A guilty secret of mine is that I really do love the Crap Towns books that stormed the UK charts in 2003-’04. The premise was a simple one – readers of the The Idler website contributed their thoughts on the worst towns in the UK, and from that, 50 towns were chosen to represent the worst of contemporary Britain.
This Christmas, I received Crap Towns Returns in my Christmas stocking, and very amusing it was, too. It was interesting that the authors noted that in the decade since the first book had appeared, things had become a whole lot worse. For a start, we’d had riots in the intervening years. Who’d have thought that? Although some of the very crappest towns in the UK had made great strides towards improvement, the book pointed out that many others were a seething pit of tension, squalour and urban degridation. Or something like that.
Although many people railed against these books – especially those who lived in the places listed – they were a huge commercial success, and sired all manner of me-too books. Inevitably, we had a spate of car-related titles: Tony Davis went for Naff Motors, Richard Porter preferred the title, Crap Cars, while Craig Cheetham went for The World’s Worst Cars, and Giles Chapman plucked for The Worst Cars Ever Sold.
All were entertaining – and probably went on and earned a mint for their authors. The format was – and is – appealing, and publishers like to refer to these as great cistern reads. And I’d not disagree – I have all four of them, and still like to dip in now and then, when I want a quick and amusing read. As I know three of the four authors, I’d not be so crass as to say which is the best – they’re all brilliant.
But of course, one thing that concerns me with all of these books – and similar Top 10 lists that pepper the Internet – that it is simple to pick of the pick on the same targets every time. You know the ones: the Allegro, Marina, MGB – in fact, anything from BL’s 1970s back catalogue. And if the entry is illustrated by a marketing image bristling with sideburns, flares and hued with a dash of beige, all the better.
So, if we’re about to see a ‘Crap Books’ revival, can we have some new entries please? I’ve driven some humdingers during the past decade that are far more offensive than any Allegro to drive. And for anyone who says it’s impossible to buy a poor new car, I could also suggest a few: the Mitsubishi Mirage is a miserable little thing with no redeeming features, for a start. And it’s more expensive (by some margin) than, say, an MG3. The Vauxhall ADAM is a joyless thing trying to be something it’s not… And that’s just off the top of my head.
For me, though, number one will always have to be the 1990 Ford Escort. I’ve never made any secret of my disdain for this nasty piece of work – and amazes me that this cynically-conceived disgrace seems to have far got off scott free. So far.