Monday, September 24, 2012

Want some seafood, mama

We were having one of those discussions you have at work, about where to buy fish in Lewes; obviously a matter of considerable importance. Terry’s Riverside fish stall was first on the list, but then the conversation flagged slightly, because Tescos and Waitrose are all right, but they’re not exactly Billingsgate, are they? Then I said, “Well of course there’s the fish van,” and everyone cried, “What fish van?”
“Why, the Wednesday fish van, of course,” I said, “the one that goes round all the streets.”
“Not mine, it doesn’t,” said everyone, Greek-chorus style, and as their geographical spread runs from Cliffe to Nevill, I was forced to wonder why my street seems the only one blessed by the fish fairy.
The van comes every Wednesday morning – it’s done so for years. It signals its arrival by subtle use of a klaxon that used to wake my babies from their morning naps, when I had babies who had morning naps. On hearing this noise I leap into my shoes from the third stair and run outside to buy three fillets of salmon. I’m not very experimental in the matter of fish. “Three fillets of salmon, please,” I always say, queuing with Betty from up the road, the only other person I’ve ever seen at the fish van. The friendly fishmonger opens the back of the van where the fish lie fishily on ice, and chooses a fillet. “Like this?” he says, and I always say “yes.” I don’t know what either of us would do if one day I said, “No, not like that.” I’m not going to risk it. He wraps them, charges me a small amount of money, and remarks on the weather. “Hot enough for you?” he asks, or “Getting cold, isn’t it?”
I reply appropriately, take my fish parcel, and go back indoors. Man of the House doesn’t like salmon. So I really ought to buy a different fish that he does like. But then the children probably wouldn’t like it. You see the dilemma. Wednesday evenings me and the kids have roast salmon. I’m not sure what Man has. Bran flakes, probably.
I hesitated under my colleagues’ sceptical gaze. “I’ve lived in Lewes all my life,” one said, “and I’ve never heard of a fish van.” Eventually l I started to doubt myself.
Last Wednesday, the van didn’t come. Or if it did come, I missed it. Maybe I was back too late from dropping the kids, or I’d got Neil Pringle on BBC Sussex turned up too loudly to hear the klaxon. Now I’m worried that it was the Old Curiosity Shop of fish vans, and by discussing it with outsiders I’ve made it disappear for ever. I’m missing the salmon, and the weather discussion, and Betty, and everything. I hope he was just on holiday, and it’ll all be back to normal next week. I’d like to ask if he’s considered trying any other streets in Lewes.

Beth, 20th Sept . Published in and Viva Lewes magazine, November 2012

Friday, September 7, 2012

Lots of girls and lots of boys, lots of smells and lots of noise

When my child was younger she couldn’t get enough of my fascinating tales. “Say again how you messed up the ballet show!” she would cry, or “Tell me that slightly implausible account of how you met Daddy.” And I would smile, and pull her on my knee, and begin. “Once upon a time, a handsome prince saw a beautiful princess…” and she would be rapt, I tell you, rapt. Recently though, her intellectual curiosity about me has dissipated; now I am mostly just the annoying person standing between her and her DS.

However, she still loves to hear about my schooldays, treating the notions of logarithm tables and standing up for your teachers with the same forensic disbelief as once did I over the slates and bloomers of my grandmother’s time. Man of the House is accorded more respect, because his Glasgow alma mater used the belt for minor offences (“Tell about being walloped on the bottom, Daddy, for forgetting the date of Bannockburn”), while my jovial primary head-master threatened to cane us daily but never did. But even my less dramatic stories get an attentive audience.

My secondary school had absurdist rules about the necessity of wearing navy blue knickers, but we soon realised no-one was going to check and reverted to our usual Snoopy pants. There was a lack of pastoral care staggering to today’s children. An anecdote which interests Thing One concerns the time I was in a car accident on the way to school, when I was eleven. No-one was hurt, but the car was wrecked and it was frightening. “You’re late,” snapped my teacher when I finally arrived. I mumbled an apologetic explanation about the crash. “Are you all right?” she said briskly, and when I nodded, said, “Well sit down then,” and I joined the lesson, trembling slightly from shock. A modern child would be comforted, and checked over, and possibly offered counselling, and quite right too.

Thing Two recently did a school project on Tanzania. I remembered doing something similar, the most exciting part of which was my carefully coloured-in map of Upper Volta falling off the wall and being lost forever behind a dusty radiator. Thing Two’s teacher had arranged the classroom chairs to resemble seating in an aeroplane. The children all made passports,  then they sat on the plane, and the teacher/air steward handed out sucky sweets to avoid ear-popping. When they ‘arrived’ in Tanzania, they changed into cool t-shirts and were given African food to try. “Is school better now or when you were little?” asks Thing Two, younger than his sister and still interested in my opinion. I tell him that it is so much better now, I could cry.

Beth Miller. Published in and Viva Lewes handbook, September 2012