Reflections of a final year: Everything I will miss about Bristol

Lounge is definitely up there

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It wasn’t until the car began to drive out of the city, on to the M32 and past the familiar landmarks of the Bearpit statue, sprawling Ikea and thereafter Dower House, that it began to sink in. My time at Bristol was at an end: four years had been and gone and there I was with a pile of student debt and a piece of paper with the wrong date on to prove it. What had I learnt? Was it all worth it? Would I do it all again?

To me, Bristol will always be synonymous with autonomy. The sheer freedom afforded by university will be one of the things I miss most about my time here: when else in life can you rise at midday, drink away the afternoon, dance through the evening and make your weary way home at 3am, exhausted but happy, safe in the knowledge that you can do it all again tomorrow?

Such freedom gave me an education- in the broadest sense of the term- on everything from campaigning to 'Get Lucky, vote Dube', completing the Cori Tap challenge to fighting for NUS disaffiliation. Whether it was sinking bottles of wine with omnipresent snappers Jamie Corbin and Alex Sheppard after the Constitution Ball or swapping anecdotes in the Manor Hall bar with the Warden Martin Crossley Evans, perusing the Epigram archives or recklessly engaging in Balloon Bar arguments, there were a thousand different sources of knowledge at Bristol, on everything from tales of university yore to pseudo intellectual questions about the meaning of life. I will greatly miss those opportunities to learn, in some way, from the many individuals who make up the wider collective UoB community.

For without question, it is the people I met here that taught me the most and meant most to me. At Bristol, it is doubtful whether there truly is a university wide ‘community’- in an institution boasting 24,000 students and 5,000 staff how could there be? But community does exist at a more micro, local level, in the ‘little platoons’ of societies, campaigns, JCRs, sports teams and halls and more broadly in wider participation of events in the ‘university calendar’- the riot of colour-drenched wavy garms that is Tokyo World and Love Saves the Day, the regular clashing of egos at Student Council and AMM, as well as packed out one offs like election night parties, favourite club nights and protest marches.

It is such communities that produce the smart, creative, compassionate students that truly represent the best of Bristol University. From Clicendales to Fuze, Wills Memeorial to Bristruths, the BeManKind campaign to Support Our Services, it is, in my experience, the informal networks that mean most to Bristol students, embodying the values our institution purports to represent. Editing The Tab has allowed me to see all of this firsthand and to marvel at the ingenuity and kindness of my peers, as exemplified by the story of Herman Gordon and a grassroots student campaign.

With regards to the actual city of Bristol, my mistake was to conflate the two for the same thing: to use the Triangle and the scattering of hot spots beyond it as somehow the authentic Bristol; to view the university as a microcosm of the city and Bristol as merely some extension of an academic institution. Both are too complex, diverse and intricate for such glib claims. I only met a handful of 'proper' Bristolians but each of them left an impression on me.

Whether it was Miroslav Zachar, the perennially cheerful U1 bus driver regaling me with tales of his drinking antics in the Czech Republic or Bradley Gunn, the local software developer better known for his colourful goggles and inexhaustible raving or George Kostias, the daunting but warm-hearted presence behind the Taka Taka counter, the figures I met cemented my impressions of Bristol as a dynamic, thriving hub where something brilliant is always happening.

As for myself, I have no delusions that Bristol will miss me in the slightest. Come September, new students will come in with new ideas and new initiatives; the rhythm of university life will continue unabated. Going back through old Tab stories, it’s clear that little really changes about Bristol: lecturers go on strike, students pull pranks, Lounge is either loved or loathed and Donervans is still a meme.

I’d like to think I’ve been in someway original and added something extra to the place but in truth I leave having taken more than I’ve given: with memories, friends and a sense of having been part of something greater for a few brief, glorious years. Bristol: it has been a blast.

James Heale was Editor of The Tab Bristol 2017-18.