Basildon is a "New Town", built in 1948 to house overspill population from the capital. It was created from four small, existing villages: the eponymous Basildon, Laindon, Pitsea and Vange; widely regarded as among the most unattractively named places in the UK. These villages remain is sub-areas of Basildon Town. The rigid and forced street layout and absence of any architecture dating before the bleak 1940s can be held largely responsible for the town's total lack of personality or charm.
Although English is the native tongue and by far the most widely spoken in Basildon, visitors to the area can be forgiven for not understanding local residents. One popular theory is that the cockney dialect spoken by the influx of people from the east end of London in the 1940s has been degraded over the intervening decades to form the distinctive Essex accent, which now sounds less like speech and more like the barking of an angry seal.
The Basildonians or "Basikes", as they are often known, are a proud people, despite having contributed very little to the field of human achievement. Any local to achieve a modicum of fame, no matter how tawdry, is revered by the town, the only logical explanation for the continued career of Denise Van Outen. Other former Basildon residents to recently come to fame include Kara Tointon, a former Eastenders actress and reality TV star, and Brian Belo, a former Big Brother contestant who achieved instant popularity in Essex after claiming - believably - to have never heard of William Shakespeare. 80s synth band Depeche Mode also hail from the town; every year a three day festival celebrating the band's music and predictably named "Bas Fest" is held in the Basildon. As many as 100 people are believed to have attended last year's event, many from overseas, explaining the small annual influx of confused and extremely disappointed Italians wandering around the town centre.
The most common route into Basildon is by train via London Fenchurch Street, itself a harrowing experience. Avoid travelling at rush hour as these rolling cattle carts are packed to capacity with the commuter crowd. You wont get a seat unless you are willing to fight for one, potentially to the death. Moving and breathing are also both rendered difficult at peak times. Also avoid late evening trains, particularly on Fridays and weekends. Finding a seat is easier, but you will have to pick your way through the discarded beer cans and unconscious young women littering the gangway, and the slurring, off duty insurance broker who'll inevitably sit next to you is liable to drop his kebab in your lap. Journey time from Fenchurch Street approximately 40 minutes, from West Ham 30 minutes, from Barking 25 minutes.
Basildon is well connected by road via the A127 and A13, with further connections to the M25, a major motorway which can easily be reached from central London and further afield.
The fact that most London airports are actually nowhere near London plays to the advantage of those heading on to Basildon. London Stanstead Airport is very much in Essex, and a taxi will cost about £40 booked in advance. London Southend Airport is about as far away from London as you can legally get and still somehow call it London - the journey to Basildon shouldn't take more than 20-30 minutes. Negotiate a fare when you arrive. Heathrow and Gatwick are both on the other side of London from Essex, so journeys are longer and will cost between £70 and £80.
The National Express runs a coach service from Birmingham to Basildon, via Cambridge. The journey takes around six hours, though will feel like several years.
Basildon town centre has a large bus station from which a variety of buses run on and endless loop between the same three places - Laindon, Pitsea and Lakeside Shopping Centre in Thurrock. Basildon is pitifully connected - there isn't even a bus from the town centre to the nearby Festival Leisure Park, Basildon's designated entertainment area. Last services usually depart at around 9 - 10pm. School buses run to Billericay, part of Basildon District, if you look young enough to get away with it. Otherwise, learn to drive.
There are a couple of taxi companies operating in the town. You can't flag them down like in London, so look up a phone number before you travel and keep it handy. You may have trouble booking a taxi late in the evening on Friday or Saturday as there aren't enough to cope with the hoardes of drunk teenagers needing to be taken to sleep it off at a friend's house before their parents find out. Taxis are generally very safe, as long as you don't look like you hold left-wing views. Carrying a leftover placard or banner from a protest is an absolute no-no if you don't want your driver to spend the entire journey blaming you, personally, for the downfall of the nation. If this does happen, answering back is not advisable. Rates are extortionate.
The train to London Fenchurch Street passes through the villages of Laindon and Pitsea. No one knows how to get to he Vange area of Basildon, as no one has ever tried.
The whole of the town centre can easily be traversed by foot, although this is not advisable after dark, unless around the well-lit corner of town near the bus station where most of the pubs are concentrated. The walk to the Festival Leisure Park from the town centre is about 30 minutes, again, do this in the day time only and get a taxi back. For the more ambitious, the walk from Basildon Town Centre to Laindon is about an hour. Laindon in particular has some notorious housing estates, such as the Laindon Link estate, known locally as Alcatraz, owing to its more than passing resemblance to a prison camp. Walking through these areas in daylight is foolhardy, at night, suicidal.
- Brooke House At the heart of the hideous 1960s concrete hell hole that is Basildon Town Centre lies this nightmare on stilts - yes, they built this giant concrete tower block on giant concrete stilts (hey, the architects had a theme, and they ran with it). Predictably this monolithic monstrosity houses council tenants; just another example of how the government punishes people for being poor. Although perhaps the residents of Brooke House are having the last laugh, being, of course, the only people in Basildon who can't actually see Brooke House. Brooke House was granted Grade II listed status in 1998, presumably because the person in charge of the list was drunk and thought it would be funny.
