Bristol has this reputation of being the next best thing after London when it comes to desirable places to live in the UK. I’m pretty skeptical about that reputation. The supposedly “cool” features I read about Bristol are way overblown, like the fact that Banksy is from Bristol (most of his works in Bristol have been destroyed, by the way), that Massive Attack is from Bristol, that it’s “cheaper than London”, or that it’s a “diverse” and “multicultural” place (diverse or multicultural in terms of what?). Truth is it has its fair share of flaws like any other major city: it’s difficult to find housing, it has a homelessness problem, there are stark inequalities between neighbourhoods.
Having lived in the city for a number of years of course gives me a different perspective compared with that of a non-resident or tourist. But I’m also surprised at how unsentimental I feel about Bristol now, despite having left the city under such exceptional and bittersweet circumstances. I mean Bristol really is the place I’ve lived the longest since legally turning into an adult. I had many Big Life Moments in Bristol, like getting my PhD there. And so many people I care about and have extremely close and meaningful relationships with still live in Bristol. In the past year especially I was really “finding my way” and gaining important experiences in terms of my career and relationships – despite many mishaps.
In the end, as I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I had to deport myself out of the UK with no chance for proper goodbyes thanks to the ongoing lockdown. You’d think it would feel like leaving part of my heart behind. You’d think I’d agonise about the “what ifs” I never got to live out on account of everything. But no. I only cried tears of joy because I felt like I finally arrived when I made it to Denmark, having spent the last couple of months in Bristol feeling like I had somewhere else to be, yet nowhere to go and no chance of going. When I finally got out, it was as if I was released from some kind of purgatory. I’d been futilely waiting for answers to questions people still stuck in the UK have to ask themselves constantly – “What is my immigration status? Will I or won’t I get in trouble with the Home Office?” Still, my ambivalence about Bristol is not merely down to this hassle. I think I had my moment of “I’m ready to leave Bristol” for a pretty long time now, like way before this new chapter in Denmark materialised. But how did that feeling come about? I’m not sure.
It makes me think a person’s relationship to – and experience of – a place has more to do with the meanings a person happens to attach to that place, rather than about any ‘objective’ feature about it. You won’t love a place just because it ticks a bunch of boxes. You won’t hate a place just because it doesn’t. And while it’s certainly true that we can measure the “good” of certain places with lots of factors, I think a person’s physical placement in the world really is like an intimate relationship. It’s a type of relationship that is not only characterised by lofty ideals (like when people buy a one-way-ticket out to big cities to make their dreams come true), but also by one’s being embedded somewhere physically, spiritually, and in Time (like if I were to say, “I am a true Bristolian now”). Of course, there’s lots of reasons and explanations for why a person may come to be in a particular place. Yet how a person makes do with that place, how a person fits in with that place, and the veering back and forth between love, hate, and everything in between for that place – that seems to me as inexplicable as the constancy between pairings of significant others through thick and thin. There’s always an X factor when it comes to how we end up seeing, being, and treating ourselves in different parts of the world. Any thoughts?
Well, maybe I’ll save that topic for another day. I can’t believe I’ve just become one of those people who feels compelled to share some banal life story just to share a couple of pictures, ha ha. But I do still want to mention some things about Bristol that really did grow on me. I can’t complain about the food scene (if you ever visit – do ask me for recommendations for places to eat), the lovely aerial views you get in different neighbourhoods thanks to all the hills (though I hated the actual hills), the Harbourside on a sunny day, the circus artists you see juggling or slacklining in basically every green space, the fact that people play psytrance of all things on the boombox in family-friendly parks, the general celebration of creativity and artists around the city, and the cool/weird/wild music scene and night life enjoyed by most age groups without shame (inexplicable 4am bonfire raves in the middle of the street and all – if you live in certain areas).
Now, one place I do think brings together some of the likeable elements of Bristol quite nicely is North Street in Bedminster. Bedminster is a neighbourhood fairly close to the Harbour. It houses plenty of pubs, restaurants, and cafes – on a “normal”, nice day, the place would be teeming with people (I guess in the UK a nice day is just one that doesn’t rain and isn’t impossibly chilly). I even used to work at the Tobacco Factory Market, which hosts some of the best food stands in Bristol and is one of the liveliest place you can be on a Sunday afternoon in the city.
Even during a lockdown, the length of North Street is a great place to explore because there’s so much street art to look at. Normally every year in summertime it plays host to Upfest, the largest street art festival in Europe, which explains the particular abundance of murals in the area. Last year a Greta Thunberg piece was commissioned by the Tobacco Factory which went on to get approval from Greta herself and garner worldwide attention. I’ll share below a couple more pieces that I spotted on North Street. I’ve identified all the artists responsible for these wonderful murals, so do check them out as well.