Bristol is a beautiful city: full of history, art, architecture and colour. Unfortunately, it seems a large number of its residents are missing out on their beautiful surroundings: their smartphone screens are clearly infinitely more interesting!

Almost everyone I pass on the street in Bristol is looking down…instead of looking where they’re going!

I picked up on this peculiar behaviour almost as soon as I moved here a year ago. I found myself playing pedestrian ping-pong on my way down the street, dodging from one side of the pavement to the other to avoid the smartphone zombies walking directly towards me. A two-mile walk to work became a four-mile dance, as I skipped from left to right to avoid collision. A trip home from the supermarket was double-jeopardy: now I had myself and a bag of vulnerable veggies to protect. And if there’s a group coming at you? Well, forget it: far better to take your chances against the cars and walk in the road!

Okay, I realise Bristol isn’t alone in this…it’s actually not ‘peculiar behaviour’ at all, but a universal epidemic that is quickly, and worryingly, becoming the established norm. But having moved here from suburban Hampshire – where the age demographic is somewhat higher, and getting anywhere requires wheels rather than feet – it was almost entirely new to me.

I’d come across it in only one other context; the university at which I used to work. Dodging downward-staring students was a sport for the rest of us on campus. But I felt sure it was a localised phenomenon; that the university environment had lulled the students into a bubble of security that simply made them forget to pay attention. As if the safety of the surrounding campus was enough to protect them from any outside forces.

One tale in particular is worth telling. The university had a road running through its centre and on this road was a crossing point: it wasn’t an official crossing so there were no traffic lights or white lines, but it was the most direct, and therefore the busiest, route on campus. Thousands of students crossed at this point every day, but barely one ever looked up as they did so. This reliance on the theory of ‘safety in numbers’ is another phenomenon I’ve noticed in Bristol: when I cross a road, the people around me follow. They place their trust in me, no questions asked. Luckily for them I remember my Green Cross Code…! Luckily for me, I don’t trust others to remember theirs…and it’s a good job I don’t – the number of people I’ve witnessed crossing the road without a glance (again, their smartphone evidently far too interesting!) is nothing short of frightening.

This is exactly the scenario I encountered at the university: approaching the ‘crossing’ a student in front of me, engrossed in his phone, started stepping into the road. The problem with roads of course is that they’re often full of vehicles, and at this particular moment a bus was passing. I grabbed the student’s rucksack and yanked him back on to the pavement. Only at that point did he look up…at the bus that would have squished him. I’ve since decided that shock must be the reason he didn’t turn around and thank me for saving him from being squished…and that his confusion at the whole situation must be why, as he crossed the road (minus bus) moments later, he was once again staring at this phone screen!

Of course, advances in technology will soon put an end to stories like that. Before long, integrated tech will remove the need for a physical phone, so we’ll have nothing to look down at. Instead, I imagine we’ll simply switch on our ‘entertainment eye’ and while our left eyeball enjoys videos of startled cats (because there are some things that will never grow old…) our right eye will be in charge of looking where we’re going. What happens when we need a third eye to read a text, I’m not too sure – perhaps the very notion of ‘reading’ a text will also be entirely antiquated. Automation, too, will undoubtedly be part of the solution. We’re already building cars that think for themselves, so why not bicycles or skateboards or even shoes?

But let’s imagine for a moment that further advancement of technology isn’t inevitable. Let’s say the tech we have now is the best we’re going to get. What then? My writer’s imagination runs wild with images of human evolution kicking in…our necks slowly becoming naturally bent, our eyes gradually parting ways, until eventually we have one on top of our heads for guiding us so the other one can focus on those all-important cat videos. Or, perhaps, we’ll all just develop sonar…I feel the premise for a new sci-fi novel…

For now, we’re in a bit of a conundrum. And I for one am not sure how much longer my patience will hold out. Each time I have to dodge someone on a pavement I get a little angrier. A little more tempted to stick my elbows out as they pass or, alternatively, just walk into them. Because as it turns out, it’s a little boring always being the one who changes course…!

So if you’re reading this, and you live in Bristol, and you want to avoid my elbows – try looking up once in a while. Not just for my sake, but for your own: this is a beautiful place, and you’re missing it. After all, would it really kill us to put our phones away until we get home?

Twas the night of the New Year, and all through the streets

Drunken revellers teetered on unsteady feet.

Having filled up on gin at the nearest cheap pub,

My friends and I stumbled our way to a club.

 

Mascara and lip gloss, applied with great care,

A mountain of product upholding our hair,

Stilettos too high, and dresses too tight,

We had romance in mind on this magical night.

 

The queue for a drink was as long as a mile

So I bought two at once, just to make it worthwhile.

And with one glass of fizz clutched in each of my hands

I strode into the crowd and I started to dance.

 

I twerked and I twirled and I shimmied and shook,

And kept scanning the room for an amorous look.

One by one my companions found dates for the night

Until just I was left, seeking my Mr Right.

 

When the countdown commenced with “Ten, nine, eight, seven”

I took a deep breath and looked up to the heavens,

And prayed to a being I’m not sure exists

That this New Year’s Eve I’d find someone to kiss.

 

I was sure as I whispered that desperate request

That I felt something flicker inside of my chest.

Then the party in unison screamed “four, three, two, one…

Happy New Year!”. And finally, midnight had come.

 

Around me, the couples in passionate embrace,

Clashing lips, and teeth, and tongues, and face.

The groping of buttocks, the clutching of hair,

Pressing crotch against crotch as if no one were there…

 

At a tap on my shoulder, I span round so fast

That Prosecco splashed over the rim of my glass.

As it trickled its way down the side of my arm

I stood stunned, face to face with my cause of alarm.

 

I’d spotted him eyeing me throughout the night

But had failed to evade him, try as I might…

And I wondered, should I have been slightly more clear

When I’d prayed for a partner to kiss at New Year?

 

His eyes, which were glazed from a whole night of drinking

Were brazenly aimed at my chest, unblinking.

His forehead, so sweaty! His cheeks, blotched with red.

A whole tub of hair gel slicked over his head.

 

His choice of attire made me turn up my nose

(He was dressed all in denim, from his head to his toes)

And the cut of his shirt couldn’t hide his round belly,

That shook when he danced like a bowlful of jelly

 

A wink of his eye and a sly little grin,

Then he tilted his head and began to move in…

On any other night I’d have given it a miss,

But I thought “heck, it’s News Years, what’s one little kiss?”

 

He tasted like vodka and stale cigarettes,

And his tongue flailed around like a fish in a net.

But just when I thought I could take it no more,

He stopped with a jolt and looked down at the floor.

 

On his face a peculiar look had appeared,

And he swayed where he stood and he slurred “I feel weird.”

Then his skin went quite pale and before I could move

He bent over and threw up all over my shoes.

 

In an instant, the people around us dispersed

And looked in on our horror as if we were cursed.

He clutched at his stomach and let out a moan,

Backed into the crowd…and I stood there alone.

 

But I heard him declare as he ran out of sight,

“I’ll be back in a minute”. That gave me a fright.

So I raced to the exit and into the street,

Threw my shoes in a bin and walked home with bare feet.

 

As I hobbled my way through the bustling town,

I thought over the evening’s events with a frown.

My New Year’s Eve snog really hadn’t worked out,

And I think maybe next year I’ll just go without…