Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Baby, it's cold outside

Whenever I hear someone’s thinking of getting a puppy, I always ask if they’ve considered a toddler instead. There are similarities – boundless enthusiasm, weeing on the floor – but toddlers have the edge because they’re reluctant to go out in bad weather. They won’t stand by the door holding their reins and looking hopeful. They will resist vigorously, clinging grimly to inadequately earthed items such as crystal vases.

But though they object, pre-schoolers, like puppies, need to go out every day and romp off some energy. Where to, when it’s cold and wet?

Monkey Bizness. Massive cushioned aircraft hangar. Not dear in money terms, if you take just one toddler and stay all day. Costly, however, in terms of the toll on your sanity.

Lewes Castle. Marvellous dressing-up room in which to enact fantasies of being a thirteenth century toddler. Town model will hold pre-schoolers’ attention for just seventeen seconds.

Paradise Park. Unbeatable for indoor activities. Most toddlers are terrified of the implausible looking dinosaurs but the kind staff will let you bypass them.

Library. The children’s section is very good. Not free, as your child will force you to rent a Pingu DVD which you will fail to return, incurring enough fines to have bought the damn thing outright.

White Hart. I’ve never tried this but am told that toast costs about 50p and you can watch swimmers in the pool below. The White Hart does not market itself as a ‘toddler hang-out’, so use sparingly.

Ocean Adventure at the Leisure Centre. Tiny, low-rent Monkey Bizness. Has a crèche most mornings so you can have a grown-up swim/quick nap. Hot chocolate from the machine is better than the tea.

Toy Library at the All Saints. Toys, biccies, tea, company. Only open on Wednesday mornings, no point banging weepily on the door at other times.

Toddler groups. There are enough of these in drafty church halls that you could spend your whole week lurching from one to the other. Terrific if you find like-minded parents. Beyond depressing otherwise. (LDC keeps a list.)

Wyevales Garden Centre. Much missed is the unfenced koi carp pond, but there are lovely wooden playhouses (boring people call them ‘sheds’). There’s a café so you might have to spend money at some point.

Inside Outside. New ‘creative playgroup’. Their website hints they’ll be outside whatever the weather, before admitting they have a nice big warm tent. Untried but it looks good.

Toys R Us. Before your child realises this a shop, tell them it’s a toy museum. Don’t buy anything or the gig is up.

Booth Museum. Only if you can face explaining the principle of taxidermy. Thing Two set off an alarm last time.

Grange Gardens. Technically outdoors, but on cold sunny days before the café opens the benches near the hatch are bathed in warmth. Toddlers, sprinkled with Grange magic, will play happily for ages. Thing Two and I are often the only people there, so keep it to yourself.

Beth Miller. Published in VivaLewes.com

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

We will find it, we will bind it, we will stick it with glue, glue, glue

I didn’t go to Seedy Saturday. I was haunted by last year’s debacle, when Grange Girl arrived a married woman and left arm-in-arm with my Uncle Adultery, an application form for his dating agency tucked into her Bag for Life. She claims to be considerably happier since freed from the yoke of patriarchy, and perkily recounted all the seedy stuff I’d missed. I faded out to the sound of ‘homemade chutney’ and ‘insect homes’, and only regained consciousness when she mentioned Marguerite Patten.

Lucky I wasn’t there. I would have found it hard not to question Marguerite resentfully about her cashew nut risotto. My mother was so strangely enamoured of it, we ate nothing else during the long summer of ’76.

‘She was terrific’, said Grangey sternly. ‘She talked about the return of make do and mend.’

This phrase sends chills down my brand new cardigan. Make do and mend is dusters, fashioned from gaffer-taped Y-fronts, and home-crocheted swimming costumes that sag embarrassingly when one is thirteen and trying to impress boys at Pontin’s Holiday camp. Still, that was years ago, not that it happened (cough), so I dutifully examine the advice from Lewes District Council.

A cheeky little intro implies that flooding is entirely carbon dioxide’s fault rather than, say, casually giving planners the nod to build on flood plains, but it also offers a homespun list. I already store leftover food in the fridge – best place for it, I find – but I’d never thought of using empty bottles for homemade wine. I lost a few days on that project, and resurfaced woozily to see what else I could m d and m.

Some of the ideas seemed old-fashioned – well, all of it, obviously - but some were more recently dated, such as doctors wanting toys for their waiting rooms. Err, not the swine-flu isolation zones I’ve been in lately, which are barer than the nap on a Y-front duster. Other suggestions lacked the courage of their convictions. Turning jars into candle holders seemed reasonable, if a trifle suggestive of nothing much going on in one’s life, but the instructions concluded: ‘decorate with glass paints which can be purchased quite easily.’ Why only quite easily? Either it’s easy: you hand over money in a shop and they give you paints; or it’s difficult, e.g. there’s a worldwide shortage. And if we are making do, should we really be purchasing expensive paints? We might as well buy ready-made candle holders and use the free time to drink homemade parsnip wine.

Talking of which, apparently Marguerite described how wartime kids were fobbed off with mashed parsnip sandwiches, masquerading as banana. Given the price of Waitrose’s fair-trade bananas versus the free parsnips Grangey keeps forcing on me from her veg box, I gave this a try. Thing One spat it out, and Thing Two sobbed for rice cakes. Still, waste not want not, eh? I can scrape it off the bread and use it for my next batch of Chateau Parsnip.

Beth Miller, 10th February 2010. Published in VivaLewes.com

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Guilty feet have got no rhythm

An air of gloom hung over our table in Nero’s.

