All posts by David Bryant

Tennis on tables?

The TV is showing table tennis and I find myself wondering “who the hell invented that?” I mean playing tennis on a table. You wouldn’t play golf on a table — unless you drilled holes in it. You couldn’t hold athletics on a table. And think of the consequences of baseball on a table… So why can’t these silly buggers go and find a real tennis court and play with racquets instead of frying pans?

Passing Times – Number 1


The world’s relief at the victory of the Allied Forces over Nazi Germany in World War II was short-lived. The Hot War was replaced by The Cold War, with a standoff between the Soviet Union, expansionist and determined to spread Communism, and the United States, now permanently drawn into Worldwide affairs and regarding socialism as the enemy of freedom.

Between those super-powers, the continent of Europe stood trembling at the prospect of someone pressing the nuclear button, either by intent or mistake. The continent of Asia was where the action was played out by proxy, leading to mass slaughter.

As the calendar moved from the 1980s to the 1990s, the world allowed itself another breath of relief. The Berlin Wall had marked the boundary between East and West; Communism and Capitalism; freedom and oppression. It was torn down. The Soviet Union collapsed and Russia itself seemed to be ready for democracy.

Now we’ve gone backwards again. A Russian who was imprisoned for spying for the West, but later released under a hostage exchange and was living in England, was attacked with a nerve agent. His daughter, visiting from Russia, appears to have been a collateral victim. They have both spent weeks in hospital at death’s door, but now seem to be recovering. A police sergeant, who tried to help them when they collapsed in the streets of the city of Salisbury, was also affected by the poison, but is on the mend.

Furtive chemical warfare in one of England’s cathedral cities … and the UK government has firmly laid the blame at President Putin’s door. Another twenty countries have accepted the UK’s view and the toughest response has come from the United States.

So this could be Cold War II – not the threat of nuclear annihilation (although that could re-emerge), but stealthy, targeted attacks on individuals, of the type that has brought attempted murder and chaos to a city in England.

I look at some of the tensions of The Cold War in my novel, “Beyond the Last Hill”, available from Doce Blant Publishing.

Salisbury Cathedral

DoceBlantLogo BLACK HORIZ 100



The motives for writing “Beyond the Last Hill”

I set “Beyond the Last Hill” in the 1960s for two reasons. One – it was essential to the plot that the characters often were out of communication with each other, e.g. they had to rely on public phone kiosks, which may or may not be in working order. Secondly, and this was my bigger motive, I wanted to take today’s generation back to the fabled 60s and show that yes, it was a time of great social revolution as we all know, but the decade had its ugly side: the overwhelming threat of nuclear war; extreme social division; rampant racism; economic and industrial chaos; all in a United Kingdom still not recovered from World War II. And then there was that other ominous fear – the one that is the basis of the story…

Bristol – a city with offspring.

By Paul Townsend on the Facebook group, Bygone Bristol

Bristols Worldwide

I have actually been to Bristol in Pennsylvania, and found out that most of the people living there had never heard of Bristol in England. Which does not surprise me as most Americans know nothing about the rest of the world?.

Places named Bristol, there are thirty-five populated places in the world named Bristol, the vast majority of which are in the United States.

There are also two in Canada and one each in the United Kingdom, Peru, Costa Rica and Jamaica. Bristol is the fifth most commonly re-used British place name, behind Richmond which has 55 namesakes, London which has 46, Oxford with 41 and Manchester which shares its name with 36 other places.

By far the largest Bristol is Bristol, England, with a population of 441,300 within the city boundaries in 2010, followed by Bristol, Connecticut, which had 60,477 people living there at the time of the 2010 census. Bristol Wells Town Site is a ghost town, and therefore has nobody living there.

Bristol and the USA

The English Bristol played a major part in the discovery and settlement of the United States, it being the port from where John Cabot sailed on his 1497 voyage which is commonly credited as the first from Europe to North America, although there is evidence that he was not the first European to sail there. The city was a major port at the time North America was being colonised, resulting in many of the American and Canadian towns of the same name being named after it.

There are two US states that have more than one place called Bristol in them; Pennsylvania, which has a borough and a township with that name, and Wisconsin, which has two towns. All Bristols are in the Western Hemisphere, and most are also in the Northern Hemisphere. The only populated place in the Southern Hemisphere is Bristol, Peru.

There are many connections between Bristol, England and America that may surprise visitors from abroad. From exciting voyages on the high seas, religious ties and even the naming of America—Bristol has some interesting truths to tickle your fancy.

