Is home where the heart is, or wherever one hangs one’s hat? It took an unsettling second term at university to realise that, for me at least, the former is true. Although I may have returned to my homeland sobbing and choking out something about being glad to see “horrible, shitty little Paddock Wood”, it was meant with affection. You could argue that the towns of mid-south Cornwall are more pleasant places to be than a small dormitory town stuffed with commuters, chavs and grannies, a distinctly uninspiring high street and a station that smells faintly of vomit (a misleading scent; it’s actually the smell of hops), and you could well be right – but I’d still consider you wrong. Despite the fact that one of the top 10 pages to come up when you Google it is its entry on chavtowns.com (which compares it to ‘a suburb of Beirut’), my fatherland is secretly a delightful place. Aside from the fact that I originate from there (automatically rendering it great), here’s why.
– We have our own music festival! With famous acts! Like, really famous acts!
I’m not talking about your bog standard chart acts here (although they clutter the bill as well); take your Ellie Gouldings and Tinchy Stryders as headliners and shove ‘em. Our own Hop Farm Festival managed to rake in Prince, The Eagles and Morrissey as headliners this year: the former two have sold millions of records on a global scale, whilst the latter is an indie idol (/bit of a pretentious tosser) whose one-time band The Smiths continue to be critical fap and the discerning alternative listener’s soundtrack of choice. Bob Dylan was there last year; that’s got to count for something too. World-class acts and thousands of fans have trekked to my fatherland to rave it up in a field with some oast houses and a pub. That’s got to count for some sort of credibility, right?
Ok, so on a geographical technicality the Hop Farm is based in/near a hamlet called Beltring, but I’ve never seen any signs of human life residing there on a permanent basis – I only know it exists because it has a station (which functions as the Hop Farm’s station) – and Paddock Wood is the nearest proper town. Prince is in my back garden (five minutes away by car, anyway) and he’s partying like it’s 1999. Hide your jealousy, please.
– There’s a real community spirit here.
Certain events bring the whole community together. The July carnival, a sale at Barsleys (our resident department store, which specialises in a fabulous selection of yarn, Beanie Babies and pinafores), the burning down of a chemical factory… Ok, so that only happened once, but the town’s 8-10,000 strong population turned out in force in Waitrose’s car park to witness the rather spectacular fire opposite. Once I’d got over the shock of getting off the train and seeing a huge fire blazing next to the platform I’d just got onto, and found myself part of the rabble, it was clear that there was a real air of community spirit under the smoke. Unfortunately my dreams of the entire town holding hands and singing Kumbaya went unrealised, but there’s always the next time.
– We’re single-handedly fighting the war against The Man’s bureaucracy and the ‘nanny state’ by letting the people think for themselves.
Power to the people! The people of Paddock Wood aren’t going to let other people run their lives, and as a tribute to that, the folk at Paddock Wood rail station have a long tradition of letting the natives have a totally hands-on approach to rail travel – who needs those pesky people at the ticket desk asking you to repeat your location and rail card type when you can hammer and shout obscenities at the electronic machine outside as your train begins to pull away on Platform 1? And when it gives up the ghost – well, it’s not good to be too reliant on technology anyway – why not let the people indulge their primal urges to hunt by allowing them to hunt down the ticket officer on the train? There’s the thrill of getting the catch and either buying one’s ticket or clobbering him the old-fashioned way when he claims that you’re liable for a £20 fine for travelling without a valid ticket. Plus the staff, when they deign to show up, are eco-friendly; instead of helping you out with trivialities such as trying to get a student return to Tunbridge Wells, they’re saving the world by litter-picking on Platform 3. See, they’ve got it all figured out really; it’s nothing to do with incompetence, bad planning or laziness.
– We’re classy by virtue of our regal neighbours.
Quick, what do Tunbridge Wells and Leamington Spa have in common? Apart from both having double-worded names, the second of which refer to water springs, they’re the only two towns in England to be deemed ‘Royal’ enough to carry it proudly in their official titles. Royal Tunbridge Wells is so classy that its branch of Wetherspoons is operated in an old opera house, and they still show opera there sometimes. Impressed? You should be. It’s no surprise that Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells disapproves of those ‘hoody’ things, given that its residents are permanently clad in aristocratic purple robes to show off their regality. In any case, Paddock Wood is ‘Sunny Tunny’’s younger, smaller neighbour, and the proximity means that we’re well classy too. Kebab shop and frequent raids on cannabis hothouses notwithstanding.
– We have an impressive roster of celebrities who are/were proud to inhabit my fatherland.
The bloke who did the voice for Mr Tweedy in Chicken Run, the bloke who plays Grantly Budgen in Waterloo Road and me. Not a bad selection at all, and certainly manlier than east Kentish town Folkestone’s roll-call of Paul O’Grady, Julian Clary and Gary Glitter.
NB: Actually, back on the royal theme, my mum regularly served Prince Edward’s wife Sophie in a Paddock Wood bank… so my sarcasm falls short there.
– The education system is second to none (except Tonbridge).
The primary school in Paddock Wood has won various Charter Mark awards, whatever they mean, and it’s the second largest primary school in Kent, which prepares students well for the thousand-plus students they’ll come into contact with at secondary school. Consider this: I was bullied at primary school from year 2 to year 4 (on a level of knickers being pulled down in the playground on numerous occasions, fights breaking out at lunchtime and Chinese burns galore), and yet I maintain that I had a brilliant time there. There may have been the odd one or two scuffles, but it’s a nice little school and I genuinely think it’s well-run and pleasant, so I won’t dwell on the other anecdotal incidents in print. After all, whatever doesn’t kill us makes us stronger, or at least more experienced in the art of being exposed to the playground. [Incidentally, the offenders were rounded up in the headmaster’s office and punished accordingly, so discipline is doled out where appropriate.]
– Our cuisine is top-notch.
In all seriousness, the Chinese restaurant serves better food than the Chinese restaurants in China, the fish and chip shop in the high street serves the greatest chips on earth and the Simla (Indian restaurant) is the restaurant of choice for any sort of meal out occasion.
– There’s a vivid, vibrant culture and regional vocabulary flourishing in the town.
By which I mean that some of us are so ghetto we refer to the town as ‘P-Dubz’.