Tuesday, May 31, 2011

And if you get it wrong you'll get it right next time

'Shocked, so I am,’ I said.
‘I’m terribly sorry,’ Grange Girl replied.

It’s not often I get Grangey on the back foot so I pressed my advantage.

‘Shocked to the core.’
‘All right, don’t overdo it.’
‘But fancy you getting the 28 for the first time without consulting me.’
‘I don’t know what I was thinking. You are the Bus Oracle.’
‘Can I presume that your failure to properly plan your expedition resulted in disaster?’
Grangey stared at her toes. ‘It did.'

She looked so mortified that I softened. ‘Tell me all about it.’

Turns out Grangey had made the basic schoolboy error of thinking that the bus station was the correct place to catch the bus.

‘Oh Grangey!’
‘I know. How could I be so stupid?’

Luckily a helpful bus driver pulled up outside Waitrose, saw Grangey loitering confusedly on the wrong side of the street, and gently signalled to her by yelling, ‘Oi luv!’

Grangey darted across the Most Tricky Road To Cross In Lewes and, weeping with humiliation and relief, managed to buy her city saver. There was no further incident.

‘Well Grangey, if only you’d come to me,’ I said, fixing her with a Paddington hard stare. ‘I could have told you that the bus station is owned by a development company who are struggling to get planning permission to turn it into shops. That they wouldn’t let Brighton & Hove buses use the station for anything less than twenty grand and buses had to drop people off precariously on East Street, the Narrowest Pavement In Lewes, but that they have seen reason and the bus now stops there en route to Tunbridge Wells, though not on its westbound journey.’

Grangey sighed. ‘Yes, but I probably wouldn’t have remembered any of that. In fact I’ve already forgotten the beginning.’
‘All you have to remember is: next bus trip, speak to me. Promise?’

Grangey crossed her heart and hoped to die, and there we left it. Her to go home and brood over her rare error; me to hop smugly on the next 28 that juddered to a halt outside the British Heart Foundation. Twenty minutes later I was in a city where a banner announced a ‘Festival of Shopping.’ I joined in with a whoop.

Later I easily caught a 29 from outside M&S, and drifted off into a self-satisfied reverie about how much I knew about public transport. I awoke with a start to find that we were going the wrong way, heading through the Cuilfail Tunnel at great speed, rather than towards the prison. Apparently, explained the driver when I shouted at him, this was to avoid some silly roadworks. I would have enjoyed the irony of having to get out at the bus station had I not been so cross. I trudged home all the way across town, avoiding passing Grange Girl’s door. I’m sure she wouldn’t have gloated, but I couldn’t take the risk.

Beth Miller, 24th May 2011. Published in VivaLewes.com and in Viva Lewes magazine, August 2011 issue.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Yeah, these are just the rules and regulations

A little known subsection of the unwritten British constitution concerns rules specific to Lewes. These are rarely discussed and remain largely untested. I’m only going to commit them to paper, or whatever this webby thing equivalent is made of, because last weekend I discovered there are two more than I realised. The standard rules, which we all know, are:

(1) We won’t be druv.

(2) Druv is an elusive concept, but essentially means our right to object if anyone does anything we don’t like.

(3) We have to not be druv a lot, because despite living in one of the most prosperous areas of one of the richest countries on earth, rotters are always trying to push us around with regard to our beer and whatnot.

(4) Talking of beer, Harveys is the best in the world. End of.

(5) There is no fence-sitting here. Lewes will not tolerate wishy-washy middle-grounders. You’re either Waitrose or Tescos. You’re either a Tory who votes Tory, or a Labourite who votes Liberal. You either hate DFLs, or you are a DFL. You either think the parking scheme is the greatest example of man’s inhumanity to man, or you say things like, ‘But I can always get into the Needlemakers car-park now and anyway you only get a ticket if you break the rules.’

(6) Bonfire Clause 1. If you’re not for it, you’re against it. Vaguely non-committal is not an option. Anyone who says, ‘Fireworks are pretty aren’t they? Mind you, seen one parade and you’ve seen them all,’ will be drummed out of town.

(7) Bonfire Clause 2. You are not allowed to say anything critical about Bonfire Societies. Unless you’re a member of a Society having a pop at another Society; this is an essential element of Bonfire experience.

(8) No useful shops are allowed to move in. They must all go to Uckfield.

