Have you ever stumbled over a little town or village that made you think umm…this is not a place in which I’d choose to live? I’m not talking about grimey mill towns or former mining villages which you’d expect to be fairly desolate. I’m referring to places which sit in otherwise pleasant surroundings but which are blighted by some unexpected feature which makes eye surgery a more attractive option than living in the place.
One such place was the village of Deanshanger in north Buckinghamshire. When I first joined Cellnet we were hosting an event at Silverstone and I came across the village on my way to the circuit from our (then) London home. I wasn’t really familiar with the area and I was already a little shell-shocked from the experience of navigating a route via the seemingly endless succession of roundabouts across Milton Keynes (which could easily have been another contender except that it’s such a cliched choice).
As I approached on the A422 there was no hint of what lay ahead. But on entering the village the thing that struck you was that every building, tree and lamp post was coloured vivid red. It wasn’t a paint job – it was a a dusting of fine red powder that had settled on everything. I subsequently found out that this was the waste product from the small town’s only industrial facility; a lead oxide works known as Deanox. It had been a former iron works but the factory had been converted to the production of red lead and it was pretty damn clear that somebody hadn’t changed the filters recently at the plant. The stuff was on everything and it was the most bizarre spectacle – this was where they should have shot Life on Mars!
It was colourful alright but this was the bi-product of a lead processing operation, you know LEAD, one of the most poisonous substances on earth. And it was lying around everywhere. Could you imagine what people’s lungs must have looked like? And this was leafy Bucks. They closed the plant in 1991 I think. I don’t know if it was for economic reasons or because the place was the so life-affirming they were calling it Chernobucks and more affectionately, Red and Dead. You couldn’t have got me to live in the town for a king’s ransom and yet irony upon irony we moved to live in Buckingham, some 12 miles away, within a year or so. And stayed for almost 20 years, despite the Red Peril. How odd eh.
And last weekend we came across another odd place. We’d been staying at our daughter and son-in-law’s place on the borders of Rottingdean and Saltdean near Brighton. We wanted to get some food shopping before returning home and rather than trek into the city we headed a little way eastwards along the coast to the Co-op superstore at Peacehaven. I hadn’t been there before. It’s a perfectly pleasant little coastal community. Originally called Anzac-on-Sea it changed its name following the disastrous war-time battle at Gallipoli that cost so many Australian and New Zealander lives. And Peacehaven is as pacific and blissful as you can get as a consequence.
I guess the village’s major claim to fame is its Meridian monument which marks the spot where the 0 degree meridian line leaves the UK shoreline and heads south. So it’s possible to say that East meets West in peaceful Peacehaven. Now this monument brings me back to the point of this posting because the Co-op store is located within the Meridian Centre which is described in the village’s website as the ‘Mecca of the modern consumer’. Well that’s a grand claim for a pretty dull shopping precinct but it’s noticeable feature wasn’t its exaggerated appeal but the age of its clientele. Regular readers will be aware that my wife and I are of a certain maturity; it’s no secret that C already enjoys access to her free bus pass and I’m rapidly closing in on mine. And yet on our visit to the Meridian we received the award for young shoppers of the week. I have never seen so many ancient people in a single place outside of a care home. It was almost impossible to walk safely around the superstore because of the huge number of powered chairs or mobility scooters being driven around the place. We may have been the only pedestrians. It was like shopping for vegetables at the dodgems.
They say the south coast is where people go to die and, if that’s the case, I’ve found the epicentre for the not-long-to-goers. It was as if we had stumbled into Heaven’s waiting room. It would be a dreadful pace to live which probably means we’ll be resident in the neighbourhood very shortly.
Let me know if you’ve come across any other places which make Royston Vasey seem like Malibu beach.