Saturday, August 29, 2009

Somebody’s tears are in this onion, and the market is in our blood

First Saturday of each month, Pells Boy gets up early and goes into town, wicker basket on his arm. Decked out in his finest shabby-chic gear, he walks purposefully, heading towards the bustling Farmers Market. It’s become something of a tradition.

Then, abruptly, at the very last moment, he veers ostentatiously to the left in front of Boots, and goes to Tescos. He buys a few trifling items there, puts the carriers in the basket - Tescos logo uppermost - and returns to the Cliffe to parade up and down, swinging the basket for all to see. If he doesn't quite chant, 'Ner ner ner ner', it's only because he hasn't thought of it.

It’s hard to pinpoint what troubles him about the Farmers Market, because he’s incoherent on the subject.

‘It’s just, so, you know!’ he rants.


‘So, so, so, so!’ he splutters, then resorts to specific abuse of the customers:

People buying gluten- and dairy-free cakes (‘Pointless. Chipboard tastes better’)

People eating courgette pakoras messily on the street

People queuing to buy cherries (‘When there are perfectly nice cherries in Tescos’)

People saying, ‘You can’t beat the quality of Boathouse pork’

People buying chutney (‘Why, Pells Boy?’ ‘Because chutney is completely smug’)

People saying ‘Ooh look’ at the Pretend Parmesan stall

People buying produce purely because it’s seasonal (‘Even chard, and no-one likes that’)

People doing all this in the cold and rain because of the warm, dry, virtuous glow they get from not shopping in a supermarket

Grange Girl is appalled. ‘I love the Farmers Market’, she cries, trugulently swinging her trug.

This is why I keep my friends separate.

‘It’s perfect for catching up with people’, Grangey says. ‘I just stand in the middle of the Cliffe, and sooner or later everyone I know passes by. I can do all my socialising in one morning, then I don’t have to do any for the rest of the month.’

Aging Lad is also pro-market, because his second-favourite past-time is chatting. ‘That’s fascinating’, you can hear him say to the attractive young hippy at the Transition Town stall, as he leans in a little closer. ‘So buying Colombian coffee with Lewes Pounds cuts right down on carbon emissions? Tell me more.’

But Born-and-Bred Boy is anti. ‘Lewes is too crowded nowadays’, he says. ‘When I were a lad, it were always nice and quiet on a Saturday in’t town centre. You could hear the tumbleweed blowing across t’street, and that’s how I like it. Ay-oop.’

Boy holds the belief that a cod-Yorkshire accent strengthens his argument.

The other night when Pells Boy dropped in unexpectedly at supper time, all I had in the freezer was a splendid spinach and lamb pie from the Farmers Market. He scoffed it down happily. Once I’d cooked it, obviously.

‘Is this a Tescos Finest?’ he asked indistinctly, mouth full of pastry. To avoid a terrible scene, I told him it was. He nodded.

‘Thought so’, he said, ‘Excellent. Is there any more?’

Beth Miller, 14th August 2009. Published in

Friday, August 14, 2009

Everybody makes a row, down on Jollity Farm

Last week, I described my failure to farm out the children. Today, I turn instead to farms.

Did you know that farms are no longer smelly places where Eddie Grundy swigs a magnum of cider, vaguely tries to milk a pig, then gets mown down by Tony Archer in a Massey Ferguson?

No, most of them have transmogrified into high-gloss activity centres of childish joy and screaming. Far from requiring subsidies, these places are now, well, cash cows I guess is the most apposite phrase. All right Farmer Giles, put down your rifle, I’m just kidding.

Many a happy family scene can be enjoyed at these new kinds of farms, including ‘stop the child eating the sheep pellet’, ‘handle the monster tantrum caused by giving the farm their Shetland pony back’, and ‘say no no no no oh bloody hell all right then’ to ice-lollies, plastic snakes, Dora Explorer beanie-babies and other excessively marked-up bits of tat which offer final proof that modern life has gone to hell in a hay-wain. What? Yes, sorry, doctor. Just taking the meds now.

Here, then, is my handy cut out and keep (or download and ditch) guide to home-tested summer farm fun for kids! Exclamation marks free of charge! At least something is!

Spring Barn Farm Park, Lewes
Entry fee: HOW MUCH??
Pros: Rather good pedal go-karts, and the popular bouncy pillow. Indoor stuff to do if it rains. Nice café. Other purchasing opportunities mainly limited to packets of chicken-feed, which cost, well, chicken-feed.
Cons: Too many words in its name, becomes Spring Fark Parm. Grown-ups humiliating themselves on the bouncy pillow. Children wearing fleeces should keep away from the hay-bales, unless you want to pick straw out of your house, car and hair for the rest of your life.

