Saturday, October 15, 2005

Snob Hill?

Clifton in Bristol, where I now live, is very posh. It resides on a hill, that looks down (physically and socially) on the rest of Bristol. The houses are all massive 4-5 floors of somewhat faded splendour that were built in the 1800s. A lot of rich men lived in Clifton, their fortunes made off the back of the slave and tobacco trades (apparently, periodically their a vocal minority in Bristol demands that certain buildings in Clifton are destroyed because of this). These manors, which once would have housed extended families, with plenty of room for a small army of servants, have now been split up and split up and split up into "apartments". During the 1970s, additional, ugly concrete stairwells were added to the sides of buildings, to allow individual access to the upper floors. And the population of Clifton has grown way beyond that which it was originally intended to accomodate. Cars line every available roadside and you see a lot of optimistic parallel parking (thank god I held out and got a place with its own parking space - I CANNOT parallel park). All of the basement flats are dark and stink of damp. I can't understand how anyone could live in one, they must he coughing up black stuff all the time.

There is no Starbucks, Cafe Nero, Subway or McDonalds in Clifton. Such places must have been deemed too generic and vulgar for the refined and "special" people who live here. Instead there are dozens of charming non-chain shops. Beauty salons and little boutiques are popular, as are coffee shops. There are also a number of very old fashioned stores, the type with a person behind a counter who gets you what you ask for. There is a tiny hardware store which seems to sell everything that B&Q sells and more besides. There is a "famous" cafe which only does chocolate drinks and is popular with Bridget Jones types (and me and my fella).

As for the people of Clifton - it is pretty much a white ghetto of privilege: well-dressed, slightly smug people who give the impression of having a lot of time and money on their hands. There are a lot of old dears (who you see through their windows sitting alone in their huge homes, surrounded by ancient furniture, banker husbands long dead), a larger-than-normal proportion of eccentrics with mad hair (usually on bicycles with baskets of organic vegetables), bored housewifes who wander the streets like ghosts, be-suited estate agents (there are a LOT of estate agents in Clifton) and insane elderly couples who probably should have been instituionalised and whose accents are so posh that I can't understand a word they say. Now the students have returned, there is a veritable constant fashion parade of pretty, clear-skinned, well-fed boys and girls who represent the elite of the Home Counties. The girls are invariably blonde, with tiny waists and haughty demeanors. The boys are well-built, sporty, a bit loud and confident and too-handsome (although sometimes a bit horsey-looking). They would get beaten up in the North, but they probably don't know where the North is. I get the impression that these Bens and Tims and Olivias and Georginas are not always the most academically-inclined of students, but they don't care, because they're having such a jolly time anyway. I feel slightly envious of them (my student days were wonderful, but they're long over, and I went to an ex-Poly in a Northern town - the first 18 years of my life, growing up on a council estate were very different to the experiences of these kids).

On the whole, it is a lovely place to live - clean and charming, but with enough urban bustle to remind you that you're in a city (and the weather is amazing - it still feels like late summer). Unlike a lot of town centres in the North, people actually look happy here, rather than harrassed and downtrodden. But it feels like I'm living in a bubble of unreality. It's easy to forget about the rest of the country (or even the rest of Bristol) here. And the worry is that eventually these lovely people will stop appearing exotic and start to represent what's "normal" in my mind.

1 comment:

Tom said...

Dude - I had no idea you were in Bristol now. Just goes to show - I'm here catching up on your life after a few really hectic weeks and all kinds of things have changed. I went to university in Bristol just as it was really on the turn to posh and sloany-dom. It had a bit of a reputation by the time I'd arrived, but over my degree and abortive doctorate it got - frankly - much worse. One of my students started off really smart and committed and gradually got more and more vague and obsessed with clothes and parties and BMWs. It was an enormous shame.

Anyway, Clifton's lovely obviously - but much of the centre of Bristol is pretty awesome too. Hotwells is artier, Cotham's more bohemian, the Whiteladies road area is boozy and a bit business showy cool. And Park Street is lovely too. Actually it's all a bit good, and I'd move back in a moment if there were the right jobs there. Gay stuff's kind of mediocre - not that there's not enough of it, but it's still a bit overly focused on sex and drink. At least it's small enough that you can gradually get to know people, which is not my experience of London. Anyway, hope you enjoy it there. I was thinking of going to visit friends up that way sometime soon - maybe I'll chuck you a note and we can have a coffee or something?