Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Wherever I lay my hat that's my home

‘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 Photo by Alex Leith

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Yet you turned a back-somersault in at the door

‘Well Niecey,’ said Uncle Adultery, sweeping into my kitchen dressed for 1920s New York, ‘the time has come.’
‘Time for what?’ I asked, taking in his white three-piece suit. ‘To sit at my round table and trade bon mots with Dorothy Parker?’
‘Your table is hexagonal,’ Uncle A observed, and wiped a chair before sitting down; a reasonable precaution as Thing Two had eaten Weetabix there earlier.
I made some tea, self-conscious under my Uncle’s beady gaze. ‘Don't we warm the pot in Lewes, then?’ was his least barbed comment.
‘The time has come,’ he re-announced, ‘to consider the purchase of a little pied-a-terre.’
‘But you already live in Kensington – epicentre of the pied-a-terre.’
‘For heaven’s sake Niecey, a mug? Emblazoned with Come On You Rooks, to boot? Why those hideous and noisy birds need encouragement from a piece of low-grade china I have no idea. Proper cup, please.’

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?’
‘Point taken.’
‘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.’
‘Is she…’
‘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 Photo by Alex Leith.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

We got a-little beans, and a-big a-beans

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

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Stars shining bright above you

'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