Sunday, 26 February 2012

A Weekend in Bristol

It’s been a very long time since I was in Bristol for pleasure, so this weekend has been making up for lost time.
Our hotel was not many minutes away from Temple Meads station. On Friday afternoon we did a quick walk about to get our bearings and see if there were any acceptable eateries within easy striking distance. We weren’t disappointed. We saw two and decided to plump for the one furthest from the hotel as Saturday’s weather was going to be iffy, to say the least.
The Firehouse Rotisserie in Anchor Square was busy when we arrived (living in London, one is spoiled by the general easy availability of restaurants). Fortunately, we only had to wait a few minutes before a table was free. Our meal, consisting of two starters, two main courses, one desert, a bottle of wine and a bottle of sparkling water came to a little under £75.00. It was of good quality, though food critics might criticise it for lacking all kinds of cleverness and sophistication. It did what is supposed to do, restore the consumer.
Saturday morning looked as bleak as the forecast threatened it would be. I had decided, come hell or high water, we were going to go to the Clifton Suspension Bridge that day. We followed a map and our noses, walking uphill most of the time. Some of it was quite steep. I remember walking on the bridge twice when I was younger. One occasion would probably have been before we went to Aden. I remember it was cold and misty. I peered over the edge and looked down at the road far below. The traffic was smaller than my dinky cars. On the bridge there was a machine that printed out what ever you wanted on a strip of metal. I typed in my name very carefully, it had to be done very carefully! In those days I was Timothy, never Tim. Those extra four letters meant I had even more brain work and concentration to do, and the cold with the wind and damp and mist all around, gosh, it was even harder still! I imagine that strip of metal is now rotting away in some landfill site.
We crossed the bridge and went into the little information centre and tourist knick knack shop. We bought some mementos and chatted with the staff. We decided it was time to get a move on as the weather was turning decidedly nasty earlier than forecast. As we descended, the rain became heavier. We managed to find ourselves at Constitution Hill, a road better descended than ascended in any weather by pedestrians. We were within striking distance of the hotel (in other words about 15-20 minutes), which was a relief as our clothes were getting wetter faster.
So we were obliged to lunch at the hotel. As we had our (very expensive) hotel bar snack a screen was lowered to reveal Bath vs Gloucester was taking place. The weather was improving, so I knew I wouldn’t see all the game, not that I was that worried, after all I had come to Bristol not to sit in front of a screen watching rugby. In the first two minutes there was a punch up and one player on each side was given a yellow card. Sorry. What went on the pitch was as bad as any drunken brawl outside a pub. Those involved in that kind of situation would find themselves arrested, in the cells and hauled up before the magistrate. There is no place in rugby for this kind of behaviour and the sooner these “professionals” are treated as what they are when they behave in a fight on a rugby pitch as out of control yobs, the sooner the better. A couple of them doing community service or behind bars would be a salutary lesson to the whole lot of them. A few moments later a soft try by Bath exposing a wide empty space which should not have existed in Gloucester’s defence made me more decided that I wasn’t wanting to watch any more. A pity really, since the team went on to win!
So off we trundled to have a look at Bristol cathedral. It’s not as impressive as any of the Three Choirs cathedrals, but what made the visit most worthwhile was an art exhibition by local school children (a lot of A level students). Now it is never fair to pick out individuals for praise, but some of the images worked very well for me. Influences of recent and living painters such as Francis Bacon, Lucien Freud and David Hockney were apparent, and cubism was also apparent. This is apparently an annual event, and if you are in Bristol the exhibition closes at the end February. It is worth a look, who knows, the next Francis Bacon, Lucien Freud or David Hockney may be among those you see, though hopefully not the next Damien Hirst or Tracey Emin. Just to put my cards on the table!

As the cathedral was not awash with light late in the afternoon, I snapped a few of the images at ISO1600 so the rendition is not perfect (and sadly some suffer from slow shutter speeds and camera shake), but I hope it gives you a flavour of the variety and ability.

I like this image from Martha Hayes. A reflection but not a reflection. The colours are striking. 

A haunting image of aging by Ed Ashby-Hayter.

Again I like the colours, and shades of David Hockney in the swimming pool from Sophie Morris

Kate Carroll's harbour image reminded me of a pleasant stay at St. Ives.  

I love the unusual angle Adelaide Jewell used here. 

Shades of Caravaggio by Ocean Critchley-Clark. Teenagers have more recent experience of being dissolute than us oldies!

Ryan Son's painting captures the diversity of urban train travellers.

Gorgeous swirls and colours from Dong Jae Hoang ...

... and also from Claire Laruelle (I can't read the name so well on the shaky photo). 
We got back to the hotel and snoozed for more than just a few minutes. As a result we were later going out than we intended. Our first choice of eatery was packed, no table until 9.45, the next was busy until 10.00, but it had a less formal dining option which we took. We had the same amount of courses and drinks as the previous day, but this time the bill came to just over £50.00. If you are not too fussy about where to eat you could do a lot worse than eat downstairs at Riverstation. I would gladly eat there again. This is just one happy customer's opinion.
Sunday morning arrived and we breakfasted, packed and checked out. Today was what I hoped would be the highlight of the trip, the S.S. Great Britain. At £12.50 per adult the entrance fee is steep, but it does entitle you to visit as many times as you wish in a year and, if you are a U.K. tax payer, you can let them reclaim the tax.
Believe me it is worth it. To look after the ship is not an easy task. Parts are rotting away and are being looked after in a controlled environment. The ship has been restored and the museum one visits before boarding her is not a cheap option either. There was so much to see that I was quite overwhelmed by it all. You cannot visit Bristol and not see the Great Britain. She is an example of the genius of one of my all time heroes, Isambard Kingdom Brunel. Travelling by rail from Paddington to Temple Meads, exploring the Clifton Suspension Bridge and the S.S. Great Britain constitute three legacies of his genius. Words fail me to describe how wonderful the time spent at the Great Britain, and those who know me, know that a failure to find words is not a characteristic of mine!
We lunched very poorly at a chain eatery, the first time we experienced a major culinary disappointment all weekend. A brief walk, then back to the hotel to pick up the luggage and I am just finishing this diary entry at breakneck speed as we go through Hayes and Harlington, We must be well ahead of schedule as it is only just gone 17.30 and we are due to arrive at Paddington at 18.05. It is illogical we should now be proceeding at a snail’s  pace. We have now come to a full stop. Seven minutes later, we resume on our way. Welcome to the 21st century, where the train’s progress into the London terminus is surely slower than in Brunel’s time. Can’t they get a sensible timetable in place? If the Italians can (who are supposedly not able to organise anything in popular mythology) why can’t we? 

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