Sunday, June 27, 2010

The people on the bus go up and down

‘Trouble is, car parks cost a fortune’, he said. ‘Especially that North Street one. Hell, last time I was there, I went, “Mister, I don’t want to buy the building, just pay for a couple hours parking”. And do you know what he said?’

‘We don’t have to go in a car, we can get the bus’, I replied.

‘Well I won’t tell you what he said, you being a lady. And don’t get me started on the train.’

‘I wasn’t. I was talking about getting the…’

‘Because Brighton station is nowhere near where we are going. No. Where. Near. And if you think I’m walking more than twenty yards in these shoes, fuggedaboutit.’

‘Whereas the bus stops almost right outside…’

‘So how the hell will we get to the theatre, hmm?’

‘I don’t know. Hey! What about the bus?’

‘Never heard such a crazy idea.’

Planning a theatre trip to the Big City with my dear friend, Pierced Boy, is fraught with complications. He won’t see anything too experimental, or too staid, nor, in defiance of the stereotypes, anything with music (‘unless Bette’s appearing.’). Then it has to be a matinee, as his evenings are fully booked. At last, he agreed to Oscar Wilde’s Salome at the Theatre Royal, largely because of the publicity material: ‘Contains strong scenes that may offend’.

I hadn’t thought our mode of transport would also be contentious. I love the good old 28/29 bus. I used to catch it every day, amusing myself en route by watching the old man conducting an imaginary orchestra at the front, and by eavesdropping on baffling conversations (‘Barcelona is another one.’ ‘Oh, absolutely; appalling vertigo.’) And by running a private sweepstake regarding the length of the journey. The bus timetable makes stick-a-pin-in guesses as to arrival at Churchill Square, not factoring in (a) the random time the bus departed from Lewes (b) the award-winning roadworks outside B&Q and (c) how long the driver takes to pop in for a pee at the depot.

Pierced Boy was unconvinced. ‘Don’t you remember Margaret Thatcher? “A man who, beyond the age of 26, finds himself on a bus can count himself as a failure.”’

‘Surely that would encourage you to take a bus? Anyway, you don’t look a day over 25.’

Flattery works. We were soon on the top deck of a 28. P-Boy was enthralled. ‘It’s so cheap! And you can look out the window and see who’s got a bald spot.’

We had a terrific time at the show, being enjoyably offended by the strong scenes, but got separated in the crush on the way out. P-Boy sent me a text to say he had, bravely, got on a bus by himself. I caught one shortly afterwards.

Two hours later, my phone rang.

‘Fell asleep. Did you know, the 28 goes all the way to Tunbridge Wells? Think I’ll take in a little light shopping while I’m here. Then get a cab home.’

Beth Miller, 16th June 2010. Published in Photo by Alex Leith

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Hey, you’ve got to hide your love away

‘Say again? I didn’t quite get that.’

Country Mouse was on the phone, murmuring even more quietly than usual.

‘I said, what Lewes venue would you recommend for a secret assignation?’

I shook the phone. ‘Sorry, Uncle Adultery. I thought I was talking to Country Mouse.’

‘It is me!’ Mouse squeaked furiously. ‘Stop making your judgemental face.’

Spooky. How could she know that?

‘Daytime. Private. Somewhere no-one in ___ would dream of going to.’

She named her home village, which I have Jane Austenly disguised, and will give no further clue than to say it is a handsome shire, lying quite fully nine miles hence.

Fired up with curiosity, I popped on large sunglasses and wrapped my hair in a scarf, Jackie O style (or so I fancied, till Man of the House started reminiscing about Hilda Ogden), and set off for town.

Lewes looked different now I was seeking dark corners. All my usual haunts were too exposed. Café Nero had just one hidden table, at the back behind a pillar, and the noise of the coffee machine would drown out discreet conversation. What could she be up to? A dodgy financial deal or criminal activity seemed unlikely. Mouse would surely not sully her soft leather-gloved hands. Romance, then. And she wanted to keep well away from nosey villagers. Fair enough. We dwellers of bustling metropolises are above such idle speculation.

Unsurprisingly, I bumped into Hoxton Mum in Bills (completely open-plan). She suggested the Zu Studios, but their space is only available ‘for those who promote creativity and positivity’. Say what you like about Country Mouse, but she’s never bothered with that sort of thing.

