Thursday, October 29, 2009

It's not easy being green

Now there’s a nip in the air, it isn’t much fun round Grange Girl’s house. ‘Put the heating on?!’ she shrieked, as though I’d suggested she perform the dance of the seven woolly scarves. ‘You just need a couple more layers.’

Grangey, I noted, was wearing enough clothes to win a Michelin Man lookey-likey competition. She also had one of those Tibetan ear-flap hats that don’t suit anyone from Wickle.

Pells Boy, sporting a donkey jacket and balaclava, rolled his eyes like an exasperated IRA man when I asked him what was going on. ‘10:10’, he said.

‘Oh, 10:10’, I replied, cluelessly. Was that when you could see really well? No, that was 20:20. No, wait, wasn’t 10:10 what those motorbike cops in Chips used to say to each other?

We drank lukewarm tea made from tap water. Apparently boiling kettles is definitely not 10:10.

‘My consciousness was raised’, said Grangey, ‘at a meeting last week at Lewes Werks’.

She explained that 10:10 was a pledge to cut your carbon emissions by 10% during 2010. There were so many tens in this explanation I was forced to have a biscuit. Meanwhile, Grangey demonstrated a gadget which showed her electricity usage. It was fascinating. When she put on a light, the meter jumped a tiny amount, but when she boiled the kettle (taken briefly out of its cupboard exile), the numbers went into orbit and an air raid siren went off. Pells Boy dived under the table and Grangey unplugged the kettle with a satisfied smile.

‘Lots of people and organisations are taking part’, she said, putting her hands in the fridge to warm them. ‘Waitrose, even.’

‘It must be all right’, I said, ‘if Waitrose are doing it.’

Pells Boy dusted himself down. ‘So what did they say at this meeting about local initiatives?’

‘Ooh, lots of things’, Grangey said, showing off her 10:10 metal tag wristband. ‘Um. We’re going to see if the Sussex Express will dedicate an issue to it.’

Pells Boy examined the tag covetously. ‘That would look good with my “Make Poverty History” wristband’.

‘I’m doing well’, Grangey said, ‘apart from driving to work. I’m car-sharing but of course that doesn’t count because I’m still using my car.’

‘Hang on’, I said, ‘aren’t you reducing overall emissions by giving someone a lift who would otherwise drive?’

‘Exactly’, she said, ‘he’s reducing his, but I’m not reducing mine.’

The cold must have addled my brain as I felt something was wrong with this but couldn’t say what, exactly.

Pells Boy stood up. ‘Better get going. Got to pack for our half-term trip to Disney World. God knows how we’ll keep the kids amused on a nine hour flight.’

There was a frosty silence after he’d gone.

‘I walked here’, I said to Grangey, hoping to cheer her up, but she was frowning.

‘It is quite parky, isn’t it?’ she said. ‘Perhaps I will put the heating on after all.’

Beth Miller, 20th October 2009. Published in Photo by Alex Leith

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Got along without you before I met you, gonna get along without you now

I like a faceless multiple as much as the next girl. Shop, I mean, not anything more Erica Jong. But I also appreciate Lewes’s independent stores. Alas, one of the most eccentric is sounding the last post.

Once, I thought I saw a light on in The Treasury and dashed perilously across the road, but it was just the reflection from a bus. A faded handwritten note on the door acknowledges its unconventional opening hours, which are, in fact, non-existent. Over the years, I developed a small Treasury obsession. I didn’t, quite, sleep on the doorstep, but always checked to see if it was open whenever I passed. It never was.

I guess it’s not that surprising it’s closing down. Most small shopkeepers will tell you it’s hard to scrape a living, but they do at least open occasionally to allow people the opportunity to give them money. Brilliant, I thought. Well, obviously not brilliant it was closing, but brilliant that at last I could get in there and see what I’d been missing.

But the opening hours remained merely theoretical. I began to fear that one day the shop would simply disappear, and a fully formed chi-chi boutique would spring in its place, an artfully arranged silk cushion in the window. Then last Friday, a new note: ‘Final sale, starts Friday 11am.’ It was ten o’clock. I had things to do. But still… this could be my only chance. I spent the waiting hour going into other shops that were promiscuously open any old time. How brazen they seemed.

At five past eleven, I pushed the door, and with an Edgar Allen Poe kind of creeeeeeaaak, it actually opened. At last!

It was choc-full of stuff, like a parlour owned by a granny who never throws anything away. There was in fact a granny in attendance, strangely unimpressed to see me considering I was the first customer since 1972. I looked round, and realised with a clang that I don’t like knick-knacks. Never have. I’d hoped to buy something – anything – but did I really want a Smurf figurine costing four quid? (Actually, not at four pence, to be honest.)

