Friday, May 29, 2009

We can't rewind we've gone too far

Uncle Adultery lounged miserably on our sofa, fresh from another calamitous attempt at reconciliation with Emmanuelle.

‘The fairer sex’, he sighed woefully, ‘What are they good for, really?’

I coughed loudly and he said, ‘Present company excepted, of course, Niecey’, but his usual debonair courtesy was lacking. Did I mention he had a black eye?

Thing One painted Uncle A’s fingernails with felt-tip pen to try and cheer him, and Thing Two followed through with a stirring rendition of ‘I had a little turtle’(lyrics on request), but Uncle A batted them away with concussion-inducing cuffs round the ear.

‘Put these fiends to bed’, he urged, ‘I need to curl up with a large Campari and a decent film.’

He rejected all our DVDs, explaining, ‘I need something misogynistic if I am to make it to the dawn’, so we walked to Station Street to hire a film. Uncle A entertained himself on the way by muttering at every passing woman, ‘How many hearts have you broken, jezebel?’, but then, quelle horreur, we arrived at MG&M Video only to discover that it had closed down.

Ah, all those happy evenings I’d spent there, laughing at Andrew McCarthy’s hair on the cover of ‘Pretty in Pink’. Of course, that was a few years ago, before I’d joined, but I’d been relying on everyone else to keep the shop going. Not for the first time I was appalled by the infinite selfishness of others. Uncle A peered through the window, saying ‘I think I can see some Russ Meyer, Niecey, is it worth us breaking in?’

I dragged him away because I was sure there was a video store on the Offham Road, but it had long gone. We bumped into Born and Bred Boy as he weaved out of the Ellie, and he confirmed that there was nowhere in Lewes to hire a movie other than the library; alas, closed for the night.

Born and Bred boy sized up Uncle A in a glance, and said, 'Girl trouble is it?'

Uncle A burst into racking sobs but Boy was unfazed. 'Come back to my gaff', he said. 'I've got loads of DVDs considerably more suited to your current situation than that Merchant-Ivory pap of hers’, and they set off arm in arm, me scurrying behind.

I was banished to the living room while Boy took Uncle A off to his basement media centre, but very shortly Uncle Adultery stuck his head round the door.

‘Uh, Niecey dear’, he said, ‘Do you mind if I spend the evening here? There’s one or two cinematic offerings I feel sure would improve my state of mind.’ Born and Bred Boy grabbed some beer from the fridge, and the two men disappeared downstairs without a backwards glance.

So there you have it. There is somewhere to borrow videos of an evening in Lewes, if you’re willing to suspend critical, aesthetic and moral judgement. Oh yes, and if you know where Born and Bred Boy lives.

Beth Miller, 26th May 2009. Published in Photo by Alex Leith

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

So kiss me and smile for me, tell me that you'll wait for me

Ordinarily, Grange Girl is phobic about the normal rules of social intercourse. She will hide behind a lamp-post rather than make small-talk with an acquaintance, and if you invite her out, will quiz you closely as to whether there will be ‘any people there’.

But bizarrely, put her in a shop and she is transformed – she simply has to banter. She banters so long and so amiably that anyone in a hurry is forced to take their custom elsewhere.

Lewes isn’t a brilliant town for repartee, compared with less englishly inhibited areas of Britain, such as, well, most of Britain. But there are some pockets of excellence, where a mundane exchange is given sparkle by a bit of old chat. These places make life just that bit more worth living. Particularly for Grangey, who otherwise can spend the entire week speaking only to her goldfish.

One of the happiest days of her recent life was arranging for us to go to a gig, because the few remaining tickets were secreted in banter shops across town. She flitted merrily between Laportes and Riks Disks, buying one at a time, drawing the shop-keepers into the drama of whether there would be enough. She enjoyed the quest considerably more than the gig, which she pronounced ‘too full of people’ and left early.

Grange Girl’s friend, Library Boy, once foolishly tried to emulate her parlaying skills in Waitrose. However, he merely bewildered a poor assistant by his attempts to sympathise with her long shift on the check-out. ‘And what time do you finish this evening?’ he chattered gamely, as she pressed the security button and had him escorted from the premises.

Elsewhere, with a little encouragement Catlin will lean his elbows on the counter and natter about the latest planning scandal. You can’t peruse the slab at the Riverside fishmongers without Terry himself him riffing about cunning ways with a grilled mullet. Say Cheese is unbeatable for a surreal chinwag, like the time they gave me ten good reasons to eat unpasteurised camembert despite my being pregnant.

