When I heard Cathy on Radio 4’s Excess Baggage talking about visiting some of the least attractive places in Britain, with her friend Sally, I knew I had to invite them to take part in our 7 Wonders Interview. I’m glad to say they accepted.
1) I wonder, when looking at the airport departure board, where have you thought, ‘I really would like to go there someday’, and why?
Well, if we did, we couldn’t possibly admit to it. Our travels are strictly confined to the UK, and to places we really don’t want to go to (for a variety of reasons). Now you come to mention it, though, whilst we’d never bother with the departure board, Heathrow would make a fearsome day-out destination.
2) I wonder if you travel by guidebook or trust your instinct and simply explore.
The main purpose of our travels is to challenge our prejudices and preconceptions, so we actively avoid tainting ourselves with anything resembling a fact or a recommendation in advance. In any case, you probably can’t get guide books to many of our destinations; Bluewater Shopping Centre, for instance, or Luton. On arrival, we tend to follow our noses (sometimes literally) in the quest for evidence and excitement.
3) I wonder from your travels, what is the favourite photo you’ve taken and the story behind it?
We take an awful lot of (mainly awful) snapshots on our travels, recording evidence which either confirms or refutes our expectations, plus anything else interesting or amusing.
Our trip to Aberystwyth yielded a host of facilities that were closed – either temporarily, or permanently and irrevocably. The funicular railway turned out to be in the former category so we hauled ourselves up the hill to the thoroughly diverting camera obscura, a definite highlight of our trip. Tearing ourselves away, we followed the sign for the ladies’ toilets…
We have developed a bit of a penchant for prohibitive signs, the more creative the better, and Lowestoft proved to be a veritable gold-mine. Who would have thought that this featureless promenade past the UK’s most Easterly fish-finger factory could be so hazardous?
We’re not stupid, so we had a hunch that Aldershot would be characterised by all things military. But we were still childishly excited to find this display in an army surplus shop window within minutes of arriving. We particularly like the juxtaposition of the teddy bear and the rapist-style mask.
People who visit Bluewater solely for the shopping are really missing out. Break out of the mall and you will find yourself in a surreal Tellytubby landscape framing a pond of (not very blue) water and a club for men who like to spend their weekends in a clay pit playing with remote control boats. Dogs and wives are consigned to observing and brewing up, respectively.
4) I wonder whilst travelling, what is the one thing you can’t live without?
We are never without our disposable cameras. We tried digital but we found we fiddled around too much trying to get the right shot and it spoiled the spontaneity. Disposable cameras provide a rigorous framework (27 shots) along with a frisson of uncertainty with regard to the end result.
5) I wonder what’s the most effort you’ve taken to travel somewhere…… and was it worth it?
We face the usual hazards of public transport - vomit, cancellations, rail replacement buses and so on. But often our fellow travellers – clad in cathedral motif headscarves (Canterbury) or ‘Chapel’ hats (Pontypridd) offer a tantalising glimpse of the delights that await us.
6) I wonder if I could ask you, why your bucket list is so different from most?
For one thing, it’s almost impossible to be disappointed by the places we visit; given our low initial expectations, and lack of research, we are almost always surprised, and often very pleasantly so. The same surely can’t be said of the more conventional ‘see this before you die’ destinations, where both expectations and the potential for anti-climax are so high.
7) I wonder what you have planned next and where can people find out more about you?
Our whole year is mapped out with trips to unappealing destinations. March will see us in Harpenden, hoping not to be bored out of our minds amongst the featureless dormitory housing. In June we will be spending time in the company of hundreds of underage drinkers from state and public schools as they celebrate the end of their exams in Newquay and Rock respectively. And as it is Jubilee year, we’ll be celebrating ourselves in October with a Right Royal Day Out, including tours of Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle.
You can find out more about us, our travels, and whether Harpenden really is that dull at idontwanttogothere.co.uk
Thank you to Cathy and Sally for taking part. Be sure to check out their website, and maybe see if they have visited your town!