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Why Growing Up In a Shit Town Is Good For You

by Lauren Bravo
1 October 2013 24 Comments

Forget big city adventures and rural idylls – growing up in a big, bland town is the best start you could want in life…

When I first went to uni and people asked me where I was from, I used to tell them ‘Brighton’. This plan worked out pretty well until, inevitably, I met someone who actually was from Brighton, when I would be forced to admit the truth – which was always embarrassing because I am from Worthing. Sunny Worthing, the cubic zirconia of the Sussex coast. If you know Worthing, nine times out of ten it will be because an elderly aunt of yours died there. It is, and I mean this in the nicest way possible, a crap town.

But almost the worst thing about it is that it isn’t really that bad at all. There are, as I was told firmly once a week throughout my youth, far, far worse places to live – but that lack of distinction only added to the irritation. Why, I whined, would anyone choose to live in a place that could claim, “It’s not that bad” as a tourist slogan?

It’s isn’t rural. It might be sandwiched between the South Downs and the sea, but with a 100,000-strong population Worthingites have no claim to the hardy, ruddy-cheeked innocence of countryside folk. We don’t know which berries are safe to eat, or how drive a tractor home drunk. We’re not even especially cheerful – an English seaside town in winter infuses one with an unshakeable melancholy, as though someone has rubbed a cold, damp flannel over your soul.

But nor is it urban. It’s not the sort of gritty industrial greyscape you can write bleak indie songs about. There’s no ghetto, no gaudily lit downtown hood full of illicit temptation and sin. There isn’t even a Primark.

There is a nice Waitrose, and a Yankee Candle. There’s also a bowls green, a pier, approximately three nightclubs and a sad empty bit next to the railway station where they have been promising to build a multiplex cinema since the days when ‘multiplex cinema’ was an exciting prospect. Mainly it’s full of nice people, doing nice things against a backdrop of nursing homes and newsagents and cafes that don’t do brunch.


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Before an angry mob led by the mayor and Dave Benson Phillips (he’s a resident) arrives at my door brandishing specially-sharpened sticks of peppermint rock, I’d like to re-state for the record that I have feelings of moderate to strong affection for Worthing. Love, even. Coming from a crap town has been as formative an experience to my adult identity as Wordsworth’s rolling hills or J-Lo’s Bronx.

It nurtured me. It gave me a deep appreciation of anywhere that stays open later than 5:30pm, and isn’t staffed by four people you were at primary school with’s mums. And most crucially, it gave me the desperate urge to get out. It propelled me to London at the earliest opportunity and made damned sure I stayed there.

Once there, I discovered just how beneficial my hometown had been in managing my expectations in life. There’s a certain camaraderie between those from big, dull towns that you just can’t know if you hail from a city or a beautiful village. My boyfriend will never understand it because the lucky bastard’s from Edinburgh – but if you’re from Crawley, or Ashford, or Kettering, or Rugby, or Ipswich, or Nuneaton, then you are my people. You know what it’s like. We can look each other in the eye and see the faint, flickering spirit of one who has seen true tedium and survived.

What’s more, I genuinely worry that if I end up having kids and raising them in London, I’ll secretly resent them for not being from a crap town too. They’ll never know how good they have it. They’ll probably grow up privileged and annoying, slopping about full of urban ennui before they even reach their 20s. It’ll be all “Peruvian ceviche” this and “warehouse art installation” that, ignorant of the fact that a proper night out involves Pizza Express on your Tesco clubcard vouchers and a fishbowl of purple rain in a bar called Envy.

After all, the friends I have who grew up here are the only ones who ever slag off London. The rest of us might indulge in a little light whinging – the tube, the rent prices, the occasional public pooing – but all the while, underneath, we’re solemnly reverent. We’re thinking, “Thank God I’m here. I made it. I escaped.”

Luckily the chances of my ever being able to afford to raise kids in London are pretty slim, so I’ll probably be back in Worthing for good before the decade is out. By which time, hopefully, you’ll be able to get a decent egg’s Benedict and they’ll have built that multiplex cinema. Fingers crossed.

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image descriptionCOMMENTS

The Scottish waiter 6:59 pm, 30-Mar-2013

...22 years ago Worthing had the best nightclub on the whole of the south coast and famous further afield...........Stearns, which was one of the only clubs to do all nighters and was just amazing. However, I wasn't daft enough to live there. :-)

H Jest 3:19 am, 31-Mar-2013

Actually it was the prescence of the formidable Great Aunt Ada that meant i spent many holidays in Worthing and hold it in high regard. I'm disappointed that Ms Bravo neglected to mention one of Worthing's biggest gifts to the world; Tank Girl. Jamie Hewlett, Alan Martin (and Philip Bond) were studying in the town when their work on Atomtan brought them to the attention of the Deadline crew. And the rest is history.