Heaven Farm, North Chailey
Entry fee: Cheap as chips.
Pros: When Thing Two dropped his ice-cream, they replaced it for free. Hokey corn-dolly craft shop. Heaven Farm allows immense scope for imaginative outdoor play, because…
Cons: There’s not much to do there.

Washbrooks Farm, Hurstpierpoint
Entry fee: Somewhere between Spring Sparn Bark and Heaven Farm.
Pros: Tractor rides and trampolines. Ain’t nowhere better to see painted plastic cows.
Cons: The alien-painted plastic cow produces terror in small children, and horror in adults who think plastic cows should have the decency to look realistic.

Middle Farm, Firle
Entry fee: None (usually).
Pros: Suitably Lewes-ish organic food shop. Shed where parents can sample Eddie Grundy’s cider.
Cons: Becoming increasingly bewildered and losing the children after too much time in the cider shed.

Seven Sisters Sheep Centre, East Dean
Entry fee: Not as cheap as you were imagining.
Pros: Good for explaining trajectory from cute fluffy baby lamb to Irish stew.
Cons: Full of sheep.

Blackberry Farm, Whitesmith
Entry fee: Almost as bracing as Spring Spark Farg.
Pros: Haven’t been there yet so it’s probably the farm I’ve been waiting for.
Cons: Their website ominously boasts of ‘high quality toys’ in the gift shop, which is asking for trouble.

Beth Miller, 11th August 2009. Published in Photo by John McGowan

Friday, August 7, 2009

School's been blown to pieces

Country Mouse rang last week.

Country Mouse: ‘Aaaargh!’

Me: ‘Aaaargh!’

CM: ‘I’ve smoked a whole pack of cigs and it’s only nine thirty.’

Me: ‘Since when did you smoke?’

CM: ‘Desperate times, love. So, what are we going to do?’

Me: ‘I have no strategies. None. What. So. Ever.’

CM: ‘Okay, here’s mine so far. [Sound of cigarette lighter flaring; lengthy list being unravelled.] Tennis club, three days. Scuba-diving club, two days. Ju-jitsu club, only one day but that’s better than a slap round the face with a haddock.’

Me: ‘Or karate chop with a haddock?’

CM: [Ignoring me] ‘Drama club, five days, total result that one, but I did book in February. Patisserie club, three days. Phew!’

Me: ‘It does seem quite a busy schedule for a five year old.’

CM: ‘So go on then, really, no messing, what have you booked for Thing One? I’ve still got a week to fill and I was going to pinch some ideas.’

Me: [Rustling Boden catalogue to sound like impressively big list.] ‘Okay. Playground at Neville, one hour. Playground at Bell Lane, one hour. Playground at Paddock, one hour. Playground at bottom of Cliffe, thirty minutes. Well that one hasn’t got much equipment. Let’s see, that’s three and a half hours, so now I’ve only got six weeks minus three and a half hours to fill.’

CM: [Long pause] ‘Actually you’ll have to go with her, so the three and a half hours don’t count as time you can work.’

Me: ‘Fair point. Though I could probably answer a couple of emails while I’m there. The ones telling me I’ve been sacked, for instance.’

CM: ‘Must go, got to ring Hoxton Mum. She knows a pony-trekking club which still has places. Costs a bomb but it’s gold-dust – five days.’

I survey my empty calendar and try to remember what my parents did when I was off school for six weeks. Hot damn! They were teachers. Belatedly I give them credit for cleverness. Too late for me to be a teacher. Will have to employ low cunning instead.

Low cunning entails typing ‘Holiday clubs Lewes dear god help me’ into Google. It works – escis’s brilliant site has loads of ideas and I book Thing One onto everything.

I find her making her own holiday entertainment by sitting on Thing Two’s head, forcing him to sing every verse of ‘Leader of the Pack.’ When I give her the great news she informs me, to the muffled backing of ‘I can't hide the tears but I don't care’, that she is too young for holiday clubs. ‘I want to go to Spring Barn Farm every day. With you.’

I do the costings and it works out roughly the same as all the clubs. If you don’t factor in my loss of earnings. But hey, as I said to Country Mouse when she rang to offer me the final pony-trekking place, what price quality time with one’s child, eh?

She’s right, you know. Smoking really helps.

Beth Miller, 3rd August 2009. Published in