Two weeks ago I went to the Southover Priory May fair thing and found I was falling in line with the hitherto unknown but clearly well-established rule number 9:

(9) Everyone who is within a ten mile radius must attend the May Fair.

Every woman and her husband was there. It was marvellous. I said, ‘hello,’ so many times I ran out and had to substitute the less satisfactory, ‘wotcha’ instead. Thing One was in her element, shooting plastic crossbow arrows, making plastic soldiers out of a mould, and interrogating me as to why there was so much plastic around in the Middle Ages. Thing Two was only interested in climbing teetering piles of Priory rubble, which have stood unmoving since time immemorial but began looking a bit crumbly after he’d happened to them.

Then the drumming started.

(10) There is often drumming at Lewes events. Do not ask why. You will like it. Or if you don’t, get you gone quietly, perhaps to a comfortable hostelry.

You will be pleased to hear that we rule-abiding Lewesians followed this one to the letter.

Beth Miller 18th May 2011. Published in VivaLewes.com and Viva Lewes handbook, May 2012

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The writing’s on the wall, free, yeah and you can know it all

'And here it is, the piece de rĂ©sistance.’ I step back and do a rather fabulous flourish with my bat sleeves. American Rose peers at the wall.

There’s a short pause.

‘That’s it, is it?’

‘Sure is,’ I reply proudly.

We both look at it: a black and white stencil of a man’s head, repeated three or four times.

‘Yer actual Banksy, luv. Only one this side of Brighton.’

American Rose touches the painting carefully. She takes a photo with her phone, and looks at that instead of the wall.

‘Wow,’ she says eventually.

‘Saved the best till last, didn’t I?’ I’d like to get some credit for this cracking denouement to my Grand Lewes Tour. We’ve done the castle, Anne of Cleves, the Priory, the Lewes Arms, Bills and now this.

‘Ye-e-e-s,’ she says, walking slowly along Graffiti Tunnel as if a real Banksy, oops I mean another real Banksy will appear. But the walls are mostly sprayed in that large bubbly writing which you can’t read if you’re over twenty-five.

‘I was thinking it might be, I don’t know, more profound, somehow.’

‘Ah, if it’s profound you want, look no further! Banksy also wrote this.’ I show her the roughly scrawled message on the opposite wall.

‘I just want to tend the rabbits,’ reads Rose. ‘Amazing. I wonder. Does it mean he wants to be left alone with his art, away from the distractions of money and acclaim?’

American Rose was in fact born in the UK, but moved to the States for lurve twenty-something years ago. She is really a hybrid rose. There’s a twang to some of her words and she finds England small and quaint; but she retains her peaches-and-cream complexion and a slight cynicism.

‘Or,’ she continues, demonstrating this latter quality, ‘is this just a random quote from Of Mice and Men?’

‘Very well-read, is Banksy,’ I say, ‘So you could be right either way.’

We walk through the tunnel into the sunshine. I’m growing weary of my tour guide shtick but I do my best. ‘Rugby field, cricket field, football field. I think. Bunch of fields anyway, where people do, you know, energetic ball things.’ I’m starting to think fondly of cool glasses of liquid and shady gardens.

‘I don’t need to see this, do I?’ AR asks. I swiftly turn her round and back through the tunnel.

‘Fields are not on the official itinerary, no.’

‘And it’s so hot. I packed for my memories of May but carbon emissions have obviously improved the temperature since I lived here.’

She removes her fur-lined trapper hat.

‘Luckily,’ I say, as we emerge into Cockshut Road, ‘there’s a quaint ye olde hostelrie nearby where you can partake of a draft of mead such as has been drunk since Shakespeare’s time.’

‘You can drop that now,’ says AR, pushing open the door to the King’s Head. ‘I’ll have a nice cold American beer, thanks.’

Beth Miller, 11th May 2011. Published in VivaLewes.com

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Only time will tell if I am right or I am wrong

I’m excited about voting in the AV referendum. I’m aware this puts me into a very small and elite group containing people who are fascinated by electoral reform (technical term: ‘geeks’), such as a young man who was in my politics tutorial group at college. He could turn literally any topic round to proportional representation: politics of course, but also clothes, food, music and dogs. Once I asked him if I could squeeze past his chair (he was sitting rather outside the group, literally as well as metaphorically), and he said, ‘Interesting you ask that as I was just thinking about the limited bloc vote.’ I wonder if he ever got a girlfriend.

