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.

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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...