Saturday, August 28, 2010

I see your true colours shining through

‘Typical’, huffed Hoxton Mum, sipping her skinny macchiato. ‘The one time something exciting happens in Lewes, and I was stuck in bloody Tuscany.’

‘Good holiday was it?’ I asked, idly watching as Things One and Two carefully emptied hundreds of sugar sachets into Hoxie’s handbag. So nice to see them working on a project together without bickering.

‘Rotten. The coffee wasn’t even as good as here.’ Hoxie waved her hand round Costa’s, her boycott of Bills having been extended to CafĂ© Nero and Baltica. Nero’s due to people with laptops hogging the best tables, and Baltica because ‘the mirror in the loo makes me look like my mother’.

‘And I couldn’t relax by the pool because every two minutes someone sent me a tweet or text about this Sunday Times business. Maddening, it was.’

‘Maddening to be accused of unthinking racism?’

‘No, maddening to be so far away from the action. Anyway, the article specifically excluded DFLs from any such accusation. Which is only right. After all, back in Hoxton I won plaudits for my sensitive direction of Hox-Dram’s culturally diverse production of My Night with Reg.’

‘Hard for the children’, I said, thinking of the youngsters mentioned in the article.

‘Yes, indeed. Poor Django: he had nightmares that everyone would be talking about it on his return and him quite clueless. Thank heavens I had my Blackberry so he could Facebook his friends and keep up.’ She smiled, basking in the glow of her superb parenting.

Django and Lysander joined us. Lysander had been charged with supervising his son’s hair-cut in Avant Garde, but had clearly drifted off, for rather too much of Django’s pink scalp was revealed.

Hoxie squealed in horror. ‘Lysander, what have you done? He looks like a Black Shirt.’

‘It’s not that short’, Lysander blustered. ‘I didn’t notice them getting the clippers out.’

‘Just pop into Brats why don’t you, get him a Ben Sherman and some Doctor Martens and your job’s done’, Hoxie said hysterically.

Thing Two looked up from his sugar work and said rudely but accurately, ‘Django’s ears stick out.’

I hastily apologised to Django and reminded Thing Two of our rule that all personal comments must be run quietly past me before being relayed to a third party. This rule has been enforced since the time Thing One asked a very large gentleman if he was pregnant.

But Django leaped to his own defence. ‘You can’t say that about my ears, it’s racist.’

This gave us all pause.

‘How so, darling?’ Hoxie asked her earnest little chap.

‘If you say anything about someone’s appearance it’s racist. It said so in that newspaper.’

‘Hmm’, said Lysander. ‘There’s going to have to be a certain amount of education all round in the wake of this business.’

Hoxie picked up her bag. ‘Lord, this is heavier than I remember’, she sighed. ‘How apposite: as with the burden of kids, one’s load never seems to lighten.’ And off she went to her yoga class.

Beth Miller, 18th August 2010. Published in and in Viva Lewes magazine, September 2010.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

You must realise, smoke gets in your eyes

Turning the corner of Church Twitten, I came upon a sinister figure huddled against the wall, hiding something with their arm. ‘Glue sniffer’, I thought immediately. You can take the girl out of Essex but I didn’t spend all those years dahn the Bitter End in Romford without knowing an Evostick abuser when I see one.

Then the hoodie-wearing yobbo turned round and I realised it was my good friend, Village Postmistress, sneaking a crafty cigarette.

‘Blimey, there really is nowhere to run and nowhere to hide in this godforsaken town’, she cried, and made to grind her gasper underfoot.

I stopped her, and soothed: ‘No need to conceal your addiction from me, particularly given your commendable ability to quote Martha Reeves and the Vandellas under pressure.’

Village P sank gratefully against the wall, and we sat together companionably while she did that sunken-cheeks deep inhaling thing that desperado smokers do.

‘Everywhere I go’, she rasped between drags, ‘there’s some accursed goody-two-shoes who knows me. “Ooh” they say, all smug, “still smoking are we?”’

Trouble was, VP had given up very publicly last year, accessorising her entire body with visible nicotine patches.

‘Obviously I can’t even think about smoking in the small outlying village in which I reside and serve the community in my capacity as postmistresses’, she said, all on the outbreath of a plume of smoke. ‘I have to drive to Lewes and skulk in alleyways like a criminal. Even so, you’re the sixth person who’s caught me today.’

