Tower block lights

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.

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.

Denmark Street 

A place to make a mistake

I’m not sure why I take the turning, which adds minutes to my walk, furthering the possibility of missing the bus. But my senses need refreshing, a change of scene to knock me out of my homeward routine. So I take a wander down Denmark Street.

They call it the ‘West End’ in the tourism leaflets but you wouldn’t know it. When I reach the junction with Unity street, there’s nothing but apartments housed in an imposing red brick buidling. Then, out of the darkness emerge the great temple-like doors of the Wah Yan Hong Chinese supermarket. The smell wafting out of the door is familiar, the same one that always seems to surround far eastern food stores. Is it the freezers full of seafood or some ubiquitous spice?

Next door is an extravagant Chinese restaurant, decked to the rafters in lanterns and dragon statues. The overall colour scheme is black, however, giving it the kind of air where you might expect a local Triad meet to take place.

Across the road the stage doors of the Hippodrome are open. I glean a look inside as an usher welcomes a group into a  red-curtained room. Articulated lorries block up the kerb, and there’s a stage hand sucking on a rollup in an unlit doorway.

Blink and I’d miss the steps that lead down to Harvey’s Cellars opposite, blue fairy lights illuminating the old wine racks. It’s the oldest establishment on this stretch by at least a century and still sells the Sherry for which it was founded on in 1895. 

I think about wandering in and feigning a party booking just so I can explore, but instead I decide to take a look in the magic bar next door. It’s a fairly unremarkable boozer decked out in traditional fashion, but with a secret theatre in the back just big enough for 50. It’s empty when I look in but the bartender assures me that it comes alive when the table candles are lit and a show is underway.

A downtown sidestreet such as this wouldnt be right without a seedy side and Shadows massage parlour is there to provide. ‘Shadows in the night’ as far the clientele are concerned or is it the girls who are ‘shadows’ of their former selves?

The whole facade is mirrored and there’s a handwritten note about a daytime offer stuck to the wall of the entranceway. It’s also right next door to a tattoo removal clinic, which would appear to compliment each other well; a place to make a mistake and another to rectify one.

Up on the wall is a red neon sign advertising Bombay Boulevard, a plain looking Indian restaurant. The red glow reflects in the empty windows above making me wonder if there’s any less conspicuous parlours along this stretch.

The thick scent of pure, unadulterated grease, fills the air from a chip shop. Two middle eastern men are behind the counter, their oily faces bantering with customers. 

A sickly-lit alleyway adjacent offers the ideal spot for a late-night urinal or something a little more tawdry.