Thursday, December 19, 2013

Dance upon your sarnie

While out for a wintry walk recently, the talk turned to our expectations of the large afternoon tea we were planning to conclude with. Well, I say ‘the talk turned,’ but actually it was all we talked about.
‘Chocolate cake, obvs,’ said Honesty Girl.
‘A freshly-baked scone,’ said Sweary Mary, ‘and no-one better blimmin’ tell me I’m putting on the cream and jam in the wrong order’ (this with a hard stare at me. It’s jam first, people. Jam first).
‘Some kind of sponge cake,’ Sherpa Sal said. ‘Followed by half a scone, with butter, then jam, then cream.’
‘Cake first?!’ we all yelled. And ‘Butter?!’
Sweary Mary spoke for us all: ‘You don’t need butter if you’re having blinkin’ cream.’
‘I do,’ said Sal calmly. She takes enough exercise to counteract the chlorestoral, I suppose. And in her defence, at least she puts on the jam and cream in the right order.
As for me, all I could think about were the finger sandwiches. I adore them. I find sandwiches which aren’t finger-shaped disappointing, and as most sandwiches can’t be bothered to be anything but triangles or oblongs I am disappointed a lot.
It was quite cold and muddy on the walk, so by the time we stumbled into Badgers Tea Room in Alfriston, my mind was just one big finger sandwich. Badgers fancies itself as dainty, so it requests that you remove muddy footwear, or put blue plastic bags (supplied) over your boots. It also has a sign saying that it welcomes ‘well-behaved children’ so naturally there weren’t any children in the place; no parent knows what a ‘well-behaved child’ actually looks like in the eyes of a tearoom proprietor, but we all suspect that only a gagged and immobile one will be acceptable.
I plastic-ed my boots, reasoning that this slightly tedious chore was just bringing me closer to a plate of f.s. Don’t worry, I did get them: while dramatic tension is all very well when writing about trivial matters such as love, betrayal and death, it is not suitable for something as important as the finger sandwich.
We sat next to a roaring fire, and ordered with the abandonment of people who have walked a long way while discussing food. The finger sandwiches were magnificent: egg mayo –gotta have egg mayo – smoked salmon, tuna, and cucumber. Badgers was so good, there wasn’t even the inevitable rogue sandwich: sometimes it’s an indefinable paste, sometimes a boring one, like cheddar. I can’t remember when I was happier, scoffing the sandwiches and Sherpa Sal’s spare half-scone, and criticising Sweary Mary for her layering technique. Finger sandwiches are truly the foodstuffs of heaven. I went home determined to start making them all the time, all with different fillings, but at lunch next day I just chucked a tin of tuna onto a piece of bread as usual, and lived with the residual disillusionment.

Published in Picture by Katie Moorman

Thursday, November 14, 2013

See the red and green displays: Just 58 more shopping days

Schools go back: tick. Hallowe’en: tick. Bonfire: tick. And then, wham, it’s straight onto the figgy-pudding-holly-tinsel-O-little-town rollercoaster. Still, the annual ‘I can’t believe they’ve got their decorations up already it’s not yet bloody December’ conversation is a welcome change to discussing how enjoyable/ruined Bonfire is without rookies.

If only we had Thanksgiving, to prevent Christmas from getting off the starting blocks too early. Mind you, Thanksgiving sounds like a nightmare-ish prequel to Chrismas, what with having to eat turkey, watch terrible telly, and hang out with your family, but with no presents to take the edge off.

Why Christmas creeps up on me unawares every year is a mystery - it’s not like there aren’t any announcements – but on the other hand, it does keep it fresh. If I didn’t have my traditional mid-November crisis, triggered by a full-body recoil from the display of mince pies at the entrance to Waitrose, I would hardly feel festive at all. In Cheese Please the other day, the lady told me that many customers have already ordered their Christmas hampers, and put in their Yuletide Stilton orders. Who are these people, and how can I become them? 

I’m not a leave-it-till-Christmas-Eve type, but neither am I brushing my hands together in an ‘all done’ gesture in July. I seem constitutionally unable to get it together till the start of December, by which time the combined forces of telly, shops and other people make me panic. Out of that panic has come a kind of system, which I will share for those of you who haven’t yet sorted your cheese orders.

1. Never throw any scraps of paper away on which you have made lists. (For one thing, the Getty Institute will buy them when you’re famous.)

