cooking) to the big ones, graduations, 10Ks and beyond.

You are where I started to make myself. To build the person I’m going to be and the life I’m going to have.

You are where I fell in love. With the person that is truly the other half of me, who has taught me more about myself and what I want out of life, and supported me to build that person and those dreams, than anyone I’ve met before. Without you, Cardiff, that wouldn’t have happened.

And now, with that person, I’m leaving. I’m not sure how long for. And even when we do come back, we’ll be on borrowed time. My heart knows I don’t want to be here forever. Because how would I know what else is out there, otherwise?  I want to try it, to test it and see. If I don’t like it, I can always come back.

Because thanks to you, Cardiff, I know now that moving on is a good thing. It’s a brave and right and wonderful thing. It’s nothing to be scared of. It’s what you do.

If we never moved forward, what would we have to look back on? Thanks to you, Cardiff, I have six whole years.

 

POW!

People, I have some exciting news!

I did my second-ever 10K on Saturday, the Cardiff Race For Life – and I did it in 57mins 48secs!

raceforlife

Considering I did my first one in 1hour 9mins… I am really rather proud of myself :-).

Running up that bloody hill every time I did some training obviously paid off! Maybe it’s rose-tinted glasses, but it honestly didn’t feel too bad. My legs were in genuine pain during the first one, but this time I felt a lot stronger. And I was bloody quick, too! I think of the distance markers were a bit off but I flew round the first 5K, reaching half way in about 25 minutes. I know! 5k to 7k felt reaalllyyyy long… I was convinced I was coming up to 8k, so I was quite disheartened when I saw that marker! And the last slog was tough – but I still managed to sprint it over the line :-).

It was really great having Rob there to watch me, too. So many times, I’ve been the one watching someone, thinking, “I could never do that”. And now it’s me doing it – it’s a huge sense of achievement.

Quite a lot of it was over grass which I wasn’t really used to. And it rained, and my ipod broke – all things I don’t usually have to contend with! So I was even more pleased with my time. I didn’t stop, even when part of me was saying “go on, have a break, you’re still going to finish in under an hour…” – nope. Mind over matter, people. You may really, really want a break – but you know how really, really good it’s going to feel when you can say you did it without stopping!

Also: people gave me Haribo half way round. A sport where you’re actively encouraged to eat sweets!? Amazing!

race for life

I’d love to finish this off by saying I’m now signing up for the Cardiff Half Marathon… I do really want to do a half, and it’s something I now feel I’m could do – something I never thought I’d be saying, even a few months ago! But I’d need to consider investing in some better trainers before doing it, which I just can’t afford at the moment.

 

Oh, and I’d need a new ipod. And some new leggings… and maybe a GPS watch…. Running geek!

 

Top Ten Tuesday – Cardiff love

This week’s Tuesday Top Ten is inspired by a new friend. A new friend who I conveniently happen to be taking to one of the places on this list tomorrow night!

Nikki has recently moved to Cardiff, the fair capital in Wales that I have called home for the last 6 (really? That went fast!) years. We were introduced (via Facebook) by my good friend Nat from uni, who worked with Nikki before she moved here. It was a bit like going on a blind date, but hey, if I like Nat and Nikki liked Nat, then we’d probably get on, right?

She’s moved here to be with her Welsh boyf, and I could relate to her situation. While I definitely have some roots here, a lot of my friends left after uni. A lot of the group we hang out with now I’ve met through my other half. Which is by no means a bad thing – I’m proud to call them some of my closest friends – just sometimes it’s nice to have a friend that’s just yours.

It’s kind of cool, showing your city to someone. Telling them about the best bits, the local knowledge, the bits not everyone knows about. It makes you appreciate where you live in a whole new way, and makes you want to grab the opportunity to take your own advice, and visit/see/drink tea at at all the places you recommend!

So this week’s Tuesday Top Ten – my Top Ten things to do in Cardiff!:

1. Cardiff Castle.

castle

This is a great place to start. It took me a couple of years to get round to doing it myself, but now I always recommend it to people who ask what they should do while they’re here. It’s bang in the centre of town, doesn’t take a huge amount of time to get round, you feel like you’re getting a bit of culture, and did you know that Cardiff residents get in free?

