Monday, December 14, 2009

Raise up cups of Christmas cheer, I just need to catch my breath

How long can you put off the inevitable? It usually takes me most of December to make a list. Then I panic-buy everything from Amazon the day before Christmas Eve, paying six times over the odds for special next-day delivery. It’s a system of sorts, but I can see there are drawbacks.

So this year I tried Late Night Shopping. At first I thought it was marvellous. There was a fine atmosphere, the streets closed to traffic, lots of food stalls and whatnot. But gradually, I realised the reason I kept getting barged into was that other people had annoyingly decided to go shopping too.

This Lewes shopper is used to peace and quiet. I know that commercially speaking, empty-ish stores are a bad thing; but on the other hand, it is rather spiffing to be able to browse freely, then purchase what you want instantly without having to queue. It’s like internet shopping, except you can touch the goods.

Not so on Thursday night. Some places – you know who you are, Bright Ideas – were that mobbed, people just grabbed anything from anywhere, and waited hours to be served in a conga-length line. In this way I bought some extremely odd items very slowly, humming the queuing song all the while, the tune rusty on my lips from disuse. Then Grange Girl appeared, seized me firmly by the elbow and steered me into the street.

‘Late night shopping is not about buying things, you fool’, she chided.

Barcombe Bloke strolled by and said, ‘Harveys Shop has the best ones.’

‘Thanks for the heads up’, Grangey replied, and dragged me down the Cliffe to score mince pies. She explained that the entire point of the evening was to bag edible freebies. She was quite shameless, sticking her head into shops and barking, ‘Any food?’ If they said no, she slammed the door with a clang.

By the time we reached Harvey’s all the pies had been eaten, possibly by the terrifyingly perky Morris dancers outside. So we went back up School Hill, blagging crisps and sherry all the way. We popped into the Needlemakers for a bowl of soup – not free – just as a fashion show was starting. We pretended to be Kate Moss and Anna Wintour sitting in the front row, while some ladies paraded in Needlemaker styles. Though Kate and Anna probably don’t slurp mulligatawny and cram thick slices of buttered bread in their gobs. We lingered longer than we’d intended because there was a male model who looked just like Rupert Everett, and by the time we finally dragged ourselves away, all the shops were shut.

So I still haven’t made much headway with my list. The High Street’s an option again, of course, now everyone else has gone home, but it keeps raining, and the computer is giving me a come-hither look. Lewes or Amazon? I consult my list. I shrug on my coat. I take it off again. I reach for the mouse…

Beth Miller, 8th December 2009. Published in Photo by Alex Leith

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Do not falter little donkey, there's a star ahead

‘The little baby Jesus’, says Thing Two confidently, ‘was found in a manger in his Daddy’s tummy.’

That DOES sound like the Greatest Story Ever Told. I secretly hope this is the version they’ll be performing at his nursery, but fear I will be disappointed.

This year, for the first time, both Things are in Christmas productions – by coincidence on the same day. Glory be, I’ll need a snifter or two after that little lot. Thing Two, being top of the food chain at preschool by dint of age, and presumably, supreme understanding of the nativity story, is a King. He is the one with the dud gift of myrrh, which no-one knows what to do with. Everyone can always use a bit more gold and Frankenstein.
When quizzed about the actors playing the other two kings, Thing Two sniffily refuses to accept their existence, insisting there is only one king. I guess the others will be kept busy helping Joseph with the birth, anyway.

Thing One, being in a lowly class at school, is part of a faceless production line of angels and stars, who have little to do other than try not to clutter the stage while the big kids hog the limelight. The main character, according to Thing One, is the donkey, so I am also looking forward to seeing this version. It might be directed by Scorsese, and have the donkey realising that he is destined for great things if he can only throw off the shackles of his humble origins. He fights with the sheep to gain supremacy. Then he incites the unimportant angels and shepherds to rebellion, and they leap out of the chorus to overthrow Herod, and get into some decent camcorder footage.

