‘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 VivaLewes.com. Photo by Alex Leith