From Buckfast to Bordeaux Column 5

Cumbernauld was founded in 1956 to help manage the overspill from Glasgow city centre. For many years it was regarded as a template for modern new towns in Scotland. After 22.3 years it was declared a joke.

It was mentioned on Only An Excuse’s Hogmanay show in the following context; ‘If Edinburgh is Scotland’s Roma, then Churino is Italy’s Cumbernauld. Oh, I tell you… it’s a toilet’.

It’s a shame that Cumbernauld has such a bad reputation. In fairness, the majority of the housing, the newer housing, is of good quality. Unfortunately, the centre of the town, where the original buildings still stand, is an example of what the ‘50s thought would be development genius but was actually aesthetic suicide. As a result there is a concrete jungle riddled with underpasses which literally breed neds.

The town centre is a monstrosity. Any steps which have been taken to improve it have failed for one reason and one reason only. This is a problem to which there is only one solution. Demolition.

If you’re thinking, ‘Eh, that’s an opinion and you’re a journalist, whit d’y think yr daen?’… in 2005, the Channel 4 TV series Demolition took a public vote to determine out of a selection of hated buildings dubbed The Dirty Dozen which should be turned to dust. The Cumbernauld Town Centre won, in fact, it was also suggested that the town of Cumbernauld should be demolished ‘in its entirety’. Regrettably, no action was taken.

Cumbernauld has won a string of other awards which uses the word ‘won’ in the same way as HIV uses the word ‘positive’.

Architecture and planning magazine Urban Realm awarded Cumbernauld their infamous title of ‘Plook on the Plinth’ in both 2001 and 2005. ‘Plook’ being the Scots word for a spot for any exchange students.

In the 2003 book, ‘Crap Towns: The Fifty Worst Places to Live in the UK’, Cumbernauld came in second only to Hull, making it the worst in Scotland.

In 2005, Cumbernauld was declared Scotland’s abandoned trolley capital by Trolleywise, a firm who retrieves stray trolleys for supermarkets. This was only made worse by the installation of magnetic strips on the exits of supermarkets as youths tested their durability, found they were a load of shite and wandered off with the trolley until they were bored of it n shoved it in a ditch, always too deep in the undergrowth to be pulled out but visible enough to be an eyesore.

Just before the Christmas break, around the time of Hurricane Bawbag, I got word from Cumbernauld that the world was ending. It was immediately apparent that this was an exaggeration caused by the bad weather. I looked around me. There was a mild breeze in Bordeaux, the sky was blue but I could vividly remember how Scottish weather could make you feel like the end was nigh. The feeling of impending doom that made you beg your dad to bring your rabbit indoors before it was thrashed, hutch n all, into your neighbour’s wall.

So, I replied, ‘it’s no Doomsday mate, the world’s no ending, just Cumbernauld. No harm, no foul.’ Mais attendez!

You may think you don’t know anyone from Cumbernauld. They tend to move away from the stench of its reputation towards… well, anywhere really.

The truth is many Cumbernauldians choose to refer to themselves as Glaswegians to avoid the dreaded response of ‘Hawhawhaw, whit’s it cawed? Hawhawhaw’. A cringe-worthy one-liner introduced to the world via an advertising campaign in the ‘80s to encourage families to relocate which is now a favourite amongst taxi drivers and folk who try to ‘tap fags’ from strangers.

Dear Reader, only now that I have left not just the town but the country can I admit this to you, but I was raised in Cumbernauld. If you Youtube that advert I can tell you that I have hung out on many of those street corners. I had my first can pipe not far from where those children are playing.

After I received that message about the exaggerated demise of my hometown, do you know what I really thought despite my nonchalant response? Not ‘good riddance’, or ‘get it up yee’, but… ‘aw shit’. ‘Cause it may take living in another country to do it… but I think Cumbernauld’s awright. Yea, I’m giving Cumbernauld a solid and public ‘awright’, its’ best review yet…even if the majority of people that I know there have been jumped there.


By Claire Alexander

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