Wednesday, April 28, 2010

There is a tavern in the town

'You know how there are some pubs you’ll just never go in?’, Born and Bred Boy said as we strolled through town. ‘How some look like your sort of place, and others simply don’t?’

I nodded, but distractedly. We were heading for a pub that’s definitely my kind of place, the Pelham Arms, and I was planning what to order. These decisions take time.

‘And then sometimes’, Boy went on, good lord would he ever stop talking, ‘you accidentally go into one you thought wasn’t your sort of place, and find you were wrong.’

The welcoming lights of the Pelham glowed into view. We quickly reached the door but Boy kept on walking.

‘OY!’ I called delicately, but he didn’t turn back, and I was forced to scuttle to catch him up.

‘Where are we going, Boy?’ My image of a long, tall glass began to darken and fade.

‘You haven’t been listening to a word, have you? We’re going somewhere new.’

On we went , through the bottleneck. Then Boy stopped, outside the orange-y fa├žade of the Brewers.

‘But we don’t...’

‘I know. But I went here the other day, by mistake. And it was fan-blinking-tastic. Couldn’t believe I’d lived here all my life, this little diamond on my doorstep, and never gone in.’

Inside, it was a real old-fashioned pub. Not modern old-fashioned, like the Lewes Arms, but your genuine unreconstructed tavern, with patterned carpets and brasses. A couple of fellas swivelled on their stools to give us the traditional silent greeting to strangers.

‘Did you know’, said Boy, ‘there has been a pub on this site since the seventeenth century?’

One of the chaps at the bar had clearly been there since then.

‘Also’, Boy went on, ‘there is a book called The Wit and Wisdom of the Brewers Arms, consisting of snippets overheard at the bar, and it is my intention to get into that book by the end of the year.’

He showed me the latest pages, pinned to a notice-board.

‘Is that why we’re here? So you can be officially recognised as a Lewes comedian?’

‘Not entirely’, he said, and coughed. We ordered our drinks, and I discovered the reason for our visit. The barmaid greeted Boy by name. She was attractive, friendly and quick with the banter. Boy softened visibly in her presence, and made a few ill-advised attempts at wit and wisdom. It was like hanging out with Aging Lad.

‘So’, I said, taking a long slurp from my much-needed restorative. ‘How does one go to a pub ‘by mistake’?’

Boy looked sheepish. ‘I’m helping my mate with some decorating, and he said he’d meet me at Brewers. But he meant the paint shop in Brighton.’

‘How long before you realised?’

‘Long enough’, he said, ‘to know that this is my kind of place.’

And he raised his pint, an uncharacteristically relaxed expression on his face.

Beth Miller, 14th April 2010. Published in, and Viva Lewes handbook April 2012. Photo by Alex Leith

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

She knows she's the chocolate girl

Easter has changed its meaning over the years. When I was a child, it was a time of dismay, because it always coincided with Passover. This is a Jewish festival, so called because the Angel of Chocolate passes over the houses of Jewish children and gives them matzos instead. A matzo is a large square cracker; pleasant enough, but not really a substitute for delicious creamy chocolate. Makes a lousy sandwich too. Bite into it and it explodes into fragments, which is why at Passover, Jewish mothers all carry dust-busters in their handbags.

If only I’d been aware, back then, of Richard Dawkin’s proposition that bringing up a child within a religion is tantamount to abuse. Though he selfishly didn’t make this statement till 2006, far too late for me. To be fair, being brought up a liberal Jew wasn’t usually abusive so much as wishy-washy. Until I was given some criminally horrible ‘approved for Passover’ chocolate, at which point I would have been only too happy to ring Social Services and expose my parents as monsters.

Once I grew up and could abandon the faith of my forefathers, which I did gladly, Easter became a time of supersize gluttony. There were lost years to make up for. Soon after Man of the House and I got together, he briefly left me alone in the car with a large Easter egg which we were taking somewhere as a gift. By the time he’d paid for the petrol, I’d laid waste to it like a plague of locusts, and had no defence other than to mumble, thickly, ‘You were sold a pup, this box only has half an egg in it’.

