Episode – Is Anything Impossible

The City of Threads logo is square in shape with the words City of Threads situated in the centre; black text on white background. Fine red wiggly lines emanate out from the title words, tracing fragments of actual journeys featured in the podcast.


In an episode that spans seven decades of life in the city, you’ll meet John and Alan, lifelong friends, campaigners and Bristol boys, and Virginia, a harpsichordist and dedicated ‘stopper and looker’. Join them all on their city journeys by way of an elusive bacon bap, a nook on a bridge and some not-rocket science. 

Featured theme; Inclusive Public Space. 

People featured

Featuring the journeys of Alan Dyte and his friend and travelling companion Dave Murray, John Vickery and Jon Defrates his travelling companion, Virginia Rowan and Rosa Martyn her travelling companion.

Paul Sullivan, guest contributor; former access and inclusion officer at Bristol Museums.

Anna Lawson; guest contributor; Professor at the School of Law, University of Leeds and joint director of the Centre for Disability Studies Leeds.

Bryan Matthews, guest contributor; Lecturer at the University of Leeds Institute for Transport Studies and member of the Disabled Persons Transport Advisory Committee.

Organisations featured

MShed; for more info on Bristol’s people’s museum Click Here 

BPAC; for contact info for Bristol Physical Access Chain Click Here 

Avon Sports and Leisure Club for the Visually Impaired; for more info Click Here

Bristol Blind Bowling Club; to find out more about this 50 plus year old organisation Click Here 

Bristol Royal Workshops for the Blind – for more info Click Here 

New College, Worcester; want to know a bit more about the V.I. college based in Worcester, attended by Nick co-host in this episode and a few other of our City of Thread citizens? Click Here

Parkour; for more info on the urban sport Nick practises Click Here 

Themes and issues raised

Inclusive Public Space; Anna Lawson, who features in the episode, leads the International Inclusive Public Space project, for which Bryan Matthews is one of the expert advisers. For more information on this brilliant project Click Here

Inclusive public transport; the ‘It’s Everyone’s Journey’ campaign has been developed by the Department for Transport in partnership with industry, disability groups and disabled people, to find out more Click Here

Inclusive Transport Strategy; read the governments inclusive transport strategy mentioned by Bryan Matthews in the episode. It was published in 2018 and last updated in November 2020 Click Here

Accessibility at Shakespeare’s Globe; and following on from Clare in the episode’s positive review of the area outside the Globe as a fully accessible space designed collaboratively with disabled people, we thought you’d be interested to find out how integrated accessibility is to the Globe as a building and its performances too. For more info Click Here

Shared Space; for a bit of info on Hans Monderman, the man behind the Shared Space concept Click Here

Places and spaces visited

Bristol Harbour; to find out more about Bristol’s Harbour area Click Here

The Matthew: to find out more about the Matthew tall ship Click Here

Greville Smyth Community Bowls Club, for more info Click Here

The Sportsman, for more info on this much favoured watering hole with a history of serving the V.I. community Click Here

Peros Bridge; for more info on this quirky pedestrian bridge that spans the floating harbour visited by Virginia and Alan in the episode Click Here

Park Street; to find out a bit more about this busy and vibrant street visited by Alan on his journey Click Here

Bristol Central Library, for more info Click Here


These podcasts use multiple recordings of people from interviews and locations at different times over a period of nearly two years, woven together with immersive sound design and music.

Headings used within this transcript are not spoken within the episode but are there to indicate different sections within the episode to the reader.

Podcast Starts

Narrator: In October 2019 a team of visually impaired and sighted artists and collaborators took journeys together into the city of Bristol, with the aim of uncovering the usually unheard stories of visually impaired citizens and returning these stories to the heart of the city narrative.

The journeys were recorded and revealed such a treasure trove of insights and shared experiences that The City of Threads podcast was born.   

Each episode is hosted by core members of that team and features the journeys they took. So, join us on an immersive audio journey into The City of Threads. 

Welcome to, ‘Is Anything Impossible’.

Sound design: Logo and theme music weaves through the following audio fragments:

Alan: I don’t argue [Pause] although I might’ve done [Laughter].

Virginia: ‘Cos I’m a stopper and a looker at things, I’m not someone who rushes through life, I like stopping and looking and having little reflections.

John: Well, he fed your dog as well didn’t he? 

Alan: Yes, well, he says if I’m going to have a bacon sandwich my dog’s got to have a sausage.

Virginia: And what are you interested in now?

Nick: Still the same kind of genre of music, so funk, psychedelic rock, blues-orientated. 

Virginia: Yeah you were right away with it when I saw you on the YouTube clip! 

Nick: Yeah we were rockin’ out.

Alan: As I told you earlier, I did what I wanted. Always got into trouble for it. But it was worth it. 

John: So, condiments of the season! 

Sound design: Segue from music into:

Part 1

Pre intro – John and Alan – Old Friends 

Sound design: Sounds of a friendly pub atmosphere with music playing

John: We both played musical instruments and we played at a pub called The Lamb and Flag at Cribbs Causeway. 

Alan: I did, I used to play accordion out there on Tuesday night.

John: And I played drums on a Thursday and Friday. So that’s back to 1968 because we came down to listen to you band playing and the joke always was, The Jones Boys I think, wasn’t it? 

Alan: Yes. 

John: Was you could tell what time it was ‘cos they played the same set every night. 

Sound design: After ‘same set every night’ the snare drum lick ‘ba boom’ plays, the classic punchline signifier.

Alan: Well, we didn’t want to learn a lot did we?! [Laughter].

Sound design: Segue back to journey music.

Co-hosts Intro

Nick: That was John Vickery and Alan Dyte, who have been friends for a little over forty years. And in this episode we’ll be taking you on three journeys into our city, Alan and John’s and Virginia Rowan’s, who joined our project for a day in October 2019. I am Nick Bignall. 

Alan: And I’m Alan Dyte.

Nick: And we are your co-hosts, so let’s unwind the ball and follow the threads of what these journeys reveal.

Alan: Right Nick, shall we get started? 

Nick: Let’s go! 

Sound design: Segue from music into Arnolfini soundscape.

John and Jon Intro – At Arnolfini

Sound design: The light studio soundscape.

John: I’m John, I am one of the core collaborators or conspirators in the project. [Laughter]. I’ve been asked to say a few words to welcome you today, they said be brief and to the point don’t off the subject stray, the object of today’s excursion is to demonstrate to your our version.

Narrator: Our first journey is John’s; writer of witty poems, teller of corny jokes and one of the longest standing members of the City of Threads team.

John: Hi, my name is John Vickery I am journey lead today. I’m working with a good friend of mine Jon DeFrates, who we’ve known each other for a few years now via the bowling club where we are both officers of the committee. 

Jon: OK, so I am Jon and I am going to be the guide and trying to help in as best way I can. 

Narrator: We’re in the Light studio at Arnolfini, the start and end point for all our journey takers.

John: I have an eye condition, which I was born with. Commonly known these days as the rubella syndrome. I have congenital cataracts, nystagmus and now also glaucoma. Basically, I have sight in my right eye which is about 75% of full vision and no use in the left eye. I carry it around as a spare. It’s no good to anybody if anyone wants an eye, I’ve got one begging.

Narrator: All travellers begin by introducing themselves, then journey leads share information with their travelling companion about their sight, and what might be needed, in terms of guiding, on their journey.

