As dusk approached, we walked the streets, large in numbers. A fresh breeze came which filled our chests and refreshed minds, reminding us to take it all in.
For one night only, we were city-free. From end to end, a whole neighbourhood had been reclaimed and then laid out for people to dance and eat, prop up their front porch, or to display their true colours any which way they wanted.
The car inched forward as rush hour traffic crawled across the junction. A faint rhythm sailed over from the barbershop and Damien picked it up, tapping on the door while he surveyed the street.
“So what about Keisha, man? What’s going on?” asked Jerome.
Damien leaned back in the seat and put on a grin. “Nothing.”
“Nothing? What do you mean? I seen you.”
“It’s nothing, trust me.”
“Look at you. You’re a player, man!”
Damien watched an old lady pick through the veg outside the mini-market while he tried to find the words. But now Jerome was turning on the stereo. Bass shook the car and the line that Damien had been telling himself, reverberated around his head.
Night after night we’d criss-cross the centre like a knitted sweater, connecting up places with thread. Then we’d pick a colour and chart a course through the night and in our heads to find the perfect setting.
Passing through the heights of Kingsdown, we knew every one of those tower block lights, twinkling with promise. Then we’d dip down to Park Street, not quite our scene except for a few sidestreets in between where the shirts didn’t go.
In the old town, we discovered bars where possibilities resided. The tunes were different, Bacardi Breezers didn’t feature and black wasn’t only for metal kids. Late nights, not fighting, but trying to find a sense of belonging was our commonality.
Weekends were spent on Gloucester Road, sitting in coffee shops before we knew what real coffee was. All the way down the stretch, we felt like we were keeping it all in check, clocking changes when a shop rejigged its name or a familiar figure no longer looked quite the same.
Sometimes we’d end up in St Andrew’s park, but I never went for that daytime lark, the air stiff with smoke and the sound of beer cans under foot while kids flew past their grans on bikes. Curiosity might push us on to the cusp of Montpelier, where, like tourists, we’d stare over the allotments and into the east, its neighbourhoods infamous and out of reach.
Occasionally, when the city got too much, we’d head up to the Downs and over to Ashton Court. Mess about in trees and talk awkward stuff on the grass, before wheeling it back down through Clifton, insecurities surpassed by the breeze and our expertise for shortcuts.
Redcliffe Street underpass has won Most Intimidating Subway of the Year.
Judges visiting Bristol for this year’s National Urban Decay Awards, noted how the subway’s darkened entrance, blind corners and sunken ceiling all contributed to a sense of ‘dread and uncertainty’, making it the favourite of the category.
Local residents were thrilled with the award. Rosary Farce said ‘it’s the last place on earth I’d ever want to go, except maybe with a hatchet and chainsaw. There’s not many places you can say that about in Bristol. Well, maybe a few.”
Councillor, Tim Reid, said the community had a love-hate relationship with the subway, as in they love to hate it. “It’s long been a talking point for the local community as a place that contributes to personal safety fears and general uneasiness within the neighbourhood. It’s fantastic that this is now being recognised as something to be proud of.”
Swindon was the overall winner, however, receiving the Gritty City award for being “generally bleak all round.”
Down by the river, beneath the motorway is a place where the sun burrows deep. Concrete pillars are its pen, and the banks the paper, on which the light draws ever-shifting shadows.
Every so often, I venture down there, and try to capture what’s been sketched on the walls. Its particularly interesting visiting at different times of the day, with mornings casting a bright white light across the Easton side, while sundown brings a warm, yellow glow that dies out over the western end of the river.
There’s not many places like it, especially in an age where any unkempt space is quickly pounced upon by rabid developers. Closed in by the motorway in an area still overlooked by estate agents means it continues to exist for now; an obscure and gritty canvas for graffiti artists and sunlight, alike.