Thursday, November 25, 2010

November has tied me to an old dead tree

Man of the House harvests our November crop: six wizened red apples. They seem smaller than they were two months ago. Meanwhile the Halloween pumpkins silently decompose on the doorstep, dead fireworks litter the herbaceous borders, and the shed falls down.

Winter gardens are no places for wimps, and I’m a wimp. I avert my eyes as I pass Wyevales so as not to see their banner exhorting me to ‘Tidy up ready for Winter!’ They have a Spring banner too, featuring an Easter chick chiselling out of an egg and the slogan, ‘Time to get cracking!’ That one also makes me feel guilty.

Now is doubtless the right time to plant tulip bulbs, scatter forget-me-not seeds, shove old tomato plants into the compost and pick up the pink plastic doll that has been lying across the lawn since July, limbs lewdly akimbo. Every year I convince myself that very soon I will stomp outside wearing waterproofs and a hearty smile, clearing and pruning and generally showing the garden who’s boss. In this mental image I am whistling ‘Hi-ho, hi-ho, it’s off to work we go,’ and waving a rake about smugly.

But it’s always raining when I look outside, or something more interesting is going on. And so every year the garden realises exactly who’s boss and takes advantage, sending underground forces of bindweed to annexe new territories, encouraging strawberry suckers to grow up the washing line, and marshalling battalions of evil slugs to slither about orange-ly.

If only I had the courage to embrace not tidying the garden. I wish I had the balls of the ESCC gardeners, who put up little signs around the Council grounds which say ‘designated biodiversity area’ wherever they can’t be bothered to clear. I might get some of those signs. ‘Do you think we could have some nice daffs here?’ ‘Sorry luv, can’t be done: that’s a designated biodiversity area.’ I only wish I’d thought of it first.

This is the list of actual garden chores I do in November:

1. Wait till it’s not cold or raining and there’s nothing on telly.
2. Run outside wearing coat over pyjamas.
3. Slip on orange slug, fall and bash bottom on plastic doll.
4. Grab bird feeder and run back into house.
5. Make tea and reward self with biccy.
6. Recoil in horror at disgusting state of bird feeder. Shake fist at birds and ask how could they let it go to seed like this, ah ha ha, have they no respect?
7. Clean bird feeder with Marigolds and industrial bleach. Then clean bleach off obsessively to avoid avian poisoning.
8. Refill feeder with fancy selection of seeds.
9. Notice it’s raining and resolve to put feeder out later.
10. Remember bird feeder in April.

I try one of the wrinkly apples. Delicious. Perhaps next year I’ll plant some raspberries. Or maybe I’ll just put in a few more bindweed plants – they always seem to do well.

Beth Miller, 17th November 2010. Published in Photo by Alex Leith

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

I once was lost but now am found

During an ear-bleedingly complex discussion about meeting up, Man of the House casually said, ‘Just use that short-cut from Mountfield Road.’

‘And what short-cut would that be?’

He gave me a spousely look from beneath his bifocals. ‘How long have you lived here?’

He accompanied me to the College, pointed me towards the sign saying ‘footbridge’, and gave me a little push. Then he was gone with a squeal of wheels. Which was odd as he was on foot.

I adjusted my hydration pack and set bravely off into unchartered waters. I’d been on the Sussex Downs campus before, but only as far as the lecture room for my leaf manipulation night class. I clambered over the footbridge, feeling rather as Amundsen must have done when he, uh, went to that unexplored place no-one had been before (memo to self: next evening class must be in basic general knowledge). I fully expected to arrive slap bang in the middle of the railway land, another part of Lewes filed under ‘closed book’ but which I imagine to be like a rainforest, all hanging vines and colourful parrots. Grange Girl is of course a keen railway-land aficionado, forever giving meaningless directions that take in the Linklater Pavilion. I wouldn’t know the Linklater Pavilion if I found it in the pocket of my leaf manipulation apron.

