Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Eat your words but don't go hungry

‘Digging deep, so it is,’ said Country Mouse.
‘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

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Three banquets a day, our favourite diet

‘Everything seems to be about food right now, have you noticed?’ Grange Girl asked as we strolled along the Cliffe.
‘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.

* Not really, so don’t use it when Jackie Mason pops round for a bacon sarnie.

Beth Miller, 14th September 2011. Published in, and Viva Lewes magazine October 2013. Photo by Alex Leith

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Summer dreams ripped at the seams

‘May I respectfully point out,’ I said, struggling slightly with the respectful aspect, but fully engaged when it came to the pointing out part, ‘that it is currently lashing down?’

‘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.

‘You wot?’

‘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 Photo by Alex Leith

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

On the waves of the air, there is dancin' out there

Man of the House and I settled down for another riotous Saturday night: watching 30 Rock and eating delicious harissa chicken from Cook. Please forgive my product placement but my children just forced me to see Smurfs: The Movie which was so solidly packed with adverts-by-any-other-name it addled my moral compass. I’m of the generation who watched Peter Purves redden as he said, ‘You’ll need Sellotape, oops I mean sticky tape,’ but clearly things have moved on somewhat. And if Cook do want to send me a crate of ready-meals in return for the plug, who am I to interfere with market forces?

‘Remember when we were young and child-free and would go out clubbing on the weekend?’ I mused to my Best Beloved, who was wiping harissa sauce off his dressing gown. I couldn’t complain because I’d dropped Uncle Ben’s rice all over my Totes ToastiesTM.

‘We never went clubbing,’ he said. ‘We used to go to the cinema or have a take-away, so it’s not much different from now. Except you stopped me wearing my dressing gown to the cinema, so this is better.’
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.

‘Probably, poor sods,’ Man said. ‘Can you rewind? I missed what Alec Baldwin just said.’

Next day I went to Grange Girl’s for tea. ‘Good was it last night, Grangey?’ I asked, as she pottered round the kitchen yawning.

‘Excellent; we got tons of blackberries.’

‘You weren’t off dancing somewhere?’

‘Heavens no. We berried till late. Had to wear head torches. Then I got up early to make Marguerite Patten’s crumble!’ She handed me a large bowlful.

Later I bumped into Pierced Boy, sunglassed and wincing at loud noises.
‘Big night?’

‘Piano,’ he mumbled.

'New bar in Brighton is it?’

‘No, I practised the piano. I’ve just taken it up again after my Shine-style child prodigy burnout of ’83. Lost track of time and played Shostakovich for six hours. I’m wrecked.’

Surely Born and Bred Boy, founder member of the children-ruin-your-life contingent, would have a story worth living vicariously through?

‘Course I was out. Saturday night! Wooh! Pardeee!’

I essayed a few ‘woohs’ of my own and waited patiently for him to give me the gories.
‘I went to that folk thing at the Ellie, traditional songs about the moon and stars.’
‘Wooh,’ I said, with a little less fervour.

‘Finished a bit late though; I had to leave before the end.’
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.’

Bring. It. On. As Smurfette would say.

Beth Miller, 23rd August 2011. Published in