Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Think of all the fun I've missed

Country Mouse rings with her usual seasonal barrage of one-upmouseship.
‘Have you finished yet? My dear, isn’t it awful, I’ve barely started.’ [Translation: Everything’s done; relaxing in a tinsel tracksuit.]
‘Now what do you think of my Christmas dinner with a twist? Goose with brandy reduction and cider-glazed pearl onions. Nigella, obv.’
I scrunch the phone against my shoulder in official 1950’s housewife style and scrawl myself a reminder note: ‘Get food for Christmas’. If only I was a 1950s housewife, I might come up a better rejoinder than ‘Pearl onions can be awfully windy.’ [Translation: Shuddup.]
She ignores me, quite rightly. ‘Must dash. So much to do!’ [Translation: Off for my massage, the reward for having (a) done everything and (b) crushed your soul.]
It’s because of this kind of pressure that 1950s housewives were all junked up to the eyeballs in Valium. I do up my pinny and continue my list.
1. Get food. Not turkey. Turkey so over. Rattlesnake?
2. Get drink. Lots. Strong.
3. Inspect unwanted present cupboard. Surely this is the year I can offload that pink tart’s boudoir bubble bath set? Maybe my father-in-law would like it.
4. Start domestic marketing campaign centering on the principle of when I was your age I was thrilled with a walnut and a roll of sellotape.
On the way to town (5. Go to Waitrose, have small and mostly unnoticeable breakdown by the Christmas puddings, buy cheese strings), I bump into Pierced Boy. I assume confidently that his Christmas plans will be less formed than mine.
‘Oh, I’m spending the whole week at Lorenzo’s place in Marrakech, didn’t I say?’[Translation: Ner ner ner ner ner.]
I reel into Neros. The staff are wearing Santa hats but I am prepared to overlook this in the interests of scoring a triple espresso. Then Eco Dad sits down, spills green tea and says, ‘Done all your shopping then?’
‘Yes,’ I lie, brazenly. ‘How about you?’
‘It was a trick question!’ he laughs. ‘We’re not joining the consumerist bun fight. We’re giving each other the gift of love and space.’ [Translation: Ner ner ner ner ner.]
I give Eco Dad the gift of space and trudge to Honesty Girl’s place. Surely she’ll sympathise with my Yuletide ennui? But she’s up a ladder decorating an immense tree.
‘I love this time of year,’ she says.
‘Ha ha!’
‘No, seriously. I try and put my cynicism aside and hear sleigh bells in the snow.’
I burst into tears.
‘What on earth’s the matter you silly old trout?’ she soothes. ‘Here, this’ll make you feel better.’ She hands me a huge Cadbury’s selection box. ‘The kids’ll never know, we’ll just take one or two.’ [Translation: We eat the entire thing.]
The taste of the Crunchy makes me think of chestnuts roasting on a open fire, and how much more I’d rather be eating a Crunchy. Though just for a moment I ponder what it would taste like garnished with some glazed pearl onions.
Beth Miller, 8th December 2010. Published in and Viva Lewes magazine, December 2012

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Shout, shout, let it all out

It must be the prospect of the festive season that makes people become abruptly more assertive. Even shy retiring types like myself, when faced with the prospect of hosting elderly relatives at Christmas for the FIFTH YEAR RUNNING, go all Naomi Campbell and start shouting and throwing things. Sure, shouting’s not exactly assertive so much as aggressive but sometimes a calm restatement of one’s position simply doesn’t cut it and you have to smash a few china mugs with pictures of cute terriers on.

I’ve now gracefully extricated myself from the joyous Yuletide that had awaited me, and if the small price to pay is excommunication and another boxed Zen garden for a present, well so be it. Even bring it on. I’m in bullish mood. And it’s not just me. All around are people saying, ‘No-one talks to me like that and gets away with it,’ and ‘I just threw it straight in the bin.’

Take Library Boy. By day a mild-mannered librarian; by night, a mild-mannered librarian. Yet last Saturday when strolling through the Cliffe his attention was caught by that bloke who dresses like an insurance salesman and shouts vigorously about the Bible. Ordinarily L Boy would have simply walked on by, like those geezers who weren’t the Good Samaritan. But something came over him. Call it Festive Assertive Disorder (FAD) if you like. He approached Bible Bloke and said firmly, ‘I do wish you’d be quiet.’

