Some people relish the anonymity of cities, but I'd rather have a feeling of belonging in a village or small town. When I returned to Aberystwyth to live as a student I felt it was a town to fit my head. Even Barri (where I lived then) sprawled too much to the east , while I knew every inch of Aber (though curiously still have problems with street names).
I grew up in Penparcau, a village near Aber and like Heolgerrig, where I live now, loved it's proximity to both countryside and town. Penparcau had the hill of Pen Dinas with its strange unfinished monument, the rivers Rheidol and Ystwyth and sea at Tanybwlch. The town was a walk away for an adventurous six year-old, with a half-pier where we could plunder machines for chocolate.
Cities always seem to define themselves through areas anyway, rather than an entirety and Cardiff contains so many contrasts, between say rough Ely and posh Pontcanna (to use two stereotypes). Although my older children have both lived in Cardiff, I don't think they have put down roots there.
As a teenager, I lived in two very different village communities which starkly defined the influences of the city. The first was Horseheath on the border between Cambridgeshire and Suffolk, a farming community though some worked at a nearby factory.
Much more than the city, the classes did mix, though my friend the Rector's son would never play with the village lads as I did endlessly, both footie and cricket. The palatial landowner's house up the road was another matter and his two gorgeous daughters were beyond our chances, even if they did travel on the same bus to school.
Most of my friends were sons and daughters of farm and factory workers
and I soon picked up their distinctive accent. My Grammar school divided between 'city' and 'country' and I soon sided with the latter, loving the burr and rounded vowels which were the opposite of swallowed Cockney of Cambridge.
When we moved to my stepfather's house between Whittlesford and Duxford it was a different world completely. This was a middle-class area of no name, which housed commuters and every morning I made the same trek to the train as they did. There was no sense of community whatsoever and it could have been a suburb of Cambridge.
My wife is from Belfast and shares my antipathy for cities. She spent too long surrounded by streets and estates not to value the closeness of moor and mountain, even though she doesn't appreciate the hostility of some neighbours in Merthyr.
When I lived in the city for five years I disliked it intensely, even somewhere as attractive and easy-going as Cambridge. The best of times was during my first year on our newly-built estate, where old allotments existed and we could roam them picking fruit. In retrospect, I think I only liked it because it reminded me so much of my filching days in Penparcau, where a badge of pride was a tale of being chased by a farmer brandishing a gun!
Cambridge offered no freedom to someone brought up to swim in Cardigan Bay, skim stones on rivers and make labyrinthine dens in bracken and gorse. Though I cycled everywhere, there seemed no way out of its endless streets and its murky river was no companion.
It belonged to someone else : the students or tourists.......definitely not to us.
Though we played footie and cricket for hours on Jesus Green, it was never ours like the cow-field we claimed in Horseheath, with two old branches for posts, cow-pats to dodge and a boggy ditch for the touch-line. Jesus Green was smooth and lawn-like and could've been anywhere.
Even now, Heolgerrig has little left of community, which revolves around the Primary school if anything. Now the Thomases have left, our Post Office is no longer a bastion of Cymraeg and one of our two pubs has recently been shut. New housing estates are being built despite the recession and it is falling further into commuterdom.
Yet there's such promise in the Waun and Aberdar Mountain. Cattle have at last returned to the Waun, though the grass is so long they seem to be drowning in wild rye. The landowners have given up - for the present at least - their stories about cows collapsing down old mine-shafts; a ruse to prepare the way for opencast mining.
The mountain gives up its crops of wimberries and blackberries in abundance and there are always exciting visitors such as the Tawny Owl which shrieked so loudly from our oak tree the other night that my young daughter was sent scurrying downstairs like a petrified rodent !
This is a poem about being in Cardiff and its negativity, though I don't always feel this way.
EVERYBODY'S SOMEWHERE ELSE
Today like many others
on the streets
in the city
waiting for the green man,
it's normal to be mad
everybody's somewhere else
talking to themselves :
tiny ear-pieces you can't see
and tiny microphones
you can't detect
I don't reply
I don't wide berth
everyone lost in private sound :
and invisible nets
their palms are screens
their fingers pad,
their faces books
of pages failed to print,
arms raised in praise of masts
everyone is where they're not
and by the time they match
the voices to the flesh,
they'll be bedded down
where there is no searched or found.