Thursday, July 28, 2011

I don't wanna talk, about the things we've gone through

Like washing machines and the Pill in an earlier era, there are two innovations that truly assist modern life. One is kids’ telly on tap. Modern children have it made; they can sit down and watch whatever they like, particularly now we’ve rigged iPlayer up to the telly. I’m not sure how it works but it’s the stuff of Tomorrow’s World right there in my living room. It’s impossible to explain what life was like in the Dark Ages of telly by appointment only.

Thing Two: ‘Did you have CBeebies Mummy?’
Me: ‘No, we only had three channels: BBC1 and 2, and ITV.’
Thing Two, excitedly: ‘CITV??’
Me: ‘Alas no.’

We didn’t even have a video-recorder. Presumably the lack of on-stream entertainment was why my brother and I watched so many unsuitable programmes such as Winner Takes All with Jimmy Tarbuck (catchphrase: ‘We’ll agree to disagree’). It was that or read a book. Or write on our slates.

The other life-changing thingy is of course the mobile phone. For most people, the topic ‘what did we do before mobiles’ leads to amusing sepia-tinted reminiscences about couples waiting haplessly in front of two different town clocks. But for those who are friends with Grange Girl it is a living thing: a daily reminder of an earlier, more trying age.

‘So if you get there at 3pm I’ll be in the rose garden, but later than 3.15pm and I’ll have moved onto the gardenias. From 3.30pm I’ll be in the tea-tent, and after 4.15pm I’m going to wander aimlessly round but it’s only seven acres, you’ll find me, right?’

It seemed a bit late to tell her we didn’t even want to go to the open garden because it was raining. I’m still not quite old enough to properly enjoy gardens anyway.

‘Grangey, if you just had a mobile phone…’
‘La la la! I’m not listening!’

Come the afternoon no-one wanted to leave the house. Partly because God in His Infinite Wisdom was on day three of His Festival of Rain. And partly because God in H. I. W. had scheduled such brilliant programmes on CBBC that no-one could be fagged getting off the sofa.

‘Let’s just not go,’ said Man of the House, gawping at Horrible Histories.
‘But we’ve no way of letting her know.’
‘Her fault for not having a mobile.’
‘Mummy, is that what it was like when you were little and there were only three channels?’
‘No darling, that’s the Crusades. It’s pouring! There are no buses on a Sunday. How will she get back … gracious isn’t that Alexei Sayle?’

Suddenly it was five o’clock. I dashed out and found poor Grange Girl sitting damply in the tea-tent, amidst a pile of empty cups. ‘Thank you,’ she sobbed as I led her to the car. ‘I almost borrowed someone’s phone to call you, but it seemed like giving in.’

‘Well Grangey,’ I said, channelling Tarby, ‘We’ll just have to agree to disagree.’

