Wednesday, October 27, 2010

You're not singing anymore

Try as you might. But if a thing’s truly ubiquitous, it will eventually break through your highly developed ignoring force field. Over the last few months I’ve wafted through numerous conversations like this:

Sweary Mary (or Cycle Girl): ‘Off to the blinkin’ Pan on Saturday. You going?’
Me: ‘No.’

And like this:

Pells Boy (or Hoxton Mum): ‘Oh go on it’s great. The kids play, we have chips, occasionally look at the game, you’ll love it.’
Me: ‘No.’

They don’t realise they’re inviting me to do something quite bizarre.
Them: ‘Let’s go naked bungee jumping!’
Them: ‘Let’s pretend to be mice!’
Them: ‘Let’s go to the football!’

It’s like that test for dementia invented by the writer Linda Grant: alarm bells ring when you suddenly suggest something completely out of character. For her it would be, ‘I fancy a long muddy hike.’ For Aging Lad it would be, ‘Let’s just hold hands and talk.’ For me it would be, ‘I need to see some footie now.’ It’s weird really because I loved playing football as a child (my dad was a trained referee who taught me the basics). But back then, when I was young and ice covered the planet, girls at my school weren’t allowed on the playing field: blatant discrimination that would nowadays result in prosecutions but back then resulted in, well, girls not playing football I guess. So my interest waned, and I put away childish things such as my collection of Kellogg’s cards featuring Johan Cruyff (for some reason he was on all the cards).

As an adult, football’s just not in my purview, innit? And so I floated on, past all talk of FA cups and league form and Patrick Marber. Finally though, my force field was dented by those Kitchener pictures all over town. I always read posters (and planning notices, and lost cat signs, and graffiti).

‘You seen that poster of Ibbo?’ I asked Man of the House.
‘Who’s Ibbo?’ he replied. See, it’s not just me.
‘Ibbo! Steve Ibbitson! He’s, er, something to do with the football.’

Man looked impressed I knew so much. I reminded him that I have actually met Ibbo. He was really nice. We talked about our kids. He didn’t mention football.

‘Everyone’s very excited,’ Man said, suddenly finding his inner bloke, ‘because only nine matches stand between Lewes and the FA Cup. Admittedly, nine matches that probably take in Man United and Chelsea.’

‘Could Lewes win then?’ I asked, my interest suddenly piqued, though lord knows why: I wouldn’t know the FA Cup if I found it in my knicker drawer.

Man started droning on about minnows and giant-killers and Yeovil, and my interest un-piqued. I pointed at him, Kitchener style and said, ‘I need you to stop.’

‘Why don’t we go to the next game,’ he said, ‘and see what all the fuss is about?’

And as if from far away, in some alternative universe of lost marbles, I heard myself say, ‘All righty.’

Beth Miller, 19th October 2010. Published in Author's note: shortly after writing this, Lewes FC were knocked out of the FA Cup.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

And I tell you it don't mean jack, no it don't mean jack

'Blimmin’ heck,’ muttered Sweary Mary as we laboured up Keere Street. ‘This blasted hill gets steeper every dang day.’

For purposes of pre-watershed publication I have replaced Sweary Mary’s usual epithets with quaint alternatives.

‘It better be jolly well worth it,’ she said threateningly, twisting her ankle on a cobble.

‘It will, don’t you worry,’ I gasped, grabbing onto a passing Sherpa.

I’ve long been singing the praises of Shelleys to my chums in the face of general scepticism and indeed, entreaties to shove it. I’ve endorsed the terrific afternoon teas; applauded the charmingly vague staff; waxed lyrical about the invariable emptiness of the cosy lounge, which is probably not on Shelley’s tick box list but is a positive thing for the tired person who’s trundled from the bottom of town. And every time I mention these delights, my friends say, ‘Yeah whatever. Baltica then?’ I know I probably need some other friends, but in the current economic climate it seems profligate to acquire a batch of glossy new mates when the old ones could be good as new with a bit of patching. Reuse, Repair, Recycle, that’s my motto. Except when it comes to afternoon tea. Cake, Scones, Tea makes more sense there.

Anyway I had pretty much given up trying to persuade anyone into Shelleys, or The Shelleys as it has renamed itself, when Sweary Mary suddenly lurched over and said ‘Flipping heck Tucker’, no she didn’t, my name’s not Tucker, ‘Flipping heck,’ she said, ‘If I go into Baltica once more this week they’ll be erecting a blinking plaque to me. I need a new top town venue pronto. What’s that damn one you’re always blathering about?’ Yes, I know it’s not very polite but it’s a step on from ‘Yeah whatever’. And lo it came to pass that Mary and I toil-ethed up the steep hill-eth to partake of The Shelleys cup of good cheer.

‘Jumping jellybeans, I’ve never been here before,’ Mary said as we arrived at the pretty peach-coloured building. ‘Will they let me in with my dratted trainers?’

‘They’ll let you in wearing flippers,’ I said, explaining again how the amiable staff always seem surprised, though pleasantly so, to find they have a large hotel on their hands.

We went into the homely sitting room which was nicely void of other tea-takers. There was then a lacuna of some goodly while, during which Mary muttered nervously, ‘Jiminy Cricket! They’re taking their time,’ and ‘Swipe me, I could use a cuppa.’ However I relaxed into the squashy sofa, secure in the knowledge that sooner or later or perhaps later than that, someone would find us and maybe even bring a menu.

Finally, the reward: a proper tea with melty chocolate cake, moist fruit slices and fluffy scones.

‘Crumbs,’ said Mary, brushing crumbs off her trainers, ‘This is a confounded bit of all right. Why the deuce have you been keeping it to yourself?’

