The high street displayed rows of 'for sale' signs and every other shop offered bargains. Snatches of conversation reflected the continuing economic pinch. 'You're always saying we eat you out of house and home,' a boy complained to his mother. 'She's working all the hours God sends now that Gary's been made redundant,' a woman told her friend.
The local Conservative club in King's Chase had a tea-towel saying: 'Bowls is like sex] You don't have to be good at it to enjoy it]' But members who had sworn allegiance to the Conservative Party were in a rebellious mood.
'I'm certainly not noticing any improvement,' said Eric 'Dicky' Bird, 71, a retired engineer. 'I was given a pamphlet the other day on the Common Market which compared average pensions in Europe. We were nearly at the bottom. I had a go at our MP, Eric Pickles, about it. I said, 'I'm not saying you're a crook, but in your manifesto you were talking a pack of lies'.'
Marjory Shute, 58, a former insurance supervisor, having a drink at the club, was equally annoyed. 'There's people come here aged 50 upwards who have got absolutely no chance of getting a job.'
Unemployment may have fallen in the town by 21 per cent in the year to June, and the price of the average family's shopping dropped by 0.5 per cent this month, but the mothers at the bus-stop near Sainsbury's hadn't noticed. 'The price of everything seems to be going up - fresh fish, fresh meat, fresh vegetables,' Joanne Wood, 31, a mother of three, said. 'We have to rely on tins and bread. Meat is just too expensive,' agreed Anita Talbot, 28, a former Conservative voter whose husband is unemployed.
Not everyone was negative. Pamela White, 46, said: 'I think there is a little improvement. Houses are selling a bit better and there do seem to be a few more jobs. But it still needs to improve a lot.'
Bob Dessent, a branch manager of the Shenfield and Brentwood offices of estate agent Hilbery Chaplin, agreed. 'The market seemed to pick up this year quite significantly from February. The major difference has been an increase generally in confidence to take on a bigger mortgage.'
Those buyers are the lucky ones. Asked if she had noticed the feel-good factor, one Conservative Party worker sighed impatiently. 'I don't know where the Government gets these figures from,' she snorted. 'I can't even get a job.'
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