Because I’m working on a long piece (yes, it’s a novel – of course, I can’t resist the call of writing a proper book that isn’t a bloody academic monograph) I decided to gift myself a 6-week writing retreat. Rent an apartment in France, go into lockdown there, get up at 6.30 every day and just write till evening. Lovely. Frankie Staffie travelled with me – but the cat wasn’t interested in France and demanded to stay home.
Enter the housesitters. Hooray for the housesitters. People who need to get away can now easily find people who need a temporary base, via a website that matches people up, with no money changing hands in either direction. The family that turned up to spend 6 weeks in our Worthing semi were a very interesting one. And because WoBy is always looking for a story, I interviewed Terry.
Terry Constant – Traveller
So yeah, we’ve been to 66 countries, tens of thousands of villages and towns.
And now you’re in Worthing. Just for a few weeks. I’ve looked at your blog – Travel As They Grow – and I’ve even read about you in the media – and I’m kind of amazed that you’d want to come to Worthing. Talk to me …
I like the vibe of Worthing, as an English town, it feels safe and open. I like that there’s the massive prom and then – one step in and you’re right in the shops. There’s a decent variety of shops, too. The centre is big and open, so even on a market day, there’s no crush. The prom is amazing; Crab Shack and that area with the water sprays is really great – I love it.
As a dad with 2 young kids, I can see that those water sprays and the beach would be a draw, yeah. People think Worthing is all pensioners – so wrong! There’s loads of young families now. And family activities.
I came here years ago and it felt so aged, like a retirement place. Now it’s changing.
But at the same time,
Worthing feels accessible, a bit sleepy, like a flashback to a golden age of seaside living. The pier kind of sums it up: it’s very old and traditional, but then there’s a modern flavour on top of it.
Worthing centre is always buzzing and vibrant, there’s always activity.
Whaaaat? Justify that – I can’t honestly see it.
Yeah – I’ve been passing through at, like, 9.30 on a Tuesday morning, and there’s people around, movement. It feels like a great example of the high street coming alive, new shops and things opening up. Like Portland Road- it’s great. They need more of that regeneration. And they’ve got a good balance here, good greenspaces in the town. There’s loads of parks- Victoria, Lyndhurst, so many. It’s gorgeous.
Favourite Worthing Things
Your favourite street in town?
Warwick Street, it’s very aspirational, very continental. And the fairy shop! I love that shop!
Aaargh, stop it! If you had daughters instead of 2 boys, you might feel differently about that fairy shop.
If they could replicate that Warwick Street atmosphere right throughout the town, that’d feel … so good … it’d be a winner.
Warwick Street is your favourite street, then, but what about your favourite bit of town?
My favourite area of town is the Montague Street end, it’s amazing down there.
Well yeah, that part of town is brilliant for a lost afternoon or a lazy stroll-and-brunch morning. And is also well-noted among our mates for some exceptional mad nights out with dancing and karaoke. Terry grins, but he’s rueful – he didn’t get to try out the unique Bar Next Door experience. (Frankie Staffie asked me to point out that Rowlands Road over that side of town also has a well-stocked independent pet shop that does home delivery). Terry’s leaning forward, looking dreamy – he honestly loves this place. He’s on a roll now.
Then, there’s so many good charity shops. I have LITERALLY never seen so many in my life and the standard is so good. Look at my £6 man-bag! There’s 4 or 5 Turkish barbers here too – you can get a nose wax, the full works. And cheap.
I’d not thought of nose-waxing opportunities as an index of quality of life but yeah, I see that now. Many of us don’t want a hairy nose.
Another thing I like – there’s two branches of Greggs –
I’m laughing. Honestly – Mr 66 countries has a penchant for Greggs?
You are winding me up here?
No honestly, their vegan sausage rolls are brilliant. The one by Wilko is, for me, the slightly better of the two.
Other places you like, apart from Greggs?
Thai Street Food restaurant is good. I had the best vegan hot dog I’ve ever eaten at the Cow shed. Cow Shed sticks out for variety, price, vibe.
Hmm, I’d say we’ve easily got several places that match Cow Shed. Something we do very well over here is laid-back mid-range eateries. With plenty of vegan options. And while we’re talking about food – favourite Fish and Chips?
Well, people like Chipwick; for me, it’s just a chippy but so over-priced, it’s priced like a restaurant! I prefer the one opposite Iceland.
Oh, you mean Vita?
Yeah – that’s really nice, small and with decent prices.
Being a parent of two adventurous under-10s, there are factors other than cafes and greenspace that also matter to Terry:
The hospital is good too. We had to go to A and E – it was professional and modern, there were screens at check-in, we got pushed through fast, it was all handled well.
Ah yes, both anecdotally and by inspection report, Worthing Hospital certainly has a better rep than Brighton, and we’re all grateful for that. (Worthing hospital ranks ‘outstanding‘, with Brighton simply ‘good’ – with Brighton having been known for some years as considerably less than good).
Terry, Tell me a bit about how you got here?
