I had the pleasure to go to Bristol yesterday. Bristol is probably most (in)famous for the slave trade. There surely cannot be many more contemptible examples of man's inhumanity to man, than the practice of forcing a fellow human being, shackled, into the fetid bowels of a slave ship, to face an arduous journey, which they may very well not survive. I imagine that the only crumb of comfort for the wronged, would be that if they did eventually make landfall in America, they would only face a life of unjust beatings, servitude and hardship, and not the possibility of a return journey to set up home in Bristol. Obviously I am exaggerating slightly, but Bristol always reminds me of how a friend, visiting from Canada, once described my hometown of Barry, 'It's not the end of the world, but you can see it from there.'
We were heading to Bristol to see Steve Coogan's live show at the Colston Hall. Adrian, the black pudding conspiracy theorist, accompanied by his wife Theresa, picked my wife and me up at four o'clock. He had arranged for the four of us and my friends Dave and Neil, to stay at the Hilton Hotel in Bristol. Adrian has a friend who works for the Hilton Group, and occasionally he can arrange discounted accommodation for Adrian. I was a little apprehensive, as the last time that I had stayed at a Hilton Hotel with Adrian had been a couple of months previously. We had gone to London to fix the botched plumbing job in the bathroom of the apartment that my sister lets out there. Botched, incidentally, by Adrian. I shared a (twin)room at the Hilton with Adrian. After a night relaxing with Margaritas and Indian food, we retired to our separate beds. I was confronted in the morning, as I walked into the bathroom for my morning ablutions, with one of the most horrific sights I have ever seen. The bathroom looked like the cell of an IRA hunger-striker. But a hunger-striker that had made a caveat that he would eat Chicken Dopiaza and pilau rice. There was not a surface, horizontal or otherwise, un-soiled. I was convinced that news of this flagrant disregard of hotel etiquette and accepted social norms would have spread throughout the Hilton chain, but I was wrong, and the booking had been readily accepted.
The Hilton in Bristol is an understated affair, compared to many of their hotels. It is just off the M5 South, on the A38 to Filton. At the first set of lights, turn left, head into the bleak, soul-less, industrial estate, and immediately turn left again. If you go past Muzzy's Kebab Van (I have added the apostrophe), you have gone too far. By about eight feet. We checked in and went upstairs, there was no elevator, to our rooms. I had a shower, and put on one of the 'Big Three'. These are the three shirts that still fit me. I own twenty-six shirts at last count, twenty-three of which have been gathering dust for months, waiting for me to 'get back in shape.' Consequently I always have the choice of my brown shirt, my brown stripy shirt, and my floral shirt. As none of these shirts co-ordinate with black shoes, I am, currently, too fat for twenty-three shirts, three pairs of shoes and a pair of Chelsea boots.
Dave and Neil, who are not a couple, as they are always at pains to point out, arrived at the industrial estate about an hour after us. We ordered a taxi through the very nice receptionist. Our taxi driver turned up, and as there were six of us, looked at me and said, with staggering over-familiarity 'You're a big fella, you'd better go in the front.' This is just one more example of the institutionalized sizeism that goes on in this country every day. I smiled at him, and resolved to exact revenge. Not by retorting with, 'You'd better drive, as you're patently qualified to do little else in life, besides operate basic machinery', but by asking him every question in the taxi driver's question manual, namely,
'Busy tonight in town drive?'
'Is this your own car drive?'
'What time are you on 'til drive?'
I was foiled, however, as he was hard of hearing. I will never know what he thought I was asking him, but he answered the first question with,
'A lot of renal cases for the hospital, mostly.'
The second with,
'From the Midlands originally, but I've lived in Bristol for twelve years.'
And the third with,
'My son used to work for a company near there.'
On arriving at the venue we paid the driver and headed into Colston Hall. I will not go into any great depths about the show, as I would not want to spoil it for anybody, but I think that I'm entitled to describe the toilet conversation that amused me. During the interval I was availing myself of the facilities, when a fellow urinal-goer looked at me and said, 'It stinks of piss in here.' I was not sure what he expected me to reply with. What I wanted to say back was, 'It is a small, windowless, room where hundreds of people come solely to urinate, what did you expect it to smell like?', but being British, I just smiled, in a way that I hoped would not be misconstrued.
After the show we headed out to sample the delights of Bristol. I think that downtown Bristol could most kindly be described as 'spacious'. In an area the size of an International Airport's runways, Bristol has managed to cram in one O'Neills, a Reflex Bar and a Pub. There are vast swathes of concrete and tarmac, unsullied by anything as crass as buildings. Because of the distances involved in travelling between venues, Bristol is peppered with open-air plastic urinal booths. There is, as far as I am concerned, no more damning evidence of how the binge-drinking culture has harmed Britain, than Bristol Council exploiting a plastic loophole, to, essentially, legalise pissing in the middle of the street. In twenty-first century Bristol, one can, in full view of elderly couples leaving the theatre, love-struck teenagers, and the constabulary, relieve oneself, one's penis illuminated by council-tax funded street lighting, into a council-tax funded, grey-plastic, abomination. This, in the country that gave the world Shakespeare. I despair.
When we arrived, eventually, at O'Neill's, Adrian treated us all to an example of the inadvertently brilliant statements, that makes spending time with him such a joy. Talking, with admirable candour, about his step-son's recent experience at Crown Court, he defended the judge, criticised by his wife for sentencing her son to a maximum tariff term of incarceration. He confidentally stated, 'Well I really liked that judge. He wasn't taking any prisoners.' I pointed out that, according to his own preamble, the judge had taken at least three prisoners that I knew of.
After a couple of beers in O'Neills we all decided to head out for an Indian meal. I didn't think this to be a particularly unreasonable ambition at 11.45pm, on a Friday, in a major British city. I was mistaken. After walking for several days we decided, in the best traditions, to ask a policeman. He advised us to get a taxi to the nearest Indian restaurant, as it was over a mile away. No surprise there. On arriving at the Jubo Raj in Cottham Hill, we all enjoyed an unexpectedly good Indian meal, although the Kingfisher lager tasted more fishy than kingy. Not sure what I mean there, but the beer wasn't very nice.
After we had finished our meals we phoned a taxi to take us back to the jewel in Hilton's crown. As we were dropped off in the car park we could see that Muzzy was doing a roaring trade. I had originally assumed that Muzzy's passing custom would be very sparse, as he had decided to park his van on an industrial estate, on the A38. But Muzzy and Baron Hilton are obviously visionaries who know their market intimately. Muzzy's 'pitch', and accordingly, our hotel, were only around 12 miles from Bristol city centre, and as such are among the most central eating establishments and accommodation providers.
On arriving in our rooms my wife and I decided on a romantic night-cap. I opened the cabinet door, behind which, in other hotels, the mini-bar is typically located. However, in the Bristol Hilton, the traditional mini-bar has been replaced with mini-space. I was not surprised. All the mini-space lacked, to make it authentically Bristolian, was an mini-open-air urinal.