Bleak House

The ‘Beautiful Game Tour‘ (aka Liverpool FC) rolls into Cardiff today for a game at the Cardiff City Stadium, or Bleak House as I am now prone to calling it, as a tease to my long-suffering resident season ticket holder. “What the dickens is going on?” I ask, when the ‘delusional one‘ begins to extol something approaching ‘Great Expectations‘ regarding the fortunes of the home team. “This may well be A Tale of Two Cities I reply, but “if you believe in hope for your team today you must have lost yourself in The Old Curiosity Shop of dreams”. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, particularly for those who ultimately provide the basis of my laid back lifestyle, but… “your lot are falling on Hard Times I mutter under my breath. Local fans should take a lead from Oliver Twist, as the outcome from today is likely to be no more than a bowl of gruel.

In the tale of two cities theme, it is the challenge of the former docklands as the Pierhead Building takes on the Liver Building:

Pierhead Building     V.              

 

But for me, it is yet another lunch teaser… what is it with these football teams and bird mascots? You watch your match, I’m going to dream about a Bluebird starter followed by a roast Liver Bird.

It’s 3.00p.m. on a trepidatious Saturday afternoon for the local desperados…

City v Liverpool [1]

… but wait, some people have clearly not read the script. Rumour has it these days that Liverpool FC use their pace to overwhelm the opposition from the kick-off, then ease back as the match goes on. Eight minutes on the clock and up steps the aptly Dickensian named Jordan Mutch to put Cardiff City into a surprising but deserved 1-0 lead. Only a few pages into the book and the home fans are already sensing a happy ending. However, The Artful Dodger, (Louis Suarez), hits back with an equalising goal on 16 minutes. The home fans remain upbeat, and on 24 minutes are again aptly rewarded by a Dickensian double of Jordan Mutch passing to Frazier Campbell for the second goal.

Scrooge has clearly had no hand in the influencing of either teams defence, as later in the half Martin Skrtel equalises for Liverpool. The home fans turn their joy into a less than warm reception for their hated owner, the Uriah Heep type villain who makes Miss Havisham’s neglect and final destruction of her own home look like a blueprint for his ultimate intentions in CF11. “We’ll always be blue” is repeatedly chanted by the home fans, waving a mass of blue scarves in support of their team playing in red! It could easily have been a song that a young Charles Dickens sang while his father and other family members were incarcerated in Marshalsea Debtors Prison back in the early 19th century.

Half-time brings rapturous applause from all parts of the stadium… 2-2. It is looking like the Bob Cratchett’s and Joe Gargery’s of the world might just be getting some reward for their honest toil. As the second half begins someone in the crowd is making their views known across the pitch to the empty seat where the owner should have been sitting…

City v Liverpool [3]Rumour has it that Bill Sikes is trying out new disguises in order to camouflage his misdemeanours in the locality…

  

The Great Expectations of the first half soon begin to descend into a Bleak House of a second half, as The Artful Dodger (Louis Suarez) and his accomplice Fagin (Daniel Sturridge) pick the pockets of their hosts relentlessly. 2-3 quickly becomes 2-4. At 2-5 it is very clear that Pip, the fresh-faced young Cardiff manager is out of his depth, and his team have found themselves deep in a truly Dickensian workhouse scenario, finding it increasingly difficult to extricate themselves from a perilous position in the relegation places in the Premier LeagueJordan Mutch gets an unlikely third goal to give the largely silent home fans something to get passionate about. But, as the minutes of added on injury time ebb away another pocket is picked by The Artful Dodger. And the final score at ‘the beautiful game’…

     3  v  6   

My ‘perplexed companion‘ is left bewildered, as the home team rarely score 3 goals at home this season… now that they have achieved the feat it comes at the cost of double the number of goals conceded. Life can be strange, but for those that support Cardiff City FC football can be a kick in the teeth (frequently, it would seem). Until we speak again I am  going to be Edwin Drood Juno, walking the streets of Cardiff in search of material for the unfinished story that is this blog.

