Tag Archives: Bristol

Bristol bucket list: the two towers, part 2

To many, the Wills Memorial Building IS Bristol University. Sitting at the top of Park Street, its tower dominates the area, and locals are always tripping over tourists desperately trying to snap the great building. In reality, unless you study Law or Earth Sciences, most students only visit this building a handful of times -for exams, careers/open unit fairs, and *gulp* graduation.

Lottie wasn’t pleased to find that a lamp post was taller than the Wills Building

A team from the university’s Estates Services has been running tours of the building for some time, and though it was high on my Bristol bucket list to join one of the tours, it took a long time to get round to it. Tours run on the first Saturday and Wednesday of each month, so when the first week of June came and went, I thought I’d missed my chance to visit before graduation. Thankfully, I spotted a tweet offering the chance to join a private tour, so on Saturday, Beth and I got up bright and early to go and visit the building we’ve walked past almost every day.

Our tour was conducted by Dave Skelhorne, who has worked at the university for years and knows the building and its history inside out. Dave ran us through a brief -but fascinating- history of the building and the university, before marching us off to various areas to spot grotesques, point out secret doors and head to the top.

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Odd to think that the next time we're in this hall will be for graduation

Odd to think that the next time we’re in this hall will be for graduation

Despite our fears that the poor June drizzle would ensure that the tower would be covered in fog, the views from the top were outstanding. At 215 ft (68 metres), Wills is the taller of the two towers, and the views reflect this. It really is amazing what you can see from here -we managed to spot Park St (which looks flat from above), the Clifton Suspension Bridge hiding behind other buildings, and we could even see as far as Dower House (aka the big yellow house on the hill by the M32 leaving Bristol).

Park Street from Wills

Park Street from Wills

Cabot Tower from Wills Tower

People on Cabot Tower. We tried waving but they didn't see

People on Cabot Tower. We tried waving but they didn’t see

Clifton Suspension Bridge hidden in Clifton

Clifton Suspension Bridge hidden in Clifton

That tiny yellow dot in the centre of the horizon?...

That tiny yellow dot in the centre of the horizon?…

...It's Dower House on the M32

…It’s Dower House on the M32

Once we’d made sure that we’d got at least one photo from every viewing point on the top of the tower (as well as some of us posing), we descended the winding staircase and headed for the belfry to meet Great George. For those of you not familiar with George, he is the 9.5 tonne bell, who runs the funniest Twitter account in Bristol.

We were lucky enough to hear the great bell chime in 11 o’clock.

 

Great George in the houseThis tour was probably the best £3 I’ve spent while at Bristol. Not only are the guides nice, the views brilliant and the access unparalleled, but half the profits from the tours go towards Wallace and Gromit’s Grand Appeal for Bristol’s Children’s Hospital -so far the tours have raised over £11,000 for the charity!

Although tours are only organised for the beginning of each month, it’s possible to arrange for group tours (like the one we crashed) so it’d be great for family reunions/society trips etc. Dave also mentioned that they are keen to take on another guide (preferably female) so if you live in Bristol, get in touch via the link below.

Tickets cost £4, or £3 for students over the age of 11, senior citizens and members of the university. Our tour lasted about an hour and a half. There’s quite a lot of stairs to climb on the tour, so this probably isn’t the best thing to do with grandparents or small children. If you really struggle with small spaces (like lifts or spiral staircases) and/or heights, you should also give the trip up to the top a miss (although I managed fine -I didn’t even get jelly legs at the top!).

For more info, head to the website here. You can also follow them on Twitter here (handy for finding out about last minute tours) and on Facebook here.

We noticed that quite a few naughty visitors to the tower had left their mark, including Mavis in 1948!

Tut tut Mavis

Tut tut, Mavis

Check out part 1 of the two towers trip here.

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Bristol bucket list: the two towers, part 1

The skyline of Bristol is dominated by a real mishmash of architectural styles. From the historic masts of the SS Great Britain, to the chimney-like spires of Clifton Cathedral, there’s really no such thing as a ‘typical’ Bristol building.

Having spent four years studying at Bristol University, my Bristol skyline has always been dominated by two impressive towers: Cabot Tower and the Wills Memorial Building. I put aside my general hatred of heights and headed up both towers to look down on the city.

