Cardiff has felt like this quite a few times in its long history. And today it’s feeling like this all over again.

Boom towns stimulate.  Living in them we get a sense of excitement, of furiously going somewhere, of being something.  Cardiff has felt like this quite a few times in its long history. And today it’s feeling like this all over again.

I’m on the harbour front in the Bay seeing some of the best of it. Europe’s most liveable capital city[1], and, since 2016, the one with the greatest increase in popularity as a destination[2].  It’s here all around me. New build still happening in all directions. Ten years back, following the impounding of the waters by the Barrage and the opening of both the Senedd and the Wales Millennium Centre, I asked a local developer if the Bay was now complete. Not for another twenty years, he told me, there’s space and opportunity enough here for at least that. 

Booms arrive at places where opportunity presents itself, where money can be turned, where great fortunes can be amassed overnight. All you need is the suggestion that this is happening and the rush will begin.

Cardiff's new horizon

Before the Romans arrived here in AD 55 to build their fort on the Severn shore the locals, the Silures, had a couple of huts, some fishing henges, and a place to launch boats. But the needs of the invaders presented opportunity. First a village and then a town accumulated as natives learned to offer the services that the Roman garrison commander did not. Food, drink, entertainment, women.  Cardiff boomed. 

Not that the place was called Cardiff then. The Romans knew it as Tamium, a name they also used for the river. However, the Antonine Itinerary, the third century survey of the Roman Empire’s roads, lists this thriving fort and village as Bovium. Nomenclature is unclear. The twelfth century Liber Landavensis[3], The Book of Llandaff, suggests that the river might have at one time been called the Tâm. There is fog. I love that.

The whole habitation, of course, could have been called Roath, a village a short distance east of the Taff estuary. I suggested this to much derision in Real Cardiff. It’s an idea that legendary Cardiff historian and compiler of the Cardiff Records, J. Hobson Matthews, proposed back in 1901[4]. I see from my latest council tax demand that the idea has not caught on.

Cardiff’s booms of the dark ages, if it had any, go largely unrecorded. By 1262, almost two hundred years after the Norman invasion and more than seven hundred after the Romans had left, the population of Kardivia[5] had climbed from the few hundred who must have lived in Bovium to a dizzying 2020. The Black Death of 1348 and the rampaging of Owain Glyndŵr then knocked that  back to around 1200. This was a collapse, a great shrinkage, when Kerdif’s early High Streete, East Streetwardee, West Streete and South Streete[6] between them could only house as many as walk round Roath Park Lake on a hot bank holiday. 

By 1801, the date of the first census, the population of market traders and sheep skin exporters at what had now become known as Cardiff had crawled up again to 1870. If you included outlying villages such as Roath, Lisvane and Llandaff, however, then the figure would hit 3427[7]. Not a huge number by contemporary standards but it was a new clustering of people. The Glamorgan Canal, which had first reached the sea near the present Clarence Road Bridge in 1794, had a lot to do with this fresh and soon to become unstoppable blossoming.

The root lay with the industrial revolution and the manufacture of first iron and then steel at the heads of the south Wales valleys. This was closely followed by the mining of coal, on what turned out to be an epic scale, right down those valleys. Without these newly flourishing commodities the boom of the town just beyond the valleys’ southern extremity would never have happened.

By 1851, with the Glamorgan Canal full of barges, Bute’s first dock functioning, and the Taff Vale Railway bringing down ceaseless trucks of steam coal and iron ingots, the Cardiff population had risen by more than sevenfold to 26,630. This was what former First Minister the late Rhodri Morgan calls the heroic period. The rocky path to Welsh supremacy, in terms of population numbers anyway, had now become a rolling road. By 1901 that population had swollen to 172,629. By 1951 it had reached  267,356. From a village where everyone would have known everyone else to a city where you could have an affair and get away with it in less than a hundred and fifty years. I made this suggestion to a group of local citizens gathered in Penarth a few years back. There was a small silence and then a woman at the back put her hand up. “On, no you can’t”, she said.

