west suffolk

The South Bay Theater in West Babylon, New York.  Built in the mid-1960s and named after nearby Great South Bay, the place hadn’t aged well–apparently a lack of maintenance.  When I took this pic on June 29, 2017, the place was closed up and I figured its days were numbered.  Subsequently I was told that it was actually closed for renovations.  I’ll try to remember to check it out when I’m in the area next month.

The corner of England where the Stars and Stripes fly high - BBC News
The corner of England where the cars are automatics and you can pay the barber in dollars.

With its picturesque villages and quiet country lanes, the county of Suffolk embodies a vision of a certain kind of Englishness. Yet nestled away in its north-western corner lies a pocket of pure Americana, where the cars are huge, you can pay for a haircut in dollars and the Stars and Stripes flutter proudly.

The accent is unmistakably American.

The man, elderly, slightly hunched but with a freshly cut short-back-and-sides, hauls himself out of the black leather barber’s chair and places some money in Steve Snazell’s palm.

“Until next time,” he says, heading out of the door with a sense of purpose honed from years in the military.

“He’s a regular,” says Mr Snazell, a second generation barber whose shop sits directly opposite the wired fence of RAF Mildenhall.

The American community was established here during World War Two and the years immediately afterwards when the US military coagulated into a crescent of RAF bases that stretch across southern England from Lakenheath in Suffolk to RAF Fairford in Gloucestershire.

The United States Air Force claims RAF Lakenheath and Mildenhall are worth a combined £700m ($910m) to the local economy. The influence of the American dollar stretches far and wide - from the local property rental market to the pubs and restaurants, where US patrons are noted for eating out earlier than their British counterparts.

About half of all Mr Snazell’s customers are Americans - either those currently serving in the military, or retirees who have settled in the area.
The cost of a haircut is £8 - though Mr Snazell is equally happy to take payment in dollars ($12).

One of the current batch of Americans living in the area is Jolene Jeffers, an aspiring photographer currently working for a car rental company.

She and husband Caleb, originally from Albuquerque, New Mexico, are almost three years into a four-year posting. He works on the Lockheed C-130 Hercules at RAF Mildenhall.

“It is a different experience but still a really cool one,” she says of life in west Suffolk.

“Sometimes I just want to go to Walmart at 03:00 for ice cream and socks, and you can’t do that here.

"I miss home but it’s amazing to be so close to London and to Paris.

"It’s very small compared to what I’m used to, but Suffolk is so cosy and the people are so nice.”

Talk to people in this area of Suffolk and the conversation will at some stage invariably turn to cars.

Huge American Chevrolets, Fords and Chryslers are commonplace. But driving left-handed cars along Suffolk’s often narrow winding lanes can prove problematic.

Terry James, who runs Mildenhall Car Sales, says many of the airmen pop into their showroom for advice about negotiating the county’s roads.

As well as selling cars - nearly all automatic - to the Americans, Mr James’s staff prepare US cars for the roads in the UK and for their MOTs.

But many Americans have an ulterior motive for visiting Mr James’s car showroom: his dog, a velvety grey three-year-old Weimaraner called Charlie.

Most service personnel have to leave their pets at home and so for many Charlie has become a much-loved surrogate.

Terry’s wife Sylvia says the airmen and their families feel a “strong sense of belonging” in their offices.

“Sometimes people just happen to come in here,” she says. “We listen to them, we’re here for them, even if it’s just for a chat.

"We push the boat out and make an effort. You have to remember nothing is familiar to them here - even mince pies at Christmas time. They didn’t know what they were.”

Happy 4th of July!


West Stow Anglo-Saxon Village, Suffolk, England

via Amethinah on Flickr

“West Stow Anglo-Saxon Village is both an archaeological site and an open-air museum. Evidence for intermittent human habitation at the site stretches from the Mesolithic through the Neolithic, Bronze Age, Iron Age and Romano-British period, but it is best known for the small village that existed on the site between the mid-5th century and the early 7th century CE, during the early Anglo-Saxon period. During this time, around 70 sunken-featured buildings were constructed on the site.”

I truly enjoy learning about sites such as these. I find them to be a pleasant and eye-opening way to show how life was in some corner of our past. I particularly enjoy discovering about such a site because it truly gives a small window - although not a perfect one - on the ways of life from before our time.