Wednesday, December 21, 2011
Tuesday, December 13, 2011
Wednesday, November 23, 2011
“If I had a little money, it’s a rich man’s world,” sang Grange Girl, dancing into my kitchen waving a ten pound note. She essayed a soft shoe shuffle round the Brabantia bin, and without changing key, or indeed, tune, segued straight into “If I were a rich man, yabba dabba dabba doo.”
I sipped my tea thoughtfully and watched her, waiting for the financial medley to come to a halt. This happened sooner than I’d hoped; for, slipping on a stray tea-bag, to the melody of Forever in Blue Jeans (apparently money talks, but it don’t sing and dance and it don’t walk. Who knew?), Grange Girl sat heavily on the floor and silence ensued.
“Explain,” I said.
“I’ve only gone and won the Lottery!” she cried.
“Well why didn’t you say so?” I helped her to her feet and offered her a biscuit from my secret tin. She took a chunky chocolate cookie and dunked it messily in my tea but I said nothing.
“What are we, uh, you, going to buy first?” I gabbled excitedly. “We need champagne!” I checked the rack but there was only a dusty bottle of blackberry wine someone had brought to a dinner party four years ago, the swine. I made fresh tea instead.
“Ooh Grangey! New house? Lamborghini? iPads for all your friends?”
Grangey nibbled her biscuit. “I thought I might buy a new Scrabble dictionary,” she said.
“That’s oddly modest; you could buy a solid gold Scrabble set.”
“Yes, I’m thinking a dictionary. Or I might buy breakdown cover for my car.” Her hand snaked towards the biscuit tin, clearly heading for a foil-wrapped one, but I quickly hid the tin behind my back. “Did you say OR, Grangey? That sounds as if you’re planning just ONE purchase with your mighty win.”
Grange Girl sighed. “I’ve won the Lewes Lottery,” she said.
I narrowed my eyes. “And how much, exactly, is your win?”
“Must I assume that £52 is not being used as a shorthand here for, say, £52,000?”
She nodded. “It’s better than a slap in the face with a soggy biscuit! I was really pleased!”
“Pour it yourself.”
“Oh, don’t be like that. It’s a really nice thing. Half the pot goes to local good causes, and half to a winner. You could tell Viva Lewes readers that the more people who play, the bigger the prize I can win next time.”
“I’ll do that. Cos frankly, this win’s a bit pitiful.”
“It’s like the song says,” and Grangey broke into tunelessness once more, “Tell me that you want the kind of thing that money just can’t buy.”
“I’ll tell you that,” I said, putting the biscuit tin on the high shelf, and opening the Rich Teas instead, “when you tell me you’re just as happy with these cheap biccies.”
“Course I am.” Grange Girl took one and dipped it triumphantly into her tea. “These are miles better for dunking.”
Read about the Lewes Lottery here
Beth Miller, 16th November 2011
Thursday, November 3, 2011
'A buttery one, please,’ I said.
The sommelier smiled. ‘Certainly, let me fetch something you might like.’
Malling Lass turned to me, respect and suspicion battling it out across her face. ‘Buttery, eh?’
I nodded and nibbled a bread stick.
‘It’s cold, isn’t it?’ Lass said, stalling. ‘The nights are drawing in.’
‘They are indeed. We’ve put the heating on.’
‘Ah, no need up in Malling. Heat rises, you see.’
‘Our house is warm as an Athens sauna in August. Uncle Adultery’s laid up on the sofa in front of the fire, demanding non-stop Bath Olivers and Darjeeling. It’s good to get out.’
‘Glad to oblige.’
There was a pause.
‘So,’ she said. ‘What’s this buttery business all about?’
The sommelier returned with a large glass containing a swirl of golden liquid. ‘I think you’ll find this extremely creamy,’ he said.
I sipped it, channelling the Jilly Goolden of my youth. ‘Mmm. I’m getting the full dairy here. Butter, stilton… and is there just a hint of macrobiotic yoghurt?’
The sommelier’s smile shifted into a lower gear.
‘Let me try,’ Malling Lass said, snatching my glass. I don’t know what they teach ‘em up that end of town. She swilled my wine from cheek to cheek like a hamster, then swallowed it with a cartoon gulp.
‘How exactly is that buttery?’ she demanded. ‘It just tastes like wine.’
I gave up my pseudo-oenophilia. ‘Look, I once had a scrummy wine which was described as buttery. So now I always ask for something buttery because I know I’ll like it. When I was fifteen I used to ask for the one with the blue nun picture because I knew I liked that.’
‘Ooh you had me fooled, I thought you were an expert.’
We clinked glasses - ‘Cheers!’ ‘Sláinte!’ ‘L’chaim!’ ‘Mud in yer eye!’ - and she chugged down her own wine, a vibrant red full of raspberries and apple blossom (it said on the label).
‘Something else I know nothing about, other than one useful fact,’ I said, ‘is Ancient Greek.’
Malling Lass indicated to the sommelier, by means of an oddly emotional mime, that she needed replenishing.
‘I’ll want a shedload more alcohol if you’re going to start muttering about Greek,’ she said, and ordered ‘something with a kick of Tabasco.’
‘I was going to say that the only Greek I know, is the meaning of the word symposium.’
‘And this came to your mind because…?’
‘…because we’re in a wine bar called Symposium.’
‘So we are. Go on then, cleverclogs.’