Population growth since the nineteen fifties has continued. Perhaps not at the scale witnessed during the great industrial age but in fits and great bursts nonetheless. In 2001 Cardiff was 292,150.  Six years later, just before the financial crash, it had risen by more than 10% to 328,200[8]. Certainly a place big enough to get lost in, but still eminently knowable.  

More recent population figures are harder to settle on. Estimates put the city at 358,400 in 2016 with continuing growth at well above the national average projected for the decade to come.  Cardiff’s Local Development Plan[9] for the period is predicated on a population that will top 412,801[10] by 2026. This figure does have an element of elasticity about it, however, and has been challenged  a number of times. But whichever way it’s looked at it remains a substantial figure.

[1] Cardiff Council’s current promotional slogan.
[2] Data from travel search engine Kayak shows that Cardiff’s popularity as a holiday destination has more than tripled since 2016 with an increase of 223%.
[3] Liber Landavensis or Llyfr Llandaf, the Book of Llandaff, a mainly Latin compilation of 500 years of Llandaff diocesan records and is one of the great early books of Wales.
[4] Cardiff Naturalists’ Society Reports and Transactions, Vol 33, (1900-1901) Matthews, J Hobson,  “The Place names of the Cardiff District”.
[5] Book of Llandaff.
[6] Williams, Moelwyn I, “Cardiff – Its People and its Trade – 1660-1720”, Morganwwg – Transactions of the Glamorgan Local History Society, Vol 7, 1963.
[7] Williams, Moelwyn I,.
[8] Source – Office of National Statistics
[9] Cardiff Local Development Plan 2006-2026 Deposit Plan.
[10] Cardiff Local Development Plan Background technical Paper Number One – Population and Housing.  Updated May, 2014.   

A Performance Field Trip

We’re on the coach heading into the city along Cowbridge Road passing a knot of still functioning Canton pubs. Despite the rush everywhere else to close traditional saloon bars wherever they stand these west Cardiff places remain in business. There’s a spot at the dead centre of what was once Canton village where Llandaff Road, Delta Street, Gray Lane and what might be Leckwith Road but isn’t quite yet mix in a swirl of cars, buses, buggies and men in long coats smoking. Stand here and put your arms out and you can touch at least five working taverns: The Plum Tree (formerly The Goscombe), The Corporation Hotel, The Admiral Napier, The Canton, and Weatherspoon’s’ Ivor Davies. Down the road, in both directions are more.

Ivor Davies is the real name of Cardiff’s major contribution to world nostalgia, Ivor Novello. He was a prolific composer. He wrote Keep The Home Fires Burning, We’ll Gather Lilacs and, unaccountable for a Welshman, Rose of England. He also penned a 1930s musical titled Crest of a Wave. Not the Gang Show favourite but in honour of the textual proximity it’s the Ralph Reader song we all burst into. We do this as the coach slides the short distance between the pub named after him and the blue plaqued terraced house of his birth. 95 Cowbridge Road East. There are potted cordyline looking like palms in the front yard.

Mike Pearson
We’re in the company of dramatist, performance studies maestro and founder of the theatre company Brith Gof, Mike Pearson. Pearson is bald headed and angular, fearsome but avuncular, a perfect avant-garde host. He’s leading us on a Cardiff bus tour, an appendage of the annual Chapter Arts Centre festival of performance on the edge, Experimentica. The aim is to visit as many sites as possible associated with what were designated in the 60s as ‘happenings’ but as time moved on became something significantly more: performance, time-based art, alternative theatre – activity that breaks the relationship between public and art, where voice and idea mingle in places where the line between audience and performer has become irrevocably blurred.

