Forget big city adventures and rural idylls – growing up in a big, bland town is the best start you could want in life…
When I first went to uni and people asked me where I was from, I used to tell them ‘Brighton’. This plan worked out pretty well until, inevitably, I met someone who actually was from Brighton, when I would be forced to admit the truth – which was always embarrassing because I am from Worthing. Sunny Worthing, the cubic zirconia of the Sussex coast. If you know Worthing, nine times out of ten it will be because an elderly aunt of yours died there. It is, and I mean this in the nicest way possible, a crap town.
But almost the worst thing about it is that it isn’t really that bad at all. There are, as I was told firmly once a week throughout my youth, far, far worse places to live – but that lack of distinction only added to the irritation. Why, I whined, would anyone choose to live in a place that could claim, “It’s not that bad” as a tourist slogan?
It’s isn’t rural. It might be sandwiched between the South Downs and the sea, but with a 100,000-strong population Worthingites have no claim to the hardy, ruddy-cheeked innocence of countryside folk. We don’t know which berries are safe to eat, or how drive a tractor home drunk. We’re not even especially cheerful – an English seaside town in winter infuses one with an unshakeable melancholy, as though someone has rubbed a cold, damp flannel over your soul.
But nor is it urban. It’s not the sort of gritty industrial greyscape you can write bleak indie songs about. There’s no ghetto, no gaudily lit downtown hood full of illicit temptation and sin. There isn’t even a Primark.
There is a nice Waitrose, and a Yankee Candle. There’s also a bowls green, a pier, approximately three nightclubs and a sad empty bit next to the railway station where they have been promising to build a multiplex cinema since the days when ‘multiplex cinema’ was an exciting prospect. Mainly it’s full of nice people, doing nice things against a backdrop of nursing homes and newsagents and cafes that don’t do brunch.
Before an angry mob led by the mayor and Dave Benson Phillips (he’s a resident) arrives at my door brandishing specially-sharpened sticks of peppermint rock, I’d like to re-state for the record that I have feelings of moderate to strong affection for Worthing. Love, even. Coming from a crap town has been as formative an experience to my adult identity as Wordsworth’s rolling hills or J-Lo’s Bronx.
It nurtured me. It gave me a deep appreciation of anywhere that stays open later than 5:30pm, and isn’t staffed by four people you were at primary school with’s mums. And most crucially, it gave me the desperate urge to get out. It propelled me to London at the earliest opportunity and made damned sure I stayed there.
Once there, I discovered just how beneficial my hometown had been in managing my expectations in life. There’s a certain camaraderie between those from big, dull towns that you just can’t know if you hail from a city or a beautiful village. My boyfriend will never understand it because the lucky bastard’s from Edinburgh – but if you’re from Crawley, or Ashford, or Kettering, or Rugby, or Ipswich, or Nuneaton, then you are my people. You know what it’s like. We can look each other in the eye and see the faint, flickering spirit of one who has seen true tedium and survived.
What’s more, I genuinely worry that if I end up having kids and raising them in London, I’ll secretly resent them for not being from a crap town too. They’ll never know how good they have it. They’ll probably grow up privileged and annoying, slopping about full of urban ennui before they even reach their 20s. It’ll be all “Peruvian ceviche” this and “warehouse art installation” that, ignorant of the fact that a proper night out involves Pizza Express on your Tesco clubcard vouchers and a fishbowl of purple rain in a bar called Envy.
After all, the friends I have who grew up here are the only ones who ever slag off London. The rest of us might indulge in a little light whinging – the tube, the rent prices, the occasional public pooing – but all the while, underneath, we’re solemnly reverent. We’re thinking, “Thank God I’m here. I made it. I escaped.”
Luckily the chances of my ever being able to afford to raise kids in London are pretty slim, so I’ll probably be back in Worthing for good before the decade is out. By which time, hopefully, you’ll be able to get a decent egg’s Benedict and they’ll have built that multiplex cinema. Fingers crossed.