John: I also wear two hearing aids, which are digital. Just to add to the full set of disabilities I have, I also have mobility issues, which means I travel round in a mobility scooter.

Co-host Alan: While they’re doing that shall we find out a bit more about my mate John Vickery? 

John’s Childhood Story

Sound design: Sounds and upbeat music of early post war era plays under John’s first few sentences.

John: I was born in Southmead hospital 1947, lived in Phillips street in Bedminster in a two up two down that we shared: my mum, my dad, my elder sister Ann and I. I remember a piano in the living room. Mum was, when she was a teenager and into her twenties sang, with a dance band, was very musical, Dad was a good singer, as was my sister, as was myself and very often we’d be seen in the local pub, doing three part harmonies and all sorts. Mum had a lovely voice, she was a very good pianist but didn’t like playing piano, you’d have to really press her to get up and play somewhere because she always thought someone was better, and there weren’t many that were better.

Narrator: John’s sister Ann would take him to the local station to wait for the steam trains to come in.

John: When we lived in Phillips Street opposite us was a bomb site where during the war the houses had been a direct hit and just down the road where we lived was Bedminster train station and Ann used to take me down in me pushchair to the station, where stream trains, as they were in those days, you got all the sounds and all the excitement of trains coming and going, even though I couldn’t see very well, it was a real atmosphere. 

Sound design: Sound of steam train.

Narrator: John had done his fair share of bumping into table legs and crawling into doors when his Dad thought he should check things out.

John: It wasn’t until I was four that Dad took me to the local GP and said there was a problem and the GP said no there’s nothing wrong, he’s just a late developer, but Dad didn’t accept that and took me to the eye hospital. 

Narrator: Where John got the correct diagnosis and an operation that gave him some much-appreciated additional sight.

John: [I] managed most of the time going through school, had the situation one day where the deputy headmaster, called a meeting and Dad came along and they were talking about me going to a special school, as they called them in those days. I knew straight away what that meant, and Dad looked at me and said, ‘what do you want to do?’ And I always remember to this day I said: ‘I wanna stay with me mates’ and that is where I stayed.

Sound design: Sounds of boys playing happily in playground.

Narrator: This early experience of being asked what he wanted and being listened to, was something that John never forgot.

John: One of the things, when you’ve got disability of any sort, is that a lot of people make assumptions on your behalf, and something that a lot of disabled people say, is please don’t assume, ask.

Leaving Arnolfini

Sound design: Back to Arnolfini light studio.

Narrator: Back in Arnolfini, with all travelling essentials communicated, John and Jon leave the light studio and head out of the building.

 Outside Arnolfini

Sound design: Change of sounds as they leave building and stand on the dockside.

 Narrator: Once outside they stand for a moment taking in their surroundings. Arnolfini occupies an old 19th-century tea warehouse that is bordered on two sides by the water and boats of the floating Harbour. 

Jon: What do you think looking across the harbour John? 

John: Wet and grey, could be worse, could be raining. It’s quite a pleasant day, the winds dropped. 

Jon: Yeah yeah. 

John: And I’m hoping I can get my roof done at home later but that’s another, that’s another… 

Jon: Story. OK [Laughter].

Narrator: Before setting off all travellers read out the first of four wild cards that they’ve been given, designed to tune them in to the city journey. 

Jon: So this is the first card: Take a moment to stand together, notice your breath the ground beneath your feet, the movement of the air and the sounds of the city, as you set out on this first part of your journey together take this awareness with you, notice the city soundscape, the changing surfaces underfoot, the movement of air, the aromas, flavours and textures that you encounter along the way. So, let’s just take a moment to stand together [They both laugh]. So, breathe [More laughter]. 

John: So for the benefit of the tape I’m sat in my mobility scooter. 

Jon: And me, I’m just going to be on the right-hand side, hanging in and out as I pass the recorder when we stop places and we’ll try and give you the best journey possible that we can, OK? 

John: Indeed, OK!  

The Journey Begins

Sound design: Journey music and sounds start: sounds of the harbour, travelling across a bridge. 

Narrator: And as they set off, over Princes Street bridge – a swing bridge across Bristol’s floating harbour – and on, towards John’s first stopping point on the other side, we’re going to pick up the thread of John’s story again.

John’s Backstory – Work

Sound Design: Sound of piano being played enthusiastically before segue though various music from the era, dying down after the narrator’s first line.

Narrator: John had dabbled with the idea of being a piano tuner when he left school but pretty soon he soon found his niche, with the job he ended up staying in most of his working life. 

John: I started work at the children’s hospital.

Narrator: As a telephonist.

John: [cont.] on the sixteenth of June, sixteenth of May sorry, 1966, what a memory. £12.18 and three a week, good money, but shortly after that in ‘72 the unions became active in the health service and I became a shop steward for what was then NUPE, National Union of Public Employees, later went on to become branch secretary of the branch and held that post for nearly thirty years before I retired on health grounds, so I was either good at what I did or they couldn’t get rid of me!

Narrator: John was very active in the disabled movement of the union and was well known as someone who would help you fight your corner. People still approach him now, thanking him for the support he gave them on some case or other.

Sound design: Segues us back to sounds of the city.

M Shed – Stop One

John: We’ve arrived at the front of the M Shed but I can’t go this way in my scooter because there’s a five-bar gate blocking the entrance, it’s a recent addition to the way in.

Narrator: Our travellers, are stood outside John’s first stopping point: an old converted dockside transit shed that is now M Shed, a museum all about the people of Bristol. 

John: There is a like a staggered entrance but because I’m in a scooter with a cover on it, it’s like driving a big square box and it won’t go through the gate safely. 

Jon: So we are going to go along here and then behind the M Shed so we can access it from that direction? 

John: That’s it.

Narrator: They travel round the back, park up and go inside.

Sound design: Immersive sounds of inside the M Shed, giving us time to arrive and orientate in a new space.

John: OK, we’re now in the M Shed, you can tell by the atmospheric noise there’s a lot of people around. Youngsters. And lots of interesting sounds going on.

John: If I can just explain the reason why we’ve come here. I was part of a group called BPAC (Bristol Physical Access Chain) which helped to advise the Bristol Council and the staff here about disabled access, so not just for visually impaired but all sorts of access issues. So things like the lift have tactile buttons so you can feel the floor number. 

Narrator: Bristol Physical Access Chain, or BPAC, is a group, affiliated to the city council, who volunteer their time to improve access for disabled people within the built environment.

John: There’s all sorts here because one of the reasons why they did it so well, one of the people that worked here previously was one of our members of our club, Paul Sullivan. Who is himself blind. 

John, Paul and Alan – M Shed Accessible Design

Sound design: Sound of a screen reader reading out zoom call information.

John: Hello young Paul.

Paul: Hello there. 

John: Long time no see. 

Paul: Yeah, well, you can see me but I can’t see you. 

John: Well [Laughter].

Co-host Alan: That’s John, Paul and me at the start of a zoom call we had, to talk more about Paul’s role at M Shed and our time working together on it at BPAC. 

Paul: When I started my job in 2006 my role was to ensure two things really; one was that the building was as physically accessible as possible for people with all kinds of different needs, and also that it included stories about disabled people. I formed two groups, one to look at stories or content for the museum and one to look at physical access, and funnily enough members of BPAC, other members of BPAC including myself, ended up joining those two groups, which really helped me to get off to a really good start and also it ensured that there was a two-way flow of information, that those members could then go back to BPAC and report what the museum was doing and the museum knew what BPAC was doing, so it was a mutually beneficial collaboration. 

