Thursday, May 31, 2012

God save your mad parade

While clearing out my mum’s flat the other day (we’ve moved her to a Home for the Baffled and Irritating), I came across a dusty red presentation sleeve containing my silver jubilee coin.  The children immediately squirrelled it away to their room, informing me they’ll give it back only if they receive similar diamond-themed largesse from the Council. Back in 1977 I imagined the Queen had munificently sent the coins out herself to every child in the land. Certainly Man of the House was given the exact same one in Glasgow, and he slipped it under his pillow each braw bricht nicht to prevent it being thieved by the frightening neds who shared the filthy tenement block he called home. I’m convinced he’s hired Irvine Welsh to script these reminiscences.
Grange Girl couldn’t recall getting a silver coin, though she did remember dressing up for a street party as HMS Britain, made out of cardboard and milk bottle tops. Ah, memories. Just the words ‘street party’ and I’m back, ten years old, squinting into the perpetual-sunshine-of-childhood, slightly anxious about the unfamiliar Liebfraumilch-fuelled bonhomie of our street, and dressed as a little Dutch girl. I assume I must have had the costume already and doggedly insisting on wearing it to the party. I can still bring to mind the simultaneous feelings of pride in the little white hat with the turned-up corners, and hot embarrassment at the suspicion that I looked like a div. I wasn’t old enough yet to question my fervently patriotic feelings towards the Royal Family, particularly Andrew, who unbelievably was quite fanciable back then, if you were ten and inclined to wear clogs, anyway. I saw no conflict between my Union Jack scrapbook and my punkified Pippa dolls, whose malleable plastic cheeks I had pierced with safety pins.
My family kept itself to itself, but on this one glorious day no traffic was allowed in the street, and my mum was seen talking – even smiling! – to the other, more glamorous mothers previously categorised as ‘tarty’ or ‘probably anti-semitic.’ All the adults worked together to place trestle tables end to end, their uneven heights covered by sheets that had seen better days. Dads stood smoking in their ‘Life on Mars’style tank tops, and mums trotted back and forth with plates of, I suppose, flat little cheese sandwiches on white bread and Golden Wonder crisps. I don’t think we were allowed to eat anything else back then. Sitting in the middle of the road, in the middle of the afternoon, the heat almost setting my polyester Dutch dress aflame, my mother chatting vivaciously to people she held grudges against,  it felt like the world had tipped upside down, in a good way. But it was an illusion. Next day there was nothing but a few crusts in the gutter, and my mum shifting the lace nets muttering, “She’s off out again. Could she show any more bosom if she tried?’

Beth Miller, 14th May 2012. Published in and in Viva Lewes magazine June 2012

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Tea for two and two for tea

Pixie Haircut set two mugs on the counter. One was a straight-up-and-down piece of china emblazoned with a Scrabble letter P. The other was a fancy thin thing, its twisted briar handle inspired by the pattern on the cup – a blossoming of unlikely purple roses – rather than by comfort and ergonomics.
“I’d like that one please,” I said, pointing to the Scrabble mug.
“That’s mine,” she said gently. “See the P on it?”
“But the other one’s the WRONG SHAPE FOR TEA,” I said, accidentally raising my voice.
“I KNOW,” she replied, “that’s why I don’t want it.”
Impasse. We stared at each other and the kettle began to whistle. Odd really, as it was electric.
“Come on, Pix, you must have some others.”
She opened the cupboard and huffily began showing me mugs as if introducing beauty contestants. I discounted three more thin ones – “presents,” she sighed – because tea does not taste nice in thin mugs. Don’t ask me why, I am merely the messenger. Next I rejected a large pint mug; these don’t work because of temperature issues. I recoiled from a low wide striped cup with a large comedy saucer, and shook my head at a tapered mug with a black interior. No matter how clean, dark insides make tea look scummy and/or the wrong colour. There was a Golden Shred Golliwog mug which we’d all bought from a local shop to prevent them being purchased by racists; and another which was the wrong shape (squat), the wrong colour (mid-brown) and slightly chipped.
“That’s the builder’s mug,” Pixie H. said.
“What if you need more than one?” I asked, thinking of our window cleaners, who turn up mob-handed in twos and threes, and who incidentally take four sugars each except the gaffer who takes five.
“I’m afraid they get this.” She revealed the Most Evil Cup Of All: a misshapen monstrosity in the form of a cat. China ears stuck out at the top, clearly designed to poke the casual drinker in the eye, and the handle had been forced to depict a furry tail.
“Heavens, Pix, are those FEET?” I cried in alarm.
“Look!” she wailed, flinging it to the tiled floor whence it bounced, unharmed. “It’s indestructible.”
I didn’t judge. We all have gifts from in-laws which we have failed to mercy-kill.
“You know Alan Bennett spoke at length on this matter,” Pixie said, generously giving me the Scrabble mug and taking a black wrong-colour-producing one herself. “He has a ‘friendly fork, a bad knife and a blue-and-white plate that is thicker than the others.’”
“Oh, don’t let’s get started on the rest of the crockery,” I said, starting nonetheless. “I have a horrid white plate which is too small.”
Pixie H. thoughtfully stirred her tea. “This is my favourite tea-spoon,” she said. “If it’s in the dishwasher I have to take it out and hand wash it, though I have twenty-four others.”
“Well that’s just daft,” I said.

Beth Miller, 3rd May 2012. Published in and Viva Lewes magazine, January 2013