The parish church of St Mary Redcliffe is one of the finest examples of Gothic architecture in England. On her visit in 1574, Queen Elizabeth I is said to have described it as “the fairest, goodliest, and most famous parish church in England.” Although its plan dates from an earlier period, much of the church as it now stands was built between 1292 and 1370. St Mary Redcliffe’s American links include The American Chapel (St. John’s Chapel) which houses the tomb and armor of Admiral Sir William Penn, father of Pennsylvania’s founder. Next to The American Chapel, discover the gigantic whale-bone brought back to Bristol by John Cabot in 1497 after he sailed from Bristol to discover North America.

Above the North door of the church is a model of the replica of the Matthew (see below), the ship in which Cabot sailed from Bristol to discover North America. Stained glass depicting the voyage, adorns the walls. Before leaving, ask to see the bronze monument to Joanna Brook, the daughter of Richard Ameryck. Legend has it that John Cabot named America after Ameryck, who funded his voyage. Although little is known about Ameryck, a brass monument in honor of his daughter Joanna lies at St Mary Redcliffe.

Over 500 years ago John Cabot and his crew set sail from Bristol for Asia aboard the original Matthew, hoping to trade goods and commodities with the people who lived there. Cabot finally arrived, but on the coast of Newfoundland instead, and therefore was the original discoverer of America (not Christopher Columbus as most people are led to believe). There is plenty of history wrapped up in her timbers and today, a replica of the ship is moored on Bristol’s Harbourside just waiting to wisk you away on a voyage of discovery and a maritime tour of the city’s historic Harbourside.

A monument to John Cabot can be found right in Bristol’s city center and boasts the best (and most romantic) views of the city, called Cabot Tower. The tower was constructed in memory of John Cabot, 400 years after he set sail in the Matthew from Bristol and discovered North America. The foundation stone was laid on June 24 1897 and the tower was completed in July 1898. Cabot Tower recently re-opened after being closed for several years and is now a major visitor attraction.

Richard Ameryck was the Bristol businessman who funded John Cabot’s voyage to North America and many believe Cabot may have named America after him. Ameryck lived around 1445–1503 and was a wealthy English merchant, royal customs officer and sheriff. He was the principal owner of the Matthew, the ship sailed by John Cabot during his voyage of exploration to North America in 1497.

A Bristolian scholar and amateur historian, Alfred Hudd, suggested in 1908 that the name, ‘America’, was derived from Ameryck’s surname due to his sponsorship of Cabot’s expedition to Newfoundland and was used on early British maps that have since been lost.

This is not the consensus view of how America was named, but has been repeated as a form of historical revisionism. It is also said that the stars and stripes of the United States flag are based on the design of the Ameryck coat of arms which boasts the same design. To learn more about this possible naming of America and decide for yourself, take a Bristol Pirate Walk and hear the tale from local historian, Pirate Pete. You can also visit a statue of John Cabot on Bristol’s Harbourside in front of Arnolfini.

Bristol played an important role in England’s maritime trade in tobacco, wine, cotton and other goods. The American colonies brought more opportunities for Bristol merchants including the notorious slave trade to the West Indies, which made the city a wealthy trading port.

Over a thousand years ago Bristol’s harbour developed around the lowest bridging point of the River Avon. As ships became larger and trade increased, the quay space became overcrowded and when the water drained away at low tide the ships lay grounded in the mud.

With this dilemma, the Bristol Docks Company finally adopted a proposal to create a non-tidal harbour. The ‘Floating Harbour’, constructed between 1804 and 1809, trapped the water behind lock gates allowing ships to remain floating at all times. Eventually, the growth in the size of ships and the narrowness of the river meant the end for Bristol as an international trading port.

Ocean going traffic began to use the Avonmouth Docks, developed during the 1880’s and 90’s which is the main port today. The Old Docks and ‘Floating Harbour’ are still a major Bristol attraction today and the centre of activity in Bristol.
Bristol also has a darker side that many Americans aren’t aware of. There were very strong trade links between Bristol and the USA, with a large amount of slave grown and harvested tobacco that came into the city.

From the late 1600s to the early 1800s, Bristol was involved in a massive slave shipping industry, serving as the main slave port in Europe at times. Between 1698 and 1807, around 2100 slaving related ship voyages sailed out of the port of Bristol and most of them were involved in trading with the American colonies.

