Martin Newell’s Joy of Essex: I’m on a roll. So get ready for Rockin’ Mart’s Chip-o-Rama
The last day of September 2017: a Saturday, and the first day after Michaelmas. Michaelmas, the 29th of September, is an old quarter day, and in olden days was regarded as the beginning of autumn.
So, on the second day of autumn, an almost romantic notion collared me.
Since it is dull routine which is the earliest rust on relationships, I reasoned we should do something different.
I suggested to Her Outdoors that a change of weekly shopping location could be exactly the sort of thing to keep the flames fanned.
“Why don’t we,” I asked, “go ‘wild shopping’? Instead of just going to our usual places for the weekly shop, let’s drive to another supermarket, another town – another county, even.”
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More cosmopolitan fellows might have suggested a Eurostar trip: lunch in Lille, shopping in Paris, dinner in Dortmund. That sort of thing.
That’s not the sort of guy I am. So, instead of shopping in Colchester, as is usual, I proposed that we went over the border, to go to the Co-op in Hadleigh, Suffolk.
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You may laugh. Well, they laughed at Laurel & Hardy, too, but for me, I can assure you, this is going some.
The 18-mile drive between Wivenhoe and Hadleigh, through lanes already autumnal, was marvellous.
It’s always good to remind myself how different are the counties of Essex and Suffolk.
As soon as we crossed The White Bridge at Manningtree, which in itself sounds mildly exotic, the adventure began.
It is easy to see where Essex stops and Suffolk starts.
Firstly, there’s a small ridge of wooded hills. The terrain changed as we headed up that climb from Brantham towards East Bergholt.
I do like a few hills, and as much as I love Essex, as soon as I see them I usually say: “Why don’t we move here?” As we pootled along the country roads in rusty sunlight, there was little traffic, other than a few cyclists.
We reached our destination all too soon.
Regular readers may recall I like Hadleigh and feel sufficiently familiar with the place nowadays to refer to it simply as “Tony”. [As in Tony Hadley, once of pop group Spandau Ballet.]
In a smart little delicatessen I bought some vintage cheddar and a packet of garam masala. The cheese was packaged immaculately in a green and white-checked wedge: a little work of art. In my own on-the-spectrum style, I was still analysing the experience 10 minutes later, while loitering in a charity shop just over the road, examining the shirts.
“Hadleigh is quite posh, really, isn’t it?” I remarked to Her Outdoors. You see plenty of middle-aged men with patrician-looking English faces, sporting those red or salmon-pink trousers, and you just know they were probably at Sandhurst.
Some of the younger women I saw wear well-tailored jeans, polo shirts and exude a demure equestrian glow. I even clocked a couple of hipster beards. I do think they suit the men rather better than women, of course, but it does tell you that you’re in a classic country town.
Hadleigh, therefore, could probably make room for one lupine old rocker, a bit grizzled around the muzzle, couldn’t it?
I confess, I’d been idly toying with the idea of moving to Dedham for some time. It now strikes me, however, that Hadleigh might benefit more from the kind of style I could bring to it.
What about a mid-1960s retro cafe? Rockin’ Mart’s Chip-o-Rama? Formica-top tables, jukebox blasting out old Troggs singles, big plastic tomato ketchup dispensers on every table and a cheery gum-chewing waitress with that beehive’n’bay-frontage look. Could be a real winner, I reckon.
There’s definitely a gap in the market here. Now it so happens that I have friends, Simon and Val, who live in Hadleigh, near the High Street. So I’ve got them keeping an eye out for suitable premises for me.
After our wild shopping, while we were round having coffee, Val explained patiently to me that Tony’s Co-op definitely did stock vegetables and asked me whether I had turned left after entering the shop.
I admitted sheepishly that as usual I’d made straight for their cider selection – always exemplary.
But anyway, I expected to grow all my own vegetables, like a proper middle-class person, once I’d relocated to Tony.
Yes, this wild shopping thing really has opened my eyes to some possibilities. Southwold’s next.