blending an assortment of thoughts and experiences for my friends, relations and kindred spirit

blending an assortment of thoughts and experiences for my friends, relations and kindred spirit
By Alison Hobbs, blending a mixture of thoughts and experiences for friends, relations and kindred spirits.

Monday, March 4, 2019


Bristol is largely built from pale yellow, local sandstone, although not as predominantly as its smaller neighbour, Bath, where we went afterwards. Bristol Cathedral is not as old as it looks although the site is old. I'll mention Bath and its Abbey in my next post.

The Royal Marriott, Bristol
After a stopover in Reading to recover from our transatlantic flight, walking by the Thames and the Kennet on Saturday afternoon, we attended a Sunday Meeting at the Friends' Meeting House in order to meet Martin and his wife, (the novelist Annie Murray), both of whom are very involved with the Reading Quakers. We shared a very enjoyable lunch out with them before retrieving our luggage from the Ibis on Friar Street, took the afternoon train to Bristol and checked in at the more upscale Royal Marriott Hotel. As before, this was the venue for Chris' SCSC symposium, serving good quality breakfasts!

In the Cathedral Close
As I have mentioned in other blog posts, Bristol Cathedral stands beside the hotel and this year I attended Evensong again, twice, in the Quire. On Wednesday evening, the anniversary of Queen Elizabeth II's accession to the throne in 1952, the organist gave us the Crown Imperial March by Walton: a thrilling piece to hear in that setting; it had been played at the Queen's coronation in Westminster Abbey in 1953. When the organist pulled out the stops at the end of this voluntary, the stalls and stones vibrated. So did the congregation! Another lady shared her enthusiasm about this with me, as we left. On Monday evening I'd heard the lay clerks and choral scholars (two earnest young women) sing; on the Wednesday Evensong the boys' choir sang. I heard Howells' and Long's canticles, and settings of Psalms 19 and 30. The Wednesday Evensong included the Old Hundredth as its concluding hymn, which I remember almost by heart from my schooldays. It was not altogether a nostalgic experience: after the 17th century collects and other prayers, the vicars also prayed aloud in modern English for people who are worrying about Brexit, for people awaiting the results of cancer scans, and for victims of addictions. That brought us soberingly up to date. Outside the Cathedral, a tree in the close was hung with knitted roses as a reminder of St. Valentine's Day and of the victims of heart disease, with a collection bucket for donations to patients at the city's hospitals. One morning there I talked to the two girls from Above and Beyond who were decorating the tree and I promised to give them publicity on Facebook and in this blog.

There is one theory that the famous but incognito graffiti artist, "Banksy", was once a schoolboy at the Bristol Cathedral school, but nobody really knows; my sister thinks she does who he is (she has a different guess). He did paint a lot of graffiti in Bristol, anyway.

Up Brandon Hill in the park with the climbable Cabot Tower (not to be confused with the one in Newfoundland) were lovely patches of snow-bells in the green grass, a delight to someone coming from the midst of a Canadian midwinter. At the base of the tower is a plaque that says:
This tablet is placed here by the Bristol branch of the Peace Society in the earnest hope that peace and friendship may ever continue between the kindred peoples of this country and America. 'Glory to God in the highest and on Earth, peace, good will towards men' Luke 2.14
30,000 people had been on Brandon Hill park when the SS Great Britain set forth on her maiden voyage.

The hill up from College Green has some more good stopping places, such as the art shops, the student-y cafes, the Oxfam Shop selling 2nd hand DVDs and The Last Bookshop (recommended) in which all books on sale cost 3 pounds or less.