Cabot Tower

Cabot Tower sits at the top of Brandon Hill Park, a beautiful escape from the hustle and bustle of Park St which is just a couple of minutes away. For many years, the tower was shut to the public due to the tower’s increasing state of disrepair. When I arrived in Bristol in 2009, it wasn’t even mentioned among students. A couple of years later, following a campaign by the Bristol Evening Post to ‘Save Our Tower’ and £420,000 refurbishment project, the tower reopened and now offers incredible views across the city for free!

Built between 1896 and 1898, the tower is a monument to the 400th anniversary of John Cabot’s voyage from Bristol to Newfoundland in Canada. While the inside of the tower is little more than a simple winding staircase, the exterior has been well restored and is now as stunning as the views from the tower’s viewing balconies.

There are two viewing stages. The idea of getting up to the first one alone made my tummy do little flips, but it was absolutely fine. Instead of focusing on the fact that you are over 100ft above the ground, you become absorbed in trying to spot other Bristol landmarks. The balconies are also well enclosed so the likelihood of you falling off in some Saruman-style death scene is quite unlikely.

And then there are the views…

Cabot tower

View from Cabot Tower

You can just make out the masts of the SS Great Britain

Little ant people on the Triangle

Little ant people on the Triangle

The park below

The park below

If you’ve got half an hour to spare in Bristol, head up to Brandon Hill Park for a really special view of the city. The tower is open every day except Christmas Day and New Year’s Day (and who wants to be climbing a tower then anyway?!), and is open from 8.30 til dusk. You can find more info here.

Check back for part two and the views from the Wills Memorial Building.

View of Wills Mem from Cabot Tower

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Bristol bucket list: SS Great Britain

When I was 17 and choosing which universities to apply for, location was a major factor. Having grown up in London, the thought of going to a small academic backwater or remote concrete campus filled me with dread. Bristol, it seemed, had everything. Small enough to walk (almost) everywhere, but big enough to never be bored, it has been the perfect home for the last four years. But now, faced with graduation and an uncertain future ahead, I will soon be moving back to London to live with my family, and will be leaving my beloved Bristol behind.

When I was trapped in my house over Easter madly typing up my dissertation, I swore to myself that I would try and make the most of my final term at Bristol. For some people, this means trying to get drunk in clubs on the Triangle, but for me it meant enjoying the other things the city had to offer, revisiting favourite haunts and discovering new places, especially those I’d always meant to check out but had never got round to.

The SS Great Britain was one such place that I’d always planned to visit eventually. A few weeks ago, my friend Jon got in touch to say he had a spare ticket to visit the boat as part of the Museums at Night festival and so off we went to visit Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s famous ship.

IMG_0135I’d heard great things about the SS Great Britain -most notably that my brother, who ‘hates’ history, actually enjoyed his visit with my dad – and she didn’t fail to impress.

We started off underneath the boat. Although she looks like she is fully submerged in water, the bottom of the boat is in fact dry, and a glass platform, covered in a few inches of water, gives the illusion of the boat floating. Walking beneath the water to look at the ship’s propeller was bizarre and brilliant.

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The huge propeller

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Underwater but dry

The ship’s history is long and complex and to understand it best, it is well worth paying the (somewhat hefty) entrance fee to the ship and its adjoining museum. The Great Britain was launched in 1843, and for a long time was the biggest passenger ship in the world. She was also used as a quarantine ship and warehouse before being rescued and returned to Bristol.

Today the ship is a lively museum, telling the story of not just the ship, but of the people who built and used her. The adjoining museum building is organised as a timeline, taking you through what happened from the ship being built right up to her being rescued from the Falkland Islands and returned to her home in Bristol. On board, you can wander through the various rooms and cabins on the ship. Walking through these rooms, you are transported back to a different time and place, thanks to both the careful dressing of each area, and the smells permeating through the ship. This multi-sensorial approach was great for helping us forget that we were in a museum, although it wasn’t exactly pleasant. The room that was used for storing fish smelt like a fishmongers in hot weather, while we had to run straight out of the hull where the animals were kept due to the overwhelming pong of manure.

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In the dining room, a lady played old time tunes on the piano, while another trio of musicians played among the cramped cabins in the first class area. We poked our heads into the tiny rooms, which got smaller and more uncomfortable the further down into the boat we went, and visited the ship’s barber, doctor and other miscellaneous characters.

When we finally emerged onto the top deck, the sun was beginning to set. The flags that cover the riggings fluttered in the evening breeze and we watched steampunks wander around, occasionally getting stopped for photos.

