Monday, November 21, 2005

Lighting up time

Missing the turf
A new Visitor Centre is being built inside the walls of Cardiff Castle. As it’s sited on a main traffic route through the cenre of town, it’s a logistic nightmare for those supplying the construction workers on the inside. Normally between the pavement and the walls is 20feet of south facing greensward, used for sunbathing, eating fast food alfresco, or swigging alcohol before a Big Match or a concert in the Millennium Stadium, just around the corner. This year, the turf’s been replaced with ballast, and the strip boarded in with a 3 metre high security hoarding, to provide a service area for the building site. It looks drab, and this is compounded by the shrouding of the ornate clock tower faces at the south west corner with protective netting, as part of its restoration programme.

Penny plain and tuppence coloured
It’s been something of an eyesore, in contrast with the usual vista of elegant grey limestone walls, and it seems as if it’s been like this for ages. However, all is not lost, for now the hoarding hosts the city centre Christmas illuminations that normally adorn the Castle walls. They are, for the most part, garish and colourful. To my mind they look better adorning a wooden hoarding than they do on the walls, where the beauty of the stone betrays their essential tackiness. Many of the trees in the pedestrian zones and in the gardens in front of City Hall now sport simple white (low energy) lights. I dream of Cardiff entirely lit in this tasteful minimalist way, but this year won’t cringe at all the colourful bright and flashing stuff because it’s doing a fine job distracting attention from a vital building site. And there’s a huge tree in its usual spot outside the Castle main gate. What I’m still hunting for is the Three Kings, usually to be found on the wall to the left of the Castle gate. The first time I saw them, bearing their gifts in square boxes, they made me think of late shoppers tiredly hunting for the car park on their way home.

Winter Wonderland in Cardiff
Doctor Who – now a Cardiff regular since the filming of so much of the new series in and around the centre – switched on the Christmas lights, together with his glamorous assistant, on an icily cold evening. It was the same evening as Rose’s funeral, and I didn't feel like writing about it then. A large festival event stage was erected in the road between the Central Police station, and City Hall, traffic. Parking was banished for several days of preparation. (I wonder where all those displaced vehicles go? Cycling though the site was a bit of an obstacle course.) There were bands and compères, and loads of hoo-ha around the switching hour. The garden in front of City Hall is taken up with Winter Wonderland, a temporary skating rink, food 'n drink and souvenir stalls and a few rides, including a big brightly lit Ferris Wheel. Much cheer here, and a great attractions for winter visitors and shoppers right though into early January. Lots of school parties come by day and then by night the party-tribe descends, before during or after their clubbing exploits, I'm not sure. Serious fun at all hours, though you can't yet skate 24 hours, as you can now get legless 24 hours. Just as well. I wasn’t even tempted to go and watch the switch-on. It was my evening for Tai Chi’. But when the daughters come down for Christmas, surely we'll manage at least one good session on the ice together. It's like being in the Alps (apart from when it rains ....)

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