Thursday, January 01, 2009

REVIEW: The Idler Book of Crap Towns: The 50 Worst Places to Live in the UK

Title: The Idler Book of Crap Towns: The 50 Worst Places to Live in the UK
Edited by: Sam Jordison and Dan Kieran
ISBN: 0725515825/ Boxtree, 2003
Non-Fiction, Humor
Rating: A

First Line: Britain is crap.

That would seem to be a rather sweeping statement, but when you consider the fact that about 54% of the British want to emigrate, and when you read articles like this one in the Telegraph, there must be something to that first line. My husband immigrated to the US in December 2001. He's since taken me to the UK twice, and although I love it, I wouldn't want to live there. Why? The first thing that comes to mind is the fact that, when the British government doesn't want its citizens to do something, it has one favored method of enforcing its desires: high and brutal taxation. (Wonder why that makes me think of the Boston Tea Party?) But let's get back to the book.

The Idler is a bi-annual book-sized British magazine that touts itself as campaigning against the work ethic. A conversation among its readers began the whole "crap town" idea and the publication of this book. When I discovered its existence, I had to get a copy.

Each "crap town" has its own chapter, starting with #50 and working back to #1. The town's motto, population, unemployment figures, violent crime percentages, higher education statistics, and famous residents are all listed. Following the facts, ma'am, is an essay written by someone who lives in the town telling us why the place is such dreadful location in which to live. To be fair, Jordison and Kiernan gave each town a chance at rebuttal. Few bothered, but the ones that did can be interesting reading.

I wanted to make a documentary about it for Granada [UK television channel], but John Carpenter bought the rights and remade it as Escape from New York.

Huntingdon is full of congealed burger joints, cheap shoeshops selling plastic instruments of torture that make Chinese footbinding look like a harmless bit of fun, and fashion emporia brimming with anorexic-sized garments made out of the same material they put inside pre-packed supermarket meat to soak up the ooze.

As you can tell from the two quotes above, there is plenty of humor in the book. Being fond of crime fiction, I particularly enjoyed the fact that the one and only famous resident listed for Oxford was Inspector Morse. However, humor is not the only thing you find in Crap Towns. There are poignant, heartbreaking bits, and segments (like one in the chapter for St. John's Wood) that can enrage.

As I read, I was happy to see that none of my personal favorites were listed in the book. But that satisfaction may be fleeting. You see, there's a Crap Towns II and once I get my hands on a copy, I may not be so smug!


  1. I wish they'd write a US version of this.

  2. So do I, Kathy! Happy New Year!

  3. If I remember correctly, Hartlepool, my home town ISN'T in it. Which did suprise me!

  4. I don't remember it being in there either, Paul. I've already loaned out the book or I'd check. I wonder if Hartlepool made Book 2?

  5. As someone who spent a year in Salford, England, I know they do have their share of hard places to live. But they haven't tried Detroit.


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