I met someone recently who got a job in East Grinstead and decided to move there. If you don't know the place, it's roughly halfway between London and the south coast, has a population of 27,000 and is 5% charming medieval Sussex town, 95% badly designed twentieth century housing. Apparently Daphne from 'Frasier' grew up there, but as far as I know she's never returned.
East Grinstead's problem is that it is neither fish nor fowl. It lacks the excitement and cultural activity of London, but it is also too suburban for anyone to enjoy the delights of a traditional, rural community. Like many small towns in England, the place only really comes to life on a Friday night, when the local kids get drunk and beat the crap out of each other. Happy days.
I felt sorry for him, but then his story became even more tragic. To add insult to injury, he discovered that he couldn't afford to live in East Grinstead and had to move to a suburb called Felbridge. It was hard to imagine a place as small as East Grinstead having a suburb and it reminded me of an asteroid that was discovered around ten years ago. No asteroids are exciting and this one was smaller and duller than most, but it aroused the interest of scientists because it had caught a small lump of rock in its tiny gravitational field and this boulder was now the asteroid's moon, faithfully orbiting it at regular intervals. Here's a NASA photo:
Beneath its bland exterior, East Grinstead harbours a dark secret. It is home to several religious cults, including the Mormons and Scientologists (Tom Cruise and John Travolta have been spotted walking past the local Wimpy Bar). Also, there is an Al Qaeda training camp for would-be suicide bombers.
I worked in East Grinstead for a few months and I have to confess that I was quite happy there. The town was bland, but far less offensive than many places in England. It is a sad fact that most English towns and cities have been ruined by the unholy alliance of the Luftwaffe and 1960s town planners, producing town centres like this:
Fortunately, I'm lucky enough to live in a town that hasn't changed much during the last 100 years and the locals will always give you a warm welcome...