- Mother and Child Fountain The focal point of the town centre, the bronze statue/fountain by Maurice Lambert was unveiled in 1962, the first and last time the "fountain" part of it actually worked. The now rusted bronze statue is set in the centre of a - you guessed it - concrete pool. Strikingly, this is Basildon's second Grade II listed feature; perhaps the world is short on pools of stagnant water filled with floating litter.
- St Martin's Bell Tower Finally, something in Basildon Town Centre that isn't made of concrete. This 30m glass and steel bell tower is somewhat at odds with the small, dull church it is attached to, and was officially opened by the Queen in 1999. The tenor bell was cast in London in 1441 by Joanna Hille and is the first bell in the world to have been cast by a woman, making it simultaneously the only object in the town with any history behind it, and the first and last stab by anyone or anything in Basildon at making a feminist statement.
- Festival Leisure Park Also known as "Bas Vegas" and "The Gateway to Hell", if there's anything to "do" in Basildon (assuming you're one of the few people there who don't view petty theft as a hobby), it'll be done here. Festival Leisure Park is essentially a centre of enforced fun, located just outside the main town, containing a small, decaying cinema selling popcorn which tastes like it pre-dates the building itself; a bowling alley; a Harvester pub/restaurant plus several fast food chains; a pub popular with old men and underage girls alike which is disturbingly called The Honeypot; and a Chicago's bar/restaurant which is inexplicably referred to by the entire population of Basildon as "Cheeky Go-Gos". Standing at the heart of the park is the triumvirate of terror - Jumpin' Jaks, Liquid and Envy. Jumpin' Jaks is exactly what you'd expect from a nightclub which describes itself as "the home of cheese in Basildon", and so, so much less. Avoid unless you enjoy paying through the nose for overpriced vodka mixers which you'll only end up throwing in the face of some lairy, 50-something cockney wannabe who's either attempting to grope you, start of fight with you, or both. Liquid and Envy are two adjoining nightclubs occupying the first and second floors of one building and play "pumping house, urban, grime" and something called "bashment" (anybody?). Formerly known as Lava and Ignite with about a million other monikers in between, one can only assume the management keep changing the name in a desperate attempt to stop chavs who keep trashing the place from finding it again. Festival Leisure park has no public transport links and is only accessible by car - an advert for drink driving in a town that probably didn't need the extra encouragement.
- Basildon Town Centre A fairly standard central shopping area comprised of Eastgate shopping centre, slightly newer Westgate (see what they did there?) shopping area and the central square around the fountain. Bog standard mix of high street chains, tacky discount clothes shops, charity shops and pound shops.
- Basildon Market The home of knock-off Nike and second-hand pound shop make-up. Also a few fast food vans (get your salmonella to go!), fresh fish and fruit/veg stalls (expect obnoxious hollering) and a tailor and watch repair guy, who both, to be fair, offer a good service at a reasonable price (an oasis of humanity in an otherwise unfeeling universe).
- Laindon Centre A victim of the "doughnut effect", even the sex shop closed down. It now contains a post office, a Gregg's, and the last known Gateway supermarket in the land. Less of a concrete jungle and more of a cardboard one, as almost everything is boarded up. The air is thick with the stench of despair.
- McDonalds, KFC, Pizza Hut, Subway, Gregg's Not even classy enough for a Pizza Express.
- The Moon on the Square (Opposite Basildon Market) A particularly grotty Wetherspoons and typical old man pub. Gets surprisingly violent on a Saturday night.
- Yates Wine Lodge (Opposite Basildon Market) No one has ever ordered wine there, and it's not a lodge. It's ALL A LIE.
- The Edge (Basildon Town Centre) It's got to be good right? It's called The Edge...House speciality is something called the Ogre Burger. I wouldn't, if I were you.
- The Towngate (Basildon Town Centre) Steel toe-capped boots are banned. One can only speculate why.
- The Railway (Pitsea) Gained brief notoriety after appearing on tv in "Britain's Worst Pubs". Shortly thereafter it was condemned and is due for demolition.
- The Joker (Laindon Centre) Decrepit inside and out, it has never quite recovered from rumours that someone was knee-capped there, and is due to close.
- Four Seasons (Laindon, Durham Road) Mostly a food pub, although it does have a small dedicated bar area. Last time I ate there they forget to bring us any cutlery.
- Premier Inn, Holiday Inn, Travelodge (Festival Leisure Park) Your run of the mill chain hotels, aimed at "business travellers". Who it is that travels to Basildon on business remains unclear.
- Hotel Campanile Basildon East London (Between Basildon and Southend) Bafflingly named, it's a toss up between "hotel" and "East London" for the most hilariously dubious claim made by this budget accommodation brand in its title. Best described by this Trip Advisor review: "The only thing it was missing was the chalk outline of a murder victim on the floor".
Walk, run, hitch hike if you need - just get out, and never ever look back.