Is this stuff new? Not a bit. The ideas on which it had been founded can be tracked back to the foundations of modernism at the start of the twentieth century, to the outrages of Zurich’s Cabaret Voltaire and the hanging of urinals as art objects on New York gallery walls. Those innovations mostly stayed away from Wales. For the majority of art history we have never been an avant-garde place. Until, that is, a disparate group of artists beached up in Cardiff and clustered around the teacher Tom Hudson at Cardiff School of Art and Design, then at Howard Gardens. Hudson was virtually the only art teacher west of the Severn who recognised the opening of art to international influences and the smashing of the barriers between art and design as essential. He and his supporters were encouraged with trickles of financial aid  directed by Peter Jones at the Welsh Arts Council. Thus fortified they blossomed across Wales’ newly post-industrial capital. 
This was all by chance, of course, rather than design. Suddenly the social and cultural revolution that had rolled down sixties Kings Road London could be seen also in Kings Road Canton. The modernists and their successors had acquired a Welsh base. 

We reach the Reardon Smith, the 1932 lecture theatre in the east wing of the National Museum of Wales. Sir William Reardon Smith, 1856-1935, was a sailor, a shipping line owner (including the steam ship The City of Cardiff), a millionaire, a supporter of culture and the arts, and for decades the museum’s principle benefactor. He probably wouldn’t have liked much that the late twentieth century carried on in his name. Here, in the 1965 Reardon Smith Theatre, participants in the Commonwealth Poetry Conference tried to admit a pig as a delegate. Heike Roms, Pearson’s partner and collaborator, projects a grainy newspaper shot from the Western Mail onto the theatre’s giant screen. It shows three poets struggling with a two-hundredweight Vietnamese sow hired in especially for the occasion. She tells us there were near riots and all in the name of verse.

In 1968 Yoko Ono visited to perform her fly piece. This was pre-Beatles and Yoko was still hard-core avant-garde. Actually she didn’t come here. She sent a black and white photograph of herself smiling instead. This was carried on stage by two uniformed porters and placed on the piano. A little later a message from Yoko was read out to the not inconsiderable audience who had each paid five shillings to get in. “Fly” was all the message said. The audience was uncomprehending. Would she fly in later? Should we all fly now? This was a happening, after all. 

From this point on activity slowed. The evening progressed. There was silence and shuffling. Yoko did not appear. No one flew. More silence ensued. Nothing happened. Eventually, bored by all the inactivity, people began to drift off into the dark Cardiff night.

The following morning the organiser sat in his office with Yoko’s invoice on his desk. He thought for a moment about her appearance by photograph and then wrote out a cheque. This he took to the Xerox and pressed the button. He mailed the copy back to Yoko quoting her invoice number. Nothing further was said.

In their search for history Roms and Pearson attempt regeneration. Are the performances that occurred in these places still hovering somewhere? Can we restore their memory? Can their spirits be made to seep from the walls? Maybe. We return to the coach and head south. This time it’s to Splott, where the Mecca Ballroom, later bingo hall, stood until it was burned to the ground. 

In the neck of streets over the tracks from the Star Centre lie Cardiff’s precious metals, shining gems and planetary bodies: Comet Street, Constellation Street, Sun Street, Star Street, Gold Street, Silver Street, Topaz Street, Emerald Street, Sapphire Street and finally, Ruby Street, where we head. Here, in what was once the street’s Casson Studio Theatre, an early version of Cardiff Laboratory for Theatrical Research was launched. It performed Image. Its members wore white t-shirts and white trousers and were confined to the chambers of two upturned rostra. They mirrored each other, gesticulating. Then they came out and marched up and down the aisles. Behind them a slide guitar in the style of Ry Cooder played. The whole piece is now lost bar one roll of black and white snaps. Photographer unknown. 

The Casson later gave itself over entirely to that emerging art form – dance – to become Cardiff Community Dance’s Rubicon Theatre. It was opened by Diana Princess of Wales in 1982, the Lab a thing of the past.

The tour rolls on. We hear from guitarists who were there, shape changers still sliding the blues. In the cleared cholera graveyard of Adamsdown we recall theatre presentations that, back in the pre Health and Safety days of the 80s, oscillated between playgroup and community art. These were performances suspended brilliantly in a magic mix of creativity and anarchy. We stand in a large gaggle surrounding the singing George Auchterlonie while in the distance, out there beside the cleared gravestones, the district’s current young inhabitants watch and wonder. With the choruses we join in, loudly, as only a group of one-time thespians can.  

