Written by Sooz Kempner


Letter to my hometown: To Horley, With… Reservations

Standard Issue writers are penning a letter to their hometown. Here, Sooz Kempner reflects on the (sort-of) softening of her relationship with the “nondescript, and kind of threatening” Horley.

horley 2Oh Horley. To so many you are just a stop on the mainline between London and Brighton but to me you are home. You weren’t always home, though. I was brought up in neighbouring Smallfield, a village with a Co-op and a Post Office and… that’s it. Growing up, everything significant in my life happened in Horley. I’ve moved away, first to Bournemouth for university and then to London for even further education (and a life), but I seem to return to that mainline station time and time again.

Horley, I keep trying to leave you but you always pull me back.

Whenever I return, whether it’s after an evening in Brighton, a month in Edinburgh or two years in London, it remains reassuringly unchanged. Occasionally Horley will subtly dump a new thing in the town. When I was born it was the Langshott Estate: 1000+ houses with a uniform look, one of which I now live in. The entrance to the estate was initially adorned with a bronze statue of a family and their dog running through the wonder of Langshott but, Horley being Horley, the dog was soon stolen.

horley 5As I arrive back in Horley and leave the station I see the pride and joy of my hometown: the Waitrose. When I’m feeling flush, Waitrose is a place to buy a fancy dinner. When I’m not feeling flush it’s a place to park while I nip over to Lidl. As a teenager I worked as a checkout girl in Waitrose and felt like a proper baller because I got paid £5.12 per hour.

A short walk from Waitrose is Takeaway Alley. It isn’t really called Takeaway Alley but it damn well should be. Indian, Chinese, fish and chips, kebabs – culinary delights from all over the world are available until about midnight in Horley. After Friday nights at the Six Bells (crime-ridden but nice looking), the Forresters (crime-ridden and terrible looking) or the King’s Head (just terrible), a lamb shish from Spice Boys will make sure you remember the evening long into Saturday.

For the discerning drinker there’s also a Wetherspoons, which is in the building that used to be a Kwik-Fit.

As I get closer to home I pass the secondary school where I spent five years learning that I loved singing and building role-playing games in Excel (it CAN be done and it is PHENOMENAL). I was bullied at that school for being too weird but it’s an attribute that, as an adult, is far more acceptable and I can now walk past Oakwood School without staring at the ground. Weirdly.

horley 3I confess, Horley… I didn’t love you when I was younger. Not one bit. You managed to be simultaneously nondescript and kind of threatening. Your one clothes shop was terrible, you didn’t have a cinema, you were home to a cruel ex-boyfriend. But a few years ago my dad told me I was no longer welcome in my childhood home and my mum finally bit the bullet and walked out of that house. Her new place is in Horley, on the dog-statue-free Langshott Estate, no less.

This town that I’d felt no connection to, despite spending most of my time there for the first 20 years of my life, was suddenly home. Though my aim is to get out and move back to London and actually stay there, I will now always feel that returning to Horley – be it for financial reasons or good old fashioned heartbreak – is truly coming home.

Horley, your department store is pointless, your pubs are best avoided and I once walked past a gang of teens daubing a swastika on the railway bridge. But you are home. And your Boots is the perfect size. I’m serious: it’s not too big, not too small. Visit it.


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Written by Sooz Kempner

Funny Women Variety Award Winner 2012. ASDA Kate Bush.