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“Everything remembered, everything thought, all awareness becomes base, frame, pedestal, lock and key of his ownership. Period, region, craft, previous owners – all, for the true collector, merge in each one of his possessions into a magical encyclopaedia whose quintessence is the fate of his object.”

Walter Benjamin, The Arcades Project

Passing through Cardiff recently on my way to West Wales I had time for a brief wander through the arcades. Although I only lived in Wales, when I was about 3 years old, for a brief period which I believe did include one Christmas, staying with my maternal grandparents in Cardiff, we visited Cardiff many times until my grandfather died when I was age 6 and my grandmother moved to Laugharne, where her mother was from. I remember the Cardiff arcades, a treasure trove of small shops and a haven from the weather, magical places.

My mother was born and brought up in Cardiff and so were her parents. The Christmas card above, which is now one of my possessions, was sent from my great grandparents to their son, my grandfather, in Cardiff, I would guess in the 1920s. My grandmother was the archivist of the family, before I took on that role. I have her collections of photographs, ephemera, letters.


Dannie Abse, poet (currently shortlisted for the T S Eliot prize with his latest collection Speak, Old Parrot) of Cardiff and elsewhere (my mother used to mention that they knew the Abse family), writes in the second part of his autobiographic memoir, There Was a Young Man from Cardiff, in a poem “Return to Cardiff” …”The journey to Cardiff seemed less a return than a raid on mislaid identities….

No sooner than I’d arrived the other Cardiff had gone,

smoke in the memory, these but tinned resemblances,

where the boy I was not and the man I am not

met, hesitated, left double footsteps , then walked on.”