2. Milgis.

yurt

An awesome bar / restaurant / exhibition space / indie-tastic snug on City Road. I took some friends here earlier in the year and they loved it. Especially the yurt out the back! The atmosphere is cosy and cool, with incredible flavoursome cocktails and veggie food that I must get round to sampling! Kind of hard when you’ve got a carnivore for a boyfriend…

3. Buffalo.

buffalo

This is where I’m taking Nikki tomorrow night. Perfectly placed, near enough to town while avoiding the student (read: crappy) part of Cathays. It’s a bit more hip than Milgis – more a place to be seen than to cwtch up in. More great cocktails and come back for the Sunday roasts – ah-may-zing. I was gutted when I found out Race For Life is on a Saturday – I was looking forward to a slap-up meal! (While we’re on the theme of Cool Bars You Won’t Find Elsewhere, try 10 Feet Tall too.)

4. Cheese festival.

cheesefest

This is held in the Castle every September and, err, I’ve never been yet. But in my defence, it’s only really been the last couple of years that I’ve a) started liking cheese and b) had a disposable income that isn’t a student loan! Bit pointless to spend my much-needed loan on cheese when I didn’t like it, right? That’s just cheese logic. Now though, mine’s the stilton-and-cranberry!

5. Bute Park.

Bute Park

The most appropriately-named park ever. I felt so happy once I found this in first year – I know Cardiff’s not a big city, but I had been missing green. We are so lucky to have such an enormous and beautifully-maintained park right in the middle of town. I love taking a magazine and finding some grass to sit on, jogs at dusk, and there’s a sprinkling of excellent pubs and cafes to be found. Try the Mochyn Du (that’s Black Pig in Welsh) when it’s sunny 🙂 . Oh, and Roath Park Lake is somewhere I can often be found, too!

6. The Pot.

the-pot

If you are Roath Park way, take a detour to this little beauty on Crwys Road. I’ve found other lovely coffee spots in my time here but can never quite shake the feeling I’m cheating on The Pot. It’s also completely what I want my One Day House Kitchen to look like! This was our number 1 choice for treat-ourselves coffee seshes and post-exams stop offs in Uni, and Rob and I spent many hours on the squishy sofa in the window there when he was doing his postgrad. It’s teeny but a real little find – I can’t wait to get to one of their dinner-and-a-movie nights too.

7. Coffee #1 , Wellfield Road

coffee1

I know, I know, I just said I was cheating on The Pot. But Coffee #1 earnt a special place in my heart at the start of this year. It’s the kind of place you can easily sit for a couple of hours, reading the papers or scribbling in a notebook your one-day-I’ll-finish-it novel. I love the atmosphere – it’s sunny, welcoming friendly, especially in January when you’re boyf’s just moved to Holland and you’re feeling a bit lonely. You can always find a seat and never feel rushed to leave!

8. Bosphorus, Cardiff Bay.

bosph

Everyone should visit the Bay when they’re here, but where to eat? This is where I always recommend. I’ve been there twice now and the food is fab, it’s “something different” compared to the other places there (a lot of which are nice, but it’s quite chain-y) and it’s situated on a lovely little pier, so you get gorgeous views over the water. Go in the evening and watch the sun go down. One tiny thing I’ve noticed though – watch out for the weirdly slippy floor!!

9. Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff Bay.

cardiff-bay-39

I love this building. It makes me feel proud of Cardiff – and never fails to lift my spirits when I drive past at 6am on my way to our monthly networking event nearby!! I just think the words emblazoned across the front – “In these stones horizons sing”; I studied them as part of my Masters – are so striking, and really quite beautiful. And the windows behind are actually the main Bar – go see a show and look out through the letters. They’ve got Wicked coming next year!

10. Welsh Club

clwb

And finally. Ah, Welsh Club. It’s not even called that – it’s Clwb Ifor Bach, but “Welsh Club” to just about everyone. The setting of many fantastic nights out, throughout University and since…  If you want a good Cardiff night out, this is where you’ll find it. It’s grimy enough (plus down an alleyway) to feel “cool”, but still music you can’t help but boogie to – indie, motown, cheese – and without any pretentious “nightclubby” attitude. I’ve never been there without hearing “This Charming Man” – the song that will always remind me of this little Womanby St wonder!