Respect, Library Boy, as the young people say. Bible Bloke was struck dumb for almost a second before he threw his arms wide enough to encompass WH Smiths. ‘SEE THIS YOUNG MAN, THE VOICE OF CONSCIENCE,’ he bellowed in tones borrowed from the Reverend Ian Paisley. Library Boy was quite pleased with this outcome because it’s been a while since he was referred to as a young man.

Over on freegle (the new freecycle), the normally gentle atmosphere of pleases and thank yous has also been infected by FAD. ‘This is a BIG item so don’t bid unless you have an articulated lorry,’ say people huffily, and ‘Don’t leave mobiles I will only respond to landlines between 3 and 4 am.’ Punctuation is not allowed in freegle world, other than the assertively placed triple exclamation mark: ‘AND MOST OF ALL DON'T MESS ME AROUND OR ANYONE ELSE FOR THAT MATTER!!!’

It’s good to practice these skills as December gets into its stride. Now is the time when the list of things you have to do begins to resemble one of those joke Roman scrolls that out-run a roll of Andrex. Say after me. ‘No thank you, I won’t be helping my child do their third sponsored thing of the week.’ Good. Now try this one: ‘Oh how lovely a boxed Zen Garden I will treasure it.’ Excellent. Now open your bin and quietly tip it in. There is no need to burst into tears. Remember, assertive and calm. And if that doesn’t work, shouting and CAPITAL LETTERS.

Beth Miller, 1st December 2010

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

You just keep me hangin' on

Grange Girl and I were wandering along the Farmers Market going ‘ooh’ at the raspberries when a pleasant-looking middle-aged lady asked us for directions to the nearest toilet.

‘Of course,’ I said, always keen to offer comfort to strangers, ‘there are some just behind Lloyds in that car-park.’

The woman thanked me and started to move away, but Grange Girl slapped a vice-like hand on her arm and said, ‘Wait a minute! She can’t go in those!’

‘They’re the nearest, Grangey. And they’ve been done up.’
‘That’s as maybe but I still wouldn’t want a visitor to see them. I do have some civic pride. And they have those batty automatic sink things which give you ten seconds of sticky soap, then the water doesn’t work.’

She turned to the woman, who was looking a little worried. ‘The nicest toilets in Lewes are in Shelley’s Hotel, madam. You’ll obviously have to buy a drink or scone but they’re well worth it; gorgeous little ante-room, scents and plush furnishings, entire thing reminiscent of a nineteenth century boudoir…’

‘Grangey, that’s practically a mile up the road!’
‘She can hold on for a bit. Can’t you?’ Grange Girl addressed the woman. ‘You won’t regret it.’
‘Er, no, I…’ the woman began looking round anxiously.
‘Look,’ I said helpfully, ‘there’s some more near the station…’
‘For heaven’s sake!’ cried Grange Girl. ‘You mean those ones opposite Lager Bench? Don’t go there missus. Try the library – very clean. Though the drier makes a dreadful racket, hardly appropriate given the setting.’

The woman thanked us again and tried to back away but Grangey was in full flow.

‘Course if you fancy something alcoholic to accompany your penny-spending, the loo in the Snowdrop is much improved.’
‘I think the Grange Gardens ones are closed for Winter,’ I contributed. ‘But they’ve got those all-in-one-don’t-work-properly sinks too.’ I reflected on the many hours I had spent there with Thing Two. ‘And they can be very cold. So you ought to give those a miss, really.’
‘I hate it when you get caught short at the Friday market and have to use the Tom Paine toilet,’ said Grangey. ‘Everyone can hear what you’re up to.’
‘The ones at Pelham House are lovely and very sound-proof, you can’t even have cross-cubicle conversations in there.’
‘Ooh and I’ll tell you another good one: at the County Court. Art Nouveau, I believe.’
‘It’s not open to the public though, surely?’
‘No but you can visit every September for the Architectural Open Day.’
‘That’s probably too long to wait, isn’t it?’

I turned to the woman but she had gone.

‘All this talk has made me want to powder my nose,’ said Grange Girl, and started striding up the hill in the direction of the Shelleys. ‘Might as well have a scone and a cup of tea while we’re there.’

Beth Miller, 25th November 2010. Published in Photo by Katie Moorman.