Last Thursday was a busy day for my hometown. Not only did 30,500 emos descend upon the area to see My Chemical Romance, it was announced that Milton Keynes had been granted city status as part of the Queen’s platinum jubilee.
But despite the hype around the reunion gig and the exciting update, the emos were not happy about the location.
“I refuse to believe that Milton Keynes is a real place,” wrote one person.
Another added: “Convinced MCR picked Milton Keynes because its the closest place on earth to hell [sic]”, while a third simply tweeted: “My therapist says if u don’t think about Milton Keynes it can’t hurt u”.
I, too, was in town to visit the people who raised me: my parents, Gerard Way, Mikey Way, Frank Iero and Ray Toro. Inevitably, my visitors had a lot of questions about this strange place I once called home, and what it was like to grow up in the Buckinghamshire settlement.
Like many things you’ve known your whole life, you don’t necessarily think they’re peculiar until a third party poses questions, like “Is that a concrete cow?”. (Yes, it is a concrete cow, and it’s just one of Milton Keynes’ 270 pieces of public art, although if each cow is counted separately the herd is doing a lot of the heavy lifting to reach that figure).
Milton Keynes, a new town born in the Queen’s reign, was by all accounts an experiment. If you google “Milton Keynes city design”, suggestions include: “What went wrong at Milton Keynes?”, “Concrete bungle” and the mayor’s rousing claims that residents have “nothing to be ashamed of”.
But I’d disagree that Milton Keynes is an experiment gone wrong. It’s a (newly dubbed) city of firsts.
For example, it was the first place in the UK to have widely launched autonomous delivery robots – which are now so integral and beloved that “robot” was the first word my friend’s baby boy uttered.
We passed one on the Redways (shared-use paths, for pedestrians, cyclists and bots, complementing the roads and roundabouts of Milton Keynes’ famous grid system), and I apologised after getting in one’s way (they have that effect).
Then there’s the city’s optimistic design: 22 million trees, 27 conservation areas, 11 miles of canals, more bridges than Venice and more shorelines than Jersey. Beyond the complex labyrinth of roads, Milton Keynes has a lot of parks – many of which are not for cars.
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As a teen, Centre:MK was the place to be – especially if you were alternative. First opened by Margaret Thatcher (I don’t know how she coped with the roundabouts given “the lady’s not for turning”), us “greebos” met at the newly developed Midsummer Place, by The Tree.
The grand oak gradually lost its leaves and was officially declared dead in 2015, as part of a performance art piece about capitalism and nature. We relished it even more after it was described to be in a “mortality spiral”.
Milton Keynes will always be a place where the alt scene could thrive. From the goth stall at the Saturday market, where we’d pick up our Nightmare Before Christmas hoodies, to the live music scene at The Pitz and the Craufurd Arms, alt kids always had a place to go.
Yes, you could point to the fact I no longer live in the city to back up your arguments against Milton Keynes, but I genuinely love the place.
I am surprised this experimental place that divides opinion didn’t resonate with My Chemical Romance fans.
Chelsea Birkby is a comedian and writer who will be performing at the Edinburgh Fringe