My weekend at home in Cardiff

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I recently went home to Cardiff and here is what I did during my weekend there when basically I ate way too much beef, watched lots of sport on TV, went to Spillers Records, Servini’s Café, Got Beef restaurant, Joe’s ice cream parlour (the best ice cream in the world) and saw Super Furry Animals and Belle & Sebastian in concert on consecutive evenings.

Cardiff has changed so much in the thirteen years since I left and the truth is that I’ve never really missed the place much, I get to go back and see my Mum and Dad and make use of their house and go and watch the ruby and take my sons swimming before heading back to Dorset. This time however I was on my own and take some time to walk around on my own and I noticed even more of changes to the place. It felt more vibrant and more like the cosmopolitan cities and towns that I’ve been to elsewhere in the UK. I mean the city centre has the usual city centre cloned feel in places but the arcades feel different and offer you unique experiences, I saw street fairs in side streets off Albany Road in the east of the city and the amount of independent  coffee shops, cafes and restaurants that exist now is just incredible. I did use to feel that sometimes Cardiff aimed too high and that it tried to be bigger than it actually was and that what it tried to do was unsustainable but my feeling on going home this time around was that Cardiff is cooler now than it’s ever been.

My friend Owain’s mum had brought Got Beef to my attention when I was over at her house with my sons just after Christmas and Owain made it pretty clear that that’s where he wanted to go for our meal out before the Super Furry Animals gig and we all loved it  – the restaurant itself was informal with benches set around big tables and whilst the setting of the Gabalfa end of Whitchurch Road in Cardiff might not be a trendy or flash as down by the quayside of Cardiff Bay who cares when a massive burger weighed with wonderful toppings is placed in front of you? I had the double Animal Style burger which was full of way too many things and which was simply incredible. I had normal fries but also got to try some sweet potato fries as recommended to me by everybody and they were gorgeous – I’ll be having full portion of them next time. Owain had the Breaking Bad inspired Heisen Burger complete with blue onions – and that was wolfed down by him washed down by a very trendy looking German beer.

Do I have any criticisms? The only thing that I did notice but which didn’t really affect me as I was on soft drinks was that the beer list seem to have been rather depleted and my friends were limited in what they could drink but apart from that I couldn’t fault Got Beef and I’m looking forward to going back there later on in the summer.

And so on to the Students’ Union at Cardiff University to see Super Furry Animals! The first time I saw them play there was in 1996 in the small hall upstairs at the SU – Terminal 396 I think it was called then. It wasn’t a massive crowd and Owain reminded me that as he and his friends were all 15-16 years of age at the time I ended up buying them all beers for them – reader, I have no recollection of this but he swears it’s true. Anyway 2015 saw SFA reuniting to play a tour in support of the reissue of the Mwng album and having secured tickets via a secret password protected pre-sale so it was that Owain Dave and I found ourselves in the Great Hall and it was just the strangest feeling; I’d not been there since 2001 when I saw The Divine Comedy and basically the place hadn’t changed in anyway – it was freaky. I spent so much of my time and money in there when I was a student at school and university and to be there again after such a long time brought back so many good memories.

Super Furry Animals played for over two hours and performed 25 songs* – I have no complaints about the gig, they were on top form, better than I could have ever hoped to have imagined and I really think that the six years away had done them good. The last time I saw them at The Coal Exchange in Cardiff back in 2005 it wasn’t a good gig, it felt a bit forced and lethargic but this, this was amazing and just re-enforced my love for the band. It was also re-enforced that standing gigs aren’t for me anymore. Maybe I’d forgotten how rude and how physical standing at a gig can be but it was constant – I didn’t spoil the gig for me but I could some people getting angrier as it progressed and elbows were flying and feet were kicking. SFAOK!

Sunday saw me back at Owain’s house for a roast dinner before we headed out to see Belle and Sebastian. I bloody love them – some people find them too twee but I couldn’t care less, the tweeness is part of the appeal, that and just really good songs. St David’s Hall is another past haunt of mine and that hadn’t really changed either, the crowd was a bit subdued during the support act but by the time B&S came on stage the hall was packed and the crowd was a lovely one, there was singing, clapping and lots and lots of dancing as singer and band founder Stuart Murdoch got people from seemingly everywhere bar Cardiff up on the stage to dance with him. B&S are a really talented band and the set featured songs from throughout their career** including from what was referred to as the “dubious part of it” namely the ‘Fold Your Hands You Look Like a Peasant’ album which in my humble opinion is underrated.

