As I was hauling Thing Two to the shops, amidst the usual bribes and random shouting, I bumped into Pells Boy doing the same with his child, The Beast of Playgroup. We ambled companionably down School Hill, chatting and smiling vaguely as our toddlers rammed, cackling, into the backs of old ladies’ legs. Then we crossed the road at Boots and suddenly we were at the Great Lewes Divide.
Thing Two ran into Waitrose as if it were his second home, which it pretty much is. I started to follow, when I realised that Pells Boy was standing incredulously at the threshold, fending off a Big Issue seller and holding the squealing Beast two inches off the ground by her collar. ‘Waitrose?’ he spluttered, ‘we don’t go there. We go to Tescos.’
Tory or Liberal, Catholic or Bonfire; there’s nothing that divides Lewes residents quite as much as their preferred supermarket. Yes, there are a few floating voters who use both, and a few who pretend not to use either, but generally you say tomato and I say vine-ripened. I reasoned with Pells Boy. ‘Look, you’re never going to get The Beast to schlep all the way to Tescos.’ He hesitated, and I coaxed: ‘They’ve got this brilliant thing for kids at the exit.’ Pells Boy looked left and right, pulled his balaclava over his face and slunk in.
We whizzed briskly round the aisles, stopping occasionally to kick broken eggs or jars discreetly under shelves, and to allow Pells Boy to clutch his heart and gasp, ‘Lawks a mercy, £3.99 for a punnet of blueberries’ (though actually blueberries are now half-price in Waity’s, bargain hunters). At the check-out, the cashier – clearly deluded - thought the children were cute and gave them extra green tokens. ‘Pretty’, gasped the Beast, and tried to eat them.
‘The kids love this’, I explained to Pells-Boy, as we tipped the Beast upside down. ‘They can bung these in that slot thing over there.’
Pells-Boy likes to read the instructions, and informed me that each slot in fact represented a local charity. ‘Poor old Camera Club’, he said. ‘Fancy pitting them against the Lifeboat Society. That’s like Jimmy Krankie being drawn against Roger Federer.’
It’s true that the Lifeboat Society had about four million more tokens than its rivals, who included the Monday Club, a group of self-proclaimed grumpy codgers whose pitch, I felt, needed some work.
‘We can even it out a bit’, I said, and lifted Thing Two so he could reach the Camera Club’s slot. However, he subscribes to the doctrine that to those who have shall be given – he’d just experienced a classic toddler Christmas – and he donated all four of his tokens to the lifeboats. The Beast, who’d had her tokens removed in the interests of health and safety, threw herself to the floor and began screaming, ‘I WANNA GO TO TESCOS!’ Pells Boy carried her out proudly, and I heard him whisper, ‘That’s my girl’.
Beth Miller, 28th January 2009. PUblished in Vivalewes.com and in Viva Lewes magazine, June 2009. Photo taken by Alex Leith.