Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Nae cheerful twinkle lights me

A few short weeks ago, sobbing with relief, I finally waved Uncle Adultery off after his extended Lewes sojourn. He’d been resident on my chaise longue since October when he broke his ankle running away from an estate agent, and I’d been dutifully nursing him back to health, which is not my strong suit. I began strongly with, “Dearest Uncle, can I tempt you with a little homemade chicken broth just like Booba Baumgarten used to make in the Stoke Newington shtetl with her own fowls?” But this palled almost immediately, and for the best part of three months our interactions were more along the lines of, “Whaddya want NOW?” “Merely the finest quails eggs lightly poached upon a gold-plated loaf from Flint Owl, dear Niecey.” “Here’s some beans on Kingsmill 50/50 you rotten old malingerer,” [chucks plate onto Uncle’s lap and turns up telly].

It’s been indescribably wonderful having my house back. So imagine my face when I answered the door yesterday to find Uncle Adultery looming on the stoop, wearing a startling tartan suit in the style of the Bay City Rollers. “Greetings, favourite niece!” he cried, and made as if to enter the hall, but I blocked his passage with the elephant’s foot umbrella.

“Did you leave something here, Unc?” I asked. “Just text me the details and I’ll post it to you instanter. Bye!” I went to shut the door but his early experience of flogging the Encyclopaedia Britannica meant he was already in the hallway.
“I fear I rather overstayed my welcome recently, Niecey,” he said, stepping into the living room with a proprietary air. “So I’ve decided to make amends by throwing you an authentic Burns Night supper. Oh dear, you’ve moved that picture, I don’t like it there so well.”

“Comments and questions, Uncle. One: A Fortnums hamper would have been adequate recompense for my nursing stint. Two: How can you do an authentic Burns supper, never having been to Scotland or indeed, knowing where it is? Three: Burns Night is 25th January which is a worrying several days away.”

Uncle Adultery pulled from his sporran-shaped manbag a tam o’ shanter and planted it on his head. “Och, dinna worry your little heid, hen.”
“Stop that please.”
“Sorry. Just getting in the spirit. To answer in order. The haggis is from Fortnums. My dear friend Hamish McDougal will be running the ceremonies in his kilt. It’s going to take several days to make all the necessary preparations.”
“You’ve made up Hamish McDougal haven’t you?”
“That’s not his real name; it’s his Highland persona. He’s much in demand for his readings of Address to a Haggis.”

Uncle A put down his – I now noticed – suitcases and sighed happily. “Good to be back, Niecey. Emmanuelle’s needing a teensy bit of space right now. I’ll just make up the chaise and then I’ll get cracking on the invitations.”

Beth Miller, 19th January 2012. Published in VivaLewes.com. Photo by Alex Leith

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Sail boats, canal boats, and cruisers too

'Now is the time, to send us a line,’ I sang, as I walked down the Cliffe, ‘For your Hoseason’s boating brochure.’ When I was young this was one of the catchiest jingles, along with ‘It’s a beautiful day, come to C&A!’ and ‘A finger of fudge is just enough to give the kids a treat.’ This isn’t going to be one of those nostalgic wallows about naff jingles [too late – Ed.], but anything to do with boats, even just the ferry to Calais, gives rise to the Hoseason’s boating brochure earworm. ‘We’ve got all kinds of craft, that’ll suit you just fine, for messing about on the water.’ I’d somehow agreed to join Hoxton Mum on the maiden voyage of her new boat, which she’d parked (parked doesn’t sound right), on the river in South Street. Since Lysander went freelance (eg unemployed), Hoxie has conceived increasingly desperate schemes to avoid seeking paid work herself. The latest is to join ‘buy nothing new year,’ which has add-on options such as ‘knit socks with wool from old sweaters’ and ‘fish for supper using a second-hand boat.’ A salty sea dog in the Lewes Arms recently convinced Hoxie that not only are there mullet, carp and chub in the Ouse, but that his old boat was an unmissable bargain.
Hoxie waved her blue fisherman’s cap when she saw me. ‘Nice authentic touch,’ I said.
‘It’s new,’ she said, then clapped her hand to her mouth.
‘I thought you weren’t buying anything new?’
‘That’s this year,’ she said. ‘I got this on December 31st. Let’s set sail, me hearties!’ She got in what looked like a baby’s bath. I stumbled in after, the boat tipping alarmingly, and when we sat down our knees touched.
‘No fishing today,’ she said, ‘I just need to get the hang of the craft.’ She rowed out into the middle of the river, surprisingly expertly.
‘How come Lysander didn’t come?’ I asked.
‘Oh, he’s making a silly fuss about the cost of the boat. Wait till he sees all the amazing free suppers. Reminds me, must get a fish kettle.’
‘A new one?’ I teased.
‘Steamer Trading doesn’t count – they sell essential items to support my buying nothing.’
‘Sorry to interrupt,’ I said, ‘But why is my bottom wet?’
I’ve always hated swimming in my clothes, ever since school when we had to dive for bricks wearing pyjamas. But needs must. We sat cold and damp on the muddy path, watching the last traces of the boat going glug glug glug before it disappeared beneath the briny.
‘Let’s get coffee,’ she said. ‘And before you point out I can’t buy it, you can.’
‘All Britain’s waterways waiting for you,’ I sang as we squelched along. Hoxton Mum emptied her shoe into a drain. ‘They can keep waiting,’ she said, and we pushed open the door of the Snowdrop.

