Monday, January 14, 2008

Going downhill in the world's rugby capital

You know how areas are always described as being "up and coming"? Yuppies are moving in, or there's some government regeneration scheme, or perhaps the Olympics are in town. It's smiles all round as the cappuccinos start to flow.

You don't hear so much about the places that are "down and going" though, do you? Twickenham is undoubtedly one of those places. I spent a lot of my childhood in that particular neighbourhood - about a mile from the world-famous rugby ground, which I could see and hear from my bedroom window. When I was a kid, I'm sure Twickers was quite posh. Not a place for the stupid, idle, filthy rich, but somewhere that was basically a fairly safe, middle-class, unassuming kind of manor.

Now, living maybe a couple of miles from where I grew up, I frequently pass through Twickenham and can't quite fathom out what's happened. The town centre is dowdy and a tad on the threatening side, with more than its fair share of ASBO-type yoof hanging round bus stops. Everything looks run down and unsavoury, although it's a little hard to pinpoint exactly what's wrong.

Some of the trappings of civilisation - a Waterstone's and a Caffe Nero - seem to undermine my case. But the Waterstone's is a former Ottakers and you'd be hard-pressed to swing a cat in it. The Caffe Nero replaced a bra shop that had been part of the fabric for donkey's, although I'd never personally had a reason to patronise it. Perhaps people prefer coffee to bras, but it's another bit of character and soul that's been lost.

Down the road there's a Waitrose, but it's off the beaten track towards the railway station and still suffers from being a Somerfield conversion rather than a start-from-scratch affair. It may also qualify as the only Waitrose in the country to sit on the edge of a "designated dispersal zone", where the police have powers to remove anyone who's looking dodgy and probably shoot them round the back of the nick.

Next time you come for the rugby, my advice is this: turn right out of the railway station and keep walking towards the stadium.

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