When my kids were toddlers, Easter became a lovely four day break, spent gazing at their dear little faces as I scoffed the many presents they’d been sent, and occasionally chucked them a smartie.

Then Thing One started school, and Easter is now an immensely long holiday for which I am completely unprepared. Two weeks? Hang on, we’ve only just had half-term. Everyone else must have been secretly planning, as they’ve all gone away, in a mass Exodus (I still remember my Old Testament). In their stead, come a load of people from other places.

In Neros yesterday, I didn’t recognise anyone. You can normally guarantee to see Hoxton Mum at least; she’s always sitting in the window sipping a skinny soy something. The place was heaving, but it was filled with strangers, holiday-makers in wind-cheaters, all talking about how quaint and nice everything was.

I strolled around, looking at Lewes through their eyes. I guess the castle is quite cute. And there’s a Monsoon. And a brewery. Fair enough, it’s got everything you need for a mini-break.

Then I found myself at Catlins. He still had a couple of Montezumas eggs left. I sat in the Grange, frenziedly ripped off the cardboard and tinfoil, and spent a therapeutic afternoon shaking off the memories of my deprived childhood.

Beth Miller, 7th April 2010. Published in Photo by Alex Leith

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

You're the dirty rascal

Standing on tiptoe to peer over the ancient battlements, Thing One gazed at the stunning vista before her. Mount Caburn, the Ouse, the Downs... ‘Ooh look’, she cried excitedly, tugging my sleeve, ‘You can see Prezzo.’ So you could. We were right above the restaurant’s blue and white umbrellas. Pretty damn handy for Simon de Montfort; he could shimmy over the wall whenever he fancied a pepperoni calzone.

The castle’s crumbly stone steps were replaced in the recent refurb, and now they’re as uniform as an Ikea staircase. This has removed most of the risk in climbing up, which used to be rather thrilling if you were with anyone young or infirm. Still, some of the new steps have writing on, which means an enthusiastic reader like Thing One will stop dead at random intervals, causing all behind her to bump together with small, painful thuds, while she carefully spells out, ‘Fiends of Lewes Rottery Club.’

Other alterations are great. The wooden lever thing, with which you hoik foam bricks to make a wall, keeps grown-ups amused, and is handily placed next to a bench. Small children can hide behind the foam wall, then pop out with a ‘Boo!’ which echoes powerfully round the circular stone room, scaring the bejesus out of parents who have briefly drifted off. Health ‘n’ Safety, that well-known double act, have cordoned off the top of the tower where once you could lean precariously over the town. Having spent much windswept time there, clinging onto a small child’s leg, sometimes even my own child’s leg, I’m glad this has changed. The dressing up room is wonderful as ever, providing doublets and headdresses of all sizes, so everyone in the family can see what medieval clothes look like with trainers.

We persuaded the children to watch the educational film about Lewes because it was on a ‘big telly’. For young people reared on the colourful action of Chop Socky Chooks, it was a little slow, consisting of blurred photographs accompanied by a dull commentary. But they waited patiently for the bit I’d told them about, which I remembered from some years back, when the little train comes to life and starts chugging round the model of Lewes. I was looking forward to this as much as the kids, but when the narration reached the part about the railway, the train didn’t budge. Thing Two gazed at me, eyes full of betrayal. I quizzed the man behind the desk why the train didn’t go, and he told me it never had.

Something the castle doesn’t shout about, but which is very much worth knowing, is that if you fill in a gift aid form when you buy your tickets, you get a year’s free pass. So now we can visit every weekend if we want. And we will. I want to keep an eye on that little train. I’m sure it will go round, if I can catch it in the right mood.

Beth Miller, 31st March 2010. Published in and in Viva Lewes magazine, May 2010. Photo by Alex Leith