This is William Neil (Billyo) and his son Darren Neil.

Here I am on my third visit to Cardiff and to Butetown. I'm on a journey to find The Packet pub. I was told by a taxi driver that I would find some old people there with some old school stories about Butetown and Tiger Bay. Someone gave me the wrong directions but I suppose there's no such thing as right or wrong cos that's how I met Darren. The wrong directions turned out to be the right direction.

Darren told me he was going to meet his old man in the Bute Dock Pub so I asked if I could come along and meet him and he was okay with it.

Sitting with Billyo and Darren in the pub, they shared loads of stories from his childhood and lifetime in Butetown and Tiger Bay.

When Billyo was young, he remembers that there was a strong sense of community. People would look out for each other. He lived next door to his grandma. They knocked down the wall between their two gardens so they could have a bigger garden to have animals and grown food for themselves.

In those days people looked out for each other. At Christmas time, if they knew that someone didn't have food, they would give them a rabbit or chicken from their garden. Everyone made sure that everyone had a Christmas dinner.

Billyo's dad was a sailor. When he was away for 6 months, Billyo's family didn't have any money coming in. There was a carriage that was wheeled around that sold food and Billyo's mum would send him to get fish from the carriage. The fish was taken on trust that Billyo's dad would pay for the fish when he got back into town.

I thought, that's how we should be - that level of trust and that honesty is what makes a community. People now don't know and trust each other in that way. Even neighbours don't always know each other. There are invisible rules which mean that people don't talk to each other. Cultural barriers that stop people smiling at each other in the street unless they know each other really well. This is a modern society that makes us closed off because we are trying to seem too important and busy to talk to our neighbours.

As well as these stories, Billyo told me loads of other stories. I asked him to tell me some happy stories. He said the best thing that ever happened to him was getting married 4 times, especially to his second wife. One of the phrases he used was hatching, matching and dispatching. Hatching is giving birth, matching is marriage and dispatching is death.

Darren told me his dad had changed Cardiff. One day, Billyo and 2 friends decided to go up town. They'd been before but had been kicked out. This time they decided to fight back and stay. That changed Cardiff because it was a big contribution towards the mixing of groups in Cardiff. They were breaking barriers, changing where people were allowed to go and changing perceptions of minority groups.

These stories were a history lesson for Darren, who didn't know his dad growing up.

With a smile on his face Darren told me he is the son of a pimp and a prostitute. He's 35 years old and found his dad 2 years ago. He's never seen his mum.

Billyo, 76 years old. He said if he dies tomorrow, he had a good life.

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Comment by Devinda De Silva on February 9, 2010 at 10:03
Nice post Borhan. Interesting story & interesting characters. Good to meet you at the weekend - looking forward to part 2 (although not too sure about the dance moves!).
Comment by Tom Beardshaw on February 8, 2010 at 5:19
Fascinating. Interesting to see the depreciation of local communityties... a common thread across the whole of western society. Why? Some ideas... Isolating technology like TV has kept people inside... Cars on the street have meant children are less likely to play outside and get to know others from their local area... More movement has meant that your neighbours may not be your neighbours for life, but just a few years... consumer culture pervades our mentality, things have become more disposable, including relationship...

With the web now, people are tending to identifying with communities of interest, rather than the local community around them. One thing to suffer has been our ability to accommodate difference - we're networking more with others 'like us', rather than the diversity we're thrust into because of where we live... and if you live in somewhere like Butetown, that's a lot of diversity! I find that sad.

On the strength of community ties... Communities are much more likely to help each other during hard times - encapsulation, as anthropologists would put it - the more external pressure on a group, the closer the bonds within. A reason the Welsh have a stronger national identity than the English? Perhaps. Looser ties in times of prosperity? Sure - talk to people who lived through the Blitz!
Comment by Hannah Waldram on February 7, 2010 at 23:12
Great post Borhan...lovely to read just one family's story but one which probably represents similar experiences from wiser generations in Butetown.

I agree with Carl - many community groups still do exist, but it's no so easy to see examples of neighbours helping each other out in times of need. Modern communities gather in online places (like this community blog) and more recently I've seen lots of people 'freecycling' on Twitter - that is, offering up old or disused items on their Twitter profile for any of their local follows to take.

Communities working togther does still happen - but perhaps not in the same way.
Comment by Kate Bradnam on February 6, 2010 at 23:44
Wonderful post Borhan! And great images. x
Comment by Carl Morris on February 6, 2010 at 17:34
Fascinating post!

I think communities still exist but they are not locally-based. They are formed from interest groups, clubs, etc.

People still need community.

Still, it is a pity about the decline of local community.

Maybe people would rather watch characters on *insert name of soap opera* in place of talking to their neighbour...

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