"GLOUCESTER is undoubtedly one of the chavviest places I've ever had to live."
"Gloucester is a s*** hole and if I had my way I be out of hear on the first train avalable but I cnt." (sic)
"Gloucester – Cesspit of Subhumanity."
These are three statements I found when I decided to spend what must have amounted to less than a minute Googling, typing in variations of 'living in Gloucester'.
Whilst it's true I would doubtless find the same for each and every city in the world had I the time (or inclination) to look, I searched for a reason, you see.
I was born in Gloucester.
I have lived in and around the city my entire life. I live in a particularly looked-down-upon area – in a house in Barton Street (which was once burgled in broad daylight) – and am happily bringing my two children up with my wife here.
Prior to this, we lived in High Street, Tredworth, where as I noted in this piece I wrote about the 2011 riots , the regular drugs raids and nightly unrest made for an interesting year and a bit.
With experience of the worst of the city, it might seem odd then that I'd like to defend it.
More accurately, I'd like to defend the people of Gloucester and the great things they do.
I'd like to shine a light on the very people naysayers ignore, because recognising them, their achievements and their contributions to the city wouldn't tally with their widely and ignorantly-held beliefs that 'Gloucester is s***'.
You've heard them, people like the authors of the three statements above – nothing is ever good enough. The regeneration of the Quays? Rubbish.
Gloucester won, did they? About time.
Some nutter's running across Canada? Well, he should get a proper job, shouldn't he.
I ask – why waste the time we have here only happy when our pessimism is validated? Yes, shops in the city centre, as across the country, are closing, but a city isn't the sum of its shuttered doorways, but the people and communities it comprises.
I recently met somebody that emigrated from Gloucester to Canada a number of years ago.
She was here on an annual trip to visit family and I asked her about the key differences between Gloucester and Ottawa.
She answered quickly – pride. Pride in their schools, in their hospitals, in their community.
As she noted, pride in Britain, let alone Gloucester, is lacking, save for the short-lived buzz during and after the Olympics.
If a relatively small group of individuals and their achievements can unite a nation, the people of Gloucester, old and young, would do well to take a step back and look at those on their doorstep.
We have people like aforementioned nutter and world-record holder Jamie McDonald, who, from humble beginnings but a caring family, decided to spend the money he had saved up for a mortgage to fly himself to Canada and run every inch of its 5,000 mile coast to coast span, in a bid to raise money for sick children.
We have his cousin, Kev Brady, who is at this minute paddling down the Mississippi river with a similar aim and thirst for adventure. Travel journalist and adventurer Jamie Maddison, whose One Steppe Ahead journey across Central Asia last year was supported by none other than Sir Ranulph Fiennes.
We have Julie Pullen, who supports adults with physical or learning disabilities with her social enterprise Sharp.
We have the Gloucestershire Bike Project in Barton Street. We have GFM radio station. We have Imran Atcha and others of The Friendship Cafe, the charity that runs St James City Farm and Gymnation, all of the above key to the communities they serve.
And we don't just have to look at those endangering their lives in foreign lands or running charitable endeavours to find people worth supporting and finding a united pride in, either.
Our city is bursting with talent and projects we should celebrate.
Let's start with art. Free Art Friday is an initiative where original pieces of art are left around Gloucester, every week, along with a tag that says 'free art' – I still haven't managed to get to one in time.
We have Dellis , an incredibly talented photographer whose powerful and perfectly captured images of the 2011 disturbances in Gloucester were widely used by the media.
We have Michael Robins, from Linden. Michael is the most technically gifted photorealistic artist I've ever seen. Many of his YouTube videos, in which he speeds up the process of him drawing, have been viewed hundreds of thousands of times.
He has won celebrity admirers such as Bryan Cranston (Walter White in Breaking Bad). Mike's sister, Amy, is an equally talented artist and has had her work featured in the media .
When it comes to music, former Great British beach volleyball players Jody Gooding and his wife Denise, with Cinderford RFC's Jack Adams, organised Sportbeat , a festival that aimed to combine sport and music into one family-friendly event, playing host to well-known acts.