‘It means “a drinking party.” Which would have enlivened most of the decidedly sober symposiums I have attended.’
‘Symposia, surely?’ Lass said, sipping from her fresh glass. ‘Mmm. More Aromat than Tabasco, but in the right arena. Or arenum as you doubtless prefer.’
‘Actually, symposia and symposiums are both correct.’
‘Here’s a plan,’ Lass said. ‘Let’s stay here until we see this Symposium in plural.’
And we drank to that.
Beth Miller, 27th October 2011. Published in VivaLewes.com. Photo by Alex Leith
Wednesday, October 26, 2011
‘Let’s do this systematically,’ I said, playing for time. ‘Lewes has eight estate agents. There’s the grainy-photo one that’s been here since it sold the castle to William de Warenne. There’s the very posh one, and the quite posh one. The overpriced pushy lot, and the slightly-cheaper-though-not-by-much-it’s-all-relative-innit crew. The one where the staff are sitcom-style wide boys, and the one where they’re so low-key they won’t notice you unless you stand on their desks waggling a cash-lined briefcase.’
‘That’s only seven,’ said Uncle Adultery, far more on the ball than someone seeking a retirement pad ought to be.
‘Yes, well there’s the one that set up after I bought my house and I don’t know nuffink about it.’
‘You can stop it with the innits and nuffinks, Niecey. I believe my intention to buy un petit igloo has rattled your cage. No, no,’ and he raised a hand to quell the raggedy flow of my half-hearted denials, ‘I have sprung it upon you. Fret not: I don’t intend to settle here until I am immobile and dotage-ish.’
‘I’ll be delighted whenever you move here, Uncle,’ I lied, feeling expansive now I knew it was un-imminent. ‘So where shall we start?’
He took my arm. ‘The very posh one, of course.’
We strolled along the high street and gazed in at the window. ‘Egad!’ said my Uncle, and staggered slightly. ‘Hasn’t the recession arrived here yet?’
‘You’re looking at beautifully-situateds with wisteria,’ I said. ‘Surely a pied-a-terre is more a cosy flat.’
‘To your undemanding mind, perhaps. Well, maybe I do need to lower my sights. A separate library is a tad provincial, after all.’
With the help of the scarfy lady, who was to an ordinary estate agent as Helen Mirren is to Bob Hoskins, we spent a lovely hour flicking through dream properties. Both Helen and myself tried, with varying degrees of subtlety, to find out just how lucrative the dating-agency-for-married-people business was. Was it four-bed-in-Rotten-Row profitable or one-bed-above-a-kebab-shop struggling?
We seemed to have the answer when Helen went off to answer the gold-plated phone and Uncle A whispered that he’d like a look at the cheaper-innit crew. We slipped out and trotted briskly down the hill.
‘It’s not that I can’t manage some of those, Niecey, but in these uncertain times one had better…’ said my Uncle, but I never found out what one had better because he turned to check that Helen wasn’t chasing us with details of a superb rear-facing view, tripped and went down like a shot deer. I tried to help him up but noticed his right foot was facing a different direction from that which is conventional in the foot-direction world.
‘Oh Ankle, your uncle,’ I gasped in confusion.
‘Take this money , Niecey,’ he wheezed hoarsely as paramedics lifted him into the ambulance. ‘I need Darjeeling – leaf not bags – rye bread and Gentlemen’s relish. See you back at ours when the butchers have released me.’
Beth Miller, October 18th 2011. Published in VivaLewes.com. Photo by Alex Leith
Tuesday, October 18, 2011
I stood precariously on a swivel chair to reach my posh cup. It had once had eleven matching friends but they’d all met with brutal deaths.
I clung bravely onto the cup but my coccyx made a dispiriting crunching noise as I landed.
Uncle Adultery stared down at me dispassionately. ‘You are a strange little person,’ he said, and took the cup out of my hand. ‘This needs a wash.’
‘Is everything all right, Uncle A?’ I asked, once I’d hobbled into a sitting position and we were sipping our tea. ‘You seem disgruntled.’
‘You Are Old, Father William, The Young Man Said.’
‘I am? Well, actually I do have an arthritic thumb.’
‘You’re still a young flapper. I am referring to me.’
‘Oh Unc! You are in your prime, surely?’
‘One must accept certain realities. For example, you can no longer clamber about on chairs as though you were twenty-two. And I… why, the other day I forgot my banking password.’
‘Everyone forgets theirs.’
‘They don’t forget their mother’s maiden name, their primary school and their postcode though, do they?’
‘So it’s time to make a plan for the future, whatever it may hold, and whatever part Emmanuelle chooses – or not - to play in it.’
‘Topic verboten. I intend, therefore, to buy a convenient apartment so that when the manor at South Ken becomes too much, I can relocate to where my dearest are nearest and can look after me.’
I’ve always been quicker physiologically than cognitively. I felt a prickle down my spine long before my brain woke up, stretched, scratched itself under the armpit and hit me with the full horror.
‘So!’ He stood and examined his fob watch, a la White Rabbit. ‘Let us take a preliminary amble round the real estate purveyors of this noble town.’
‘You mean… you want to buy a flat… here?’ I stammered.
‘Where better? Pleasant landscapes, a modicum of culture, and crucially, my loving niece on hand.’
To be continued…
Beth Miller, 12th October 2011. Published in VivaLewes.com. Photo by Alex Leith.