John: Yeah it was interesting, I discovered there’s information there pertaining to a group that both Alan and I belonged to, which is Bristol and District Blind Bowlers, there was a colleague of ours who was a sighted player and helper, actually wrote the history of Bristol Blind Bowlers and there’s a copy of it in the museum and I was quite taken that, there was actually an item in the museum in its own right, and I thought yeah, this is fine, we do exist, we’ve arrived. 

Alan: Because we were there, it, in a way, invited disabled people to go to the museum and take part in various activities. Paul was part of the people organising things for us and he would put on an exhibition and tell us about it, and it was really lovely because until those things happened not many people who were blind and disabled chose to go to the museum. 

Paul: Yes thank you Alan, I think you are absolutely right, I mean that was one of the outstanding successes of M Shed. Is that it really is the people’s museum, it’s accessible to everybody, so disabled people get in there and use that museum and benefit from it, just like everyone else. 

Narrator: Paul and his team worked with an audio labelling device, called a penfriend, to make exhibits more accessible.

Paul: This was a small device that you could walk around the museum with and touch a specific sound trigger if you were interested in information about particular objects and then your penfriend would deliver you some recorded information about that object. 

Sound design: Sound of a recorded voice explaining an exhibit.

Narrator: They used it in the permanent galleries but also in the temporary exhibitions, which was a bit of a game changer, as it ensured, for the first time, that temporary exhibitions could be easily audio described and made accessible. 

Paul: At the risk of becoming a mutual appreciation society, I couldn’t have done this without you guys.

Narrator: John, Alan, Paul and BPAC worked very closely together on all aspects at M Shed: staff training, guiding, language, how to welcome people.

Paul: Whatever my contribution was to the museum service and whatever yours was and Alan’s, which were significant and important, it’s been a massive collaboration.

Sound design: On Paul’s last statement we begin our move from inside to outside. 

Paul: I think for me what I learned, and it’s not rocket science, is that, if you don’t plan to include everybody from the very beginning, you don’t do it very well. 

Sound design: Sounds of outdoors allows space for this last statement to land.

Sensory Harbour

Sound design: Soundscape of the harbour.

Narrator: Back outside the M Shed, in our city journey, John and Jon have stopped to appreciate some of the sensory delights the Harbourside offers.

John: Yes, we’re right outside the fish and chip shop that a number of us often frequent. They do very nice fish and chips at a reasonable price. The smell in the air at the moment is of fish cooking, and you can’t quite smell the vinegar but I can imagine the vinegar being put on, along with the salt and other condiments. So condiments of the season! 

Sound design: During John’s descriptions sounds builds into an immersive sensory moment from mouth-watering sizzle of chips through to sounds of the harbour, seagulls, people. 

Narrator: The area our travellers are standing in is just behind M Shed, on a street of double stacked shipping containers, that are filled with restaurants, bars and even a bamboo bicycle shop. Behind are riverfront housing developments that stretch out along the Harbourside, with its cranes and boats and the majestic Matthew tall ship that is moored nearby.

Sound design: Sound of a steam train. 

John: The steam train just drove past us, which is a regular feature at the weekend, so we get all the smells and sounds of the steam train. 

Sound design: Steam train sounds fade.

Journey to The Bacon Bap

Narrator: The two ‘Johns’ now start to head back towards Prince’s bridge, and John’s second stopping point, the bacon roll shop. 

Jon: Going along the way we are, the water’s on your left, you’ve got tram lines in the middle, that used to take the four massive great cranes that reach thirty-odd plus feet in the air.

John: And we’re off now to the bacon roll shop, which I’ll find out the name of when we get there. 

Sound design: Percussive urban plunky music gradually fades in.

Jon: Ooh, I can feel my tummy rumbling already.

Narrator: Encountering and overcoming obstacles as they go.

John: The flooring changes from place to place, sometimes you’ve got a concreted area, very often though it’s like a cobbled area, which is very difficult if you are visually impaired, it’s also difficult for guide dogs to walk on, it’s also difficult if you are using a long cane, ‘cos the cane gets stuck in the grooves.

John: We can’t go to the right so we have to retrace our steps somewhat to get to the back of the building and then off to the bacon roll shop. 

Jon: John’s heading off for cover. 

John: There’s a young child come scooting past me on a scooter, I’ve had to stop ‘cos I would have hit him. 

Jon: We’re going to cross over Museum Street, are we going to go up to the cycle path again? 

John: Up to the bridge, yes. 

John: Travelling along behind the M Shed now and we have a regular occurrence now of three bikes padlocked to bollards on the left.

Jon: Just gone over the bridge as you can hear: cyclists, pedestrians and there’s traffic moving all around us all the time. But John’s crossed over with a specific aspect to the Princes Pantry, however it looks very much closed and as if we’re not going to get our bacon bap. 

Sound recording: The journey soundscape is abruptly stopped by the sounds of a shutter being closed.

Bacon Bap (Epilogue)

Co-host Nick: And they didn’t! Here’s John with Alan later, talking about why the café is a much-loved stopping point.

John: When we go to our sessions at the Arnolfini we usually start off with an egg and bacon roll. It was just such a shock that day when I was going round with my friend Jon, to find it shut. 

Alan: What a disappointment. 

John: He fed your dog as well. 

Alan: He says if I’m going to eat a bacon sandwich then my dog’s got to have a sausage. 

John: Then you ate it! [Laughter].

Narrator: Important guide dog etiquette here. In general, it’s really important not to feed a guide dog, you might distract them from their job! 

Journey to the City Centre

Narrator: Hungry now, our intrepid travellers continue on their way down the obstacle strewn Princes Street and on to the city centre.

Sound design: Gives a sense of their journey with sounds from the city.

City Centre – Journey Takers

Sound design: Sound of the shared space. Immersive, binaural.

John: We’re just coming on to the Bristol city centre. 

Narrator: Welcome to the city centre: market place, meeting place, passing though place; where ice cream vans and crepe and falafel stalls compete with cascade waterfall steps, seagulls, boats and numerous other cafes, bars and restaurants that fan out around it. The modern, vibrant, town square.

Sound design: Mood of the sounds changes to reflect the new space. 

John: Which is a nightmare because the council, in its infinite wisdom, decided to have a road, a footpath, a cycle path, another footpath and, as you go along this particular area, although there are little cycle signs on the path, if you can’t see them, you don’t know they are there. 

Narrator: All travellers were asked to consider which areas of the city were no go zones for them and this is John’s. As John and Jon make their way through this urban obstacle course, let’s hear from our many other travellers for whom this space is also a no go zone.

Sound design: Various sounds weave together within a soundscape of the shared space.

Anela: It’s a busy, big open space, not really any landmarks and quite a challenging place to walk through by myself, well I don’t think I would do it. 

Barrington: It’s changed so much over the years. It’s much, much harder. I wouldn’t do it on my own now, like I used to do over the years.

Holly: The sound of the traffic can be quite overwhelming really when you are trying to navigate.

Virginia: The aural hitting of the centre, with its traffic and people and all sorts of obstacles which really disorientated me.

