Having made it through two flights and a family wedding, which were, respectively, tolerable and delightful, this past week was equally pleasant. The highlight was a trip to Bristol, ostensibly to see Grayson Perry’s Art Club exhibition at the Bristol museum and art gallery, but also to allow the Textiliste and I a short trip down memory lane.
That’ s the thing with nostalgia: it often isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. However this was splendid, the weather utterly unfamiliar – we were there from 1975 to 1978 and it pretty much seemed to rain constantly – and the opportunities to take in old haunts with a new spin very pleasant.
I’ll post separately about Grayson. Rather let’s explore Bristol.
It’s a special place for me and the Textiliste as that’s where we met, aged 19 and 18 all of 46 years ago. It took me two terms to ask her out. I nearly despaired when, hoping to take her to the cinema I asked if she liked Mel Brooks only to receive the reply, ‘No, is he in the second year?’ And I pretty nearly gagged when I discovered the mysterious paperweight in her room was not some interesting geological specimen but her large toenail set in resin – she’d lost it in some accident. I should have known that someone who was already making a patchwork quilt out of hexagons at 18 yet loved clubbing would be her own woman.
Bristol has had its dodgy past, linked to slavery. Some of its grand buildings were no doubt part funded off the back of that egregious trade. But I’m no puller down of statues and prefer to contextualise the past. After all the main driver of the wealth that build so much of Bristol was tobacco which has harmed more people than most businesses. This for instance is the Wills Memorial Building where she and I met over our law degrees. HO and WD Wills were tobacco magnates. Even knowing the background I’m not going to despise a glorious building or it’s place in my own history.
Bristol is full of architectural and engineering magnificence. We spent some time in awe of the continuing glory of Brunel’s suspension bridge and had a delightful Morning in the Clifton Observatory, taking in the cave underneath, home to the Bristol Giants, Goram and Ghyston. This gives yet more views of the bridge though the best were from the observatory level.
This also houses one of the three still working Camera Obscura’s in the UK. As a precursor to photography its creation in the first half of the nineteenth century helped with the early developments. The owner of this beauty used Fox Talbot’s new techniques to capture images and sell the photographic paper he invented. The images here are a trifle grainy but I hope they give some idea of what must have seemed magical to the Georgians and Victorians who first saw them.
We even had time to wander around Clifton Village where we both lived back then, though in separate flats. Even though the gentrification of this area has rendered it very dissimilar to our memories, there are still some triggers.
Like Reg the Veg the green grocers and the Arcade where I had my first ever American style burger at Carey’s (before Maccy Ds appeared) as well as mint choc chip ice cream with butterscotch sauce. Luxury! These days it was grilled turbot… I’m not sure the 19 year old me would have recognised this version, and certainly he would have wondered at my culinary choices.
At the end, while the Textiliste went in search of a haberdashery, I potted around to find a Banksy – Bristol is his home town and the museum has one piece – and some other street art.
Meanwhile, Dog was trying to get round the pet sitter….