Thursday, October 13, 2011
Hoxton Mum’s blog.
30th September – The Beginning!!!
Terribly excited about ten day ‘Shop Local’ challenge. So good for Lewes economy and environment. Am ignoring naysayers e.g. Lysander who believes we will DIE without Waitrose. New trug from Herstmonceux (actually they didn’t have right colour so had to use Amazon) is marvellous for carrying Friday market veg. Made Django amazing beetroot soup but little heathen wouldn’t touch it. Forced to substitute spaghetti hoops, but from Leicester Road Stores so STILL LOCAL.
1st October – Cornucopia of Delights!!!
What would we do without Farmer’s Market say I! Filled trug with meat, bread and cakes, plus I Can’t Believe It’s Not Stilton, from Newhaven. Lysander renamed it I Can Believe It’s Socks, but with local chutney it was perfectly acceptable. Spent quarter of usual Saturday amount! Lysander said was because I’d bought nothing worth eating, but am finding him easy to ignore.
2nd October – For Mash get Smash!!!
‘Suppose no Sunday roast,’ was Lysander’s opening gambit. ‘And good morning to you darling,’ I replied. Popped beef into Aga, then realised no potatoes! Grabbed trug, but potatoes go hide-and-seeky on Sunday. After wistful glance at Waitys luckily remembered packet of Smash left over from hilarious seventies party last year. Lysander declared dinner Best Ever, and even Django ate all his Smash.
3rd October – A Mars a Day!!!
Didn’t have Django’s usual lunch treats so sent him to school with a Chaula’s samosa. Went to buy more supplies. Important to experience life before supermarkets took fun out of daily shop.
After school Django broke into emergency cupboard and ate whole bag of mini-Mars bars. Silly chap was sick all night.
4th October – Thanks Hubby!!!
Lysander informed me new colleague Ambrose coming for dins tomorrow. Tiny tiff as I suggested Shop Local week not ideal to host someone who is FRIENDS WITH DAMIEN HIRST. Lysander said what else did I have to do all day, I discovered trug is impressive weapon, and there we left it. Him to work, me to spend yet another day shopping. Discovered old Valium stash from Tasmania trip, feeling like proper 1950s housewife today!!
5th October – In a Tizz!!!
Django begged for school dinner. Told him it was mass-produced chemical rubbish but he got money from his piggy bank and ran to school on wings of Mercury.
No time for usual dinner party prep, so got tweezers and Clairol Nice ‘N’ Easy from St Anne’s Chemists. Lamb from Richards, Rioja from St Pancras Stores, Stinking Bish from Cheese Please, veg from Lewes Fruit Stores, though no asparagus – claimed ‘not seasonal,’ absurd because Waitrose has it. Not convinced broad bean, mighty as it is, offers same panache. By time I reached Wallands weight of trug almost dislocated shoulder. Not concentrating on beauty treatments due to broad bean anxiety; ended up with no eyebrows and white streak in hair like Diaghilev.
6th October – Nearly There!!!
Ambrose charming last night. He once shared rice cakes with Kate Moss! Said dinner delightful, didn’t mind broad beans stepping up to the plate. Lysander kissed me and asked if stress of Shop Local caused eyebrows to fall out. Only three more days. Booked big Ocado delivery for Monday.
Beth Miller, 5th October 2011. Published in VivaLewes.com
Tuesday, October 4, 2011
'Look at that!’ cried the Scottish cousins, standing in the middle of our street and craning their necks upwards.
‘The Big Dipper!’ I said.
‘Naw, it’s the Plough.’
‘I think they’re the s…’
‘Och, it’s that great to see it, the wee plough, large as life and twice as sparkly.’
‘And see here,’ cried another, ‘it’s yon chap Sirius, brightest star in the firmament.’
I wanted to tell them it was actually Venus, identifiable by its lack of twinkle. But I was too discombobulated by ‘firmament,’ a word I rarely encounter outside bible class.
‘Don’t you get stars then?’ I asked. Perhaps stars were like sunshine and the Guardian – not available in Glasgow.
‘Not like this hen, it’s the light pollution. Here, it’s black as Rabbie Burns’ waistcoat.’
‘Living in Barcombe was even better,’ I bragged. ‘No streetlights. You could see the Milky Way.’
Thing Two perked up briefly, but after being assured that no chocolate was in the offing he went back to climbing his tall relatives as though they were trees.
‘Shouldn’t this bairn be abed?’ a cousin/tree asked, as Thing Two sat on his head carelessly waving his skean dhu, the traditional knife that had accompanied his present of a kilt. The kilt itself was currently at the bottom of the bin, as I discovered a few days later, after feral cats had shredded the bin-bag to access the haggis therein.
The cousins had tried to deter Man of the House from making haggis (‘dinnae fash yersel, we’re happy wi’ a McDonalds’) but you can’t stop an expat Scotsman making an eejit of himself when it comes to the land of his fathers. I’d hidden his bagpipes in the interests of damage limitation. Actually I’d already hidden them years ago.
The cousins were commendably happy to immerse themselves in local culture. Charleston, the heartland of soft southern Englishness, was declared ‘right bonny,’ whilst a pint supped outside the John Harvey Tavern was a fine wee drop (if a tad warm). Whenever Man of the House tried to tempt them with a dram, or a piece for lunch, they stoutly asked for the English equivalent. It was impressive. I asked Man of the House if I’d been quite so when-in-Rome during my Glasgow sojourns, and he libellously insisted I’d spent an entire June week there wearing a sleeping bag and complaining about the cold.
