Looking back, looking on
Neil Pickford examines his emotions
I went to Bristol last week.
I realise this may not merit front page headline treatment in the minds of most of you, my loyal readers, but it was significant to me. You see, that was my home for 20 years, prior to moving ‘oop north. In those two decades I had the privilege of editing two local weekly newspapers, up to four monthly county magazines at a time and various other quarterly business and specialist print publications.
I interviewed people for national and regional publications, sometimes repeatedly. I got to visit the homes of famous people – in other words, I knew the ins and outs of that city even better than the back of my rather uninteresting hand. And, frankly, after 20 years I felt I’d rolled the dice so many times that the corners were worn down.
And then we left.
I’ve only returned twice in the last 12 years, both times for funerals, neither gaving me an opportunity to go sightseeing around the old place. So this time I opted to spend a few hours just revisiting.
Now some people I know just can’t leave their past behind: they continue to revisit their old homes or stamping grounds whenever they can. Me, when I close a door on one room in my life I tend to slam it on the way out and then turn the key in the lock. So it was with a genuine sense of curiosity that I examined my feelings as I found myself in once-familiar streets.
The human mind is odd. Twelve years on and, when I saw the rush hour traffic stretching down into the centre via Whiteladies Road (where the BBC is) I automatically started thinking about ways to avoid delays. Instantly I was in the groove.
It was as if I’d never been away: effortlessly slipping from one back road to another I was checking in to my hotel while the car formerly in front of me was probably still gazing at the ‘Christmas Sale’ poster two shops down from where I’d left it.
I went into my old church – new faces but same smell. A few nice new display units but otherwise the place felt exactly the same as in 1999. The old Dixieland jazz pub near the waterfront looked the same and, lo-and-behold, The Blue Notes were still playing there on Sundays, even though their lead clarinet player died yonks ago. The old office across the road where I endured six months of late-night hells putting a newspaper to bed: well, the newspaper is long-gone but I recognised many of the weather stains on the concrete.
The shopping centre has been extended and, sorry patriotic Hullians but, if you’re super-proud of St Stephen’s arcade then you really need to get out more – the Cabot Centre in Bristol starts from the same box of bits as that glitzy new thing next to Paragon station but then goes on to become something totally transformational. And yet it still felt like Bristol.
So what is it that makes a place into a character, a set presence in the memory? I pondered long and hard, but then came the conclusion it’s nothing to do with the place but everything to do with your perspective. In Bristol I dealt with thousands of people over the years but most touched me lightly, whereas avoiding pointless traffic jams was a major consideration to me.
Not very sociable of me I know, but them’s the facts ma’am.
It just goes to prove the old adage (which I’ve just made up): the more you travel, the more you learn about yourself.
And I didn’t meet anyone who remembered me either, so I guess it balanced out.