“Where be that Blackbird to? I know where he be;
He be up yon Wurzel tree, and I be after he!”
– The Wurzels
Returning home after a stint in the big city is always a dejecting experience. On the surface, everything appears to have stayed the same, but then as you explore the town centre it soon emerges that things are strangely different from how you remembers them. A few people from school it seems have ballooned—some apparently by choice—as hitting the gym everyday to achieve a grotesquely beefed up look has become the latest trend. In addition, the town has gained a startling new landmark: a suspiciously metropolitan-looking WHSmith, which everyone believes has really rocketed the place into the 21st century.
This is true of my hometown Nailsea, situated approximately 8 miles outside of Bristol in North Somerset, where the countryside begins to break down into homespun suburbia. It has an estimated population of seventeen and a half thousand people, and yet—rather regrettably—I seem to recognise every face I see there. For this reason I don’t tend to visit very often, and when I do I prefer to steer clear of the high street, lest I’m obliged to make small talk with somebody who used to throw oranges at my head back when I was in school.
For many years, if anybody located outside of North Somerset had ever heard of Nailsea, it was because the town was once a major player in the glass manufacturing industry, producing mostly low-grade bottle glass. In present times, however, Nailsea has gained notoriety for something surprisingly perverse. Some years ago the town made headlines, both locally and nationally, when it was revealed that an elderly gentleman had engaged in what one can only assume was non-consensual sex with a cow in a Nailsea field. Allegedly, the man consummated the romance by pulling over the cow’s trough and using it as a stepladder to reach the poor thing’s high nether regions.
Despite the widespread media attention, I nevertheless consider the incident to be a relatively minor embarrassment for the town, particularly given Nailsea’s practically ungovernable wigga problem. For although they are predominately middle-class, many of the town’s teenage residents staunchly maintain that they’re unequivocally gangsta.
Back when I lived there this thoroughly embarrassing subculture of suburban bloods and crips even produced an atrocity known locally as “The Nailsea Raps”, which featured some of Nailsea’s most absurd wiggas, befuddled by their own lack of self-awareness, spitting derogatory rhymes about one another from the safety of their respective bedrooms.
The raps ended up circulating on the PCs of students at the local comprehensive school, and were so unbearably ridiculous that I can still recall a few lines. One of the rappers—I’ve never ceased to remember—cunningly threatened his opponent by insisting that he’d shoot him in Bristol with his “lyrical pistol”, while another one witlessly retorted by asking, “Jewish, where’s your foreskin?”
What he wanted with the poor boy’s foreskin was never explained, although I think it’s fair to say that the raps were more “West Country” than they were “West Side”.
It is perhaps fitting, then, that the rappers’ biggest contenders to the crown of Nailsea’s greatest musical export are scrumpy and western musicians The Wurzels: a rare band whose entire musical career can only be described as cider-themed. Far from an embarrassment, The Wurzels are, and always have been, knowingly silly. They’re about having fun and drinking cider, although mostly, it has to be said, just about drinking cider.
If only Nailsea were as idyllic as a Wurzels’ song, with wobbly-eyed drunks jovially chasing blackbirds up trees: a place where presenting a pretty young coquette with the key to a combine harvester is seen as some elaborately romantic gesture. It is certainly more appealing than anything conjured up by the Nailsea rappers, whose idea of romance likely entails texting grainy camera phone images of themselves mid-climax to girls—any girls—who are stupid enough to have given them their phone numbers.
It is a sad thought, but unfortunately I fear that the Nailsea rappers paint quite a true picture of the town in which they live. Yes, for all its visual charms, Nailsea is a town with an attitude problem: perhaps a nice place for the elderly to retire to—particularly for those who like cows. But for shy teenagers and twenty-somethings, it’s more or less intolerable. For some young people there, if you’re not like them, you’re a bad name—or in most cases, a bad sound (typically something like “NAHH!” or WAHEYA!”).
I have considered that for all the good that growing up in the countryside has done me, at least a portion of the benefit has been spoiled by my having to share a school with the sort of people who bellow barely intelligible insults at strangers in the street.
Having lived away from the town in which I raised for some time, I can now barely remember what it feels like to be insulted in the street. This is strange, since over the past five years, I’ve lived and worked in some of the most notoriously deprived areas in the country, including Tower Hamlets and Chapeltown in Leeds. Yet during my time in these places, I never once experienced verbal abuse quite like I did when I lived in Nailsea, where children are apparently raised under the misguided belief that their actions and words have no consequences.
In areas where crime is high, there tends to be an element of fear that restricts the average person from making mocking or confrontational remarks about somebody in the street. It’s a fear that is based on the morbid realisation that if you were to say something rude or offensive to a passer-by, there is a possibility that the passer-by might just be carrying a knife: you can’t assume that somebody isn’t.
But in Nailsea, no such fear exists, and so the avaricious teenagers of financially secure Tory voters are free to roam the streets insulting the meek and the outwardly inoffensive—which is unfortunately a demographic that includes me.
No doubt I was the square peg in a round hole when I lived there: it was that I didn’t fit the town, rather than that the town didn’t fit me. If I ever hated living in Nailsea, any disdain that I may have felt has long turned into a healthy scepticism, particularly of all the strange sights that I occasionally still observe during my twice yearly visits: a collection of what look like eight-years-old sat around in circle on the high street, all chanting the word “wanker” for some reason; groups of teenage girls drinking from a two litre bottle of White Ace in a field; a tracksuit-wearing mouth-breather walking towards a moving vehicle as if he’s able to “spark it out” somehow.
Perhaps the most perplexing observation of all, however, is that the bullies that I knew back in school are now friends with the poor victims that they used to torment. It’s as if an entire social hierarchy has disintegrated, resorting in the forming of baffling friendship circles that consist of the hopelessly desperate and the phenomenally stupid.
From what I’ve seen, in most cases, the bullying hasn’t stopped either: it has just become accepted, and therefore perhaps worse. I’m thrilled, of course, that I never succumbed to being a part of the gang, since I never had much patience for the people who threw oranges at my head when I was at school. In consequence, I spent my teenage years with little to no social life, waiting intently until I was old enough to leave.
Yet, strangely, I have found that, wherever it is I’ve lived over the years, I’ve never shied away from admitting where it is I’m originally from. So whenever somebody asks me where my hometown is, I never hesitate to confess that I’m from Nailsea: a place synonymous with cider, cheap glass and cow buggery–in that order.