Architectural assault

Where was the first £1 million deal struck in the world? Threadneedle Street in London… think again. Wall Street in New York… nickels and dimes. It was right here in Cardiff, the Coal Exchange to be exact…

Interior [1]

From the fledgling years of the 20th century, when ‘coal was king’ and the Port of Cardiff dominated world trade, the floor of the Coal Exchange buzzed with the chaotic sounds of commerce. Even beyond the age of heavy industry in South Wales this iconic location was set to become the home of Welsh Government at the end of the 1970’s.

Interior [2]

Despite functioning as a home to a few small offices and a brief life as a concert venue, years of neglect and indifference took their toll:

Coal Exchange [1]

Coal Exchange [6]

References to the need to find a new purpose for an icon are difficult to accept as being anything more than a cynical cover for patient neglect to the point where the building could possibly be demolished…

Coal Exchange [2]

It appears that the City Planning Department lacked any vision for the jewel on their doorstep. A 15 storey residential block seemed to be the height of corporate ambition! We don’t need to look far around our city to see that money lies in throwing up blandly mediocre residential and office developments, whilst simultaneously allowing historic buildings oozing character to fall into disrepair. This serves to remind me of the good decision I made to abandon a career in Town Planning 33 years ago while it was still in its infancy!

Coal Exchange board sign

With huge acknowledgements to Nick Broomfield and BBC4 for the striking programme ‘Going, Going, Gone…’ (for the source of internal photographs used here), we know that parts of the building are far from dangerous, but those that are can be restored and put to good use…

Exterior Decay

Interior decay

In fact, large parts of the building appear in excellent condition, just calling out to be seen and used again…

Interior [3]

Interior [8]

With details to be loved as much now as they undoubtedly were by their creators…

Interior [5]

Interior [4]

Interior [7]

Civic pride from public authorities means nothing in these days of corporate greed and power. We have seceded architectural virtue and the values of beauty and historic appreciation, bowing to the whims of the money-tocracy, as the privileged few profit on the backs of the many.

Rumour has it that plans are being discussed to restore the Coal Exchange building on the basis of housing a boutique hotel. This would be a welcome development by the many who appreciate the importance of this building, provided some areas are opened for wider public access. Talk is one thing, but this is an icon that is in desperate need of action… NOW!

Until we speak again lets all hope that talking is matched by walking for this beauty. Then there is the issue of halting the local avalanche of historic building neglect that could then transform the city centre and bay areas of Cardiff into a mix of historic and contemporary pride (pigs are flying as I gaze out of my window across the aforementioned areas).

What’s wrong with the old?

You talking to me?Juno never did seem to mind sharing her living space with what she would occasional refer to as an ‘old git’ (as long as she was fed to order, and everyone present fully respected her generosity in sharing HER home). But then her sprightly demeanour belied a substantial number of cat’s years (but beware never to ask a lady her age!).

She was also a secretly avid inquirer into the state of contemporary architecture and the ebbing and flowing trends between conservation and speculation. She always seemed content with her move from the Victorian terraced splendour of London to the relative modernity of docklands regeneration in Cardiff. But, she would occasionally suggest to me, as the cooler of cats have a tendency to do, that the race to build empty new offices to the detriment of the existing architectural gems was a tad out of balance (though I’m not entirely sure that ‘tad’ was one of her preferred turns of phrase).

“Where is your evidence for such assertions?” I would remonstrate. To which she would less than politely retort “Try walking around the place with your eyes open, specky!” She had a point… about the architecture that is, not about me! Just take a look at what’s up in the so-called Capital Quarter these days…

New offices

Right next to the newest largely empty office building is the erection of, you guessed it, another soon to be largely empty office building; with a crane out of view to the left starting on the foundations for… drum roll… another largely to be empty office building! Better than the previous derelict land, some might say; but the best productive use of such land? Guess who got to decide on that conundrum, the landowners & property developers or the creative locally knowledgeable minds of the indigenous folk?

What the world really needs now is more of the blandly cold looking accumulations of glass and steel that will be completely out of bounds to the vast majority of people living in the local area. Meanwhile, a mile down the road, we get to see the stranger side of the coin, as buildings that could surely outlast the current soulless edifices under construction receive treatment of a very different variety…

IMAG1298

While even more grand old edifices remain in a derelict condition, instead of receiving the attention that would restore their iconic visage…

IMAG1326

We seem to have developed an aesthetic ability to allow perfectly functioning historic buildings of architectural interest to rot to a point where more clamour mounts to have them bull-dozed. Then seemingly replaced by something altogether shiny but more flimsy and of a lesser potential lifespan. Juno would occasionally imply that these old buildings, even in their run down state of deliberate neglect, are far more visually interesting than the newer upstarts (or at least that is how I chose to interpret her meow responses when I was talking about architecture to her!). But then I would expect nothing less from a beautiful cat!