Esther: I was aware that the cycle path cuts straight across the paving but I suddenly realised that if you’ve got any sight problems there’s no sign of it at all.

Emma: Until you stand on the actual bike lane, you not gonna see them. For someone like myself who is hearing impaired and visually impaired, I’m not going to hear a bike coming.  

Barrington: It’s the silent vehicles you have to look for, like bicycles, because you can’t hear any engine, and they can just swing around at any time.   

Clare: I find it quite scary here because I think I could walk into the water with my dog quite easily. 

Anela: The centre just doesn’t really feel safe or accessible to me as a fully blind person. 

Holly: I love the vibrancy of the centre of Bristol but they have made it really inaccessible for visually impaired people and it makes it so much harder to be part of the centre of the town.

Narrator: And John and Jon are still navigating their way through.

John: We’re halfway across the centre and to my left and right are two posts in the ground. Not sure if they are lampposts or what the posts are for, but they are painted grey. And the floor to my left and to my right is also grey. So as a visually impaired person, particularly in certain light, they become invisible. 

Shared Space Experts

Sound design: Takes us into a different space.

Narrator: This area of Bristol is a type of city design commonly known as Shared Space. Here’s two experts from the University of Leeds. 

Anna: I’m Anna Lawson and I’m a professor in the School of Law at University of Leeds where I’m also the joint director at the Centre for Disability Studies. 

Bryan: My names is Bryan Matthews, I am a lecturer at the University of Leeds Institute for Transport Studies, I’m a member of the disabled persons transport advisory committee.

Narrator: Anna and Bryan had a very crackly zoom call, where they talked Nick and Alan through what shared space is and how it is supposed to work. 

Bryan: What is shared space? It’s a concept that was sort of introduced from the Netherlands. It’s the idea that spaces, street spaces can be made safer by kind of levelling the playing field and encouraging people to take notice of each other and respect each other. In order to do that we remove the sort of traditional barriers that have been introduced like curbs, like paths, roads and separate spaces for different types of road user. Under the thinking that lies behind shared space, it’s separating different road users from each other that makes people not take notice and makes those spaces more dangerous. 

Co-host Nick: So all of the elements that help us distinguish the road from the pavement, you take them away? 

Anna: Yes, it’s often thought of as sharing space between pedestrians and cars, but it is a term that’s also often used about sharing spaces between other types of road user as well, like pedestrians and cyclists, pedestrians and scooters, and it was introduced to make people safer but particularly to calm traffic, the idea was that it would slow traffic down, because car drivers, people on faster modes of transport, would be more attentive to the pedestrians and people who were using the roads at a slower pace.

Co-host Alan: So as long as the person who is travelling at speed sees me, I’m fine? Whose clever idea was this?

Bryan: My understanding is that it was a very charismatic kind of city planner who pioneered this, Hans Monderman, in the 1970s and I think we perhaps forget how different an era that was and how disabled people were not nearly as much on the radar of planning.

Narrator: Both Anna and Bryan are visually impaired themselves so as well as this area being their professional expertise, it’s also informed by their lived experience.

Co-host Nick: So, did it do what it set out to do? 

Bryan: The bits of data that were collected were showing that yes, people were sort of respecting one another in those spaces, but one of the key issues that I’ve come across is that people who find shared space difficult just avoid it as much as they can, so therefore they’re never going to show up in those studies that do observations of how people are operating in shared space. One of the key things that shared space relies on is the eye contact between the motorist and the pedestrian, and there’s a sort signalling that goes on between the motorist and the pedestrian through eye contact, and of course that’s impossible for blind people and very difficult, to impossible, for partially sighted people. 

Narrator: There’s actually a whole host of people that these shared spaces don’t work for. Many older people don’t fare much better, even just distracted people, people looking at their phones. 

Co-host Alan: For shared space to be safe, people have to understand the different ways we all navigate the city, and then be respectful and careful of each other.

 Dougie: So in Brighton there’s this street called New Road.

Co-host Nick: That’s Dougie, a journey taker from another episode, oh, and also, our narrator! 

Dougie: [cont.] which looks like it should be a pedestrian street but cars can go down it, but there’s just no delineation between cars, bikes, pavements, people. In a way that sounds sort of worryingly similar to the shared space.

Co-host Nick: The one in Bristol.

Dougie: [cont.] which is a nightmare. However there’s just, the attitude to the place is just that, because it’s this road that everyone uses, cars would never go down there any faster than like five miles an hour, cyclists know that it’s their responsibility not to hit pedestrians, rather than pedestrians responsibility to jump out of the way of the cyclists, and I’ve always thought that there should be much more spaces like that, where you can travel through them in a variety of ways but the right to go as fast as you can is just not there. 

Co-host Nick: Like Anna was saying earlier, people have to amend their speed in line with those travelling at the slowest pace.

Co-host Alan: But people don’t and the education isn’t there, and as a visually impaired person, with or without a guide dog, pavement edges and clearly marked tactile areas are vital for getting around.

Narrator: Here’s Clare, another City of Threads journey taker.

Clare: The area of London which has Shakespeare’s Globe and the bridge near there, what you’ve got is a really perfect blend of enough space for pedestrians, a clearly demarcated area for cyclists, a bridge that gives you lots of auditory visual and sensory information and an ability to really enjoy London.

Narrator: So no cars in this scenario.

Clare: And how they did that was, on the planning committee they had people in wheelchairs, people with sensory impairments, alongside builders, planners and the council, and they spent a long time talking together, so that there was proper inclusivity.

Co-host Alan: Brilliant, sounds like what we do at BPAC.

 Co-host Nick: But, from what Anna and Bryan told us, that’s not the story for a majority of shared spaces. 

Co-host Alan: Paul’s ‘not rocket science’ applies: ‘if you don’t plan to include everybody from the very beginning you don’t do it well!’.

Bryan: People may be interested to know that the Department for Transport has an inclusive transport strategy that it launched two years ago.

Narrator: 2018

Bryan: And the future of shared space is included in that strategy, and part of trying to figure out what the future is, the Department for Transport is planning to do some research to figure out what next for inclusive public spaces. So, whilst there is a moratorium on any new shared space schemes at the moment and the Government guidance that related to shared space has been withdrawn, the government, I think, are mindful that you know, that there needs to be something put in its place.

Co-host Alan: What about our human rights as disabled people, it’s basic stuff really, to access our city? 

Anna: Human rights apply to everybody, but in a disability context, accessibility is one of those rights, personal mobility is another, independent living is another, equality, obviously, is another, and these are all things which combine to give pedestrians who are disabled legal rights to use their cities. The legal situation is quite complex but it shouldn’t be difficult for people to basically claim what they should be entitled to, which is to walk safely in their local environments. 

Sound design: Music leaves shared space experts section and segues back into city sounds.

Back to City Journey

 Sound design: Leaving shared space, sounds of birds as we head up to the Sportsmans pub.

Narrator: Back in the journey, John and Jon have made it across the shared space and hungry, tired from their travels, and ready for some liquid refreshment, are headed to John’s final stop, The Bristol County Sports Club aka The Sportsman pub.

Bowling Club – Greville Smyth Park

Sound design: Soundscape segues from the busy city to the peace and tranquillity of the bowling club: people talking, playing bowls, then we move into end of a story being told outside on the green.

Alan: And she kicked the jack as she was walking across the green and it went ‘bing bang bong’, all around the bowling green and landed in a glass on the table! [Muffled laughter]. 

