Swindon has featured on these pages before but recently moving back to the place (God knows why) after being away for nine years offers a fascinating insight on how a formerly successful town which was a pleasant place to live and work has now become an utter Chav centre. The dominant accent is not the pleasant Wiltshire burr of years ago but a horrendous blend of Cockney, Essex and that awful pseudo ghetto/rap speak favoured by the young.
The town centre is as good a place as any to start. Assorted chav-clad oafs, scallies and other assorted lowlifes prowling around, more than outnumber the occasional yuppie in a suit. Add to that a heady mix of asylum seekers lurking on the corners between their next “work today get paid today” moonlighting assignment and it’s hard not to despair. The town is plastered with graffiti, on the odd occasion it gets cleaned off it’s usually back within a day or two.
Swindon shopping has always been fairly prosaic and in line with most identikit UK towns these days, but even the cheap shops are currently giving up and closing down leaving the centre looking more like a deprived Welsh Valley village than a prosperous southern town. For the more discerning chav, there is always the Brunel Outlet Village. Buses leave every two minutes from the town centre so no waiting around to get at Donnays and shop-lift the latest poor man’s Burberry aka Lonsdale emblazoned fashion. The village is built around the old railway works and new GWR museum. Poor old Isambard must be turning in his grave as half the visitors probably don’t even know what a train is, let alone appreciate the fine engineering of a GWR steam locomotive.
On the subject of buses, both the local bus companies have carried out “chavette” conversions on most of the fleet – with the removal of up to a third of the seating capacity to make room for non-collapsible pushchairs and prams. They even helpfully lower the floor so said items can be loaded by the single mothers without lifting, no doubt to avoid chav claims for compensation after straining their back. Unfortunately this results in few seats being available for commuters in the peak, with the result that buses either go past the stops full or you have to sway with 25 other standing passengers like the Tokyo underground.
A bus journey in Swindon frequently provides an in depth chav experience. Very few journeys take place without a gang of four or five louts and their female entourage occupying the rear seats holding foul mouthed conversations about their latest drug dealing/court appearance/shagging conquest. This is frequently held in said ghetto speak. At the minimum you can usually guarantee some chain mobile phone usage with single mothers carrying out a constant stream of inarticulate conversations with their mates, “Yeah, like, I’m on the bus in’ I, like.”
If you seek solace in the suburbs, expect a nasty surprise. The formerly pleasant residential area of West Swindon is particularly blighted. If you thought graffiti and vandalism was endemic in the town it is, if anything, worse in the residential areas. Just about every vertical surface has some form of tag or scrawl on it – not even garden walls and fences are spared. Where they’ve run out of vertical space, they have made a start on the pavements. Particularly bad is the formerly upmarket residential area of Ramleaze, which makes the Beirut/Bronx end of Brackla in Bridgend look like Beverley Hills! The council don’t care; the police are nowhere to be seen, not even when the uninsured boy racers are blasting their hot rods up and down in the evening. At least part of the problem is due to much of the property having being bought over by absentee “Buy to Let” landlords so out of sight is out of mind and rented out to tenants (many of whom are probably evicted chavs re-housed by the council) who have no interest in tidying up.
These areas have also spawned a new form of lowlife – the bored-little-rich-kid wannabee-chav. They are the ones who have played GTA-San Andreas and think it is cool to go round on their lowrider BMX bikes, scrawl their names everywhere and generally hang around menacing decent citizens.
And without making the thing political, it has to be said quite frankly that what you have today in Swindon is a microcosm of the failure of nine years of New Labour social and economic engineering and relaxation of law and order. Personally I hate the place and can’t wait until I have enough money in my pension fund to call it a day, get the house on the market and move out somewhere decent – like back to Bridgend!