Mission accomplished

Things have been pretty stressful recently, and we’ve been in serious need of time to just chill. Luckily, this weekend was the first one in a l-o-n-g time where we had a grand total of nothing to do. Well, we had things to do, but nothing involving get up at this time, be here by this time, get back at this time… Don’t get me wrong, for people who have ended up having to move (for the second time in 3 months) instead of going on holiday (long story), we have most definitely made the most of our summer! In the past 8 weeks we have been to Newcastle, Taunton, Bournemouth and the Olympic Park, as well has having friends to stay. But it was kind of nice to have nothing to rush for!

We had a lie in, a picnic in the park, abandoned a food shop because we were so chilled out we couldn’t cope with Tescos… Admittedly the boy did run the Cardiff 10K on Sunday morning, but I continued the laid back vibe by sitting in the sun on a picnic blanket at the half way point. All in the name of race day support, of course! Though his attempts to hide from the paps of the South Wales Echo failed (that’s him in the red)…

It was a wicked atmosphere, with about 3000 runners altogether. He did really well, finishing in just over 45 minutes! Very proud. I would have loved to have done it myself but just couldn’t fit that kind of training in. Not with our chockablock weekends!! However post-race we returned to Bute Park, this time with books (I’m well and truly stuck in to Kate Mosse’s Labyrinth, which I hugely recommend, and have convinced the boy to give Atonement a try), discovered a new cafe there called The Secret Garden, then devoured a well-earnt Sunday roast (what? Race day support is tiring!) at Buffalo bar. Which I can also hugely recommend! Especially when followed by ice cream sandwiches.

Look at that concentration.

Glad we recharged over the weekend, though, as this week is looking mental. It was the first Breakfast Club of the autumn this morning (5.30am start… ouch. Though I did get to see the sun coming up over the Bay, and spot Gareth Bale loitering in the hotel foyer), and tomorrow and Wednesday are meetings-a-gogo. Wednesday should be interesting, actually, as we’re interviewing for a new intern… Yep, that was me just 8 months ago! Shortlisting the applicants was a strange experience, seeing as I was the other side of the application form so recently. But I kind of rose to it – I felt confident doing it. I’ve got a blog about it to come, but I didn’t think it’d be right to say too much before we’ve chosen them!

Right. Labyrinth and New Girl are calling. And then an early night!

Just looking

Oooh, got our first flat viewing booked for Wednesday 🙂

I wasn’t mega keen when my friend first told me about it as I thought it was a bit too far from where we want to be.  But now I’ve actually google-mapped it… It could actually be a pretty good spot! Is it OK to just get the first one you see, if it ticks all the boxes..!? Probably not… I am naturally quite over-cautious but I do flirt with being that impulsive! Don’t know if the boyf would let me run away with myself like that, though!

So looking forward to getting out of Cathays. It’s just such a student bubble. I’m fed up of burst open binbags on my doorstep, and letters from the police about “a recent spate of opportunist burglaries…” …

Gary Speed, Wales, and me.

I am not Welsh. I wasn’t born here; I’m not even truly sure I have any Welsh blood in me. I went to Anglesey once when I was a child, but until a fateful Cardiff University open day about five years ago… that was it.

Likewise, growing up, I didn’t care much about sport. Especially football; even with three brothers, it just wasn’t on my radar.

Today, though, it’s a different story. I’ve lived in Cardiff for five years, I have a lovely Welsh boyfriend, I can do an accent that’s pretty darn convincing and even string a few Welsh words together (though I’m not sure how far “fish and chips, thank you very much” will get me).

I wouldn’t dream of supporting anyone other thanWalesin the rugby (which I now watch), and am the first in line for the face-paint on a match day.

My friends at home (Bournemouth, England) tease me about how much I love Wales. I am roundly abused via text message during England/Wales games, and am often greeted with a dodgy-accented “What’s occurring?” when entering my local. Bournemouth will always be my home and where I grew up – but I love living here.