John: We had Bristol Blind Bowlers came to play with us one time to do a bit of an exhibition and boy did they show the sighted players how to bowl, a really enjoyable day. I was walking around the green with a hand microphone commentating, getting in the way of everything but I think Alan would probably agree we all had a good day. 

Alan: It was a lovely day.

John: Yes.

Alan: Brilliant.

Narrator: We are at the Greville Smyth Bowling Club, outside on the green. We’re here, because the Sportsmans pub, John’s last stopping point, is the social venue for a well-established sports club for the visually impaired.

John: Avon Sports and Leisure for the Visually Impaired, sorry to correct you.

Narrator: Apologies John! The club has been around since the 70s and organises every kind of sport you can think of, and plenty that you might not think of either – like archery, race car driving and flat green bowling, which is why we are here, at the Bowling Club, where John is chairman.

Co-host Nick: And where we gathered, socially distanced of course, in August 2020. 

Narrator: To talk a bit about John’s love of bowling.

Co-host Alan: I imagine there’s quite a few of you listening who wonder, how do you bowl if you’re blind?

John: OK, I was asked this question one time when I was playing a game one time against a sighted team, just down the road from here at Bristol Bowls Club and he said ‘how do you manage to find the jack?’.

Co-host Alan: That’s the little white ball that you want to get your bowls next to.

John: I said well there’s a string down the middle of the green, which shows a blind person where the middle of the green is, he or she knows to bowl to the left or the right of that string and the bias of the bowl will bring it back to the jack. But he said, well how do you know the distance and I jokingly said, ‘I guess!’ [Laughs] but you do get used to knowing the weight of the bowl and how hard to throw it. 

Sound design: Sound of a bowling ball hitting another. 

John: About four or five years ago now we were able to get some funding. Part of that whole package was we were able to train up seven or eight people to be coaches and I, for my sins, am one of those people! It’s interesting that disabled people are teaching non-disabled people how to bowl. 

Sound design: More bowls colliding, sound of clapping. 

Alan: The highlight for me was winning a singles match in the nationals, so we went away for a week and I played the nationals and I won the nationals, once.

Sound design: Segue backwards from nature to city centre and general hubbub of the Sportsman soundscape as the ‘Johns’ are leaving. Music fades in.

City Journey – The Sportsman

Narrator: Back in the journey, ten months earlier. 

John: So there you go. 

Jon: OK. 

John: So, are you glad you came? 

Jon: Oh definitely, definitely. Right, heading off out. 

Narrator: As John and Jon head off, out of the Sportsmans pub on the return stretch of their journey, Jon reads out one of the wild cards for them to mull over, as they head back to Arnolfini.

Jon: Journey leads, what are the challenges, hazards and obstacles that you face when you are spending time in the city? What makes it difficult or impossible to participate in city life? 

John: Uuum, what’s impossible? I don’t know. Is anything impossible? 

Co-host Alan: That answer, ‘Is anything impossible’, pretty well sums up John’s outlook on life. 

John: [cont.] as a disabled person you usually find ways of working round it, as I was born with no sight and then gained sight later, when I was four, you learn to live with what you’ve got and you develop certain skills. So I’ve always said I’m one of the lucky ones who got sight not lost sight.

Sound design: Journey music builds gradually.


Nick: We’re going to take short break now. When we come back we’re going to introduce you to some new characters, other citizens in the City of Threads, who’ve been patiently waiting in the wings. 

Alan: Or not so patiently! 

Nick: Back soon. 

End of Part 1


Part 2


Sound design: Theme music segues into journey sounds.

Alan: Welcome back to City of Threads; ‘Is Anything Impossible’. I’m Alan Dyte. 

Nick: And I’m Nick Bignall, and we’re your co-hosts. Right let’s dive straight back in. 

Pero’s Bridge – Intro to Virginia and Rosa

Narrator: When John and Jon from Part 1 made their way back to Arnolfini at the end of their journey through Bristol, they travelled along the floating harbour, not far from where Colston’s statue was tipped into the water, making international headlines, and crossed a distinctive bridge adorned with hundreds of tiny locks attached by lovers. We’re going there now, if you listen in, you might just hear another journey taker who was travelling that same day, who had stopped on the bridge with her travelling companion.

Sound design: Music and immersive journey through the city to Pero’s bridge, a guitar plays a solo. 

Virginia: I like being in a little nook on Pero’s bridge, out of the flow of the human, the people, who are crossing on foot and you can hear the music, I like the music, was it a lap guitar? 

Rosa: I’d say a lap steel guitar. 

Virginia: A lap steel guitar, and then, you can see the boats, chugging along and it reminds me, of when our choir comes busking down here!  And we sing, along the arcade and sometimes in the amphitheatre. 

Sound design: Sounds of harbourside segue into a quieter indoor space

Virginia and Rosa – Arnolfini

Narrator: And here they are a bit earlier in the light studio, at Arnolfini.

Virginia: Hello I’m Virginia. 

Rosa: And my name’s Rosa and I’m the travelling companion today, and Virginia and I only met twenty minutes ago, so we’re going to get to know each other on the journey.

Virginia and Nick – Music Connections

Co-host Nick: Did I mention that I already knew Virginia from before this project? 

Narrator: Nick is a young visually impaired composer and along with sound designer Dan, created the theme music for this podcast.

Sound design: Psychedelic rock blues style emerges as Nick talks.

Virginia: And what are you interested in now? 

Nick: Still the same kind of music, so funk, psychedelic rock, blues orientated. 

Virginia: Yeah, you were right away with it when I saw you on the YouTube clip!

Nick: Yeah we were rockin’ out [Laughter and funky psychedelic music].  

Co-host Nick: We had a conversation on zoom and first caught up about our love of music.

Sound design: Harpsichord or spinet playing.

Virginia: I like the sound, I like the sound, I just like the sound.

Co-host Nick: Virginia plays the spinet which is a kind of baby harpsichord. 

Virginia: I like that sort of early music and medieval early music, that’s my, it speaks to me, and I like other sorts of music but that’s the sort of music that speaks most deeply to me, I suppose, yes. 

Co-host Nick: We’d met because I’m a musician and do some teaching and was put in contact with Virginia to show her how to use this computer music programme.

Virginia: We fixed up at time when Nick could visit me, because of problems with sight loss, Nick had come across a programme called, was it Synthesia, Nick?

Nick: Yes, that’s right. Which is like a video game that helps teach you piano. 

Virginia: That’s right and it’s always very difficult for people who’ve got sight loss to get it into your head, you’ve got to find ways of transcending your blindness some way or another and Nick came to show me how that works. 

Virginia – Backstory

Co-host Nick: Virginia is amazing to talk to.

Virginia: I’m seventy-five now, so I’m towards the end of my life. 

Co-host Nick: I was only meant to be there an hour but by the time I’d left that first meeting it had gotten dark.

Virginia: My family, well my grandmother was a Tuscan peasant, she came from Italy before the unification of Italy and she came to a place near Newark in Nottinghamshire, I was born in Chesterfield in Derbyshire, I was the only girl in a family of elder brothers. I was quite clever but I wouldn’t have got to university without a grant, so I went to the all women’s college of London University and after my time at university I came to Bristol, and I have been here fifty-three years! I never moved from Bristol, I got married here, and worked here, and I am now still living here.