Until we speak again examine your own reflections on the possibilities of restoring the majesty of what we already have, before we rush to over-populate the built environment with a myriad of bland lookalike boxes (or don’t… however the mood takes you).

The power of food

Juno was an enlightened cat, but among all of the things she knew, the attraction of food was up there. So it was to be with the 2015 International Food Festival ‘down the bay’, as Cardiff once again plays cultural host to the wider world (who really cares about Ashes cricket a mile up the road?!).

What a difference a day makes in the world of eating, as the following pictures attempt to illustrate:

Before…

Food festival prep [1]

 

 

 

During…

Food festrival [1]

 

 

 

 

Before…

Food festival prep [2]

 

 

 

 

 

During…

Food festival [3]

 

 

 

 

Before…

Food festival prep [3]

 

 

 

 

 

During…

Food festival [2]

 

 

 

 

The imagination was truly exercised through mouth-watering choices. The range of Welsh home produce was fully complimented by some English regional fare covering all kinds of cheese, pies, and ice-creams from predominantly south-west border locations. But the real essence of the whole event was provided by a much wider range of exotic cuisines, from ‘Persia‘ and Turkey, the Caribbean to India, with stunning contributions from the Iberian peninsula, Italy and Greece to represent the European Mediterranean countries.

For our personal delectation, this Wales-Trinidad delegation settled for a pig & goat combination to satisfy the taste buds… nothing like a goat curry with rice & salad to set up the prospect of a long walk around the bay. This was shared with a Jerk Pork & Dumplings  combination. The home nations were not to be denied our patronage, as a completely unexpected take on the traditional sausage roll was to leave me never looking at this snack in quite the same way again! The thinnest of delicate pastry was to surround the thickest of tasty pork sausage and chilli, with an additional choice of pork and mushroom. These might have cost about double the standard sausage roll, but they say you get what you pay for… and more in this instance.

The packed crowd were continually entertained by a succession of musicians…

Food festival [4]

… but for us the heavy weight of the fabulous food, combined with the fire-breathing quality of the tiniest sip of the world’s strongest chilli vodka, required the little matter of a 5-mile stroll around the whole of Cardiff Bay, with a brief interruption provided by white-water rafting (but more of that in a later post)!

Until we speak again may your culinary encounters be sumptuous and exotic.

Cardiff at night

I can’t ever remember seeing Juno down a coal mine in the middle of the night, but being as she was a black cat, and if the situation had arisen, then I guess it would have been an encounter along the lines of this…

black-cat-eyes-cute-pet-cat-desktop-pictures-cute-1538612781

Cardiff at night on the other hand, has the ability to offer less predictable images. Firstly, for all of you Led Zeppelin fans out there (and I include myself as one of you) there is always the ‘Stairway to who knows where?’

Smart stairs

In this case it leads to one of those surreal Dr Who type of experiences (Cardiff being the home of the Dr Who Experience of course!). Those cunning Daleks seem to have mastered the art of disguise…

Smart Way [2]

If it’s culture that you’re looking for, beware, the writing just could be on the wall…

Millenium Centre night front [1]

While London Underground may have cornered the use of ‘Mind the gapCardiff has an altogether more sophisticated take on warning you of large gaps…

Atrium [4]

Strolling along The Hayes you might just get an indication that this is the wrong time of day to check out a book…

The Hayes [3]

Or anything else come to think of it, as the enticingly colourful welcome only draws you towards closed doors…

The Hayes [1]

But you can rely on the ancient old St John’s Church to give you an eery indication that the day is done…

St John's Church

So, with your car safely parked out of sight, the only message left is to wish you the best form of relaxation to finish off the twilight stroll…The Big Sleep

Until we speak again this has been a meditation on finding the light in the moments of darkness!

[With thanks to fansshare.com for sharing the cats eyes image].

It is what colour?

ChilledIn my experience black cats are colourful in character, but there is seldom any question about confusion over their colour. Juno quickly had an eye for the colourful space, particularly one where she could survey all of the world around her from a perch on a chesterfield sofa.

