Monday, November 23, 2009

You gotta fight for your right to party

In your teens and twenties, parties are simple and require no more preparation than an extra spritz of deodorant. ‘I’m going to a party’ means, ‘I’m going to have such a good time that I will weave home in an ambulance at five in the morning, memory banks wiped, underpants on my head.’

Once you have kids, the meaning changes slightly. ‘I’m going to a party’ now translates as, ‘I will accompany a toddler to the draughty hall at the leisure centre, where she will eat two thousand hula-hoops and leap on the bouncy castle till she goes right over the Puking Plimsoll Line. Meanwhile I will drink extra-dilute orange squash and, via the power of mime, help the host ensure that every child has their turn in a game of Push the Immensely Heavy Parcel Because There’s a Gift in Every Layer Not Like When I was a Child Just Opening the Wrapping Was Fun Enough For Us.’

There are years of this to look forward to, but gradually, parents start finding baby-sitters and learn how to stay awake long enough to contemplate going to grown-up parties. Now is the time to brush up your student party skills, because the ones you’ve developed more recently won’t do. You’ll have to kick such habits as cramming eight chocolate fingers into your mouth so the kids can’t get them. Your dancing needs to be more sophisticated than the moves which brought down the house during Musical Statues.

However, there are some pre-child party tactics which you don't need to re-visit. For instance, you won’t need to stand at the door brandishing a bottle of Blue Nun, muttering, ‘Friends of Dave. No, hang on, Steve.’ At a grown-up party, the hosts will have invited you, and will let you in. Unless you’ve brought Blue Nun, obviously.

And once in, you won’t need to lean enticingly against the wall saying things like, ‘Oh god yes the White Stripes are awesome’ because you’re not trying to get off with anyone. Unless you get invited to different sorts of parties to me, in which case, go and swing smugly somewhere else.

Cycle Girl had a party last week. It was going to be perfect: within walking distance, proper cocktails, cheesy music, loads of drunk friendly people. For the first time in ages, Man of the House and I were ready to PARD-EEEE! We dressed up. We practised talking about something other than our children. We swapped the Blue Nun for Piat D'Or. In short, we were fired up. Amped. Buzzing.

Then our baby-sitter arrived, and said she was going out clubbing later, so could we be home by 11.30? This was a blow. Most of our partying comrades stayed till three o’clock, claiming to remember nothing after they’d put their pants on their heads. Yet in fact it was the perfect grown-up party compromise. We went out and had a great time, but were still fresh enough to stagger downstairs at seven next morning and turn on CBeebies.

Beth Miller, 17th November 2009. Published in and in Viva Lewes magazine, December 2009. Photo by Alex Leith

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Can't get used to losing you no matter what I try to do

I don’t know what it is about me and Bonfire, but the phrase which springs to mind concerns my inability to arrange a jolly good session in Harvey’s brewery. Every year I am fully armed with all the programmes; yet every year I’m on Grange Road when the procession’s on Southover, or hanging about at Boots when everyone else is at the War Memorial. I feel the heat of the flames, but by the time I arrive, there’s nothing left but a smouldering torch in the gutter.

On the plus side, I’ve never taken a rookie in the face, and I do get an awfully good view. Of boarded up shop-fronts, admittedly.

This year, I hoped it would be different. We mustered promptly outside the Kings Head, and to the sound of the band and the lights of cars coming straight at us, we followed the Southover procession up Priory Street.

‘Going at quite a clip, aren’t they?’ puffed Grangey, as we broke into a run to try and keep up. It was like the London Marathon. When Thing One objected to being yanked along between us, her feet off the ground, we slowed down and watched the parade disappear round the corner.

On the way into town we got distracted by the guy selling light-up toys – at least this year we got the laser home before it broke, so it was well worth FOUR QUID - and could find no sign of Southover when we reached the Cliffe. Then we heard, far away, a series of splashes indicating they’d thrown the crosses in the Ouse without us. We looked unsuccessfully for another Society to chase, then milled aimlessly about, following groups of people at random. In this manner we were swept against our will, first into the Volunteer, then into a group of Japanese teenagers chucking rookies, and finally into someone’s house when they popped home to get another sweater.