The tour takes in no longer extant spaces in the University Engineering Building. It crosses what was once the Art College car park, and then visits the East Moors Youth Centre. Here a tardis-like theatre, wood embossed and utterly unexpected, has been created in a former chapel out on the edge of former steel-making land. Then we finish. We are back where we started outside Chapter Arts Centre. Here the straggle of coach travellers is invited to recreate John Gingell’s pedagogical snaking line of 1971, hands on the shoulders of the person in front, those at the back knees crouched, those up front head reaching for the sky. Inside there’s a reprise of the barbershop singsong from Pip Simmons 1977 production of Woyzeck. Shave foam and permutation, all energy and style.

Woyzek 2014

This has been a field trip. It says that on the back of the printed hand out. It feels more like archaeology or some sort of scientologist auditing of a shared creative former lives. In the room outside Mike Pearson launches his new book, Marking Time. The subtitle is Performance, Archaeology and the City. It’s a history, analysis and locator for the material we’ve just toured through but not only for the east, for the rest of the city as well.

What you get out of this is Pearson’s take on how the record of a place can merge with the activity performed in it.  How location and circumstance can dictate outcome. Pearson becomes an excavator of the contemporary, a recent historian and a choreographer of artistic action. He quotes extensively from his scripts and from those of others. The ephemeral and the ghostly transient are recalled, often  from the distance of many decades. The past once again become real.

Back in the city’s east, the new artistic hub, now that Pontcanna has been trumped and the Bay washed out, I wonder how much artistic activity will continue. Another budget-slash era is upon us. Things are shrinking and closing down. Art flourishes in hard times, runs the suddenly present rumour. Or is that something the former funders just want us to believe? 

A Performance Field Trip end up on the Real Cardiff The Flourishing City studio floor 

What The Critics Say

Buzz Magazine

Cardiff Central Library, Cardiff, Thurs 19 July
That Peter Finch is here today is doubly appropriate. Not only is it nearly two years since he was the guest speaker at the Central Library’s inaugural Open Space event, but the building itself is a potent symbol of Cardiff as the “flourishing city” of the prolific local author’s latest book, and indeed features on its cover. Seren’s Real series – a beguiling blend of history, (psycho)geography and personal memoir – kicked off with Finch’s Real Cardiff in 2002; since then, its scope has extended across the border into England and beyond consideration of only sizeable conurbations – but it has regularly returned to the Welsh capital, such has been the pace of change here. Real Cardiff: The Flourishing City is Finch’s fourth contribution on the place of his birth.

This evening, at least, that subtitle ends with a question mark; over the course of 45 minutes, Finch interrogates what “flourishing” actually means. He refuses to be seduced by the superficial dazzle and gleam of glass and metal, bemoaning the construction of countless buildings that thrust themselves ever higher, built hastily and with profit rather than durability in mind. The tone of his talk is not predominantly triumphant or even celebratory, but elegiac. Development, he notes soberly, often (if not inevitably) entails erasure. Roath Mill, for instance, had stood for over 1,000 years when it was obliterated in 1897 to make way for a public park; likewise, there remains no trace of several different town halls, or of the cursing stone that once stood on St Mary’s Street. Precious little of the pre-Victorian city survives; Cardiff is physically as well as economically very much a product of the Industrial Revolution – though even its industrial heritage is now fast becoming a distant memory, as disused docks are crowded by new flats and the Coal Exchange has been converted into a swanky hotel. Only on rare occasions does there appear to be any official admission of regret at acts of cultural and historical vandalism committed in the pursuit of progress, such as the misguided decision to fill in the Glamorgan Canal. Had it survived, the Canal would now no doubt be a popular tourist attraction; sadly, today it functions only as a cautionary tale, a warning as to the perils of myopic planning. At least, Finch concedes, the city was spared the sort of fate that befell Birmingham: the implementation of a 1960s utopian vision that would have tarmacked it over and transformed it into a giant car park.