Back outside, Thing Two was cutting holes out of the neighbour’s fence with his knife, and one of the cousins had spotted Orion’s Belt.
‘Won’t anyone say what a braw bricht moonlicht nicht it is?’ I asked, and they head-butted me affectionately around the forehead.
‘It really is gallus here,’ sighed a cousin. ‘Warm weather, starry skies, a choice of paper other than the Daily Record. Fine place indeed.’
‘Would you ever think of moving here?’ I asked. The night sky darkened momentarily.
‘Whit?’ they all cried. ‘Live in England? Are you aff yer heid?’
Beth Miller, 28th September 2011
Wednesday, September 28, 2011
‘Is that definitely the right expression? Don’t you mean “biting hard”?’
‘Digging hard, biting deep, whatever. The recession’s got me by the throat. I’m brassic. Skint.’
‘You’ve a tautology going on there, because brassic and skint mean the same thing.’
‘Two tautologies, actually, because brassic is in fact rhyming slang for skint. Boracic lint, see?’
This exchange explains (a) why Country Mouse and I get on so well and (b) why we aren’t invited to many parties.
‘So is all this a roundabout way of asking me to buy the coffee?’ I said, as we went into Robsons.
‘Yes thanks, and also a roundabout way of warning you not to get your hopes up for your birthday prezzie.’
‘Ah well! I wasn’t expecting much. When you get to my age…’ I waited for her to tell me I was still a young flapper, but the pause went on rather.
‘Thought I’d make you a present,’ she said happily, and put down the menu. ‘They do toasted tea-cakes here.’
‘Would you like one?’
‘Yes please. Something along the lines of an embroidered cushion cover, I was thinking.’
‘What are the other options?’
‘Embroidered hankie, embroidered wall-hanging, embroidered tablecloth. Or a scarf.’
‘An embroidered scarf?’
‘I’m going to be honest with you. I’ve managed to live for nearly twenty-nine years…’
Country Mouse choked on her tea-cake.
‘…TWENTY-NINE YEARS without owning anything embroidered.’
‘Is this the most the word “embroidered” has ever been used in casual conversation?’
‘No. We once discussed the history and usage of the phrase “embroidered the truth” at an all-night session of the Lewes Pedants’ Society.’
‘How come I missed that one?’
‘Arbitration insisted we use the online Free Dictionary to settle the fight. Odd site that is, peppered with links to ‘Nine Surprising Mistakes Women Make That Men Find Totally Unattractive.’
‘Weird,’ said Country Mouse, wiping butter off her elbow.
‘Anyway, back to me. Surely instead of buying embroidery thread you could use the money in the fine charity shops of Lewes to get me something surprising and un-embroidered.’
‘Embroidered has now lost all meaning.’
‘For instance, Library Boy gets his 1950s jigsaws in Age UK. And Grange Girl once found an (un-embroidered) Liberty’s scarf in Martlets.’
‘They have ice-cream sundaes here.’
‘Go on then. And the Red Cross is tops for Beano annuals.’
‘I suppose I could stretch to a fiver.’
‘Ooh push the boat out why don’t you.’
‘That’s a strange expression, isn’t it? Oh god I can see from your face that you’re going to tell me its origin.’
‘Eat your sundae.’
‘Believed to be a corruption of the word Sunday.’
‘There are good DVDs in the British Heart Foundation.’ I took my purse out to pay the bill.
‘Delicious,’ Country Mouse said, running her finger round the empty glass. ‘No, my mind’s made up. Your purse is right tatty. Hand it over, and next time you see it, it’ll be looking ever so pretty.’
Beth Miller, 22nd September 2011. Published in VivaLewes.com
Tuesday, September 20, 2011
‘No,’ I said.
‘You are rather hard to understand; do you have something in your mouth?’
I rejected several zinging replies on the grounds of it being a sunny pre-watershed afternoon and merely replied, ‘Yes, I am eating a delicious chocolate brownie from the Pop-up Co-op.’
‘See? Food, food, nothing but… from the what?’
‘It’s a thing that pops up just when you’re starving. Like a Lewes superhero. With cake. On a bike trailer. Pants securely underneath trousers.’
‘The entire town has gone comestible-crazy,’ Grangey said, brushing brownie-spray off her cagoule. ‘If it’s not the October Feast it’s new juice bars and Aldis; if it’s not plays about dinner parties it’s real-life secret suppers.’
I wisely kept my counsel. Partly because I didn’t want to waste any more brownie, but mainly because I knew that Grange Girl’s offer to host a secret supper had been rejected. Long dark night of the soul that was, listening to Grangey sobbingly recite her menu, based entirely on her garden produce (‘thistle soup with daisy garnish, nasturtium frittata drizzled with pond-weed jus…’), and wondering aloud to the heavens why she hadn’t been selected.
‘And another thing. I discovered the Friday market. I used to have it to myself. Now it’s full of ‘people’ barging to the front, grabbing the best apples.’
‘Why are ‘people’ in inverted commas?’
‘To indicate my disdain without using a rude post-wastershed epithet.’
‘I’d have thought, Grangey, that you would at least approve of the Shop Local challenge?’