2. (Relates to 1): Find last year’s list of the people you sent Christmas cards to.
3.  Cross off anyone who has died recently. Now you have your Christmas card list.
4. Buy cards and wrap in the Cards for Good Causes shop.
5. Go to late night shopping with Grange Girl. Write down everything she buys from the list she made in July. Drink free mulled wine while you wait for her to pay.
6. The day after late night shopping, go round the shops – they’ll be a lot quieter now – and buy everything Grange Girl bought. You can work out who gets what at a later date. Get three of everything, because you know more people than she does. (Grangey claims to know just five people.)
7. Ask the lady in Cheese Please what the most popular Christmas order is. Copy it.
8. Go into Harveys or Symposium and order as much booze as you can afford.
9. Use some of the items in 8 to get you through one solid evening of binge-wrapping.
10. All done. You’re welcome. If you want to buy me a thank you present, I’m fond of cheese.

Beth Miller. Published in

Thursday, October 17, 2013

I'm building a wall, a fine wall

There comes a point in the cycle of life when talk turns from the extraordinary price of houses, to the extraordinary rules laid down by the planning department (whose office in Southover Road, incidentally, is having a refit. I hope they got planning permission. And I hope they won’t replace the friendly automatic doors which open invitingly whenever you walk past).

Yes, this point in life (aka middle-age), is when you may decide to Get The Builders In. You stop asking friends for the number of their mechanic or divorce lawyer, and start demanding their plasterer instead. It costs a lot, in time, money and emotion, to hand over your sanctuary to a bunch of burly chaps with hammers. Builders are aware of that, and humbled by it. So in return, they give you one of the greatest gifts one human can give another. They give you the gift of story.

Builders’ tales are an art form*. I believe no other profession does this so well. Say to a mechanic, for instance, that since they changed the oil, your car now indicates left when you press for right; or tell your divorce lawyer that your soon-to-be-ex has emptied the off-shore account you were promised they’d never find; and you will not get very interesting replies. The mechanic will say, yeah, your car’s a wrecked old crock. And the lawyer will say, uh-huh, by the way you owe me twenty grand. Dull, see? But complain about anything to a builder*, and you can just settle back into a comfy velvet seat and crack open the popcorn. Here are three recent ones I’ve heard about (none of them are Lewes builders, of course). They are true.

*Disclaimer: not all builders.

Client: “This is a bit shoddy, could you go over it?”
Painter: “You’re right, my mind’s not on the job. My daughter’s just gone to prison and my wife’s left me.”
Client: “Tell you what, I’ll paint it myself.”

Client: “I didn’t realise this would take so long.”
Plasterer: “It shouldn’t have, but this ceiling is the worst I’ve ever had to deal with. You won’t believe what I found in there. Also I’ve had a horrific week with nerve problems in my head.”
Client: “Ok, sorry. Cup of tea?”

Builder: (Glancing at the rubble that was once a kitchen) “I can’t come next week as I’m looking after the kids. My wife’s away.”
Client: “Ok, that seems reasonable.” (Starts to turn away)
Builder: “Yes, a friend of ours is an alcoholic. So we’ve heard about this rehab place in Venezuela.”
Client: “There’s nothing nearer?” (popping straw into extra-large Fanta)
Builder: “I don’t know. So my wife’s got to take him to the airport, he thinks they’re going for a meal, then they’ll get on a plane to Caracas.”
Client: ?!
Builder: “She’s got to make sure he stays, you see.”
Client: (Opens a bag of pick-and-mix sweeties.)
Builder: “So I’ll put the walls back when they’re home.”

 Beth Miller. Published in

Monday, October 7, 2013

He always beat me at Subbuteo

Yes, toys!
Far as the eye can see!
“Okay,” said Country Mouse, “so there’s still nowhere in town to buy an ordinary pair of socks. But… TOYS!”
The new Clarkes Stationers – don’t let the stationery part of its name fool you – has arisen from the ashes of Clinton’s Cards (which I still miss). Downstairs there’s some reasonably-priced stationery that would have been exciting had Paperchase not stolen its thunder. But upstairs… oh upstairs! Follow me up the stairs to a proper toy shop: Playmobil, Lego, board games, practical jokes, dolls, the lot. A whole Saturday afternoon can be whiled away up there if you have small children, or even if you don’t but just like toys and don’t look too creepy.
“Right,” said Aging Lad, whose interest in these kind of toys is minimal, “If we can get a toy shop we can get the other things we so sorely need.”
“Socks,” said Country Mouse, obsessively.
“Sushi,” said Hoxton Mum, inevitably.
“An independent electrical shop that is willing to fix broken toasters and has a big box of spare springs that cost 35p each,” said Grange Girl, who is nothing if not specific in her demands.
“A Topman,” said Aging Lad.
“Any men’s clothing chain – Gap, H&M, anywhere that doesn’t sell tweed caps in fact,” added Born and Bred Boy.
“A French bistro serving hearty rustic suppers, like they used to have in Paris back in the 20 franc ‘menu de jour’ days,” said Sherpa Sal unrealistically.
“Skylark is great of course, but a bigger bookshop would be terrific,” said Village Postmistress, who was en route to her ‘quit smoking’ classes at the Phoenix Centre.
“A shop that sells ethnic food, like Taj in Brighton,” said Eco Dad.
It was most odd the way everyone I’ve ever known kept passing by, seemingly for no other purpose than to add their own suggestions.
“Marks & Spencers, for flip’s sake,” cried Sweary Mary.
“Yes, with a food hall please,” panted Absent-Minded Girl, running past on her way to a forgotten appointment.
“McDonalds,” said Pells Boy.
Ah. Hang on a minute.
“KFC. Burger King,” he continued. The rest of us fell silent. “A much bigger Tescos. A pound shop. A cheap hotel like a Premier Inn, for instance where the old magistrates court is.”
No-one said anything for a while. Then we all quietly dispersed. I don’t know where the others went, but I popped back to Clarkes to buy some Top Trumps.

