‘You going to that PTA do?’ Cycle Girl asked yesterday. ‘There’s a band, and there’ll be food, they’re doing a…’ I held up my hand to stop her. ‘They’re doing a hog roast, aren’t they?’ I said. She asked if I was psychic, but I explained I was merely jaded.
In Lewes, you can’t celebrate putting your trousers on the right way without letting off fireworks, while in Sussex in general, you can’t have an outdoor gig or party without sparking up a Gloucester Oldspot. Here a hog-roast, there a hog-roast: Old MacDonald must be laughing all the way to the National Pig Association’s annual dinner dance (one drink and delicious hog roast included in the ticket price).
When we lived in Barcombe, warm weather was inextricably linked to the eternal aroma of pigs turning lazily over spits. The place was – still is - Hog Roast Central. I remember my first outdoor party: there was music, there was dancing, there was copious amounts of vodka, and then there was the disappointment when I realised the only thing I was going to be able to eat was a granary bap, empty save for a drizzle of apple sauce.
‘Vegetarian I suppose?’ people said witheringly, and I felt exactly like the pork sausage at the barmitzvah as I mumbled, ‘No, I do eat some meat, just not… pig…’ and everyone turned to stare. Oh, how I identified with Kyle from South Park at that moment, and his plaintive lament, ‘I’m just a lonely Jew at Christmas’.
I’ve lived in considerably more uncircumcised places than Lewes, such as North Wales where I was part of the tourist itinerary: ‘Over there is Snowdon, this is Lake Bala, and here’s the only Jew within a hundred miles.’ Lewes is way more New York than that. Why, you can buy a chollah loaf in ‘Cheese Please’, and sometimes on the High Street you can spot someone in the throes of a really expressive shrug (though usually they turn out to be French tourists). But come the summer and it’s hard not to feel left out of the hog roast hijinks.
My brother visited last July. Both of us have long since lost much of the baggage of our religious upbringing, but I retain the food thing and he can’t let go of the crippling mother-guilt. I do admire the way he tucks into prawn chow mein and bacon sarnies, as though he really doesn’t believe that forked lighting is going to strike him down at any moment. I took him to an outdoor gig where they had, well, you know what they had. I got him a roll filled to bursting with glistening roast pork; mine was sparsely decorated with cucumber. He took a huge bite, and rolled his eyes. ‘Oy vey’ he said, ‘this is good’.
Beth Miller, 3rd June 2009. Published in VivaLewes.com and in Viva Lewes magazine, June 2011. Photo by Alex Leith