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August 27, 2022

A PRIDE procession wandered through the centre of Cardiff featuring rainbow-coloured revellers celebrating something today but they didn’t go down Splott way – I wonder why?

Splott market and boot sale shuts for good tomorrow (where will we get glass chess sets for £1 which cost Mary from Mynachdy “£30 at Argos” from now on, eh?) as the land has been sold, supposedly to make way for a new Willows High School.
Community engagement and social harmony will yet again suffer as we lose yet another mainly outdoor event held weekly all year round where socially non-distanced people rub together in scrums using cash to buy and sell from the back of cars and vans in an edgy, rough and ready unique lower working class atmosphere of conviviality and raucous often politically incorrect humour.
A competing boot sale which was held in the Bessemer Road fruit market on the west side of Cardiff near the football stadium has already gone so a lot of people will be at a loose end on Thursday, Saturday and Sunday mornings, massively worsening already epidemic levels of loneliness and psychological detachment and distress, which the Welsh NHS is woefully incapable of addressing.

The boot sale gave me a reason to get up in the morning and often motivated me to start my day early, as I did when I cycled there today.
But I was genuinely shocked by the deep decline and decay when I wandered the streets in and around Splott – a hop, skip and two or three jumps away from the thriving cultural and political hothouse of Cardiff Bay, with its glass fronted debating chamber meant to bring transparent, open and accessible government to people like the good-as-gold Splott Market regulars.

They were promised in 1997 that devolution would bring power closer to them, giving them more of a say.

After attending the boot sale today, I went back to Broadway, the Cardiff thoroughfare dividing Splott on one side and Roath on the other side.
I fell in love with the area when I came in 1981 to live for the first time away from Bangor, north Wales, at a house on Stacey Road as a young journalism student at the nearby Colchester Avenue campus of South Glamorgan Institute of Higher Education, now demolished to make way for houses.
I loved it’s busy, frantic pace, wide cross section of cultures and backgrounds, vibrant social beat with pubs, clubs, cafes, and shops and a busy, bustling feel.
That was then, more than forty years ago.
It’s a desperately different place today.
The wide cross section of cultures and backgrounds still live here of course but the life – that heady sense of shared purpose, pride and prosperity with new business ventures appearing regularly on the streets and an expanding pub and club culture where active artisans toiled then enjoyed lively sport and pub games over beers which naturally brought them together have – VERY SADLY – now gone.

I saw a sign in one window in Clifton Street with a legal firm offering cut-price divorces for £150 and the overwhelming sense and feel was one of hell rather than heaven with rundown roads and scruffy streets.
There were three pubs The Bertram, The Locomotive and the New Docks Tavern all on Broadway here in 1981 – they’ve all gone.
The Roath Conservative Club was one of the busiest in Cardiff with snooker tables, a wide range of games and social events, lively public rooms heaving with locals watching sport and engaging in rowdy banter and frantic chat. That, too has suffered devastatingly and remains a pale shadow of its former self.
There used to be a greasy spoon cafe where a lovely Greek Cypriot family used to cook me liver and onions, peas and chips and a mug of builder’s tea. That, too, has gone.
Buildings are boarded up and derelict and, with the closure of the market and boot sale, there is little to no hope of revitalisation and regeneration even though – bizarrely – councils now have officers dedicated specifically to do just that in rundown inner cities.
What, I wonder is their strategy or do they even have one?

This is the shape of things in Wales’s capital city just a hop skip and a few jumps away from Mark Drakeford’s ever expanding Senedd where more and more politicians on bigger and bigger salaries and expenses grow and prosper so that – of course – NONE will ever have to live in Splott.
But what I really, really do wonder far, far more is where local people will congregate, socialise, do business, play and pray together to maintain community attachments which are life-affirming and which last.
No pubs and clubs, very few churches, shops boarded up, and now the market and boot sale finished.
Over in the centre of Cardiff outside Talfan-Davies towers, the BBC’s brutal black HQ, there is a statue of Betty Campbell, a black teacher who helped to educate many of the disadvantaged locals who lived nearby in 1981.
But what legacy are we really leaving for youngsters just like I was in 1981 when I arrived here as an 18-year-old full of hope for future purpose, pride and prosperity, taking my first nervous steps into the big bad world in an area where there was plenty of purpose, pride and prosperity.

What has happened to it?

PILL CARNIVAL is on Monday in Newport so get down there if you fancy a sniff of something potent and a taste of exotic grub and groovy grooves.

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