It took me a very long time to like Milton Keynes. I almost wrote ‘love’ then, but I thought better of it. I do like it, but I don’t love it. I love Krakow for the town square and rambling central streets; I love San Francisco for the bay and for retro coffee shops; I love London for the feeling that anything could happen at any moment to make the day memorable. I really can’t think of anything I love Milton Keynes for; it wouldn’t be any of those things I just mentioned though, obviously.
Milton Keynes is geometric. Amazon is based there. It has concrete cows. It’s completely dominated by cars, and pedestrians are pushed under subways. It all looks identical when you’re in the centre, and out on the roads, you’ll see cut grass road verges but no houses. You’ll get lost in the shopping centre because it’s very confusing. It takes years of practise to even cope with that. Don’t cycle anywhere because it’s totally indecipherable. Even though they started with a clean bit of paper, the town centre is a long uphill walk from the station. Even the name, Milton Keynes, has nothing to do with anyone worthy, like Milton or, er, Keynes.
But despite all that, I still like it. I first went to Milton Keynes in 1993. I’d passed through it on the train before then, which is often the best way to see new towns. But, in 1993, I had to get off. It was a hot day in July, and I was whisked from the station, along H6 (did I mention all the major roads are ‘horizontal’ or ‘vertical’ and numbered) to one of the villages right on the edge that’s yet to be engulfed by the city. Give it time.
And over the next 12 years, I went back, and went back, and went back – not, it has to be said, by choice. I gradually realised that – despite the utter confusion I felt for about seven of those years; despite the lack of a coherent bus service; despite the theatre being parked 400 metres across a windswept car park from the shops; despite having a town centre park so divorced from the town centre I never ventured in it, despite having a phoney football team that nods to south London (and is actually in Bletchley) and despite the silly hippy names for many of the roads – people like living there.
On the whole, Milton Keynes – MK if you want to be cool (ish) – is thoroughly charming, very clean, has very little congestion despite all the cars, has a great Council and has pretty much everything you could ever want or need in it or near it. People flock there and stay there. It’s utterly bland and totally unchallenging and therein lies its charm, because it at least had a damn good shot at being neither. It’s like a slightly tipsy, untrendy dad, showing you pictures of how it used to be in the seventies and how it had a long beard and was centre of attention and had gyro-copters flying round. And now here it is, all cords and slippers and dozing off in front of the telly at 9.30.
And really, despite how it sounds, I really like Milton Keynes.