Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Sweet little lies

Back when I ran workshops with young people on topics such as sex, drugs, and more-sex-we-didn’t-quite-understand-the-first-time, I sometimes used an ice-breaker called ‘truth and lies.’ The participants had to write three things about themselves: two truths and one lie, which the rest of us had to spot. I was notoriously poor at guessing, would say, ‘you can’t possibly have taken Ecstasy with your social worker… oh you have?’ People rarely guessed mine either, assuming that ‘my uncle runs a dating agency for adulterers’ was surely nonsense.

Lately I’ve been playing this game informally with my friends. None of them know they are playing though. For instance, the other week Grange Girl said, ‘are you coming to my gymnastics display?’ Naturally I laughed and told her that was a good one. Her stony face was reminiscent of the look a fourteen year old once gave me when I chose as her lie, ‘member of the Mile High Club.’

‘Don’t then,’ Grangey said, her frown darkly Nadia Comaneci-ish. ‘But you’ll miss seeing my front salto on the asymmetric bars.’

I hastened to reassure her that of course we would cheer her on. Our reward for attendance was the never-to-be-repeated sight of Grangey flying through the air like a bird. She didn’t quite land like a bird, but who’s to say that she hasn’t invented a whole new form of dramatic dismount? Apart from boring old surgeons anyhow.

Yesterday, I was sitting in a school field watching gentlemen in their prime* play cricket (*my hand has been forced here), when Cycle Girl and Sweary Mary flopped onto the picnic rug, faces smudged with mud. One of my young drug-educating men (I learned a lot from him), claimed during ‘truth and lies’ to have re-enacted the mud wrestling scene from Women in Love. Naturally I called him on it – erroneously, it transpired – as I couldn’t believe he’d seen a DH Lawrence movie. Because I had him in mind, a raised eyebrow played about my forehead when I asked the soil-caked lasses what they’d been up to.

‘Digging on the blimming allotment,’ Sweary Mary said, rubbing her cheek with a dainty hankie.

‘I’m sorry, but that’s a clear fib. You two would never dig.’

‘All right, we paid a bloke to do it.’

‘We did plant a few petunias though,’ said Cycle Girl, ‘and I’m in need of a deep Radox bath.’

I decided it was my turn to play. ‘Do you know, this week I ran for twenty minutes,’ I said.

‘That’s about as flipping likely as that chappie’s bat connecting with the blinking ball.’

Thence came the unexpected thwack of leather on willow, and I basked in the glow of my athleticism. Luckily, they didn’t know the game’s subsidiary rules, otherwise they would have interrogated me about whether the twenty minutes was all in one go, or spread across the week.

Beth Miller, 18th April 2011. Published in VivaLewes.com

Monday, April 11, 2011

Climb every mountain

It is a truth universally acknowledged that whenever the Grange Gardens café opens in a blaze of sunshine, the weather will instantly start leaping about across the calendar. So it was this week. Monday: café opens, and it’s April, all sunny and bright. Tuesday: rainy February, cold enough to bung the heating back on. Wednesday: July, people wearing sandals and saying, ‘phew what a scorcher.’ Today it’s September: warm but an autumnal nip in the air. I have missed my calling; I so should have been a weather girl.

Anyway, I was thinking how this was the first Grange Café opening day I have missed in several years, as both children are now at school, and that led to a bittersweet reflection about how life changes, and how we are gradually re-introducing activities that were closed off during the toddler years. Not that sort of activity. I mean things like choosing restaurants for their food, rather than the wipe-downability of their furnishings. Visiting the loo on one’s own. And going for proper walks.

