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 VivaLewes.com. Photo by Alex Leith