Wimpy #4: Worthing

A hiatus! A palpable hiatus! It has been ten months since my last Wimpy visit, before Lockdown III came along and made burger restaurant-based geographical sagas tricky.

It’s been ages since the government’s specific ban on travelling up and down the country reviewing Wimpys was lifted, but I’ve been busy running comedy nights, walking dogs and having the occasional existential crisis. From now on, you should expect a new Wimpy post every week, and if there’s a branch near you, and would like me to visit it with you, get in touch and I’ll see what I can do.

This is Worthing Wimpy and you absolutely cannot touch us now.

So why Worthing for Wimpy #4? No rhyme or squiggly psychogeographic justification here: I am buffeted by the winds of fate.

This particular fate was my friend Kelly, who was desperate to get out of London and remembered Worthing had a Wimpy.

We didn’t go straight there, though. When visiting a new Wimpy, you have to approach it carefully, like an injured hedgehog or unexploded WWII bomb. Blessed with unexpectedly amazing weather, on arrival off the train we threw ourselves into the sea next to the fabulously Art Deco Worthing Pier, its shoreside end resplendent with classy theatre advertising talks by Suggs and comedy from Reginald D Hunter.

Some pretty good comedians are playing here.

The water was as calm as a millpond, and from the pier’s head we could see boats twinkling in the hazy offing. [1]

Worthing is just up the coast from Brighton, and similarly shares its existence to a 19th century fad for sea bathing and being seen at the same places as the royals, if you can imagine it being trendy to hang out in the same place as such people (these days you’d have to just go to Woking Pizza Express).

Before that it was merely a fishy hamlet, stinking mainly of mackrel.

As a seaside resort with its best days behind it, Worthing is a very typical place to find a surviving Wimpy.

But we are still in East Sussex. There may be some seediness, and there may be a higher than average proportion of quiet desperation. But this is a more affluent than usual spot for a Bender in a Bun.

Refreshed and salty after our swim, we plotted our next move in the cafe of the Dome cinema, one of Britain’s oldest. And it was agreed: we were to flee the town by deregulated bus up to the Downs.

Ah, you were not expecting this. But there is a certain logic to our actions. The first humans of to inhabit this area, approximately 6000 years before the Wimpy opened, were those mining for flint a few miles inland and upland from the town.

A tree of Cissbury Ring.

More recently, if still a fairly long time before burger restaurants, an Iron Age Hill Fort [2] was constructed at Cissbury Ring. And it was to here that we were headed, for magnificent views of the Downs and the coast.

People lived here, people farmed here, and people carved and decorated boar’s tusks here a mere 2,400 years ago.

Now, there are wild ponies.

It’s an idyllic place, with more tree cover than one is used to on the exposed ridge of chalk that constitutes the South Downs. But there are absolutely zero franchise burger restaurants, so it was time for us to head back towards the sea.

Our bus was operated by Stagecoach, owned by a notorious homophobe. So it was with much amusement that the bus’ automated announcements introduced us to the phrase “tap off”; definitely a euphemism for wanking. Don’t forget to tap off before leaving the bus! We’ll mop up the resulting spunk later on!

Finally, to Wimpy. Opposite, a workman was hitting paving stones with a hammer, for no discernible reason. This made the obligatory “outside the Wimpy” photo more awkward than usual. I never look my best when being angrily gawped at by men in high vis.

The Wimpy was your classic design: long and thin, seemingly stretching on forever, like a matte painting in Star Trek. To the right, the usual island of tills and burger cooking paraphernalia. To the left, booths! Booths with post-Covid plastic screens, but still, booths. We had come home.

Our server was a trainee, called Nick. He was Canadian. This was unexpected, despite Worthing being filled with Canadian soldiers and even hosting Canada’s military headquarters during World War Two. Nick was simply too young to have anything to do with his country’s wartime presence. He was great-grandson at very best; the accent would have melted away generations ago, like a Brown Derby left out in the sun.

