There's an old saying - "You take the man out of Bristol, but you can't take the racist, xenophobic, sociopathic tendancies out of a Bristolian". Or something like that. Anyway, Bristolians have a pretty bad (and deserved) reputation for not being the friendliest people in the country.
As a die-hard Bristolian displaced my entire life, Middlesbrough for college, Germany for work and, in no particular order, having worked in Basingstoke, Reading, Swindon, Chippenham, London and Cheltenham, I have a slighter more world-centric view of my country than other Bristles.
As such, and given I have now put down roots in a separate county, I have a slightly less rabidly angry and hostile view of other denizens of my country. So, I thought I'd post a brief guide to my new home, Herefordshire, from the perspective of a Bristolian, i.e. me.
Firstly everything seems a little slower than I remember. The pubs don't feel quite as much like I'm about to be dragged out and 'pavemented' (I used to drink in a lot of biker pubs and saw people get pavemented a couple of times - person is dragged out and laid across a kerbstone, which is then used to adminster breaking punishment if you get my drift), the shops feel friendlier (than Broadmead - pretty much, prior to the regeneration, the unfriendliest shopping centre in the world), and the atmosphere seems a little more relaxed.
Hereford itself feels like a place forgotten in time but just discovered by the East Europeans. Yup, there's a lot of Polish accents around when you walk through the centre - strangely, as a Bristolian, immigrant workers don't bother me. When I was in Germany it was the Turks, and now in Hereford it's the Poles, but the difference is in Germany the Turks were the workers. In Hereford, at the moment, every street corner has a bunch of bored looking Polish people, smoking like their lives depended on it. Seems odd that an entire set of people has displaced to another country just to be unemployed, but hey, what do I know.
Hereford itself is like a lot of English cities - a complete contrast set in stone. Beautiful areas, the Cathedral, Church Street, the Old House, jostle with urban decay 60's style for access to the air. Unfortunately there was a fire in late 2010 that managed to destroy a medieval hall but left a concrete card shop intact. Figure that one out.
The villages out in the wilds of Herefordshire are a lot of fun. Ledbury is halfway between Castle Coombe and Winterbourne in it's stylings, a lot of beautiful town market buildings again vying with Easton style concrete boxes. Bromyard, having driven through it once, seems a lovely little crush of black and white just off of a dual carriageway. Leominster, well that seems to be the Patchway of Herefordshire.
What strikes me the most is the contrast between urban desolation and pure, unadulterated countryside. In the space of a mile and a half you go from a Southmead style urban pile of poo to the utter beauty of a quite country village, then miles and miles of rolling hills and farmland until the next 1970's bowel movement.
What freaks me out? Firstly the mix of loud rambunctiousness combined with the deathly peace of a countryside. In Bristol it's loud, sirens, shouts, the occasional scream of a drug related crime victim, all the fun of the fair. Herefordshire it's cows, cows, cows, apples, cows, cows, scream, cows. For someone who is carefully tuned to avoid urban violence the absence of it 98% of the time feels like it is lulling me into a false sense of security in advance of someone coming at me with a broken glass.
Also, what is it with all this rural-ness? I've seen more tractors in the last six months than in my entire life. I've gone from vaguely urban (wildlife = rats, pigeons, rat-pigeon hybrids) to living in a wildlife wonderland. We had a swarm of visiting bees earlier in the week, which freaked me out beyond belief, and about four weeks after moving I came home to find a confused Blue Tit flying around in the shower. For someone who's experience of wildlife was helping my father move a rotting fox out from under a shed this is all a bit David Attenborough.
Over time I'm guessing my Bristolian shields will drop and I will fully drink in the beauty of this forgotten corner of a green and pleasant land, but in the meantime I'll sit in bars with a drink in one hand and the Bristolian's greeting of a scowl upon my face.