Meet Zelda!

Every writer needs an assistant. Meet mine!

I’ve been thinking about getting a dog for ages. Earlier this year I was semi-set on jacking everything in, selling all my worldly belongings and going travelling for as long as my meagre savings would afford me.

Instead, in September, I ended up at Cardiff’s Dog Home, bringing this little lady home with me. It’s the same as travelling indefinitely, right??

The one thing a dog does bring into life is a real sense that you’ve got to live every day.  You can’t just laze around passively on the sofa, doing nothing, messing around on your phone, when there’s a greyhound that needs a pootle around the park. And there’s no doubt that I’ve been feeling a hundred times better since we’ve had her.

I wrote more in depth about adopting Zelda for We Are Cardiff: Meet Zelda, the newest member of the We Are Cardiff crew. They had called her Zara there but obviously Zelda is a much better name (I am also a massive Nintendo fan, and have spent about 300 hours of this year playing Breath of the Wild). We don’t have much info, other than she was an ex-racing greyhound, shipped over from Ireland. She’s nearly six years old, and her racing name was Skywalker Candy.

I didn’t know anything about greyhounds before we got her, but I boned up with the Retired Greyhounds book, and I’m so glad I did. I learned lots of things – like greyhounds can’t really do ‘sit’ properly, they love following you around all day long, and they don’t actually need much exercise at all – two 20 minute walks are enough for most dogs.

Anyway, I won’t go on too much about her here, even though I’m sure there will be endless posts about her in the future! I’ve also become one of those people, and started an Instagram for my dog, so if you want to see how she’s doing, follow her here: Frankly my everyday life is pretty boring apart from her, plus sometimes seeing things being shared on there was making me judge my own life harshly, and feel bad about it. So it’s all about dogs now. Everything is all about dogs.

If you’re thinking about getting a dog, please consider adopting one. Since getting Zelda, we’ve joined an “unofficial” sighthound walking group, nearly all of whom were rescued from Cardiff Dogs Home, and they are the loveliest, goofiest group of hounds you’ll ever meet, with so much love to give.

Adopt don’t shop!

From me and from my snoozing greyhound.

Caught by the River: new column

So I promised I would write more. And here I am!

I’ve started contributing a new column to the wonderful Caught by the River website, inspired by my wonderings/wanderings around and about the River Taff. The column is called Wandering the River Taff, and my first essay for them is This is Rat Island. I mean I’m actually on to writing my third piece now, but you know, small steps …

As always happens when you start looking into something specific, it ends up raising more questions than answers …


So what happened, nutshell style, is that I did a bunch of research (SO much research … internet, books, Cardiff Central Library’s local area archive, which is an incredibly rich resource that I recommend to local nosy people) and published my piece. One of the things I did was to contact writer Peter Finch, who happens to be local and whose Real Cardiff series has been a total inspiration to me ever since I moved back to Cardiff as an adult. I published my piece – then got a response from Peter which completely went against all the research and anecdotal evidence I had read. So had to publish a secondary piece, documenting all my research and asking for more comments from people who might know more.

I mean, when you lay it out like that it sounds boring AF but if you’re interested in local history, I recommend you read them both. Plus the photos are nice.

I’ll write more about my other instalments soon.




Photoblog: Cardiff Central Library

I went for a wander into town yesterday and popped into my local library, which happens to be Cardiff Central Library. It’s such an improvement from the old library (the horrible red brick monster on the edge of the Hayes, if any of you remember that). This one is big and airy and futuristic – all angles and open space and wood and glass and steel. I love it.


Cardiff Central Library, May 2013

Cardiff Central Library, May 2013

Cardiff Central Library, May 2013

Cardiff Central Library, May 2013

Cardiff Central Library, May 2013

Cardiff Central Library, May 2013

Cardiff Central Library, May 2013

Cardiff Central Library, May 2013

Cardiff Central Library, May 2013

Cardiff Central Library, May 2013

Cardiff Central Library, May 2013

Cardiff Central Library, May 2013

Cardiff Central Library, May 2013

Cardiff Central Library, May 2013

Cardiff Central Library, May 2013

Cardiff Central Library, May 2013

Cardiff Central Library, May 2013

Libraries are cool! I especially like ours. It still feels shiney and new, even though it’s a couple of years old now. You should make a point of popping in on your next trip into Cardiff city centre. They have loads of info about events going on in the city.