‘Gee willikins,’ I cried exasperatedly, and poured myself a soothing Assam.

Beth Miller, 13th October 2010. Published in Photo by Alex Leith.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

And a soldier boy is the ladies’ joy in Sussex by the sea

‘It’s high time I got in touch with my Sussex roots, Niecey,’ said Uncle Adultery, sipping a peach bellini in the front bar of Pelham House.
I scrutinised him in vain for signs of merriment. ‘And what roots would those be, exactly?’ I asked. Uncle Adultery could pass for many different things: his East European heritage and childhood elocution lessons lend him the air of a suave diplomat; his jaunty panamas and perfectly sculpted goatee offers a hint of a playboy nearing retirement; and his founding of a dating agency for married people seeking affairs suggests a high-class procurer. But you’d be looking at him a long time before a stout Sussex Yeoman would come to mind.
‘Ah, those lovely sunsets at Worthing,’ he said, waving his empty glass in a manner which brings them running in Monaco. ‘The smell of the Hastings sea air. Sussex is in my blood, Niecey. One more of these, if I can just get this chap’s attention – oh thank you! – then you must hie me to the costumier.’
I goggled at him. I do a lot of goggling around Uncle Adultery. Goggling, and saying, ‘What are you talking about?’
‘What are you talking about?’
‘My costume, dear heart. For Bonfire, of course.’
My heart sank, and I ordered another bottle of ginger beer. I would need staunch back-up from good old Mr Alcohol if I was to make it through the afternoon.
Soon we were in Sublime to the Ridiculous in Barcombe. The name seemed strikingly apt as I watched my urban sophisticate Uncle disappear into the changing room and reappear in full Native American garb. I will pass over his pitiful and probably racist attempt to accompany the costume with what he fondly imagined to be an appropriate accent, but luckily he became allergic to the feathers and went to change.
When he turned up as a Zulu I couldn’t stop myself asking if he now felt more in touch with his Sussex-ness, but he ignored me. Thank heavens for my hip flask as I watched numerous versions of Uncle A parading round the shop: Viking, civil war soldier, monk and cavalier. I was idly trying on a pair of extremely long purple eye-lashes when he stepped out in a brocaded jacket and a funny plant-pot type hat.
‘This is the one, Niecey’, he cried. ‘What do you think?’
I goggled again.
‘What are you meant to be?’
‘A Gay Hussar, of course!’ He clicked his heels and did an extraordinary hand gesture that made me tremble for his chances of surviving Bonfire.
There was no talking him out of it, so we paid up and left, Uncle clutching his costume and humming ‘Sussex by the Sea.’ I dropped him at the station, and he promised to return on the fifth for great revelry.
‘By the way Niecey,’ he said, leaning in through the car window, ‘You might want to take those eye-lashes off. They make you look a bit daft.’

Beth Miller, 6th October 2010. Published in, and Viva Lewes magazine November 2013

Thursday, October 7, 2010

I can see all obstacles in my way

There’s a fine novel called The Missing Postman, in which the eponymous Royal Mail absconder (and who can blame him, given those unflattering shorts they have to wear?) takes refuge in a series of optician stores. He feels safe in opticians, you see, having visited them for years man and boy. This book is very resonant, for I too am a long-term optician-botherer, since my blind-as-a-batness was discovered at age six and my parents were warned that without my new bottle-top glasses I would likely be struck by a bus. Since then I have patronised numerous opticians (‘Ooh lookit der cutie little glassy-wasses, aren’t they just the sweetums’), including a sadistic one who laughed at every pair of specs I tried; one who spoke only Welsh (‘bod mor ddall รข’r garreg’ - ‘you’re blind as a bat’); and one who fobbed me off with rhinestone horn-rims previously rejected by Edna Everage.

Have just done some in-depth Google research and bats aren’t really blind. Well, bully for them.

Lewes is well endowed with opticians: five at least. I go to Spectrum, though I’m sure the others are just as lovely. It’s definitely the best I’ve tried in my Missing Postman levels of experience: friendly, thorough, and no-one sniggers ‘Bessie Bunter’ when one tries on a round frame. In fact, they sit for hours patiently searching for your perfect glasses. Mine have lenses made of a wafer-thin plastic otherwise used in space missions, and frames of bendy titanium (might not have got this quite right), of such high resistance that even a small child cannot break them. Wearing them, I look like one of those cool glasses models, apart from my face.

Anyway, all this is leading to a disturbing conversation I had recently with Honesty Girl. Knowing she is similarly short-sighted – we have shared stories of tumbling over unseen sofas and failing to recognise loved ones – I was stunned to find she’d just had The Op. ‘I can see my feet in the shower!’ she gasped, revelling in the newness of it all. I retorted quite sharply that I personally knew my feet were there even if I couldn’t see them. She stared, starry-eyed, round my kitchen. ‘Blimey, your windows are a bit mucky’, she said. ‘You want to give them a good wipe.’

I definitely won’t be having laser surgery. It’s partly that there’s something wonderful about taking one’s contacts out at the end of the day and entering Blur-World, in which one relies on non-visual senses (‘OW! Yes, that’s definitely the door’). And it’s partly that I don’t want some quack sticking lasers in my eyeballs. But it’s also because going to the opticians is such a part of who I am. I sit in that up-and-down chair wearing the heavy testing frames that make one resemble Jerry Lewis in the Nutty Professor. The lights are dimmed, random letters appear on the screen, the optician says gently, ‘Can you read the top line?’ and I completely and utterly relax.

Beth Miller, 29th September 2010. Published in Photo by Alex Leith