Beth Miller. Published in Photo by Katie Moorman

Thursday, September 5, 2013

I want to ride it where I like

“It’s just like the Scarlet Pimpernel.”
“It’s not in the least.”
“Yes, it is. They seek him here, they seek him there, his clothes are loud, but never square.”
“That’s not the Scarlet Pimpernel, that’s the lyrics to Dedicated Follower of Fashion.”
“Is not.”

I was quite enjoying the bickering between Born and Bred Boy and Absent Minded Girl. My head was swivelling from one to the other, like I was watching Billie Jean King wiping the floor with Bobby Riggs. Except here, in Café Nero, the battle of the sexes was reversed; AM Girl was losing, on the grounds of incorrect usage of a Scarlet Pimpernel analogy.

“So what’s the Pimpernel’s spiel then?” she demanded of me.
“I believe it’s: ‘We seek him here, we seek him there, those Frenchies seek him everywhere.’”
“See? Practically the same. Pimple totally plagiarised the Kinks.”
“Look, there are two reasons why the Scarlet Pimpernel is a red herring,” said Boy. “First, he was elusive, which is the exact opposite of omnipresent. And second, he was not a bicycle.”
“You are just nit-picking now.”

I felt the time had come for me to step in with a carefully worded intervention. “What the flippety flip are you two on about?”
“That gold bike that advertises the tattoo parlour.”
“You never know where it’s going to pop up.”
“Just like the Scarlet Pimpernel, in fact,” cried AM Girl.
“No!” yelled Boy. “How many more times? The Scarlet Pimpernel was not easy to find. Whereas that bike is all over the place. One minute it’s on the corner of Grange Road…”
“…the next, it’s chained to the railings on the Phoenix Causeway.”
“I’ve seen it,” I said, “outside Nationwide.”

AM Girl’s phone made a noise like a whoopee cushion. “Makes me laugh every time,” she said, and started replying to her text.
“Apparently this is called ‘phubbing’,” I told Boy, knowing he would find this neologism infuriating. “It stands for ‘phone snubbing.’ It’s when someone starts looking at their phone when they’re in the middle of a conversation with you.”
“Were we in the middle of a conversation?” murmured AM Girl, texting busily.
“This bloody awful modern world,” railed Boy, waving his skinny soy latte around irritably. “If my old ma was here, she would make YOU” – meaning Absent Minded Girl – “put your phone in the high cupboard; she’d make YOU” - me - “wash your mouth out for saying ‘phubbing,’ and if she knew there was a tattoo parlour in Lewes, well, I can’t even begin to imagine.”

“Anyway,” I said, discreetly tugging down my sleeve so that Boy wouldn’t comment on my Celtic warrior armband design, “where is the tattoo place?”
“Opposite the station,” he replied. We both looked at him, and he continued, less confidently, “I’ve, uh, looked in at the window a couple of times.”
AM Girl’s phone farted again, but she ignored it. “Are you thinking of getting a…”
“Certainly not,” said Boy, going as scarlet as, well, a pimpernel.