Then a woman said confidently, ‘Down the Cliffe now’, and we turned to see a DFL-FB family, in matching Barbours. We followed closely. ‘Jonty reckoned this would be the best place’, she said, stationing her group outside Spectrum Opticians. ‘Five minutes till the next procession’.

She handed out sparklers, snacks and drinks to her brood. When the littlest child asked for the toilet, he was told, ‘Pop across the road to number 10, Gilly said it would be fine.’ Thing One watched in awe, clearly planning to swap mothers immediately.

Exactly as the woman had predicted, the parade went past. We got to see everything, for the first time ever. In the ensuing silence, we turned to our guru to see what we were going to do next.

‘Hot chocolate at number 17’, she said, consulting her list, ‘before relocating for the next procession.’

Off they went, to their lovely pit-stop, and then it was just us, standing in the cold.

‘Might as well go home’, said Grangey, ‘We’ll never find the damn thing by ourselves.’

Beth Miller, 10th November 2009. Published in Photo by Carly Moorman

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Nobody, no, nobody, is gonna rain on my parade!

'A pirate?’
‘A squaw?’
‘Do you see feathers?’
‘Um, a Tudor lady?’
‘For goodness sake!’

‘Hang on, it’s on the tip of my tongue’, I said unconvincingly.

Hoxton Mum, looking cross, stood before me draped in a long hooded brown cloak. ‘I’m obviously a monk’, she harrumphed.

I gestured wordlessly to the scarlet corset and purple bordello skirt she wore under the open cloak, which had thrown me off the scent somewhat.

‘A tad late in the day getting to Ann’s Attic’, she said airily. ‘There wasn’t much left.’ Then she sniffed. ‘Anyway, on its own, the monk’s costume is just too brown. And brown is very last season.’

Hoxton Mum was dead excited about her first procession. ‘Last year, of course, we went away. Django was too little for all the bangy noises. And the year before…’ she sighed, ‘we were still in dear old Shoreditch, the world’s art, culture and food on our doorstep.’

‘Still’, she shook herself, ‘Bonfire’s the thing, eh? Got to get in the spirit. Corset’s a bit bally tight, though.’

It struck me on the way home that Hoxton Mum hadn’t even been to Bonfire as an observer. I gave Born-and-Bred Boy a call. He’s not been keen on fireworks since he was six and his uncle shoved a sparkler down his trousers, but he always participates out of family duty. And a chance to return the favour to his uncle.

‘It’s Hoxie’s first time. She thinks it’s going to be like the Notting Hill Carnival.’

‘It will be like that’, he said, ‘Except with less William Hagues and more flaming torches.’

‘Will you keep an eye on her?’ I asked.

‘Sure’, he said, with an evil chuckle. ‘There’ll be a few rookies with her name on.’

Clearly, Boy had been permanently scarred by his youthful experience. I rang off and called Supermum and Therapy Lass to an emergency summit in The Patisserie.

‘Been making torches in our back garden with the Society’, said Supermum, who was liberally doused in Eau de Paraffin. ‘Lovely community feel, the babies rolling around on the grass whilst all around people make incendiary devices.’

‘Hoxie’ll be all right if she looks like an old hand’, Therapy Lass soothed. ‘There’s always someone – not Society – who likes to startle new recruits.’

‘Rookie the rookies, you mean’, said Supermum thoughtfully, stirring her latte. ‘Still, you say she’s keeping it simple with a monk’s costume. Long as she doesn’t add anything, she’ll pass unnoticed.’

I ran back to Wallands at speed. Hoxton Mum answered the door, still in her corset. ‘Lysander rather likes it’, she said bashfully. ‘He’s suggested I wear it to cook dinner.’

I brushed her domestic peccadilloes to one side. ‘Listen Hoxie, about your costume…’

Then I noticed she was brandishing a small blue flashlight.

‘What’s that for?’

‘I’m so prepared’, she laughed, ‘I know everyone carries torches so I’ve put fresh batteries in my Maglite.’