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Because we visited as part of Museum’s at Night, our tickets only cost us £1 each (a complete bargain!) Regular tickets cost £12.95 for adults (or £10.95 for students), and they allow you to return as many times as you like within the space of a year. I left wishing I hadn’t left it so late to visit, as I would have liked to go back again in a few months’ time.

More info here http://www.ssgreatbritain.org

Have you visited the SS Great Britain? What did you think? Where else should I add to my bucket list?

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Interview: Marina and the Diamonds

I had a chat with Marina Diamandis for Epigram just days before she announced that she’d been wearing a wig for the last 9 months 😦

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In a sea of pop stars stripped down to their bra and knickers, Marina Diamandis stands out, decked in ribbons and prom dresses, a bubblegum brunette living out her teenage fantasies in the twilight years of her twenties. ‘I’m going to be 27 soon,’ says Diamandis, ‘so this is an excuse to be ultra-girly, until I have to really grow up’. It’s not surprising that the singer is trying to hold on to her youth; her teenage years were spent trying to get 10 A* at GCSE to please her father (in the end, she was awarded 5A* and 5A), before embarking on four different university courses in the space of four years.

‘I went to a different one each year, got the student loan, and waitressed and lived off that while I became a better songwriter and started to produce my own stuff. I went to uni mainly just to appease my mum and dad and make them not worry, and not feel totally weird and out of the system.’

Since giving up on university aspirations for good, Diamandis has used her work discipline to claw her way into the music industry, and has at last reached a level of recognition that she is happy with – her second album, Electra Heart, going straight to number one in the UK charts. ‘I feel like I’m playing catch up all the fucking time! In fact it’s only this year that I feel like I don’t have to do it anymore. It’s so stressful because you never enjoy yourself if you’re always playing catch up; you’re always looking ahead, never living in the present.’ It’s hard to avoid comparing Diamandis to other pop stars, and it’s something she does regularly herself. ‘I think “oh how old was she when she made it?” but it doesn’t really matter in the end because some people make it at 27.’ Though Britney Spears, Diamandis’s pop hero, burst onto the scene aged 16, Diamandis is just as likely to look at Katy Perry, who reached international fame at 26, and slightly less obvious idols, such as Shirley Manson who joined Garbage aged 29. ‘I don’t think it’s something you can really control,’ rules Diamandis, ‘it’s either your time or it isn’t, and you’ve either worked hard enough for it, or you haven’t.’

Diamandis is an intriguing character, torn between wanting to be a Hollywood icon and a respected musician. ‘On the first album I felt really bitter that I was writing on my own, and that most pop girls don’t do that, but then at the same time, I didn’t want to go and write with other people, so you can’t really have it both ways’. This quandary led her to creating the character of Electra Heart for her second album. Whereas Diamandis’s debut,The Family Jewels, is a fairly simple display of her songwriting ability, Electra Heart has allowed her to develop her music to sound more stereotypically poppy, which contrasts with some of the darker lyrics on the record. Electra Heart has also enabled her live shows to become more elaborate. After supporting Katy Perry and Coldplay on their arena tours, Diamandis was impressed by the flamboyance of their shows, and plans to bring this to her own tour. The Lonely Hearts Club tour, which rolls into Bristol on October 13th, will see Diamandis’s Electra Heart alter-ego come to life. ‘It’s set in a teen girl’s bedroom slash sleazy motel, and the theme is sort of wedding meets homecoming,’ she giggles. She anticipates that this will be the perfect outing for her fans, who often turn up to gigs in prom dresses. The whole thing sounds so saccharine, it makes your teeth hurt just thinking about it, but it’s intended that you take it in with a pinch of salt. ‘This image is so sweet, it had to be a joke,’ laughs Diamandis.

In a world where rake-thin, half-naked air-brushed women are often heralded as demi-goddesses, Marina Diamandis represents a refreshing change to the status quo. Her Electra Heart persona allows her to have all the fun of dressing up as a quintessential starlet, while being able to laugh at herself. The change from the Marina from Abergavenny to peroxide blonde Electra Heart might suggest that Diamandis was beginning to buckle under peer pressure, but she disagrees: ‘I don’t think that there’s a pressure to use your sexuality to sell songs. If no one was sexual, or if no one pushed the boundaries or posed naked, then I think that would be a bad thing as well, because it would become a total taboo.’ While she supports singers like Rihanna, who she believes is ‘just a really sexual person’, she doesn’t believe it is a pre-requisite for all female singers to take off their clothes, ‘I think we’ve kind of done that in pop and I think that we’re now at a stage where you don’t really need to do that.’ This stance doesn’t seem to be holding Diamandis back – she’s already planning her third album, but is keeping quiet about what it will sound like, saying only, ‘I think every album I do is going to be quite different from the last, sonically speaking’.

