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Stroud

This past week, my hometown has been in the news. And it’s actually for something positive. In case you were unaware, The Sunday Times has named Stroud as the best place to live in the country.

While it’s nice to have something positive written about the place, mainstream attention always makes things worse. And by worse, I mean more crowded and expensive.

This week marked exactly a year since I got off the plane from New Zealand into a dramatically different home country to the one I left ten weeks earlier. And the global pandemic has meant I’ve now spent the longest stretch of time living in Stroud since I moved to London at the start of 2010.

Except it’s not really quite been the same as actually living here during normal times, as I like to think I would have spent more time seeing friends. I like to think that anyway, even if I know there’s a distinct chance that it could well have been almost exactly the same.

It was a great place to grow up, spending countless hours in my childhood climbing trees, running about in green fields, and filling my lungs with clean air. And during some summers, my group of friends would pick elderflower for money. Mainly from other peoples’ gardens and run off when we were caught. It was then taken to the company to weigh to determine how much they’d pay us.

In 1994, I remember a friend handing me an envelope for about £3.50 for several hours of work and I thought it was a substantial amount of cash. The company that paid people to collect elderflower is now selling its product in supermarkets nationwide. It doesn’t pay members of the public to collect for them any more, but its success is inadvertedly built on child labour. Albeit children who were highly enthusiastic about being overworked and underpaid.

What followed were some frustrating teenage years when I often had very little to do, and I saw uni more as a chance to escape than anything else. But the town has a lot more going for it these days. And while I may have moved away for almost a decade from 2010, I was usually back once or twice a month, and longer over Christmas.

Stroud Brewery is one of the finest places in the world there is to get a pint of ale. I might have a vested interest here as I am a bond holder, but I speak the truth. I am looking forward to going back there in a few weeks when things start to open up again.

And Stroud’s Farmers’ Market is also great, even if I do very rarely go to it. It has some really nice stuff on the stalls. But as with most busy things, I have to be tactical to get what I want from stalls and get out again without getting trapped within people mooching about.

It’s disappointing in any of the coverage that there was no mention of Stroud outdoor pool in the write up. I always enjoyed going there to its freezing waters, notably in the summer of 1995. I later found out that the water comes from a natural spring, which would explain why it was so cold and why I saw a live frog in there once.

And while Stroud is certainly one of my favourite places in the world, I would not rank it as the best place to live in the country for the simple reason that it currently has a Tory MP. It didn’t have one from 1997 until 2010, or from 2017 until 2019. So it was certainly a contender for the title then.

Regardless, it’s been a good spot to spend the pandemic. I’ve been walking my dog for about three miles every day for the past year and rarely see anyone out and about. While I wouldn’t consider it as the best place to live in the country, I would definitely rate it as the best place to live during a pandemic.

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