Visitors to Bristol can discover this dark history at the city’s new Harbourside museum, M Shed or on a Bristol Pirate Walk. Pero’s Bridge on Bristol’s Harbourside, is named after Pero Jones, who was the African servant of a plantation owner. There is also a slave trade walking trail which explores Bristol’s historical associations with the slave trade in detail.

After a day of sightseeing, stop by the Llandoger Trow for a quiet pint of Westcountry cider. Pirate Captain, Blackbeard (Edward Teach) frequented this oldest pub in Bristol. He later went on to terrorize the eastern coast of the US before meeting his match (and demise) in America.

An anchor from Blackbeard’s ship, Queen Anne’s Revenge, was recently discovered off the coast of North Carolina.

The infamous pirate captain once had a hideaway cave under St Mary Redcliffe church and his original birthplace and childhood home still stands on Bristol’s Harbourside. To learn more about Bristol’s unique ties to America and its pirating past, take a Pirate Walk with the city’s own swashbuckling ‘Pirate Pete’ for some interesting truths and tales about Bristol and pirates.

Brunel’s ss Great Britain was an advanced passenger steamship designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel for transatlantic service between Bristol and New York. The ship was a world first when she was launched in Bristol in 1843, being the first iron steamer to cross the Atlantic and the largest vessel at the time. She transformed travel to America and brought together new technologies in a way which transformed world travel.

Brunel, the most daring of the great Victorian engineers, conceived the groundbreaking combination of a screw propeller, an iron hull, and a massive 1000-horsepower steam engine. The ss Great Britain was immediately successful and on her maiden voyage to America, easily broke previous speed records. Although effectively a prototype, she continued sailing until 1886 and travelled thirty-two times around the world and nearly one million miles at sea.

She was finally abandoned in the Falkland Islands in 1937, after more than forty years use as a floating warehouse. In 1970 an ambitious salvage effort brought her home to Bristol, where today she is conserved in the dry dock where she was originally built. The vessel is a multi award-winning attraction, welcoming 150,000–170,000 visitors annually who can experience life as a Victorian on board.

The world’s first Methodist chapel in Bristol is also a popular tourist attraction, drawing thousands of Americans annually to the city. The New Room, also known as John Wesley’s Chapel is located right in the heart of Bristol’s main shopping district and is a sacred gem.

John Wesley came to Bristol in 1739 at the invitation of George Whitefield, who asked him to take over his work of preaching to the open air crowds, many of which were poor Bristolians. Wesley preached his first open air sermon on April 2nd and by May 9th the religious societies had grown so much that Wesley bought land and laid the foundation stone of what he called “our New Room in the Horsefair.”

A plaque near the pulpit tells how Wesley in 1784 ordained Thomas Coke, who went to America and ordained Francis Asbury. They became Bishops of the Methodist Episcopal Church in America. After touring The New Room, visitors looking for an adventurous experience can cycle along the Portishead path from Bristol to view the American Monument in Pill where Asbury and Coke sailed from Pill to America, spreading the Methodist Religion. The New Room is open daily for guests and visitors can also see the Charles Wesley House nearby.

Visit Queen Square and stroll by number 37 to see where the first American Embassy was established in September 1792 after the American Revolution. Queen Square was completed in 1727 and named in honour of Queen Anne. The north side and much of the west were destroyed in the Bristol Riots of 1831 and rebuilt. Many of the buildings now have listed building status and the square is a favourite outdoor location among visitors and Bristolians on warm summer days.

Where are they now?

When I write books and take my characters through a string of surprises, challenges and setbacks, they become more and more real to me. Inside my head, I’ll ask them what they’ve got to say about the latest situation they’re in; what they’re going to do about it. They usually answer by telepathy, but that’s another topic.

The point is that they become so real to me, I wonder why happens to them after the climax of the book. I hope they’re ok.

In “Beyond the Last Hill”, released this year by Doce Blant Publishing, I created Sally Fisher, a journalist so determined to get the scoop that she faced down death threats, the police and her own editor. The story was set in 1968 when Sally was 23…so now she’s nearly 73. What’s happened in the meantime, Sally? You’re probably active in something; maybe sitting outside a government office in the rain, campaigning for better pensions. Or maybe you mellowed and took up knitting. Do you have grandchildren?

The other lead in the book was Major Dan Barrington of the United States Army. He was 33 then, so he’s getting on 83 now. He was an American football player, strikingly well-built and fit. Perhaps he’s taken up some less-active pastime like darts or Lego.

Come to me in my dreams, Sally and Dan, and give me an update, please.