Wednesday, 6 September 2006

Crass Observation

Parenthood combined with the taking of annual leave heightens life's excitement in ways you could never imagine. And so descended the realisation that we'd two or three hours to waste before Sammy was due in Bradeley for his injections at ten to two.

So what could we do that we'd never done before? Inexplicably, to you and us, we plumped for a whizz round Congleton. Well, y'know, anywhere with pushchair-friendly surfaces will do nowadays - and they say this place has the best quality of life in the region (cue activation of the previously dormant "ooh, there's a nice school" chip.)

Until now I had only ever thought of Cheshire as the pancake-flat motorway county where you keep two chevrons apart (presumably under pain of being sent down to spend the rest of eternity in Alderley Edge, taunted by 10,000 wispish apparitions of Rio Ferdinand with Usher ringtones.)

I once met an otherwise stoical Congleton-dweller at Harrison Park who expressed his heartfelt sympathy that I'd ever consider living in Stoke-on-Trent, almost as if ST6 were the nailsest place on earth.

And to be honest, I've never been able to conjure up any grounds to disagree, chiefly because I've barely ever stopped an hour in Cheshire (Moss Rose excepted), despite now living six miles from it. Having been a Nowhere Midlander all my life (an unholy identity), I naturally look down on Birmingham, barely bothering with the North Wet, simple as.

Anyway, I present my findings below; some clearly authoritative observations about Cheshire (well, a representative square mile or so of it, I'm sure) that emerged once I had finished wiping the liquid culture shock from my brow.

1. It's mostly flat and wealthy-looking like my native Warwickshire; indeed, Congleton is a lot like Kenilworth without the castle and the Walter Scott novel, but with more of an economy. Still feels like a dormitory town though.

2. All of the parents out walking are at least twenty years older than you'd meet in Burslem, and don't seem to feel so compelled to pimp up their pushchairs. That said, I'm sure Cheshire's less-visible teen parents are all the more marginalised for being in the minority.

3. Contrary to received wisdom, there are only as many 4x4s as there are in the Potteries (Burslem surely has more if you count the huge Jeep pushchairs), but unlike in Stoke, they do not dwarf their owners' terraced houses.

4. Congleton's war memorial is far less solemn than in most towns. If anyone can tell me what the conscript perched on top of it is actually doing, then great. For my money, he's trying to stagger through the door of the half-timbered pub opposite, but has grossly misjudged the necessary distance of his forward lunge.

5. You can tell it's a Tory constituency and must have a Tory-led council because the parking's free (biggest issue they can think of in affluent small towns), and the town's cafes are all athrong with would-be electors whingeing loudly about the crime rate and asylum seekers, despite the fact that there's next to none of either in Congleton.

And that, I surmise, dear reader, is really all there is to Cheshire, apart from a nice boat lift up the road. Is the famed "quality of life" in this prestigious county palatine really worth the extra £150,000 you haven't got?

Say "bollocks!" to Sarah Beeney and co, stick with North Staffs.

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