Many decades ago, Bletchley was a quiet and charming little country town straddling the A421 and Watling Street, nestling on the border of North Bucks and Bedfordshire. To the east was the Duke of Bedford’s estate and the picture postcard countryside around Woburn. To the west was Whaddon Chase and to the north the tiny villages of Shenley Brooke End, Shenley Church End and Milton Keynes (the name of the latter may give a clue to where this story is heading).
In fact, none other than Winston Churchill liked Bletchley so much that during WWII, he decided it was just the sort of jolly nice place where he could billet his top science and maths bods from Cambridge and Oxford (plus their army of upper-class ‘totty’ helpers) whilst they set about performing one of the greatest intellectual feats of the 20th Century – cracking Hitler’s Enigma and Lorenz ciphers.
And, if you ever get to see the film “Enigma”, that beautiful setting – the lake with the Aylesbury ducks, the tennis court, the country house, the crisply mowed lawns and all those narrow leafy lanes – well, that’s exactly how Bletchley used to be.
Unfortunately, the film “Enigma” wasn’t actually filmed in Bletchley, because that kind of Bletchley doesn’t really exist anymore. I imagine that the director visited Bletchley Park and, on surveying the locale (after having read the vivid descriptions in the superb Robert Harris novel that inspired the film) decided he’d taken the wrong exit of off the M1 and ended up in either Stevanage or Slough.
This is because after the war, having given the combined might of the Nazi military and intelligence machine a thoroughly good British thrashing, Alan Turing and all the other chaps and gals at Bletchley Park upped-sticks and went back to Cambridge and Oxford.
To fill this vacuum, some bright spark in the post-war British government decided that the village of Milton Keynes would be just right for re-housing the London over-spill.
And so, by the late 70s, Bletchley was no longer nestling in a quiet part of Buckinghamshire. Milton Keynes had grown north, east west and south and Bletchley had become the arse-end of the new city – figuratively and literally.
Huge estates were built on the once green fields of North Bucks. The idealist town planners may have conjured up fancy visions of happy communities living together in harmony on the edge of the English countryside, but to anybody who now lives in the area, fancy it most certainly is not.
It is, without being at all polite, another symbol of the kind of thing that seems to have gone wrong in British society after the middle of the century. Rows of clapped out houses, lawns strewn with battered settees and rusty cars. Barking dogs, smashed windows, empty bottles of alco-pops and hideously strong lager and groups of aggressive teenagers in hooded tops accompanied by foul-mouthed girls who are frequently scarier than the boys – the sort who seem to get pregnant the very first time they have sex (which is usually a few months after discovering that Father Christmas doesn’t exist).
So, life is good for the chav in modern Bletchley. It contains all that is needed for a fulfillingly uncultured lifestyle. Last-but-one season’s designer kit is available at the TK Maxx store (recently expanded to two floors of an already massive warehouse beside the old Watling Street). For struggling teenage single mums there is a proliferation of cut-price emporia such as Matalan, Cost Cutters and Kwik-Save and row after row of ‘pound shops’.
For struggling teenage fathers, Cash Converters have a large store on the high street full of nearly-new DVD players and Playstations and the tattooist is just five-minute walk from the gaming arcade. On a busy Saturday in the town centre, all chav-life is there to be seen whilst ‘maxed-up’ Vauxhall Novas weave between the three-up pushchairs blaring out the latest Westwood compilation LP.
Of course, the most recent and famous London overspill to arrive were Wimbledon Football Club, now proudly re-named ‘MK Dons’. The Dons have taken up temporary residence at the National Hockey Stadium in Milton Keynes but have ambitions to move to a purpose-built stadium…in Bletchley. With ambition like that, surely Division 3 beckons.