Virginia’s Sight Loss

Narrator: Virginia’s sight deteriorated much later in life, due to age related macular degeneration, which affects the central vision and is a very common cause of sight loss.

Virginia: I’ve always had poor-ish sight, but it didn’t bother me until the beginning of the millennium, it started to bother me and then it just got worse and worse. There’s no cure for it so you just have to adapt, so I have adapted. 

Narrator: Virginia’s approach is to savour the moments.

Virginia: I’m a stopper and a looker, I’m not a somebody who sort of rushes through life, I like stopping and looking at things. And having little reflections on things.

Virginia’s City Journey

Narrator: Virginia told Nick a bit about the city journey she took as part of this project. 

Sound design: As Virginia speaks, the soundscape of Virginia’s journey plays, so we feel like we’ve been on a bit of it with her.

Virginia: What we did was go over Pero’s bridge when we left the Arnolfini and Rosa was brilliant, because she stopped on Pero’s bridge and then we went across millennium square and then up the steps by the cathedral and we did that in little stages and stopped to chat on the way up and then we were on College Green and that’s quite a non-threatening space to me. 

Narrator: And what it is about College Green that makes it non-threatening?

Virginia: Well, I’ve always gone to lots of places on College Green: to the council house, to the public library to the cathedral, to various cafes, there’s also a little chapel where they used to have music, lunchtime concerts and music, so that particular area, which is just off the centre, not threatening and not too difficult to negotiate. 

Nick: So just as the type of music you are learning on the spinet speaks to you, areas like College Green in the city speak to you. 

Virginia: That’s right, that’s a very good analogy, yes, yes it does. 

Narrator: Although there are areas that Virginia avoids, like the city centre shared space. 

Virginia: I thought well I’m not really going to go down into the centre. I suppose we did go to the top of those waterfall steps. I think we did just do that, but I’d only have gone to the centre with somebody like Rosa.

I think it’s quite a good idea if we can find ways of joining in the conversation about what we want our city, everybody in the city, wants it to be like now. We are going to have to adapt and change in these current circumstances. 

I heard our Mayor, Marvin Rees, talk about young people’s mayors, they’re got representation, and these young people they’re talking via zoom, but they’re talking about these things, they’re getting their voice heard and because of this climate crisis, they’re very involved. ‘Cos it really is existential this, we’ve got to do something for what we want the future to be like, you’ve gotta speak up, haven’t you? Even if you can’t march, you got to do something about speaking up. Well, don’t you agree? 

Nick: As I grow older I do find myself thinking alright well if I’ve got something to say then you should say it and contribute it because otherwise your voice isn’t going to be heard?

Leaving Virginia in the Lime Grove

Sound design: Journey theme and immersive lime grove sounds start to come in. 

Narrator: With the zoom call over, we’re leaving Virginia now, on the day of her journey, talking with Rosa about one of her favourite spots in Bristol. 

Virginia: Very near to where I live there is an absolutely beautiful grove, a lime grove of trees, near a branch railway line, where during the summer I go and sit and it’s very near a children’s playground, and it’s very near where people walk their dogs and some of my neighbours come along and we have a chat, and it’s that place that I go to because it’s so near home and it’s that closeness to where I actually really live is terribly important.

Sound design: Virginia’s words merge into the immersive experience of the lime grove. A palate cleanse. 

Alan’s Journey – Intro to Dave and Alan

Sound design: Segue out of lime grove back into the momentum of the journey. A change of pace as we move into the soundscape of Alan at Arnolfini.

Narrator: We’re joining Alan at the start of his journey.

Co-host Alan: Finally, my turn.

Alan: David, shall we have a plate of biscuits? 

Dave: Shall we? 

Alan: David, do you want one? 

Dave: A rich tea? 

Alan: Take one now and then it’ll keep us stacked up for when we go out, alright? 

Dave: I’m going to take a couple. 

Alan: That’s lovely, we’re having a little picnic to take with us. 

Dave: Good.

Co-host Alan: That’s me with Dave Murray, my friend, at Arnolfini stocking up with biscuits before we set off. 

Co-host Nick: And did you take Jeeves with you that day? 

Narrator: Jeeves is Alan’s fifth guide dog, an eight-year-old biscuit coloured Labrador with a pleasant disposition, and usually Alan’s constant companion. 

Co-host Alan: No I didn’t. Guide dogs are great but mates are much better at describing your surroundings. 

Sound design: Journey music begins, soundscape of the city journey. 

Narrator: And leaving Jeeves behind at Arnolfini, Alan and Dave set off, across Pero’s bridge and on, towards Alan’s first stopping point, whilst we get to know Alan a little better

Alan’s Backstory

Alan: I don’t argue, although I might have done [Lots of laughter]. If you want me to do something, you have to tell me what you want and then I can give it you, if you leave me to sort out what you want and then come back and tell me that you want it differently, that annoys me. 

Narrator: So let’s journey back in time.

Co-host Nick: Well to a rather noisy cafe, having a conversation with our podcast dramaturg, Steph, about his childhood. 

Sound design: Segue into cafe soundscape.

Alan: It started off as registered partially sighted, when I was three. 

Narrator: Alan was born with coloboma iritis, a condition that affects the development of different parts of the eye. 

Alan: With my central vision I could see anywhere, read papers, do anything. But I couldn’t see what was at me feet. So me peripheral vision had gone. 

Narrator: Luckily an observant doctor was on the case. 

Alan: What doctor predicted when I was three happened. The reason he got it, was because he was the doctor for the blind school as well. So he recognised me and saw where I ought to be and he was brilliant. This would have been 1940.

Sound design: Recorded voices and sounds from the era. 

Alan: I was lucky you see because I had no parents. 

Narrator: Alan was brought up by his grandmother.

Alan: My mother had died when I was literally born, and my father was off in Norway fighting the war. I lived with my grandmother and she was absolutely brilliant. She was so good, not for me, we lived on a hill, right, and there was a hundred-and-sixty houses in our road and ours was sixty-six, right, and Gran Cook was the only person to put a chair in the front garden to let the people walking up the hill sit down and have a rest, they don’t do that today! 

Sound design: Music from the era plays.

Narrator: Alan went to the Bristol Royal School for the Blind, aged five. The school, established in 1793 to train visually impaired people for future employment, relocated during the war to Temple Coombe in Somerset, a huge great manor house. 

Sound design: Captures Alan’s school experience. 

Alan: We had long hot summer’s round about then, so they would just throw the window open and tell you to go out and play, and you just ran down the steps and you had loads and loads of fields, and you could go down near the cows or the ducks. And you could go anywhere, ‘cos everywhere you walked was school grounds. So that was no barriers, no barriers. Used to climb the medlar trees, we used to milk the cows, all sorts of things. 

Narrator: He moved back to Bristol when the war ended, but the new school regime didn’t offer the same freedoms. 

Alan: That’s when they put the barriers in. Straight away you couldn’t mix with the girls. They used to think, in the 40s and late fifties, that if you used your eyes you would wear them out, so they encouraged you not to use them. Stupid idea.

Narrator: So despite having enough vision to read print, the school wouldn’t allow it. 

Alan: The master used to have a print book and at the end of the lesson, he’d give it to me and put it in my draw. ‘Cos he only had a table. Well it’s quite obvious that during the week I’m gonna take his book out and read it and that’s when I got a clout. Supposed to be reading braille.

