I'm going to have to tread very carefully here – last time I wrote about Swindon I faced a wall of abuse and ended up on a live radio show having to face my critics.
Swindon is only 20 minutes from my house. Cheltenham and Oxford are both 30 minutes away. Let's just say that I spend a lot of time in Cheltenham and Oxford. I am currently far more loathed by the good people of Weston-super-Mare than Swindon. They apparently burned an effigy of me after I'd written something uncomplimentary about their beautiful town – the Venice of the Bristol Channel. This should redress the balance.
I was flicking through the papers this week when I read that Swindon was to be twinned with Walt Disney World in America. It was the first time that Walt Disney World had twinned with somewhere in the "real world". They certainly have things in common. There is nowhere in the world that I have been more unhappy in than Disney World – it's an over-priced, saccharine–filled, cheesy dream factory that left me depressed. If your daughters yearn to be princesses and your sons fetishise over-sized fluffy animals (I'm trying to wean mine away from the family business) then it's definitely the place for you. If not, then stay the hell away. If you really must go then do what a friend of mine did. He took some acid before entering the furry gates. He had a bad trip that ended up with him assaulting Goofy after mistakenly thinking that the creature was attacking him. He ended up in a weird Disney jail accessible through a door in a fake tree. He also claims that Mickey Mouse was the jailer, but I think that part of the story was artistic licence.
I do wonder how Swindon was sold to the Disney Corporation. They surely can't have actually visited the place. Before I went on this radio show – representatives of the town drove me round to show me the "highlights". There was the Oasis Leisure Centre where "Oasis, the band are supposed to have got their name from". Then there was the "Magic Roundabout" – the Spaghetti Junction of roundabouts clearly designed by somebody on very strong hallucinogenics. Roundabouts are a big part of Swindon; there are countless numbers of them. These would be confusing to their US "twins" as Americans don't have roundabouts. Possibly, when they heard about The Magic Roundabout, they assumed it was some sort of amusement park.
Swindon's other, more conventional, twin towns – Salzgitter in Germany, Ocotal in Nicaragua and Torun in Poland – will probably feel seriously miffed as I can't remember this sort of fuss over their twinning. Perhaps they should attempt to twin up with Butlins or Legoland in revenge.
Way before Disney agreed to this "twinning" idea, they built a real town near the park in Florida that they called Celebration. The idea was to create an idealised American town. They wanted perfect lawns, white picket fences, smiling families ... all very Truman Show. By agreeing to live in the town you had to abide by a lot of very "white bread" regulations that gave the place a very surreal edge. Oh, how I'd love to see the citizens of Celebration spend a weekend in Swindon. I'd love to see them drive round and round the town trying desperately to find their way about before wandering gingerly around the pedestrian kill-zones at chucking-out time on a Friday night.
I'm writing this on the train from London and we have just pulled into Swindon. Got to go and hide in the loo until we pull out. There's already an angry mob on the platform – they've got pitchforks and burning crosses .... Goofy seems to be in charge.