Speaking to Diamandis, you get the sense that she has worked hard to get where she is today, and is enjoying every minute of it. Her transformation to becoming a teen idol is nearing completion, with an appearance on the cover of her favourite magazine in the pipeline, as well as the occasional pinch-yourself moments. ‘I’ve met Elton John a few times, and I went to his house. And then last year I met the Queen.’ Who was better? ‘Of the two queens?’ Diamandis laughs again, ‘I’d say Elton was more entertaining’.

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I have a new blog!

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In an attempt to trick myself into thinking that the dreaded ‘D’ word might be fun, I have set up a blog to keep track of all the research I am doing for my dissertation. I think that by forcing myself to blog at least twice a week, there might a bigger chance of me actually handing in 12,000 words of something decent come April 2013. I also hope that it will solve the common ‘what are you doing your dissertation on?’ question, as my current answer, ‘I’m-looking-at-the-changing-attitudes-towards-First-World-War-memorials-in-the-run-up-to-the-centenary-of-the-outbreak-of-the-War’, isn’t very catchy and has the habit of sending people into temporary comas. So here it is: www.rememberedinstone.wordpress.com

I plan to change the name once I think of something better, as I am increasingly finding that a lot of WWI memorials are not made of stone, and that many of them have been forgotten, or at least ignored. If you have any suggestions, please whack them in the comment box below. As for the topic: I want to know how people in modern Britain feel about First World War memorials. In just a couple of years, we will mark the centenary of the outbreak of the Great War, but I wonder how many people really care? Several organisations have already set up 2014 projects to help fund conservation of memorials, but I’m also beginning to find that there are people out there keen to honour the dead who aren’t getting the help they require. Then there are the people that aren’t recorded in the newspapers: the apathetic. Those people who walk past war memorials every day without realising they are there, who probably haven’t held a minute’s silence on the 11th of November since they left school, but who may still be somewhat perturbed by the notion of a rock star’s step-son swinging from the Cenotaph. Another group of people I am keen to talk to are the people who see war memorials as a source of income: the metal thieves. So if you think you might be interested, head over to my new blog, and please let me know if you hear any war memorial news in your area (maybe your grandma lays a wreath at her father’s memorial every November, or perhaps you have a friend who was recently arrested for pissing on a war memorial?). I will attempt to keep this blog updated (as I have completely failed to do over the last three months) but it might prove a bit tricky between editing my university newspaper, working on my dissertation and other uni work and attempting to keep at least a portion of my sanity intact.

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High Kingsdown Co Op: The Inconvenient Truth

Epigrump is a fortnightly column in Epigram, where writers moan about what has got on their nerves recently. I wrote about the farcical nature of our local convenience store.

HIGH KINGSDOWN SWRG (Clarence Place, High Kingsdown, Bristol  BS2 8DD) Jun11

Cast your minds back to 2004 when chip and pin was introduced to the nation as a safer, faster way to shop on plastic. Over the past eight years, this system has revolutionised our shopping experience, meaning that now fraudsters only need memorise four digits instead of a person’s entire cursive style in order to gain access to the fortunes of others. It has also led to a rise in the number of automated machines, meaning that we no longer have to deal with lowly cashiers and car park attendants. Or so I thought.

