Bristol now and then

A week in Bristol before I meet my son, the longest time I have been in the city, familiar from my childhood on.

First in the mid-1950s when I surprised my parents by choosing Bristol rather than the more exotic Cardiff for our excursion. A few memories of the special train from the Sussex coast and being with my father on the Clifton Suspension Bridge, which captured my imagination.

And later, after we moved west when Bristol was on the outer rim of familiar Somerset, visited on train spotting trips and on the few occasions I travelled north.

I have long memories of Bristol Temple Meads station, Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s fine structure from 1840, curiously mock-Tudor but still redolent of the Great Western Railway.

The long platform close to the exit where the trains from Bath Green Park arrived. Walking down to the other end to see Castle, Hall, County and King Class steam locomotives parked in the south sidings.

And later, on the same platform feeling adventurous on my way to the North East, to interviews at Durham and Newcastle universities (when I sealed my fate by telling the philosophy department that I was interested in Hegel).

And academic trips to and not just through Bristol, to the university to attend a seminar on Shakespeare with other sixth formers from all over Somerset, feeling inferior in the presence of the far more fluent, wanting to shine but painfully aware of having nothing to say.

An interview at Bristol University to read English Literature. I don’t remember much about it but I remember clutching a rather fine edition of a Thomas Hardy novel in an ante-room (I don’t remember which but I’d like to think it was Jude the Obscure).

It was probably on that trip that I visited cathedral-like St Mary Redcliffe. My teachers would probably have been surprised seeing only a gauche immature teenager adorned with the fashions of youth yesteryear and missing the other stiller presence capable of awe.

To some extent, Bristol with friends too, wandering around the curiously named Christmas Steps with a schoolfriend whose parents had moved there. And, mulish 18-year-old when taken by my parents to see a pantomime (a curious choice but it would have been a better memory if I’d been generous and gracious).

And after moving to Sweden, being in Bristol with my travel sick daughter Anna, who richly rewarded the inflexible coach driver who refused to stop by ensuring that he had a longer stop than planned at the next coach station to restore order in his vehicle.  We were on our way to Bristol Zoo to see a white tiger but maybe that was another trip.

At some point I’ve wandered around Bristol with Pevsner looking at buildings, probably when I was going to visit my nephew in south Gloucestershire. And recently to see the grave of the Bengali Rammohan Roy who died on a trip to meet the city’s Unitarians and who lies in a rather splendid tomb at Arnos Vale.

I am looking forward to this week to get a better grasp of the city and tweak the past by tidying up my Bristol memories.

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