Visit Bath and find yourself charmed by its architecture, its many cafes and restaurants, its panoramic vistas of wooded hills interspersed with intruigingly designed villas and Georgian esplanades. Then visit Bristol. It looks like Leicester on a grubby day in February, with a stinking hangover, at any time of the year. As your train pulls into Bath Spa Station, you may observe the aforementioned wooded hills and esplanades, and anticipate how your visit to the west country's premier tourist resort will unfold. As your train pulls into Bristol's Temple Meads station, you may observe an abandoned and graffiti splattered warehouse that would, in any other city of our nation, have been demolished in around 1995, but which for some obscure reason languishes untouched in central Bristol, as if to announce to the world that 'this ain't some poncy country town full of students and French tourists, this is a proper working class place and all you posh gits can just go somewhere else and not bother us salt of the earth Bristolians that live here all the time, not just at the weekends'
Few if any British cities of comparable size possess such manifestly disfiguring chips upon their collective shoulder, including other former port cities of the west coast whose industrial foundations are very much matters of history. Liverpool? The Beatles came from Liverpool. Glasgow? An economic boom has transformed Scotland's biggest city beyond all recognition. But it's never really happened in Bristol, which somehow remains the poor relation of Southampton/Portsmouth/Cardiff and, whisper it, Bournemouth. There may be only 14 miles separating Bristol from its gentrified neighbour but as far as many Bristolians are concerned, 700 wouldn't be far enough. Yes, you can sometimes see why. Bath is not a very big town - similar in size to Winchester, Worcester, and Basingstoke. But it does have a lot of students, a lot of French tourists, a lot of interesting architecture that's just maybe a little too grand for a medium sized country town, and no-one who has bought an expensive sports car has really owned it until they've driven it round Queens Square twice. But Bristolians make too much of their disdain for Bath and its many attractions, and continue to refuse to demolish that grotty looking warehouse near Temple Meads.
Bristolians, we know, are very proud of their music scene. Yes, it's a bit of a funky town and sort of always has been, but they do go on about it. Bristol is also quite near Glastonbury, and we all know what goes on there. Has a band/performer/talented celebrity from Bristol ever headlined the main stage at Glasto? No they haven't, and many Bristolians do feel a touch disgruntled that Massive Attack never really rocked Worthy Farm as it deserves, former Cocteau Twin on vocals or not. Bathonians have no such issues, as any talented singer songwriter/rapper/funky sort of person can practically walk into a contract with Island/Virgin/Simon Cowell if they're from Bath, although you probably won't find them making very much of their origins.The fact that Tears For Fears were 'Bathonians' has only recently come to light. Bristol bands have sort of got a bit of an image problem when it comes to where they're from although Bristol has enough of a local scene for any Bristol musician that wants a gig to get one. Bath is about big enough for NME level music bods to use as a sort of a trendy hang out and I've personally seen Kate Nash, Serge from Kasabian, the drummer from Tribes, and a grumpy sounding bloke whom I'm fairly sure was Chris Moyles strolling up and down Milsom St.
Then there are the Americans. Americans love and adore Bath, and always have. They've even opened their own museum on Bathwick hill where visitors can explore the many connections that link Bath and the US and, which often involve cowboys and gangsters (if the current display is any indicator). If cowboys and gangsters aren't really your kind of thing. Bath has several other museums which you may visit, such as the Museum Of Bath At Work (built to prove that some Bathonians have actually done a hand's turn and that sort of thing), the Postal Museum, which is really interesting and reveals all sorts of links between Bath and the founding of today's postal service, and of course the Georgian House museum on the Royal Crescent where, legend has it, Jane Austen once worked as a scullery maid. Bristol, it has been unkindly remarked, is a museum. Of the 1980s.
I could go on. One thing I must mention is that people in Bath are slightly more well mannered than their neighbours in Bristol. Some may say this is because they want your money, and perhaps some of them do, but if Bristolians want your money they've a funny way of asking for it. The Bristol bus driver who was jailed for knocking a cyclist off his bike (with his bus) is, you hope, a one-off aberration. Get on a bus in Bristol and realise that a lot of them are really like that, particularly if you are travelling to Bath. Even the Polish ones. And Bristol is also the home of the cyclist-who-thinks-he-is-driving-a-Ford-Focus, so it's surprising that there aren't more of these accidents, involving cyclists who insist they've the right of way on any roadway regardless of traffic and bus drivers who don't really know what a bike is.
And if you think I'm showing the stereotypical Bath disdain for the 'big city' (and from an incomer at that), then I should reveal that, out of every town and city I've lived in, and I've travelled a bit in my time, Bristol is the only place where I have ever been attacked. Unprovokedly, in the daytime, in a well lit street where I foolishly felt I could walk safely. The fact that this assault was actually more of an attempted one and, whenever I recount it, does sound a bit humorous (my would-be attacker was much shorter than me and not only failed to hit me but actually fell over while trying it) only makes me think that had I been a bit less than my six foot odd, or a woman, I might have been left with a bit less to say for myself. The fact that this took place at around 5pm on a December afternoon (a Sunday) and in the city centre only increased my incredulity at the incident and left me wondering exactly what Bristol had to offer me. Yes of course it has its attractions, which are similar in scope to those of any city of its size - and Bristol is bigger than a few places - so it's fair to expect that there's something to do at the weekends in Britains 8th largest urban area. Bath is a bit special if not unique and a major tourist centre internationally, and were it near Liverpool/Glasgow/Sheffield then these other large cities would probably also have a bit of a problem with it. And after all that, I might leave Bath sometime soon although I haven't decided to exactly where yet. Somewhere with fewer students and French tourists (many of whom are also students) is what I'm thinking. Probably not Bristol though.