I’ve been looking for the traces great writers leave on a place and there aren’t many in Roath. In my hand I’ve a copy of Dannie Abse’s A Strong Dose Of Myself. It’s a collection of the late poet’s essays. It came out in 1983. In the first, “Return Ticket to Cardiff”, Dannie recalls his youth in the district and then lists a range of houses in which he and his family lived. He was born in a smoky house (which he can’t remember) in Whitchurch Road. The others, later residences, were all strung out along the fault line that divides Penylan from Roath. “We were wandering Welsh Jews,” he writes. Why move so often, he asks himself. And then replies: because the bathroom needed decorating, because my father’s fortunes had changed, because the mice had taken to chewing aphrodisiacs, or because it’s sometimes easier to move than to get rid of guests.
The Rhys Davies Trust who put up plaques to the Welsh literary great and the Welsh literary good had asked me to check out Abse’s east Cardiff. Would anywhere be suitable? Dannie had listed three houses in Albany Road. I visited each in turn. The first was now an Estate Agents and hopeless. At the second, a run-down property with evidence of heavy use by children, I could get no reply. At the third a nice Asian lady asked me in broken English to come back evening. See the men.
At Dannie’s one time Sandringham Road house in view of the site of Roath Mill the owners were in and were interested. The Trust will be in touch, I told them. Nearby was Waterloo Gardens. It once held a wooden shelter inside which both Dannie and I, as schoolchildren of different eras, had gone to carve our names with a penknife. When, in later life, he and I returned together to check this piece of synchronicity out we found that the hut had been pulled down.
Right now I’m at the planning stages for two cycle tours which might take this no longer there hut in. They’ll run deeper and deeper into Cardiff’s east. Roath, Capital of Wales, land of hills and waterways, lost mansions and holy wells. Something like that. The tour will be managed by Pol’s Cardiff Cycle Tours – check http://www.cardiffcycletours.com/ for more information. It’ll take place on Saturday 13th June, 2015 and then repeat on Saturday the 20th. If you don’t have a bike then you can hire one from Pol.
This new tour, I’ve decided, will take in lost holy wells, lost mansions, the site of the now partially destroyed Roman Quarry, the place where Cardiff’s Corporation star observatory once stood, Cardiff’s equivalent to the Magdalena Laundries, the remains of a thousand year old mill and the place where the geese once roamed. We’ll visit the island on which Jimi Hendrix once woke unable to tell the world just how he got there. There’ll be sight of the graves of some of Cardiff’s most famous. We’ll also take in the ghosts of the Butes and the hill fort that no one knows about. I’ll enliven things with a few poems. To the point and not. But then you’d expect me to do that.
What I’ve not yet worked out is how able cycle tour attendees will be when it comes to actually getting up Penylan Hill. That’s a long slope. Welshman’s Hill as it was once known. We could walk up but that might be regarded by the fit as cheating. We could cycle the whole way but then I’d be too breathless to speak when we got to the top. Maybe some sort of half and half operation, a long and loping side street zig zag with a bit of bike pushing at the end would do it. I’m doing a few trials shortly. Watch this space to find out how they went.
For information on plaques for writers check here - http://www.literaturewales.org/writers-plaques/