Last weekend, an eerie quietness not seen since the Dark Ages fell on the High Kingsdown estate as whispers spread that the card machines in the Co Op convenience store on St Michael’s Hill were broken. Regulars to this shop will be aware of the ongoing drama with payment methods. For those who are less familiar with it, let me take you through the average person’s trip to the Kingsdown Co Op. It starts with a hunger pang. The kind of hunger pang so painful, you know you won’t be able to make it to Sainsbury’s before you’ve started gnawing on furniture. All you need  is a little bit of bacon or some milk to make porridge. ‘No problem’, you think, ‘I’ll just pop to the Co Op’ which is all very well and good until you realise that your rumbling stomach has not synchronised calendars with Co Op’s opening hours. Long-term residents in these parts know that if you haven’t got milk in the fridge on Saturday night, there will be a long wait until the Co Op’s automatic doors finally open at noon the next day, only for you to find that they haven’t yet had their milk delivery. After realising that an overpriced pint of skimmed milk is better than nothing, you traipse around the store, picking up whatever bizarre items happen to be reduced that day (ice cream syrup, anyone?) You are then faced with a dilemma: do you march straight up to the beaming cashier, or avoid their glazed expressions and questionable social skills and wait half your life to use what they have the temerity to call ‘The Fast Lanes’ (also known as self-service machines to the uninitiated). The queue for these machines is often 20-deep, usually due to the fact that one of the terminals has become overwhelmed, trying to add up how much you’ve spent so far, whilst screaming at you that your newspaper costs TWO POUNDS (pause for dramatic effect) TEN PENCE. Once you finally make it to a working terminal, your eyes fall on a hastily printed sheet of A4 declaring that payment is either cash or card only. Needless to say, you won’t have the payment method du jour in your pocket. This involves an embarrassing abandonment of your transaction, casting those in the queue behind you into a confused rage, as you lope off to the cashier you had originally tried to avoid, just so you can pay. As you wait your turn behind a man holding a tube of toothpaste and some bleach, you eye up the potential till talent. Cashier number one is a lady who is far too old to be wearing the neon butterfly clips she proudly displays in her cropped brown hair. Last time you were here, she scolded you for removing your card too quickly from the chip and pin machine, which, as always, was running at a snail’s pace, and you had to repeat the whole sorry affair. Cashier number two shows more promise, until he is called away to deal with the Fast Lane drama you left behind. As you’re busy craning your neck to see how he’s getting on, another machine directs you to cashier number three. From behind his oval spectacles, he beams at you, greeting you with a friendly ‘hello dear! How are you? Would you like a bag?’ He continues grinning as he packs away your Tic Tacs, tomatoes and tampons without battering an eyelid and you hurriedly hand over the cash and run home to satisfy your nutritional needs.

It’s hard to convey just what an odd mix of people the staff in this particular branch are. A budding playwright would do well to take a trip there and observe them in their natural habitat. If Hotel California ran a chain of convenience stores, this would be it. Some of the staff, like cashier number three, never seem to leave. You go in on your way to uni and there he is, smiling over your Danish pastry. He is there again in the evening, when you dash in minutes before closing, standing upright, eyes open, but clearly asleep.

And yet despite the crazy cashiers, the bipolar payment systems and the massive queues, we still go back. Just because it’s… well, convenient.

-from Issue 246 of Epigram.

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Album Review: Lykke Li – Wounded Rhymes

If Lykke Li’s debut album, Youth Novels, was an insight into what it means to be a horny 19-year old, her follow-up, Wounded Rhymes, describes what happens when the illusion of love is shattered. The album is a mix of feisty, don’t-fuck-with-me-I-am-a-woman-now declarations, such as ‘Get Some’ and calmer, considered songs like ‘Love Out of Lust’, where Li sagely advises people to “dance whilst you can”. On a basic level,  Wounded Rhymes is a great pop album, featuring the unusual percussion and frank lyrics we have come to expect from her. Li spent her childhood in Portugal and Sweden, before moving to New York. She describes herself as restless – getting fed up of touring, but being bored during time off at home, suggesting she is still a somewhat fidgety nomad. However, she shows a desire to settle down on several album tracks such as ‘Jerome’, where she implores: “Now you’re mine / You’re mine again / Swear you’ll never leave me”. How such a talented woman can get so hung up over a guy with a ridiculous name like Jerome is beyond me, but then this is the same woman who recently told Pitchfork: “Some people watch comedy to relax. I watch 21 Grams.” Although the overriding feeling of Wounded Rhymes is one of heartbreak, the first single from the album, ‘Get Some’ is all about female empowerment.For some commentators, Li’s declaration of “I’m a prostitute, you gon’ get some”, came as a bit of a shock, but they clearly failed to pick out lyrics such as “For you I’d keep my legs apart” that featured on her so-called ‘cutesy’ debut album. Another forthright song is ‘Rich Kid Blues’, which, if you stick on your iPod for your walk into lectures, may help explain why you encounter so many Barbour-jacketed people languishing on Woodland Road. Quieter songs like ‘Unrequited Love’ are the real album highlights, though. Conveying the frustration of rejection, Li shows her vulnerability as she laments, “Once again it’s happening / All this love is unrequited / Twice the pain, the suffering”. But if you thought that was sad, it’s going to get worse with time. “This album is an intense love story gone wrong,” she says. “When I’m older I’ll have plenty of time to get more depressing”. Crikey.

-from Issue 236 (7.3.11) of Epigram. You can read the rest of the Music section here.

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