Finch’s antipathy to the automobile is also evident when he speaks about his methodology and approach. To really see and know a place, he argues, you need to pore over old maps and walk around it (or at least cycle). He talks of leading walking tours, and tonight, without us having to leave our seats, he takes us on a ramble behind pubs, through gates, over fences, down lanes and into the past, pointing out the barely discernible outlines of motte-and-bailey castles, ancient standing stones hidden in plain sight in cottage gardens, and what remains of the vast heath that stretched north from Death Junction (where Albany Road, City Road, Crwys Road, Richmond Road and Mackintosh Place meet, so called because it’s where the city’s gallows once stood).

Nearing the end, Finch brings us back to the present to look into the future. Cardiff has grown exponentially since the first official census in 1801; how might it continue to grow in the years to come, constrained as it is by the estuary to the south and Caerphilly Mountain to the north? Perhaps with the development of artificial islands and protective sea walls; almost certainly with expansion to the west, beyond Culverhouse Cross, and to the east, towards Newport. Green belt land has already been downgraded, preparing the ground for the bulldozers to move in, and Finch fears that, like the Great Heath, it will be destroyed. He accepts that development is an inexorable process – “Cities are never finished – they are built, then rebuilt and then rebuilt again” – but makes a passionate case for proceeding with caution, sensitivity and an acute awareness of what will be lost as well as what might be gained.
words Ben Woolhead
August 2018

We Are Cardiff

Writer Ben Newman gets stuck into Peter Finch’s fourth instalment in the Real Cardiff series.

Real Cardiff  is, at heart, a book for the people of Cardiff, half-love-letter, half-history.
How well do you know Cardiff, really? For a city of only roughly 350,000 people, nestled between valleys and the sea, there is a surprising amount of history, tales, fables, and important spots that remain hidden to the majority of us. Thankfully, Peter Finch’s Real Cardiff The Flourishing City has been published and is, to date, one of the most readable yet comprehensive histories of Cardiff.
By splitting the book into five main parts – Central, East, North, West, and South – Finch interprets how the city’s linguistic, cultural, artistic, and economical heritage is preserved and built upon today, whilst contextualising how all these factors contribute to Cardiff’s booming trade. No matter which part of the ‘diff you live in, there will be some coverage of it in it here, and may make you approach your morning commute or next trip to the shops a little differently.
The book opens with a short discussion about Cardiff’s role as a boom city, before descending into an overview of the city’s history. Finch then muses on the cultural melding, or lack thereof, between Cardiff and the northern valleys, and how economic and population pressures may push Cardiffians out into the valleys. It is an interesting discussion to be had where Cardiff’s influence and parameters end, with Finch stating that “Cardiff finishes at the roundabout just south of Castell Coch.” This book attempts to discuss more than just Cardiff itself, but the degree of its wider influence in the fabric of south Wales.
Furthering on that, the author discusses how the city is changing architecturally, with our beloved skyline being threatened by all sorts of wider economic advancements. The book opens by providing a full framework of what has happened and what is to come, threading in loose descriptions of a multitude of factors. Whilst Finch does not go into impressive depth in this book, he does display an amazing breadth of knowledge; this book is not necessarily for those inclined to the nitty-gritty, but more for those who want a full understanding of what it means to be Cardiff.
Finch, already famous for being a wonderful writer, employs a direct and simple writing style, with the kind of preference for understatement you see from any old man telling a story. Even if he shies away from hyperbole, he still manages to capture the contradictory and idiosyncratic nature of Cardiff. His writing is underpinned by an implicit understanding of what makes us Cardiffians tick, allowing his writing to gravitate towards highlights that would naturally interest locals.
Without wanting to spoil too much, the book traverses through geographical spots throughout each part of Cardiff, focusing on those bits that appear relatively different or important. In a way, it is as if Finch is taking you on a tour – albeit a politicised one – throughout spots in Cardiff. He starts off with easy parts such as Queen Street, before slowly making his way through the nooks and crannies of central Cardiff, ending in the quieter streets of Tredegarville. This occurs throughout each section, beginning at a central hub, and slowly meandering out to the peripheries. Each street reveals something different and hidden away. To give them away here would ruin the experience, but the important point Finch takes away from each idiosyncrasy is that Cardiff deserves to be treasured. Underpinning his textual tour is an argument that we, like the rest of Wales, need a plan. Issues such as traffic concerns, architectural issues, and Cardiff’s disconnect from Welsh culture are all discussed, leading to a book that not only entrenches itself in the city, but in the city’s concerns, troubles, and future.

