Exploring Cardiff’s epicentre of force and culture

Peter Finch discusses his role as a psychogeographer of Wales

Just what is psychogeography? It’s been a buzz word for a few decades now but clarity as to its meaning and purpose remains. Maybe it’s all as Will Self has it in his 2007 Psychogeography, you walk to America rather than fly, then you write your adventures down. Perhaps it’s throwing dice and then chasing away to the map co-ordinate revealed by chance. Or walking the lines of longitude as they slice down through the hills and lakes of Wales. Can this be done without damage to life, limb and property? Although I am known as a psychogeographer I don’t really do any of these things.

My approach is more tangential. Visit the place with an old map in hand and see how many of the ancient pathways remain. Talk to the locals. Visit districts less known in the company of those who do. Track the vanished, walk the watercourses, the dried out rivers, the vanished canals and the dismantled railways. Blend this with personal memory, current observation and reported fact. Avoid the walking tour, get inside the built environment, work out why and how, check the shape, look for shadows of what went before.

I’m the author of the best-selling Real Cardiff series of alternative handbooks,  guides, histories and tales of city life and tomorrow evening I’ll be presenting an evening of entertainment and talk at Ararat on Whitchurch Common, Cardiff.

Whitchurch has always been a psychic centre, an epicentre of force and culture where the lay lines cross and flying saucers land in the middle of the night. I’ll be getting inside Real Cardiff Three, the latest addition to the series, viewing the city from above – Tall Buildings Day was a revelation – and also from below. How many secret passages does the city actually have? How is it that this river delta capital, built on the damp foreshore of at least three water courses went from a population of less than 2,000 to more than 350,000 in two hundred years? What has happened to its holy wells, its cromlechs, its ancient burial chambers, its fish henges and its Roman roads? Where is Cardiff’s real heart? How many of its rivers are buried? Who lives here and why did they come?

Anyone who comes here to shop in the city’s glass roofed passages might be unaware of the past they walk over. I’ll be doing my best to explain. Here’s a brief slice from Real Cardiff Three. It describes a talk on the city I once gave at Chapter:

“I bought your book when I first came to Cardiff, says the Turkish girl, smiling. I thought it might tell me where I was. I tell them about the lost wells of Penylan and at one the shape of Christ’s knee on the rim and how I’d seen the two imprints of Mohammed’s footprint in a glass case in the museum at the Topkapi Palace, Istanbul. The imprints were different sizes. One taken when he was much younger the guide there had said. They smile, they don’t laugh, should they laugh? They don’t know. I tell them about the Butes being like Bill Gates and buying out anything that sprang up in opposition. The austere second Marquis with his docks and his visions. The Catholic third with his Victorian Disneyworld at Cardiff’s heart. I talk about the rivers, the Tan, the Whitebrook, the Canna, the Wedal, which we no longer have. We sup Cabernet Sauvignon and abjectly nibble at the crisps brought by the organiser, Renee Lertzman. Some of the listeners buy books.”

As I am a poet with more than twenty titles to my credit and a new one recently published (Zen Cymru from Seren Books) I’ll also be presenting a set of performable and entertaining poetry. These readings have become my trade mark. Expect this night about the city to end with some scintillating verse.

Wednesday 23 June, 7.00 pm, at the Ararat Centre on Whitchurch Common, Cardiff. Tickets £7 to include wine and light supper. Parking free. Tickets available from the organisers, The Classical Education Forum on [email protected] or 07739251718

Peter Finch is chief executive of Academi

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