Beth Miller, 19th July 2011. Photo by Alex Leith. Published in

Friday, July 22, 2011

I was walking in the park, dreaming of a spark

Country Mouse sighed into her skinny latte. ‘I’ve tried everywhere. Home-brew evening class, Lewes Arms folk nights, Skeptics events at the Ellie. Nothing.’
‘Impressive, Mouse, that you found so many intensely male habitats.’
‘But I’d already seen every man on Guardian Soulmates. Dated most of them.’
‘What happened between you and Aging Lad last year?’ I dared to ask.
Country Mouse regarded me with the calm expression of a serial killer. ‘Can’t talk about it for legal reasons.’
‘I can hack your phone, you know.’
‘You can’t. So before I plunge into the larger, scarier Brighton singles scene, I’m giving Lewes men one last try.’
‘Oh my god! Not…’
‘Yes. I’m going to Rock in the Bog. And I’m wearing lipstick.’
I clutched her arm. ‘Don’t do it, Mouse.’
‘Desperate times, kiddo.’
‘You know there’s no electricity there?’
‘What! But how will I pull without my tongs and straighteners?’
She sobbed briefly, then replaced the electrical items with her ancient cap-sleeved Marillion t-shirt.
‘Wait!’ I called after her. ‘Where’s your tent?’
She yelled back, ‘If I ain’t in someone else’s tent tonight I’m a-comin’ home,’ and strode off in the direction of Earwig Corner.
I spent a restless weekend worrying. There was only one text: ‘So many men, so little time,’ which didn’t do much to soothe my nerves. And nor did Country Mouse’s reappearance on Sunday. She had mud on her face and twigs in her hair. Her eyes were red with lack of sleep; her teeth murky with lack of Colegate.
I pushed a strong macchiato in front of her and made my face into a question mark.
‘So I’m dancing away to Jellyhead…’
I made an involuntary noise, a bit like, ‘Oh no.’ Country Mouse’s dancing is legendary, but not in the way that, say, James Brown’s dancing is legendary.
‘…and this fella points at my Marillion t-shirt and says, “1986, Milton Keynes Bowl.” Before I could remind him that Jethro Tull were the support, we were in his tent and he was showing me his generator.’
‘Excuse me?’
‘So I could have brought my tongs after all.’
‘And then…?’
‘We had so much in common. Well, we did if I pretended I still liked Marillion.’
‘I’m sensing this doesn’t end well.’
‘Saturday he went weird. Bit needy. Said things like, “Where have you been?” when I’d just nipped to the loo. Woke up this morning and he’d gone. Taken the tent so I was lying outside in the drizzle. And he’d also taken…’
I realised with a thud. ‘Oh dear, was your t-shirt a collector’s item?’
She nodded. ‘Luckily the roadie for Dirty/DC gave me one of their shirts.’
‘I’m so sorry, Mouse. Brighton speed-dating next stop then?’
‘Not at all,’ she said, wiping off her coffee foam moustache. ‘I’m meeting that roadie later. I must go dig out my Rush waistcoat; he’s a big fan.

Beth Miller, 12th July 2011. Published in

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Great balls of fire

‘It’s an interesting linguistic conundrum, isn’t it?’ mused Cycle Girl, as she tried to balance a pint of Harveys, a score sheet, her bag and phone. The Harveys won, naturally – everything else slid to the floor.

‘What, the ambiguous status of the word “balls”?’ said DJ Mama, showing off a little by juggling four skittle balls.

‘It’s one of those words that’s innocent in some contexts, and rude in others.’

‘On such a premise was the entire flimsy edifice of Are You Being Served built,’ said Born and Bred Boy, who was playing for the other team. In the literal sense of the phrase.

‘There are a lot of words like that,’ continued Cycle Girl, ‘For example…’

‘That’s quite enough, thank you,’ said Grange Girl, who had only popped into the Grange gardens to complain about the noise but was now dragged against her will into our team.

‘It seems silly to make a fuss about balls,’ said Head Girl, ‘when here we are, playing with them.’

‘Fnar,’ said Aging Lad wearily. After more than forty years of laughing dutifully at double entendres he can’t stop now, even though he’d clearly like to. If there’s a gap where someone ought to say ‘fnar’ he can’t bear it to go unfilled (fnar.)

The stern but friendly Rotarians in the Control Caravan announced the line-up for the Ladies Tournament in which we were playing, despite Grange Girl’s insistence that the term “ladies” was offensive. Most of the other teams had names like the Haywards Heath Harriers or The Pretty Shoes. No other team had the honour of their name being censored.

‘And in lane seven, playing Pink & Perky…’

‘Fnar,’ sighed Aging Lad.

‘How did they get their name approved?’ asked Cycle Girl.

‘...playing Pink & Perky are Ladies With, uh, Appendages.’

‘I think that’s us.’

‘Flipping heck,’ said Sweary Mary. ‘Lucky we didn’t go with Pussy Posse.’

