Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Story Time

Last Friday, Queens Road got together for a one last night and made a trip to the Cori Tap, the pictures of which can find on Facebook. There was a man there named Steve. Steve was about 50 and he was hitting on two Queens Road ladies, Mabli and Laura, so I did the gentlemanly thing; I went over and relieved them by putting myself in between Steve and the ladies. Well, he then started speaking to me, and he was quite... abrasive.

His posture was telling me all sorts of things, mainly that he was really drunk, that he was proud, and that he was ready for a fight. Almost the entire time I spoke with him I thought I was going to get punched... so I took off my glasses.

Steve, who's been around the fighting scene all his life, immediately picked up on that small gesture and heckled me a little, he asserted that I was getting ready to fight. I just said I didn't want them to get lost and that I didn't need them. That was the first of many sidestepping maneuvers I did that night.

He stood really close to me, his chin held high. He always looked me straight in the eye and I straight back. He went on about many things that night, but he started our conversation by asking "Red or White?" I had no idea what he was talking about, but after some goading, I got him to elaborate on its meaning. "There is a line" he said, "A line between north and south Bristol. Which side of the line do you live on?" he asked me. I told him I live about 5 minutes "that way" and pointed towards the Uni. I asked him where he lived and he said "About five minute the other way". To me, this was an obvious stance; a challenge that I didn't want to take. He spoke with authority, with conviction, and again always with his chin held high and his chest puffed out.

I finally started to understand what he was going on about. Football. Thank God I called football it's proper name that night, for he told me that if I would have called it Soccer he would have clocked me. He told me I could walk a mile in a direction and get "taken out" in that mile, (incidentally his pronunciation of mile led to another tangent, because I couldn't understand the word mile, to me it sounded like "Maul", so I mentioned rugby in an attempt to better understand, which prompted a line I heard many times that night: "You have absolutely no idea.") He said that things have been escalating in recent times; some people were getting shot in that mile. That's the true Bristol, the real Bristol. And if I wanted to learn about people, I'd come with him to see the real Bristol. Then somehow that conversation led to his son. His son was 28 and bright, but who does manual labour because that's just what he has to do. He told me his son could bury me any day of the week.

But all this talk, it all had to do with football, not the "Red or White" like I thought he said, the "Red and White", that is, Bristol City Footballs colours. Then he would ask me all throughout the night, Are you "Red and White, or Blue and Red" I would always say Red and White to appease him. Apparently Blue and Red is Cardiff and "we" hate them. He tried to get me to challenge some randomers in the Tap. I didn't. So he had me ask him. "White or Red?" I asked, "White and Red" he answered. Oh fun drunken times! He told me he would never fight me for two reasons, one because I was young and strong, but two because he didn't need to, there were plenty of his mates who would fight me for him. He called me young, just a baby. He went on and on.

The most interesting thing I suppose I took out of it was this. He asked me what I was doing here. I said studying at the Uni. He said "what are you studying?"
"Ahh. People. If you want to see the real Bristol you'll come with me and i'll show you the real Bristol."
"Okay" I said timidly. I never went anywhere with him.
"You don't have a clue what it's all about, you're just a baby"
I nodded
"When you come with me, you'll have to get in it. You'll have to come with me and get into it."
He pretty much meant I'd have to fight. That's apparently what it's all about. It's not about hate, for apparently, he loves his opponents, and they love him. They respect him. It's about the fight, and the brotherhood that comes along with being a Bristol City Fan.

I think I've been inducted into this Bristol City firm. However, he doesn't know my name or where I live, so I don't think I'll have a problem. So, Go Red and White! Whoo!

I was so scared.

And yet, Ros and Dom said that I was loving it. They did make great attempts to save me, to which I would join them back at the table, but the conversation was left unfinished and Steve would come back to me and keep talking. So finally, I said that I should go to the people I came here with, to which he shook my hand and said, "Always hold your head high and never back down, no matter what." Then walked away.

That was the beginning to a great night, and the ending to a great story.

Friday, December 14, 2007

The Chirstmas Exodus

It has begun with a rather poignant sting.