I was 17, living a bad life, needed to get out. I took a map and a pin, blindfolded –
Ah, that classic. I guess now there’s a digital equivalent to this old-school practice of surrender to fate
The pin ended up on Southampton. When I finished college, I looked at all the coastal towns around that area and chose Portsmouth – cos it’s a bit gritty. I went to Uni over there – fell in love with Pompey – so much variety around there. But Southampton is a hole.
I know it chiefly for the IKEA – so much easier than driving to Croydon. I always imagine Southampton as full of yacht-club types?
Hmm … Worthing has the right amount of grit – it gives it spirit. Then layer on top all the restaurants and the regeneration and together it all injects life into the English dead and depressed high street. Most south coast towns are dead and undernourished – Worthing is different – alive.
I don’t get to see much of the youth side of life here, being a parent of younger kids, but maybe if I’d grown up here, I’d see it differently.
Yeah, a lot of Northbrook students have told me that they’re marking time till they can get out to Brighton or London. That’s partly been a lack of venues and performance opportunities. And it’s why spaces like The Factory and other venues sometimes gather complaints for their olde-worlde programming – wasted opportunity. But now we’ve got the new Audio Active right in town, maybe we’ll see more talent staying here. And perhaps the fashion and design students will get a boost from the creative boom that’s going on here – with more projects and support being planned.
Anyway, tell me more.
There’s the gorgeous South Downs, the crazy buzz of Brighton, and then incredibly good beach places like the Witterings and Bournemouth are not that far. There’s the Jack and Jill windmills – that’s a fantastic story; then the Harting Down wildlife park, it’s amazing – just 20 minutes from here.
It’s true, that we’re not much further from London than Brighton is, but we’ve also got a lot of greenspace and walks right nearby. Worthing dogs are very well-walked and happy. Kids get outdoors. The air is pretty clean.
Then, Worthing is a very accessible place. 1 train change, 4 and half hours, you’re in Gloucester.
That threw me.
Gloucester? Well, I guess, if you’re keen to go to Gloucester. Talk to me about places beyond Gloucester. I know you guys have travelled all over.
Yeah, we spend time in Portugal, Central America.
I’ve seen the blog posts – Croatia, Spain, Portugal – but I know you’ve been on the road for over 5 years now, as long-term vanlifers and house-sitters, and you’ve been very far afield. 66 countries! Mexico, Panama, USA and loads more. And every now and then, a bit of time in UK, too.
Yeah. And I love Worthing. I’ve been coming here 10 years. I love the people: people here take time to talk and they’re accessible – not just the retired people. We’ve done house sits all over the world, travelled all over the world, but when we come to Uk, we love to come to Worthing. We go away and come back, and bits and bobs will have changed – but not too much.
That’s interesting. To many of us living here, it feels like every week brings in a significant change; we feel we’re in a very dynamic space, here.
Private Schools, House Prices, a Few Drugs – and One Air Rifle
Worthing feels familiar and comfy as soon as you arrive. Actually, it feels very clean and safe compared to a lot of places. All that business with drugs and the gun thing- that’s all very new and we find it surprising. There’s one dispersal order in place and yeah, that’s new.
Ah, the ‘gun thing’. When someone who had been part of the ‘gun thing‘ spoke to me, they had told me that it had been one of those afternoon drinking things that ended up with someone thinking it would be fun to get the air rifle out for a bit of target practice in the garden. The participants were all astonished when the police roared up outside – and were very taken aback by all the furore on Nextdoor and local news. It’s hardly Cleveland. And as for drugs – if you’ve moved over from Brighton, then the kind of drugs and the amount around over here feels minimal. People trying to clean up and get off the party scene tell me that they’ve left Brighton and shifted here because they know it’s less frantic and they feel that they can protect their sobriety (or mindful substance use) more easily here.
Terry goes on to note that Worthing’s rep as a bit ‘posh’ rings true.
There’s loads of prep and private schools here – it seems like there’s a certain socio-economic class living here, so that brings in money.
And he observes the implications.
But then of course – the house prices are terrible. Housing here is scary. There’s a lack of supply.
Yeah. As I discussed with Graeme and Sophie, the dearth of affordable housing is urgent. We don’t want to run into the kinds of lack of social cohesion I witnessed in Whistable.
Finishing up, then. Last observations, from the point of view of somebody who has lived in hundreds of towns?
If you have a city or town where there’s access to nature, it makes for a better quality of life. Many seaside towns, you get outside and there’s nothing – plus it’s all flat. Here, it’s so different.
I see that, yeah. We’re part of a sprawl of coast-town-country that takes in so many different micro-environments. And the blend of long-termers and incomers makes for a well-textured social fabric.
Once you come here, it feels like home. I’d say Worthing is an ‘approachable seaside town’.
I like that! Yes – we’re friendly, and we don’t have that massive local-incomer split you see in many places.
Worthing feels like home – even if it’s not my home.
That’s lovely. Next move for the Constant Travellers?
Portugal. Or maybe Costa Rica for a bit first. But we’ll be back here to visit.