But even she might have initiallyPurple Poppadom [1] baulked at the idea of poppadom’s coming in a shade of purple! So, fortified by some good prior reviews, it was time for a friend and I to venture forth in search of the Purple Poppadom and search was the operative word, as this gem is easily missed as you stroll along the main Canton thoroughfare in Cardiff. Yes it is that tiny door to that place upstairs:

Once you have found it the welcome is warm and friendly, helped by booking a quiet time of the week (early Sunday evening). And the purple decor was of the restrained variety…

Purple Poppadom [2]

 

 

Whatever you think you know about Indian cuisine, leave it at the door, as a quick glance at the equally restrained menu initially leaves you wondering ‘what is that?’ But don’t get me wrong, the menu deserves time to be spent reading it to get the twists and signatures in the dishes; while possibly drinking out of Buddha shaped beer bottles!

Purple Poppadom [3]

A reference to a starter originating from the street food stalls of Lucknow was tempting. It is a bit like the UK ‘M&S Food’ supermarkets that go in for naming the place of origin as a means of elevating the recognition of their signature dishes. Venison Pao came delicately spiced, with melt-in-your-mouth minced meat, topped off with a fried egg. Not your standard Indian restaurant dish, but after a couple of mouthfuls I resolved never to eat anything but this for the rest of my life!

Purple Poppadom [5]

It would take something rather special to stop me from just repeating the starter order. Luckily this place has plenty more temptations where that one came from. Coconut rice and Peshwari Naan should have been relatively easy to choose, but there were a few other accompaniments running them close. The Kashmiri Roganjosh and Saag Gosht provided variations on lamb that once again can only be described as melt-in-the-mouth perfection.

Purple Poppadom [7]

Purple Poppadom [4]For the record, the poppadom’s were not purple (but one of the accompanying chutneys was, alongside green and yellow varieties!)…

Juno would have been baffled, but we came out… replete. Until we speak again may your dining experiences hit a purple patch!

Chillout, dude

JunoMore sunshine please always had a pretty chilled out way of approaching every day, particularly when there was sunshine to soak up…

But she sure would have understood the latest instructions to come with your cuppa at Coffee Barker in Cardiff’s Castle Arcade:

Barker wall plaque

Until we speak again do as the good coffee people tell you!

They do things very strange…

Juno was always very clear… “The beach is a place for dogs, don’t bother me with all of that sand and sea stuff.” And I have to agree, I’ve seen plenty of dogs being walked on or near beaches (don’t forget those pooper scoopers dog owners!), but a cat on a lead flouncing across the dunes is something that belongs only in the strange recesses of the imagination.

On a recent visit to the infamous Barry Island in South Wales (for anyone who has seen the UK TV programme Gavin & Stacey) I was reminded of a lyric by one of my favourite bands of all time… Steely Dan“Over there in Barrytown they do things very strange”. So, maybe a cat on a lead, blah-blah-blah…

Following on from the unseasonal wintery start to this June a couple of days ago, it was good to experience Barry Island’s ability to create a mysterious draw of that sea and sand. It has the ability to entice all living creatures (except feline’s it would appear):

Barry [8]

But the sea here is not for the faint-hearted; my memory of childhood visits was of a hike to get to it, and that still seems to be the case. Juno would certainly not have been the slightest bit inquisitive about something so wet that was also a distance away. It seems that people only travel to it in packs these days!

Barry [4]

However, for students of classical architecture, you might think that Barry Island has the doric column vibe going, in order to stimulate those with an interest in culture:

Barry [1]

But close up… you begin to see the cultural vibe is more of the ‘they do things very strange’ (or even ‘Gavin & Stacey’, who are serially referenced in this arcade):

Barry [6]

It is safe to say that many things at Barry Island have not changed since those long forgotten days of my childhood. A fading but familiar sign might have been the subject to prick up Juno’s ears, something to do with food. John’s is still going:

John's cafe [1]

Though a few spare penny’s wereJohn's cafe [2] lavished on the entrance…

… not too many are required for daily specials:

John's cafe [4]

 

 

 

 

 

 

But for a true stroll down the seaside memory lane, and to prove to the Juno’s of the world that in Barry ‘they [just might] do things very strange’, just gaze at the internal decor:

John's cafe [3]

So until we speak again, enjoy your memory lanes, and feel free to go ahead and do something very strange! Why not let me know about it with a comment on this blog post?