Today Natalie left for home. She and thousands of students are flooding out of Bristol, returning to the land of their upbringing, to spend time with family and friends. Many will successfully retrieve those hours lost, lost due to the excruciating study during finals week. Many will feast on home made meals, and recuperate from lethargy on warm cozy couches. Many will reunite with friends and speak of how it feels like eras since they'd last embraced. Many will snuggle up at night in a bed so familiar, in a room so uniquely theirs, in a home so loving and safe.

Here in Bristol, this concrete box, this shell of a building called 115 Queens Road, isn't a home. I could leave the building today without reservation, for I haven't any attachment to its premises. It is the people I have lived with whom I could not leave so easily; they have made this a home for me.

In particular, my inexpressible gratitude goes out to Natalie. She has given me so much, and in return, I have provide so little. She always let me come to her room whenever I was bored or lonely. She put up with my incessant forgetfulness and the resultant collection of my things in her room. She was patient with my exuberance, and always teasingly brought me back to reality when I would fly off on a tangent. She would do the crossword and sudoku with me, and humour me when I needed my coffee fix. Natalie made Queens Road a place I wanted to be, and her departure today was like a jarring transition from some pleasant warmth to a frigid torrent.

I dare not say that I'm feeling her loss the most; all those who remain in this cinder block abode are shuffling their feet and mumbling about how odd it feels without her here, as if something was taken from very air we breathe. We miss you Natalie, if you ever read this, we miss you.


I was speaking today about how I don't like change, which spawned a flashback to my youth when my parents, unbeknownst to me, removed an institution in my life I lovingly remember as "The brown couch". I wept and wailed for days crying "how could you!" and throwing myself dramatically down upon my bed. That memory was meant to reinforce my statement about change, but even as the words "I don't like change" rolled from my lips, my mind was quickly beginning to contradict itself. I took a moment of silence and reevaluated the statement then proposed an adjustment. "It's not that I don't like change," I said slowly, "it's just that I don't like change I can't control." I felt that was a much stronger statement and was fitting for my memory of the brown couch as well as my knowledge that I commonly seek change, so long as it's a conscious choice of mine to accept the change.

That was just a thought.


Thursday, December 13, 2007

It's Not Always About Youth

I had another coffee shop encounter today. No, it wasn't someone I was interested in.

The coffee shop was teeming with people; it was just after noon and people were streaming in for lunch. When I went to sit, the only available seat was an armchair next to a couch. I usually don't sit in that area because it's better suited for larger groups of people. However, with no other seating option, I took up the group area.

I was doing the sudoku in the local paper and studying Karl Marx when a woman approached me. By the looks of it, she was nearing the end of her 50's chapter in life, was full of life, and quite healthy. She asked if she could sit on the couch across from me. "Absolutely" I said, "Not a problem!"

A few minutes later, she shivered and said, "There must be an air conditioner above me because all this cold air is blowing on me." I, always endeavoring to do the gentlemanly thing, offered to switch seats with her, to which she eagerly agreed.

We talked a little bit after that switch about how she was nervous for her daughter. Apparently her daughter was getting eye surgery today, and was, in fact, in the operating room as we spoke. She told me a little bit about the operation and how the technology is supposed to be very good these days. Then her husband showed up. He was supposedly much older than she, though he looked around the same age as her. He brought them both cappuccinos and chocolate cake. A little voice in my head whispered how it wished it could eat like that...

Upon his arrival, she talked to him for a bit and I went back to my studies. I couldn't help but listen to her worries about her daughter; the husband seemed quite at ease and was actually cracking jokes, which was probably his way to cope with his own angst. Then he pulled out the newspaper and started to read, all the while she would talk to him about her worries. I felt it rather thoughtless of him, not to be consoling his wife, but from sometimes even the best gentleman isn't aware that he is being neglectful or doing something wrong. We are, after all, only human.

I wanted her to feel better, so I struck up a conversation with her. It turned out to be a phenomenal conversation! I started off by asking about her daughters eyesight, if the hospital was near, etc etc. The hospital was close she assured me, and they had their cellphone on it's loudest so they might spring away at the moments notice. She was a lovely lady, I could see in her eyes that she was a warm soul. There were lines around her eyes I suspected from smiling all her life, or from every time she clenched her eyes shut when giving her children the most whole hearted hug.

