Well we’re at the end of March already, how did that happen? The last few months have been a bit of a whirlwind and now the dust is settling I find I’m living back in my home town with one of my best friends as a housemate. That I’m sharing a house with someone I’m not sleeping with after living by myself for 5 years is a massive shock to my system on its own, but the fact that I am back in Gravesend is an even bigger one as since I left (for the second time) in 2008 I’ve always been adamant that I would never end up living here again. So I’ve been complaining about it. A lot. To everybody. To the point where some of my friends (quite rightly) are sick of hearing about it, so I’m going to see if I can explain why I’m so upset about being back a bit better than I’ve been able to so far.
To start with, I think Gravesend is a toilet. There is nothing here. A walk through the town centre is a depressing experience with chav mothers screaming at their slack-jawed, dull-eyed, chimp children and shifty looking men in tracksuit bottoms drinking cans of cheap eastern European lager everywhere. Want to go shopping? You’ve got Debenhams, Marks and Spencers and Primark and that’s about it unless you don’t want to spend more than a pound, plenty of discount stores in between all the empty shops. The cinema was closed down and burnt out years ago. There are plenty of restaurants if you like Chinese or Indian, (to be fair, there are a couple of very good Indian and Chinese restaurants I have been going in for years) and if you’re a connoisseur of kebabs, pizza and fried chicken you are well covered but if you’re looking for anything beyond that your choices are limited to a pasta restaurant, a couple of smart English places, or the new Polish place. Fancy Mexican or tapas? Keep going my friend. Even your Nando’s craving cannot be satisfied here. If you’re prepared to drive or shell out for a cab there are good places out in the surrounding villages, or you can go over to Bluewater but going to a restaurant in a shopping centre just doesn’t seem that sophisticated to me. About the only thing to do in Gravesend town centre is drink, and there are plenty of pubs to help you out with that but most of them are a bit rough and I’ve long been saying there are not many places I feel comfortable drinking in at the weekend and even fewer with people I want to talk to in.
Maybe I’ve been spoilt by the number of places to go that were on my doorstep in Beckenham and the fact that I was less than an hour away from everything else in London that I didn’t really have to think about getting there. It’s been pointed out to me that Gravesend is close to London as well, especially with the High Speed link and if you’re commuting it probably is but I’m not particularly convinced if you want to go into London for fun. It’s an hour on the normal train just to get into Charing Cross or around 20 minutes on the bullet train into King’s Cross St Pancras but it’s expensive, currently £15.10 for an off-peak travel card on the normal train or £19.10 for the high speed, that’s a big difference to the £7.70 I’m used to paying to get around on my Oyster card. It’s that bit too expensive to make going into London a spontaneous thing, now it has to be planned and budgeted for. Going into London for a mooch around Covent Garden or to spend an afternoon in Hyde Park seems kind of hard to justify and if you’re going for a night out your last train is just after midnight. Miss that and you are in for an expensive cab ride, no night bus, no alternative station that you can walk from, nothing. Just that last train. Compared to what I’m used to, Gravesend is not close to London.
Moving here has thrown a lot of other plans into the air as well. I spent most of last year looking for a new job and had been concentrating on stuff in London, the idea being that it would be nice and easy to get to and I’d be able to budget properly, maybe even save money, as I knew exactly how much I’d be spending on travel each month rather than having to spend all my spare cash on petrol driving up and down the country, and being in the same place with the same people every day might kick start the London social life I’d lost. Now if I were to start working in London everything I’ve saved in rent would go on a season ticket and the idea I’ve moved back to Gravesend to be no better off is one I can’t stand to think about.
So I don’t really have a lot of love for G-Town, having originally moved away 12 years ago and being able to see how downhill it has gone in that time it doesn’t really feel like my home any more. But it’s not just the run-down shops or the distance from all the fun stuff in the capital, it’s a personal thing too. Being back feels like I’ve failed.
When I first moved out to Beckenham a big part of it was because all of my friends in Gravesend were coupled off, settled down and starting families, they were at a different stage of life and there didn’t seem to be much on offer to me if I stayed. Beckenham was a nice looking place, close to London and it was where the office for my new job was so it seemed a logical place to go. I’d been able to make a decent social circle for myself in other places I’d lived and I had no reason to think I wouldn’t be able to do the same thing again. Who knows, I might even find a proper girlfriend at some point and start thinking of settling down myself. To start with everything went pretty much to plan, I found myself a fun bunch of new friends (although they were all backpackers in Bayswater rather than Beckenham), there were some girls and I was thoroughly enjoying having a house to myself, but somewhere over the last couple of years it started falling apart. I was spending more and more time away for work, money was getting tighter and tighter as the rent and bills went up, and the Bayswater Bunch started to move on or go home. I suddenly found myself on my own a lot, unable to create a local social circle because I was either away too often or too skint to be able to do anything on a regular basis. When I got that email in December telling me the rent was going up again I knew I couldn’t do it any more and I was going to have to move, and there was a horrible inevitability that move was going to be back to Gravesend.
And so it turned out to be. I never expected to have to come back and it hurt, and it made me angry. It still hurts and I’m still angry. I’d gone out to find a life for myself on my own and I couldn’t do it, it unravelled on me and I couldn’t pull it back together. I failed. It feels like I’ve slinked back with my tail between my legs into the situation I was trying to get away from in the first place, except that the babies that were being born then are now starting school and I’m scared I’ve blown it. I’m scared I’m stuck in a place where I can’t see any options for the future and time is running short to find some, that I’m somewhere I can’t find what I’m looking for, and walking through that dying town centre every day is a constant reminder of that.
The only good thing about Gravesend, as far as I’m concerned, is it’s where most of my family and friends are. If they weren’t I would quite happily never set foot in the place again. I know there are worse places (Bradford springs instantly to mind, but I don’t want to live there either) but it’s the place I have issues with, everyone seems to have taken my complaints so personally. The only reason I ever came back at all was to see the people I know and love, and please believe me on this one folks, you are the only thing that makes living back here bearable. Right now I’m happy I can see and spend more time with everyone, so let’s enjoy it while we can. I’ll do my best to keep the whinging to a minimum and make the best of things but you’ll never convince me it’s a nice place to live. Sorry.