Even with the sale, everything was breathtakingly, bizarrely expensive. The shop was like something from the past, but the prices were set some unimaginable time in the future, like the twenty-sixth century.

I found a passable brooch and choked when the lady said, ‘Twenty pounds.’ As this was likely to be her only transaction this millennium, I proposed a spot of light haggling, thinking to reach a fair compromise – say 75p. But she just gave a little sigh, and began pencilling implausible prices onto old postcards.

I asked when she was next open.

‘What’s today?’ she said vaguely, and I said ‘Friday’, adding, ‘October, 2009’, for clarity.

‘I’ll open again on Monday’.

‘Really?’ I said. It seemed a trifle hasty.

‘Monday’, she confirmed, and as I opened the door, said unapologetically, ‘From one to two o’clock.’

Beth Miller, 13th October 2009. Published in

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Shock Horror Non-Lewes Blog Alert (makes noise of emergency sirens)

If you like trashy tv, you oughta have a look at a marvellous blog called pauselive action. Particularly as they have just asked me to contribute to it.

To see my ramblings on episode 1 of True Blood, which is posted under my pen-name of Qwerty, or read some of the other writers' splendid posts on Masterchef, Corrie, X Factor etc, follow this here link.

And to see my summary of the splatter-fest that is episode 2, click here.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

You had one eye on the mirror, as you watched yourself gavotte

I was talking to two hip young things in Brighton when the subject of Lewes came up, as I find it so often does when I’m around. Immediately they both cried, ‘Oh, lovely Lewes’, and began comparing notes about the perfect day-trips they’d taken here when their parents came to stay.

Because of Bonfire, plus a slightly wacky art scene, an alternative approach to pound coins, and, er, Bonfire, Lewes sees itself as the town equivalent of a streetwise hoodie-wearing young shaver. Whereas everyone outside thinks it’s a terrific place to bring aging relatives for tea and a potter round the antique shops.

Whether you usually swan about in a black turtle-neck pretending you’re off to meet Jack Kerouac for an aubergine smoothie in Bill’s; or wear your jeans half-way down your thighs and rattle on about what a bare nang time you had getting hamstered down the Volly, innit, even you must have noticed that when your parents pay a visit, they think Lewes is NICE. They cluck at the dear little shops and pretty views. They drag you the length of the High Street, clutching a copy of Pevsner, insisting you show them the town walls. They will not believe you when you say you have never heard of any town walls. They will find those walls and they will insist that you accompany them.

‘Come along’, they boom, fortified by a nice cuppa in Shelleys, and the chance to inform you that the porch dates from 1577. ‘There are other interesting buildings down the Cliffe. Pevsner says one of them has unmistakeable ammonite capitals to the giant pilasters.’

‘Uh huh?’ you say flatly, trudging ten paces behind. Be you turtle-neck or knee-jeans, you will mutate into a sullen adolescent with unmistakeable flattened slouch to your giant shoulders.

In the same way that I have finally come to accept that no glossy magazine is ever going to ask me for my beauty secrets (‘clear boot polish keeps my skin looking fresh’), it’s about time Lewes stopped deluding itself. Hey Lewes? No-one thinks you’re edgy, okay? You are not about to be dubbed Brighton-on-the-Ouse. Deal with it.

The other day I was chatting to Waitrose Wench about how our mothers like to inspect the boutiques, for the sheer pleasure of gasping, ‘that’s four million shillings in real money!’ My Mum once did Flint and Flint At Home in one go, and had to spend the next day lying down.

‘Last time my parents were here’, she said, ‘I did try to show them the real Lewes.’

I was intrigued. ‘What IS the real Lewes?’

‘I don’t know, but I was sick of the Keere-Street-Anne-of-Cleves-Fifteenth-Century-Bookshop stuff they always want to do. So I took them to a warehouse all-nighter down at the Phoenix Quarter.’

‘And did this convince them there was more to the place than twittens and teacakes?’

‘Not really. They said it was a sweet party, but the music could do with being a little louder.’

Beth Miller, 7th October 2009. Published in Photo by Alex Leith

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Nobody does it better, makes me feel sad for the rest

It’s so pleasurable to watch someone at the height of their professional powers, one who can command a room with their charisma. In public life, Barak Obama and Bruce Forsythe spring to mind.

In Lewes, of course, we have the Scottish guy in the parking shop. I feel bad that my shoddy research didn’t extend to finding out his name. Last time I was there I intended to conduct an incisive interview, but Scottish guy (let’s call him Glen, after Glenfiddich, another fine Scottish export), overwhelmed me with his easy manner. The only question I managed to ask was ‘Please can I have a totally unnecessary pack of Zone E visitor’s permits?’