She seemed to relax after a while, especially after telling me how the eye surgery field has progressed in recent years and the clinic her daughter was at had an upstanding record. When her nerves had eased and her mind distracted, our conversation moved elsewhere. She asked me about my studies, Communication and Sociology I replied. We talked about family and how "genes are everything". I told her about how my Grandma told me I was like my grandpa, even though I've never met him. She told me how her grandchildren are just like their children, and how the entire family shares an artistic trait. I asked her if she had been to America, she told me a story about San Fransisco. She asked me about my favourite period in history (hers was the 60's), we talked of the Kennedy's and Dr. King Jr. Then we got into politics, we talked about Hilary and Obama. Our views there differed, and I could see that, at least in politics, she was a little eccentric.

She had some some opinions about Bill and Hilary, mostly that Bill is something of a "pervert" and Hilary is just in it for the power. I allowed her her say, then I spoke saying first that though Bill had made a mistake, I have to give him a second chance. For what he did for our country was undeniable and, falling upon my upbringing, "he made a mistake but he's still a good person, or he can continue doing his best to be a good person, just like the rest of us". She quickly rebutted that it hadn't just been Miss. Lewinsky, and that there had been many. I didn't have any information on this, I'd never heard of such an alligation so I couldn't make any further statements. But what I could say is that, taking a step back, it's easy to judge someone and say we'd be different, how could he? etc. But the pressures, the power, and the temptations that come from a position like that would be unlike anything we could possibly imagine. She conceded that no one would know how they would perform until they were in the position. I also made the point that I thought it was silly to squabble about what kind of a man Bill was compared to the current office holder and the choices he's made, not personally, but in the sake of an entire nation. The crises that we face today should be what we discuss, not Bills philandering.

We moved on to Hilary then.

Honestly, I wished to have more of a discussion about Barak and Hilary, but she insisted on talking about Hilary. I think this is where she went over the top, however, everyone is entitled to their opinions. She thought that the only reason Hilary stayed with Bill was because she knew she wanted to be President in the future, and that she hung on to him for status, power, and the sake of the media. I thought that rather demeaned Hilary. Hilary is a strong woman and I think she could do a good job, have a strong hand, and start to lead this Country out of it's self inflicted pit. But we didn't talk about that much.

I tried to bring in discussion about Obama as well, about his political advertisement system, writing books, not taking major donations, relying on word of mouth, traveling the country, meeting the people. But that topic was dropped as well.

Besides that discussion on Politics, the woman, whose name was Nicola and her husband was Richard, was a very nice lady. I had to go prepare for lecture but it was really nice to meet them. I shook both their hands before I left and they waved me goodbye as I left. I turned my back and as I walked out, I heard her say "Oh goodbye Zach! Goodbye! Goodbye!"

Such a sweet lady. I was glad to have met her.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007


Two things made me smile recently.

I hadn't been to Starbucks in quite some time; there are many other coffee shops in Bristol equally as good. But I was again taken by a craving for Starbucks' formulaic facade which reminds me so much of home.

I used to go to Starbucks quite frequently and almost as frequently there happened to be a rather skinny, bright eyed and smiling brunette standing behind the counter. She was all smiles and I was all smiles back. In no time she had memorized my order; I merely had to show up and it was practically ready for me. And yet, I never enquired about her name, or who she was.

Then came a dark period; a time when my visits to Starbucks grew infrequent and my meetings with the smiling girl grew few and far between. She had hoped for my return, she told me so just yesterday. She thought she saw me last week! but was disappointed when it wasn't. "It was as if you read my mind" she said to me upon my arrival yesterday; as if I came to relieve her from her disappointment.

Her name is Sarah. She's out of Uni so a little older than myself. She has a degree in Deaf Studies; she can sign quite proficiently. She doesn't know what she wants to do with herself, I told her that makes two of us. We talked there by the espresso machine while she made drinks for people; latte, cappuccino, gingerbread latte... The time flew by and my lecture was fast approaching.

I had to leave, but it was with a smile. I told her I hoped to see her again soon, she said she was sure I would. It made me smile.

Later that day I was met with another surprise.

Natalie's dad sent her a package. Very cool, and inside was an advent calendar. That wasn't the only thing... Natalie's dad send Grace and me an advent calendar too! Hurray for a little piece of chocolate every day! And, because it had arrived slightly after December the first, I got to have not one, but four pieces of chocolate that day! Another thing to make me smile.


Just found Sarah on Facebook a bit to my dismay; she is in a relationship. Tragic. Oh well!