If there’s a heaven then there must be a hell. I’m still waiting for proof of either but I know hell on earth can’t be far off Watford High Street. If I could have avoided it yesterday morning I would have, but I couldn’t, so I didn’t. If you’ve never been to Watford you should already appreciate this isn’t designed to be a tourist brochure. Just trust me that unless the rest of the world is wiped out then Watford really needn’t be on you route planner. I’m not even having a go at Watford as a whole, it’s just, oh boy, has the High Street let itself go!!
From the High Street Station end it doesn’t start well. There are plenty of crap towns with charity shops, but not many with charity shops next door to charity shops. This is followed shortly by the most optimistic branch of Runners World in Britain and then the charming façade of the ‘The One Crown’ pub which is about as inviting as the façade of ‘The One Bell’ further along. Which is boarded up. As you pass the exchange shops and crap cafes you instinctively peel off into the shopping centre at the McDonalds/Gap/Hornet sculpture crossroads in the hope of salvation. You almost get it too. What was once called The Harlequin Centre (not bad) is now called the ‘intu’ centre (unforgivably shit) and it does, on a calmer day (Tuesday morning + school holidays) offer something of a haven from the steady stream of awfulness outside.
In defending the retail charm of Watford some people mumble ‘but it does have a John Lewis’. Yes it does, but it feels like a website designer in a prison shower full of murderers. Saying John Lewis is in Watford as a positive is like defending Sir Philip Green on the basis of his tan. ‘Great tan Sir but the rest of you is a shit’. Being there out of necessity I conducted my business and then popped further up to gawp at a tiny branch of the dying entertainment brontosaurus that is HMV. Then, only as I got to the very far end of the ‘intu’ ‘experience’, did I realise there wasn’t an arse end, because the bastards had bricked it up. You see Watford has decided to knock down all the grey, wheezing 60’s, what were they thinking, part of the shoppy bit and start all over again. U-turning I walked back, and then through Primark, and passed it’s shuffle up Satan’s bottom queueing system, and back into the ample skid mark that is the High Street.
By 11.00am it had shot up several levels on the grim scale. Empty tired faces and endless prams, fat kids, mobility scooters plus all the rest, all squeezed onto pavements. A group of three men sauntered past, one, with a voice like barbed wire, announced loudly ‘you know it’s not like I fuckin just wake up and think I don’t like fat birds, I just don’t like fat birds, know what I mean?’. It’s very likely he’d come to the wrong town, but at the same time I’m not sure Watford deserved such a cretin in their midst. By the time I hit the bank and Moss Bros I had given in. Or do I mean up? At this point there is a yawning vacuum in the centre of town; a massive building site it will take years to fill and with what? The delightful billboards show space and light and fountains and small, happy families, and a time and place which is now all but dead in British town centres. Even if the end product comes close it will all just get filled with cunts who couldn’t care less before you know it. Not that people in Watford are all like that but it only takes a few tossers to make other tossers start not giving a toss.
That’s why towns like Watford are the way they are. People stopped caring when councils stopped caring and just stuck a knife into high streets. Take The Eden Centre in High Wycombe. Please, just take it and bury it somewhere. If that’s Eden then give me a bag of forbidden apples please. As I crawled back to my car I noticed a sign saying, almost cheerfully, ‘your ‘intu’ centre is this way, just access through BHS or Primark’. Don’t stop me now, I’m having such a good time. Sorry Watford, you’re alright, but someone really hasn’t been looking after you!
G B Hewitt. 27.7.2016
Ps, even the devil avoids Watford on a Friday night.