For my first night back in Bristol there had been a mix up, Lindsay wouldn’t be back for another day or two and Fai was away. We called around people we knew and Miranda put things out on social media asking if anyone could put me up. I received a phone call from a woman I’d never met, mentioning a person I didn’t know, offering to put me up for the night. I had no idea how she had found out about it, but I accepted with eager gratitude.
Walking into the area the houses and yards seem messy, but there is a box of vegetables being offered for free. Jaqueline meets me with unselfconscious generosity, as if it is the most usual thing in the world for her to offer her home to strangers. She chat’s with a couple of her neighbours. Another friend is helping her to fix her van. The other neighbours seem to know each other too and have clearly helped each other out in the past. Jaqueline’s housemate Grace is intensely working on some coursework but pauses while we all sit down to dinner.
Grace and Jaqueline had only moved to Bristol a year ago for a Practical Sustainability course, and decided to stay. Jaqueline was now going to study leather tanning and Grace makes willow baskets as a hobby. Several of which were in use around the house. In the lounge I saw a stack of the same willow bundles, from the willow farm I had just left in Somerset.
In 2015 Bristol is to be the European Green Capital, funding and attention is flooding into the city in preparation. Once a city gets a reputation for something, with our current mobile population, people, courses and organisations move there if they relate to the identity, and it reinforces the reputation. Many of my friends (including Fai) had moved there in the last year and I was looking forward to seeing some of the things that were drawing them.
Walking through Easton in Bristol I saw a lot of run down looking properties, untended gardens, but then a box of vegetables and elsewhere a table with plants offered for free. It was a more racially diverse part of the city. Sofa’s and mattresses outside a couple of houses. Some houses are painted and a stack of what look like teepee pole are leaning against one house. Colourful graffitti pictures are in a number of places, dark and spikey with some scary images. A bit aggressively masculine in style but not overtly violent or sexually oppressive. There are women and mixed ages all around, but also a couple of men sat alone with alcohol.
Quite a lot of people stare at my breasts which look rather unseemly strapped into the rucksack in the stripy tank top. It makes me feel bad. I decide either to not wear the tank top or not to have the chest strap done up in public, even if it’s painful. That’s all it can take to socially enforce conformity, a stare. I aspire not to care, but right now I still do.
The cycle path is teeming with people, walking and on bikes, with and without children. I realise it’s bank holiday monday. The days have gotten a bit lost to me.
Despite the mix of politics, it is the billboards of the well financed UKIP that I keep seeing everywhere. Leading up to the European Member of Parliament elections it is everywhere. One poster shows the four male party leaders, three with EU symbol gags over their mouths. In my minds eye I see a fourth gag over UKIP, labelled liar. There is no picture of the female Green party leader Natalie Bennett. In fact at this point I had never seen her on TV or in a newspaper either, although the Green Party are polling level with the Liberal Democrats.