Peter Finch a’r ‘dérive’ - João Morais

Mae'r drydedd gyfrol yn y gyfres 'Real Cardiff' gan Peter Finch eisoes yn dwyn yr is-bennawd 'the changing city'. Digon addas ar un olwg felly yw'r is-bennawd 'the flourishing city' ar gyfer y bedwaredd gyfrol hon. Cyfrol arall eto, meddech chi? Does bosib fod yna fwy i'w ddweud am 'Real Cardiff' – digon i lenwi llyfr cyfan arall? I'r gwrthwyneb: o ddarllen Real Cardiff rhif pedwar daw'n amlwg i mi fod gan yr awdur gyfrolau eto i'w hadrodd am Gaerdydd.
Gan wisgo mantell y flâneur a'r hanesydd, dyma ni Peter Finch yn ôl ar strydoedd Caerdydd. Mae'n llwyddo i gyflwyno gwedd newydd eto fyth i ni ar y brifddinas, gan ddadlennu ei hyd a'i lled mewn ffyrdd annisgwyl. Un o ryfeddodau'r gyfres yw ei bod yn tywys rhywun i gorneli na fyddai gennym gyfle i ymweld â hwy fel arfer. Nid rhywbeth i basio heibio iddo'n ddifeddwl yw'r adeilad tal, onglog yna: yn Real Cardiff rhif pedwar, mae Finch, sy'n llawn cywreinrwydd yn ôl ei arfer, yn benderfynol o ddarganfod yr hyn sydd dan yr wyneb; mae'n ein tywys i lefydd anghyfarwydd gan ein hannog i fyseddu eu gwead. Cerddais heibio i Ganolfan Islamaidd De Cymru gymaint o weithiau ond ni fentrais i mewn erioed. Dyma un o'r tri mosg sydd yn gwasanaethu fy nghymuned yn Butetown. Cefais fy nghyflwyno gan Finch i fan lle mae perffeithrwydd tawel yn teyrnasu: 'The racks of religious books are ordered, the walls illuminated with Arabic script, the carpet lit by daylight filtering in through the coloured windows of the dome above.’ A diolch i hynny, ehangwyd fy nghymuned rywsut – gan godi rhywfaint o gywilydd arnaf am i mi beidio â gwneud y siwrne yno ynghynt fy hun.
Rhannwyd y gyfrol, fel y cyfrolau blaenorol yn y gyfres, ar sail ardaloedd y ddinas – Canol, Gogledd, De, Dwyrain a Gorllewin. Yn ychwanegol at hynny – yn yr un modd ag y mae gan Real Cardiff Three adran o'r enw 'Beyond' a Real Cardiff Two un o'r enw 'Penarth a'r Arfordir' – mae gan y bedwaredd gyfrol adran o'r enw 'Journeys', sydd yn manylu ar ymdrechion Finch wrth gerdded o ogledd y ddinas i'r deheubarth (o Builders Merchants ger gorsaf reilffordd Ffynnon Taf i wlypdiroedd y parc cadwraeth ger gwesty St David's ym Mae Caerdydd, saith milltir i ffwrdd). Mae hefyd yn manylu ar daith o Penylan Hill i Eglwys St Augustine ar Drwyn Penarth (lle, rwy'n darganfod, mae man gorffwys Joseph Parry, cyfansoddwr ‘Myfanwy’). Mae'r gyfrol yn gyforiog o ffeithiau ond hefyd ymdeimlwn ag awyrgylch y ddinas: clywn ei synau, ei hemosiynau a'i hatgofion, a hyn i gyd yn rhoi i ni gyfrol sy'n bleser i'w darllen ac sydd hefyd yn dyfnhau ein dealltwriaeth o ba bynnag ardal y darllenwn amdani.

