Between Tunbridge Wells and death…

When I was 21, I went to see the film ‘The Hours’ with my mum at the Odeon in Tunbridge Wells. I grew up here, and had moved home after university in Manchester to regroup.

In the film Virginia Woolf’s words “If it is a choice between Richmond and death, I choose death” really hit a chord with me. Afterwards over a glass of wine I told my mum “Between Tunbridge Wells and death, I choose death” she found this so funny, and it became an in-joke. How to understand that a town could ever represent such horror, a town and a life my mum and dad found so rich after escaping the East End. It was like the time, at the age of 15, I announced I wanted to live in Hoxton with the other artists, after reading an article about it in Style magazine, my mum was in shock at a child wanting to leave this idyll for a place still considered ‘no go area’.

To me Tunbridge Wells was so quiet, so uninspiring. Nothing seemed to happen, there was no buzz, apart from partying with good looking rugby players I found no joy. Anyway escaping Tunbridge Wells, and the dullness I saw here, was the plan, and I made it for a while. After journalism college in Brighton and a brief stint in Bromley, there was a Richard Curtis type life in Kensington, then a wannabe cool one in Hackney. It was here I found a perfectly skinny creative boyfriend with a flat cap, and we enjoyed a cheap party lifestyle of warehouses and pavements, with art and talking dreams on the side. It was a fun time, with an emotional drama attached that I found comforting.

Then I got pregnant. We had the baby, slept on a mattress on the living room floor for three years, built our business, created a magazine, got a studio, won a billionaire client, and had another baby. Then the primary school application process for my eldest Albert came as a crashing concrete weight upon my shoulders. Where would we bring up our children? We were tired and our scruffy road had been over taken by bankers and chandeliers in the five years we lived there. And on one rainy grim day we moved back to Tunbridge Wells. I wept in Bracketts as they handed us the keys to our new home, and the atmosphere was all concern and ‘get her a glass of water’ – the start of an identity crisis of moving back to Tunbridge Wells, to a place to me worse than death.

I’ve been here five years now and it was the best decision I ever made. I shed the victim skin that was holding me back, found enough control and strength to create a life that I am now happy with. Me and my ex-boyfriend lived the middle class dream for a bit, had some money, played at grown ups, I cooked, he worked, and it was a beautiful moment, but it wasn’t one that lasted. Now I’m a single mum, and found out the stigma doesn’t exist if you choose to ignore it.

As a family this town suits us down to the ground. We walk through The Grove to school every morning, the road is quiet at night, and the children are happy, and witness happiness around them. It’s pretty nice. Over the years I have found a creative tribe to discuss art and dreams on pavements with. At the school gates I’ve met non-judgemental human beings with similar attitudes to family fun and copious amounts of Prosecco. I found my life, and my home, so God bless Tunbridge Wells. Much better than death.

Elizabeth Barrett

This article first appeared in officialtunbridgewells 


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