This place has a name

It was only a matter of time before it all came down. The last time I walked through was on my way to town. Up the mossy steps and across the walkways, into strange spaces layered with paintings.

But then came the great reconstruction. Hoardings went up sharing brash statements about what’s to come once the work is undertaken.

And it got me thinking that something is amiss, the way plans come to pass. Before you know it a block’s pulled down before anyone’s thought to ask: is this what we want for our city, the place that we call home, what would I like to see and feel when all is set in stone?

Nuances of place is heavily underrated, developers don’t see because there’s no money to be made from it. Even when it’s included in the literature, which inadvertently contributes to the decline of what’s being pitched to you.

Luxury apartments in the heart of the street art scene, but in reality it’s being ripped apart by JCBs while men in hard hats and suits watch as the fruits of their labourers plays out.

Why can’t we take the rough with the smooth, no need for every last pock mark to be removed, renovated? It seems like some things are better left unregenerated.

For this history isn’t medieval or wartime but my-time. The paintwork and the street corners are part of a time-line that speaks of the most subtle feats of human endeavour.

Pavements beat bent and broken from stomping children, trees like grandparents leaning over parked cars pushing their roots up to make bike ramps.

Streets where the graffiti is a landmark, plotting a course to a destination where ancestry and intention is lived out.

Conversations over a rusty gate, the flaking paint dropping with the years it takes for bonds to grow so strong that they might just pass over to the next of kin.

These things weren’t prefabricated, but grown from a thousand imprints, thoughts and visions pressed together in a coalition so deep and intricate most would miss it. Except the ones who seek to add their own.

A house to call home

This is my second attempt at poetry and is on the subject of housing. I couldn’t think of a decent title and probably need to work on my formatting, but I enjoyed writing it. As before, any comments, likes, not likes or cheques in the post are welcome.

“Can I help you?” asks the man in the shirt and tie. I look at him and think, well, can you? Can you cut house prices by

40%? Can you force developers to build actual affordable housing that isn’t like stacked containers, replicated in their thousands?

No, I want to say. You can’t. Because what I’m asking for is about as fantastical as the Gallagher brothers being reunited in a musical.

But is it really so far gone, to want to buy a place to call your own and stop pouring cash down the blackhole called Rent, leaving you at the mercy of an agent, just in it for the payment that wires its way to the landlord in some far and distant land?

Hand in hand, they eliminate the dream. Another investment opportunity taking precedent over any sentimental notions of a house to call home.

Where it’s just the latest postcode, a borough on the brink; open up another branch, tell people what to think.

It’s up and coming, vibrant and edgy and every other buzz word. 75% already sold before foundations have been laid down.

In this town, speculation is king.

The thing is, I’m not looking to make an investment or increase my portfolio. I’m looking for a home like the one I grew up in.

A place where I can fill in the cracks and paint the walls, think about which pictures would look good where, so a gallery of our history can emerge.

To take satisfaction in every weed I pull out, and watch the spring seeds sprout, each year a little more like something to be proud of.

To stick drawings on walls that gently curl at the corners as the months go by, find accidental dents in the worktop that make you say “that was when…”

To know the worn banister, smoothed down from hanging and climbing and sliding, and pat its trusty newel post that’s held a thousand coats like a faithful hound.

There doesn’t seem to be much of this thinking around, or perhaps its just that others are keeping their dreams close to the ground, wondering, hoping that the day will come when a place to live isn’t a commodity and its not an oddity to want a place to call your own without looking to sell before it’s even halfway a home.

Muriel

The grandfather clock had long since stopped, but now I missed it’s ticking.

On summer visits it had kept a stern watch over us, while we stuffed toasted cheese and biscuits into our mouths. I wondered now if it had simply been counting down towards the inevitable, a faithful minion to the God of time.

I turned my head slowly, letting my eyes fall on the pictures. As sure as her familial stories, the faces stared back; Dad at Bunesson, Muriel as a girl guide and the fallen film-star sister, beauty preserved before her marriage to alcohol.

I waited for a trembling finger to rise and the breathless stories to come. But only silence pervaded.

In her chair, the cushion sagged with an invisible weight.

For my great-aunt who passed away last month, aged 95. 