But the footbridge took me not into a teeming jungle but rather the concrete jungle of Court Road. Even I knew (well I did after asking a lady for directions) that this leads to the back of the Riverside. And so in just a few minutes I’d traversed from leisure centre to town centre without having to slog round the station. I couldn’t have been more pleased.

To celebrate, I walked almost back to the station to visit the Charity Christmas Card shop, which is in that charmingly eccentric Light on Life place in Lansdown Place. The CCC shop is lovely. It combines being very modern, in that it appears in an new pop-up location every year, with being sweetly old-fashioned: they are the only people who say, ‘Oh goody, a cheque’ rather than, ‘On yer bike Daddio, we only take plastic.’ I chose pretty cards from worthy causes, and bought traditional unchocolated Advent calendars. Then I entered their guess the number of items in the cracker competition (I put 17 million because previous customers’ estimates were unduly pessimistic).

Then I made my way back to Court Road to recreate my mythical North-West passage across Lewes, and got hopelessly lost. Unlike Amundsen, I had my mobile and could call Man to come and rescue me. Unfortunately the only landmark I could see was the Linklater Pavilion and as only Grangey knows where that is, it took Man hours to find me. On the plus side, it was a good place to write my Christmas cards and manipulate a few leaves.

Beth Miller, 10th November 2010. Published in Photo by Alex Leith

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Tomorrow I'll be glad, cause I've got Friday on my mind

Wordlessly, Grange Girl seized my arm and dragged me from Waitrose, scattering organic carrots and fennel in her wake. I clung to the automatic doors and then to the leg of the Big Issue seller. But Grange Girl has been regular with the pole fitness lately and is strong as a Duchy Originals ox. As she swept me up the hill, not even letting me look in the new shoe shop, I begged her to tell me where we were going. But she was too enraged to speak. Steam snorted from her nostrils.

At the War Memorial she barked, ‘What day is it, young lady?’
I always go blank under pressure. I’d be no good at those old people tests when they ask the name of the prime minister or what year it is. I’d be put on medication and only allowed milky puddings before you could say ‘Is it Ted Heath?’

I tried to sneak a look at the date on my phone but Grangey dashed it to the ground where it was trodden on by a passing Afghan hound.

‘It’s Friday!’ Grange Girl snapped.

‘Oh. Is this something to do with Crackerjack?’

‘On Friday mornings we don’t go to the supermarket, do we?’

Light dawned. Grange Girl has been banging on about the marvellousness of the Friday market since it began, possibly even before it began, but I never remember it’s on until Friday evenings.
When she saw my contrite expression Grangey softened, and handed me a Waitrose Bag For Life. ‘Less picturesque, but more capacious than a wicker basket,’ she confided.

Hitherto known to me only as the cut-through with the waving Tom Paine, the markety thing was now full of stalls and busy shoppers. I stopped to inspect some cheese but Grange Girl said firmly, ‘There is a particular order in which one does the market.’

Under her despotic guidance, I discovered the brilliant fruit stall where you can buy a mix of different apples because they all cost the same. You can taste them too, but I didn’t get the chance before I was yanked off to the excellent bread stall. There were stalls selling jam, meat, cakes and vegetables, all terrific stuff, and much more homely than the Farmer’s Market. Normally shy, unless terrorising her friends, Grange Girl was on fine bantering form, swapping century-old badinage of the ‘squeeze me and I’m yours’ variety with the merchants.

On the way out we inspected a cute map with pins showing the locality of the produce. Three pins were just outside the magic circle of however many kilometres you’re allowed to stray from Lewes before being shot. I made a mental note to buy whatever those rebellious items were next week. Long as I remembered the damn thing was on.

I waited till Grangey toiled up the road and disappeared. Then I went to Tescos. I needed cheese strings and rice crispies, and she was much less likely to find me there than in Waitrose.

Beth Miller, 2nd November 2010. Published in