Minutes later I found myself outside, a tenner down, smiling inanely. Well, it’s so good to see a virtuoso at work. And how tremendous to find that the universally reviled parking scheme, with its Cold War approach to customer relations, has such a genial and urbane public face. It gives you faith.

Ahead of me in the queue was a very angry man. He’d bought a ticket, but being printed on the sort of paper that makes tissue look hard, it had fluttered to the floor. The Blue Meanies love those. They code them as ‘blow-downs’, did you know that? Well, you should have seen Glen handle the situation.

If you want a good old-fashioned shout at your bank or phone provider, you’ll get some sap who’s been ‘taught’ how to handle you (eg they went on a two-hour training session run by Jeanette from Personnel, and spent half that time trying to operate the tea urn). You rant on, even though they keep looking at their watch; or if on the phone, you know they’re holding the receiver in the air, making ‘I’ve got a live one here’ faces at colleagues. They won’t take any responsibility even though they work for the company, and their voice is so emotionless you get even crosser, which Jeanette might have told them had she not been so busy playing them hilarious calls which had been recorded for training purposes.

How different with Glen. He listened properly to the thrilling ticket-on-floor saga, nodding, tutting and sympathising. Then he gently explained the options for an appeal. A good man in a bad world, maintaining standards while civilizations tumble. Mr Angry left, if not exactly happy, then satisfied he had truly been heard.

It had been a while since I’d enjoyed one of Glen’s master classes in people management. So imagine my anguish when I discovered he had moved on. Head-hunted by Northern Rock, presumably, or the Labour Party, or other organisation desperate for a decent front man. Poor you, if you’ve never been to the parking shop, or only been there in the grip of murderous ticket-related rage, rendering you less susceptible to fulsome appreciation. You have missed out.

Mind you, the woman who told me the sad news was smiley and helpful, so perhaps she’s a worthy successor. I’ll go in for more unwanted permits and find out.

Beth Miller, 30th September 2009. Published in

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Competition Answers

I haven't been inundated by entries. But those of you who did manage to send in your answers will be hearing from me shortly, she said ominously.

The answers:

1. So let's have another cup of coffee, and let's have another piece of pie - 'Let's Have Another Cup of Coffee' (meant to be an easy one to start you off. I don't know who sang it but it was written by Irving Berlin.)

2. I've been to Paradise, but I've never been to me - 'I've Never Been to Me' by Charlene. Where is she now, eh? Still being undressed by kings, no doubt.

3. The only women makin' it are women who are shakin' it - 'You've Got To Be A Hustler If You Want To Get On' by Sue Wilkinson. A classic. I still have the vinyl single, daddio.

4. Save it til' the morning after - 'Save A Prayer' by Duran Duran

5. We can't rewind we've gone too far - 'Video Killed the Radio Star' by Buggles

6. So kiss me and smile for me, tell me that you'll wait for me - 'Leaving On A Jet Plane' by lots of people. Peter Paul & Mary? John Denver (oh dear).

7. These little town blues, are melting away - 'New York New York' by Frank Sinatra

8. Cos you left me, just when I needed you most - 'You Left Me Just When I Needed You Most' by Randy Vanwarmer. See, another one with the answer in the question.

9. That's why they call me Second Hand Rose - 'Second Hand Rose' by Barbra Streisand. Gosh, I was just giving 'em away.

10. Your socks smell of angels, but your life smells of brie - 'Don't Marry Her' by the Beautiful South

11. And I'm feeling very sick and ill today - 'What Difference Does it Make?' by the Smiths

12. I know where it's at, if you wanna have a good time - 'I Know Where It's At' by the All Saints

13. And you may ask yourself, well... how did I get here? - 'Once in a Lifetime' by Talking Heads

14. Don't follow leaders, watch the parkin' meters - 'Subterranean Homesick Blues' by Rockin' Bobby D

15. Tell me that you want the kind of thing that money just can't buy - 'Can't Buy Me Love' by the Beatles

16. Bang, bang, the mighty fall - 'Bang Bang' by BA Robertson.

17. That's the old stream that I long to cross - 'Old Man River'

18. Love that's only slightly soiled - 'Love for Sale'

19. Anything is possible when you're sowing the seeds of love - 'Sowing the Seeds of Love' by Tears for Fears (when I was a girl we called them TfF for short)

20. I was so upset that I cried all the way to the chip shop - 'Jilted John' by Jilted John