Thursday, June 28, 2012

I pepped them up with chicken soup

“What’ll it be today, me love? Ooh yes, a pasty, good idea, warm it up for ye shall I? Just the thing on a cold day, can’t credit it’s June, can ye?”

When I buy lunch, the food is a secondary consideration next to the chat. Not that the food in Fillers is secondary in any way, of course - they have an immense choice of sandwiches and a bowl of freebie sweeties at the till. But the lovely Irish lady with the purple fingernails and the lilting banter makes the simple purchasing of a tuna mayo on granary into a pleasurable event. So very different from the joyless exchange of money for sustenance that you get in some other places (not anywhere in Lewes of course!*)

I can’t think of anywhere with food so good I would willingly tolerate horrible service, as did Seinfeld and friends when they braved the terrifying Soup Nazi to access the finest soup in Manhattan. When I was a child it was a thing amongst a certain strand of irony-loving Jews to eat at Blooms kosher restaurant in Whitechapel. Here the service was a parody of appallingness. If waiters weren’t ignoring you they were mocking you openly to your face. Plates of food were dumped onto the table from a great height, spilling stuff onto your lap, and the maitre d’ could have taken on Alan Rickman in a sneering competition. Yet people still went more than once. You’re thinking the food must have been amazing, but, “Don’t talk to me about the chicken soup in Blooms! An insult!” my Booba used to say, dishing up conciliatory bowls of the proper thing: a delicious greasy Proustian-memory-evoking liquid, with tennis-ball sized dumplings floating on top. As a child I found it rather frightening that my parents seemed not to mind the rudeness at Blooms. It made the world seem out of kilter. However, if I tentatively experimented with the notion that insolence had become acceptable I was quickly reassured on that score by means of an un-ironic and loud telling-off all the way home. Looking up Blooms now I can’t say I’m gutted to find that all three branches, including the equally ill-mannered Golders Green outpost, have closed down. 

Maybe this early scarring experience has meant I seek out businesses where the people are actively pleasant, where paying for stuff is elevated above its constituent parts into an agreeable, friendly exchange. Or maybe there’s no need to psychoanalyse myself and it’s just because, as Kingsley Amis once said, “Nice things are nicer than nasty things.” They understand that principle in Fillers. Also their avocado salad sandwiches are very good.

*Viva’s libel lawyer is insistent on this point.

Beth Miller, 19th June 2012, published in Photo by Katie Moorman

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Fire, I'll take you to burn

“What else can you barbecue?” asks Thing Two with interest, holding aloft a wooden spike, his mouth smeared in sticky pink goo. I realise I have nodded off briefly, worn down by barbecue stress, and during that time my child has turned into a vampire. That really takes slack parenting to a whole new level. “Honestly, Social Services, I turned my back for ONE MINUTE and next thing I knew he was one of the blood-sucking undead.”
I reach out to check the marshmallow bag but it is, of course, empty. The children have toasted and scoffed the contents, and Thing One is lying in the hammock groaning that she never wants to see a marshmallow again. As a test I say, “I do have another bag,” and she sits up attentively. “Where? I’ll get it for you Mummy.”
“Can you barbecue feet?” Thing Two asks, looking at mine speculatively.
“No, only sausages and corn on the cob,” I say, but he’s already run indoors on a dastardly unsuitable-for-barbecuing fact-finding mission.
This time of year there’s so much pressure to have fabulous Cath Kidston-styled outdoor meals. In my head, egged on by those Waitrose magazines, I see pastel-coloured parasols and water jugs sprigged with mint leaves. I hear children laughing with a tinkle of cowbells, and see them eating salad, yes, even celery. I see a hunky man wearing nothing but an apron (actually he’s in my head all year round), smiling sensitively while flipping burgers, framed by a wisp of white smoke from the barbie.
I probably don’t need to humiliate myself completely by playing spot the difference with my own al fresco attempts. Enough to say that though the hunky man is in place (my hand is somewhat forced here), the whole pitiful un-matching no-celery affair is drowned in choking clouds of black smog because the stove is always downwind no matter where we put it. Still, it makes the clothes on the line smell interesting, like they’ve been worn by Burger King employees on a long shift. While the hunky apron man wanders off to attend to his singes with Savlon, the tonging and flipping falls to me. But all I have by way of a technique are those tv adverts about getting salmonella from half-raw chipolatas, so out of fear I don’t stop cooking until everything is as carbonated as the charcoal beneath it. Hence the children filling up on marshmallows, I guess.
Thing Two trots out of the house with sacrificial objects for the flames: a cheese string, an apple, a Barbie doll, which is semantically clever of him, and my slipper. I’m about to rescue this last item when Hunky Apron reappears, hurls the last desiccated burger – his - into the hydrangea, and puts the slipper on the grill in a subtle undermining of my domestic capabilities. I honestly don’t think this can have ever happened to Cath Kidston.

Beth Miller 30th May 2012. Published in, and Viva Lewes magazine July 2012. Pic by Alex Leith