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The decline and fall of Bristol: reflections on moving on and leaving behind

A third-year student shares their emotions around finishing university and spending their final days in a place which has become important to them.

By Oliver Briscoe, Third Year Law, Vice-Chair BUCA

The Croft Magazine // A third-year student shares their emotions around finishing university and spending their final days in a place that has become important to them.

I ran, for what I think will be one of the last times, through Bristol. I trotted as I have always done, through Clifton Village. Past the mansions with balustrades like teeth of old ivory. Past the townhouses in baby blue and nursery cream with their wrought iron balconies fixed, dainty and poised like Regency bonnets.

I crossed the bridge as I have for many years. I ran at a plodding pace, stopping to give a final glance to the vistas along the gorge and the forest I have come to know.

In Leigh Woods, the birds twittered and called. The trail was damp and so were the trees, warming in the morning rays. Spring had come to England’s woods. On my return, a steady, fine drizzle draped across the gorge and the Village.

Three years is quite a while. Long enough to become familiar, not long enough to become attached.

Everyone seems to be fleeing at great speed. My friend leaves tomorrow for Bolivia. My flatmate this morning for London, then Bahrain. Clifton felt empty, even at mid-morning, only a trickle of traffic streamed along the Avon, whose capillary surface dragged and pulled with such contradicting futility as to lay the river still.

I leave tomorrow. Three years; three strikes, snow cancellations and a pandemic. Not much studying, it has all gone rather unceremoniously and unemotionally.

I am not even packing much of my flat, tumultuous abandon, my father was passing down to Cornwall the next day and I could see little reason for delay. Why not? Happy to socially distance, to be woken by sunshine and the smell of wood-smoke.

In part I think I have not had much time to reflect on this finality. In part I think I simply have little to say to Bristol. From the bridge I swept over North Somerset. Unchanged, I know I will find it again.

Returned, I called my mother. She asked me what my plans were. ‘I have none. This is it. It is over, university is over. I will not bring everything now, we will have to find a weekend to come and sort it but yes, that is it. Books, crockery, glasses, out.’

From elevenses I started on scotch. I had decanted it only the other day and the decanter needed to be drained. I then lit a cigar and sat amongst the crumbling ruin of my fiction, my model life at university: flat, friends, societies, purpose.

It seemed the thing to do. Life had come to an end without transition, why not throw in a cigar too.

Yo-Yo Ma’s Bach cello evolutions whined, the soundtrack to all my mournful moments. The breeze eased me with caresses and the gulls cackled through the open balcony. The bacon had to go – in a sandwich – breakfasting, presumably the last time, pondering vacuously at the laced lancets of Wills.

My friend joined to drink and spend his final day. We sat at the mouth of the Clifton Arcade, in the bosom of the Village in its genteel air, on those little wooden chairs by a little wooden table, in the sunshine. Raffishly fleeting time; these afternoons a luxury to the final year. The sunset on the leisure days of personal empire.

I felt, for a brief instant, the relief of an addict who affords himself the habit. Standing to remove my large wax jacket, the poacher’s pockets overly stuffed with newly bought books – consolation, to pacify the unease of the soul. I was alleviated and blissfully unconcerned, oblivious under the sun.

He advised me not to worry, he was right, I was losing my self control; letting the rush of external factors unsettle me.

I have enjoyed university life and should have been better prepared to lose it. Lose the insouciance of idle youth to the frequent revolutions of existence. This one had come sooner than expected. He opined ‘sometimes to dig a hole is helpful, one is forced to climb back out.’

Eyes still shut in momentary peace, I answered ‘then again, you need to make sure not to dig your own grave.’

To explain my misgivings I messaged my father, even on a seventh scotch, it is best to sort these things.

On the applications: ‘I have run out of options. I cannot think of anything else I have applied to which might come through. Or anything I have not tried to apply to and people to connect with. There are no more horses running.’

‘Don't despair. We'll think of something good. Can we speak this evening? Or tomorrow?’

‘No despair, no urgency. We can talk when you get back.’

‘Things will work out.’

‘They seem to.’

‘They will.’

‘They have so far.’

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