It returns this summer. Mary-Jess Leaverland made front page news for being the British student that won what the UK press dubbed 'The Chinese X Factor' in 2010; voted the winner by an audience of 70 million.
Abbeydale's Nathan Sykes is one-fifth of chart-topping pop group The Wanted.
We have Stilla Audio, a drum and bass collective featuring Gloucester-based acts such as Soul Method (AKA Joe Darke), who've received support and airplay on the likes of Radio 1.
Of course, there's also an abundance of sporting talent in Gloucester. Rower Beth Rodford has represented Great Britain at the last two Olympic Games.
Shaun Knight, Charlie Sharples and Marcel Garvey are just three of many possible names that roll off the tongue as top-level athletes from a city that (rightly) reveres rugby.
Fortunately, the back pages of the Citizen are filled with the names of current and future sporting stars and for the hopeful young sports person, as I was in my teens, there's no motivation like seeing local people competing at a high level.
Aside from individual talent, in recent years, there's a plethora of community-orientated businesses and projects sprouting up that are worth celebrating.
My brother, Rob Smith, is currently in the lengthy process of re-opening Crackers, a building that's been closed for years, as The Institution , a venue for live alternative music.
Craig Rutherford opened the doors last year to Crossfit GC , a fitness centre that comes across as a community centre as much as it does a place of exercise.
James Churchill's independent Gym on Bristol Road has just celebrated its third year.
Rikki Hill has just launched event and talent management company Big Red Music and Events, giving local bands a chance to be represented by somebody with experience in the space.
Musician Dan Snowden has opened a studio at Morelands Trading Estate offering practice space for bands and tuition rooms for tutors and pupils, as featured by the Citizen here.
I understand that this is a rose-tinted look at projects and people I know or am friends with (which may explain the gender imbalance – especially as I went to all-boys school, Crypt), so there's an obvious bias here, but each is somebody or something from the city that I believe, when considered, should make us feel very proud.
If we refocus our gaze from the perceived negatives, the issues that blight every city – the high street decline, homelessness, crime and alcohol and drug dependency.
Instead, it will celebrate the efforts and achievements of those in our midst from all walks of life, or perhaps even attempt to impact the above negative issues, I think Gloucester can build an identity, both here and nationally, that is much, much more than what happened at 25 Cromwell Street, or what happens when a group of gleefully unhinged people throw themselves down a hill in the name of cheese.
Aside from all of the above, the two incidences that proved to me how great Gloucester can be were also, unfortunately, the saddest.
The premature deaths of local rugby players Dominic Cullen and Ty Townsley both rocked and brought people together like nothing I've experienced.
Having played with and against Dom, and having been fortunate enough to coach Ty, news of their deaths was numbing and a poignant reminder of how life can be cut short.
The community rallied around the friends and families of the pair, providing support when nothing else could be offered.
More than anything, the way their deaths were mourned and their lives were celebrated exemplifies the spirit of Gloucester to me.
On a similar note, my youngest brother Jordan Smith, born at 24 weeks – making him 'extremely premature' – was cared for by the fantastic intensive care team at Gloucestershire Royal.
In 1997, the rate of survival was even lower than the 40 per cent survival rate today.
That makes the support my family received then from the hospital and more recently from friends and well-wishers after a nearly-fatal series of strokes as the result of rugby injury all the more appreciated.
He recently achieved a 'distinction' in his black belt 2nd Dan karate grading just months after a two week hospital stay.
Again, bias aside, with that sort of determination; he and other young citizens have a lot to offer Gloucester.
I'm proud of our city and I want my children to be proud and inspired, too.
Call me an idealist, but I think everybody can make a difference and it starts with the way we look at the people around us. Whether you're seven and believe Jamie McDonald is a real super hero or 70 and believe you have something to offer your community, it's hard not to be inspired by the people I've named in this post and the many others I haven't.
If you still believe Gloucester really is the 'cesspit of sub-humanity', I don't think the issue lies with Gloucester. It lies with you.