Beth Miller, 4th November 2009. Published in and in Viva Lewes magazine, November 2010. Photo by Alex Leith

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Needlewriters Fine Writing, Thursday December 10th

Listen to readings, accompanied by delicious food and drink, at the Needlemakers Café, West Street, Lewes


Beth Miller, like Orson Welles, had a strong early career, with many story and poetry prizes. She was a burnt-out case by the age of ten. Now, after long fallow years of pointless academic publications and a lager commercial, she is working on the final draft of a novel. She writes a column for Viva Lewes.

Paul Matthews is the author of two books on the creative process, Sing Me the Creation and Words in Place (both Hawthorn Press) and a poetry collection,The Ground that Love Seeks (Five Seasons Press). Paul was the founder of Poetry OtherWise at Emerson College. He travels widely, offering workshops in creative writing, and reading his poetry.

Robyn Young is the author of the bestselling Brethren Trilogy, set during the Crusades, which has been translated into nineteen languages. In 2007, Robyn was named as one of Waterstone's 25 authors of the future. She has a Masters in creative writing from the University of Sussex and lives in Brighton.



If you plan to have supper at the Café, it’s probably a good idea to arrive in time to order and eat before the readings start.
- TICKETS: £5 (£3 unwaged and claiming benefit)
in advance from Skylark (Needlemakers) or at the door on the night.

(for details and map see

Sunday, November 1, 2009

The ghouls all came from their humble abodes

Every October, newspapers re-hash articles about how shocking or something is our wholesale adoption of American Halloween customs. Frankly, my mind always tends to wander while reading these yawn-some stories, distracted by the much more interesting accompanying photos of spooky skeleton masks. I love Halloween and all its devilish works, especially the way it annoys the sort of people who want to ban Harry Potter.

When I was a kid Halloween was a complete non-event, but now there are lots of brilliant things to buy, thanks to those crazy Yanks on their merchandise-lovin’ broomsticks. And I really enjoy all the new traditions, such as bombing down the A27 to Asda on 30th October, praying they haven’t run out of black and orange tat; or swearing as your carved pumpkin, despite every effort, still looks like John Prescott.

Things One and Two adore what they call ‘trickle treating’. This being Lewes, of course, treats tend more towards an organic satsuma than a fun-sized mars bar, but the Things are still young enough to say thank you anyway, given a prompt from the parent hiding in the hydrangea. It hasn’t yet occurred to them to squirt the fruit-offerer with purple ink.

Last year, most houses in our street put a lantern in their windows, with its traditional meaning of yes you can knock on my door and demand chocolate with menaces, but only tonight, right? Tonight I will laugh and pretend to be scared. Tomorrow I really will be scared and will call the police. Thing One wore a wizard costume, cobbled together from my extensive Goth phase. Thing Two had a crisis of confidence about the ghost costume I’d lovingly run up for him by cutting two holes in a sheet, and opted instead to dress as well-known fright-meister, Batman.

They found it a complete thrill, trotting about the darkened street, meeting neighbours they rarely see by day, and they were welcomed generously with satsumas. Only one house gave them the sort of sweets that, two or three decades ago, directly caused my seventeen fillings; and I had to confiscate them on the grounds of wanting to see if they tasted the same, err, I mean not wanting my children to experience the misery of cavities.

They were scared just once: when they started towards one particular house and I screamed ‘NO!’ Thing One recoiled, her complexion green with more than just face-paint. ‘Is that the witch’s house?’ she whispered.

The job description of every childhood includes being terrified of (or tormenting of, depending on numbers), a witch’s house in the neighbourhood. I’ve only lately realised that these houses are simply occupied by people who don’t like children and shout frighteningly at them for sport. When the Things saw a curtain twitch they bolted, as though chased by ghouls.

We’re all set for trickle-treating this weekend. Bag of teeth-rot for callers, check. Parliamentarian pumpkin, check. Random superhero costumes, check. Garlic and crosses for the witch’s house – you betcha.

Beth Miller, 27th October 2009. Published in in Viva Lewes magazine, October 2012.