‘Can’t stop’, gasped Barcombe Baby-Mama, bursting into Nero’s and flinging a potty into my lap - empty, luckily. ‘Got no change and a Blue Meanie’s on the way.’
A chorus went up: ‘You said you’d stop for coffee!’ and ‘We can sort you some change’, but she was already gone, latest victim of the War on Terror.
We leaned back in the stained leather chairs – our pre-schoolers were finger-painting with milk-shakes – and nodded sadly. ‘Remember that time’, said Grange Girl, ‘when my ticket flopped backwards? It was still attached but you had to peer in?’
How could we forget? We it was who had nursed her back to health. We bowed our heads and intoned the solemn mantra, ‘Thirty pounds.’
Pells Boy pulled the Beast off the table where she was performing a Greek crockery routine and said, ‘What about when I got back to the almost empty car-park at five past six, but they were still writing it out?’
Some scars never fade. ‘Thirty pounds’, we chanted gravely.
‘You know what I hate?’ asked Absent Minded Girl, as she vaguely tried to change my nappy. ‘Their little cameras. It’s the only time you ever see anyone taking a photo in an evil kind of way.’
‘I wonder’, said Grange Girl, and we turned respectfully to listen, as she doesn’t have a toddler and therefore often speaks in coherent sentences, ‘I wonder what we talked about before the parking scheme?’
Was there a time before? We scratched our heads. We tried to cast back our minds to those palmy days of peace.
Pells Boy looked blanker than usual. ‘I thought there was always a parking scheme’, he said, then drained his latte and stood up. ‘In fact I’ve only got thirty minutes left on my ticket and it takes me that long to get the Beast’s coat on.’
I gently took the potty from Absent Minded Girl as she was about to drink from it. ‘Grangey’s right’, I said. ‘We used to be able to park for more than two hours at a time. But I can’t imagine what we talked about back then.’
Silent till now, ignoring us and the child sitting on his head, Born-and-Bred Boy slowly lowered his Daily Mail. His default position is that Lewes has got steadily worse since 1974, and his reasoning incorporates the words ‘London’, ‘from’ and ‘down’. Though he’ll hang out with incomers if his old mates aren’t looking.
‘Before parking’, he said, ‘we droned on about house prices and football and last night’s telly and all the things I have to talk about on those rare and depressing occasions when I am forced to go somewhere other than Lewes.’
‘Oh my lord’, cried Absent Minded Girl, ‘Did we really? How deadly! How could anyone have stood the boredom?’
And we all raised our cups in heartfelt toast to the marvellous parking scheme, defender of the town’s café conversations.
Beth Miller, 10th March 2009. Published in VivaLewes.com and in Viva Lewes magazine, April 2009. Photo by Alex Leith