If you ever find yourself having a decent reason to go to Aylesbury you might want to start re-thinking your life. At any given moment in time there must be worse places to be on the planet – the toilet block of a Nicaraguan jail, a sewage plant on the outskirts of Cairo, sticky-stuck and conscious in a lift with Jacob Rees-Mogg – but none of those places have quite the same dubious honour of being the county town of Buckinghamshire. Buckinghamshire must have a very low opinion of itself. Aylesbury is one of those towns that might sound alright on paper but that most people try to avoid unless they really have some unavoidable need: a funeral perhaps, an urgent medical emergency, an itching for a rapid descent into the blackest bout of depression. The last time I came to Aylesbury was not enough time ago (that is to say less than six hundred years), to eat waffles with some people I didn’t feel like eating waffles with. And since I don’t like waffles all that much I was not impressed on several extra layers. The town just seems to be there to slow down a journey between two other places, places that via default are lent a distinct advantage simply by not being Aylesbury, and that is not something any town could call a glowing recommendation. Trust me, you’re better off avoiding it.
It could have been so different. There is no doubt that someone on the Aylesbury town council must care about what the place looks like, and yet there seems scant evidence that any level of success has been achieved. One wonders if the town has really improved much since it was quite the big shot in the middle ages; sure the roads were full of mud and most people were dead before they hit forty but by the appearance of things today the level of dental hygiene is probably even worse and while people may look like they’re older, albeit in the least graceful fashion, they definitely don’t look like they’re much wiser. Oddly, there is quite a languid pace to life in Aylesbury, at least life on the pavement. Perhaps due to carrying too much excess weight, or through chronic illness or unemployment, or just a habitual insistence not to exert themselves much the folk of Aylesbury move without urgency or clamour, as if they have all the time in the world to float along, and not a care in the world to trouble them while they do it. They seems at peace with themselves, as if they fear not death; for who should burden themselves with a fear of death when they already live in hell? Believe me, it’s not worth the effort of finding out I’m not lying.
It’s all here, the rougher side of life, and you don’t even have to look very hard. It doesn’t bother to have a dark underbelly, it just is one. The empty stares from shop doorways; the mentally sick and the physically crippled, sometimes both at the same time; the overfed but undernourished, crammed into unflattering leggings; scrawny, dangerous, Anglo-Saxon men, with crudely etched faces, old beyond their years; restless, red faced offenders of the future, screaming as they cling onto their grandmother’s saggy, tattooed forearms. Outside the pubs 10.30am drinkers set themselves up for another glorious day of chasing oblivion, all defeated, all doomed, all at the bottom and blinking at somewhere even further below. I’ve been there once or twice; it isn’t as much fun as you’d think: only in towns like Aylesbury does drinking before noon seem like quite a good idea, a perfectly rational time killer. I saw a child mannequin (the least annoying child for miles around) in a charity shop window sporting a cheap t-shirt emblazoned with the name ‘Boston’, in this case it probably meant Boston, Lincolnshire, not Massachusetts, a town cut from a very similar cloth to Aylesbury – abandoned, at the end of the line, where hope very rarely gets off, and if it does it gets straight back on again or dies a quick death. You don’t move to Aylesbury unless you have to, and once you leave you’ll remember why for the rest of your days. Truly best not to bother in the first place, take my word for it.
And bear in mind this was a fleeting, reluctant, cheerless (inevitably) visit. In fairness Aylesbury does have a few fleeting attractions. A statue of John Hampden (look him up yourself, it won’t take long) with added bird faeces and splashes of clueless graffiti to hint at neglect and more than a little ignorance. The Roald Dahl Children’s Gallery. The Buckinghamshire County Museum. The King’s Head Inn (a nice enough place, almost a flicker of light in the grime, and scene of some pretty dour post-waffle drinks, way back when). But all of these contribute to an accumulative draw of very low gravitational heft. The roads that lead to the town centre are littered with countless poorly placed roundabouts, as if the transport planners want you to suffer before you even get out of the car; though they also offer the casual drifter plenty of chances to turn around and fuck off somewhere else. Anywhere else will do. Of course, there are bound to be worse places to visit in Britain – most seaside towns for starters – but if you wanted to draw up a list of towns that promise little and then deliver considerably less than they promise, Aylesbury would be a sound place to get the ball rolling. And when it comes to promising little and delivering less I think you’d agree I’m something of an expert. Seriously, don’t go to Aylesbury. You will regret it.
G B Hewitt. 29.07.2022