Martin Newell’s Joy of Essex: The house I cannot afford but the lamp I can

WAY back in June, I predicted that eventually we’d probably be compensated for the washout summer by having a reasonable autumn. So far it’s not been too bad.

I have therefore taken time off occasionally in order to enjoy it. Unconventional in my way, I never take holidays. Many years ago I had an idea that if I could manage to live somewhere which I liked, and earn enough to support myself by doing work which I mostly enjoyed, then it would render holidays redundant.

When you go on holiday, you have to clear your desk, making sure that everything is taken care of before you go.

Many people, I’ve noticed, commence their holidays at an airport – probably one of the worst inventions ever to be concocted by the forces of darkness. Once you’re on holiday, you’ll probably eat and drink too much, injure yourself doing something more strenuous than you’re accustomed to, or else fall ill because of changes of water or diet. At the end of it you’re confronted with yet another airport.

You then return home to a pile of things needing to be done, before roaring back to work, where you’ll work twice as hard sorting out all the jobs left undone while you were away. The result is that you finish up where you started, only more tired and with less money than you had before you left. Why go?

At this time of year therefore, if it’s a nice day, I just down tools and cheerfully do something which most people would consider to be mundane, but which I might never have done before. The other day, for instance, instead of coming up with another literary tour-de-force with which to astonish the world, I wandered into an �800,000 show home on an exclusive development just up the road.

I spent an hour there just looking around. I can’t buy it. But never say never. It only takes one of my 12 Premium Bonds to come good. Or there’s still an outside chance that someone glamorous might cover one of my old records, thereby generating royalties for me. Or perhaps Lord Archant, the mysterious philanthropist who employs me, will raise my stipend – who knows?

Most Read

The exclusive show home, meanwhile, was unfeasibly large – although it had quite a small garden. I nearly lost count of the bedrooms, once I discovered the staircase leading up to a further floor above the rooms I’d just viewed. The duty estate agent was from Thorpe le Soken. I’ve always liked Thorpe, so I had a good long chinwag about it with her

There were some rather venerable trees on the original site, it seems, many of which have been left in place. This endows the new development with a pleasant, mature woodland feel.

I was mildly surprised at myself for liking the house as much as I did. It seemed well-designed and well-built. It probably wouldn’t appeal to the type of person who favours organically-sourced, sustainably-built yurts, but then, you can’t please everybody, can you?

The estate agent said they expected interest from people living in places such as Romford or Brentwood; people who wanted to move further up into Essex and still commute to London.

I could understand this, to an extent. On the other hand, if I had 800 grand on me, I might instead buy a place for half that amount, an inconvenient distance from the nearest station. Then I’d simply hire a man with a horse-drawn Brougham to drive me to the station on working days, emerging from my carriage with my periwig unruffled.

Anyway, if you do happen to find yourself at a loose end one fine autumn day, I can recommend the thoroughly Essex practice of idly wandering around houses way beyond your income.

Which reminds me: when I first left home and went to look at a bedsitter, the landlady said, “I hope you’ve got a good memory for faces, because there’s no shaving mirror.” You’ve been great! My name’s Martin Newell – I’m here all week.

I discovered another thing on my not-quite-autumn-break: what I’d thought might be either encroaching blindness or a series of psychic trailers for my imminent death turned out instead to be poor lighting. You can’t read in a living room if it’s lit, as mine was, like an Edwardian opium den – not once you’re into your fifties, anyway. You need a standard lamp. That was another first for me: going into Colchester British Home Stores in order to purchase one.

I have to declare that other suppliers do exist, but at BHS, considering the retail retard then confronting them, the service was pretty special. Firstly, they patiently explained to me that because it came packed in a box, I wouldn’t have to carry the standard lamp, as it appeared on display, into the train or taxi. Then they helped me get the lamp out of its packing and into bags, showering the young assistant in a white polystyrene snowstorm in the process.

Finally, after the purchase, a kindly woman caught up with me outside, as I hurried through the precinct, to hand me the lamp’s assembly instructions, which I’d forgotten. In this day and age that was impressive. Now I can sit on my sofa on an autumn evening, as my forbears did, clad in thick tweed, reading Sir Arthur Bryant and listening to Eric Coates. Can a grey David Niven moustache be far away?

Become a Supporter

This newspaper has been a central part of community life for many years. Our industry faces testing times, which is why we're asking for your support. Every contribution will help us continue to produce local journalism that makes a measurable difference to our community.

Become a Supporter