Non-Places of Interest in Bristol

22Oct10

I’ve long been fascinated by local history, the weirder the better. While Big History like Brunel and Cabot and the Slave Trade are important, and tell us a lot about the old place, it’s the little things that can often tell us more.

A city that’s a thousand years old, where millions of people have lived out their lives down the centuries, has an almost infinite number of tales to tell. Whether they’re true or not doesn’t actually matter, and the more you drill down, the more you find.

It’s a fractal, is what it is.

I’ve been thinking right hard in recent months about links between these stories and their actual physical locations. I’m not sure where this is going ultimately, although it has something to do with new technologies such as Google Maps and iPhone apps. One day I might even get round to running guided tours around town on the themes of the weird and mythical.

In the meantime, an iPhone app tour of Bristol’s wartime blitz is out soon (and many thanks to the very wonderful Bristol Record Office, without whom … ) . More as and when.

I’m also going to be doing a virtual tour of fantastical Bristol at the Bristolcon sf and fantasy convention on November 6. If you’re into spacemen, barbarians, monsters, technology and fabulous made-up worlds, then you need to be there. At the con, I mean. Not necessarily my talk. Go on. Buy a ticket.

One thing I’ll be talking about is non-places of interest. Places that have a notional existence, but not a real one. I wanna find more of these, but for example there is the wonderful Lye Close, which has already been mentioned on this blog. Now here’s another one, which I found in a ten-year-old copy of Venue magazine recently.

This is the first part of the story, by me, from October 2000. The last time I looked, the park bench was still there:

PARK BENCH WAS ‘HOME’ TO SIX PEOPLE

For the last ten years a park bench in Bristol’s Portland Square has had its own postcode in an effort to provide a legitimate address to enable homeless people in the city to beat NHS bureaucracy.

The truly surreal news that the park bench (postcode BS2 8QD) was registered as the official ‘home’ of six people emerged last week. Staff at the busy Montpelier Health Centre in inner city Bristol had come up with the idea in order to provide care for homeless individuals. In order to use the NHS, patients have to be registered at an identifiable UK address, and staff at the Centre came up with the idea in order to provide an address that would be accepted by the system.

The patients in question were not expected to actually live at the park bench and no mail was ever delivered there.

Now Avon Health Authority has ended the system after accusations that it was insulting to the homeless. An Avon Health Authority spokeswoman told Venue: “The state of play is that we have now told GPs that they can put ‘no fixed abode’ in the first line of the records for a homeless patient and then use the GP’s address.”

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