I even know a little bit about Welsh football, even though – and I’m ashamed to admit this – I didn’t even know there WAS a national team when I first moved here. Now I’ve been to matches, I can tell my Bale from my Bellamy – and I know who Gary Speed is.

This may be in part thanks to the aforementioned lovely Welsh boyfriend. A life-long Wales and Newcastle United fan, both former clubs of Speed, the man was something of a hero to him. They even went to the same school – though obviously not at the same time – and the phone call I received shortly after he bumped into him on a pre-Christmas night out in Chester, a couple of years ago, remains the most excited I have ever heard a single person sound. Ever.

Over the past few years I’ve come to learn something about Gary Speed for myself. He seemed like a wonderful, calm, quiet, family man. I still don’t care too much for football, but I liked him. He was a good man, and fantastic for the game. You couldn’t help but like him.

I first heard about what had happened to him via Twitter. I stared at my computer screen, and I felt a bit numb. Bizarre, you would think, for someone who didn’t actually know him. But the sadness I felt wasn’t for my loss. It was for his family’s loss, his parents, wife and his two sons. It was for my boyfriend’s loss – someone he really admired and looked up to. And it was for Wales’ loss. They’d lost one of their own – and a good one at that. And in such a tragic, seemingly incomprehensible way.

It’s my personal opinion that it’s none of our business why he decided to do what he did. But I can understand that the people that loved him, even if they didn’t personally know him, and they’d want answers.

I didn’t go to the memorial match last night, but reading the papers today, the atmosphere and the emotion that was in the air is palpable. Like I said, I am not Welsh, I am not a football fan, but seeing the pictures and reading the words you can’t help but be affected.

Obviously there is a huge amount of grief surrounding the gap Gary has left in so many lives. But while undoubtedly sad, the reports from last night’s memorial embody what I have come to love about Wales, the sense of community and of pride. People coming together in memory and respect, to give a member of that community, their community, a worthy send off.

You just don’t get that “togetherness” everywhere. People may say it’s a football thing, but it’s not – it’s a Welsh thing. Community, family, friends – welcoming everyone. Even if you’re the bloke in the England shirt down the pub on match day – you might get a bit of banter, but that in itself is a way to include.

Last night was a fantastic way to show people that. It’s St David’s Day today, and I for one am proud to be associated with this lovely little country, and for the welcome it has shown me.

 Dydd Hapus Dewi Sant – see, even my Welsh is improving.

Coffee shakes

My second Breakfast Club today. It went really well! The prep was definitely smoother this time. (i.e., we were out of the office before six the night before. Happy days!) I even started to get The Buzz from it all – I used to do LOADS of this kind of events stuff at school and absolutely loved it. But being so nervous about the January one it was more white noise/restrained panic than excitement! (My boss likes to call me The Swan – calm about water, but paddling furiously underneath! I *think* that’s a compliment…)

I was in such a good mood first thing that I took a quick snap of the St David’s from the pre-dawn car park, posted on Twitter with a cheery “Morning!”. I do love that kind of up-before-sunrise atmosphere… sometimes anyway. I don’t think my Blackberry quite does it justice, and fair enough my judgement at 6.30 in the morning is not always perfect, but trust me, it looked cool.

I think it helped that I slept so much better than the night before the January one. Went completely mental in the gym after work yesterday so that I’d be tired enough to hit the hay early – a plan that worked a little too well! In my pj’s by 9 – lush.

My manager said it was OK for me to head off a bit early this afternoon, which was nice as I got to meet the boy after lectures. He tried to get me to meet him inside the library foyer, but I feel I have spent enough of my life in that building and so categorically refused to grace its threshold with my presence… It was actually quite funny in the office this morning, we were both in good spirits but by about 2pm had both started to lose it a bit! “Who am I emailing?” “I have absolutely no idea.” 

And I got the WORST coffee shakes – a warning to you, children, caffeine may seem your dark, handsome friend at 8 in the morning, but when you’ve had 5 before lunchtime BAD THINGS happen. Mostly to your ability to control your arms. Yeah. Interesting.

