Recently a blogpost did the rounds locally and achieved the rare thing of finding favour both with my Facebook and Twitter circles (over on Google+ people were still watching the tumbleweeds blow by.) The piece was called Bristol, give me a signal and was a poetic journey through one (young? student? hipster?) perspective of the city.
I think it was a lovely bit of writing — there was no shortage of hyperbole and some of the ‘facts’ were less than authentic but I enjoyed it and like so many others I retweeted and shared it widely.
The funny thing is that the author might as well have been writing about a parallel universe version of this city I grew up in. There were touch points I recognised but it was not a world I felt a part of.
My Bristol is the city of the Downs football league. 108 years of people playing football week in, week out on pitches better suited to mountain bikes. Of professional sports teams that perennially under perform and let their long suffering fans down.
A city that came together in disgust when the recipe for a mass produced cider was changed to such an extent that a multi-national company did a U-turn.
It is a city of graffiti as well. But one that pre-dates Banksy learning to use a Stanley knife to cut out a stencil and the declaration of the Peoples Republic of Stokes Croft. The first piece of graffiti I ever saw was just around the corner from the old Children’s Hospital on St. Michaels Hill — the famous ‘Phase 2′ piece by 3D (later of Massive Attack). I was 11 I think. So we have been a city of graffiti for a long time.
Gloucester Road is the centre of my universe. Though until recently I never gave a second thought to the make up of the shops along it (the whole ‘longest strip of independent shops’ thing seemed more interesting before it became a ‘thing’). It is a road that is filled with memories for me and one where I can spend hours mooching about bumping in to people and dropping in to pubs safe in the knowledge I wouldn’t be drinking alone.
I understand the world moves on but I miss pubs that were for drinking rather than daycare. Gloucester Road morphed from one to the other pretty sharply.
I paid for my first beer in a pub on the Gloc and if I was a betting man (which unlike most of my friends I am not) I would put a large amount of cash on it being where I bought my last as well. My presence might not be quite as ubiquitous in certain pubs as it was in days gone by but that is not to say that couldn’t change if the circumstances presented themselves.
Clifton is for special occasions in the summer and over Christmas. When there are fewer students around and once again Bristolian accents ring out in the bars and restaurants. Or in the past when the Ashton Court festival wasn’t the parody of its self it was in later years and when you could still join the hordes walking over the Suspension Bridge to attend and then staggering back after a few ciders too many later (always a struggle for me as I am terrified of walking across our most famous land mark!).
I went to a terrible school, but one my mother, uncles and aunts all attended before me. I was there surrounded by my cousins and followed by my brother. The school had such a terrible reputation in the end it was knocked down, rebuilt and renamed but for those of us who attended it remains a bond that doesn’t fade even 22 years later. It was the school of the aforementioned 3D and also Roni Size. It was also the school of murderers, drug dealers, car thieves and junkies. Those of us who left and did OK for ourselves despite all that never forget what it was like.
Oh I love the balloons — though I can’t think of anything worse than the ‘Festival’ itself. I love Carnival but avoid the Harbour Festival like it has the plague.
My city ends at Hotwells and the docks. I accept there is life in South Bristol but it is alien to me and I am as likely to visit New York as I am visit North Street.
The thing is I love this city. More than anything. Anywhere. It is the great love of my life and I don’t really ‘work’ anywhere else. The thing I really love about it? That no two people experience it in exactly the same way but that you almost always find some common ground.