By Dan Heard
It has to be said, Cardiff is one of the best nights out you can have. I’ve listened to Fatman Scoop telling all the cheeky heads to be quiet in Motion in Bristol. I’ve pogoed to The Smiths’ ‘This Charming Man’ in 42’s in Manchester. I’ve even gotten hopelessly lost in the middle of Amsterdam while drunk, after attempting to get money from a cash machine (yet somehow ended up arriving at the club at the same time as my course mates). But, I have to be honest, none hold a candle (or a five pound bottle of wine, cheers Live Lounge) to the ‘Diff.
Whether I’m out with friends from back home or on my course, after a few times, you almost know what to expect. You’ll pre-drink somewhere, then head to a smaller bar for a few more, and then into town. If it’s a Monday, Bump ‘n Grind. Tuesday, Revs, no question. Wednesday, the only place to be is the SU. Thursday, Walkabout (everyone knows at least one rep in your year who can get you discounted entry). Friday… well, if you’ve made it that far, congrats. Maybe have a deserved, ever-so-slightly-needed night off?
That’s the thing though. That night, or nights off are definitely needed. Because, once you take a step back and look at what is going on, is everything quite as innocent as it seems? I’m not singling out these clubs or what they offer to party goers, far from it. Often, they are what make a night out in town one to remember. But I can’t escape the feeling that something has changed. Maybe there’s something in the air, or in the chilli vodka shots. Somehow, a night out in Cardiff, for me anyway, just doesn’t feel the same anymore.
Why? I’m unsettled. Slightly unsettled, but unsettled nonetheless. What seemed to be nights full of adventure and opportunity in first year, now feels far different. Something isn’t quite right almost, an uncertainty of what in some cases, is literally around the corner. The last few nights out I’ve been on, I’ve seen a lot of unsavoury incidents. Fights breaking out, and a lot of them. Not just down the quieter backstreets as per, but some now spill out of clubs and bars, into the path of other revellers and even the main road. Many started out quietly, but quickly turned.
I saw one guy, big and clearly in good shape, start on a group of lads his age, over seemingly nothing. Insults and jibes were exchanged, before someone swung a punch. Another was thrown back, and it connected. Hard. In a split second, they were on the ground, thrashing around. In an almost textbook example of pathetic fallacy, it even started to rain heavily as they continued wrestling, floored by each other’s blows and cheered on and screamed at by members of their group. Then the police arrived. Two squad cars and a riot van. The aggravator was hauled up, and then immediately put down again, as he struggled against several officers, before being led away.
What, it’s only one fight, right? Loads must take place on a Saturday night in Cardiff, surely? Well, maybe they do. Hell, they must do, I’ve seen enough in my time here. But there’s something else. It’s safety. Not just against the odd drunken prick who is looking for a punch up, but from other figures, lurking in the shadows. Last year, during fresher’s, three young women were sexually assaulted in the space of five days, each within a few miles of each other, and all three were not too far from the centre of town. The attacker was eventually caught, tried and imprisoned, but it has left a lasting impression. Taxi drivers came in for a lot of criticism for refusing to take young women home to Cathays, as it was, in their eyes, too short a distance to justify a fare. But, I’ll admit, eventually, the doubt passed, and life, and the nightlife, returned to normal.
Then, not even a month ago now, two young people, one of whom was a recent graduate, were stabbed to death in the early hours of the morning on Queen Street. Students woke up to the news that someone their age had been murdered on one of the busiest streets in the city, a street that everyone has walked, or stumbled down, on a night out. Maybe on the way to a club, or on the way back from McDonald’s, but we’ve all been there. It feels surreal, as though it happened in another city, or country even. But it happened in Cardiff, yards from where tens upon tens of people queue to get in and see live music and get cheap cocktails.
Now, killer clowns. Not real killers, just a bunch of idiots dressed up in clown masks chasing people around for a “prank”. Rachel Hutchings has done a piece this week on this craze, so look there for more opinion, but again, this just adds to the whole unsettled vibe. It was only a matter of time before one was spotted close to town, and just last week, unsurprisingly, a clown-mask wearing joker was spotted on Cathays Terrace. At three in the morning. Creepy. And unnerving. On top of fights and attacks, it just seems like one more thing to be worried about, along with if you have enough for that double vodka and coke AND cheesy chips, while out on the town. But am I maybe overreacting?
I mean, it’s not as if there aren’t things being done. For instance, the University has recently introduced a number of schemes aimed at ensuring students get home safely from night out in the Union. There’s the Safe Taxi Scheme that has been in place in collaboration with Dragon Taxis for a number of years. And yes, students out in Cardiff are, on the whole, a pretty well behaved bunch. Initiations aside (and a lot of those are more often than not harmless fun), I don’t feel that students who stay in control are to blame for this feeling that I have experienced recently. On the one hand, maybe it is down to me looking to deride a night out as not being as good as before because I just don’t want my time in University to end yet, which I know it will all too soon.
These incidents have highlighted exactly why we need to stay safe whilst we enjoy ourselves in town. Walking down a street where police officers hosed blood off of the floor only weeks before can be pretty damn unsettling, as can walking past the park where someone your age, and in exactly the same position you maybe were two years ago, were enjoying their first nights out away from home, before being sexually assaulted. What I’m saying is, enjoy, but please stay safe. Be diligent, be alert, and be aware of what is around you. And watch out for clowns.