Just Write: Week 8, 17th March – part 1

I’m splitting week 8 (final week of this term, *sobs quietly and wonders what to do on a Monday night*) into two parts as per last week. Not in any way because I think it is going to drive a sudden explosion in page views – it didn’t last week – but because I think the posts are a little more digestible.

Homework from week 7 was to visit a place that you regularly walked past (or knew of) but never went into and then try to capture how that made you feel. I thought this one worked out quite well but I am rarely best placed to judge my own work… so let me know what you think:

I expected it to feel like the 1980s; a place out of time. Not the 1980s of gaudy excess, streamers on Top Of The Pops, city boys with braces, but the 80s that was still shaking off the dowdiness of the late 70s.

Wimpy. Didn’t they all close ? Weren’t they seen off by McDonalds and Burger King and the caffeinated tidal wave of coffee chains that have flooded UK high streets for the last ten years ? Yet here it is in Amersham. It’s not the most likely place I’d expected to see it – not that I expect to see them anywhere anymore. Wimpy is frozen in memory for me as an unspecified place along the A1 – one of those unassuming service stops at a place like Newark or Grantham before we got the quasi-theme parks every twenty miles along the motorway that we have now. It used to be a straight choice between stopping now or holding out until Doncaster where there might be a Little Chef. This was Little Chef before Heston tried to infuse it with a certain culinary scientific sophistication; Little Chef when the choice of pineapple ring or fried egg on top of your gammon was sophistication enough. Heston hasn’t come a-knocking for Wimpy. Nor Gordon. Not even Jamie it seems.

It does feel a little like the 80s. Pushing open the door and stepping inside is a bit like stepping back into childhood. This used to be a treat, before we were convinced that getting a burger in a poly urethane box was more of a treat than getting one on a plate. The décor evidently hasn’t changed for thirty years, fake formica topped tables and wooden chairs. The chairs have taken on an aged, distressed look that, ironically, would now see them right at home in the fashionable coffee come lifestyle emporium Harris & Hoole a few doors up. The back lit menu above the counter looks much as I remember it as a kid, excepting the “mozzarella melts”. I’m pretty sure we didn’t know what mozzarella was back then, back when Chicken Kiev was the height of exotica. 

Behind the counter a beautiful, vintage Conti coffee machine rises proudly, all reds and polished steel. It faces off against a similarly old Carpigiani ice cream maker – you’d ask for a Mr Whippy, not a Carpigiani. They’re both immaculate, spotless, and have clearly been well tended these last few decades. It’s hard to shake the nagging, slightly sad, feeling that they will remain immaculate now as much from lack of use as from care. Where does Wimpy belong in a world of Baskin Robbins and Costa and the we-all-live-in-a-Manhattan-loft boho chic of Harris & Hoole ? My daughter has never once asked to go into the Wimpy on Amersham high street. Why would she ? There are no “happy meals” – registered trademark – here although I remember many happy meals in them when I was young. And me ? I’ve lived here seven years and this is my first time in. I’m only here to do my homework – the very act of which is itself a nudge towards the nostalgia of childhood that the entire experience evokes – and to be honest the coffee’s not great and I’m getting too old to eat bacon and egg rolls that often in the morning. I certainly can’t blame anyone for preferring the pretense of a Manhattan loft lifestyle to an 80s British bedsit either – I prefer it, this is absolutely not a rose tinted look back at some glorious forgotten past. Would we all rather hang out in Central Perk with Rachel and Joey than in Sid’s Café with Del Boy and Rodney ? The evidence up and down the high streets of the land suggests that we would.

There is something wonderfully incongruous though about Amersham’s Wimpy. It makes no sense – the brand is essentially dead, the town’s demographics are all wrong and there’s tons of competition – but it’s still there clinging on. I doubt I’ll go in again but I like that it’s there, a mental shortcut to days when burgers on plates was a treat. To childhood.


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