It’s very difficult not to mock Bedford, the pinnacle of tragic hometowns
Did your MP leave to go on I’m a Celebrity? Probably not
It is generally the case that most people dislike their hometowns and prefer any town outside of the one in which they live. Such negative feeling is oft tinged with a self-parodic brand of humour – a bitter sense of grudging fused with a certain form of mockery.
This, for me, is very much the case for my hometown, Bedford. It is very difficult not to mock Bedford. It’s a town which was ranked in a Top 100 List of crap towns in the UK. It’s a town represented by Nadine Dorries MP, a woman who abandoned her constituents – not even formally quitting her job – to star on I’m a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here!
Bedford is also the hometown of Paula Radcliffe, a woman who presumably has had an excellent career as an athlete, but whose public image largely revolves around the fact that one time she rather unfortunately shit herself mid-marathon. Weirdly, this serves as a great comparison for how we describe our hometowns – wishfully ignoring its positives in favour of casual, self-parodic, cheap jokes about where we live.
Appreciating Bedford as a hometown proves further difficult considering that Bedford even has an Uncyclopedia entry to its name. The entry describes Bedford as “the 13th circle of Hell” and laments on how it was “created to undermine the communist rulers of England, as led by Prime Minister George W Bush and UN peace negotiator Adolf Hitler”. It also – in typical Uncyclopedia style – attributes Oscar Wilde a false-quote:
All of this isn’t of course to deny that Bedford has a particularly glum and dirge aesthetic. Walking along the streets of Bedford isn’t a very striking experience. Greys and browns are what murkily dominate the town’s colour palette, and hundreds, if not thousands of chewing-gum stains and pidgeon-droppings litter its pavement. Even the name, Bedford, seems trite and insignificant – it isn’t a word which punches the air when you say it.
Is all of this a bit too misanthropic?
In a way all towns are simultaneously identical yet different. All towns have their notable array of eccentric individuals, and local landmarks used for hanging out with friends or as meeting spots – it’s just that these generic categories are unique and different for each town.
The Christian preacher
When you live in Bedford long enough and vacate its town centre enough times, you will notice a woman singing in a style which can only be described as a “hectoring screech”. She wears yellow and black, she resembles a large bumble-bee slowly waddling her way down the high-street.
She screeches about Jesus, about Death, God, Sex, and the Afterlife. She clutches a bundle of papers whilst she wails her divine message – perhaps she is reading off of them, or maybe it is all improvised, nobody knows. She does this in broad daylight and at all times of the year. Her style is extreme yet measured. She will wail one statement, waddle for a bit, allow a pause to soak in the ears of people surrounding her, and then she’ll loudly declare another statement.
Frightened teenagers leave Primark or CeX only to encounter an unnamed woman who smashes the fear of the Living Christ into them simply by the power of hurting their ear-drums. Passers-by are unsure whether to stare at her or ignore her. Some people giggle. The odd person secretly videos her on their phones. Occasionally, edgy atheists will respond to her epigrammatic execrations, but to no avail, she continues anyway, she always continues. I like to think she takes all this in, quietly observing whilst loudly and provocatively preaching her message. Nobody knows her name, but everyone who frequently vacates Bedford town centre knows of her.
Our bizarre architecture
Bedford has its eccentrics, what then of its local haunts?
This is difficult to pin down. I remember a Geography project at school which consisted of each person in class having to design a tour of Bedford for tourists who came to visit. Why you would think of travelling to Bedford for the purpose of tourism escapes me to this day, but it was a task we had to do nonetheless.
I vividly recall not being able to comprehend what there was to do in Bedford, so simply for the most part listed several pubs. Thus, most of these imagined theoretical tourists would either leave out of sheer boredom or would remain on the tour until the later hours, absolutely intoxicated.
Perhaps the only thing of note in Bedford is its swimming pool, Oasis. It is of note for two reasons: (1) architecturally it is is a giant pyramid, (2) it has a tidal wave machine in the pool itself which activates huge waves to spread across the pool which you have to swim with – as a kid growing up in Bedford, this was ecstatically fun.
Bedford isn’t so much defined by what you can do there (there isn’t anything of note to do there which you couldn’t do in any other town) but by its quirky visual landmarks which are used as meeting points or places to hang out.
It is these small points which are what define “the soul” of Bedford itself.
At the top of the high-street and opposite Debenhams is a large sculpture of two identical faces gazing at one another. It’s a magnificent sight and many people use it as a meeting point. If you sit there for a while you’ll observe the passing of day-to-day life: people waiting for their best-mates, strangers meeting for the first time for the purpose of going on a first date, sometimes school students – if the weather’s okay – just sitting there, revising for exams.
The mound, the home of emos and scene kids throughout the ages
Another place similar to this but out of the busy streets, is simply referred to as “the mound”.
The mound is simply a large inclining hill, leading to a patch of grass and a small hut at the top. It has a reputation for being a holding-pen for the fringe-groups of Bedford: emos, scene-kids, hipsters and so forth (the only alternative group that don’t really go there are the skater kids who dwell at a spot between the market-place and the local shopping centre).
I think, though understandable, it unfair to think of Bedford as a “crap town”. It has a certain awful charm to it which I think many locals appreciate.
If anything it is an average town, a town like any other, with its own quirks and eccentricities. There’s a certain misanthropy which can easily be generated by bashing your own town or comparing it to others and wishing you were somewhere else, but this is easily overcome, as all towns have their unique features which can certainly bring out a sense of warmth and affection in all of us. Bedford, on occasion, has this warmth.