Wednesday, October 07, 2015


A very wise man once said that there is nowhere you can be which isn’t where you’re meant to be. 

It’s easy.

Like Socrates, I don’t believe that this is true; but I believe that we’ll be better and happier if we behave as if it’s true. 

Clearly, the sequence of events that brought me to Bristol were entirely arbitrary and I could very well have ended up somewhere else. Equally clearly, Bristol in general and Stokes Croft in particular is the only place in England suitable for an Andrew to live. You may think that I would think that if I had ended up in Golders Green or Bollington or Aberdeen. I am sure you are right, but will continue to behave as if you were wrong.

It was very nearly the end of the century. James Wallis had laid off both the staff of his games company and I was out of work in Tooting Bec, living, both literally and metaphorically in a one room bedsit without a wash basin. John Major was Prime Minister, so there were still things like housing benefit and "the dole". Attempts to make money selling articles to games magazines and offering myself as an English tutor (unqualified) came to naught. I put my CV in the hands of various agencies, emphasizing that I was the Extremely Famous and Important Original Designer of Once Upon a Time, and indeed, that I had once been the Editor of the Extremely Important and Influential Games Man Magazine. They put me in touch with several companies that wanted (or as I can now see, believed that they wanted) non-technical games designers to spec computer games. A company in Bristol offered me a job working on a war-game about pirates ten years before pirates became popular. (The game when it eventually came out, was described by the Daily Telegraph as “adequate”.) Company and game are long gone, but here I am, in Bristol, putting books on the shelf in a snazzy library and singing The Wheels on the Bus Go Round and Round to small children on Monday afternoons. 

I liked Bristol within a week of arriving. There was a coffee shop on the main street with big sofas and huge mugs of coffee and cheese cake and a writers group. There was a choice of three art house cinemas. I don’t much like art-house movies but it’s nice to know they are there if I ever need them. Some actors had taken over a disused tobacco factory at the South end of town, and a writer in the Guardian spotted that it was staging the most exciting Shakepeare productions in the country. There was a sticky, run down pub called the Croft - now the Crofters Rights — virtually opposite my first flat. It had music nights. One night in 2007 they had Martin Carthy in the back room. He came onto the stage unannounced and burst into “Come listen to my story, lads, and hear my tell my tale…”. I have never really recovered. I have watched the street I live on progressively fill up with vegetarian restaurants with folk bands in the basement, cider bars with punk bands in the back room, and combined launderettes internet cafes. Whenever a shop falls empty, someone opens a coffee shop. Some people use bad words like gentrification and hipsterism, but I really like coffee. 

There are piles of rubbish on the streets and nowhere to park and cyclists cycle like maniacs on the pavement and I have been mugged twice (once seriously and once pathetically) but my third favourite nu-folk singer sometimes serves coffee in the vegan cafe, and when she isn’t there staff argue with me about Doctor Who. It’s a twenty minute walk to the Folkhouse and and a thirty minute walk to the Old Vic and an hour to Glastonbury and Shakespeare at the Tobacco Factory is now an annual event. The man who invented it is now the mayor.   

When I arrived people were already starting to have Opinions about graffiti. I remember smiling, if not actually laughing, that someone had drawn yellow and black warning stripes by the troll gate of Brunel’s mighty Suspension Bridge, alongside the words “BEWARE: Concealed Trap Doors.” It was signed “banksy”. The graffiti on the inside of the penguin enclosure at the Zoo (”Not bloody fish again!”) was similarly signed, as was the Mural that appeared of a teddy bear throwing a Molotov at some police officers with the slogan “The mild, mild west”. Banksy was an obvious play on “chopper” from 2000AD, a nice example of life plagiarizing art. Some people quite liked him and others though he was not as good as he used to be. 

Maybe there is something to the idea that banksy is a rich kid appropriating graffiti and selling it to the art markets for real money. Even at the beginning there was a suspicion that he say in a studio making stencils and paid poor kids to actually spray them onto walls. In a way, I’m more of a fan of beret-wearing ceramicist Chris Chalkley whose organized campaign of mural painting honestly gave Stokes Croft the confidence to reinvent itself as an artists’s quarter.

In 2009, Banksy “took over” Bristol museum. The lower floor was given over to canvass versions of his graffiti and 3D installations; while the upper floors were full of “interventions” on supposedly other works of art. (I recall that he had apparently pained an Easy Jet logo onto a Victorian oil painting of the Flight Into Egypt.) The exhibition was unannounced. Some of it was quite funny. Some of it not so much. By the end of the week, you had to queue for five hours to get in. 

Doctor Who 8.9, Flatline, was set in Bristol. Apparently, the main thing about Bristol is that it is really run-down and the council officers are fascists. Oh, and everyone hates graffiti.