It’s tough being a lung-hacker in the crowded south-east at a time of high moral disapproval. VP would have enjoyed hanging out at the Bitter End during the late eighties. You weren’t allowed in unless you had a cigarette permanently dangling from your lips. Alex Higgins, god rest him, and Hilda Ogden were our role models. Hilda still is, really: I don’t smoke any more but I like to wear my curlers in public.

I asked VP if she’d noticed the recent smokers’ backlash. In the last week alone, Marco Pierre White had been seen rakishly puffing a cigarette in his new Maresfield pub, while militant ash-fan David Hockney smoked openly at Glyndebourne.

‘It’s all very well for bad boy chefs and painters’, she sighed, stubbing the butt against the ancient flint wall and lighting another. ‘Pillars of the community like me don’t have that option.’

A man walked past and said, ‘Hello Postie. Still on the coffin nails are we?’

VP made a most un-pillar like gesture at his retreating back. ‘I’m too well-known here. I’m going to have to start commuting to London for nicotine relief.’

‘Apparently’, I said conversationally, ‘you can still smoke in the pubs in Alderney.’

She looked eagerly at me. ‘Is that the town near Chichester?’

I didn’t like to tell her it was even further than the Big Smoke.

Beth Miller, 7th August 2010. Published in and in Viva Lewes magazine January 2011.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Oh I want the truth to be said

Sometimes the quotidian round gets you down.

‘How are you?’
‘Looking forward to the hols?’
‘Oh yes, can’t wait!’
‘Isn’t the last week of term fun?’
‘Absolutely! So many super school events requiring my presence!’

At such times, it’s refreshing to have an encounter with Lewes’s own superhero, Honesty Girl. She doesn’t wear a cape or mask - at least, not in public - but she does fearlessly hunt down chirpy small-talk and bring it to its knees.

‘How goes it, Honesty Girl?’
‘Bloody awful.’
‘How was sports day?’
‘Appalling. In the mummy’s race I Zola Budd-ed some woman to save face. Then I puked at the finish line.’

At the end of term, when one stares horrified into the six-weeks abyss, Honesty Girl’s bracing pessimism can be just what one needs. However bad you have it, she has it worse.

‘Got plans for the holidays, Honesty Girl?’
‘Hell yeah. Case of Smirnoff for me and wall-to-wall CBeebies for the kids. Sorted.’

Occasionally, though, one wishes to be surrounded by what Hoxton Mum calls ‘positive energy.’ At the school fair last weekend, Thing One was riding a horse – a new innovation, both for her and the school – and her cries of terror gave way to cautious smiles. Incidentally, have you noticed the one-upmanship of school fair attractions? We had quadrupeds, another school had a homemade bread stall. What’ll it be next summer, helicopter rides and Sumo displays? Anyway, Thing Two was also happy, researching how many chocolate crispie cakes you can cram in at once (answer: five). I was wafting round in a broad-brimmed hat and suddenly felt quite Stepford-Wives-ish. In a good way. You know, like everything was perfect and organised and clean. Well, not Thing Two’s chin, but everything else. Trying to savour this unfamiliar feeling, I chatted to Hoxton Mum, who’s always channelling Nanette Newman, and we were throwing back our heads and laughing, when Hoxie hissed, ‘Look out! Job’s Comforter approaching, three o’clock.’

We dived behind the white elephant stall, which will doubtless feature real elephants next year, but too late: Honesty Girl stomped towards us, dust cloud above her head.

‘Isn’t this a nightmare?’ she said. Our smiles faltered, but we attempted to keep aloft the illusion of marvellousness.
‘It’s simply lovely’, I cried.
Honesty Girl stared. ‘I need some of whatever you’re on’, she said. ‘I’ve had sponges chucked at me because the headteacher’s refused to go in the stocks. My brats have taken my last twenty quid to buy sackloads more plastic tat. I’ve eaten a fairy cake with icing so virulent it’s taken out my filling. And I just stepped in some manure.’

There was a wail from the playground, and with a sense of inevitability I watched Thing One fall off the horse with a thud. My hat blew away in the wind, and Thing Two wiped gooey rice crispies into my hair.

‘It IS ghastly, isn’t it?’ I said, and Honesty Girl nodded happily.

Beth Miller, 21st July 2010. Published in