Martin Newell’s Joy of Essex: When did our daily round of problems turn into ‘issues’?

The village of Messing was the destination on one of my recent bike rides

The village of Messing was the destination on one of my recent bike rides - Credit: Andrew Partridge

Back on the boneshaker again last weekend. It was wonderful.

A chap can do quite a bit of random thinking on a bike ride. One thing which I wondered was: when did white pepper disappear? I’m not a bloke for dinner parties but on those rare occasions when I do get invited out, there’s never any white pepper on the table anymore.

Similarly, staying in hotels and B&Bs when working away from home, I come across all manner of exotic black pepper pots: things which you have to twist, grind or crank a little handle on etc. But gone are those dainty little round-headed pepper pots of my youth; the dimpled or fluted shakers, yielding the fine fawn-coloured dust which goes so well with mashed potato or turnip.

White pepper used to grace every table in the land. Has it fallen victim to some tacit revolution that no-one’s bothered telling me about? Look around you. You won’t find it upon the dinner tables of the middle classes, nor upon the tables of the restaurants which they patronise. And yet, to my certain knowledge, nothing was ever said. Nor has white pepper been openly stigmatised: the fate of once-popular German wines, or dishes such as Chicken a la King.

It’s still possible to buy it in supermarkets, where it lurks at the bottom of spice racks in anonymous little plastic pots with pre-perforated tops. It’s almost as if the stuff is now so declassé that we no longer even bother decanting it into its own shaker.


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I don’t know who it was that decided that white pepper was out but for me the fightback starts here. You can laugh, if you wish but white pepper might be only the beginning. I know one supermarket chain, for instance, which some time ago quietly de-listed mushroom ketchup, for years a staple in my kitchen. It could be condensed milk next, and then, before you know it, your brown sauce will have vanished. This may become an issue.

Which brings me neatly to my next subject. When did everything become an ‘issue’? We used to encounter problems, sticking points, difficulties or obstacles. Now they’re all issues. We used to have subjects, questions, matters and topics. They too have become issues. Every time I turn on the radio, these days there’s an issue. They don’t only have issues with things, either. They also have issues around things. For instance, I used to suffer from hayfever but I now have issues around grass pollen.

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Another question for you: when did that which we all referred to as ‘old’, ‘used’ or ‘second-hand’ first become ‘vintage’? It was with some amazement that I read in this very paper last week that the location of a forthcoming ‘secret’ vintage fair was about to be revealed. My first thought was that the traders must have been relieved, because now they’d all know where to set up their stalls. The public too would no doubt be pleased, because they would have an idea of where to go to attend the vintage fair in question. What a piece of luck that someone finally had the presence of mind to inform the press.

And whatever happened to jumble sales? We all know that the doughty women who ran such events weren’t above picking the odd item out and buying it first. It was perks of the job. Nobody minded when everything only cost 50p. Nowadays, though, it’s not just 50p, is it? Now that everyone’s become a connoisseur, garments such as old white un-ironed dinner shirts, which used to be a quid, are suddenly priced at a ruggedly adventurous £25 a shot.

Old crazed Willow Pattern and Indian Tree plates, coal scuttles, corsets, all manner of junk, and schmatter, once costing mere pennies, is now classed as ‘vintage’. Merely because of this change of title, prices are now hiked so high that before long it will be cheaper to just go out and buy yourself something new. Well, there’s an old crazed vintage columnist here, who may also be worth a few quid. He’s still cycling around the lanes noting all of this down and he’s not happy about it at all. Meanwhile, keen Essex cyclists, take this down. There is a really good bike ride which I recently rediscovered between Marks Tey and Messing – home, incidentally, of former President George W Bush’s ancestors. It’s about five and a half miles. Take a train to Marks Tey, go out of the station, cross the mildly unpleasant A120 at the traffic lights then wheel the bike over the footbridge across the ghastly A12. Now cycle down the old London Road towards Copford, turning right down School Road. Follow this lane to Rectory Road, all the way to the village of Easthorpe.

When you’re in Easthorpe proper, turn left at that Tudor-looking building and keep going until you reach Messing. There’s a lovely pub there, called the Old Crown, which does good food. It’s run by Penny and Malcolm Campbell, who, long decades ago, ran a Colchester restaurant where I once washed dishes – but that’s another story.

My bike ride the other Sunday morning was so quiet and traffic free that it was redolent of a 1950s Kenneth More film – although I can’t think of which one. It’s a little part of that county called Essex, which certain silly metropolitan types when travelling to Suffolk, will sometimes drive through Herts and Cambridgeshire in order to avoid. Long may it remain so.

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