Everyone deals with having kids differently. Some create the metaphorical equivalent of an empty room, stand well back and wait to see what the kid will have them do. Others say, ‘We’re going to carry on exactly as we always have.’ Friends of friends did this: bunged their baby in a sling and legged it up the Hindu Kush. (Have just looked up Hindu Kush to check it is something you leg up. It is.) They were all happy until their child learned to say ‘no’, around the age of ten months. I went to the opposite extreme, creating a lifestyle devoted to minimising the possibility of toddler tantrums, in me or the children. Yes, one’s horizons might thus narrow to Monkey Bizness and the Grange, but on the other hand it means never having to be stuck half-way up the Hindu Kush playing ‘I Spy’ for fourteen hours in order to avoid an epic scream-fest because the yak’s milk tea tastes ‘yucky.’

Then last week we were driving along the A27 when Thing Two stuck his head out the window and said, ‘I want to go up that mountain.’ For sure, Mount Caburn isn’t the H. Kush but it’s big for a small boy who’s been shielded from adult pursuits. We took him at his word and a few days later caught the train to Glynde and walked back to Lewes over the ‘biggest mountain ever’. Predictably, he started to moan immediately we left the train. But by the judicious distribution of chocolate-based snacks every ten yards, and by sherpa-ing him on the back of an obliging sheep, and, yes, by playing ‘I Spy’ even though he would insist that ‘grass’ begins with a ‘j’, we made our first successful return into the world of grown-up walks.

I’ll just about be ready for another one next year. In the meantime, it’s back to the Grange Café. Once the weather’s settled down a bit, anyway.

Beth Miller, 7th April 2011. Published in VivaLewes.com. Photo by Chris Winterflood.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Wouldn't it be nice

As we wandered the large airy rooms of Wilmington Priory, I drifted into a happy fantasy in which we were staying here, and not just having a nose round on their open day. At first I pretended we were on holiday, which isn’t completely unrealistic: the Landmark Trust will rent it to you in exchange for a wheelbarrow full of cash. But then I pointed out to myself that as this was a daydream, why not assume that I was the owner? With staff? If you’re gonna dream, dream big, as capitalist poster boy Donald Trump once said.
But hang on a minute, if this was my house, with its wide staircases and criss-cross window panes and crenulated what-nots, who were all these damn people wandering about? Probably friends of my housekeeper. Bit cheeky to be using my table-tennis table, eh what?
The daydream became difficult to sustain in the kitchen, where nice ladies of a certain age were serving tea and Nice biscuits to other nice ladies of a certain age. It was all a bit too nice, so we took off to the Wishing Well Tea Room up the road. I’m not entirely sure why we thought this would be more cutting-edge, but there you are. Sunday afternoons pottering round priories are wont to addle the brain a trifle. And the Tea Room did differ from the Priory demographic slightly, in that it had a nice gentleman of a certain age serving tea to the nice ladies.
As I gradually left my grand building-owning delusion and came slowly to, toasted tea-cake in one hand, cup of strong Ceylon tea in the other, it occurred to me that I recognised some of these ladies of a certain age from Lewes. One, wearing a crown of yellow candyfloss hair, exhibited the classic Lewes trait of extreme outrage at minor inconvenience. On being told that the soup came with bread, not a roll, there having been a run on rolls, she looked as though she would like to throw the nice gentleman into the cold damp cellar of Wilmington Priory and shunt a boulder over the entrance.
‘Can we afford to take a holiday in the Priory?’ I asked Man of the House.
He made a play of opening his wallet and batting away an imaginary moth. We do have a laugh.
‘Can we even afford this teacake?’ I asked.
‘No, we’ll have to do a runner.’
‘Do you think Donald Trump ever did a runner from a tearoom?’
‘You seem very sure.’
‘So did Paul Getty. Fact.’
The nice gentleman came over and I informed him that the Ceylon tea was stewed. He took it away with a smile that showed all his teeth. Then the horror hit me and I turned to Man.
‘I’m one of these ladies of a certain age!’ I cried.
‘Yes you are,’ he said, ‘but look on the bright side. At least you’re not nice.’

Beth Miller, 30th March 2011. Published in VivaLewes.com and in Viva Lewes magazine, April 2013. Photo by Alex Leith