Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Something’s gone so terribly wrong here in Pleasantville

The house being full of estate agents particulars and over-excited uncles, I took myself off to Baltica. But before I’d managed even a sip of cordial, a rose-silk suited Uncle Adultery was lowering himself into the chair opposite me and ordering a latte. “Saw you through the window Niecey!” he exclaimed, and, closing my magazine, he placed six houses in front of me. Not the actual houses, obviously, that would be silly, but their paper representatives. I groaned quietly. I didn’t want to be unhelpful, but to be fair to me, I had spent ALL WEEKEND looking at descriptions of well-appointed kitchens and gardens with potential. I just wanted a teensy break, a chance to read about Cheryl Cole’s latest heartbreak and find out why Kerry Katona’s taking it slowly this time. But instead, once again, here I was perusing granite worktops, dual aspects, and mainly laid to lawns (or ‘manly’ laid to lawn as one of them said confusingly, making me think wistfully of Sean Bean playing Lady Chatterley’s lover).

Ever since Emmanuelle astonishingly agreed to Uncle’s proposal to relocate to Lewes, he’d been in a house buying frenzy, trying to exchange contracts before she woke from her trance and remembered that she hated it here. Poor Uncle. Even his eyes were semi-detached with lack of sleep. But still, it was a bit much to lose my precious Heat-reading time to yet more large bay windows and picture rails. I waited until he nodded off in the middle of an anxious monologue about Grade II listings, then I dashed out. Where could I hide? As I dithered on the corner of Station Street, eyes darting about like a hunted deer’s, Grange Girl walked up and said, “What gives, Bambi?” I hurriedly explained, and she seized my arm and steered me into Fisher Street so abruptly we left Road Runner-esque scorch marks on the pavement.

“Presumably he doesn’t know about Pleasant Café,” she said, pushing open the door, “because you’ve not been here yet.” Grangey’s brilliant at guilt. I apologised for my remiss-ness and ordered tea and cake all round. Sara behind the counter said she was just taking a carrot cake out of the oven and would we prefer it with icing, or without? I crammed delicious warm cake into my face until my cheeks bulged like Chip ‘n’ Dale’s, and properly relaxed for the first time since Emmanuelle kissed me Frenchly (on both cheeks, I mean), and said Lewes was her kinda place.

Everyone who came in said ‘hello’ to the entire café, like we were in an imaginary American town in the 50s. I turned to Grangey and uttered the fateful words, “It’s charming here, so friendly and just that little bit off the beaten…” when the door pinged open and in bustled Uncle Adultery. “Hello ladies! Followed the scorch marks,” he beamed, adding, “serendipitous really, because I found another estate agents. Look!” and he tipped a hundredweight of Fox & Son’s details onto the table.

Beth Miller, 22nd March 2012. Published in VivaLewes.com. Picture is a detail from a shot by Colin Bell

Thursday, March 8, 2012

With a baby Louis Vuitton under her underarm

The first daffs push their way through the chalky soil, the signal for Uncle Adultery to embark once again on an annual reconciliation with Emmanuelle. Even I am weary of this ritual by now, so lord knows how they feel. Here they are now, stepping off the London train to share the joy of their re-kindled romance, enveloping me in clouds of Gucci scent (her) and Versace Homme (him). “Ah, lovely Lewes,” gushes my uncle, tipping his panama hat at the unsmiling ticket inspector.

Emmanuelle dumps her Vuitton weekend bag in my arms and totters off sulkily on her six-inch heels. She’s never felt at home here, which is fine by me, because Uncle Adultery loves it too much; last year he nearly bought a pied-à-terre on South Street. Emmanuelle’s distaste for all things Lewes – she calls it ‘Beige Town’– is all that stands between my uncle keeping a respectable distance in South Ken and him living up the road and driving me to commit avunculicide (that’s the correct term, fact fans). So as we walk up the hill I carefully direct Emmanuelle’s attention to shop window displays I know she’ll hate, things which you or I might call tasteful understated elegance. Her sneer grows until it is larger than the chihuahua she carries in her handbag.

When I meet them that evening in the Pelham House bar they are sipping Hemingway daiquiris and Emmanuelle IS SMILING. I didn’t know she could do that. I put it down to cocktail supremo Sam’s skills with the old silver shaker but when I’ve ordered a Dark and Stormy, Uncle Adultery leans forward and says, ‘Marvellous news, Niecey!’

Oh god. Luckily my cocktail arrives extremely quickly for the purposes of a smooth narrative and I glug half straight off, then put on my big go-on-tell-me-your-news smile.

“Let Emmanuelle tell you,” beams my uncle and for one gasping moment I think, hell’s teeth, could she be pregnant? I try and remember how old that Italian lady was, or even other mature mums closer to home, but surely Emmanuelle is… hang on, she’s speaking and it’s about shops not babies.

“For ze first time I feel welcome in zis crazy beige town,” she coos, and kisses me on both cheeks. I can barely take in her words, but it seems she has been captivated by new clothes emporium, Mimi, and its un-Lewes-like stock of rock-chick chic. “I bought zo many beautiful zings!” Emmanuelle continues in her implausible accent, showing off her new outfit: skin-tight pink leopardskin dress teamed with a diamante-studded leather waistcoat. “And next door to Mimi is zis darlink nailbar…” she spreads out her fingers: pink leopardskin nails to match the dress.

“But that’s not the best bit,” says Uncle A, and something in his smile makes my blood freeze, “My dear fiancée is now willing to consider a move which would make me very happy.” And they toast each other with their daiquiris: “To Lewes!”

Beth Miller, 1st March 2012. Published in VivaLewes.com. Photo by Alex Leith