We were at the library and Grange Girl ran up the steps like Rocky at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. She stood atop the Tom Paine statue and shnorted (little known Yiddish word*, a cross between snorting and shouting). ‘Shop local for ten days?! I’ve shopped local for years! I should be automatically given that hamper prize.’
She hurled a book at me (‘Nigella Bites’) which was sticking out of the returns letterbox, but ducking missiles is an occupational hazard of friendship with Grangey and we went peacefully on our way.
‘So there’s a new bistro up there,’ I said tentatively, indicating Station Street.
Two gentlemen of the road were sitting on Lager Bench, sharing a vintage Special Brew and chatting. As we passed, one said to the other, ‘You cook them till they’re really soft. Then you mash them up with butter.’ Both then said, ‘Mmmm!’
Grange Girl turned to me with a perfectly blank expression.
‘Okay Grangey, it’s all about food.’
‘I’m never wrong,’ she said, adding, ‘Want to come to mine? I’ve some bay leaf crumble that needs using up.’
‘Bit full of brownie,’ I said, silently thanking the Pop-up Co-op for coming to the rescue once again.
Tuesday, September 13, 2011
‘A bagatelle, a mere drizzle,’ Grange Girl said chirpily.
‘We all know that when you die they will find ‘Grange Gardens’ engraved on your heart. But look, it’s properly pouring. As if God’s not only installed a massive new water-feature, but is defrosting the freezer too while She’s at it.’
‘It’s a teensy shower. We can shelter under that weird tree in the corner.’
‘I’m sorry Grangey, but I’m putting my foot down.’
‘Hey! I can’t move.’
‘I know. I will remove my foot from the edge of your extra-long mackintosh when you agree that we can go into a café.’
‘If we can’t sit in the Grange it means summer is over!’ she wailed.
‘Summer is over. It’s time to admit defeat. That ‘whump’ thing when all the leaves fall down has happened again and I’ve got my vest on and I’ve already circled what I want in the Oxfam Christmas catalogue.’
When her face crumpled I gently led her to the Buttercup Café, which has something of an inside/outside vibe going on. I was careful to usher her to the inside bit, and we watched the rain sheeting down the windows, clasping our tea mugs like extras from a Batchelors Soup advert.
‘The summer is ended and we are not yet saved,’ Grangey intoned, and nibbled a salad leaf mournfully.
‘I had big plans for August. I was going to Do Things. But the weeks flashed by and here we are, allegedly Autumn already, and I’ve done nothing.’
‘I’m just the same. Every single morning of the holidays I was determined that this would be the day I’d iron the kids’ school uniform. Well, they are now known as the Crumple Kids so you can see how that went.’
‘My plans were somewhat bigger. I was going to visit every beach on the Hastings line.’‘Um, why?’
‘For poetry, you philistine, for the sheer romance of the thing. I was going to swim at Cooden Beach, Normans Bay, Pevensey and Westham…’
I bit into a warm chocolate brownie.
‘St Leonards Warrior Square?’
‘Don't be silly.’
‘No-one achieves their summer plans. The school gates are crowded with people saying, “Lovely thanks, no idea what we did, it’s all a blur.” Summer plans are like New Year’s resolutions; we makes ‘em then we breaks ‘em.’
Grange Girl sighed. ‘That brownie looks nice.’
‘Your salad looks cold.’
A particularly spectacular slosh of rain flung itself onto the window and Grangey shivered and pulled her pashmina a little tighter round her bikini. ‘Did I see apple crumble and custard on the menu?’ she asked in a small voice.
‘Two crumbles please,’ I asked the lady behind the counter. ‘And is there any chance you might put the heating on?’
Beth Miller, 6th September 2011. Published in VivaLewes.com. Photo by Alex Leith
Tuesday, September 6, 2011
I was sure I remembered clubbing and laughing and wild drug-taking but maybe that was with some other husband.
‘I suppose all those non-parents are out whooping it up,’ I said wistfully.
‘I went to that folk thing at the Ellie, traditional songs about the moon and stars.’
‘Wooh,’ I said, with a little less fervour.
Back home I informed Man of the House that our Saturday night had been the most exciting to be had anywhere.
‘And hold onto your Paul Clark trilby,’ he said, loading the dishwasher cheerily, ‘Because Sunday’s the new Saturday. They said so on Woman’s Hour. I’m lining us up Dragon’s Den and pancake duck from Panda Garden.’
Thursday, August 18, 2011
‘Cinema. As Kevin Marwick of Uckfield Picture House says, “If it rains, they will come.”’
‘We’ve already seen Cars 2 and Horrid Henry. That’s four hours of my life I won’t get back.’
‘Swimming pool. Soft play at the swimming pool. Um.’
‘I’m going to have to hurry you.’
‘Oh god. Brighton Museum. Tescos.’
‘Sorry, was getting a bit desperate.’
We were all a bit desperate. Halfway through the school holidays, and my Weatherpro app said the percentage likelihood of rain was 110%. Clearly my phone had watched too much Apprentice.
‘Spring Barn Farm’s got some indoor bits.’
‘Baxter’s Field has big sheltery trees.’
‘Let’s face it,’ sighed Honesty Girl, taking a long drag of her hookah, ‘It’s challenge enough to find forty-two days’ worth of things to do in the sunshine. But in the rain, fuggedaboutit.’
‘Last summer we used up three blinking days in Churchill Square,’ said Sweary Mary. ‘I spent £200 in flipping Build-a-Bear.’