Project Cardiff

It’s been a while since I’ve updated this site. Apologies for my absence. But I’m back!

Last year I was honoured to have been included as one of Project Cardiff’s 50 individuals who have contributed to the creative arts in our fair city.

You can see the photograph that the lovely Lann Niziblian took along with a mini interview here: Helia Phoenix – Project Cardiff.

Thanks and well done to Spike and Lann for curating such a wonderful exhibition!

The Olympics in Cardiff – brand policing and jailing the homeless

I’m glad we’ve got some Olympic games here in Cardiff. I’m supportive of the games and like the atmosphere they’ve brought to the city, although I’m not so sure that Trading Standards have handled the whole brand enforcement thing very sensitively with small businesses around the city centre.

My friend Simon who runs Catapult Records in town was on the local news with the Trading Standards guy giving him a rollocking about using the word ‘Olympic’ on their info board outside the shop. What you didn’t see was Simon explaning very patiently to the man that Catapult runs a very successful online mail order business, and while the Olympics are on, all the roads around the city centre are closed and he can’t get deliveries into his shop, which means the business is affected. There’s no compensation or special consideration for him – and yet when he tries to enter into the spirit of the games, he’s told he can’t use the word ‘Olympic’ on a little board outside his shop? Where’s the spirit in that? Do Trading Standards seriously think that anyone is actually going to be persuaded to buy something from a small independent Cardiff shop just because they use the word Olympic in the name of a sandwich?

Of course not. It’s brand policing gone completely insane.


The Olympics have also brought out the nastier side of one member of the Cardiff Retail Partnership, a Mr David Hughes-Lewis who runs a jeweller in Cardiff and has demanded that Cardiff police jail all the homeless people in Cardiff for the duration of the Olympics so that visitors to the city don’t get the wrong impression. Too insane to be true? Yes, but read the news story here.

The story, unfortunately, is typical of the Western Mail’s shoddy reporting: completely one sided, with no alternative view sought from any homeless charities. After the story was published, other members of the Cardiff Retail Partnership (like Boots and John Lewis) distanced themselves from Mr Hughes-Lewis’ comments and Shelter Cymru responded with this comment:

“We are talking about people here, not inconvenient rubbish to be cleared away. There are any number of reasons why people end up living on the streets and our casework has shown time and time again how easily people can find themselves in a crisis and facing homelessness.”

Even the BBC Wales reporting on the story was pretty slack – they filmed two homeless people for comment, one of whom was ex-army and appeared to have suffered some kind of post traumatic stress (and who was so out of it you couldn’t understand a word he said).

I was really saddened by the comments initially made by David Hughes-Lewis. His complaints were relevant – he’d had people leaving rubbish outside his shop, weeing on his shop’s doorstep. But surely even he realises that just jailing them for a couple of months while the games are on won’t achieve anything. Shutting them away for the duration of the games will achieve nothing. There are a lot of reasons why people end up on the street. Aren’t we better off trying to find ways to keep them off it for good rather than filling up our cells with people who are in desperate need of help?

My other gripe is with his presumption that Cardiff needs ‘cleaning up’ so people don’t get the wrong impression when they visit. Unfortunately, we have people who live on the street here. Just moving them around while the games are on doesn’t change anything. In fact, it gives a false impression of the city. As someone who works hard to improve Cardiff’s reputation, I don’t say that lightly. But this city is everyone that lives in it: the homed, the homeless, and all the people in between, and I don’t buy into the idea that we need to hide any single ‘group’ to prove what a great place Cardiff is. The fact is, it’s a great place, with all those groups included.

If we’re really serious about helping people get off the streets, it should be a long term aim and an aspiration, not just short term and ‘under the carpet’. What happens when they’re back on the street? They’re still going to need to wee somewhere, aren’t they? And if I knew who had put me away, I’d know exactly which doorstep I’d head to first to relieve myself.

Dic Mortimer has written far more eloquently on this subject on his blog, I’d suggest you go over there and read that.