Real Cardiff

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Real Cardiff
Bute Street
Charles Street
City Road
Flat Holm
The Four Elms
The Garth
Gorsedd Gardens
Hadfield Road
Lloyd George Ave
Mount Stuart Square
Newport Road

The Parks of Roath
The Pearl


Womanby St.

Cardiff Poets Map
Cardiff, New York
Shots of the Bay
and the City

More Scenes

Cardiff Fictions and

Hamadryad Park
The Bay
St David's Hall
The Museum
The City
Check Your Accent
Ffynnon Denis

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At a point roughly half way between the Julian Hodge Building, Cardiff's first high-rise, and The Royal Oak, the pub with the boxing gym on its second floor and a bar full of Jim Driscol memorabilia, lies Elm Street. This unprepossessing terrace of workers housing put up at the end of the last century is one of the few places in Cardiff where the grey light of South Wales has been ignored. The residents have painted the render on their frontages in Mediterranean technicolour. Greek orange, crab pink, sky blue, dust avocado, Italian cream, tooth-pick red. No sludge, not a sign of mould, the windowsills are full of flower boxes, hanging tubs and ceramic butterflies. The street has seen innovation before. When the poet and architect Ifor Thomas lived here he installed sunken baths, moved doors and rebuilt walls. But you had to take care, this was old Cardiff. Press hard, he told me, and you could push your hand through the plaster right into next door.

There once were elms here. Four of them, shown on the OS maps of 1789, growing roughly where Lower Clifton Street intersects with Broadway (which was little more than a green lane then). There was a mile stone, still there in 1969, gone now. The pub called after the trees, The Four Elms, now gloriously renamed and repainted as The Yellow Kangaroo, hosted a writers' gathering for a short time in its life. In a little-used backroom which held the pub's water cistern and a collection aged accoutrements belonging to the local Order of the Buffalo (a less well financed, considerable less able and utterly less secret working-class version of the Masons) writers would gather to exchange ideas, read poems, criticise each other's work and drink. The beat writer, Gerald Nicosia, visited here with his mother. You could tell that's who she was because she wore a large lapel badge saying so. AUTHOR'S MOTHER. She led the applause vigorously every time the great man spoke. Actually Gerry fitted in well. He was short, Italian looking, and displayed a tenacious enthusiasm for his own work that recalled Tony Curtis. He'd written Memory Babe, a critical biography of Jack Kerouac for Penguin and was on a roll. What he was now doing in the back streets of Cardiff, mom in tow, talking to a bunch of wannabes, some of whom didn't even own typewriters was anyone's guess. Gerry read his own verse, faux-beat stuff, thick with bohemian allusion and then dipped into his Kerouac to tell us about Denver, Jack and Neil and Carolyn and Allen and make us all want to go straight out and shove a few benzedrine inhalers down our throats and stay up all nite. He had to stop every now and then as drinkers in the bar below us used the gents. This made the cistern to flush eagerly. We cheered. Mom had a great time. She'd never been to Wales before and was now convinced that we were as literary a bunch as her son's cohorts in Chicago. Outside Welsh rain rattled the windows. Someone filled a missing pane with a plastic bag. Gerry did not have any copies of his books with him for resale. A refreshing sign of literary don't care or one of earlier success? Who knows. Shortly after that the pub went up-market installing satellite tv and pumping non-stop sports into every drinking nook and beer consuming cranny. Half the pubs in Cardiff were doing the same. The Frog and Toad, The Duck and Donkey, The Useless Lettuce, The Newt and Corkscrew, The Pissed Potato. The writers moved on. The world of poetry, beatniks, and buffalo would never be quite the same.

Peter Finch

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