‘Cooking is the answer,’ said Nigella, who had recently moved to Lewes. ‘Morning – get them to bake healthy orange muffins for lunch. Afternoon, chocolate muffins for tea.’
‘Are you trying to shift a muffin-case surplus?’
‘Then let them make sandwiches for supper while you relax with a gin sling.’
‘Now you’re talking lady.’
‘Pay them two quid to clear up and that’s another rainy day sorted.’
We looked at our busty new friend with respect.
‘I find technology is terribly useful for these indoor situations,’ said Hoxton Mum. ‘We make little animated movies on Lysander’s iPad.’
Those of us for whom ‘technology’ meant letting our children play Moshi Monsters all day stared at our toes.
‘I need somewhere new,’ said Sweary Mary. ‘I’ve been every-blimming-where. You know those jackass parenting gurus who say it’s healthy for kids to be bored? I need their damn phone numbers.’
I looked round at my friends’ fraught faces, and made a decision.
‘Okay, I’m going to reveal my secret weapon.’
‘I knew there was a secret weapon,’ cried Honesty Girl happily.
‘Trading Boundaries near Sheffield Park.’
‘But that’s a furniture shop!’
‘Yes - it can certainly fulfil all your dreams of Mexican-inspired wardrobes. But it’s so much more.’ I ticked off its delights on my fingers. ‘Toy shop. Cool restaurant with Etch-a-Sketches on the tables. Veritable warren of rooms to explore. Tolerant staff. And a playground, in case it ever stops raining.’
‘Are you on commission?’
‘We’ve been there four times already these hols and the children are begging to go again.’
Honesty Girl looked out of the window. ‘Quick! It’s stopped raining.’
We scooped up our television-watching children and yanked them, protesting, to participate in improving outdoor activities. When we needed it, Trading Boundaries would still be there.
Beth Miller, 10th August 2011. Published in VivaLewes.com. Photo by Alex Leith
Thursday, August 11, 2011
“Excuse me,” says the Dutch tourist politely, leaning out of the window of his shiny campervan. “How do we get to the…” he consults his phone, “Lewes Arms?”
“Let me ask you something,” I reply. “How desperate are you to go there?”
“Because not only is the Snowdrop, for instance, very nice, but I can tell you how to find it. Trouble with the Lewes Arms, it’s a bit cut off by roadworks.”
“We are meant to be meeting some people there, you see?”
“There are loads of other places you can get to once you’ve made the forced left turn at the top of Station Street.” Momentarily I can only think of The White Hart.
“Our friends said they will see us at the Lewes Arms.”
“Well I honestly don’t think they can really want to meet you. They’re fobbing you off, mate. That pub is the current, though temporary, winner of the most complicated place to drive to in Britain award.”
“What is ‘fobbing off’?”
“Unless you’re willing to park and walk? Though parking’s a bit problematical. Essentially there isn’t any. It’s been suspended because of the roadworks.”
“I think I will just drive along here, thank you so much…”
I put my hands firmly on either side of his window. “Don’t go up there, crazy man. There are a shedload more roadworks along Priory Street.”
Honesty Girl strolls up. “Ooh, who are your blond friends?”
“They want to go to the Lewes Arms.”
“Nah, forget it, guys. You can’t go up Station Street at all now. Town centre’s a no-drive zone.”
“I am sorry dear ladies, our friends are waiting.”
“They say they are, but they’re not really,” says Honesty Girl. “They’re thinking, blimey what a drag having to host these Amsterdam boys, let’s invite them at the height of Roadworks Open Season. That’ll teach them not to bring any giggle weed.”
I nod in agreement and start to pick off the edge of a large purple flower transfer that’s been stuck onto the van in a sweetly honest display of hippy-ness.
“The difficulty of automobile access in your town is rather stressful,” says the driver.
“It is possible we are the ones who would benefit from some giggle weed,” says one of his passengers.
“Worthing’s very nice,” says Honesty Girl. “Well, it’s not my cup of tea but you can drive into it. Bonus.”
“This whole country can just fob off,” cries the driver. He spins the campervan round on its impressive turning circle and speeds off in a cloud of exhaust, my sweaty hand-prints still visible on the side of the vehicle.
“Phenomenal grasp of English, those people,” says Honesty Girl, and we walk into our newly pedestrianised town for a glass of something cooling at the Lewes Arms.
Disclaimer: Because the roadworks keep moving, the author cannot be held responsible for any inconvenience resulting from this column being mistaken for a guide to road closures.
Beth Miller, 3rd August 2011. Published in VivaLewes.com. Picture by Xavi Buendia
Thursday, July 28, 2011
Like washing machines and the Pill in an earlier era, there are two innovations that truly assist modern life. One is kids’ telly on tap. Modern children have it made; they can sit down and watch whatever they like, particularly now we’ve rigged iPlayer up to the telly. I’m not sure how it works but it’s the stuff of Tomorrow’s World right there in my living room. It’s impossible to explain what life was like in the Dark Ages of telly by appointment only.
Thing Two: ‘Did you have CBeebies Mummy?’
Me: ‘No, we only had three channels: BBC1 and 2, and ITV.’
Thing Two, excitedly: ‘CITV??’
Me: ‘Alas no.’
