The New Year

02 February 2014
This weekend I was invited to a Chinese new year party in Bristol, and since it was almost a year since I last visited, decided it was perhaps time to take the opportunity for another. Initial feeling was this odd mix of familiarity and feeling somewhere foreign. This is perhaps not too surprising as last year I spent almost as much time in Asia as I did in the UK, and much of the latter was in London which is pretty much its own country.

Should I left?

Coming back here, I have to ask myself about my decision to jack it all in and take the spin of the roulette wheel with my New Zealand adventure. In any sense of winning the gamble was a failure as the resulting money burn and lost earnings for the last 18 months quite likely topped $100,000 and counting. While Bristol has also lost some of the backward-looking feel that was instrumental in me leaving, my life needed the clearout and I doubt anything other than the burn-the-bridges approach required for a to-be emigrant would have given me the required willpower. I have my regrets, but fundamentally the whole trade-in has been worthwhile.

Cotham & Woodland Road

Given the limited time available, I decided to give my old haunts of Woodland Road, St. Michael's Hill, Gloucester Road a miss. I felt that these area correspond with my past, and that it would be uncomfortable going there knowing it was no longer my area. The purpose of this trip was meeting people, not doing a re-run of the “final goodbye” I
did last March.

Rebuilt Whiteladies

A lot seems to have kicked off on Whiteladies, although I suspect much of it has been due to crashing commercial property rates, as last time I was here a lot of places were boarded up. Cowshed has expanded into the former cinema, Pennyfarthing (now The Penny) had just re-opened as a gastropub, Vittoria and Henry Africa were being refurbished, and a Morrisons metro had opened. I am in two minds about it all, particularly as I am not fond of gastropubs. Makes the place feel up-and-coming, but I have always felt that conversion of pubs into pseudo-restaurants is a bit of a decline-management strategy. I also like a bit of history in a place, and in the case of The Penny it has all been swept away. Good for lunch or a date, but not sure I would want to meet old friends here.

Whiteladies also now has a blatantly anti-car system of no left/right turns, 20mph speed limits, and extended banditry zoneresidents' parking has finally been implemented, which I had half-forgotten about until I saw a typical incident with the Whiteladies crossroads by the BBC Broadcasting building causing problems. I recall the idea was to give buses coming down Whiteladies a clearer run, but in practice it forces people to go round side-roads more than they need to. In any case it does not solve the underlying problem of FGW running a Broadmead-centered star-shaped network

Chinese invasion

The CNY party was organised by
NeeHao, who seems to be the go-to people for the major parties these days. Not sure where I first met the owner/editor, but it was at least 5 years ago. Chinese culture is becoming prevalent in university cities like Bristol, in part because it seems they are one of the few student groups left that have money to burn. Met quite a few old faces who were still calling the shots, but on the whole it was an unfamiliar cohort.

It feels very different speaking to overseas students now that I am myself no longer UK resident, and ironically they are now likely more pro-UK than I am. In fact since many of them have not been to any country other than their own and the UK, I was able to talk from personal experience about things they don't actually have a clue about. My comparison of Hong Kong and Taipei was over their heads as mainland Chinese actually have a lot of difficulty getting into Taiwan, whereas British citizens have 180 days visa-free access on arrival. I noticed I am treated much more of an insider given this experience.

..and the natives

On the Saturday I went to an end-of-university party organised by some people I knew from the Public Speaking Society, and one issue that cropped up was how homestudents are doing these days. There is notable pessimism about graduate job prospects, with talk being more about the lack of jobs in general rather than the lack of graduate jobs. The nearest thing to any sort of expectation is the dole. Aparent chicken-and-egg problem of needing work experience to get a job, and needing a job to get work experience.

'da Union

I was apprehensive of even bothering to go by the union, as the information I had was that most of the to-be student areas were being redone. The ground floor bar in the union looked like a building site, and with card access readers everywhere I could not be bothered working out where the porters' lodge had moved to in order to see what it was now like inside. It looked more like the library than a students union, and I suspected that 5 or so years of lax security had been reversed, so I was disinclined for the hassle. The 2013/14 Freshers' Fayre was not held in the union, so I suspect that relatively few first-year undergrads have ever set foot into the building, and the students I spoke to about this had not actually been in the building themselves for some considerable time.

Political viewpoints

I did not probe much into the underlying causes, but the two parties that seem to have made it onto peoples' “definate no” lists are Labour and UKIP. The latter does not surprise me as EU membership is considered a minor issue and the immigration debate is seen as pandering to racism, but the former did. From what I could gather this is due to a seemingly poor policy platform that is not seen as a real alternative, rather than lingering anger about responsibility for the crash. Tuition fees weighs heavily against the LibDems, but that is more due to the way the pledge was spectacularly broken rather than the policy itself. They seem to be treated as a non-entity rather than being specifically shunned, so ultimately how they do comes down to purely whether people trust them enough to even bother reading the manifesto. The Conservative party was hardly mentioned at all, so all I can infer is that they are seen as getting on with a difficult job for which there is no apparent realistic alternative in approach.

Scottish independence is derided as a fantasy tale that pays no attention to economics, and this was particularly notable as I played a bit of a devil's advocate who believed that Alex Salmond could swing it on the back of anti-Conservative feeling together with apathy among unionists. I have yet to meet a Scot who is actually pro-independence. I did not get round to properly probing people's views on the 2017 EU referendum.

Overall visit

My overall complaint about Bristol is that even though many things have been renewed, so there was not the overt grimness of the last time I visited, I do not think that the changes are for the better. It seems more like consolidation than growth, and some big brotherly HMRC posters in Bedminster about undeclared income soon reminded me why I left. What amazed me the most was that it did not feel like I was ‘returning’, which is perhaps testament to the extent I have put the place behind me.