Bristol. City of squats whose graffiti is a more famous landmark than its cathedral, who has a bakery called Bread an’ Ting, a home-ware store called Happytat and a stationery shop called Paper Gangsta; even your shop names have a sense of humour. Whose native Brizzle drawl involves referring to inanimate objects as ‘he’ or ‘she’ and tacking a random ‘l’ on after words that end in vowels, as though the very dialect is trying to turn every word into Bristol, a football fan’s chant: Bristol, Bristol. You crazy bloody minx.
This is a city that met the everyday occurrence of a new Tesco opening with riots and firebombs: a stoned city, perennially laid back, outraged into action by the affront of the blue and red commercial beast squatting on its parade of independent businesses, its beating heart. They stretch all the way from Horfield Common down to the Attic Bar where Stokes Croft’s sweet orgy of colour and life meets the dual carriageway- the longest parade of independent shops in Europe.
So what did you do? You set up the People’s Republic of Stokes Croft. This is an area that is in essence just one long road, but you’ve got a People’s Republic now. You, and China. And your own currency, the Bristol Pound, to keep money within local businesses (the fiver has a pretty shady looking tiger on it). You’re a city of people who looked at the Bearpit, the ugly hollowed out concrete eyesore of an underpass slap bang in the city centre, and stuck a statue of a bear in it, spray-painted the walls into cartoon oblivion and stencilled paw prints along the concourse. Now it’s the only underpass I’ve ever seen with a ping pong table and an organic fruit and veg stall. Seriously, Bristol, what are you like?
And I can’t explain quite why I’ve got so much love for this off-kilter West Country city, home to Inkie and Banksy, Massive Attack and the Stig, but I know that when I walk up Dighton Street from the city centre until I hit the looming miles of street art and I feel like I’m walking through a comic book, I’m home. I love your absurd pride around cider, the way that the legendary Cori Tap is famous for serving its ‘exhibition’ cider in half pints cos it’s just that fucking potent and that even though I’m from London and I’ve lived in New York, you still have the best goddamn nightlife I’ve ever seen. Even if your eclectic music scene does sometimes draw bands that describe their sound as the ‘relentless sound of torrential drumming’. Torrential drumming. It was quite an apt description actually, but you know what, once I’d accidentally stumbled in there, wincing at the relentless torrential drumming, an old man taught me how to play the spoons and I’ve never looked back.
And on those crazy nights, those rogue occasions when you just don’t fancy relentlessly torrential drumming, you can whoop your way from the earthy gin-soaked gloom of the Mother’s Ruin all the way to Motion, whose nights don’t pass out til 7, and you can queue past the concrete slab of a courtyard, rolls of barbed wire and sniffer dogs and feel like you’re in a post-apocalyptic border town at the end of days. Or throw caution to the winds and truck it up to Lizard Lounge, a club smaller than your nan’s kitchen, owned by the improbably named John Lounge, whose walls sweat and whose trademark lurid cocktail has no name other than the colloquially whispered, ‘the Green Shit’.
I love that you’re harmlessly, gloriously mad. I love that when the Highbury Vaults was graffitied with a tag featuring the word ‘vandalism’ with a heart for the ‘v’, the pub’s manager was quoted as saying “it’s very nice, it highlights an otherwise white building”. I love the old woman who, on a rainy day, marched purposefully up to me, fighting with a recalcitrant umbrella against the wind, and said squarely to my face “Ooh I ‘ates brollies” before carrying on her way. The heavily dreadlocked man at 10 am in Sainsbury’s who came up to my friend and shouted “mmm BREEZERRR” in the thickest rhotic drawl you’ve ever heard. That I once ordered a vodka and coke in a hole-in-the-wall bar only to be told “we don’t do cocktails here, my babber”. And that your resident dj, DJ Derek, is a seventy-odd year old man who still spins the sweetest reggae sets you’ve ever bumped to—apparently Massive Attack’s Daddy G is a fan.
It’s a city that still bears the scrawled markings of its slave trade past: the main shopping centre named after a dynasty of slave owners, the harbourside thrumming with a history that echoes of sugar, tobacco and human traffic in the shadow of the old Fry’s chocolate factory, and you can stroll down Black Boy Hill as it slopes gently into Whiteladies Road (I’m not being facetious, that’s an actual geographical fact). But you’ve taken your historic mould and twisted and writhed from it in happy contortions.
It might be that for now, London’s calling with its sensible career choices and temporary parental accommodation, and sure, it might be that with my glottally stopped-up London ear you’ll always sound like pirate farmers to me, but Bristol. I’ll come back and visit you. And I’ll skank my way through bashment dives til dawn and I’ll sit on Brandon Hill and watch the sun come up, and in the cold grey light I’ll look down over your mishmash, inked Georgian splendour and I’ll shout at the top of my lungs…
Bristol, give me a signal.