I hear tell that some people have some bad things to say about Milton Keynes. Needless to say, most of what is said against this place is based on prejudice, with most people never having done anything more than passed through on the M1 or the train. So let me redress the balance a little and offer some defence!
Milton Keynes has a highly efficient road system. OK, so that road system involves somewhat over 300 roundabouts, causing uneven tyre wear on vehicles - and if you don't have a car, you're pretty much stuffed. But so long as you drive a car and don't mind spending more than average on car maintenance and petrol, Milton Keynes has to be applauded for its highly efficient road system.
Milton Keynes has one of the most extensive cycle networks around. Admittedly, maintenance on the "redways" is notoriously lax, with broken glass, abandoned cars and poor signposting, with poor lighting making them no-go routes during darkness for many. And they're not even red any more, in the main. But cyclists rejoice nonetheless, because despite what everyone says, Milton Keynes was not made solely for the car, otherwise it wouldn't have that cycle network.
Sports & leisure
Milton Keynes shopping centre is the biggest in Europe. Or so they say. Once they built an extension that isn't actually joined on to it. And so long as you don't mind walking miles in search of elusive goods at excessive prices, since it was designed before common sense was invented, and has such high rents that good value traders simply can't afford to be based there. But if you don't mind that, and don't mind lining the pockets of the local council with car parking rates that even the businesses despise, please do come shopping in Milton Keynes, where you will find one of the biggest centres in Europe.
Milton Keynes is a home to top-class football. Well, we seem to have adopted Wimbledon FC, by the looks of the local newspaper sports pages, but they are nowhere actually to be seen round here. There are rumours that they're moving here soon though, but we'll believe it when we see it, and luck seems to be running out for the plans at the time of writing - and what nicer a team could one really hope for than the mighty Dons? In the meantime, I'm sure as far as the North Bucks pub league is concerned, we have top-class football.
Milton Keynes has the largest real-snow ski-slope in Europe. Indoor, that is, housed inside the famous Silver Slug - otherwise known as XScape - managed by Mr Millennium Dome himself, Pierre Yves Gerbeau. Let's just hope it's a bit more of a success than his last project, eh? But I must admit I do like skiing there, and never forget it's the largest slope in Europe. Indoor, that is.
Milton Keynes has more proportion of parkland and greenery than almost any other urban centre. It's just a pity that as you walk along a leafy river-side path, in the midst of nature, the birdsong is accompanied by the constant drone of traffic on the motorway, A5 and grid roads. But that's a price to pay for our highly efficient road system, and the parkland's really nice, honest!
Milton Keynes hosts the National Bowl. One of the most popular arenas, it has hosted some of the greatest names in popular music, and we will of course politely forget that when Harvey Goldsmith took it over and promised more events than ever before, it languished practically unused for a year. But the potential is there - and it wouldn't be, if Milton Keynes didn't have the Bowl.
Milton Keynes pioneered the multiplex cinema. OK, so it's a run-down pit now that even UCI don't want to operate any more, with projection, sound quality and audience comfort somewhere at the bottom of the list of priorities, and where the usherettes double up as projectionists. Actually, it has now been bought out by Stelios's easyGroup, but still struggles. But nevertheless, you can't get away from the fact that Milton Keynes pioneered the multiplex cinema.
Milton Keynes has a high diversity of housing to suit everyone. Everything from ultra-expensive mansions, to only fairly expensive detached houses in safe areas, and even neighbourhoods like Tinkers Bridge and the Lakes Estate if your budget runs to a little more than a shared cardboard box. The housing is so good in Milton Keynes that in the early days they reputedly paid people to move here. But thanks to the efforts of planners and builders, an environment has been created in which everyone can find a home no matter how many or few times over they're a millionaire. There really is something to suit everyone here!
Milton Keynes is a flagship comprehensive island in the otherwise anachronistic Buckinghamshire. Such a success story is Milton Keynes's comprehensive policy, that the leading secondary schools now operate back-door selection, and one recently opened school very nearly became the town's first grammar school! So committed are they to the inclusive new comprehensive vision, that some of the former secondary modern schools in Bletchley even have some of their old signs. So there may be hypocrisy, but Milton Keynes is indeed different to the rest.
Milton Keynes hosts many of the country's top employers. So let's just quietly ignore the fact that the Abbey National, vying for the top spot in terms of staff numbers, are closing their offices here, and that the Open University - their rival for that honour - are in the process of a back-door redundancy programme. So long as you don't mind working in a call centre or warehouse, Milton Keynes is definitely the place to come and work. Please, pretty please.
Milton Keynes was conceived, from the start, as a place for people to live and work. So why, then, do so many of the people who live here work in London, and so many of those who work here live in the surrounding villages? But it's the thought that counts, as usual, and whose right is it to deny someone's vision?
Milton Keynes had one of the first cable television systems in the country. OK, so it was installed many years ago and operates on prehistoric technology, preventing new-fangled things like digital television and cable internet. NTL who operate it, until recently would practically deny the existence of their franchise here - especially if you dared mention the word "digital" - but nonetheless, Milton Keynes had one of the first cable television systems.
Milton Keynes has a state-of-the-art telephone system. Well, it has to be in order to provide services to a population of a quarter of a million from just a couple of exchanges. That does mean that most properties - especially newly built ones - are outside the range for ADSL broadband, but there's always cable internet to fall back on, right? Oh, I remember... But British Telecom insist we can be thankful nevertheless for our state-of-the-art telephone system.
Milton Keynes is a city! The Queen accidentally called it one, on one of her recent visits, and it was always conceived as being one, so the lack of a royal charter is just a minor detail I am sure will be resolved one day - and in the meantime, the local press will remind us at every opportunity of our city status, so don't forget it: Milton Keynes is a city, Milton Keynes is a city.
After all that, I admit that I do still like this place, and totally believe the opinions of most detractors to be based on uninformed prejudice. It's not perfect, but then what place really is? I'm sure anyone experienced with any other town could write an equally cynical rant about it. Do come and visit, do come and live here. The streets may not be paved with gold, but it's not bad either. There's no way I'd have lived here for almost seven years - and with no immediate plans to move - otherwise, and I'm very much a country lad at heart!