Anyway, I am definitely not a geek. It’s another of those irregular verbs: I am interested in the detail; you are slightly obsessed; he is a geek; she is not a geek by dint of gender. There are historical reasons for my excitement about referendums (not referenda, you pedants). For anyone over 36 who has had the good fortune to live in Sussex rather than, say, Scotland, Wales or London, there has been only one other referendum in our lifetimes. It was 1975. I was a slip of a girl, barely old enough to comprehend the Morning Star’s editorials. Two things interested me. The first was that this huge affair, with schools closed for the day and nothing else on the news, all boiled down to ‘yes’ or ‘no.’ The second was that my mother disclosed that she was voting differently from my father. Though we were by no means a patriarchal household, it was always understood that there were separate areas of expertise. My father, who’d been to the LSE, was in charge of politics (e.g. what he and the Missus should vote), economics (bills and mortgage), and philosophy (whether we children would be allowed a flake in our 99s). My mother, who had been to art school, was in charge of history (who actually said what in that argument in Broadstairs in 1968) and fashion (lime green is fine with acid orange, long as it’s properly combined in a polyester trouser suit). So it was revolutionary for my mother to branch out on an independent pre-Beeching line (getting my eras slightly muddled now).

My father had the last laugh, because my mother voted ‘no’ to the Common Market and was resoundingly defeated. But it was very thrilling at the time, trying to decide who to side with (e.g. who was most likely to provide treats in the event of victory), and wondering if this was the first crack in their marriage (it was). It was the first time, I suppose, that I realised that adults could disagree; that they didn’t have all the answers; and that sometimes questions arise that are so big you have to ask the entire nation. So I’m delighted to be asked to join in with this one. But I won’t tell the children how I’m voting. Lesson learned.

Beth Miller, 4th May 2011. Published in VivaLewes.com

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

A beautiful sky, a wonderful day, whip crack-away

We were coming to the end of the Easiest Easter Holiday in Living Memory TM, classified thus because the steaming weather meant you could go to the park every day instead of seeking waterproofed and expensive diversions. But we’d now been to the park rather a lot, and there’d been a small incident in the Bell Lane Rec when someone forgot it wasn’t her own back garden but rather a public utility and words were said to someone else who was sitting on the bench she had come to regard as her own. Ahem. So as Thing Two and I hastened away in search of alternative fun, my eye was caught by the brightly coloured posters of the Climate Change campers at the old St Anne’s school site. Or ‘Calamity Camp’ as Thing Two read it, a charming fusion brought on by his five-year-old reading skills and his recent viewing of Doris Day’s Calamity Jane.

The person who does all the curly colourful sign-writing at environmental camps and festivals sure has got the market sewn up. Quite literally, as the lettering is often stitched onto sheets. The smiling dreadlocked lady who was knitting at the entrance invited us in to look round. There wasn’t a huge amount going on, but everyone was friendly and it was nice to be in a place with a lot of sitting down – sitting-in, I believe is the technical term – and where was no-one was arguing about benches and land ownership. Oh hang on, yes they were. A nice chap, doing a masterful impression of Tom, Reggie Perrin’s son-in-law, explained while washing up that they’d originally occupied the site to raise awareness of climate issues via peaceful direct action. I think he said peaceful but I was distracted by trying to stop Thing Two interrogating Tom as to why he didn’t have a dishwasher. In the end I took some peaceful direct action of my own, by stopping my child’s mouth with a vegan flapjack. Tom explained that the police had thought they were protesting about the imminent demolition of the school buildings. Bet that officer went ‘oops’, because until he told them, the calamity campers knew nothing of this proposal. Naturally they immediately added it to their protest roster. I asked Tom if the camp would consider also protesting about an unattractive gazebo going up in my neighbourhood but he said it was ‘outside our remit.’

Thing Two swallowed the last cake crumbs and asked to go home. Having been mainlining Easter eggs for the last two days he was now showing clear signs of withdrawal. Cold bunny, I suppose. We bade farewell to our new friends, and sang Whip-Crack-Away! as we walked home. Passing Bell Lane, I noticed my bench was still occupied, but I took no action, peaceful or otherwise. Early tomorrow morning I would return with a flask and hold a lengthy sit-down.

Beth Miller, 28th April 2011. Published in VivaLewes.com