Matt Chorley: I'll buy fruit in laybys when it starts raining cream

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Every strawberry must dream of passing away at Wimbledon.

Drowning in a slick of double cream, gobbled by a tanned tennis lovely, washed down with champagne. Strawberry heaven. Other strawberries would remark: "What a way to go. It's what he would have wanted." Others would settle for bowing out on top of a spectacular pavlova or, at a push, whizzed into a milkshake. But no self-respecting soft fruit wants their final moments to see spent battered, bruised and swelteringly hot in a boot of an uninsured car, hoping some weary driver will stop and buy a punnet from a layby.

Last weekend every few miles on the A303 there were roadside hawkers hoping for a motorist with the munchies. Who does that? Who is happily driving along one minute, wishing Steve Wright would stop saying "love the show" while racing against the satnav's predicted arrival time, and suddenly decides: what I really want to do is stop here, in the middle of nowhere, and pay a complete stranger £3 for a pot of strawberries covered in exhaust fumes. How bad must the strawberries be that they cannot be sold at supermarkets or greengrocers, carefully dissected for pub grub or blended into a Fruit Corner, but can only be sold from the back of an M-reg Sierra in a layby?

Nothing good ever happened in a layby. The only people you see there normally are trying to persuade a toddler to wee.

People who obsess about washing fruit put me on edge. It's hard to know what grizzlies they think could lurk on a nectarine that will be killed with a quick splash under the kitchen sink. But strawberries from a layby would need a wash. A real deep clean. Cillit Bang at a bare minimum. I would call in the team who blast MRSA from hospital cubicles.

But who knows where these strawberries have come from? If they've fallen off the back of a lorry they'll be badly bruised. They're not easy to transport. It's not even clear why it is strawberry outlets, of all fruits, that spring up on Britain's A-roads. It can't simply be that people buy them because they are there. The ultimate impulse purchase. Would the same people buy grapes at a bus stop? Would swimmers in a public baths tread water to buy a watermelon from the poolside?

There are foods which are good for driving – jelly babies, Mini Cheddars, apples. And there are things which should never be consumed in a moving vehicle – sushi, soup, spaghetti bolognese. Anyone who has tried eating a BLT at the wheel will know a roundabout is guaranteed to spill the L and the T all over your trousers.

But strawberries? There is no way you could fit a chocolate fountain for dipping on the dashboard. And where to put the stems?

As with so many things, including the reason so many A-roads are straight, we may well have to thank the Romans for the phenomenon of roadside strawberries. Caesar and his pals apparently thought strawberries had medicinal properties, capable of relieving bad breath, throat infections and feelings of melancholy. And we've all had a car journey like that.

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