Ode to Basildon

Some people don’t know that they’re born. How can they possibly class largely middle-class Essex communities such as Billericay and Brentwood as “c**v towns,” when the mother of them all, the capital city of Chavdom and South Essex’s own Gotham City lies menacingly just over the horizon? They simply aren’t in the same league.

In a town such as Billericay the good citizens get easily upset by the antics of children and teenagers and by many other things. They think that their town is being invaded by yobs if they see a child go past on a skateboard or somebody wearing a baseball cap, and that it is turning into a mini-ghetto.

They actually love a good reason to protest and to write angry letters to the local rag, their hands shaking in righteous indignation at the latest threat to the peace of their prosperous existence. If they can rabble rouse a group of fellow pensioners to start a protest campaign, then so much the better. Billericay and similar towns are the epitome of middle-class, educated, professional, white England. Amidst their detached houses and green lawns, the smallest thing upsets the residents. But they forget that just down the road lies a seething mass of chavite humanity which makes their town look like a veritable paradise.

Basildon New Town. Even the name sounds ugly and strangely fitting for such a town. The town that spewed me out into the world 27 years ago. Half a century previously, the area that became Basildon consisted mainly of field, farm and woodland. Then, the powers that were decided to construct a new town, a “city of the future” as an overspill for the London slums. It was supposed to be a classless town, the finest that civilisation could produce, plonked down near the Thames. For the people of the late fifties it must have been an impressive place. Futuristic concrete buildings were thrown up amidst the green fields. Dual carriageways and countless roundabouts were splayed across the landscape. Dwellings that were both ugly and functional were arranged in sprawling council estates and people were re-housed in the growing community.
Basildon was thus born and the rest is history.

So at which point did the Basildon experiment go wrong? It’s hard to say exactly. All I can say is that a tour through the mean streets of the “New” Town will provide you with a sure conviction that something did indeed at some point go wrong. Whether it was the lack of history and sense of belonging that you find in older towns, the abundance of poor quality housing, the low social class of the inhabitants or the soul-destroying lack of spirit that caused Basildon to turn out the way it did, I can’t be sure. One day, sociologists will do a study on it.

The heart of Basildon is the concrete wilderness that is the town centre. For a place that looked so modern and forward looking in the fifties and sixties, it now appears incredibly shabby and dated. The looming buildings, the over-use of concrete, the shady back allies and multi-storey car parks. It’s like a small part of inner city America in Essex and feels strangely un-English. In recent years there have been some modest attempts to smarten up the town centre a bit and there were grandiose plans (before the credit cruch) to redevelop much of it into what amounts to a 21st century town. But this seems to have been delayed or cancelled altogether.

Admittedly the shopping facilities of Basildon aren’t that bad, although the complete lack of historical buildings in the town leads to an absence of character, of human warmth. You want to get out as soon as possible and head to some market town or cathedral city where you can feast your eyes on something old. Basildonian people wander through this concrete mass in droves. Many of the older folk are remnants of the Old East End of London and are decent cockney types. But the younger generation are quiet different and it is here that you witness c***s en masse as they parade their bling. I won’t go into the familiar descriptions of chubby girls in pink or baby blue Nikelson garments with massive golden earrings, effing and blinding constantly, shouting and swearing at their kappa-clad offspring with names such as Tyler, Brandon, Bailey or Disney. Nor is it necessary to go into detail when describing Darren or Bradley, their live-in boyfriends, who slouch through town on the way to Pound Land or “Mackie Dees.” Yeah mate. The town is full of such people and they feed off it, just as it feeds off them. This is symbiosis in its mosts basic form.

Whilst on the subject of discount shops, I have never seen a town with so many. Pound Saver, Pound Land, Quid Saver, 99p Store, Tat Land as well as the market. They are all here and are doing a thriving business. There are also many charity shops and those cruddy fly-by-night enterprises that pop up selling Christmas decorations or fireworks and then promptly shut down again. This is the land of plastic, made-in-China, raw consumerism. You buy what the telly adverts on the plasma screen tv tell you to and conform to the stereotypes that Essex dreams are made of. What do you do when you want something to fill your belly? Why, head down to McDonalds or any of the other fast-food joints in this pastiched, false fast-food town, and gorge yourself on grease. Free thinking is subversive in this pleasure seeking world and you must conform and gratify your senses.

One strange thing about Basildon is that the town centre is virtually deserted in the evenings. Apart from a couple of dodgy pubs, a theatre (!) that barely operates, a seedy snooker club and “Colors” gay nightclub, there isn’t any other evening economy in town. No quality restaurants or cultural facilities to be found here. Most of the nightlife is to be found on “Bas Vegas” or to give it its official name, “the Festival Leisure Park.” This is a dream-landscape of pure hedonism situated on the edge of the town. It is the place to come if you want to encounter boy racers doing wheelies in the car park, moody and aggressive bouncers, and mouthy Barbie-doll Essex girls walking around in their underwear on their way to Time and Envy, or whatever it’s now called. Like the town itself, it’s completely and utterly artificial and is a testament to the void in our society and is worth visiting purely for its anthropological interest (and the Chinese restaurant there.)

In the cold light of day, you might consider braving the race track of Basildon’s roads and taking a tour into the ****** suburbs. It is here that you may encounter some of the ugliest social housing this side of the Bronx, with many identikit flat-roofed, rabbit hutch council houses and Soviet-style flat blocks. The suburbs of Pitsea (home to a massive refuse tip) and Laindon are particularly distressing. These are the breeding grounds for the c**v population.

The Basildonian c***s love organised entertainment: Boot sales, steam rallies, Disney World, you name it. They love out of town shopping centres and souped up cars and kebabs and hip-hop. They like to follow the crowd and convince themselves that they enjoy the good life without having to think too much. At least they are honest and not pretentious like the people of some towns. In spite of all this, Basildon isn’t really such an awful place. Amidst the urban decay one can find the odd glimpse of human kindness and the glimmer of hope and this is what you should take with you as you head out onto the A127 leaving the Basildon lights winking at you out in the darkness.

Update: Since Raquels closed, their really is no point venturing to this urban pond.

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