This is a spirit of the blitz time of year, when parents are urged to ignore other, more trifling responsibilities, such as work, and come to the aid of the juggernaut that is the school Christmas season. It’s finding purple things for hampers and buying eye-wateringly-priced Christmas cards and dressing your child in tinsel and making decorations and baking cakes and buying other people’s cakes and, as Hoxton Mum reminds me, doing our bit for the artists and makers fair at the Town Hall this Saturday.

‘I’ve made exquisite little samplers’, says Hoxie. ‘Bringing back the traditional arts, you know.’

I reach out for one and she snaps, ‘Don’t touch it! I’m pricing them at a tenner a throw.’

I wipe my hands on my jeans and she says, ‘What are you selling? Some mums are doing hand-printed silk scarves, and Supermum’s giving us some of her etchings.’

‘A cake’, I improvise.

She rallies quickly. ‘Oh yes, the art fair cafĂ© is always very popular. The homemade cakes are a particular draw. Well done you!’ and she turns back to her needle-point, like the bitchily patronising sister-in-law in a Jane Austen novel.

Waitrose have nice, homemade-looking cakes. Memo to creative self: remember to remove the packaging.

Beth Miller, 1st December 2009. Published in and as an updated version in Viva Lewes magazine, December 2010. Photo by Alex Leith

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Blinded by the light

Aging Lad let us into his bachelor pad and clicked a light switch, which did nothing. ‘It’s sort of gloomy in here, isn’t it?’ I said, as I aimed for the kitchen and bumped my nose on the wall. ‘Is this your low light seduction technique?’

‘No’, he said grumpily, feeling around the counters for the kettle, ‘I’ve used my last proper light-bulb and I’ve only got energy-saving ones left.’

‘I think you can still get the normal ones for a while’, I said, as the bulb slowly began doing what it was paid to do, e.g. cast some light. I can remember when tellies warmed up in similarly unhurried fashion. ‘I was planning to stockpile some.’

Lad grabbed my arm and for one horrible minute I thought the dim atmosphere had made him forget himself. But no, he was merely trying to find me in the gloaming. ‘Where?’ he gasped. ‘Where can you get them?’

We abandoned our tea plans and went into town. ‘I’ll leave the lights on’, Lad said. ‘They might just be up to capacity by the time we get back.’

There’s only one place in town for this kind of purchase, so we went to Bunces and immediately got distracted by their fascinating array of goods. Where else can you buy a squashy lemon-shaped egg-timer? Where else can you get a cover for your wheelie bin that makes it look like a wheelie bin shaped conifer hedge? Nowhere, that’s where. Finally we remembered our mission. We grabbed armfuls of the old type of bulbs, thoughtfully leaving a few for anyone else out there who likes to read in the evenings.

We staggered back up the hill under the weight of our illicit booty. ‘Pah to Europe and their attempted stranglehold on all that’s great and British’, said Lad, trying to do a power salute but unable to raise his carrier bag-laden arms.

‘I’ve warned you before about reading the Daily Mail’, I said. ‘And how are bulbs British? Wasn’t Edison American?’

‘That’s right. Us and the Yanks against Brussels.’ He’s sweet, is Lad, but a bit of a dim bulb.

The rest of the way home we discussed whether it’s true that energy bulbs last a lifetime, and if so, whether that spelled the end for light bulb jokes.

‘Although’, I pointed out, ‘the Jewish mother one – “don’t worry about me, I’ll just sit here in the dark” – is quite apt for the eco-bulbs.’

We got back to Lad’s house, which was lit up like something quite dark. He claimed that this made him incandescent with rage, and ran round the house putting in 100 watts until everything was illuminated. He shoved all the energy bulbs to the back of a cupboard, apart from one. ‘I’ll hang on to this for my bedroom’, he said with a leer. A light bulb came on above my head, and I took my leave.

Beth Miller, 25th November 2009. Published in Photo by Alex Leith