So, I make one throwaway comment, based on a photograph I took last year, about Basingstoke being a "wretched hive of scum and villainy" and an entire tiny corner of the internet goes mad.
I return from a brief sojourn in the smallest room, reading a few pages of my current toilet book, arriving back at my desk to find Twitter shouting "38 new interactions" at me, mostly from people who are saying "Clearly, you have never been to [insert town here]". Most of these towns were in Essex, and the majority of them being Basildon, twinned with Mos Eisley spaceport, the original wretched hive etc.
The fact is, Basingstoke isn't all that bad. We've just about forgiven the place for Liz Hurley, and the council had the good sense to pull down the worst of the 1970s concrete and replace it all with some spanking new 21st Century concrete. My totally unrelated beef with the town comes from an unfortunate episode where a former mayor of Basingstoke and Deane broke wind in my face (with hardly a by-your-leave, I might add), and if that is the kind of trumpy behaviour one can expect from its first-among-equals, then what is the rest of the place like?
I have a rule of thumb for any town's potential crapness, and it is to ask this question: "Can the bus station be used as a set for a zombie apocalypse movie?"
The former bus station in Basingstoke - before it was pulled down - was Zombie Apocalypse Central, the effect was somewhat magnified by a supply of drooling undead shambling about demanding both spicy brains and the price of a cup of tea. I have no idea where they are now, but in all probability they have moved to Reading (twinned with Your Mum) where the old, silently rotting bus station still stands, and zombies are welcomed with open arms in the nearby derelict shopping mall.
The second question I ask is "Have I ever accidentally stayed in a Travelodge there?" That's you, Swindon.
You can publish as many lists as you like about crap towns, but it's all hugely subjective based on where you've actually been. Hull was voted the worst town in Britain in 2003, but I found the parts I saw reasonably pleasant. On the other hand, I'd be happy to see the following year's winner - Luton - leveled and turned into an overflow car park for Watford. Poor Luton.
Almost all of the north of England and Scotland is a closed book to me, and my chief experience of many places comes from my years as a rather (cough) excitable football fan, usually running away from the dismal suburb where the football stadium once stood. The lovely city of Norwich scores badly for me, simply because the police made the passengers from the Football Special walk from the station to the football ground in bare feet, an experiment in crowd control doomed to failure. Bangor gets on the list simply because it was closed when we visited.
I spent much of my youth on holiday with relatives in the concrete jungle of Basildon (more specifically the post-nuclear nightmare suburb of Laindon), so my judgement may be somewhat clouded.
My Worst Towns List
- Bangor (North Wales)
I have never been to Stoke-on-Trent, hence its lack of inclusion on this list despite many Twitter followers warning me of its growing reputation, but I am firm in my belief that Match of the Day is aired as a warning for people to stay away. If you live in Stoke, and believe the opposite, I apologise, but Gary Lineker does not lie.
Oh, and Slough.
And Sutton Coldfield.