I spent some of my earliest and happiest years in the English city of Bristol. It is still my favourite part of the country. I love the slope of Park street, the bistros, second-hand bookshops and coffee houses which line it and the beautiful Wills Memorial building which stands at one end and which belongs to the great University of Bristol. The shopping centre Cribs Causeway on the outskirts of town still recreates within me the childish excitement of Saturday shopping trips and the thrill of bringing back a couple of 99p CD singles to be played on repeat until bedtime. Though I now reside in London, if it were possible financially and (given my university) logistically, I would move back there in a flash and never leave. I still visit and notice the superior mood of the place. Bristol is so much happier, more civilised and coherent than London, Birmingham or Manchester. I’ve always noticed it and I think I’m starting – after all these years – to understand the reasons behind it.
I can’t list here the ways in which Bristol is superior to other British cities. I’ll just say that if you visit, you’ll find it is conspicuously more cheerful and polite than any other area of the UK. I was struck the last time I visited for example, when I bought an historical book from the main city branch of Waterstones and enjoyed – to my surprise – a few minutes of pleasant conversation about its contents (WW2) with the young staff. Perhaps one could write that off as unique to Waterstones – an upmarket, middle-class business after-all. But no, I later found the same attitude at Tesco, Waitrose, Sainsburys, Greggs, Subway, even McDonalds. People are simply more cheerful there. They speak a relaxed and charming variant of English. Racism is never openly apparent. Black-White couples are conspicuous in number in both urban and leafy areas of the city. No-one flutters an eyelid at such things. The BNP would fare terribly in this city; as would Communism or any other disruptive idea. People are generally content with their lot. Unlike in Manchester, there are few people here droning on about how London has all the wealth and landmarks. Bristol – though hardly poor – is happy enough without the Gherkin, Big Ben and Westminster Abbey. It has instead a rich sense of community. This is not ‘community’ in the horrible sense demonstrated in places like Bradford. Bristolians are a diverse modern tribe made up of blacks, whites, Chinese, and many other groups undivided by politics, ethnicity or religion…
And so why not ask – Why isn’t this replicated in Birmingham, or London?
The ethno-nationalist would answer that Bristol, unlike Birmingham or London, has a commanding white majority, and true enough Bristol is significantly less ‘diverse’ than other large British cities – but even conceding this I could always ask the question another way –
Why isn’t Bristolian serenity replicated in Leeds, York, Newcastle or Carlisle either -cities which have an even greater white majority?
The answer here lies in the type of minorities a city has. Bristol is certainly multicultural. The city has a large community of blacks who have undeniably enriched the reputation of the city for many years,, most notably through music (Tricky, Massive Attack etc..). In terms of cultural diversity, there are Hindus, Sikhs, and Jains as well as Chinese and Japanese Buddhists who live and study alongside atheists and Methodists, Rastafarians and Scientologists, Mormons and Catholics ….You can see where I’m going with this…..
The city and greater regional area of Bristol has a tiny population of Muslims relative to Birmingham, Leeds, Manchester, London or indeed any other major metropolitan area. Those Muslims who do live in Bristol furthermore tend to be continentalised Arabs and Persians rather than the typical Pakistani or Bangladeshi variants found elsewhere in the country. This matters. Don’t doubt it. This, I believe, may be the reason for the city’s distinction.
If you’re used to Birmingham or London when you first walk along the streets of Bristol city centre late at night, you will be struck by three things: firstly, the availability of late-opening bars and places to eat: secondly, the safety of the streets and the absence of vulgar gangs and loud drunks: and thirdly you will notice the difference in the quality and character of local take-aways.
In Birmingham, the only neon that glows after the banks close emanates from newsagents and kebab shops. Chippies are rare to extinct. The smell of doner meat and curry sauce flows down the streets which, by then, are occupied by gangs of hooded chavs. Bristol could hardly differ more. The eateries here are more like those in Europe than the East-End. Inevitably a few kebab shops have invaded the area in recent years, but nowhere near as many as have in a large town like Luton, let alone a large city. Bristol at night is a gentrified, happy experience – a pleasure as sure as the city is the waking hours.
In the daytime, Bristol is perhaps distinguished most by its relaxed ‘indie’ culture. Whereas in Birmingham and Manchester and London, indie (read ‘middle-class White’) culture is moderated or banished by the more macho metal and hip-hop scenes, in Bristol it is still possible to attend school wearing a Radiohead t-shirt and not be accused of homosexuality. Even the local black music scene “trip-hop” is in many ways ‘whiter’ than the horrid ‘grime’ scenes of London and Birmingham, in that it appeals across racial lines without demanding any change in lifestyle, attitude or dress.
This general allowance for sophistication extends elsewhere. The coffee-shop is as acceptable a meeting-place as the pub. Youngsters happily infest these places, openly reading books for no other reason than pleasure.
Bristol in some ways reminds me of a state within a state; a very fragile one. Whereas most English cities seem to be going the way of Birmingham and Manchester, Bristol stands alone against this trend. It’s time for Bristolians to recognise what makes their city great and to become willing to defend and preserve it. And it’s also time for people to stop blaming multiracialism for the social problems caused by Muslims. There is a relationship between whites and those from other races in Bristol that is only made possible by the absence of Islam. Muslim communities inflame racial division; they introduce toxic international politics into otherwise serene local communities, and they de-gentrify local culture and cuisine. Bristol is a multi-coloured city, but it lacks all the hideousness of Birmingham or London and it is possible this way to understand why. It would be an awful shame were cities like Birmingham chosen to represent in ‘the parliament of public-opinion’, the whole idea of globalised modernity. Bristol shows modernity can work, and if we just develop a little more courage, it can work elsewhere too.