Basingstoke… Well maybe it’s not so bad these days I guess. Some people plaudit our rebuilt town centre with the widely acclaimed “Festival Place” shopping mall as a shinning example of successful urban renewal. But then again anything would have been better than the wretched cesspit of concrete and scum we had previously. The luftwafe could have done a better job than the town planners of Basingstoke back in the 60’s and through out the 70’s, 80’s and even up to the late 90’s some residents would forlornly look to the sky’s praying for a repeat visit from Goring’s finest for deliverance from the utter s**t hole of a town they were lumped with.
Those bigwigs at the Greater London Council must have been smoking something purloined from Woodstock when they come up with the idea of rebuilding Basingstoke to under the auspices of the London overspill scheme. They sought to rebuild our quaint market town to create a clone of Milton Keynes for working class cockneys who got too travel sick going up to Bedfordshire and had to settle for North Hampshire instead. We weren’t blessed with MK’s cultural and artistic facilities (no concrete cows…) but we made up for that with roundabouts… still could be worse, could have been slough or Bracknell I suppose.
Basingstokes reputation throughout the last three decades was both legion and well deserved; Thatchergrad, Doughnut city (yep, those roundabouts again…) and the euphuism “you’ve got a face like a wet weekend in Basingstoke” were all coined to encapsulate the utter misery of people unlucky to have to commute to the town for work and wretched enough to have to live there. Mind you it had some benefits, a lot of money came to the town and stayed, IBM, Barclays, Mercantile Credit et al, all relocated to Basingstoke bringing jobs with them. It was a shame some of that cash couldn’t have been used on improving the lot of the residents who had to the misfortunate to call Basingstoke “home”. Truly it was the epiphany of small town blues shrink-wrapped in an unappealing veneer of concrete, piss poor leisure opportunities, shite shops and pervading gloom.
No wonder this sort of disjointed urban environment served as a breeding tank for the type of lower life forms that miximort was first cultivated in order to cull. Basingstoke man (chavious Thatchergradus – the missing link in the intellectual stakes between Cro-Magnon man and Homo Erectus) arrived on the scene to wrongly claim his place at the top of the evolutionary chain. Today his stunted progeny claim their birth right to infest the town and infest they do… Think Mockney w****r meets jethro and you get the right sort of accent; throw in some cheap bling and knockoff England football team attire purchased from nearby Blackbush market and voila: you have the personification of the Basingstoke Chav.
These miscreants can be found all over the town but their strongholds remain the housing estates constructed to soak up the overspill from London a generation ago. Oakridge (aka Rockridge because it is Comanche country…) and Popley (the town planners couldn’t decide on a name themselves so they simply co joined the East end Boroughs of Poplar and Stepney…) are two prime examples that spring to mind.. Now don’t get me wrong, the vast majority of those that live there are decent people but many have to rub shoulders with the sort of rat boy vermin you wouldn’t invite around for tea on the grounds they would strip your home bare in minutes. Other similar housing developments spread out around the town, seemingly laying siege to the epicentre of Basingstoke, Festival Place.
Over a decade ago, the beleaguered town council realised things had to improve and spent a huge sum of tax payers money on an ambitious (but arguably fruitless) urban renewal program to “make Basingstoke beautiful”. Large public works of art appeared proliferated including an abstract reproduction of Stonehenge on a roundabout (in concrete) and a huge marble phallus shaped sculpture in Wote Street which earned the nick name of “Wote Street Willy” by some witty wag at the Basingstoke Gazette. The jewel of the crown of this multi-million pound project was the complete redevelopment of some two thirds of the now decidedly dowdy town centre itself to be reborn as Festival Place.
Credit where credits due, Festival Place is an improvement on the appearance and ambience of the town. OK, it’s a triumph of cappuccino shopping (a lot of froth and not a great deal of substance) but when you consider the blighted w@nkfest of concrete we have to endure for years previously, anything‘s an improvement… Basingstoke can even boast something approaching an alfresco café culture where one can sip overpriced café lattes and Chav spot to your hearts content… Chavtastic bliss…
It’s been two years now since Festival Place opened and despite its success, the gloss may be wearing a bit thin and cracks appearing not just in the brickwork of our local mall but on the whole ethos behind it. A number of retail chains took a gamble and opened stores to take their slice in the sure fire success story that Festival Place was bound to be. But a number of well known names, Bo Concepts, Warner Chain and others have shut up shop in Festival Place as the market for their products just wasn‘t there in Basingstoke after all. The huge block of yuppie apartments that overlook Festival Place are now being discounted in order to find sellers; I mean who would really want to spend £300K+ on a two bed roomed shoe box with a vista of an NCP car park and Basingstoke Railway Station anyway…?
More and more Chavs and Chav related behaviour is evident each time I frequent Festival Place; there seem to be an ever growing number of cheap tracksuit wearing, oxygen thieving, lowlifes taking up room and the reminders of their visits: graffiti and broken windows seem more and more endemic.
It goes to show that best intentions aside, the people behind Festival Place may have been a bit too clever for their own good and that Basingstoke will always be Basingstoke after all… or put it another way, you just can’t polish a turd can you?