I am standing in the middle of an unfamiliar town centre and it’s drizzling.
Three things come to mind: I don’t want to be here, I want to stop standing and I’m far too wet.
I’m also very hungry and so I look around to see what’s on offer. Perhaps they have one of those fancy smokehouses where you can eat beef that tastes strangely like diesel. Or maybe I’ll buy one of those weird Pret protein pots, with two slippery eggs and some spinach, and I can pretend it’s the First World War and I’m on rations.
Which is when I spot it. That sort of Seventies font. That sort of Seventies logo. It’s a Wimpy.
You don’t see Wimpies everywhere. But it’s a Great British Wimpy! With memories of serviettes and thick British burgers and giant banana splits with your gran. Wimpies are great!
So I immediately start looking at what else is around, because all that said, I’m not going into a Wimpy. No, sir. I haven’t in years. I don’t know why. I think I stopped on that glorious day at the tail end of the Eighties when Loughborough finally got a McDonald’s. Even Moscow got one before Loughborough. McDonald’s was so glamorous, so slick, so seductively American. And so like a berk, I turned my back on something that had never let me down, something British. Imagine if I did that to Marmite! Or Hovis! Or Olivia Colman!
But I can’t go into a Wimpy on my own. Wimpies are for Saturdays. For after swimming. Or before the cinema. And yet… I’m tempted. And I must still have fond feelings towards Wimpies, because on Twitter I follow a man named Wimpy Jeff.
Wimpy Jeff runs the Wimpy in Addlestone. I’ve never been, but his few hundred followers will tell you it looks both hygienic and regularly-attended.
Wimpy Jeff, though, is far more than a Wimpy manager. Wimpy Jeff is a master social documentarian. He takes genuinely Martin Parr-quality photographs of people sitting in booths eating egg and chips. Or videos of a drunk grandad singing loudly, and having his ear tugged grumpily by his wife.
Sometimes there are avant-garde shots of, say, a bottle of Wimpy Special Sauce. But there are also photos documenting what seem to be brave inventions, in which Wimpy Jeff has gone rogue, and created insane new dishes made from Wimpy ingredients, perhaps to inspire his bosses. He might create towering burgers with twirly sausages and chips poking out from everywhere. It is Wimpy Jeff’s secret intent to push the Wimpy brand further and simultaneously cement Addlestone as the beating heart of the modern-day Wimpy.
Wimpy is a very weird name for a restaurant, though, isn’t it?
Anyway, people genuinely seem to love Wimpy Jeff. One of his latest photos is a picture of a box of chocolates a regular customer gave his whole staff for Christmas. And I think they love him because he has created a community from a place which, to most Brits, already hosts warm memories.
That’s what this Wimpy reminds me of. The days I used to go into Wimpies and spot school friends having knickerbocker glories for birthday treats with their grandmas.
When did Wimpies become invisible to me?
It seems unfair. There have never been any Wimpy scandals. Its only crime seems to have been not handing you your food suspiciously quickly. And maybe having too many dishes. Because what’s the classic Wimpy dish? Donald Trump is supposed to eat two Big Macs and two Filet-O-Fish for lunch most days and, while that is disgusting, I admire the way he single-handedly keeps that American company afloat with two of its top items. Can you imagine Theresa May having three Wimpies a day? No, you cannot – and there you have the problem with that woman. Still, maybe she’ll take Trump to a Wimpy on his state visit for a Bender In A Bun With Cheese.
My stomach rumbles again. That’s it. I’m doing it.
There will be no Pret for me this day, with its suspiciously French name. There will be no Subway, with its fonts all leaning forward and arrows madly everywhere in a confusing American hurry.
There will be simply the red, white and blue of a British Wimpy!
And sure, this particular red white and blue has more in common with Simply Red, White Lightning and Duncan from Blue, but it’s all British!
So I order my Quarterpounder. And a few tables away I see a kid with his grandma. I wonder if it still does knickerbocker glories. And I realise that a place like this – a Wimpy – is exactly like those long-lost lunches with your gran. The difference is, in a world of protein pots and diesel beef, they’re still here, still waiting for you.
And as I’m sure the great Wimpy Jeff would attest: you’ll miss them when they’re gone.