We didn’t even have a video-recorder. Presumably the lack of on-stream entertainment was why my brother and I watched so many unsuitable programmes such as Winner Takes All with Jimmy Tarbuck (catchphrase: ‘We’ll agree to disagree’). It was that or read a book. Or write on our slates.
The other life-changing thingy is of course the mobile phone. For most people, the topic ‘what did we do before mobiles’ leads to amusing sepia-tinted reminiscences about couples waiting haplessly in front of two different town clocks. But for those who are friends with Grange Girl it is a living thing: a daily reminder of an earlier, more trying age.
‘So if you get there at 3pm I’ll be in the rose garden, but later than 3.15pm and I’ll have moved onto the gardenias. From 3.30pm I’ll be in the tea-tent, and after 4.15pm I’m going to wander aimlessly round but it’s only seven acres, you’ll find me, right?’
It seemed a bit late to tell her we didn’t even want to go to the open garden because it was raining. I’m still not quite old enough to properly enjoy gardens anyway.
‘Grangey, if you just had a mobile phone…’
‘La la la! I’m not listening!’
Come the afternoon no-one wanted to leave the house. Partly because God in His Infinite Wisdom was on day three of His Festival of Rain. And partly because God in H. I. W. had scheduled such brilliant programmes on CBBC that no-one could be fagged getting off the sofa.
‘Let’s just not go,’ said Man of the House, gawping at Horrible Histories.
‘But we’ve no way of letting her know.’
‘Her fault for not having a mobile.’
‘Mummy, is that what it was like when you were little and there were only three channels?’
‘No darling, that’s the Crusades. It’s pouring! There are no buses on a Sunday. How will she get back … gracious isn’t that Alexei Sayle?’
Suddenly it was five o’clock. I dashed out and found poor Grange Girl sitting damply in the tea-tent, amidst a pile of empty cups. ‘Thank you,’ she sobbed as I led her to the car. ‘I almost borrowed someone’s phone to call you, but it seemed like giving in.’
‘Well Grangey,’ I said, channelling Tarby, ‘We’ll just have to agree to disagree.’
Beth Miller, 19th July 2011. Photo by Alex Leith. Published in VivaLewes.com
Friday, July 22, 2011
Country Mouse sighed into her skinny latte. ‘I’ve tried everywhere. Home-brew evening class, Lewes Arms folk nights, Skeptics events at the Ellie. Nothing.’
‘Impressive, Mouse, that you found so many intensely male habitats.’
‘But I’d already seen every man on Guardian Soulmates. Dated most of them.’
‘What happened between you and Aging Lad last year?’ I dared to ask.
Country Mouse regarded me with the calm expression of a serial killer. ‘Can’t talk about it for legal reasons.’
‘I can hack your phone, you know.’
‘You can’t. So before I plunge into the larger, scarier Brighton singles scene, I’m giving Lewes men one last try.’
‘Oh my god! Not…’
‘Yes. I’m going to Rock in the Bog. And I’m wearing lipstick.’
I clutched her arm. ‘Don’t do it, Mouse.’
‘Desperate times, kiddo.’
‘You know there’s no electricity there?’
‘What! But how will I pull without my tongs and straighteners?’
She sobbed briefly, then replaced the electrical items with her ancient cap-sleeved Marillion t-shirt.
‘Wait!’ I called after her. ‘Where’s your tent?’
She yelled back, ‘If I ain’t in someone else’s tent tonight I’m a-comin’ home,’ and strode off in the direction of Earwig Corner.
I spent a restless weekend worrying. There was only one text: ‘So many men, so little time,’ which didn’t do much to soothe my nerves. And nor did Country Mouse’s reappearance on Sunday. She had mud on her face and twigs in her hair. Her eyes were red with lack of sleep; her teeth murky with lack of Colegate.
I pushed a strong macchiato in front of her and made my face into a question mark.
‘So I’m dancing away to Jellyhead…’
I made an involuntary noise, a bit like, ‘Oh no.’ Country Mouse’s dancing is legendary, but not in the way that, say, James Brown’s dancing is legendary.
‘…and this fella points at my Marillion t-shirt and says, “1986, Milton Keynes Bowl.” Before I could remind him that Jethro Tull were the support, we were in his tent and he was showing me his generator.’
‘So I could have brought my tongs after all.’
‘We had so much in common. Well, we did if I pretended I still liked Marillion.’
‘I’m sensing this doesn’t end well.’
‘Saturday he went weird. Bit needy. Said things like, “Where have you been?” when I’d just nipped to the loo. Woke up this morning and he’d gone. Taken the tent so I was lying outside in the drizzle. And he’d also taken…’
I realised with a thud. ‘Oh dear, was your t-shirt a collector’s item?’
She nodded. ‘Luckily the roadie for Dirty/DC gave me one of their shirts.’
‘I’m so sorry, Mouse. Brighton speed-dating next stop then?’
‘Not at all,’ she said, wiping off her coffee foam moustache. ‘I’m meeting that roadie later. I must go dig out my Rush waistcoat; he’s a big fan.
Thursday, July 14, 2011
‘It’s an interesting linguistic conundrum, isn’t it?’ mused Cycle Girl, as she tried to balance a pint of Harveys, a score sheet, her bag and phone. The Harveys won, naturally – everything else slid to the floor.
‘What, the ambiguous status of the word “balls”?’ said DJ Mama, showing off a little by juggling four skittle balls.
‘It’s one of those words that’s innocent in some contexts, and rude in others.’
