|Fencing and police outside the main entrance to Cardiff Castle.|
Pictures from the fringes of the Nato Summit in Cardiff, and related ramblings.
To the general public of south Wales, the Nato Summit of world leaders was months in the planning and virtually impossible to be unaware of.
Signs on the M4 motorway connecting London to Cardiff and further west Wales warned about disruption several months in advance. In the weeks before the event, large steel fences were erected near the junction off the motorway which leads to The Celtic Manor Resort in Newport, where the prime ministers, presidents and other extremely powerful people convened.
In Cardiff city centre, the ancient Cardiff Castle was transformed into a very 21st century fortress. Steel fencing was around the Castle, a dinner venue for one day of the summit, and around the adjacent Bute Park. Elsewhere double lanes were restricted to single lanes, various main roads closed off entirely.
|Message tagged to the fencing outside Cardiff Castle.|
Air traffic of mainly helicopters increased considerably in the days leading up to and during the Nato summit. These were helicopters with a beefier, bassier sound than the police and ambulance helicopters to which we’re accustomed. Not quite Chinooks, but not far off.
Gigantic military war ships including the £1billion HMS Duncan squeezed into Roath Basin in Cardiff Bay. Their vast scale was jarring against comparatively cosy surroundings. You almost wondered if a giant monster infant might wade into the dock and start mucking around with the ships like it was bath time. Perhaps one of those massive rubber ducks would turn up too.
|HMS Duncan in Roath Basin, Cardiff Bay.|
|A member of HMS Duncan shows signs of fatigue.|
Most obvious was the vastly heightened police presence. Over 9000 police were brought to the region from across the UK. Vehicles could be seen on the roads from Warwickshire, Sussex, London and Scotland. You could barely turn a corner in the city centre without seeing the florescent yellow glow.
|Low level protest outside the Home Office building in Cardiff.|
They were everywhere but their ubiquity was stopped from being stifling by the fact that, from what I saw, they were excellent. Always willing to chat to the public and enjoy a joke, even at slightly pressured times requiring serious game faces. Heavily armed officers always happy to pose for selfies and photographs with anyone and everyone.
|A police horse is stroked by a member of the public outside Cardiff Castle.|
Whether this surreally huge presence of police discouraged protesters from travelling is difficult to know. But it must have helped. Here was a major opportunity for political protest and dissent, or for general anarchic disturbance. But it was an opportunity that was largely spurned. The number of protestors in Cardiff and Newport were much lower than expected, as were the arrests. Nothing even appeared that dangerous; the black-clad masked protestors seemed to mostly be adolescent, barely even a challenge for nonchalant burly officers.
Thursday evening’s dinner at Cardiff Castle drew reasonable but not unmanageably sized crowds to the steel fences outside.
|Scene outside Cardiff Castle on Thursday evening.|
There were protesters, but most appeared to be inquisitive after-work onlookers. A nervously excited atmosphere rippled around a hazy late summer evening like that in a playground when there’s whispered promise of a fight, some vaguely primal sense of sadistic relish.
|A Scottish speaker addresses the crowd in front of a statue of Aneurin Bevan.|
|Protesters outside Cardiff Castle.|
Helicopters came and went from Bute Park just beyond the castle; official looking vehicles were admitted into and out of the front entrance of the castle; people took tinny loud-speakers to orchestrate “No to NATO” chanting, or passionately addressed the crowd; many photographs and videos were recorded onto devices; angry people shouted towards the castle and passing vehicles, like grumpy suburban dogs barking at cars on a hot day.
|A spectator captures footage on his smartphone outside Cardiff Castle|
Police stood in solid but slightly bored looking lines. There were a few minor scuffles. All in all, it passed off without any major incident.
|Police guarding Cardiff Castle on Thursday evening.|
Early on Friday morning crowds again gathered, this time in Cardiff Bay in front of the Welsh Government’s Senedd building. There was to be an air show of military might. 22 aircraft from 9 different countries would pass over Cardiff Bay on the way to Celtic Manor Resort, where leaders would look up admiringly like proud parents, providing a nice photo opportunity for the elite snappers gathering inside the golfing resort of Welsh billionaire businessman Sir Terry Matthews.
|Red Arrows fly past in Cardiff Bay.|
For the public, that was pretty much that. The war ships hung around in Cardiff Bay a little longer, drawing more crowds over the weekend and helping with an Armed Forces day the following Sunday. There was chance for President Obama to knock Stonehenge off his bucket list, giving a few photo opportunities for pros and also a local family. Fencing in Cardiff City Centre started to come down, people realised Nato sounded a bit like Natal and and hilarious puns started going round (Post Nato Depression!)
|Local wildlife disgruntled by the continued presence of a French war ship.|
This was the biggest single event to happen in Wales in modern times. Bigger than a few FA Cup finals or sporting events, this was serious global attention fixed on Celtic Manor – the Ukrainian President announced the ceasefire of a war on the golf course, which doesn’t happen every day. It gripped the public imagination and in terms of the Welsh media’s news agenda, it almost felt bigger than a Six Nations rugby match. (Almost). Your eyes couldn’t scan three social media updates without seeing yet another photoshopped Obama meme.
President Obama and other official Nato people said nice things about Wales being great, and that everyone should come here, which was nice of them. Although some have questioned the cost, the Nato summit has demonstrated that Wales has the facilities and organisational skills for such an event, as Wales First Minister Carwyn Jones proudly pointed out.
|Wales First Minister Carwyn Jones interviewed by ITV Wales in front of the Senedd|
Will there be a tangible legacy, or will the benefits and return on investment all be offered in vague PR terms, in reputation and profile? An investment conference for local businesses at Celtic Manor is in the works, led by Vince Cable. The profile and reputation gains for the region do have value. Businesses considering expanding into the region will have seen Wales in a new light. That’s a good result and positive sign that Wales is coming along very well thank you.
Polka-dotted with police and steel fencing, it might not have always looked its prettiest last week, but congratulations should be extended to everyone who made it work smoothly.
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