22 December 2006


I missed this, from my good friend Tim Fenton (the bass player in my teenage punk band) on the BBC's website last week, but it catches well the way it has felt round here this past fortnight:
Ipswich is not a fashionable place.

It's had more than its share of listings among Britain's "crap towns". It's often compared unfavourably to the more middle-class, more photogenic Norwich.

And when the London feature writers come to Suffolk they don't pause long in Ipswich on their way to Aldeburgh and Southwold.

But that antipathy has helped build a tight, sometimes defensive sense of loyalty. There are few people here over 40 who cannot tell you where they were when Roger Osborne scored the winning goal in the 1978 FA Cup final.

With a population of about 140,000, Ipswich is big enough to be a proper town but not so big as to feel impersonal. It's noticeable that the TV crews have had little problem finding people who knew and will talk about the murdered women.

Many remember them as schoolgirls or neighbours and offer the cameras personal recollections. There's ready sympathy for the addictions that drove them to sell their bodies and risk their lives. I wonder if that would be true in a big city.

Everyone is affected. After the fourth and fifth bodies were discovered I decided I would walk the children round the corner for the evening performance of their Christmas play rather than let my wife walk home alone.

A teacher smiled at the children but, with jaw clenched, muttered "isn't it dreadful?" to me. The show went on, though the scene in which Snow White was strangled made one or two of the watching parents shift uneasily in their plastic stacking chairs.

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