Unless you’re a 17-year-old skateboarder from Epsom or a native Portuguese speaker, you probably don’t come to my neighbourhood much.
Stockwell, in South London, is best known for its huge skate park, beloved by suburban teenagers heading into the big smoke for a day trip from Kent or Bedfordshire. And it’s also something of a Lusophone outpost with an array of dirt-cheap Portuguese cafes where a glass of Monte Velho still costs barely £2 and you’re guaranteed to be able to watch every single Benfica match on their TVs.
Should their ever be a ‘Visit Stockwell’ tourism campaign, the PRs would have some fairly thin gruel to work with beyond that – unless tours to see the late Sir Roger Moore’s primary school are your bag.
So, much as I applaud the new government staycation push to persuade people to forego the usual suspects of Bath, Oxford and Stratford for the likes of Portsmouth and Birmingham this summer, I can’t help but feel slightly relieved to have spent my entire adult life living in places that simply can’t be polished enough to become a serious draw for visitors.
Before Stockwell, my home was Middlesbrough, a town that regularly tops nationwide surveys for poverty and cheap house prices.
Fear not. This isn’t a contrarian piece where I start extolling the virtues of the land of the ‘Smoggies’ and tell you to book your summer holiday there, immediately.
The Transporter Bridge is a genuine industrial icon and the legacy of Captain Cook is something the beleaguered local tourism board does everything it can to promote. But it can’t be denied that the reason for Cook’s fame is because, like a fair few other natives since then, he got as far away from Middlesbrough as was humanely possible.
What Stockwell and Middlesbrough have in common is fierce local pride and a strong community. It’s something that, notably, isn’t in such high supply in Notting Hill, Chelsea or, for that matter, York or Padstow.
Because being a town or neighbourhood that is a serious draw to visitors involves some severe compromises for locals.
Yes, the economy undoubtedly benefits from day trippers and weekenders spending money in the shops, bars and restaurants. But, as any local who lives in Brighton, Newquay, Rye or around Borough Market will testify, there are serious irritants too.
From coach drivers leaving their engines running for hours on end, to shops selling bread and milk being edged out in favour of craft stores selling trinkets and postcards. From endless litter problems, to the sheer annoyance at never being able to get on the housing ladder due to the insane inflation caused by second home buyers. These are all solid reasons to celebrate living in a town which Judith Chalmers was never likely to visit for Wish You Were Here.
At the risk of sounding misanthropic, I’m more than satisfied with having spent my adult life living in places that are either derided or ignored by visitors.
What I’ve gained from living in Middlesbrough and Stockwell isn’t just a sense of pride at being part of communities that actually know each other on first name terms. It’s also spared me from the hypocrisy of living in places that rely in tourism, but yet resent visitors being there.
Cornwall is the worst example of this. There are myriad, extremely justifiable reasons why there are tensions between the locals living in one of the most deprived regions of Northern Europe and the wealthy second home owners who spend their summers there.
But it’s a psychological car crash for the Cornish to depend on the wallets and purses of the very people who, for nine months of the year, don’t come near the place yet continue to render the area horribly unaffordable even when their buckets and spades have long since been packed away.
This is something that, here in SW9, I simply don’t have to worry about. Yes, property is unaffordable here too. But at least the people who buy houses tend to actually live here, while the thought of the holiday season doesn’t have us gritting our teeth.