Monday, July 27, 2009

Tell 'em a hookah smoking caterpillar has given you the call

One hot day a couple of weeks ago, Born and Bred Boy was lounging in the Gardeners Arms appraising the Racing Post when he began to feel sleepy. All of a sudden, a white rabbit boinged past, staring intently at an iPhone and muttering, ‘I’m late for the 16.51’, as it dashed out the door.

Intrigued, Boy gave chase, and they both tumbled down a huge hole in the Cliffe roadworks. When Boy straightened himself out, he was astonished to find himself in London, on the Finchley Road. There was no sign of the rabbit. A strange fellow, who was perched on a bollard smoking a dodgy-looking pipe, said abruptly, ‘Who are YOU?’

When Boy politely replied, ‘I hardly know sir, just at present’, the man called out, ‘Good lord everyone, it’s another wretched UFL’.

A crowd of strangers thronged round poor Boy, who only managed to say, ‘Unidentified Flying what?’, before a florid matron holding a pig-like baby tutted scornfully, ‘Typical. They always have too much to say, these Lewes people.’

‘Too right’, added a ginger-haired man with a huge grin, who faded in and out of view. ‘What makes them think they can move up here and start complaining about our Primarks and our Tesco Metros?’

‘Before you can say no to a planning application, they’re letting off rookies and insisting they won’t be druv, whatever that is’, said an old man with a white beard, unaccountably doing a handstand.

‘But’, said Boy indignantly, ‘Just because people come from the same town doesn’t mean their views are identical.’

‘Have a nibble of this, mate’, said the pipe-smoking guy, rummaging in his bag. ‘See if it don’t make you feel better.’

Feeling discombobulated, Boy ate some of the mushrooms the guy handed him. At once, the scene dissolved and he was sat at a table in a pub, a bit like the Gardeners except women were allowed. A toff in a top hat immediately cried, ‘There’s no room!’

As Boy began to protest that there was in fact, plenty of room, a girl wearing bunny ears said lazily, ‘No room for any more Lewesians with your cerr-azy striped jumpers and your misguided persecution complexes.’ Her head then fell forward into a teapot.

To steady his nerves, Boy took a sip of an unspecified brown liquid which tasted rather like Harvey’s Best. Instantly he shrank to the size of a dormouse, at which point everyone in the pub started throwing darts at each other. Terrified, Boy cowered under the table, the noise of darts hammering against the wood like a machine gun, and wished he was back home.

When he opened his eyes he was back to his usual size and sitting in the real Gardeners, pint and paper where he’d left them, but there was still a persistent thudding noise. He went outside, and found the street filled with dozens of people dancing wildly, nails fitted to the soles of their boots.

Thank goodness – back to sanity.

Beth Miller, 14th July 2009. Picture by Suzie Fox. Published in and in Viva Lewes magazine, August 2009.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

When I go swimmin' with the wimmin' , ee I do have a real good time

'Totally up for it, Lad', I heard Man of the House say, as I staggered in with the shopping. 'I'll tell the missus we're just going for a drink.'

Intrigued, I silently put down the bags.

'I know! Barenaked ladies as far as the eye can see', Man continued, and I readied myself to jump aboard the Conclusion Train to Obvious.

'See you there, Lad, dress code casual.' Sniggering, he put down the phone, then delivered a classic double-take when he saw me posing coolly in the doorway, smoking a cheroot. The impact was only slightly marred by me coughing my guts out, and ten minutes passed before the interrogation could begin.

Man stopped hovering solicitously with water and tissues and said, 'It's a right-on political cause.'

'The nude swimming party at the Pells, presumably?'

'It's to support, er', he looked quickly at the flier, 'naked bike riding. It's about sustainability and stuff.'

'Yes, the message about the vulnerability of cyclists is clearly stated by a load of starkers old goats going swimming and leering.'

Man sulked. 'I'll call Lad and cancel.'

'I think you should go', I said.

Man did another double-take. It's good to retain an element of surprise in a long-term relationship, isn't it? And it had occurred to me that if he went, I could write about it without actually having to go. I only venture into a swimming pool if I've brought my Victorian bathing machine, from which I slowly emerge, clad from neck to ankle in a baggy knitted suit.

