Bristol, give me a signal


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.

magpie squat

magpie squat


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?

telepathic heights squat

telepathic heights squat

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.

break-dancing jesus

break-dancing jesus

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’. See-No-Evil-graffiti-project-in-Bristol-5

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.

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230 Responses to Bristol, give me a signal

  1. Jeremy says:

    I’ve lived here for 8 years after growing up in London. I’ve lived in Miami and New York and still love Bristol more. The diversity is magnetic and unbelievably warm hearted. On a glum day it still makes the toughest upper lip curve. Rate the article and many born and bred Bristolians agree with your sentiments. Well done for looking properly and writing what you have seen.

  2. trigg57 says:

    yer sno yoom makin I ohm sick fer Brizzle me gabber?

    • Chris says:

      We have to blame Derek Robinson for this Brizzle nonsense. Wrote a book in about 1970 called Krek waiters spek Bristle, the idea of which was that words on the page made no sense unless read aloud in a Bristolian accent. But he got it wrong. Bristol isn’t pronounced Bristle rhyming with thistle, still less Brizzle ryhming with drizzle. It’s said Bristawe, because the well known Bristol L added to words ending in a vowell isn’t actually an L sound but an aw sound. It probably goes all the way back to the anglo-saxon Brigstowe, the original name of the town, of which Bristol is a derivation.

    • trigg57 says:

      GABBER? where did that come from, fingers must’ve been drunk again!

  3. BristolBorn says:

    You’re referring to but a small part of Bristol, not Bristol as a whole…Try leaving Stokes Croft once in a while and taking in the City as a whole.

    • rachelschraer says:

      of course- there’s lots more of Bristol not mentioned and i wouldn’t ever presume to be defining the city objectively. It was only ever meant as a personal piece on some of the bits of Bristol i know and love, and i happen to live round that area and spend a lot of time there 🙂

  4. BWDNIC says:

    Amazing article!

  5. Martha says:

    What a gert lush (‘totally awesome’ to the non-Bristolians) tribute to our fabulous city. Ark at ‘ee! I think you might love Brizzle almost as much as I do 🙂 Thanks for this – the city will await your return.

  6. Chio Malanga says:

    I likes this very much

  7. Ohhh… What an incredible description! Bristol is a city I’ve had an on-off love affair with for the past ten years. I too grew up in London before moving out west after a phenomenal weekend visiting a friend at college. It resonates with me on so many, many, many levels and moving away was hard. Reading this post makes me want to move back, only this time I’d be crossing the Atlantic instead of driving up the M4! Congratulations on being Freshly Pressed – thrilled that Bristol is getting the exposure it deserves!!!

  8. fe says:

    lovely reading. nice to stumble on inspired tidbits when bordely raking through face books oceans of seperated degrees. though daunting when the concepts of my own blog ideations are far less adventurous and of little interest in comparison. still. onward to submission and rejection as is the eternal faye of any writing folk. good good.

  9. siegrid maxwell says:

    what can one say about all of this(me thinks?) x

  10. Reblogged this on Local Sprouts and commented:
    Bristol, I love you!

  11. nettski says:

    What a fantastic piece – you’ve completely summed up why I came here 5 years ago and why I still have no intention of leaving. Bristol is the most eclectic, fun and welcoming city I’ve ever been to. I’ve done a few posts about different areas of the town but nothing quite up to the standard of your ode to this fine city 🙂

  12. Thank you for this! I think you have just given me the signal that I want to move to Bristol. Looks like my type of town 🙂

  13. hollis23 says:

    he he he good stuff.. (from a proud Bristolian Living In St Pauls) Also i have noticed that NO ONE moans about Bristol, unlike other towns, and cities. I have lived all over the U.K and I am most proudest of living here.. great article 🙂

  14. Wow, lived here all my life, but never knew half of this stuff!
    Going to have to reblog this if you don’t mind. Cheers me babber!

  15. The signal is quite clear old fruit; street art and fragrant Stoke’s Croft is but a small part of the dimension of what was England’s second city. Bristol’s beating heart is rooted in massive industrial achievement and trade, some of it highly questionable but as a city always creatively rich and iconoclastic – it’s technology, music and graffiti make it a great place to live. Not forgetting Cider. I’ve also lived in NY – believe me, the nightlife is better me babber.

  16. Pingback: Bristol, give me a signal | Junefinnigan's Weblog

  17. Lovely blog! Of course Bristol has a dark side, much as London does.

    • rachelschraer says:

      you’re right- just wanted to focus on the things i love about it, but of course wouldn’t ever claim to know/attempt to define the whole city!

  18. Tanya Guerin says:


  19. Pingback: Bristol, give me a signal – (reblogged) | The Colour of My Mind

  20. Ken says:

    Hey, Woolfy, you forgot to mention my brother’s store on whiteladies road – Re-Psycho. Cool old gear. Great piece mate, Bristol is very cool.