[With thanks to those who provided google images that helped to illustrate this story].

Older and bolder

For any cats around the world stowing away on boats, determined that Cardiff is their desired destination (and why not I say!), you will know when you have arrived. The magnificent Pierhead Building will be there to greet you. For all of the modern development of the former world famous docks into the Cardiff Bay ‘leisure and government administration zone’, the eye can’t help but be drawn in by the older building.

Across Bay [4]It was designed by a Welsh Englishman named William Frame (1848-1906), because nothing in Wales is that straightforward. But there is no doubt about the 100% Welsh materials making up the French-originated design… Ruabon in North Wales was apparently known as ‘Terracottapolis‘ for the Etruria marl clay that forms the base of the distinctive terra cotta materials. It was paid for by a Scotsman, John Crichton-Stuart (3rd Marquess of Bute); so all that were needed were Irish and Italian builders or visitors for the locally revered ‘Six-Nations Rugby’ to be represented in the one building! It took 3 years in construction, opened in 1897, and cost a mere £30,000… which would realistically only pay for the furniture for us cats to sharpen our claws on in today’s prices.

Cardiff Bay sweep 5As I stroll around the Bay area I can do nothing but purr contentedly at the framing of this building from different angles. The Gothic revivalist architecture contrasts with the modern buildings surrounding it, with its strong lines and attention to detail marking it out against the sweeping and blander images of some of its modern neighbours.

Pierhead Building [1]

Close inspection lets you know the original purpose of this Grade 1 listed Victorian gem, established as the home of the Bute Docks Company. It also sat at the gateway for seamen from the world over who settled in Tiger Bay to make it the first multicultural community in the UK. Early in the 20th century it transferred to accommodate the Cardiff Railway Company, and later on to offices of the Great Western Railway.

Bute Dock Company sign

As the docks declined and closed, this proud building that had in its days administered the Port of Cardiff and the railways necessary for transporting much of the freight, lost its way, a bit like a stray cat, and fell into the same disuse as most of the surrounding industrial waste land. As the 20th century entered its final couple of decades it recaptured its original splendour within the new commercial vision for the docklands redevelopment.

Pierhead BuildingIt is now a part of the neighbouring Welsh Assembly buildings, complete with its own smaller version of ‘Big Ben’, but too small to provide the Assembly with its debating chamber… now accommodated in the wooden stingray beached next door. At least this architectural treasure is spared the need to accommodate political hot air, unlike the original ‘Big Ben’ of London framing the Palace of Westminster.

Pierhead Building [2]The detail on all parts of the building is exquisite, and just like many iconic buildings you can spend a great deal of time actually reading the building itself, as a bold statement of its designers and its place in time. Even the well preserved gargoyles are enough to remind any self-respecting cat of the dangers posed by a pack of ugly dogs! Now the building houses a visitor attraction with a 5-minute visual montage of the history of the surrounding area every 20 minutes in the Main Hall, as well as space for other Welsh history exhibitions, events and conferences.

Pierhead Building [3]

 

For this cat it is very reassuring that at least some remnants of the once great industrial heritage of this area are preserved, even if it also manages to show up the relatively poor standard of architectural fare that passes as modern progress and development. The Victorian age may now form a diminishing legacy of the older stock in our built environment, but it still shows how bold they were in some of their grand statements.

Who says an ordinary cat can’t have interests beyond sleeping and eating? Cardiff may not be overly blessed with world class examples of architecture, but it has a number of gems of all ages. Until we speak again I will continue to promote the Juno Architectural Appreciation Society of Cardiff.

