City of the Unexpected

Rachel Carney explores the weekend’s Roald Dahl festivities in Cardiff.

Cardiff’s City of the Unexpected events this Saturday were a mix of fantabulous, acrobatic, incredible and ridiculous. The only problem, however, with planning ‘unexpected’ events, is that people don’t know what to expect. For someone as organised as me, that is very difficult to cope with. How do you know where to go and what time to be there?  As part of my desperation to not miss out on a single thing, I consequently had a mild panic on Saturday morning, signing up to the online bulletin and watching the previous night’s TV programme about the making of the event.

I arrived in town to find a crowd of expectant families waiting outside Cardiff Castle, unsure what would be happening, or where, or when. At 1pm some intriguing noises emanated from loud speakers, but nothing else seemed to be happening. Either my phone signal was poor or the bulletin wasn’t working. The trick seemed, rather, to wander aimlessly around the city centre, hoping to bump into something ‘unexpected’ along the way.

As I wandered towards Westgate Street, I was overtaken by Fantastic Mr Fox on a unicycle, followed by some angry looking farmers. I then spotted a giant peach, which was pretty incredible, being truly ginormous and surrounded by protesters. Following the crowds, I ended up back outside the castle, watching as, first James, then Mr Grasshopper, Mrs Spider and Mrs Ladybird, were rescued by firemen from inside the peach. This was impressive, as were Mr and Mrs Fox, whose antics entertained the crowds. I especially liked the rather overt message of Cardiff welcoming strangers from other lands, with a nod to Dahl’s Norwegian heritage. An aeroplane flew past with a welcome banner flying behind. Things were a little slow at this point, and there were some Welsh songs. I caught sight of people in fluorescent jackets, telling the crowd to move along. They were from the Ministry of the Predictable.

The next few minutes were a little hairy, as people tried moving in different directions, with families struggling to stay together and parents getting stressed. Eventually the pressure eased, and I was ejected from the crowd as another (as yet unidentified) Roald Dahl character announced from a rooftop that there were events taking place all across the city centre, encouraging the crowds to disperse.

The following hours involved getting a little sunburnt as well as being covered in snow (as Scott of the Antarctic passed by), catching site of a few Witches in wigs and gloves, a surreal acrobatics display of balancing books, a look at George’s Marvellous Medicine Machine, and the most incredible feat – Fantastic Mr Fox walking across a tightrope, suspended above Duke Street.

The grand finale was set for 8pm. I had just enough time to get home and briefly rest my legs before returning for the wedding of Mrs Spider and the Fireman, at City Hall. This last part of the day’s events was certainly the most spectacular. We were encouraged to dance, and the bridal party processed from the National Museum, with ballet dancers and wedding guests. That’s when things really got interesting. Suddenly two singers appeared on the roof of City Hall, the wedding took place, and James floated by, suspended from his peach above the crowd. Fantastic Mr Fox began DJ-ing, encouraging everyone to dance, and a magnificent chocolate factory projection was shown on the façade of City Hall.

Nigel Jameson, the director of Saturday’s events, described the day as an event like no other, an attempt to imagine “what it would be like if Roald Dahl was sitting up in the sky, and he was pulling the strings…”. The day was certainly ‘unexpected’ and like nothing Cardiff has ever seen before. Personally, I would have liked to see other characters such as Willie Wonka and the BFG. I would also have loved to hear some of his work read aloud, or written in unusual places. The focus seemed to be more on ‘the unexpected’ rather than Dahl’s work. I know some families came away disappointed, having struggled to cope with the large crowds. I wonder if the events, ironically, had built up people’s expectations, and less advertising and more surprise would have been beneficial. But this was definitely the most magnificent event Cardiff has ever seen, and we can certainly say that we have claimed Dahl as one of us.

Rachel Carney blogs at

3 thoughts on “City of the Unexpected

  1. Scott of the antartic?? think it was more a norwegian nod, the flags were a clue, perhaps more Amundsen perhaps?

    Others characters would be nice, but suspect they are all sold off and would need licenses and the like.

    If you were lucky enough to see things, Cardiff shone.

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