Sometimes, however, for really top-notch chatter you have to shove your shop local in your bag for life, and get in the car. No-one gives better banter than my friend, the Postmistress of a nearby unnamed village. Her queues stretch out the door. Though whether this is due to the renown of her badinage, or because every transaction takes time beyond imagining, who can say?

The best place in Lewes for blether is of course the Runaway at the station, where they sprinkle magic onto every transaction. One morning, the man buying tea in front of Grange Girl mentioned his imminent flight to Europe. Instantly, the staff broke into an acapella rendition of ‘Leaving on a jet plane.’ Grange Girl, who normally would die of shame rather than hum a note, joined in with gusto, and soon the whole café was singing the chorus. Everyone then went on with their day uplifted, despite having missed their trains.

Beth Miller, 19th May 2009. Published in Photo by Alex Leith

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

These little town blues, are melting away

Let’s move to Lewes, piped the Guardian last Saturday, and readers unlucky enough to live elsewhere replied, why not? The information was a bit selective though, so here’s a more complete picture, offered by three diverse Lewes residents.

What’s going for it?
Hoxton Mum: ‘It’s such a warm, creative place with a lively art scene, but it’s a bit edgy too, with everyone talking about the Lewes Pound and Transition Town, so radical. Truly the spirit of good old Tom, er, Paine. Some superb little shops. And the wonderfully real Bonfire of course.’
Born and Bred Boy: ‘Bonfire, before anyone from London knew about it. Harveys. Dilraj. Pells Pool, though they won’t let teenagers skinny-dip at night anymore, health and safety gone mad.’
Aging Lad: ‘Excellent clubs in Brighton.’ [Reminded of the brief:] ‘Oh yes. Well, Lewes is full to bursting with eager single mums.’

The case against
Hoxton Mum: ‘Parking scheme. Tesco’s attempts at expansion. No permanent art-house cinema/theatre. A couple of galleries have closed lately.’
Born and Bred Boy: ‘Parking scheme. DFLs. Nowhere to buy socks. Wickle-Flint-McKewski. Posh tourists knocking you into the tables outside Bills.’
Aging Lad: ‘Parking scheme. Too many lesbian mothers who don’t look like lesbians.’

Well connected
Hoxton Mum: ‘There are frequent trains to Brighton and London, but otherwise I cycle nearly everywhere. We thought we’d really need the Landrover moving to the country, but we hardly get it out of the garage. Except on weekends, and to go to Waitrose, and the Griffin at Fletching.’
Born and Bred Boy: ‘There’s nowt wrong with the number 28 bus.’
Aging Lad: ‘I’ve had to sell my passion wagon – the parking tickets cost more than the insurance.’

Hoxton Mum: ‘Since things got crunchy we can’t manage the fees at Lewes New School, but Western Road’s a viable alternative with plenty of creative and vigilant parents.’
Born and Bred Boy: ‘Pells was good enough for me and it’s good enough for my kids.’
Aging Lad: ‘Some of the fifth-year girls at Priory look older than they are.’

Hang out at…
Hoxton Mum: ‘Bills – their natural smoothies are a healthy treat for your little ones. Django is really enjoying the toddler activities at the All Saints. And the Lewes Arms is superbly authentic.’
Born and Bred Boy: ‘Down the Pan watching Crawley get a good drubbing. Then over to the Gardeners for a pint of Best.’
Aging Lad: ‘Most of the totty’s gone from the Volunteer to the Ellie.’

Where to buy
Hoxton Mum: ‘Wallands has such a wonderful community vibe.’
Born and Bred Boy: ‘Don’t! For pity’s sake, just stay where you are!’
Aging Lad: ‘They ought to get a move on with the Phoenix thing, I reckon there’ll be some cool little flats down there.’

Bargain of the week
Hoxton Mum: ‘Everywhere, compared to London.’
Born and Bred Boy: ‘Loads of my old mates have had to move to Ringmer and [whispers] Uckfield.’
Aging Lad: ‘Tesco is doing two for one on six-packs of Budwar.’

Beth Miller, 11th May 2009. Published in

Thursday, May 7, 2009

We've got computers that can find us friends, Good, good, good technology

‘We’re visiting the big city for May half-term’, Country Mouse babbled excitedly down a crackling phone line. ‘Can you find out what’s going on and plan an itinerary?’

I’d finished describing a cunning publication called ‘Time Out’ before I realised that the Enormous Apple of which she spoke was actually Lewes. Her perspective’s sure been shot to ribbons since her move to Cold Comfort Farm.

‘Get researching’, she squeaked, ‘Ollie says he wants to see and do everything.’

As Oliver is two this might have been parental ventriloquism but I dutifully fired up the laptop and called on Ask Jeeves, part of my rearguard action against Google hegemony.