I tested the new café, Baltica, but after ten minutes in a window seat I’d been waved at by everyone I ever knew (and by some complete strangers too). Neither Pelham House nor the Real Eating Company are over-endowed with nooks. I thought the dimly-lit downstairs bar at Buddha Belly would be perfect, but it was not only shut during the day, but seemed shut in a more global sense.

After extensive research, I presented Mouse with a shortlist of three. Lewes Patisserie on Station Street, thus far largely undiscovered; downstairs at Robsons - not very glamorous but certainly no-one would find you; and Shelleys, with its cranny-filled garden and nineteenth century vibe.

By cunning sleight of hand I extracted the date of Mouse’s tryst, and spent that day scampering around town looking for her. When at last, I gave up and walked home across the Grange Gardens, I discovered her under a lilac tree with Aging Lad.

I greeted them warmly, saying, ‘Lad keeping you company till your gentleman arrives, eh?’, before registering her blushes and his ill-bred gestures. With a shocked and possibly judgemental expression on my face, I hastily backed out whence I had come.

Beth Miller, 8th June 2010. Published in Photo by Alex Leith

Monday, June 7, 2010

I’m irate, peeved, irate, peeved

It’s rare to get a phone message from Grange Girl, especially one this excitable. ‘They just announced a massive music festival on 6 Music! In Lewes! We’ve got to go! Runrig! July!’

By the time I reached her house, she’d gone all deflated. ‘Turned out to be Lewis with an ‘i’, did it?’ I said sympathetically.

She sniffed. ‘Who’d have thunk the Outer Hebrides would have a more rocking scene than us?’

‘Nonsense’, I said. ‘There’s tons of gigs every week here. Meadowlands Festival this weekend. Starfish thing in the summer. Rock in the Bog in July. Arthur Brown lives here. The guitar festival, er, used to be on every year.’

Her head slumped into her hands. ‘Runrig have never played here though.’ She was clearly in a slough of despond. ‘And 6 Music’s going to be axed.’

‘Is it? Damn those Tory-Dems and their swingeing cuts.’

‘It was decided months ago, when Labour were in charge.’

I often arrive a bit late to the news.

‘Well, we must protest’, I protested. ‘I listened to it once and it was good. That nice George Lamb was on.’

‘You’re too late. The consultation closed on 25th May.’

I often arrive a bit late to the direct action.

‘Oh. Shall I make some tea then?’

We mused in silence for a while, sipping our drinks.

‘There’s a Save 6 Music Facebook group’, Grangey said, suddenly.

I started, spilling tea on my Hush Puppies. ‘How would you know that, Grangey?’

Grange Girl’s techno-peasantry is the stuff of legend. She listens to music on reel-to-reel tape, and absolutely will not countenance a mobile phone. In fact, she’s still a bit suspicious of her land-line. ‘Letters were good enough for Napoleon and John Peel.’

She looked defensive. ‘They mentioned it on the wireless. Obviously I can’t join, not having the interweb, but you could.’

I nodded vigorously, filing the idea away in the large drawer at the back of my brain labelled ‘Things I probably won’t get round to.’

‘Shall we go to a gig tonight?’ I suggested, perusing the handy Viva gig guide taped to Grangey’s fridge. ‘There’s bands at the Snowdrop, Royal Oak and the Pelham. We should go to all three, demonstrate our support for music in all its myriad forms.’

‘Except jazz.’

‘Goes without saying.’

‘Nah, let’s just listen to the early Peel sessions with The Fall and have another cup of tea.’

This seemed rather a reckless imbibe of caffeine after six o’clock but she read my mind and said, ‘Camomile, obviously.’

She popped the kettle on the gas hob, fired up the reel-to-reel, and we were transported, by the power of music, to 1981. To a time before mobiles, CDs and Facebook, and before 6 Music was going to be axed (or indeed, existed). Mark E Smith sang, ‘You don’t have to be weird to be wired’, and Grange Girl and I clinked our mugs together and toasted to happier times.

Beth Miller, 26th May 2010. Published in Many thanks to Annabel for introducing me to the term 'techno-peasant'.