Beauty and the Blitz

21 May

Today, for reasons that I shall briefly explain, I went to Bristol Temple Meads.

A few weeks ago I was completely engrossed in Jenn Ashworth’s new novel on the train home, so much so that I closed the book at the last minute and dived off the train, forgetting that I had brought with me a bag of Bolivian fancy dress clothes belonging to my office. (Incidentally, when I was reading Jenn’s last book, I got on the wrong train and accidentally travelled all the way to Swindon without noticing. Darn you, mistress of suspense.)

So the last three weeks have consisted of me quizzing the Oxford station staff: “Not here. It will have gone to Banbury. You should ring Chiltern Trains.”

Ringing Chiltern Trains: “It’s not on our system. Why are you ringing us?” “Oxford told me to because you run Banbury station. Can you just give me the number of Banbury station?” “No.You were on a Crosscountry train though, so you should ring Crosscountry.”

Ringing Crosscountry: “That train terminated at Manchester Piccadilly. I’ll give you their number and you should ring them.”

Ringing Manchester Piccadilly. “Sorry, it’s not here.”

Ringing Crosscountry again. “Can you give me the number of Banbury station, I think it might be there.” “No. You should ring Manchester Piccadilly.” “I’ve already rung them.” “Maybe you should try First Great Western in case it ended up at Oxford.” “But can’t I just ring Banbury station?” “No.”

Ringing First Great Western: “Hello, you are through to an Indian call centre. Can you describe your item please? No, it is not on our system. Maybe call again tomorrow.”

Ringing again tomorrow. “No, it is not on our system. Maybe call again tomorrow.” “But I’ve already called again tomorrow.”

Asking again at Oxford station. “Hang on, let’s have a check.” Helpful staff look through the paperwork and find my item on a document proving that it has been sent to First Great Western Lost Property Central at Bristol Temple Meads. Helpful staff give me a reference number. “You should ring First Great Western.”

Ringing First Great Western again, trembling with excitement now that I have my reference number of power. “Hello, you are through to an Indian call centre.” “Yes, I know. But now I have a reference number!” “Sorry but your reference number does not appear on my system. Maybe call again tomorrow.” “WHAT?!”

A week of calls later… “Actually that reference number does not mean anything, I am sorry.” “You’re kidding me. But I know it went to Bristol!! Where is it then?!” “I’m sorry I am unable to help you with your query..”

So yeah, today I got up and decided to just go on a 90 minute train trip to Bristol Temple Meads and have a look myself: “Oh yes, here it is. Bye.”

So, hugely cheered by being finally reunited with my lost Bolivian fancy dress, I decided to take a small stroll around my city. At least, the part of it that is near enough to walk to from Temple Meads in flip flops.

Bristol City Centre is a strange old place. It feels like it’s all laid out wrong with a bit missing in the middle. The bit in the middle is made up of random dual carriageways, sprawling office buildings and a park, where there ought to be some shops connecting up the two other shopping areas. The sad reason for this is the Nazis.

The Bristol Blitz was a horrendous affair, which basically took out the whole historic centre of the city. I find it sad that I never saw my city as it was intended and as my granddad remembers it. It’s a city with so much history, but almost all the visible history is gone. The horrible emergency 50s architechture is gradually getting a makeover, but the Jacobean buildings are never coming back. War is so mindless.

Today though, I pretended to be a tourist and went photo-taking in a few little pockets of the Temple area that more or less survived.

This is Temple Church… or the remains of it. First built in 1147, I imagine it’s one of Bristol’s oldest things. The structure you can see here, including the wonky tower, was built in the 14oos. And it would probably still be in use if it hadn’t been destroyed in the blitz. Still, it’s an amazing old ruin – I don’t remember ever looking around it before, which isn’t all that surprising… you can’t even see it from the outside as there is a huge office block built right up next door to it, a row of shops in front, and a dual carriageway in the way. Madness.

Nice view if you’re inside there!

Across the road, something else I’d never noticed caught my eye…

The little yellow shops claim to be from 1456. And have I ever looked at that huge church round the corner there?

Apparently, this is St Thomas the Martyr, which survived the blitz but is no longer in use… how come nobody goes there any more? To be fair, nobody lives here any more. It’s just dual carriageways and offices. And this little bit of history still tucked away around a corner.

Trotting across the nearby Bristol Bridge, there’s Castle Park (better photos are available. I couldn’t be bothered to cross the road).

This is the bit that Bristol never even tried to rebuild. The centre of town used to be there. Now there is just another bombed-out church, left as a memorial, and a park where you can sit and eat your Greggs pasty when you’re shopping in Broadmead.

But on the left, one old bit of Bristol is left fairly intact… Corn Street, Wine Street, and St Nicholas Market, which is a bit like Oxford’s covered market, but, in my opinion, a bit funkier.

It’s in the old corn exchange, and also contains the amazingly-named…

So after a ramble around and an admire of the 17th century surrounds, I sat myself down here next to some amazing architechture, and thought, Bath? Who needs Bath? Why doesn’t Briz get any tourists??

So, next time you have to go on the inconvenient trek from the station to town, peer a bit harder through the concrete jungle – it’s sprung up like weeds around some brilliant little nuggets of history. Also to spot is the 14th century city gate crushed behind the multistory car park. Sigh…


One Response to “Beauty and the Blitz”

  1. Susan in TX 22/05/2011 at 4:00 am #

    I’m so glad you decided to play tourist! Coming over there is one of my dreams, but I have no idea when we will actually make it happen. Traveling vicariously through other people’s pictures will have to suffice for the moment – along with good British literature. Thank you for sharing your jaunt with us. (And yes, I think I could’ve killed some time in that book store. :) )

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