For a town with a reputation for resisting development, there’s actually quite a lot of change going on in Lewes. I don’t mean the big attention-grabbing changes, like the railway land improvements or the knocking down of twitten walls, but those little everyday things which inspire nostalgia for a dreamy distant past, when the Harveys was warmer and old ladies cycled to communion, cricket bats under their arms.
Or in fact, the not so distant past. ‘It’s SO annoying’, said Aging Lad, describing how he had to park many metres from his destination. ‘I remember when you could drive down the Cliffe and park right outside the shops.’ Well yes, Lad, I wanted to say. Even you, with your addled brain should be able to recall last year. But all the others started chipping in with their own freshly minted nostalgia. ‘It’s such a shame having to buy school uniform on-line’, said Absent-Minded Mum, ‘do you remember that shop that used to sell it?’ Everyone looked thoughtful. ‘For goodness sake, people’, I cried, ‘Wards! It only closed a few months ago.’
‘I never bought uniform there, anyway’, said DJ Mama. ‘Not when you could get cheap knock-offs from, oh, what was that place called…?’ How quickly they forget. ‘I think you’re talking about Woolworths’, I said, thin-lipped. This, of course, precipitated the inevitable discussion about how much everyone missed the pick-and-mix and how they’d bought their first seven-inch single at Woolies, so I went away to bang my head against a wall for a brief yet reviving period. When I returned, they’d moved onto the next stage of the debate: how there’s no longer anywhere to buy plastic toys. ‘There used to be another toy shop, you know’, Pells Boy was saying, to incredulity all round. ‘No, really. Where Oakleys is now.’
I left them to it and walked down to Waitrose (‘remember when it was Safeway?’). I bumped into Cycle Girl and had a little moan to her about reminiscence-mongers, but she started doing it too. ‘It’s restaurants for me. I really miss Thackerays; and though I had a nice meal in Shanaz last night, I did hanker after that plastic foliage they used to have that dangled in your dhansak.’
She then moved on to bemoaning the demise of the guitar festival. I legged it before she could tell me about Richard Thompson’s last great set.
Then, in the chilled aisle of Waitrose, it happened to me. I asked an assistant where the little Innocent smoothie cartons had gone – smoothies being as essential to the well-running of a middle-class Lewes family as unleaded is to their Renault Espace. She informed me they were no longing stocking them. I swayed slightly in front of the cabinet, and found myself saying, ‘But I remember when you used to have them, just here, in four different flavours.’ It made me long for a nice sit-down and a cuppa in Artisan, but of course, it’s not there anymore.
Beth Miller, 3rd March 2010. Published in VivaLewes.com and in Viva Lewes magazine, April 2010.