Tuesday, January 26, 2010

So then I dropped it in the mailbox and sent it special D

On my way into town I bumped into Grange Girl. I began telling her about an excellent article in Tunnel and Bridge Monthly, which settled the much-disputed pronunciation of ‘Cuilfail’ once and for all. Nonetheless, Grange Girl picked holes, plunging us into a heated debate which culminated in me saying I’d already put the article aside for her, her replying she would use it for cat litter, and me pointing out that she hadn’t got a cat.

Both slightly ashamed after this outburst, we moved to discussing our Waitrose lists. I said, ‘Must remember to post a letter on the way.’

Grangey seemed strangely interested. ‘Which post box will you use?’

‘Probably the one opposite Boots. Why?’

‘Ah ha! It’s not there any more.’‘Where’s it gone?’

‘Post box heaven. You’ll have to choose another. May I recommend the fine example outside the Nutty Wizard?’

‘Grangey, have you been making a study of Lewes post boxes?’

‘My new year’s resolution is to memorise them all!’ she cried. ‘Then, wherever I am, if someone rushes up in urgent need of a post box, I can calmly direct them to the nearest.’

‘You really have lost it this time.’

‘Let’s take a tour’, she said, steering me up the hill. ‘There’s one outside Ask, and obviously the Post Office. You can’t use that, it’s too easy. Though there is that decommissioned box inside… very interesting.’

Round Lewes we trundled, my protests futile: Grangey had the light of obsessive completism in her eyes. ‘Ah yes, one by LOGS, one outside the loos, the Gallops, ooh, here’s the funny one in the wall of St Anne’s Crescent.’

‘A pigeon-pock fairy box’, I said without thinking.

‘Excuse me?’

‘Ahem. It’s what we called those flat ones when I was a kid. We, uh, thought they looked pretend, the sort of things fairies would use.’

‘Fair point, I’ve never actually seen a postman emptying one of these. They’re probably a front for something.’

We counted the impressive series of red boxes across the Nevill and Wallands: ‘Nine!’ Then down to the pigeon-pock fairy box at the bottom of Keere Street, where we found DJ Mama swearing because she was unable to post a letter into the tiny slot. We sent her to a real post box, and headed off, round Grange Road, Priory Street, the station: by the time we were back at the Cliffe I was agog at both the extent of the network and Grangey’s imaginative methods for passing the idle hour.

‘We haven’t even done Landport, Pells, or Malling’, she said happily.

‘Yes, there’s that one at Cuilfail’, I said, risking the correct pronunciation, and receiving a hard stare.

Outside WH Smith’s I finally posted my letter.

‘Who’s it to, out of interest?’ asked Grangey.

‘It’s to you, Grangey. It’s that article from Tunnel.’

‘I’m just going to mark it ‘return to sender’ when it arrives’, she said, as we walked back along the Cliffe.

‘I know’, I said.

Published in VivaLewes.com. Photo by Alex Leith

Monday, January 18, 2010

And since we've no place to go, let it snow! Let it snow! Let it snow!

We were gathered in the school playground, rather surprised to finally be there after the world’s longest Christmas holiday. We compared notes about how we’d made it through the Great Snow.

‘Sledging’, said Pells Boy. ‘Took ‘em sledging every day. Morning till night.’

‘Didn’t they get cold?’ we asked.

‘Yep. Too cold to moan or bicker. By the time we got in each evening, all they wanted was be tucked up in a warm bed.’ Genius.

Hoxton Mum looked disapproving. ‘We did do snow play, of course. We made some beautiful sculptures. Django did a scale copy of Rodin’s ‘the Kiss’. Took him all morning, then when we went inside for warming babycinos, some yobboes came and kicked it down. He was inconsolable.’

Pells Boy turned away to cough, and to attend to the Beast, who had wrapped her scarf rather tightly round Django’s neck.

‘The rest of the time’, Hoxton Mum went on, ‘We just used our imagination , didn’t we, Django? We wrote stories about the snow, and made collages, and played creative games about being Inuit people living in igloos.’

Absent-Minded Mum and I looked at each other guiltily. ‘Telly was useful, wasn’t it?’ she said quietly.

‘Still’, said Hoxton Mum, and we were nearly all in agreement, ‘It’s nice to get back to normal.’

‘I couldn’t afford to take any more time off work’, Pells Boy said. ‘Already lost several days’ pay.’

‘You should have said’, cried Hoxie, ‘Django would have invited your guys over for a play date, wouldn’t you, darling?’ Django pulled his hood over his head and began performing what could have been a traditional Inuit wailing song.

Eco-Dad shook his head. ‘Well, I’m disappointed that the snow’s melting’, he said. ‘It was a great opportunity for us to see how we cope with climate change.’

‘Not very well, in my case’, said Cycle Girl. ‘Come the ice-caps shifting, I’ll be buried under a pile of non-biodegradable Star Wars figurines, unable to move to higher ground.’

‘We really learned to rely on each other’, said Eco-Dad, gently testing the youngest Eco-Baby’s bottom for dampness. They don’t use nappies in the Eco-household. ‘We got in plenty of supplies of good local organic produce, and then we hunkered down. With blankets at all the windows we were snug as bugs, hardly needed to have the heating on. Ate delicious jam I made from foraged bilberries.’

There was a silence, as we all wondered what it must be like to live such a well-rounded, low-carbon life. The quiet was broken suddenly by a sound like a tap being turned on, and Thing Two yelling as fluid poured onto his foot.