‘On such a premise was the entire flimsy edifice of Are You Being Served built,’ said Born and Bred Boy, who was playing for the other team. In the literal sense of the phrase.
‘There are a lot of words like that,’ continued Cycle Girl, ‘For example…’
‘That’s quite enough, thank you,’ said Grange Girl, who had only popped into the Grange gardens to complain about the noise but was now dragged against her will into our team.
‘It seems silly to make a fuss about balls,’ said Head Girl, ‘when here we are, playing with them.’
‘Fnar,’ said Aging Lad wearily. After more than forty years of laughing dutifully at double entendres he can’t stop now, even though he’d clearly like to. If there’s a gap where someone ought to say ‘fnar’ he can’t bear it to go unfilled (fnar.)
The stern but friendly Rotarians in the Control Caravan announced the line-up for the Ladies Tournament in which we were playing, despite Grange Girl’s insistence that the term “ladies” was offensive. Most of the other teams had names like the Haywards Heath Harriers or The Pretty Shoes. No other team had the honour of their name being censored.
‘And in lane seven, playing Pink & Perky…’
‘Fnar,’ sighed Aging Lad.
‘How did they get their name approved?’ asked Cycle Girl.
‘...playing Pink & Perky are Ladies With, uh, Appendages.’
‘I think that’s us.’
‘Flipping heck,’ said Sweary Mary. ‘Lucky we didn’t go with Pussy Posse.’
Aging Lad held up a sign that said ‘Fnar,’ and the game commenced.
‘Has anyone practised at all?’ asked Grange Girl, as we quickly came to realise that the true meaning of balls for us was round objects you miss skittles with. ‘Or ever played before?’
‘Crazy golf’s my sport,’ said DJ Mama, launching a ball whistling into the air and narrowly missing several spectators.
‘I practised in the garden with pebbles,’ said Cycle Girl, sending her ball so wide it went into the next lane and knocked over more of their skittles than she’d ever managed of ours.
Born and Bred Boy sauntered over. ‘Just scored fourteen,’ he said. ‘What’s your top score?’
‘Three,’ said Head Girl bitterly, trampling our score sheet into the mud.
‘Head is another of those words,’ said Cycle Girl.
‘So’s score,’ said Sweary Mary.
Born and Bred Boy picked up one of the balls we were using.
‘You know what the trouble is? Your balls aren’t heavy enough.’
‘Fnar,’ we all said cheerily.
Beth Miller, July 6th 2011. Published in VivaLewes.com. Photo by Alex Leith
Wednesday, July 6, 2011
‘Wooh!’ murmured Grange Girl, waving her scarf stadium-rock style. She stopped hurriedly when I pointed out she was spilling her tea. So as Tongue and Groove thundered through the Stones, the Kinks, the Who and other bands starting with ‘the’, Grange Girl participated instead by nodding her head on the off-beat. It was rare to see her so wildly out of control. At one point I even had to hold her cup as she needed both hands to do the gestures for Purple Haze (no, I didn’t know either).
In the break I amused myself by counting how many of the brave night-time Pells Pool swimmers said, ‘It’s warmer in here than it is out there.’ Then Hoxton Mum appeared and said, ‘Gosh! It’s taken us ages to pitch the tepee. What have I missed?’
‘Tepee? You only live half a mile away.’
‘This is our dry run for Glasto.’
I examined Hoxton Mum’s outfit: floral dress, Barbour and purple Hunter wellies. Her hair was amateurishly braided and her make-up looked as if it had been applied in a dark tepee.
‘So,’ she said, ‘If this set’s finished shall we go to the Pyramid stage?’
I quickly led her to the beer tent. Grange Girl would likely go a bit funny if a vast and commercial enterprise such as Glastonbury was mentioned in her hearing.
‘Have you been to a big festival before?’ I asked Hoxie.
‘We nearly went to Shambala last year. But as Lysander got that promotion we went to St Lucia instead.’
‘I’m not sure the Pells Party is adequate rehearsal for Glastonbury.’
‘Pshaw! Glasto’s not nearly as big as they say. My friend Kipper Enright went in 1970 and he remembers it being quite tiny. Mind you, he was only two. He says the Guardian hype it up to justify sending their entire staff. Couple of fields, couple of stages, that’s it.’
We watched Phil from Tongue and Groove dive spectacularly into the Pells pool amid much whooping and, this being Lewes, a fireworks display. ‘Ooh!’ said Hoxie, clutching my arm. ‘I hope he hasn’t been drinking.’
Grange Girl materialised on my other side, nibbling an organic veggie-burger. ‘I’m sure he hasn’t. There are children here; he’ll be wanting to set a good example.’
I had a brief pang of missing Pierced Boy who was off somewhere, doubtless smoking something interesting and being properly disreputable.
‘Talking of children,’ said Hoxie. ‘I wonder where Django is?'
Phil swam a very fast length and scooped up a floundering child from the deep end.
‘Gracious Django,’ cried Hoxton Mum, towelling him down with her Barbour, ‘I hope you won’t get into trouble like this at Glastonbury.’
Grange Girl narrowed her eyes. ‘He’ll be fine. You can just let kids wander round by themselves there.’
‘I know,’ said Hoxie. ‘I think it will be marvellously relaxing.’
Beth Miller, 30th June 2011. Published in VivaLewes.com Photo by Paul Barratt