Caf ddadleniad o ryw fath wrth ddarllen cyfrolau 'Real Cardiff' Finch, gan ddod i ddeall y ddinas mewn rhyw ffordd newydd bob tro. Wrth ddarllen Real Cardiff Two, er enghraifft, deuthum yn ymwybodol y gallasai Caerdydd fod wedi cael ei henwi Y Rhath. Ac yn y bedwaredd gyfrol hon, mae Finch yn f'argyhoeddi bod Bae Caerdydd yn galeri gelf awyr agored gyfrinachol. Cerddaf yn ddyddiol, bron, o fy nghartref ar ystâd Butetown o gwmpas y Bae, weithiau'n mynd hyd yn oed dros yr argae i Benarth, cyn dychwelyd drwy'r Pentref Chwaraeon. Mae'r teithiau cerdded hyn yn fy nghynorthwyo i feddwl. Ac mae nifer y gweithiau celf ar y gylchdaith hon yn sicr yn drawiadol. Gan Finch cefais syniadau am ffyrdd i amrywio fy llwybrau.
Nid yw hynny i ddweud bod Finch yn bod yn or-sentimental wrth drafod hynt yr hen ddociau. Mae'n nodi, mewn un man, ‘it’s not really part of us, the Bay. It’s still a destination rather than a component. A place to go to. A Cardiff satellite glowing in the dark'. Gallaf gytuno efo hynny, i raddau. Mae'n gleniach na'r hyn a ysgrifennodd Siôn Jobbins yn The Phenomenon of Welshness (Carreg Gwalch, 2011), lle gwelai'r brifddinas ‘as a capital whose population actually believes the pokey, Lego-like Mermaid Quay is the height of continental sophistication’ (sydd hefyd yn ein cyfeirio at wirionedd dyfnach). Mae dinasoedd, wedi'r cyfan, yn newid yn barhaus. Ac nid yw Caerdydd yn wahanol yn hynny o beth. Fel y dywed Finch ei hun, mae wedi esblygu ‘from a village where everyone would have known everyone else to a city where you could have an affair and get away with it in less than a hundred and fifty years’.
Ond heddiw, mae pob cornel wedi ei llenwi â blociau newydd o fflatiau myfyrwyr. Ar adegau, mae'n teimlo fel petai Caerdydd yn datblygu'n ddinas nid ar gyfer ei phreswylwyr ond ar gyfer corfforaethau, er mwyn iddynt blannu eu cyfoeth yn y blociau hyn, fel sydd wedi digwydd yn Coventry a Sheffield. Tybed, wrth i'r myfyrwyr symud i'r tyrau newydd hyn (mae 13 wedi eu codi mewn tair blynedd o fewn gofod o 250m ar y groesffordd Newport Road/City Road yn unig), a fyddant, o ganlyniad, yn rhyddhau gofod i deuluoedd symud yn ôl i dai teras Cathays, a hynny'n gymorth i greu ymdeimlad cryfach o gymuned yn yr ardal hon?
Yn codi ei ben o hyd yn y gyfrol y mae'r pryder gwaelodol a deimlir wrth bendroni a fydd y cyngor yn llwyddo i gael y cydbwysedd yn iawn. Mae Finch yn nodi ar un pwynt: 
We are not doing much preserving. We are losing our old place names, dropping our ancient connections, abandoning habitats. The city, famous for knocking things down and filling things in, continues to redevelop its Bay. There are far too many new 'units of increased density' as one critic complained. Never enough street facing human scale houses.
Yn nes ymlaen, mae'n ysgrifennu: 
when things are in the wrong place the city wipes them away. It did that to most of the pre-St David’s Centre townscape, to the Glamorgan Canal, the old town halls and walls, the skating rink on Westgate Street, the zoo at Victoria Park, and the cinemas that once crowded Queen Street. All gone. We are good at being new, being an administrative capital and a tourist destination, but pretty hopeless at preserving what once made us different.