Beth Miller, 10th January 2012. Published in VivaLewes.com. Photo by Alex Leith

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Return to sender, address unknown

Every December Man of the House receives a Christmas letter from an old friend he’s not spoken to since way back in the last century. This friend, who I’ll call Smug, and her husband Smugger – aren’t they cute with their matching names in their cosy nook! – writes the sort of round robin I thought journalist Simon Hoggart had satirised into extinction. But clearly not, so it gives me great cheer to report – verbatim - ‘Daughter continues with piano (grade 4) and viola (grade 5). She has founded a string quartet, which gave an exciting debut performance at the school concert, with a piece arranged by Daughter.’ As I read this out to Man of the House, who always acts as if the letter is my fault, Thing Two rushed in, yelled, ‘Fleabag Monkeyface is on!’ and rushed out again. He was wearing just pants and a Santa hat. Sighing, I read that Daughter had sung with her school choir at both Disneyland and Chartres Cathedral. ‘Quite a contrast!’ noted Smug, though whether he meant between the two venues or between Daughter and Thing Two who can say? Simon Hoggart says that braggy letters tend to gloss over the dumkopf child of the family, but you can easily work out the meaning of ‘lively’ and ‘creative.’ Alas, the other child in the Smuggery was ‘very successful in his 11+ exam’ (the family has relocated to the 1970s so the kids can take the 11+) and he ‘relishes playing rugby… passed grade 3 cornet and piano… won the School French conversation… likes to hack most weekends’ (on a horse or into celebrities’ phones? No idea).

I truly can’t work out if I hate these people or wish I was them. This issue remains unresolved, pending my next therapy session. In the meantime here’s my reply.
Dear Smuggies,
Sorry this is unseasonally late but that’s the kind of slacker household I’m barely holding together here!!! What a great year! The kids got to really high levels not only on Moshi Monsters but also Club Penguin! Thing One is fully engaged in the music scene, having almost learned to cover up the holes on the recorder, and Thing Two is speaking French; his cousin’s taught him to swear like un matelot! They relish experimenting with the Freeview box and it’s now stuck on Men & Motors, what an eye-opener! They are such a pleasure to take to restaurants. Thing Two astonished me recently by ordering a ham pizza instead of just cheese, a true gourmand!! I must briefly blow my own trumpet and announce that I notched up 351 washes in my Hotpoint washer-drier! I’m aiming for 366 washes this year, well we all have to have Olympic goals!! I see from your letter that you’re planning to see in the New Year with a visit to the RSC!! We are similarly going to the UGC, to see Alvin & The Chipmunks III – Chipwrecked!!
Best wishes for 2012,
Conflicted & Bemused

Beth Miller, 4th January. Published in VivaLewes.com and Viva Lewes handbook February 20

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Ça plane pour moi

As I toiled up the hill, muttering my list like a mantra - wrapping paper, Turkish Delight, hexbug nano - someone hurtled into me with a decisive thud.
“Why don’t you look where you’re going?” thundered the bag-encumbered shopper.
‘Hello Country Mouse,” I said, for it was she. “Chrimble shopping?”
“Yes, O Curse-d Day,” she intoned. Mouse always gets mardy when forced to forego her cornfield for the fleshpots of the Big Town.
People pushed past us, muttering, for we were blocking the entrance to the Parking Shop, which was doing brisk trade. People buying tinselly parking-related presents for their relatives, I guess.
“Lucky I bumped into you, actually,” Mouse said. “You can show me round the new supermarket.”
I escorted her to Aldi, acting all knowledgeable because Mouse makes me feel urban and loaded with street smarts. But I hadn’t actually been inside Aldi yet. Man of the House is in charge of Supermarket Policy, and as his personal list of significant dates reads, in its entirety:
1978 – Scotland beat Holland in the group stage of the World Cup
2003 - First child born
2005 - Waitrose opened in Lewes
he was unlikely to sanction an official visit.
The doors swished open and we browsed the famously unfamiliar brands. There was a no-nonsense element to the display of goods. BISCUITS. FLOUR. RICE. JUICE. ANORAKS. Eh? Yes, the middle aisle housed bins of arbitrary items such as inflatable air beds, worryingly cheap power drills, and blue anoraks the exact type my Dad wore in Brittany in 82, which I remember well because he wore it a lot that trip. I realised I had a nice mellow holiday feeling, because it was like being in a French supermarket. The lighting, the oddly-named items, the unpretentious furnishings – all that was missing was a sullen French goth girl rapping out the total amount so quickly I had to keep repeating, “Scusez-moi?” till one of us died or she reluctantly agreed to take the correct money out of my hand. Possibly not the correct money, I now reflected – I had doubtless been fleeced un peu.
While I’d slipped into reverie, Mouse had been filling her trolley with pretty much everything except anoraks. “Essentials to get us through the festive season,” she snapped, in response to my inquiring eyebrow. She said festive season as others might say “nuclear holocaust.”
I’d have asked if she really needed fourteen packets of Disco Biscuits, but my attention was snagged by a pile of boxes of Turkish Delight, very attractively priced, and some super-cheap wrapping paper. With a cry of Zut alors! I grabbed armfuls.
‘Seasons greeting, I suppose,” Mouse said fulsomely, as we parted.
“Joyeaux Noel!” I cried, and went off to find someone – anyone – who was able to tell me what a hexbug nano was.

Beth Miller, 7th December 2011