When a town is most famous for being the hometown of Denise Van Outen, Milhouse’s more attractive cousin, it sets one or two alarm bells ringing. But, having given Southend-on-Sea up as a bad job, we were on our way home along the A13 (Trunk Road To The Sea) and looking for somewhere to wile away the rest of the afternoon. Basildon seemed to fit the bill, in that it was there.
If all you know about Basildon is that there’s posh writing paper named after it, stop right there. Basildon is not posh. Nor is it pleasant, attractive in any way, or really a nice place to visit. That said, we had a happy enough time there, proving that adversity is no match for a sunny disposition and an optimistic view of anywhere that’s not Southend.
Entering Basildon belies its New Town nature – endless roundabouts, poorly signposted and directing you to somewhere called Vange – and when you finally reach the town centre, you’re faced with a bewildering choice of numbered multi-storey carparks. Do not attempt anything quirky here – these are not governed by conventional spatial rationality. When you do manage to exit the car park complex, you enter wide, dusty pedestrianised precincts that span off with small shops selling cigarettes, many shuttered shops with once-inviting signs that have given up the ghost. Down the main thoroughfare and you enter a vast, seemingly enclosed central space. A huge courtyard, surrounded by shops and department stores – a towering Marks, a large Primark, sky-high walkways and the occasional monstrous tower or recessed pit. It’s a forbidding sort of place – in some ways, exactly like the polygonal concrete structures and essentially random manmade elements that made up the Tony Hawks’ skateboarding games. The dark sky looms above the claustrophobic towers; even taking refuge in the Costa coffee (basically a glass box on the courtyard) is a surreal experience, surrounded on three sides by grey, urban decay and barely a solitary shopper or wind-blown leaf to temper the experience. Spoeke sums up the experience nicely.
In terms of charity shops, Basildon fares little better. A small PDSA and a Cancer Research discount store are your lot, although the pavements are lined with Cash Converters and other such shiny, misery-exploiting evils. It looks (according to Google) like there was a couple we missed – to be honest, I’m not inspired to go back for completion’s sake. There’s a humungous Wilkinsons and a tatty looking market, so while your charity shop haul may be slight at best (I left with just a chef’s steel, though I have been searching for one for many moons), you may pick up a thrifty bargain elsewhere.
Find: Basildon @ Google Maps
Transport: Basildon station
Consume with: a macchiato and a muffin from the fishbowl-esque Costa
Visit: um, you’ve got me. Maybe nearby Stanford-le-hope, home of the wonderful Dan Le Sac and Scroobius Pip.
Overall rating: two former Popstars winners (it’s still better than Southend)