Much of the website of the Idler magazine (www.theidler.co.uk) is currently given over to the Crap Towns project, which will appear in book form in October. In this, people are invited to submit nominations for the crappest town in England, together with reasons why. At the time of writing, the mantle has not been awarded, but the creators of the website admit: "We'll be surprised if it isn't Hull."
As the town elders of Hull sit trembling, I would like to strike a countervailing note of happiness by mentioning my favourite town in England, or at least one of my favourite towns in western England, as of this week: Kingsbridge, in South Devon.
There's really only one street in Kingsbridge. I can't remember its name. Kingsbridge Street would be quite fitting. Interesting medieval alleyways run off it, and it contains the only high street chain that you really want, namely a Woolworths, and hardly any others. Like all good towns, it's slightly somnolent, and features a shop selling ladies' "separates", whatever they may be (I think they're pastel-coloured clothes that spring directly from the imagination of Alan Bennett).
There's also a slightly whimsical-looking dress shop called Clouds, and a craft shop called The Busy Bee, where you can buy things to do on a wet afternoon, other than looking at porn on the internet: a build-your-own-Victorian-cart kit, for example. The greengrocer's is called Alan's Apple. There's a sign telling you not to come in unless you're smiling, so I've never been in, but I'll bet it's good value. There's also another sign saying: "Squeeze your own or let Alan do it for you."
The fish and chip shop, The Cod Father, is award-winning, and there's a deli called Mangetout, where I was given a sandwich simply because it was unsold and they were about to close, an act of generosity that caused the question to swim into my head: what becomes of all the other millions of unsold sandwiches?
In Kingsbridge, you can always see the time, thanks to the clock on the town hall, and my latest novel, The Necropolis Railway, is prominently displayed in the Harbour Bookshop. It would be asking too much for Kingsbridge to have retained its branch line, along which 25 tons of crabs every week used to start their journey to Billingsgate, but that leaves all the more for my sons to catch from the harbour wall. There are plenty of marine stores and boatyards, but they have a cluttered, utilitarian look. There's no direct equation between riches and messing about in boats, as in nearby Salcombe, where the shopkeepers' signs archly say "Gone Fishing" instead of closed. Gone to count their money, more like. Salcombe is really Fulham on Sea, whereas Kingsbridge is just itself, and you can't say that of many British towns any more.