Narrator: Although his school was in the same city as his home, Alan couldn’t visit. 

Alan: Bottom of Wellington Hill was an eighty-three bus, I could get on that bus and go right round to my front door, off the bus and they wouldn’t let me do it. 

Narrator: And being a border came with other challenges.

Alan: The other thing which messed me up completely was the fact that we used to go to school and at school it was fine, at school you knew who your mates were, you could work around school, but the instant you went on holiday and you went home, you had nobody to be with, ‘cos the people who lived in the area didn’t know you.

Narrator: Thankfully, things started to get better at school with a change of leadership. 

Alan: As the school progressed and the principal changed, they then started bringing things in. We helped our geography master. He was a brilliant artist. We used to have to learn, we had an Eisteddfod, in which we had to say a poem and this particular year the poem was Alfred Noyes’ ‘The Highwayman’ and I couldn’t get my head around the sequence, right, so instead of thumping me, which was the order of the past, he drew this picture of the highwayman on his horse sat in the window with Bess. He drew all of that on a huge big thing, like this, right, and then he said ‘OK, now paint it’, and he gave me all the right colours to paint, so as I painted the picture, I learned the poem.

Narrator: Which Alan can still remember off by heart all these years later.

Sound design: Takes us into the poem as we hear the lines:

Alan: He’d a red cocked hat on his forehead. 

a bunch of lace at this chin, 

a coat of the claret velvet and breeches of brown doe skin, 

they fitted with never a wrinkle his boots were up to the thigh,

and he rode with jewelled twinkle, his pistol butts a twinkle, 

his rapier hilt – a-twinkle, under the jewelled sky. 

Sound design: Brings the poem alive, giving us a sense of being inside the poem.

Nick and Alan Compare School Days

Alan: OK Nick, what sort of experience did you have when you were at school? Yours would have been much different to mine ‘cos I went to school in the dark ages, 1943. What was the year you went to Worcester? 

Nick: 2005, I was twelve. 

Narrator: New College, Worcester, where Nick went to school, is an independent boarding and day school for visually impaired students aged eleven to nineteen.

Alan: When you went to Worcester, from a main-stream school into a blind school, what was the difference like? 

Nick: Yeah that was very interesting, so going from mainstream school where you are more or less the only one with a disability, working in a class where everyone else is fine, you go from a feeling of sticking out to not sticking out ‘cos everyone there now has a visual impairment, but then for me a new, I don’t want to say problem ‘cos that’s kind of a strong word but a new feeling arised, I didn’t know it at the time, but I was very aware that I was in an institution that for the most part was separate from the rest of the community, so it was almost as if I had entered into this pocket existence, away from other people.

Alan: They had a good sports hall at Worcester, they were very, very strong at sport, did you do any of that? 

Nick: Yes, I did a lot of sports, I did athletics, swimming, I competed in both of those, and would go to competitions and that sort of thing, I also did some parkour. It’s basically like an urban sport where the aim of it is to get from point A to point B as quickly and efficiently as you can. 

Sound design: Sound of parkour jumping and landing as in Nick’s description.

Alan: Wow.

Nick: And it involves doing vaults and jumps and jumping from one wall to another, some people can even jump buildings and…

Alan: Yeah I couldn’t do that! [Laughter].

Alan: No, but I’ve got a medal for high diving, and I thought that was a quite a good achievement. 

Nick: That, is really cool. 

Sound design: High diving splash gives us a watery immersive moment. 

Alan’s Work

Narrator: Alan left school to train as a shoemaker in Birmingham and Stafford but by the time he had finished his seven-year apprenticeship, all the traditional shoe making factories had closed, so, having passed lots of first aid exams, he got a job as part of an ambulance team instead, famously delivering a baby in the Odeon cinema toilets on his first day at work! After two years the rules were changed, so each ambulance team had to have two drivers, which of course counted Alan out, so he ended up learning the more traditional job of basket weaving. 

Bristol Royal Workshops for the Blind

Sound design: Soundscapes of workshops for the blind throughout the descriptions below.

Alan: I was a very good basket maker, but you see if I could only earn X number of pounds, and I only had to earn the minimum, so once I’d earned my minimum and I knew and I wouldn’t get a penny more, why did I want to go on making baskets for somebody else? No, so I didn’t. As I told you earlier, I did what I wanted, always got into trouble for it but it was worth it. 

Narrator: Basket weaving took place at Bristol Royal Workshops for the Blind on Bristol’s Park Street.

Alan: It was a special place, run by the Bristol Royal School for the Blind. So, people who went to school at the age of nine or ten could learn a trade at school and then be sent to the workshops for the blind and continue their employment right the way through. So you had basket making and map making for the fellas, and sock making and sewing for the girls. You were doing eight till five every day and the workshops were so considerate of our blindness, they made you come in even though it was snowing and if you didn’t go in in the snow, they stopped your day’s pay. 

Narrator: Despite how strict it was, Alan enjoyed basket making.

Alan: Once again you had a chance to put your own mark on life. So, the smallest thing I made was an inch square and it was for a woman’s engagement ring and I had to make the basket in cane, and then line it and pad it with silk and sew it all in, and that was fantastic. 

And the bit I liked at that time was the customers would come to you and talk to you about what they wanted, and you’d talk to the people about when they were having babies and they wanted you to make them a Moses basket for their baby, that was lovely, or picnic baskets or flower shrugs for people who were gardening. You had a story and you met all the people. Then the management in their wisdom came along and said we’ll put a shop person there, they will deal with the customers, you won’t talk to them anymore. 

So, I used to earn me minimum and then get off the plank and run around and look at the lovely girls in the shop.

Alan’s Sight Loss Story

Sound design: Miners’ strike on news merges in with other music and sounds of the day.

Narrator: It’s 1970, the UK is in the midst of the miner’s strike. Alan’s life has recently taken an interesting turn. An opportunity to volunteer at BBC Radio Bristol for three months has come up and he has taken it. He is splitting his time between the radio and the workshops for the blind. On this day, he’s been given the job of painting the toilet block at the workshops from grey to yellow, when he notices something.

Alan: It was really hard work to change a dark grey into a bright primrose yellow and so I spent most of my time looking at a primrose yellow wall, and I went in doing this one day and I noticed that I had black flicks in my eyes and I didn’t know what it was, and then there was red and green dots came and I thought oh that’s very pretty but I didn’t know why it was but I found out later that those things medically are called floaters and it happens when your retina is going to break and that’s what happened to me when I was on my lunch break that day. 

City Journey – Sight Loss Story Continued

Sound design: We arrive out of the past into a busy 2019 Park Street soundscape.

Alan: Park Street. Opposite the Mauretania. 

Narrator: We’re back in Alan’s journey, on Park Street, a busy main street on a steep hill, sweeping down from the Wills University building all the way to the shared space by the harbour. About a third of the way up, just after the turn-off for where the workshop for the blind used to be, is where we rejoin our travellers, at Alan’s first stopping point on his city journey.

Alan: The shop that was here in 1972 was Indian Carpets. And I was stood looking into this shop at a big Indian carpet, probably six-foot round, and in the middle of the carpet was a brown and white striped settee, and that was the last thing I saw before my eyes went bang and I went totally blind. I turned round and I asked eighteen people to help me go to the hospital and they all told me I was drunk and ignored me. And it was the nineteenth person who took me to the workshop for the blind where I got help. 