Tumbleweed Junction

As a sophisticated cat I have always had a liking for the dramatic entrance. So you will no doubt share my recent dismay as I was strolling around the iconic Cardiff Bay (or Bae Caerdydd for those of you who want to know nearly as much Welsh as me). People seemed very relaxed as they sipped their cappuccino’s and cool beers, gazing out over the sun-drenched waters where the waves form a shimmering dance only briefly interrupted by a passing pleasure boat. The Millenium Centre glistens in various shades of gold and bronze, and the Pierhead Building projects a bold gothic majesty in red, facing out towards the seven seas. The Senedd houses whatever it is that government does these days, as we all look up in wonder at the weird funnel shape on its roof, waiting for the puff of white smoke that will signify that something useful has been uttered inside.

The Bay 2:13

Such a mesmeric place deserves a grand entrance… but if you are arriving by train the only item that probably would escape the call of the council tip is the somewhat less than inviting welcome sign at the station:

Tumbleweed Junction 6

Now, originating from London I am used to the idea of run-down places looking to re-invent themselves. Everywhere you look is trying to become a new centre of leisure… the newest place to drink coffee and buy loads of stuff you don’t need. But, you at least need to make an effort at the front end of the business if you want to attract the punters in (that’s a free business tip I will pass on to you from Sean, who we met last time I spoke with you).

Let’s take the St. Pancras and Kings Cross area of London for example… it has a long way to go to catch up with the development of Cardiff Bay, but they are working on transforming the area behind the stations (previously known more for the pleasures of the night, available 24/7 so I am told, by sources who were told, by sources who might have been in the know, or not). As you approach St. Pancras you are greeted by a very imposing building:

St Pancras Station 1

Meanwhile, back at Cardiff Bay you could be forgiven for not feeling, well, imposed upon:

Tumbleweed junction [1]

The station entrance at St. Pancras radiates a sense of the opulence that might just be lurking within:

St Pancras Station 2

Whereas that at Cardiff Bay just lurks:

Tumbleweed junction [5]

Furthermore, gazing up at the roof structure tells a further story of the fine detail that goes into making a building that will inevitably dazzle all who come into it. For St. Pancras there is one of the world’s great iron roof arches:

St Pancras 2

Meanwhile, for Cardiff Bay there is a clear statement of being at one with nature, a place where conservation of the natural environment takes precedence over the demands of the built environment:

Tumbleweed junction [3]

And then there is the issue of time… where iconic clocks are designed to draw your attention and help to order your day. For St. Pancras there is no mistaking the clock above the platform entrances:

St Pancras 5As for Cardiff Bay you may be forgiven again for having to search around a bit (there is a working clock on the building across the road in the picture), or perhaps make sure you haven’t forgotten your watch!

Tumbleweed Junction 14Now, us cats may seem like we spend most of the day snoozing in between serious bouts of sleeping, but we still have a strong appreciation for irony. Perhaps there is a deliberate plan in Cardiff that travellers arriving for the first time to witness the delights of Mermaid Quay and the Bay, are invited to take a somewhat Narnia-like transition ‘from the ironic to the iconic’.

Even the modes of transport between our comparative sites have something to say about these two places… take St.Pancras for example, you always have a chance to be travelling on one of the country’s leading ‘iconic’ Javelin trains:

St Pancras 4Whereas, down at Cardiff Bay station, every 12 minutes you get the chance to see and travel on the ironic ‘bubble car’ train, as it is described on the Wikipedia page for our somewhat rusty and dilapidated ‘gateway’ to the Bay.

Tumbleweed Junction 12The history books tell us that this station down the Bay was the site of the first steam train in South Wales, and for that it has become a listed building. What we don’t need the history books for is the reason why, if you are coming from Cardiff Queen Street to the Bay (the only two stations on this line), the best thing to do on a dry day is… walk!

The Bay will never have or need a St. Pancras style station, but to a casual laid back cat, this is not a building I would seek shade under, for fear of the building itself being so laid back it might just collapse on me. An iconic station could be small scale and innovative in design, or probably even restoring the current pile to something reflecting its history. I have been Juno, sharing a little social comment with you until we meet again soon.