Jack Dee has joined, or perhaps he’s always belonged to, the community of people who think it’s funny to insult a place where people live, work and go to school. Introducing I’m Sorry I haven’t a Clue from the Theatre Royal in Bath, the comedian remarked
This city got its English name because early settlers arrived here and noted it resembled a bath. Because it was next to a toilet called Trowbridge.
I’ll pause for a moment while you enjoy this comedy gold.
I’m trying to get to grips with the thought process of the joke: Hey, guys, we’re in Bath where the average house price is £578,100 and, oh God, guys, this is hilarious, Trowbridge is only eight miles away and the average house price is £183,940. Hey, I can raise a laugh by pointing and laughing at people who are considerably poorer than I am!
But what do I know about comedy or Jack Dee? I’m sure he’s a lovely person. According to Wikipedia Jack Dee grew up in Winchester, where he was a pupil at a prep school before failing his Common Entrance Exam and attending a comprehensive school and then a top-performing Sixth Form College, and he then worked as a waiter at the Ritz Hotel in London before becoming a stand-up comedian, so we don’t have to imagine that he’s led a comfortable, privileged middle class existence all of his life.
And, it’s OK, I’ve lived in Trowbridge for 13 years so I’m used to the disparaging remarks. I’ve heard the jokes before. I’ve even noticed that Trowbridge has a generous share of Pound Shops, charity shops, boarded up shops and empty buildings with buddleia growing out of their windows.
And Trowbridge is still too shabby and scrappy to have been noticed by any colour supplement or “Let’s Move To……” articles.
A quick glance through online property discussion forums will see Trowbridge variously described as “a dump,” “a pit,” and “Chavbridge” (maybe this is where Jack Dee seeks out his comedy material).
But there is a group of people who have begun to notice Trowbridge. There must be something different about this group because they seem to see things from an alternative perspective to the Jack Dees of the world. They seem to be able to look past the satellite dishes, cut-price shops and indelicate loft extensions (there are some eyesores around). Perhaps they’re less sensitive than Jack about scruffiness and instead of pointing and laughing are instead observing that in among the eyesores are buildings with high ceilings, large windows, original Victorian tiled floors, wooden floorboards, stained glass windows and 120′ (35 metres) gardens.
Any guesses for who these people are? They’re the artists, of course. I think one of their jobs is to be good at noticing things.
Perhaps the artists have also noticed that, like Jack Dee said, Trowbridge really is next door to Bath. It’s 20 minutes away on the train and you can even cycle there along a canal path. It’s also 30 minutes from Bristol and on a direct train route to London Waterloo. And half an hour from the M4 (admittedly you might get stuck behind a tractor every now and then – did I mention we’re right next to some of the most beautiful countryside in Wiltshire and Somerset?).
One such artist is Professor Anita Taylor, Dean of Bath School of Art and Design who chose Trowbridge to be the new base for Drawing Projects UK, a centre for research, development, production and promotion of exhibitions, events and workshops in drawing and contemporary art.
Then there are the artists who rent studio space and offer creative workshops at Drawing Projects UK and at Trowbridge Town Hall which is being re-developed into an arts hub in the centre of the town (I’ve just completed a short poetry residency there where I ran a series of poetry workshops and events).
It’s not just artists moving here. Trowbridge is also the home of leading web design company WebCreationUK, for example, and there are enough creative enterprises here for the town to be named in the report The Geography of Creativity in the UK as one of the 47 “creative clusters” outside London. (source: Creative industries booming across the UK, according to new report).
As for me and my family, when we moved here from London in 2003, we just wanted somewhere affordable to live with a big garden for our children to play in and state schools that they could walk to. We wanted to live near a mainline railway station so that Andrew could commute to London and we also wanted somewhere with brilliant internet connections so that he could work from his garden office when he needed to (long gardens give you space for garden offices).
It’s all worked out reasonably happily for us. I’m not saying Trowbridge is anywhere near swanky enough for someone like Jack Dee to want to move to, but we like living in a town where no-one we’ve met so far has felt the need to describe a place where people have made their home as a ‘toilet’.
Oh, those quaint West Country good manners – maybe the artists like them, too.