Aging Lad held up a sign that said ‘Fnar,’ and the game commenced.

‘Has anyone practised at all?’ asked Grange Girl, as we quickly came to realise that the true meaning of balls for us was round objects you miss skittles with. ‘Or ever played before?’

‘Crazy golf’s my sport,’ said DJ Mama, launching a ball whistling into the air and narrowly missing several spectators.

‘I practised in the garden with pebbles,’ said Cycle Girl, sending her ball so wide it went into the next lane and knocked over more of their skittles than she’d ever managed of ours.

Born and Bred Boy sauntered over. ‘Just scored fourteen,’ he said. ‘What’s your top score?’

‘Three,’ said Head Girl bitterly, trampling our score sheet into the mud.

‘Head is another of those words,’ said Cycle Girl.

‘So’s score,’ said Sweary Mary.

Born and Bred Boy picked up one of the balls we were using.

‘You know what the trouble is? Your balls aren’t heavy enough.’

‘Fnar,’ we all said cheerily.

Beth Miller, July 6th 2011. Published in Photo by Alex Leith

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Wild, go wild, go wild in the country

‘Wooh!’ murmured Grange Girl, waving her scarf stadium-rock style. She stopped hurriedly when I pointed out she was spilling her tea. So as Tongue and Groove thundered through the Stones, the Kinks, the Who and other bands starting with ‘the’, Grange Girl participated instead by nodding her head on the off-beat. It was rare to see her so wildly out of control. At one point I even had to hold her cup as she needed both hands to do the gestures for Purple Haze (no, I didn’t know either).

In the break I amused myself by counting how many of the brave night-time Pells Pool swimmers said, ‘It’s warmer in here than it is out there.’ Then Hoxton Mum appeared and said, ‘Gosh! It’s taken us ages to pitch the tepee. What have I missed?’

‘Tepee? You only live half a mile away.’

‘This is our dry run for Glasto.’

I examined Hoxton Mum’s outfit: floral dress, Barbour and purple Hunter wellies. Her hair was amateurishly braided and her make-up looked as if it had been applied in a dark tepee.

‘So,’ she said, ‘If this set’s finished shall we go to the Pyramid stage?’

I quickly led her to the beer tent. Grange Girl would likely go a bit funny if a vast and commercial enterprise such as Glastonbury was mentioned in her hearing.

‘Have you been to a big festival before?’ I asked Hoxie.

‘We nearly went to Shambala last year. But as Lysander got that promotion we went to St Lucia instead.’

‘I’m not sure the Pells Party is adequate rehearsal for Glastonbury.’

‘Pshaw! Glasto’s not nearly as big as they say. My friend Kipper Enright went in 1970 and he remembers it being quite tiny. Mind you, he was only two. He says the Guardian hype it up to justify sending their entire staff. Couple of fields, couple of stages, that’s it.’

We watched Phil from Tongue and Groove dive spectacularly into the Pells pool amid much whooping and, this being Lewes, a fireworks display. ‘Ooh!’ said Hoxie, clutching my arm. ‘I hope he hasn’t been drinking.’

Grange Girl materialised on my other side, nibbling an organic veggie-burger. ‘I’m sure he hasn’t. There are children here; he’ll be wanting to set a good example.’

I had a brief pang of missing Pierced Boy who was off somewhere, doubtless smoking something interesting and being properly disreputable.

‘Talking of children,’ said Hoxie. ‘I wonder where Django is?'

Phil swam a very fast length and scooped up a floundering child from the deep end.

‘Gracious Django,’ cried Hoxton Mum, towelling him down with her Barbour, ‘I hope you won’t get into trouble like this at Glastonbury.’

Grange Girl narrowed her eyes. ‘He’ll be fine. You can just let kids wander round by themselves there.’

‘I know,’ said Hoxie. ‘I think it will be marvellously relaxing.’

Beth Miller, 30th June 2011. Published in Photo by Paul Barratt