‘What’s up, chums?’ I asked cheerily, slopping moccachino down the leather sofa. I gave it a half-hearted flick with a napkin and sat somewhere else.

‘We’re all suffering from the same malaise’, sighed Cycle Girl.

‘Too much caffeine?’

‘I’ll tell you about mine’, said Hoxton Mum. ‘I’ve been trying to keep things local, so I gave up my intimate relationship with Beowulf at Toni & Guy’s, and started going instead to -’. She named a well-known Lewes hairdresser. ‘We could have been so good together. But she only knows one cut, and that’s the cut I get.’

‘Hair looks nice, Hoxie’, we fibbed, kindly. There’s no comfort in the truth.

‘Yes, that’s because I went grovelling back to Beowulf, cap in hand. Cap on head as well, to hide the mess. But now, whenever I see [Lewes hairdresser], she gives me a hurt look. I should have known better than to cheat a friend.’

‘That’s nothing’, said Grange Girl. ‘Yesterday, there was only one parsnip in my veg box, but the recipe called for two. So I had to buy one from a supermarket!’ She groaned, and clutched her stomach. ‘My parsnip and caper curry was disgusting. Serves me right. Maybe it’s better this way.’

I wondered if it was merely the provenance of the parsnip at fault, but said nothing.

‘At least your veg box people are still in business’, said Pells Boy. ‘Did you know that Seymours closing down was my fault, because I didn’t like their irons? Though it’s easy to pretend, I went and bought one from Woolies. Next thing I knew, Seymours was gone.’

‘Didn’t help Woolies, though, did it?’ Cycle Girl murmured, in a careless whisper. I could barely hear her: tonight the music seemed so loud.

‘The one that gets to me’, said DJ Mama, clutching her brow, ‘is the agony when you refuse Lewes Pounds in your change. We hurt each other with the things we want to say.’

I was puzzled. ‘What are you all on about?’

‘I know you’re not a fool’, said Cycle Girl. ‘Lewes Guilt, of course. It’s highly contagious.’

I suddenly felt bad about my casual coffee-spilling, and dabbed the stain diligently with my scarf.

‘Don’t even talk to me about restaurants’, said Absent-Minded Girl, though we hadn’t been. ‘Every time I passed it, I thought, mustn’t do to Guidos what I did to Circa. But every time I’d forget, and get take-out from Yummy Yummy instead. Oh, the guilt, the guilt.’

I wished that I could lose this crowd, so I went home. As I walked past Anne of Cleves House, I noticed it was shut. The sign on the door said it would be closed till March, owing to very low visitor numbers. I swear I’d been planning to take the kids there at half-term. I stumbled home on non-rhythmic feet, and took to my bed, lain low by this most virulent virus.

Beth Miller, 3rd February 2010. Published in VivaLewes.com

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

I dropped into a shanty I used to frequent

When I was at school with Kanga she was as British as binge-drinking, but living in Australia the past 15 years has given her more than just a Queensland twang. Walking round Lewes with her is like stepping out with Crocodile Dundee. She really does say ‘G’day?’ to everyone, and she would doubtless raise her leather bush hat if she only had one. Luckily for me, and Lewes, she’s staying with mates in Brighton - see? ‘Mates’? It’s contagious? - and has popped over here for day trips, and decent pubs.

‘Ohmigard?’ she drawls, blowing the froth off a pint of Harveys. She never was a glass of white wine for the lady kind of person.

‘You seen the blasted hell-holes they call pubs over in Brighton?’

‘Rough, I expect’. I sip my white wine.

‘Hell no? Not rough like the watering holes in old Toowoomba?’ She laughs, a delicate sound that causes everyone in the Gardeners to whip round and fix her with a hard stare.

‘How ya going?’ she chirrups, and they turn quickly away, lest she engage them in conversation.

Born and Bred Boy sidles into the seat opposite us and stares askance at Kanga’s knee-length shorts. ‘What’s wrong with Brighton pubs then?’

‘They’re not pubs? They’re bars?’ Kanga gives his nose a playful flick with a beer-mat. ‘You know, I’ve been really looking forward to bending the elbow in some proper English pubs? Like the ones we went to at school?’

Boy regards me with respect.

‘At least this one’s dinky-di?’ She looks round the Gardeners approvingly.

‘Any idea?’ Boy mouths, and I shake my head.

Kanga drains her glass. ‘Let’s hit the turps, guys?’

Like the Queen interpreting the native lingo, I tell Boy, ‘She wants us to take her on a tour of authentic drinking establishments.’

‘Right ho’, says Boy, going all PG Wodehouse under the pressure.

There are roughly twenty pubs in Lewes, and as we walk, we discount those which Boy deems inauthentic (most of them), those which I deem too far (most of the rest), and those in which Kanga, in her shorts and rude t-shirt, might cause a stir (almost all). That leaves us with the Lewes Arms, although there is a slight contretemps caused by Kanga casually wandering into the front bar as though she were allowed there. However, we are soon sitting comfortably in the back room, watching a game of Toad in the Hole.

'Ah, this is great?’ she sighs, lovingly necking another pint. ‘This is what I dreamed of when I was sinking stubbies in old Fibber Magee’s?’

Boy, trying to turn the conversation away from Australia, begins to explain the rules of Toad. Kanga stands up, says, ‘I know? Was a dab hand at it when I visited the Harrietville Hotel Motel in Victoria? Only table in Oz? Who fancies another?’ and strides off to the bar.

‘What a woman?’, breathes Boy, and I don’t think he means it as a question.

Beth Miller, 26th January 2010. Published in VivaLewes.com