“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 VivaLewes.com. Photo by Katie Moorman