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Grass is Always Greener?

Posted on Tuesday 6th October 2009 at 00:00
When I first moved to Bristol, back in September 2004, I chose my accommodation very carefully from the wide range of buildings and locations offered by the university. I had it in my head at the time that I wanted to be at the centre of all the action and university life, so I deliberately chose a flat in the block with the highest student population in the city centre. I had it all planned out: parties, cinema, shopping, sight seeing, theatre - the works.

When I got to Bristol however, I encountered something of a culture shock, coming as I was, from a small, sleepy commuter town in Hampshire. I was emotionally intelligent enough at the time to foresee that I'd have to adjust to my new surroundings, but the sheer scale of the change drove me half way to insanity before the year was out and I could move to the suburbs.

The first thing that struck me was the noise. I'd been a regular visitor to London and many big towns and cities before moving to uni, so I was well versed in the sort of noises that cities make, but it didn't take me long to realise the real challenge. You see, it isn't the volume that is the problem, it's the longevity of it. All day and all night the traffic purred away to itself and the sirens bleared. Every single day and night, with not so much as an hour's peace to give my poor ears time to recover from the daily assult. The windows were single glazed, which I think probably exhasibated the problem still further, and it wasn't that unusual for a particularly warm night to force me to leave the window open.

The second problem was the smell. From the moment I stepped through my front door each moring until the bus dropped me off at the out of town campus where all my classes took place, I was choked by a toxic cocktail of diesel fumes, fast food outlets, dodgy sewers and half a million other people making their way about the city. I'd never previously thought much about the value of fresh air, but once it was taken away from me, I would have given the world for it. This became especially apparent as the autumn wore on and I began to fully appreciate the ability of the pollution in the city centre to drive away those crisp cold mornings that had always told me that winter was coming. Even the frost and the snow was unable to penetrate the mild stew of exhaust gases.

The third problem was the view. I lived, as I have mentioned, in a small commuter town, prior to moving to Bristol, and although I wouldn't dream of calling it the countryside, I was used to spending my days walking under trees, kicking the leaves, or admiring the dew on the grass early in the morning. In the centre of Bristol there was no grass and the only trees I could see from my building were struggling to break through the concrete and tarmac laid right up to their trunks.

Between these three major environmental differences and the social changes of arriving in a city where I knew no one and was unable to connect with the students I met due to my lack of interest in being continually drunk or stoned, I found myself alone and depressed most of the time, and stayed in my room, hardly ever partaking in any of the fun I'd planned for myself before arriving.As the years went on things slowly improved. I moved out of the city centre, made a few friends and eventually got myself a girlfriend. The thing is, as my life in the suburbs gradually settled into some sort of routine, I found myself craving a life in the city centre again.

It's not that I suddenly missed the fumes and the concrete, far from it, but I found it annoying that in order to take advantage of any of those things I was looking forward to about living in Bristol, I had to travel. Even something as simple as popping into a coffee shop for an hour meant half an hour on the bus or in the car each way, and excessive charges to match. Similarly the cinema was a long way away, and even the beloved countryside, which I was much closer to, wasn't actually in walking distance at all.

At the time I was working in a bar at UWE, which is north of the city centre, and I was living in Kingswood, which is east, so my daily commute was a drive between the two, completely avoiding the centre, the restaurants, coffee shops and cinemas. Whilst this saved me a whole lot of traffic jams, I found that actually visiting the centre of the city I called home became something of a rarity, and I felt disconnected from whatever it was that gave the city its soul.

That said, during the course of the summer, L and I made the effort to go into town very regularly. We attended all the festivals we could, and ate in most of the restaurants. I even discovered a few new parks that I'd previously been unaware of.

For L, this summer was a chance to have one last look round the city she had grown up in, as well as showing me all the parts of it that were dear to her. For me, it was a chance to make up for my complete failure to find anything good about the place during my first few years there. Ironically, had I finished my degree on time and not stayed their an extra two years, I'd never have discovered the hidden gems that make Bristol such a wonderful city. Indeed, it was only after I'd moved out of the centre and was shortly due to leave the city that I finally realised what a wonderful place it was to live.

I think it is for this reason that L and I have made up our minds not to repeat the mistake. We have just completed our move to Plymouth, where we shall be for the next two years. I am currently unemployed and frantically looking for work, but that hasn't stopped us settling down in our city centre apartment and engaging in absolutely everything we can find (and afford) to do here.

In the two weeks since we've arrived we've gone on a group walk on Mount Edgecumbe, visited the city museum and art gallery, swam at the Pavilions pool, attended a free comedy evening, walked along as much of the coast as our feet will manage, dined with friends and still managed to spend every sunny breakfast and lunch time in late September on our little balcony, looking out over Sutton Harbour. We're even due to visit the theatre on Thursday!

For the five years I lived in Bristol, the grass was always greener on the other side, but now for the first time, I can honestly say the greenest grass is that which grows under my feet.

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