Cytunaf yn llwyr. 
Wrth gwrs, does dim rhaid i ddatblygiad trefol fod yn ddrwg i gyd. Tra mae Finch yn galarnadu colli plastai Penylan Hill (a ddymchwelwyd i wneud lle i Eastern Avenue, y brif lôn A sydd yn mynd drwy Gasnewydd) mae wedi ysgrifennu cyflwyniad ardderchog i'r tai bwyta niferus nepell i ffwrdd mewn adran yn dwyn y teitl 'Eating my way down city road'. Mae'n mynd heibio i gaffi llysfwyd Milgi ac yn rhannu ei fyfyrdodau ar toffŵ MaPo a chyw iâr Peri Peri wedi ei grilio â fflamau go iawn, prydau a fyddai'n annealladwy i genedlaethau blaenorol. Cafodd Finch y syniad hwn wrth fwyta yn The Codfather, siop pysgod a sglodion yn Canton. Dywed:
The original plan had been to eat in every restaurant from here to Victoria Park but I’ve been won over instead by the charms of City Road. Cardiff’s 'multicultural melting pot of independent retailers' as the BBC describes it. And much nearer home.
Sydd yn ddigon teg. Serch hynny, ni fedraf ond meddwl y gallasai'r adran ar Gorllewin Caerdydd fod wedi gwneud efo rhywbeth ar hyd y llinellau hyn hefyd. Cefais fy magu ym Mhentrebane a threuliais fy ieuenctid yn Tyllgoed (Fairwater), felly digon posib bod gorllewin y ddinas, a Cowbridge Road East yn benodol (gyda'i chyfres o dafarndai'r 'Canton Mile' adnabyddus), yn fy nenu yn fwy nag unlle. Ond y Dwyrain yw adran gryfa'r gyfrol heb os a dyma dir cyfarwydd ei gartref i Finch.
Beth am Real Cardiff Five? Hoffwn weld Finch yn troi ei sylw at furlun y Tŵr Dŵr, a baentiwyd i ddangos chwedlau Cymru uwchben y traciau rheilffordd sydd yn arwain i Gaerdydd Canolog. Hoffwn ei weld yn agor can o gwrw efo'r Real Ale Soc yn stafell gyffredin un o'r blociau myfyrwyr newydd yma. Neu'n chwarae ping-pong gydag un o'r gweithwyr creadigol yn swyddfa cynllun-agored y Tramshed, a ysbrydolwyd gan Google, yn crwydro o gwmpas yr adeilad efallai, o'i dop i'w waelod, efo rhywun a arferai weithio yno pan y'i hadnabyddid fel Depo a Gweithdai Canolog Cyngor Caerdydd. Mewn geiriau eraill: rwyf am gael mwy.

The Real Series - edited by Peter Finch

all titles published by Seren Books

Real Aberystwyth - Niall Griffiths, 2008

Real Bloomsbury - Nicholas Murray, 2010
Real Cardiff - Peter Finch, 2002
Real Cardiff #2 - Peter Finch, 2004
Real Cardiff #3 - Peter Finch, 2009
Real Chester - Clare Dudman, 2016
Real Glasgow - Ian Spring, 2017
Real Gower - Nigel Jenkins, 2014
Real Liverpool - Niall Griffiths, 2008
Real Llanelli - Jon Gower, 2009
Real Merthyr - Mario Basini, 2008
Real Newport - Ann Drysdale, 2006
Real Port Talbot - Lynne Rees, 2013
Real Powys - Mike Parker, 2011
Real South Pembroke - Tony Curtis, 2011
Real South Bank - Chris McCabe, 2016
Real Swansea - Nigel Jenkins, 2008
Real Swansea #2 - Nigel Jenkins, 2012
Real Wales - Peter Finch, 2008
Real Wrexham - Grahame Davies, 2007

copies can be purchased directly from Seren here

What The New Book Is All About

Real Cardiff The Flourishing City by Peter Finch   is published by Seren Books and is available in bookshops.  Copies can also b...