‘What a waste’, sighed Eco-Dad as he held his dripping baby at arms length. ‘We’re trying to save our urine for when the water runs out.’

The school bell rang at last, just as the first few flakes of a new snowstorm began to fall.

Beth Miller, 13th January 2010. Published in VivaLewes.com. Photo by John McGowan

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Oh, the good life, full of fun seems to be the ideal

Hats off to Lewes Rotary Club, say I. Not for their good works, particularly, though I’m sure they do lots of those, and fund-raising, and, er, other stuff. Are they the funny handshake people or is that a different crew?

Anyway, grateful salutations to them, for collecting Christmas trees on January 3rd, thus bringing to an early halt the interminable festive season. Mine has been going on since Waitrose guilt-tripped me into buying mince pies in August. After 140 days of Christmas it seemed I would just segue smoothly into the run-up to next year’s Yuletide, without any intervening tinsel-free buffer zone. I was saved from this fate by the tough love of the Rotary Club, who dragged the tree from my arms, crushing baubles underfoot, and brought me to my senses.

So I’m now ready for a new January, a new year. Here I sit, snow at the window, my scratchy bic biro in hand, to make my resolutions. The first couple are easy. Resolution 1: Buy a new biro. Resolution 2: Stop pretending I am writing with a biro when I am actually speed-typing onto a computer with a screen so flat you can’t see it when it turns sideways.

My other resolution is more challenging. I made an important discovery the other day, while watching The Good Life Christmas Special. (This, incidentally, will form the central example in my forthcoming paper, ‘The role of sitcoms in raising self-awareness: Richard Briers and the Forces of Evil’.) The episode was the one where Margot is bullied by Tom, in what I now see is an aggressive and misogynistic fashion, into lightening up, playing silly party games, and being generally as cerrr-azy as him and Barbara.

With a thud, I realised that, though I have aspired all these years to be like Barbara, except without dungarees – pert, practical, up for a laugh – in fact I completely identified with Margot. I suppose years of domesticity have taken their toll. I can at last appreciate why she was annoyed when Jerry put rubbish in the bin just after she’d emptied it. I have become resentful of eco-warriors and their assumption that they’re the only ones with any answers. I increasingly value the ritual of the pre-breakfast gin and tonic.

And I have started, at last, to be honest with myself. Instead of forcing on a paper hat and pretending to get the joke, I now accept that my true nature is to be the grump in the corner saying, ‘I don’t understand. Why is it funny?’

My final resolution, therefore, is to embrace my inner Margot. I’ve already made a start. When the Rotary finally wrestled the tree off me, they asked for a donation. I put on my most Tory voice and trilled, ‘Two pounds? After you’ve dropped pine needles all over the parquet? I think not’, and firmly shut the door. It felt great.

Beth Miller, 6th January 2010. Published in VivaLewes.com

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Let's get into physical

‘Oh look’, I said joylessly, as we sat round the Christmas tree amidst a pile of be-wrapped, be-ribboned and be-wildering parcels. ‘My brother’s sent me a Davina Fit DVD.’

‘I wouldn’t describe her as fit, particularly’, said Man of the House, opening a gift of Lynx shower gel and tossing it straight in the Oxfam bag. ‘She’s a bit long in the tooth these days.’

‘How bizarre’, I said, ripping the paper off another present. ‘My mum’s sent me a beach ball.’

Man mumbled, ‘Um, it’s an exercise ball’.

‘It’s a WHAT? Damn, it’s too big for the charity bag. The kids can play with it.’

Things One and Two were sprawled on the sofa in their smart new dressing-gowns, jaws slack and stained with chocolate coins. They stared unblinking at something inane on telly, and didn’t even notice the change when I slipped Davina Fit into the DVD player.

‘I’ve saved the best till last’, I said, dragging Man of the House’s pressie towards me. ‘Ooh, it weighs a ton.’

He coughed and busied himself with some mulled wine.

‘Ah. It weighs a lot, because it’s weights. Thanks SO much.’ I grabbed the last mince pie, and slotted it into my mouth in one go. Indistinctly, I said, ‘I see everyone’s made my new year’s resolution for me.’

Man edged towards the door, whispering, ‘You aren’t in quite as good shape as you were…’

‘This is baby weight, you fiend’, I spluttered, spraying pastry.

‘Thing Two is four years old’, he mouthed, then fled as I hurled the exercise ball at him. Blimey, my arms ached after lifting that mother.

Let no-one say I can’t take a hint. So, as January dawned, grey and full of lack of promise, I limbered up and did some Google research. Turns out that Lewes is awash with Pilates and yoga. There are at least four gyms; there are sports clubs; you can play tennis and badminton till your socks fall down. There are more personal trainers than you can shake a rowing machine at. I was so wiped out after discovering this, I had to have a little lie down with a personal bar of Green & Blacks.

By next day I had devised my own training programme. I put on my sweatpants and trainers, did a few stretches, then set off at walking pace for the Leisure Centre. They have tons of stuff there: a gym, exercise classes, swimming pool. But more to the point, the centre is about a mile from my house. So going there and back constitutes a good solid constitutional. Actually, it was such a tough workout, because I dropped the weights off at Cancer Research on the way, that I got a cab home from the station. I didn’t want to overdo it.

But I reckon if I pop down there and watch all those crazies sweating it out on the treadmills every month or so, those extra pounds will soon fall away.

Published in Viva Lewes magazine, January 2010.