It’s easy to write about a place you dislike. It’s easy to like writing badly about a place to which you attribute little value. My college tutor once suggested that a good way to write about somewhere you don’t like is to write it a love letter. So here’s a challenge for Valentine’s Day: find the place you care about least, and write about that.
Who could fail to appreciate your roads and your railings; your bedding plants and billboards; and best of all the fountains and the sculptures so mismatched and out-of-place as the buildings they were stuck between that they become fitting and perfect. The Granite Ball – hailed as the highlight of the town, with its own website described by its founder as ‘probably the dullest thing on the internet’. The Deck Chair on the Bracknell Hotel. The Clock Fountain – a functional water feature whose complexity meant it was impossible to tell the time by the number of fountains in action, and whose exuberance meant that when they cleaned it the entire square was filled with foam. The bronze highlight of the ‘Egg Park’ looking slightly abandoned in the middle of the block paving and raised flower beds as though it had just been dropped by a passing dinosaur.
You are a ‘colourful’ town in many ways. To me you are a town the colour of the dirt that washed off my hands at the end of each day that I spent there.
Clad in uniform grey like we’d been chipped out of the very fabric of the town I rattled daily with my comrades navigating the pedestrian labyrinth between the link roads and roundabouts that sent us down stairs, along pavements and tunnels, under roads, over rails, and round and round that spiral walkway between rail station and bus station (that we imaginatively named ‘The Swirly Thing’) like marbles on a marble run.
For us these dead spaces between your misjudged architectural and infrastructural innovations became the venues of memory. Snowballs on the slice of grass between Church Road and The Ring. A picnic on the cobbled circle fenced-off in the centre of the Swirly Thing. Small talk and big moments played out against the backdrop of a concrete dystopia we tried to ignore, hated to love. Loved to hate. A sublime buildscape where the horror element meant to repel all onlookers but at the same time draw the eye was dealt with a heavy hand and some unintended irony.
Once a market town little more than a village you were graced or cursed with the honour/burden of becoming a New Town. A utopian concept of ‘affordable, desirable, well-built’ that would meet the needs of the people and the booming population of the mid-twentieth century by providing a safe and self-contained town where all the facilities for work, rest and recreation were within walk-able and bus-able distance of your non-linear and alphabetised home streets. Did the dream become a nightmare? This conglomeration of block-builds linked and divided by underpasses and roundabouts like the infrastructure of a dream where however hard you try you cannot get unlost, however fast you walk you’re always slowing down in a semi-underworld of murals, low lighting, chewing gum and piss.
Bracknell, your lack of soul has become your definition: your placelessness your sense of place. There you are at the back of my mind and the pit of my stomach like an unspoken regret or an upcoming ordeal. Has your ideological conception at last rung true: are you now the no-place you were always meant to be, fulfilling the definition of ‘utopia’ far more truly than your designers could ever have intended? Perhaps, dear Bracknell, you never failed to fulfil the New Town objective of an ‘idealistic yet workable’ community. It was that contradiction of terms in your very definition that meant your workability negated any sense of idealism when it came to the real thing. In the process of becoming a physical place no projected utopia can remain perfect: in becoming a real place it cannot by definition be a non-place, and therefore cannot retain any claim to utopia in any other sense.
Bracknell, I appreciate all that you do, all that you stand for. You make the world a better place for by knowing you I realise I can better see the virtues of the lovable locations of my life. Thank you for that, if nothing else.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on places you love to hate in the comments section.
Most of the photos were used under creative commons and sourced from http://www.flickr.com/photos/pixelhut/tags/bracknell/ where there are more delights to be savoured.
For a funny, if slightly ungracious, and not-so-literary look at some of the UK’s most loved-to-hate places Crap Towns: The 50 Worst Places to Live in the UK (2003) by Sam Jordison and Dan Kieran is published by Boxtree ISBN 978-0752215822.
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