Crawley Crawl

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I love going on holiday, and I love the whole pre-holiday ritual of nighttime check-in at some soulless hotel in the airport hinterlands, and then fighting my way out next morning onto some service road or dual carriageway for my morning walk. Without Google maps and the iPad it would be impossible to navigate towards civilisation, but the little blue light dot is generally up to the challenge.

This morning sees us en route to Mauritius via Crawley. The surreal contrast of this morning’s walk and tomorrow’s will be a magical moment.

There was never a shadow of doubt that we would investigate Crawley. One of Himself’s colleagues on hearing of our travel plans emailed him thus:

“I see from your calendar that you’re staying in a hotel in Crawley this evening. Having lived just outside Crawley for 7 years, I should warn you that it is one of the, if not the, most depressing towns on this planet.”

So 7.15am saw us clambering roadside barriers, sniffing the air, keeping an eye on the position of the sun, pondering ambiguous road signs; and reconciling all intel with the blue light dot. In the grand tradition of Livingstone, we wended our way upstream tarmac to a deserted Crawley town centre. The usual collection of Poundshops, Poundlands and Money Shops, although on a far grander scale than, say, Goole. We are talking affluent south east England here, and it shows in the sparkling glass emporia and gargantuan dimensions of the local pound shops.

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I actually found sixties Crawley positively exhilarating, though maybe my excitement today is more due to the prospect of Mauritius. The grim expanse of stained modernist architecture in the centre is testament to an unerring sense of aesthetic vision. When Crawley was designated a New Town in 1947 (one of a number across the UK intended to solve a mass housing crisis through an attempt to create utopian urban living) the town planners were driven by the sort of admirable mad courage and conviction now all too rare in a 21st century generally driven by caution to be nervous about anything other than mundane nostalgic replication of past architectural glory.

Crawley is not without its requisite bit of urban pastiche: the sparkling but boring anonymous County Mall was the complete opposite of exhilarating. But there is also some remarkably nice contemporary building. We wandered past the magnificent solicitors’ office of Thomas Eggar, and reflected that any lawyer working anywhere could do a lot worse.

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