Berkhamsted is the only town which matters in the Home Counties
Our private school was founded in 1541
Forget Guildford or any other town buried in the Home Counties, Berkhamsted (or Berko if you’re an indigenous resident) is different. Berko is that olde-worlde market town we all went on crappy half-term holidays to, but magnified to a near disturbing level.
Your slightly crap country house? We have a castle. Your fusty private school? Ours was founded in 1541. Your pretentious micro-brewery? We have two, and they both have their own shops on our overcrowded high street. We even have a music festival called Berkofest – Showaddywaddy played and everyone’s parents got tipsy and danced a little too enthusiastically.
We take our school vendettas seriously
First of all, your petty school rivalries pale in comparison to ours. The private school’s lacrosse pitches faced the main entrance of the state school, so there was much glaring and stick waving across the chain link fence. Naturally all of us at Berkhamsted School heard the whispered rumours of student dealers and stabbings at Ashlyns (which seem blatantly false in hindsight) and everyone at Ashlyns thought we were stuck up pricks who owned ponies, had cocaine issues aged 17, and drove multi coloured Mini Coopers as soon as we passed our driving tests. Although we did play each other at rugby/football/netball, there was always the very real prospect of an actual fight breaking out – school rivalries were a serious business in Berkhamsted.
There was never a shortage of awful house parties
Growing up there wasn’t really that much to do, not that we didn’t make fun for ourselves. There were instances where we would get so drunk at somebody’s flat party that the night would end with you licking somebody’s tonsils in front of 20 people and then vomiting everywhere…memories. Other times it was walking along the canal and getting eyeballed by the genuinely terrifying goose population. I have, on more than one occasion, seen joggers getting chased down the tow path by aggressive water fowl.
Pubs. Pubs everywhere.
This all changed when we hit 18. For a town of 18,000 we have a bizarrely large amount of pubs and the various cliques found in the town would be weirdly protective of their personal haunt. The King’s Arms was way too expensive, but it did have vanilla vodka which lured in the years above us who had all fucked off to either Durham, Birmingham, or Exeter. The Boat and The Crystal Palace always had teachers in it, so it was a no-go zone, and The Rising Sun had pretty fairy lights but was more expensive than war, so it was usually left alone save for the occasional pub crawl.
This left us The Crown, your standard Spoons complete with wood panelling and hideous carpets. Not only was it the standard pre-drinks venue for every single shit night you’d have at Oceana Watford, but it’s also where every birthday drinks, and post-school meet up inevitably happens. Friendships have been made, and relationships blossomed over many an extra strong pitcher of Woo Woo. Not only have I dealt with crying mates in the toilets – “he’s not worth your time, babe,” you say, trying to ignore the panda eyes and faint smell of piss – but I have also seen people projectile vomit across the tables after too much Old Rosie, and then deny they ever vomited. In fact, I have spent such an embarrassingly large amount of time in there they know my order off by heart now (it’s a double vodka orange, just in case you were desperate to know).
It’s actually very, very pretty
If you ignore the seas of lycra-clad yummy mummies, the psychotic wildlife, and screeches of “Otto/Bella/Tarquin don’t go so far on your scooter!” it’s actually a surprisingly alright place to live. Not only are we up to our eyeballs in Italian restaurants and coffee shops, it’s also a very pretty. I’ve brought many a boy up to the fields behind Gravel Path to admire the stupidly nice view, and as draconian as our uniform rules were at school, the boys’ school campus would never fail to amaze those who hadn’t seen it before. Plus, we have a castle (which is mostly in ruins, but makes for a good sunbathing spot), and a swanky art-deco cinema which Judi Dench called “awe inspiring”.
It’s the perfect mid point between city and country
About 25 minutes away from Euston by train – if you can cope with how unendingly shit London Midland can be – we’re close enough to London to actually be able to go off and explore when we were fairly young, but we’re also far enough into the countryside that those of us whose parents had allotments were able to bitch about roe deer coming and eating their radishes.
Best/worst of both worlds really – that’s what makes Berko so good, we inhabit the entire spectrum. Teenage rollies being smoked in a park next door to an eye-wateringly expensive private school, miles and miles of ancient woodland sandwiched between two hideous commuter towns, and obnoxious preachers opposite the Tesco yelling at you while you fled into a coffee shop with the people who you thought were your best mates in the entire world aged 17…but maybe that’s just the nostalgia talking.