Nick carried the weight of the world on his young shoulders. Kelly suggested I ask him to recommend a local pub for a pint; Nick was both too young and too old for drinking. His body was young but his mind was very old. He had seen too much, already, via obese regulars and furious geezers demanding to know where in America he was from. “Ontario”, he would answer, hoping ignorance would reduce banter to silence.

You’ll notice I’m making many assumptions about Nick. And that’s because we barely talked, other than agreeing it was very hot. And this is because he was already too perfect, a 16 year old Canadian inexplicably working at Worthing Wimpy. Any explanation would have ruined the magic. I prefer to imagine ludicrous scenarios, and wish him well wherever he ends up, or indeed if he decided to live and love in Worthing forever.

We ordered. Bit of a bombshell, and a complication for this entire project: I am supposed to be vegan now. I’ve read too many articles about the consequences of industrial meat production on the environment. How does Wimpy abide in an era of climate change? This is not a question I was expecting to seriously posit when giggling about benders in 1996.

Kelly ordered the vegan burger. Hoisted by my own psychological petard. In a kind of brazen mockery, i ordered the half pounder. I needed the protein, I claimed, pathetically, convincing no one.

Our food arrived. It’s time for the ratings.

Childish Wimpy Rankings

GREASINESS OF CHEF: 3/10

BUSY-NESS OF RESTAURANT: 8/10

PROXIMITY TO MY HOUSE: 7/10

There’s always a certain melancholy to the proximity to my house ranking. Ground zero is New Malden, where – conveniently – I am writing from right now. But my family’s link to this place is coming to an end; my grandma died in spring, and this house will be sold in late autumn. I thought I’d visit every Wimpy before my geographic association with this place ended, but I was naive. Time keeps rolling on.

Grown-Up Wimpy Rankings

FRIENDLINESS OF STAFF: 9/10

QUALITY OF MEAL: 7/10

VALUE OF MEAL: 5/10

There’s no getting away from it. This was a pricey Wimpy. Yes: I plumped for the performative arrogance of the Halfpounder meal. Yet I was still surprised at the bill, which was approximately 1.2 Wagamamas. And their vegan menu is considerably more comprehensive.

A word, though, for this Wimpy’s notable strengths. The original salt and pepper pots were in situ. There was a mighty Wimpy logo adorning the wall, in silver, between assorted awards for its food, service, and champion status amid Wimpys. The toilets, upstairs, were extremely classy and well served by local radio. The service, though raising more questions than I care to answer, was kind and warm.

This was, in short, a classy Wimpy.

The Denouement

A murmuration.

Stuffed with meat or meat substitute, we lumbered back towards the sea, irritating local drivers by using the pier front roundabout as a photography spot.

But the light was perfect and Kelly clocked a murmuration in progress. I’m sure she won’t mind my mentioning she once dated a birdwatcher; but it goes beyond that. She berates herself for not having memories all our indigenous butterflies; without her spotting and explaining, there’s no way I would have appreciated the magnificence of this sunset display. Imagine iron filings in GCSE experiments, but infinitely more beautiful. We were in Worthing but the seafront belonged to the starlings.

Not a Lido.

There isn’t much else to add. We briefly visited Sussex’s answer to the Peckham multi-storey, the prettified concrete making me think of a Brutalism-appreciating ex.

The car park.

And we tried to visit a micro pub, with local ales and a distinctly Whovian theme. But we had been lead astray by the lies of google: of course this perfect slice of eccentricity was closed on a Monday.

I know I caught it on a perfect day, but I was pleasantly surprised by Worthing. From ancient fort to the eternal vagaries of the sea, there was more going on than I gave the place credit for.

And amid everything, open until 9pm, and with booths and chips available to all, stands the Wimpy, as hopefully shall ever be.

[1] Today I learned this is a nautical term to refer to a boat that’s within sight of land.

[2] an Iron Age Hill Fort, you say?

Published by jamesofwalsh

My past blogs haunt the internet like ghost ships on a digital sea.

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