The Avon Gorge, on a less than
I spent most of this past week in Bristol, where we are establishing a new branch of the Idiotic Towers franchise, due to a change in the location of the employment of our senior partner. I suppose, if you're going to have a second home, it might as well be somewhere worth living, and Bristol is certainly that.
Bristol is where we spent the last decade of our kidult existence, 1977-87 B.C. (before children). Those were mainly fun years in a characterful city in the era of squats and punk and reggae, tempered by a dawning realization that the Thatcher Years were not going to be a mere blip in the inevitable historical progress of society towards a socialist utopia. I alternated much of my time between work in the university library, political meetings and demonstrations (I was a union activist in NALGO, the local government union), and sweaty nights in small music venues and pubs. Well, we made our own fun in those days.
Then there was cinema. Bristol has two arthouse cinemas, at the Arnolfini Gallery and the Watershed arts centre, and those years were the great years of independent cinema. Herzog, Fassbinder, Tarkovsky, Jarman, Greenaway... Bliss it was in that dawn to be alive; I'd sometimes see three new "foreign" movies in a week. You would gradually tune in to something astonishing like Tarkovsky's Mirror, ignoring the shuffling and muttering of those who didn't get it and who left after 20 minutes, ending up blissed out in a half-empty auditorium, with the impulse to exchange addresses with everyone else left in the place when the lights went up.
The music was pretty good, too. We saw many now-legendary acts -- the likes of Elvis Costello, Ian Dury, and the Clash, though I mainly recall an outstanding gig by jazz-fusion masters Weather Report, and two by the amazing Graham Parker -- and most pubs back then had a decent jukebox, regularly refreshed with the latest sounds. It is a toss-up now whether the title "Heart of Glass" calls to mind the film by Werner Herzog or the chart-topping single from Blondie.
The city has changed, of course, as has the sophistication of the entertainment demanded by the young. Mall-blight is becoming evident in the more peripheral streets, where many venerable shops have closed and become nightclubs and restaurants. I was particularly appalled to discover that George's Bookshop -- once a rival to establishments like Blackwell's in Oxford -- is now a Jamie Oliver restaurant. It's all still reassuringly shabby, however. My daughter remarked, as we drove through town a few weeks ago, that it was quite like Brighton (where she lives) but much grungier. Which, if you know Brighton, is quite an achievement.