My parents met at Cardiff University. My dad was a law student and my mum a local lass. Up until I was about twelve my maternal grandparents still lived in Cardiff, and I’ve many happy memories of being taken there as a child – feeding the ducks on Roath Park lake, getting a famous (although, I suspect, slightly overrated) ice-cream from a now defunct place called Thayer’s, going to a well cool sciencey place called Techniquest, and having to lock our car doors so my dad’s head didn’t get kicked in by an angry motorist. Good times (as everyone seems to say nowadays).
I remember that, occasionally, we used to drive up from London en famille in the middle of the night. My parents used to dress my brother, my sister and me up in our pyjamas for the journey, and I frequently became vexed when my younger brother’s head lolled onto my shoulders as he slipped into sleep, indignant at the notion that I was being exploited as some kind of makeshift pillow. Yet I have myself a vague memory of falling asleep at the beginning of the journey and waking up as we approached my grandparents’ house. At the time I thought this was the middle of the night. In retrospect it was probably about 8pm.
Crossing the Severn Bridge was my favourite part of the journey from London to Cardiff. For several years I thought that the struts of the suspension bridge were moving as the car whizzed over it; only later did it dawn on me that actually the struts were not moving at all – it was simply an illusion created by the speed at which our car traversed the bridge. This illusion could perhaps stand as a metaphor for childhood generally. (I leave it to the reader to work out the details.)
Although we no longer have any family left in Cardiff – barring a few incredibly distant cousins and other familial detritus that nobody gives a toss about – we sometimes make family pilgrimages back to this hallowed Welsh soil. Sometimes, to commemorate an important anniversary or for the sake of a joyous visit to the someone’s grave, we will go back to Cardiff, and relive the old times. The good times. We’ll frolic on the beach at Ogmore, lament the loss of Thayer’s and marvel at the modernisation of the roads. We’ll go for a nostalgic curry at the Jubaraj and debate the moral and social propriety of knocking on the door of my grandparents’ old domicile, demanding of its new inhabitants that they let us in and sate our desire for further nostalgia.
My father, whom I mentioned is an alumnus of Cardiff University Law Department, recently had another excuse to go back to his old stamping ground: he was invited to give an address to undergraduates there. (Or he asked if he could; I forget which.) He returned with tales about how the University has changed almost beyond recognition, yet retains, somehow, a faint, ineffable yet entirely recognisable hint of what he once knew – Cardiff.
And he also brought back some cheese, which was pretty good.