Shittingbourne: David Baddiel Slates Sittingbourne

A geographical theme to this posting I think. Got sent some cuttings from two former local rags earlier this week, firstly the Kent Messenger and secondly the East Kent Gazette. Both were covering the same story, David Baddiel’s comedic slating of Sittingbourne. Having been invited to open the Rodmersham School fete (my old primary school), Baddiel launched into a routine of material that served up a few home truths for this shambolic little town. He then used this material again in his Unplanned show with Frank Skinner.

Let’s be fair, Sittingbourne is a dump. In the 60s the town showed genuine promise. A linear settlement along the A2, a busy Roman Road between the Kent Ports and London, Sittingbourne was a short commuter ride to the capital. Trains reached the town in under an hour and my parents along with many others left London to set-up home. Unfortunately business never followed. The major development and chains that populated towns like Maidstone, Canterbury and the Medway towns (Gillingham, Chatham and Rochester) shied away and the town has – through the next 40 years – continued to lose trade to nearby commercial centres and out of town developments. The regional charm of the High Street with a range of independent shops has been eroded by the proximity of major supermarket chains and the rise in car ownership. Meanwhile, train times have worsened and it now regularly takes over and hour to reach the capital, forcing commuters to look further up the line to Chatham and the emerging residential areas around the Thames estuary and high-speed rail link.

Sittingbourne is little more than a North Kent joke. Not quite as desperate as Sheerness and possibly not as down-at-heel as (potential birthplace of the ‘Chav’ phenomenon) Chatham. Baddiel described it as “a terrible dump” and, quite controversially, suggested Miss Sittingbourne, Lucy Bakerfield, should have corrected her sash to read “Miss Shittingbourne”. Incredulous residents have expressed surprise at his outburst, insistent that he has been seen shopping in the town. I’m not sure this constitutes the seal of approval they think it does – they only mention his presence in Sainsburys and McDonalds for instance, hardly a glowing indictment of the town’s commercial cache. The residents named in Lizzie Cook’s tongue-in-cheek article hardly make a strong case and fail to see the comments for what they really are. Baddiel clearly used poetic licence in his act as many comedians do, so to argue that their daughter was older than he suggested and was laughing and not crying is missing the point. People laughed at his material because it’s true. Sittingbourne is undeniably a (local) joke. A small band of forum posters would like to persuade you otherwise

As it happens, Baddiel lives in a remote part of the village of Rodmersham, happily far enough from the bustling metropolis of Sittingbourne but close enough to know that passing through it on the way to somewhere else is about all he, and the Romans before him, would ever wish to do. There have been claims to a few other 'famous' residents but, once again, they variously live in the surrounding villages.

That said, I was schooled in Sittingbourne, a town with two impressive Grammar schools and two half-decent comprehensives and my observation is that this says more about youngsters’ desperate desire to achieve greatness and move away than it does about a generally astute population. Indeed, it says much about the Borough of Swale that the most prevalent local story of recent years has been the wandering ‘Piano Man’ of Sheerness. Baddiel even made reference to this in suggesting the disorientated mute wandering dishevelled in the streets is a common site at the weekends. Again, he’s not far off.

Baddiel described the town as a place where you feel “overdressed with two ears” it’s fair to say that if residents did have two ears they may have been more likely to hear the message that was being communicated. Sittingbourne is horrible and bordering on pointless, observational humour is funniest when it’s at its most true and reflective.

Coming up next time, reflections on Danny Wallace’s “How To Start A Country” (a viable option for residents of Sittingbourne?)


William said...

If you think that's bad, try reading the Wikipedia entry for Dymchurch.

Harsh but with elements of the truth - however what's really funny is the way the article's been there for ages and people just keep adding to it.

Anonymous said...

Your a Pratt

Anonymous said...

And you can't write ... 'your' should be "you're" or "you are" and pratt doesn't need a leading capital 'P'. Indicating you are probably from Sittingbourne and represent exactly what David Baddiel and others are getting at :)