‘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 VivaLewes.com, and Viva Lewes magazine November 2013