Wakeful babies at lunchtime, after the concert
On Thursday, my sister brought her three daughters and two of their children (the babies Caden and Freyja) to visit us in Bristol from Wales, a very happy occasion. Chris was at work till the end of the afternoon but the rest of us went to a lunch hour piano duet concert at the beautiful venue St. George's, on Great George Street. We heard piano duets from the married Emma Abbate and Julian Perkins: Mozart's Andante mit Variationen, K 501, extracts from Weber's Huit Pièces, Op. 60, Debussy's Petite Suite (that Faith and I used to try to play with our Mum) and two of Dvorak's Slavonic Dances. The two young babies breastfed almost throughout, the rest of the audience apparently not at all put out by their happy suckling noises to judge by the smiles we got at the end while people were going out (we were sitting at the back of the concert hall). Chris was able to sit with us in the Watershed cafe at the end of the day where little Freyja had fun pulling at his beard.

Left to my own devices I walked beyond the centre of Bristol up the hill to the village (?) of Clifton, beyond which is the the famous suspension bridge engineered by I K Brunel over the Avon Gorge. Parallels with Ithaca here: bridge over a gorge, a nearby university with hundreds of students, nets to discourage them from suicide. On the grassy hill in the park near the bridge at Clifton is the building once used as an Observatory, with its 19th century Camera Obscura preserved in a room at the top of the tower, up a spiral staircase. I went in to take a look at this, but the young man at the desk let me off paying a fee "because you won't see anything up there today", it being too cloudy and dark—true. The suspension bridge was constructed in the first half of the 19th century. Back at the museum in town I found a 1840s painting View on the Avon at Hotwells, with new bridge in background (it didn't open to the public until 1864) and a man carrying a turtle on his head in the foreground, near the seagoing boats on the river.

By Epstein
The Museum and Art Gallery is in the university area, on Queen's Road. It has a wide-ranging collection: Chinese glassware and pots, a gypsy caravan, intact, dinosaur models and bones; in a corridor between rooms I found Japanese prints from the 18th and 19th centuries (a current, special exhibition) alongside Hokusai and Hiroshige prints (a separate collection) and in the adjoining rooms a superb permanent collection of artworks besides those Asian treasures: Dürer's painting of Luther, 18th century Italian cityscapes, a Barbara Hepworth sculpture, a bronze of Epstein's model and muse Kathleen Garman, a Pissaro garden in oils. Leonardo drawings were on show too, in another special exhibition, but I didn't see those. The haunting portrait of Charles I as a solemn and sickly looking four year old made me feel sad, an unhappy little boy in a long dress with a tragic future ahead of him. I was also taken with Edward Lear's oil painting of mountains beyond a rocky plain, at Thermopylae. La Belle Dame sans Merci was a large scale, over-the-top painting depicting a moment from Keats' poem of that name, leaning down from her horse to seduce the knight in a thoroughly decadent (in my opinion) pre-Raphaelite manner, her long auburn hair everywhere, painted by Dicksee in 1901.

Luther, by Dürer

By Pissaro

Charles I as a child

By Barbara Hepworth

Bristol's waterfront today
On a different day I visited the "M-shed"— another big museum with historic maps of the city, an obsolete double-decker bus, an exhibition about Bristol's events past and present: the annual Balloon Festivals and Carnival processions for instance. I liked the way the city was documented, in the M-shed, in terms of its various districts and suburbs, and I got some historical insights. A medieval map of Bristol, walled, didn't seem to bear much resemblance to what is there now; the waterways and of those times having been reorganised since. The sugar trade based in Bristol was tied up with the slave trade. On either side of the river are rail tracks, no longer in use, and mooring spots for barges.

Also close to our hotel is the Millennium Square with its shiny giant ball and water features. There's plenty of choice for places to find lunch or supper in that area. In the morning rain of our departure day, we visited the Bristol Aquarium and its rainforest-themed indoor garden. Still in a fishy mood after that, we lunched at Catch 22 opposite the hotel.

On the way to Temple Meads, on foot and too laden with our luggage to manage our umbrellas, we were utterly soaked by a downpour from Storm Erik, the first named storm of 2019, hurrying through the deep, muddy puddles in the roadworks currently surrounding the station area. We sat dripping for half an hour on the slow train from Bristol to Bath, that was late leaving. Our passports and computers were among the wet things in our luggage, without any permanent damage done, fortunately. I spread everything out to dry in our hotel room once we reached Bath and we changed all our clothes.