A new round of nattering

Bristol’s talking cranes are getting some new conversation in July to coincide with a summer exhibition on Children’s TV at M Shed.

Although children’s TV programmes was a more specific subject for scripts than last time, I was able to find numerous facts and catchphrases to draw from as well as details on all the objects in the exhibition.

The first draft is now ready to go. Be sure to come and listen to the whole thing from 2nd July! For now, here’s a little taster:

Jacqui: I learned a thing or two today.

Hev: Blimey, that’s a first.

Jacqui: Quiet you. Listen, back in 1947, only 15,000 households in the country owned a television. Imagine that. All those people without any Corrie or Eastenders.

Hev: I can imagine that just fine, thank you. I’m more of a documentary type. So, what changed?

Jacqui: Well, apparently lots of people went out and bought a TV just so they could watch the coronation of our Liz in ‘53.

Hev: Is that right? It was her 90th in May and all. She’s been around even longer than us!

Jacqui: Can’t beat old queenie. Anyway, after the 50’s, television came along in leaps and bounds. Nowadays, there’s catch-up, Youtube, streaming off the interweb, I can’t keep up!

Hev: Between you and me, I don’t think we need to. We’re just a pair of cranes, after all. Better off enjoying the view.

Somewhere Between a Rock and a Truly Wild Place – part four

I feel like a proper adventurer as I emerge from the scrub following my conquest of the tunnel.

The sun breaks out again and I hot-wheel it down the pavement, the bridge flickering through the trees above. The end of the gorge is in sight now, rock giving way to Hotwells and the unsightly tangle of the Cumberland Basin octopus junction.

But its not over yet. This place still has a few surprises and the next one is perhaps the most surprising of them all. Set into the cliffs like a lost temple to transport is Clifton Rocks Railway, a Victorian construction that once saw a funicular train carry people up inside the rock to the top of gorge. The last I heard, there were attempts to get it running again, but as I cross the road for a closer look, there are no signs that this is the case. In fact, there’s not really much to look at apart from the bath-stone carved exterior and a gate, through which a glimpse of a tunnel is shortly consumed by darkness.

In case you’re wondering why so much effort went into ferrying people from bottom to top and back again, an answer lies in the adjacent buildings of the Colonnade and Pump Room, part of the Hotwell Spa that once existed here. They are a grand set of buildings, and at one time would have attracted a very grand class of clientele who came to benefit from the water’s health-giving properties. But much like the railway, they are largely ignored these days, except by the occasional rambling tourist or some commuters who happen to get stuck alongside during a traffic jam.

Opposite, is an old landing pier for steam boats that once graced the river and dropped off out-of-towners to the spa. It’s now rotting away in spectacular fashion, with great bows of wood bending or broken and gradually sinking in the merciless mud. It runs for 50 metres or so until a newer, concrete version replaces it, before the Brunel locks open out and the New Cut begins.

Looking across from 200ft up are the houses on The Paragon, majestically clinging to the very ends of the gorge. Then the rest of the neighbourhood sweeps down into Lower Clifton and beyond. I turn off here and negotiate the obstacle course-of-a-cycle route that cuts across a bridge and two locks, seeking out that waterside pint.

Over Steps and Stones

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I’ve just finished the last chapter of my project, exploring and writing about the Christmas Steps area of Bristol! You can read it and the rest of the chapters here.

I’ve got more urban journeys lined up for the Spring including a trek down the Avon Gorge and an amble around the new business district that calls itself The Enterprise Zone, so stay tuned!

Urban Investigator strikes again

In case you haven’t_MG_4450 visited the link at the top of the page, I think its about time that I officially introduce  an ongoing project of mine, called Urban Investigator. The project charts the adventures of Leonard Luther, a fictional character, who is stalking the streets of Bristol in order to seek out what could be termed as a ‘sense of place’ about the city.
Combining historical research with descriptive writings and some abstract photography, the aim is to give readers an interpretation of the area as it is encountered by Leonard and bring to life some of the hidden stories that lie in wait in the corners of this city.
At present, he’s been exploring the streets around the Christmas Steps Arts Quarter, where some of the oldest buildings in the city still survive. Once he’s finished there, he’ll be moving on to other areas, so be sure to keep checking back for more adventures.

Click here to read the latest part.