Tom Ward 11:26 am, 28-Apr-2013

This is exactly how I feel about Scunthorpe...

craigo 11:20 am, 8-Aug-2013

haha- you're too fit to go out with a Scottish person!

craigo 11:21 am, 8-Aug-2013

And youre vision of London is very different from most people's! I'm from a bland North London suburb though, so no Peruvians anywhere.

Handsome Scot 2:15 pm, 8-Aug-2013

Ahem, Craigo, newsflash: you're a fuckwit, and also too stupid to spell 'your'

Heisenberg 2:40 pm, 8-Aug-2013

haha Brilliant article! Im from a crap town called Waterlooville, near Portsmouth. Got out as soon as I could to London, then Sydney. Used to go raving at Sterns in Worthing and Empire in Bognor Regis, both crap towns, but great clubs!

Hapless Dad 6:38 pm, 8-Aug-2013

Handsome Scot - Fuckwit yourself. You're = you are, you dick.

Hapless Dad 6:40 pm, 8-Aug-2013

And now I see that I'M a dick for not reading the posts properly. Well, that's what you get for growing up in Crewe. It's not my fault.

RB 10:49 pm, 8-Aug-2013

Best article on here for fucking ages. Make the most of it Lauren, the novelty of London wears off sooner than you realise. Much like waking up at a festival, one day you'll realise that you're surrounded by cunts, and then you'll be gagging to get out.

Tom Fletcher 12:57 pm, 9-Aug-2013

Tom Ward- Also being a Scunthonian, i agree that this also reminded me of our humble yet bleak town!

woetown 5:15 pm, 9-Aug-2013

bravo don't you write for the worthing herald...?

StaticKing 9:38 am, 1-Oct-2013

Great article. I'm from a crap town and escaped to London as soon as I could, spent my Uni years there and my first decade of employment. But as soon as kids became a prospect we got out of there asap. I now have the best of both worlds, I live in a quite tree-lined suburb of Blandsville, but still get my big city fix working in the centre of London.

Siobhan 9:48 am, 1-Oct-2013

Beautiful Maidstone is right there with you!

Bravo 10:10 am, 1-Oct-2013

You just described growing up in Torquay very accurately

BR 10:14 am, 1-Oct-2013

I see your Worthing and raise you a Bognor Regis. The king of awful towns, we used to go to worthing and get excited by its size and amenities.

Neill 10:32 am, 1-Oct-2013

I'm from Runcorn. We escaped to the smoke 12 years ago and enjoyed the carefree lifestyle. Now we have two kids here and it has opened up a whole new London world to us, with more of a community feel where neighbours actually talk to each other!!

Fr3sh 12:00 pm, 1-Oct-2013


Jeff 11:14 pm, 1-Oct-2013

I grew up in Redditch. Heard of it? No, probably not. I left permanently 20 years ago.

hctroubador 11:18 pm, 1-Oct-2013

I had one of the funniest experiences of my life in the Worthing Debenhams. Some spotty faced lad who sounded EXACTLY like Baldrick from Black Adder was trying to announce the lunch specials. Everyone stopped listened, and began laughing hysterically. To top it off he had the tannoy snatched from him and a young northern lass with an accent that would make Brian Clough gave it a go. By this time shoppers were in tears, doubled over, and in my case heading for the exit as I could take it no more... Brilliant memory of Worthing!

Laurie 1:08 pm, 2-Oct-2013

Try living in West Drayton

Gimmeafix 8:13 pm, 3-Oct-2013

Aah Worthing...I have a lot to thank it for. And Stearns - two great reasons to get the hell out. In the early 80's it felt like if you didn't escape, the town was grooming you for immediate retirement even as a teenager with its pedestrian, conservative, unimaginative, unchallenging, unquestioning atmosphere. So I can honestly say being brought up in a culturally crap town set me up for life and for that I am eternally grateful. I've lived in London for 28 years and built an international business from here but it's all down to being inspired to leave and escape what I perceived as a 19 year old as the suffocating clutches of Worthing. But I still have a soft spot for the place. It was there that I was forced to combat boredom by playing in local bands and from that experience, I learnt a huge amount that I would use later my professional career. After having a couple of kids, I bought a holiday house by the beach in nearby Goring a few years ago. London maybe a cultural hub but there's no beach in W10 where the kids can run free, or watch woodpeckers and badgers in the garden or play play amusements on a naff pier which they adore. And reading the local paper is always a now I've come to appreciate the place. Who knows, I might even retire there...

Sam 7:28 am, 8-Oct-2013

So what makes it a crap town? So sick of these articles of snobbery. And then she says she likes living in London! Yeah the traffic, pollution, crime and savage prices are great huh? Instead of just moaning about your crap town (pretty much any UK town can fit the chav/primark description which gets used repeatedly) why not try to make it better? No good restuarants? Open one then. Start a business that could make a difference to your town, or stand for election. Or you want to moan in some crap nightclub for hipsters?

Steve W 5:37 pm, 9-Jan-2014

Haha - great article. Funnily enough, we are ten years ahead of you and now moving back to Worthing. Not worried about the clubs, but at least we can eat/drink til the small hours. We cannot wait.

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