There were short films, lots of instrument changes and lots of self-deprecating humour from Murdoch and guitarist Stevie Jackson. I’d not seen B&S for 13 years and the last time I saw them was at the same venue in my old life when I still lived in Cardiff – if I could then I would have seen them again on the same tour, it was that good and ignore the detractors, B&S are a great band with a fantastic back catalogue which should be celebrated they are a band who will never really be loved by the hipsters and media. The love and happiness I saw at that gig was infectious and their latest album is as good as anything they’ve released before and in Nobody’s Empire features one of their best songs ever – have a listen now!

*Setlist here: http://www.setlist.fm/setlist/super-furry-animals/2015/great-hall-cardiff-university-students-union-cardiff-wales-3bc83078.html

**Setlist here: http://www.setlist.fm/setlist/belle-and-sebastian/2015/st-davids-hall-cardiff-wales-33c838b9.html

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My Love Letter to South West Trains

This is the most boring blog entry I have ever written and probably not the best welcome back to blogging but I just needed to get the following out of my system – I am sorry and you really don’t have to read it.

My son Aneurin turns eight this week and to celebrate we’re off to London for the day to meet my Mum and go to the London Transport Museum, Nando’s, the British Museum and Krispy Kreme. Needless to say it is the final thing in this list which is exciting him the most.

The first thing we have to do of course is get to London and that’s been a bit of a hassle. I bought our train tickets three months ago to ensure that we got a good price and then at the weekend I thought I’d check to see what changes there might be as I knew we’d have to get a bus at one point on our trip. There were indeed some changes and it seemed that South West Trains had actually cancelled our train and we’d have to take a bus from Dorchester to Southampton Airport Parkway and this bus would take two and a half hours to get there oh and then we’d miss the train that we were booked on having to catch a later one throwing our plans for the day into disarray.

I talked it through with my wife and we thought that we’d just drive to Southampton to get our train, it takes an hour and we’d get to London as planned on the train we’d originally booked on. Just to reassure myself I emailed South West Trains to see if this would be okay, I wasn’t asking for a refund, or an upgrade nor was I complaining that the trains from and to Dorchester had been cancelled. I just wanted to check that I could drive and park at my own expense and get on a train in Southampton which I had bought four tickets for.

This was the response:

“Ideally, since the ticket is an Advance Single Ticket you will need to travel from the station you are booked from. Hence you will need to use the bus service arranged from Dorchester.”

“Hmm,” I thought, “I think that’s a bit rubbish.” So I wrote back:

“I realise that you can’t help it but ideally I wouldn’t choose to spend 2 and half hours on a bus leaving before 6am with my wife and two young boys to get a train that gets into London later than the one we booked on. We can drive to Southampton in an hour and get the train to London that we’re booked on – I can’t see why this should be an issue.”

To which I got this response:

“I completely understand the resentment towards the issue.

Our website is updated according to the latest information provided to us by the Train Operating Companies managing the route. Hence, you will be allowed to book tickets for that particular service. However, last minute changes and cancellation are beyond our control.

Please note, the terms and conditions are decided by the Association of Train Operating Companies, we are only retailers selling train tickets, abiding by the rules and regulations laid down by the Train Operating Companies.”

So now I’m resentful? I was hurt by this* but when I want to be I can be a stubborn little bastard and I can’t stand stupid rules that make little sense so I didn’t back down.

We got offered other route alternatives that took in a bus journey up to Yeovil Junction, and journeys that would get us into London even later than the already later train that we were being told to catch but all I wanted was to be able to drive over to Southampton and get on the 8.02 train to London we have tickets for and then travel back to Southampton on Saturday evening, get off the train there and drive home thereby cutting out a two and a half hour journey back to Dorchester on a packed bus after a long day out in London.

In the end I asked for our email chat to be passed to the South West Train employee’s line manager and within ten minutes I got this response from her manager:

“Dear Anthony,

Thank you for your response.

I have checked the details for you and I can confirm that you can use your tickets to directly board the train service from Southampton Parkway and there will be no problems, as this is a change in your journey.

Kind regards

*******”**
To reach this point took nearly four hours!!!

I’d just wanted reassurance that our plans were okay and wouldn’t lead to me getting hit with a big extra surcharge once we’d boarded the train on Saturday morning. What I got was the email equivalent of bashing my head against a brick wall with a South West Trains employee who could probably have done without me badgering her on a Saturday night.

In case I appear to look like a twat in all of the above can I just point out that apart from the use of the word “ideally” in my second email I was polite at all times and didn’t resort to sarcasm.

This was going to be a blog about London and various tales of my times there and what it means to me but maybe I’ll do that another time so story of my parents taking my sister and me into Soho on a Saturday night during the 1970s will have to wait for now.

*Not really.
** I have printed out the entire email conversation to stuff in my rucksack on Saturday so if we are challenged I will whip it out and say “Aha!”***

*** No really, I have.