Chichester: The Hyacinth Bucket of the South

Chichester is a city with delusions of grandeur. It wants to be Bath, Oxford or Winchester. It cannot hope to match the cultural significance of these, or the affluence of the towns and cities such as Petersfield, Haslemere and Guildford with their direct commuter routes to London. It has a large student population but cannot match the vibe and pull of Brighton, lacking any nightclubs due to the puritans and busybodies who curb any such fun.

Its business rates are staggeringly high while its wages are relatively low when compared to living costs. It boasts a Rolls Royce plant on its periphery, yet its residents are nowhere near wealthy enough to afford the product. It has a ‘university’ that is failing to attract pupils and has plummeted in the league tables, and should probably return to being part of the college. It has a grotty hospital that looks like a relic from the seventies and employs large swathes of locals just as many of the larger towns and cities in Wales have an overabundance of public sector employment. It boasts a cathedral and large theatre, but apart from those has not many great cultural offerings, its small central commercial district being surrounded by retail and industrial estates and council housing.

Despite this mediocrity, the Cisterians have an elitist view of their city. Sometimes you find those who are self-deprecating about the place but it’s not hard to think how ‘posh’ Chichester is compared to the surrounding concrete landfill of Havant and Bognor. After all, as one Cisterian I knew stupidly remarked, ‘it’s too posh for Burger King’ ,as if that means anything. It has a Marina (well outside the city). It has the Goodwood estate (where most locals act as serfs).

Chichester has its Roman roots, which is perhaps its most interesting aspect. Other than that, looking along its pedestrianised shopping area, it is unremarkable, and has chain stores and restaurants you’d find in any other ‘clone town’. It has the pubs bars and restaurants but they all serve pretty much the same fare; a pint of lager and that misnamed marvel of chain pub cuisine hunter’s chicken. Be it Wetherspoons, Trent’s or somewhere like the Smith and Western, in some form or another there’s that old classic English culinary staple of chicken breast, cheddar, bacon all smothered in BBQ sauce. The menus are identical and so are many of the customers; braying middle-class students and braying middle-class yuppies pretending they aren’t in massive debt and boring the ears of everyone with their anxiety-driven bragging about house-hunting . All pretty nauseating.

It has a large number of students but as the University is an [alleged] middling-to-forgettable monkey house the local sixth-formers tend to be brighter and more well-read. The local students tend to suffer from the Dunning-Kruger effect; they imagine their relative wealth and growing up in a solidly middle-class area and attending a segregated-*** school (albeit comprehensive, a telling Cisterian oddity) means they are highly educated, when very often they prove themselves to be dim, reactionary dupes who parrot fashionable nonsense. Sadly they are not rich enough to be Tim Nice-but-dim more your standard Wetherspoons-bound loudmouth who gets a 2:2 in geography and brays gormlessly at Mock the Week and jokes about The Daily Mail. Their facile platitudes beamed directly to them via BBC three and the Guardian or the Huffington Post include such mind blowing insights such as ‘I can’t see how it’s okay to be anything but left-wing’ and ‘Ingmar Bergman was so camp’. How could such profound geniuses have been overlooked by Oxbridge?

Another giveaway to its status as a bit of an ‘aspirational upstart’ is it doesn’t have the prestigious public schools of Winchester, Petersfield or Godalming areas. Again, these towns are a similar size but have the connection to London, something Chichester lacks and limits incoming wealth.

If you want to see genuine middle of the road mediocrity posing as if it were part of a cultural elite, visit Chichester. They want you to think they’re the sort of people who get their coffee and sandwiches from Pret-a-manger and attend Glyndebourne, but they’ve got barely enough cash for a Greggs sausage roll and a bus to Summersdale.