I have however made it to 8pm without a power nap! Hurrah. Though I realised (naive as this sounds) – some people must do this every day. Every day! And I bet they don’t get to leave early. Or have a commute of all of 20 minutes. I have massive respect for these people.

It connected with something I’ve been slowly realising the past few weeks. Once you finish uni, get a job – it doesn’t get easier. You don’t work any less hard. You keep working, work harder. Again, this probably sounds naive. But I see what people mean about it all being a bit like a treadmill – OK, you’ve conquered education AND graduate employment but now you’re on to the next stage, and you have to keep working at it and proving yourself, and moving on up, as the M People put it.

Don’t get me wrong, I like treadmills. I LIKE working hard, and I am excited to prove myself in this job. I love it. It’s just when you get to the end of uni, it’s not an end – the real work starts now. Making life work.

This sounded a lot less naive in my head, so I hope what I’m trying to say is coming across. This week has been bananas – in a good way (like treadmills, I also like bananas) – lots of meetings and phoning and writing. Yay 🙂 But the weekend will be awesome! Mrs T is coming to see me for the weekend. We’re going to see Strictly Come Dancing. Oh yes. My mum and I are that cool.

Hey, work hard, play hard…!

Breakfast Club

Yesterday was my first solo Breakfast Club 🙂

Well, not quite solo, as Sophie (the student I blogged about last time) came along to help me out. Was definitely glad of an extra pair of hands!

The day before had been something of a nightmare – well, no, that’s a bit strong, I knew it was going to be a Getting Stuff Ready kind of day. Just the printer decided to have a go-slow while we were printing the attendee lists (120 copies, 4 pages each..) and it took an aaaaage. Not the time for technology to fail you!

I was pretty nervous about the event until, the night before, my anxiety just kind of vanished. Did my usual practice drive over to the venue on Tuesday evening, no problems. I didn’t sleep massively well – woke up at 2am in a cold sweat having realised I’d forgotten to make a last minute addition a name badge… OK, so the anxiety didn’t totally vanish. But it’s good to be nervous. Keeps you on your toes.

Early, drizzly start, and a minor cock-up with the seating plan, but it went well. Dare I say I even… enjoyed it? Took me back to my Organiser days – I was Chief Get Involved With Everything Girl at school. My fashion shows were legendary, let me tell you 😉

Anyway. I felt confident and I stayed calm. Note:  Staying calm is important, and being as informed as you possibly can be helps that calmness appear! Rhodri Talfan Davies (director of BBC Wales, so you know, no big deal..) was a brilliant speaker, really engaging and funny. He played a DVD (the thing I was the MOST worried about – I’m secretly not all that trusting, and that lack of faith definitely extends to machines) with a really vibrant, interesting run through of what’s been going on down at Roath Lock – there were clips of the 3rd Sherlock, which I *still* haven’t caught up on – when he popped up on screen I genuinely felt myself tense in my chair!…  Managed to avoid running out the room with hands clamped firmly over going ‘LALALA DON’T SPOIL IT LALALA…’ . I’m glad. Don’t think that would’ve gone down all that well. I don’t get into TV programmes all that much, okay, don’t judge me…

My first PR event out of the way. Phew!

Sophie (work experience student) offered to do the write up on the agency blog, which you can see here.

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In other news, I’ve been having a think, and I’m going to start taking DidNext in a slightly new direction… You may remember my musing, when I got this job, that maybe the blog shouldn’t continue, seeing as it was about the difficulties of jobhunting. And that was (thankfully) a hole I’d managed to climb out of. But I don’t want to fizzle out, and I genuinely love writing and having somewhere to share that.

So while ‘What I Did Next’ is still going to be the point of this blog, it’s going to be more in the wider sense of documenting my Life After Uni. My life – the edited highlights at least, with my reactions to the wider issues around making that step from education to professionalism thrown in. For example, I’ve sketched out ideas for a couple of upcoming posts – like my thoughts on the girl who wrote a rejection letter to Oxford (hmm) or on War Horse, which I saw last night.

I hope that’s okay with you. 🙂