Sound design: Travelling to the workshop for the blind.

Narrator: Alan and Dave retrace the journey Alan took that day, guided by that nineteenth person, down Park Street, onto Great George Street and into the workshop for the blind. The building, which is Alan’s second stopping point on his journey, is still there, but now it’s the offices of an insurance company, who let Alan and Dave come in, sit down, and record the next piece of Alan’s story. 

Alan: This is where they brought me, my sight had gone and I was totally blind. Couldn’t see a thing. And they brought me here. I had no idea where I was and the matron, from the workshops for the blind, put me in her car and took me to the hospital where I had an immediate operation.

Sound design: A car, hospital ambulances etc.

Sight Loss Story – Nick with Alan

Co-host Nick: Alan told me more about that strange and very difficult time.

Alan: Very strange Nick, because I didn’t really know what had happened. I was used to being able to see and I’d suddenly plunged into this world where it was totally dark. I found that if I asked questions, I wouldn’t get any answers. I was taken and put to bed and I didn’t even know where I was. But I can remember asking loads and loads of people time after time after time, what can I do? I’ve got a wife and family at home, please tell me, what I can do? And nobody would answer it. 

Sound design: Space given as the last statement lands.

Alan: Then one day a lovely doctor came to see me and I knew that my world was going to change.

Consultant Story – Greenhouse Pub

Sound design: Immersive sounds of the Greenhouse pub: music, glasses clinking etc.

Narrator: We’re travelled a short distance from the site of the old workshops to Alan’s third stopping point, the Greenhouse pub on College Green. 

Alan: I’ve come into the Greenhouse pub on College Green simply because it’s a pub, because when I was lying in hospital, having lost my sight completely, the consultant came over to see me one night, all in a party frock, a long fur coat, a long dress, necklace, showed me all of this and said ‘Get this man his clothes’’, and I thought ‘Oh dear I’ve done something, they’re going to throw me out’. And she took me over to White Hart, opposite the eye hospital, and she said ‘You want something to do? There’s the bar, I’m over here. Carry two pints of beer across’. And I did, but I spilt more on the floor than, and she said ‘that’s very good, now drink what you’ve got. Now go back and get another two’ and I went back and…

Narrator: And the second time he didn’t spill as much and Alan’s confidence in what he could achieve began changing. What the consultant got Alan to realise that night, was that if he could still go to the pub and buy a pint, then he could do anything. Maybe the two pints had something to do with it, but it stuck, and afterwards Alan was able to begin the process of accepting what had happened and rebuild his life.

City Journey – Central Library

Sound design: Journey music segues in soundscape of the library and Alan and Dave chatting in the background.

Narrator: We’re in the central library on College Green Alan’s last stopping point. Alan and Dave are seated in the café here. They’re talking about why Alan chose to come here on his journey. How this was where he came to do much of his rehabilitation, with a blind group that ran courses, taught computers, gave out information on jobs.

Co-host Nick: And actually Alan’s life was about to take a turn that he had never imagined, as his volunteering at the radio turned into a career for the rest of his life.

Alan: I started off as a reporter for a programme for the blind, it was a quarter of an hour, once a week reporting on blind issues. That was in 1970 and in 1974 a bloke that was presenting it left, so they asked me to present the programme and I would only present it if I could do different format. 

Narrator: Alan worked with the team at BBC Radio Bristol, who came up with a new title and format to include visually impaired and disabled people. 

Alan: Changed the format, the title and everything, called it ‘Guideline’, and it was community health and disability issues, and that went on to 1994. It started at half an hour and finished up at an hour a week with music.

Sound design: Snippets of Radio Bristol, ‘Guidelines’ jingle and snippet about disability and health issues, music on the radio from the time.

Narrator: And with their journey done, Alan and Dave head back to Arnolfini, via that same distinctive bridge where we first met Virginia and Rosa on their journey.

Sound design: The lap steel guitar plays.


Narrator: As this episode draws to a close, we find a moment to stop and reflect.

Co-host Alan: We called this episode ‘Is Anything Impossible’, the question John asked at the end of his journey. 

Co-host Nick: Because after listening to all the journeys in the episode it really seems to sum up the spirit of everybody in it. 

Narrator: Here’s this episode’s travellers reflecting on the twin threads of their life and city journeys. 

Alan: I used to go everywhere with my guide dog, but guide dogs don’t talk to you, they don’t tell you what’s at the side of you, so when I took my journey and went with David he was telling me, ‘be careful, the pavement’s uneven. Be careful, there’s a step here. And look at what we got in this window’ and he showed me all the locks on Pero bridge. I never knew any of those till I went out with David. 

John: Jon and I have known each other a number of years and we were able to talk about our experiences from that day and he has certainly, on a number of occasions  told me since then, that he is able to now do things differently. 

Alan: With my life I did what I wanted to do, so I didn’t become a basket maker initially, I went to work on the ambulances. I went to be a shoe maker, two things that would never be thought of by the employment officer for the blind, when I came back to Bristol, who’d have thought I would have taken up broadcasting, TV presenter.

John: As a disabled person, if you are born with a disability you have one outlook and that is you’ve got what you got and you get on with it and you find ways round. So my thinking is, yes, nothing is impossible, we’ll find a way round it.

Sound design: Gentle music starts to come in, support the rest of this section.

Narrator: And responding to what advice they’d give to their younger selves. 

John: Don’t hesitate, if you want to do it, you can do it, go for it.

Alan: I have to start by saying I didn’t like people giving me advice, what I need really is, people should listen more and be aware of the fact that people have lived other lives and have information to pass on.

Virginia: Forget yourself and live for others more. I don’t have much regret, one or two things that I regret that I haven’t done, but not very much, you know I’ve unwound the ball.

Co-host Nick: And of course, Virginia continued reflecting, on what we’re doing with this podcast, our City of Threads, all the stories we’re unearthing, and what the impact of all that might be. 

Sound design: Starts to interweave with the following, subtlety swelling and lifting as it takes us out of the episode. 

Virginia: The worlds that you create, whether you are visually impaired or not, that’s going to be the most interesting side of it, because everybody will have a different imaginative world won’t they? Yes, layer upon layer I suppose, a sort or palimpsest of stories interweaving with one another, you may find that themes arise that are common to all, I don’t know. 

So you’ll have a very textured whole won’t you in the end, with a pattern probably that you won’t see until it’s finished, there may emerge a pattern that we hadn’t expected.

Sound design: Music swells and takes over.

Narrator: As you leave the city of threads for now and head back to your own town or city, be on the look-out for those little nooks of reflection, that might create space for conversation. Consider for a moment the lives lived of people you might otherwise pass by and not think of twice, and imagine what it might be like for someone who navigates the city differently to you.


Nick: We’re handing over the baton to our fellow City of Threads team mates for the next episode.  

Alan: But first we’d recommend you tune in to our sister episode of ‘Is Anything Impossible’.

Nick: Where, through the magic of immersive sound, we’ll take you deeper into the heart of some of the places and moments in our journeys.

Alan: So you get to experience the city, in our shoes. 

Nick: Best listened to on headphones!  

Narrator: To find out more about these podcasts and the people featured in this episode, you can find additional information at: www.partexchangeco.org.uk

Sound design: Theme music swells, takes over and plays out.