  21. Ann Kronbergs says:

    A superb evocation of this wonderful city, Rachel. You have a real gift with words! Good luck in your career as a journalist and huge congratulations on your degree result.
    Very best wishes
    Ann Kronbergs

  22. Pingback: Bristol give me a signal | senseofsolivagant

  23. mgeorgievich says:

    Reblogged this on mgeorgievich's Blog and commented:

  24. jensine says:

    I so want to visit now … and I am a Dub

  25. Pingback: Bristol, give me a signal | seamushaswords

  26. What a gorgeous love song. Now I have to go.

  27. JenStar says:

    I’ve kicked London’s back doors in. I’ve done it and it’s done me. It’s not me its London and I’ve moved to Brizzle. Don’t get me wrong there are some real bumpy head, inbred Muthafuckas in Bristol but I even find them quite amusing. I’m loving Bristol life and have had the best time thus far. Great people and great vibes. Let’s party

  28. Snookems says:

    Black Boy Hill has nothing to do with slavery, it’s named after the Black Prince (son of Edward III). Cabot Circus is named after Italian explorer John Cabot who (re)discovered Canada after setting sail from Bristol; he wasn’t a slaver, being about 100 years before the slave trade really started to become an industry. It was actually planned to be called “Merchants Quarter” but the name was changed because of complaints around the association with slavery. By contrast, Massive Attack actually refuse to play at the city’s main concert cenue (Colston Hall) as the Colston family made their fortune as slavers.

    Having said all that, fuck careers – live in Bristol and slum it with the gutter punks!

    • rachelschraer says:

      yep i stand corrected on the Black Boy Hill/Whiteladies error! (see my comment to Roger Elle- getting carried away by being poetic over actual accuracy, woops!)

      • Chris says:

        The way I heard it (not quite old enough to have been there at the time) The Black Boy Inn which used to stand at the top of Whiteladies was named after Charles II who is said to have had a dark complexion. Blackboy Hill (like Pigsty Hill) was a colloquial name which did not appear on maps until the 70s.

  29. Dr Fox says:

    Pirate farmers – i likes it!

  30. we hear ya! i’m not in bristol. but My stepson is a student there. It was an eyeopener, we have managed to convince him there is life beyond leafy Surrey. He’s just spent a year in bradford. and we’re Nottingham. God bless the North. (even though we are Godless) congrats on freshly pressed.

  31. Come back any time, you’re more than welcome

  32. yeah man, think you’ll fit in fine….

  33. jimbojapanam says:

    Bristol, Bristol….!

  34. jean Millard says:

    Not a Bristol I remember….working in Avonmouth docks…..walking over Clifton Suspension Bridge…Omelette restaurant off Whiteladies Road….all those wonderful flats in Clifton and Redland..happy days in a beautiful City where my daughter was born.

  35. Literally gave me goosebumps reading this.


  36. Wow! I was in the middle of writing a post about guerrilla art but was feeling some writers block so decided to have a look at the freshly pressed. You certainly have a way with words, I feel as though I should up my game!

  37. Rosy George says:

    A diverse, historical city with woods, grass and greenery in view wherever you are and never less than half a mile away to enjoy. Long Live Bristol. Born, bred and proud of it (though not with the Bristol ‘l’!)

  38. Claire Beel says:

    I want to go!!

  39. Darren Hales says:

    Having moved here a few years ago after marrying into the city, you have summed up everything I have thought perfectly (and better than I ever could)!

  40. Tessa says:

    I’m from Bristol, without the accent now. I live in Georgia (yes, America) since moving back from Germany after I lived in California, Japan, Texas and Spain.

  41. Scott Hider says:

    Thank you for spending the time writing this review, it’s fantastic. I have worked and lived in Bristol for over 15 years now and I’m proud to boast it as ‘my city’ – in Thailand right now and having to explain the place all the time, may as well send them
    This link! – although we do also have a thriving business centre and financial services sector which is a strong heart beat in the South West economy. With a mix of city facilities coupled with beautiful countryside and green spaces Bristol is a wonderful vibrant city. Your pictures are beautiful and the style of our don’t give a shit street art/graffiti style makes me proud to always slightly sticking one finger up to the establishment whist saying. Do one, we’re the Bristol Crew!!!

  42. Becky Bite says:

    Reblogged this on Becky Bites Back and commented:
    Love Bristol x

  43. jamie says:

    right, thats it. im going.

  44. I’ve just moved from Bristol to London following 4 years on Whiteladies Road. Not one day has gone by where I don’t miss it or feel a tiny bit homesick. Amazing place!

  45. max giles says:

    Brilliant! Makes me want to live there again and drink some cider..

  46. Pingback: Bristol, give me a signal | Hau-yin Raymond YUEN's Blog

  47. I came to live in Bristol over 30 years ago and was immediately seduced by the frisson of culture and heritage. While the city still has a very west country heartbeat its pulse is far removed from lethargic tempo of the town I came from. To live here is like turning another page in a very old book and finding something new to delight the senses with. The fact that the community of Stokes Cross are prepared to stand against the ceaseless tide of Corporate commercialism, ultimately to lose, suggests the inhabitants are not a motley crowd and understand the importance of maintaining independence. Without it our communities will become evermore disjointed and plasticised. An interesting read with a slightly amusing tone because this was my initial observation of the people who live here when I first arrived, thoroughly working class, good natured and stoic.

    Do write more about this wonderful city the signals are not hard to find.

    Regards Talia

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