Tuesday, January 25, 2011

You made me feel shiny and new

It’s not often you discover that a cracking eleventh century monument has been hanging about modestly in your back yard, waiting to be noticed. Actually it’s probably only happened the once. Sure, I’ve always been aware, on a vague semi-conscious level, that there is a ruined thingy near Southdown Sports Club. I’ve even been there a few times during An Improving Walk For the Children, which usually turns out to be A Lesson In Futility For the Parents. But I’ve never really taken much notice of it. Ruined walls, yeah, whatever. Mind the dog poo, kids. I said MIND THE… damn.

Then came the pre-Christmas snow, and someone suggested the Priory as a great sledging spot. And it was. Not just because there was a little nursery slope for cowardy custards and a steep scary one for show-off dads. (Plus a Cresta Run for teenagers: to speed through the arch without being knocked senseless against the beautiful ancient walls.)

But it was also terrific because an incredibly sensitive restoration had quietly turned the ruins from meh into blimey! The protective fences had been taken down so you could walk right up to the walls; there were benches and steps and paths; and all around were excellent information boards explaining how it might have looked, back when it was a big player in the world of priories. Thing Two loved the boards so much he made me trudge round in the snow reading them aloud. Our favourite was the one about the monks’ toilet facilities. Big high-five to Andy Gammon who drew the monk about to sit down, his robe slightly raised.

Standing at the top of the slope, looking across to the Downs, sun glinting through the magnificent arches, it was one of those glad to be living in Lewes moments. And I didn’t even have to be dog poo monitor because it was all safely buried under snow.

Later, I wondered how the changes could possibly have improved the site so much, and decided it must just have been the snow. Snow is very flattering, which is why ladies of a certain age always wear it. Or am I thinking of diamond earrings? Anyway, when the snow melted we returned to the Priory to check. Weirdly, it was even more magical. Wandering amongst the creamy yellow stones, the long shadows slanting across the grass, hopping over dog poo, we went all dreamy and poetical. I honestly don’t know how they’ve done it, but hats very much off to the Lewes Priory Trust.

It’s happened with such little fanfare, too. I see from the website there is to be a Grand Opening in the Spring, but until then, it’s getting great word of mouth. Everyone you talk to says, ‘Have you seen the Priory ruins since they became good?’ and while a few people might reply, ‘Why, is there a Starbucks there now?’ the rest of us know to take a flask, and a dreamy frame of mind.

Beth Miller, 19th January 2011. Published in VivaLewes.com and in Viva Lewes magazine, February 2011. Photograph by John McGowan

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

For auld lang syne

Aging Lad popped in on New Year’s Eve for a pre-clubbing snifter. Pre-clubbing for him, I mean. I was already fondly anticipating that lovely moment when the fireworks stop, around 12.15, and you can go to sleep. Whereas Lad was limbering up for a wild Brighton night that wouldn’t start till the wee small hours.

I offered him some of my precious sherry, to which I’d become seriously attached over the Christmas period. As it’s only available from the Harveys shop, and as they’ve recently run out, it was awfully decent of me. Luckily he waved it away. ‘Got any lager?’

I found a bottle we’d got free from Spice Merchant at the back of the fridge. I prised it off the frost with a spatula.

‘Nice and cold,’ Lad said approvingly.

Man of the House shuffled in wearing his dressing-gown, and flopped into an armchair.

‘Wooh! Party night!’ crowed Lad. ‘Look at you two sad middle-agers.’

We ignored him, as we usually do. ‘Ah,’ sighed Man, sipping sherry daintily. ‘Those superb top-notes of almond…’

‘Followed by that delicious coffee after-taste,’ I concluded.

‘Ah,’ sighed Lad, glugging recklessly and splashing the Radio Times, ‘those superb top-notes of lager, followed by,’ and he belched loudly, ‘bottom notes of lager.’

Lad has been seeing one woman for ages – three months - so I subtly quizzed him about his intentions.

‘Did you give Destiny an engagement ring for Christmas?’

He looked surprised. ‘No. She wanted a tattoo. We got it done yesterday. That’s why she’s not coming out tonight; hurts to sit down.’

‘Thought she was the one, Lad.’Lad looked shifty. ‘She’s very nice. Yes. But. You know.’


‘Am I ready? For all this?’ He swept a hand round our living room.

‘What, Farrow & Ball?’

‘Marriage. Settling down. You know. Slippers and sherry.’

‘I thought you wanted kids, Lad.’

‘Definitely. But I’m only 47. That Lewes bloke who was in all the papers was miles older. And Charlie Chaplin was 73!’

What would male commitment-phobes do without Charlie Chaplin to fall back on?

A sleepy Thing Two came in, citing a nightmare about there being no more chocolate. Lad tried to pick him to prove his child-friendliness, but pulled a muscle in his back. As Man carried Thing Two back to bed with one hand, I reassured Lad, ‘they start off much lighter as babies. You get time to build up to this age.’

‘Don’t suppose there’s any more lager?’

I shook my head.

‘Give me some of that then,’ he said ungraciously, gesturing to the sherry, but as he sipped, his brow cleared.

‘Hey! It’s nice. Top notes of very strong booze.’

He did a kind of tequila-slammer thing with it, then slowly stood up. ‘Right. Off to par-deeeee!’

He sounded less enthusiastic than earlier. Then he sat down again, picked up the damp Radio Times and the sherry bottle and poured himself a heart-stoppingly large dram.

‘Might just watch a bit of the Hootenanny first.’

Beth Miller, 5th January 2011. Published in VivaLewes.com and Viva Lewes magazine, December 2013