Everyone loves the Pells though. If I'm not swimming I sit under a tree, tartan rug round my knees, watching the jollification. Teenagers snog on the table-tennis table, then leap into the hormone-freezing water. Toddlers excavate the paddling pool for treasure: Thing Two recently brought me a dead spider. Adults sunbathe and, depending on temperament, tut at noisy children, frown at petting adolescents, or scream at deceased arachnids.

On Saturday, Man of the House sloped off for a riotous evening of au naturel splashing, while I enjoyed a nice solitary time of macrame and absinthe. When he returned he was grumpy, complaining that Lad had ditched him, no-one had talked to him, and that he'd spent most of the time having to think about Ann Widdecombe.

Lad came round next day with a different tale. 'It was brilliant! Best night ever. Loads of lovely ladies.' He started to unbutton his trousers. 'That bird I really liked wrote her phone number across my derriere', he said cheerily to Man, as I backed hastily out of the room, 'can you copy it down?'

Moments later Man laughed so loudly, I had to come back in. Across the wobbly pink canvas, Lad's new friend had written, 'Seen enough thanks', in waterproof marker pen.

We took the kids to the Pells next day. Man brought a rug and sat under the tree with me. It was nice to have the company.

Beth Miller, 6th July 2009. Published in and in Viva Lewes magazine, July 2010. Photo by Alex Leith

Friday, July 3, 2009

So let's have another cup of coffee, and let's have another piece of pie

In need of a splunge sprocket for my bike (yes, I had definitely understood the Cliffe free bike repairman), I ambled off to Court Mowers. On the way, I reflected that no matter what strange commerce has lately come to Lewes, Court Mowers’ unlit cavern of scraps of metal is eternal. It’s run by kindly gentlemen who don’t mind how many bits your bike is in; they will happily spend hours pottering with spanners and other manly accoutrements, then hand you an itemised bill as long as this sentence, ending with a gloriously specific and tiny sum such as £2.48.

But, as Sidney Sheldon reminds us, nothing lasts for ever, and to my consternation, I discovered that Court Mowers had burned down. Now I would never again watch the staff shrug on leather jackets and break into a rendition of Greased Lightning. And who would fit my flange spracket now?*

* Well, Court Mowers’ mobile service would, but such easy resolution does not fit this narrative.

As I reeled from the senseless cruelty of the universe, I noticed a new shop next door. Called the Homelycake, it was not just another victoria sponge vendor: it was the last straw, the critical mass, the tipping point. Lewes had entered a Café Event Horizon, where it’s impossible to open anything other than a café, and no-one outside can see the town for the steam emitted by espresso machines.

I began an urgent survey of Lewes refreshment rooms. It took a long time, because, not wanting to be mistaken for a snooper, I forced myself to have a steadying cuppa and an iced bun in each one. First up, Buttercup Café, newly inserted into an antiques shop, iced bun, rather good. Oh look, this isn’t a review – take it as read that the iced buns were good everywhere, through they did seem to get less appetising the further I went.

Next, Le Magasin, a newsagent/furniture shop/bakery, where I listened to Hoxton Mum telling me how ‘vair, vair, busy’ she was, until someone bought the table we were sitting at. Onwards, to Doorsteps Café, then Bills, where iced buns are garnished with loganberries, and where I saw Hoxton Mum across the room, wiping cappuccino froth from her lip and mouthing, ‘so vair busy’.

The Riverside – upstairs and down; Costa Coffee, followed by a little breather in Boots, sniffing shampoo. Steamer Trading and Wickle (both contain cafes, you pedant); Robsons, Artisans (is it café or restaurant? I don’t know but I took a pleasant iced bun there, as did Hoxton Mum, who waved merrily from a chaise longue); Needlemakers, Lewes Patisserie (hi Hoxie!), Fillers, Neros, and finally, the CasBah.

By now I was sick with anger, and rang our MP to complain.

‘I know a good place to meet and discuss it’, Mr Baker said, ‘Laporte’s Café – have you tried it?’

I was going to cycle there, but considering my broken flunge spricket, and broken spirit, stayed at home to read the latest Sidney Sheldon instead.

Beth Miller, 30th June 2009. Published in Photo by Alex Leith