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Bute Street
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The Parks of Roath
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At right angles from the side of Ty Draw Road in Roath - the long road that defines the eastern edge of the Recreation Ground - runs Ty Draw Place. Along with Penylan Place and Linden Avenue it's one of a group of short streets that once filled the gap between the main road and the Roath Dock spur of the TVR, the Taff Vale Railway. This ran through its cutting a couple of hundred yards on up the hill. A pannier tanker pulling thirty wagons of coal used to go through here every half-an-hour. Rattle and hum. The line was built to service Cardiff's Roath Dock which opened in 1888. It rolled from the huge sidings at Mynachdy to the Port marshalling yards. There were sidings too at Newport Road to service the now vanished twin cooling-tower power station. The line steamed passed allotments, house backs and rough grass banks, until, in 1968, coal finally gave up. Kids played here. Set the grass on fire in dry summers. Put halfpennies on the line to have the engines flatten them into paper-thin harvest moons. Train spotted - 3729, 4123, 5644, 3403 - such magic numbers. Ate liquorish root. Sherbet. Chewed Black Sambos.

There's little left now. The cutting is filled and built upon. Mock Tudor Brookside houses. Hydrangeas, bamboo, fuchsia bushes, roundels of grass, chain-link, and car park spaces which totally obscure your front door. They are overlooked by Wales & the West Housing Association flats: Hillside Court, Redwell Court, Stonewell Court, Oldwell Court. The names of the ancient houses that once stood on this hillside hang on. I lived here. In the terraced bit. Childhood home. The Ty Draw (The House Over There in Welsh) headquartered the farm that once occupied this slice of slanting, soggy meadow. The Parks below were a swamp of reed, stream and drainage ditch. The rains poured off the Penylan hill clay into the Lleici - Roath Brook - the only thing left now to remind us of just how wet this place had originally been.

Going back to look at the house again is odd. Rosemary Strinati with her foaming hair and dark dark eyes no longer lives next door. There are no boys constantly repairing their black, boxy Austins over the road. The house is narrow and tall. Far narrower than I remember it. Shed out back. Chicken coup taken down. Up to ten of us once lived here - a whole extended family. Two stoves, five fireplaces, coal in scuttles everywhere. No TV. Cowboy books on the shelf. At Christmas the turkey was always too big for the oven. To be cooked it had to be lugged to the bakers off Marlborough Road and then lugged, steaming like a pannier tanker, all the way back.

I ran my first magazine from here. Dynamite. George Pitten and I were the only contributors. Football stories, baseball, adventures, stuff about Roy Rogers and Dan Dare, quizzes, lists of American cars. Text dominated. We'd tried cartoons but neither of us could actually draw. I once contributed a list of coal wagon numbers to fill space. The cover usually had something in red exploding on it. Easy to do. No poems. Who'd read them? The magazine only ever had one copy, of course. We couldn't afford printing. It was produced on white quarto paper bought in twenty-five sheet packets from Woolworths. The pale brown packet wrapper served as Dynamite's cover. Pages were never numbered. Binding was not bothered with. We rented the thing out. People dropped it on the floor and scooped the pages back together in random order. An early B S Johnson [B.S.Johnson (1933-1973), modernist, poet, author, published his famous novel-in-a-box, The Unfortunates, in 1969. Chapters were unbound and could be shuffled and read in any order]. Penny a read. There were a few takers but never enough to actually cover the cost of the paper. We subsidised the thing by cutting local lawns and running errands for reward. Same principle, really, as for later literary magazines I would edit. Hope. Write loads of it yourself. Shuffle the pages when the binding failed. Put your hand in your pocket to pay the bills.

In the back lanes some of the original gates and garage doors remain. Hanging on rusted hinges, worn and bent. Repainted, but with rotted footings, and original green flaking beneath. I check for penknife carved names, forty year old graffiti, but can't find any. Liaisons happened here. Hip flasks. Illicit bottles. Cigarettes. In the dark, knickers were lost. So I heard. Never saw anything.

The Penylan Hill bridge is about all that's left now of the railway. And even here the bridge sign with its ownership name and contact numbers has been stolen. The lane alongside, with typical care and consideration for history, has been renamed Boleyn Walk. Queen of England. Died 1536. Never came here. Nor her husband. For a time the bridge was in use as a road underpass until, abused by dopers and the destitute, it got concreted solid by the council. Steps now descend to a pit where trains once rattled. Standing there it's hard to get the atmosphere. No space, too much grass and infill. No smell of creosote, chunks of charcoal, grey-white stone ballast. Small boys in khaki shorts jotting numbers into notebooks. John Davies with a jumper full of stolen apples. Peter Hughes with his rabbit's foot. John Kachinski with his airgun. Where the line was - piles of leaves. Where the steam was - sky.

Back at Ty Draw Place all is silent. Potted conifers in the front garden of number three. Slabbed over, no grass. Green door. It had one that colour when I was here. There's a cat drowsing on a wall and someone's put a SUMMER FETE notice in their front window. Two white Ford Transits outside. An Audi 80. A Golf. At the top, Boleyn Walk is a highway. Ghost trains roar next to it. Cowboys gallop along its sides. I remember all this. I used to be one of them. Mack over my back like a cloak, bamboo rifle in hand. The past is such a glorious country.

Ty Draw windows

Peter Finch

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