The obvious first port of call was Viva Lewes, but as you, discerning reader, are doubtless already tuned in to this wondrous gazette, and as I needed to find events three weeks’ hence, I surfed on.

My other favourite local site is, with its strangely compelling forum debates. After a brief lurk at a thread on people’s favourite seafood (mussels, save you having to look), I explored ‘what’s on’. Details for the end of May were a bit thin: the only listing for Sunday was the Lewes Bus Rally (see you there!)

The restaurant pages were fascinating. I was astonished at how many there were, till I noticed that new places, like Artisan, were simply added to raves from the grave, such as Leonies, memorable from the ‘90s because it embodied the truism that just because a waitress is dressed like a Lyons Corner House nippy doesn’t mean she will necessarily be efficient.

Bearing in mind Country Mouse’s recent rudeness about the pungent smells around town, I printed the restaurant list for her and circled Thackerays and Ransomes in red biro.

I then had Jeeves fetch me Lewes online, though their ‘what’s on’ section lazily directed me to the Lewes District Council website. ‘Why bother having it at all?’ I harrumphed, but obediently followed the link, where the only excitement was a nearly-new sale in Ringmer.

I returned sulkily to Lewes online and looked up their ‘top ten things to do in Lewes’. Number two was ‘go to the pub’, which I could have worked out for myself.

Finally, I jeevesed (hey, google’s a verb, get with it daddio), ‘what’s on in Lewes?’, and stumbled upon the strange world of For some unspecified reason, its focus was children in danger. Two events were paediatric first aid courses (one specifically targeted at the choking infant), while another, rightly so under the circs, was a parenting class. The next listing was baby massage; just the job to soothe your child after it’s nearly choked. The last listing was a calmer birth workshop but it seemed a trifle late for that.

I told wherecanwego where to go and rang Country Mouse back. ‘Have you considered spending the holidays in London?’ I asked. ‘It might be more interesting, and it’ll certainly be safer for Oliver.’

Beth Miller, 6th May 2009. Spiked by Viva Lewes. Photo by Clipart

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Cos you left me, just when I needed you most

I’d become in urgent need of a child’s fishing net, such as the Famous Five carry when nipping off to Smugglers Island for a spot of shrimping, villain thwarting and getting mashed on ginger beer. Damn those pesky kids and their easy access to seaside paraphernalia. Nets there were none, even on the net (ha!) Actually there were tons on the internet, fellow net-needers, but I’d left it so late that casual delivery promises of ‘three to five days’ were simply taunts, designed to drive a person insane. Say what you mean! Is it three, or is it five? And does Saturday count as a working day yet? (Voice rises to a scream.) My wrangle with the semantics would have impressed Wittgenstein, especially if he too had been forced by his five year old to score a net, by Wednesday.

I scanned Lewes with the desperate air of a person without a, well, safety-net. Once again, I fear not for the last time, I mourned the passing of my favourite store. We’re the last generation that will say, ‘A net, by crikey? Get thee to Woolworths forthwith.’

Then I began to brood upon all the other shops that had let me down by closing, taking their net potential with them. The mitherers on Lewes Forum are always reminiscing about the fabulous shops here in 1903, but we’ve lost some cracking ones more recently.

Big Kids, where were you in my time of need? Turned into another really useful estate agents, that’s where. And what ho, Ransomes? I never knew how much I’d miss you. Bet you had a whole fishing section for kids, with pretend bait, and mini-waders, and dear little buckets to keep your crabs in.

Crèche Manager was little help. With the air of Archimedes after an enlightening bath, he exclaimed, ‘It’s obvious: Woolies in Brighton.’ He’d failed to notice it was a national cull – he’s become kind of parochial. Then stirring himself, he suggested the scary hunting ‘n’ fishing shop on the Cliffe where women aren’t encouraged.

I bravely went there, after not shaving to try and blend in, and it sure was a manly place. There were knives, and wellies in size 14, and frighteningly macho tools for, I don’t know, removing the windpipe of a young chit foolish enough to go where she ain’t supposed to.

‘Have you any children’s fishing nets?’ I whimpered, peeping over the top of the counter. They were kind enough to laugh rather than do anything more Deliverance, but it was a narrow squeak.

And so the deadline of pond-dipping with the school drew ever nearer. I stopped sleeping, and took only such food and water as necessary to keep alive the flame of net solutions. Finally, like desperate parents since time immemorial, I cobbled something together from a stick and an old pair of tights. It’s what Julian and George would have done, had they ever lost their fishing equipment during a bacchanal of hard-boiled eggs and fruit cake.

Beth Miller, 28th April 2009. Published on Photo by Absent-Minded Girl