Beth Miller. Published in

Thursday, July 11, 2013

If I had a photograph of you

Grange Girl and I were sitting on the grass atop the Priory ruins, trying to imagine the park covered  by an enormous festival. At present it was just us and a seagull.
“Do you know what I’m most looking forward to about the Mumfords thingy?” Grangey asked, taking out a sandwich wrapped in grease-proof paper. The seagull cocked his head expectantly.
“Um, going to sleep early as usual, despite the revelry yards from your window? Wait, don’t unwrap the sandwich yet, let me take a picture so I can show the kids what 1950 looked like.”
She raised a cynical eyebrow while I lined up my phone. “What devilment is this? A hand-held device that steals your soul…”
“Please don’t do the ‘new-fangled technology’ riff again, you’ve already hurt my pedometer’s feelings.”
“Well, honestly! A gizmo that counts your steps? This is how to tell if you’ve walked enough: when you’re ready for a nice early bed.”
I took a picture of her so I could show the children what 1850 looked like.
“So, what are you looking forward to re Mumfords?” I asked, unpacking my hoisin duck and endemame bean wrap.
“Tourists,” she murmured indistinctly through a cheese and pickle barrier.
“Tories? You’re saying the Mumfords will attract unprecedented numbers of Tories and you’re looking forward to that because… no, I’m going to need some help here.”
“Tourists, you cloth-eared clod. Probably some will be Tories, but that’s statistics for you.”
A middle-aged (eg slightly older than us) woman approached. She was definitely a tourist, but kept her politics to herself. After a few kind comments about our lovely town, she asked how to get to the castle. I let Grangey tell her. Directions aren’t my strong suit. I regularly turn the wrong way after leaving my own house. Nonetheless, people always ask me the way, perhaps working on the same principle as that which compels cats to seek the laps of the allergic. I have often inadvertently sent tourists into a perpetual loop round the one-way system. Some may still be there.
After receiving the Grangey instructions, complete with map coordinates, and recommendations for other sites of interest, the woman toddled off happily.
“See?” said Grangey, offering her crust to the seagull, who ignored it and looked at me. They have a taste for hoisin sauce, do Lewes seagulls.  “This festival is a brilliant opportunity to show off our town’s many wonders. I love sharing them with new people.” She leaned against her rucksack and pulled up her thick hiking socks.
I said, “They ought to employ you to promote Lewes. You look like you’ve stepped out from one of those Golden Age posters.”
“Like this, you mean?” Grangey whipped out an iPad mini and Googled a ‘Travel by Train Today!’ image. To my incredulous look she said, “I believe I have previously mentioned that I am large and contain multitudes.” She opened a Tupperware and offered me and the seagull a hard-boiled egg. We both declined.

 Beth Miller. Published in Photo taken from Wiki Commons.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

If she winks an eye, the bread slice turn to toast

Why are some things so exciting? Yes, that is a rhetorical question. I am just beside myself with thrills about the new food compost thing from the council. We didn’t ask for it, didn’t even know they were planning it. They just dropped it round like a surprise birthday gift.  I feel like rushing to Paperchase, another new source of trembling joy, to buy the council a cute thank you card. I am willing to overlook the twenty million quid they take off me in council tax as they have clearly spent it all on plastic bins – good use of the money.
We already compost fruit and veg peelings, but this takes it to a whole new level. I don’t want to sound like that annoying trustafarian bloke I read about recently, who was so eco he claimed to have only two bin bags of rubbish a year (or maybe a month; the details were mired in impenetrable layers of smug). But I can’t help peeping in our main kitchen bin occasionally (every twenty minutes) to see how slowly it is filling up.
The leaflet accompanying the new compost bin has friendly drawings and colourful speech bubbles. It looks rather like a missive from my regular correspondent Mr Johnnie Boden. I am following the leaflet’s instructions to the letter. “Hey I haven’t finished,” cry the children as I eagerly snatch their plates away to scrape them into the caddy. Slightly stale bread that would once have been toasted can now be chucked away with no guilt. Hmm, seeing that written that down gives me slight pause.
Even more amazing was the leaflet’s claim that this new scheme “…can help you save money on your monthly shopping bill – for an average family that’s £50 every month = £600 a year.” Hooray! I started jumping about the kitchen planning how I was going to spend my extra 600 quid (buying more food, obviously), when Man of the House rained on my parade. “How exactly does composting save you £50 a month?” he harrumphed from behind his newspaper. Ooh he is a party pooper sometimes.
“Because you… because it… because they….” I visibly deflated.
“In fact,” Man went on, twisting the knife, “bearing in mind your new strategy to chuck out perfectly good bread, this is actually going to cost us money.” He was still sore from having to make toast with completely fresh bread.
I refused to believe that my new Johnnie Boden-type friends at the council would tell me a fib, so I re-read the leaflet to find out the source of the £600 saving. It was on page one: “We also want your household to save around £50 a month by cutting down on the food you throw away.” Oh.
I took the stale bread out of the compost bin, wiped it down, toasted it, and gave it to Man. He kindly said the faint residue of leftover pasta sauce and mouldy lettuce gave it a certain excitement lacking in usual toast.

Beth Miller, published in and Viva Lewes magazine, July 2013. Photo by Sue Fasquelle

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

She sits among the cabbages and peas

So it looks like – she said quietly, not wanting to antagonise Ullr, Norse god of winter – that spring has finally sprung. There is more blue in the sky than grey; that patch of weeds in the park turns out to be bluebells; and the bird song sounds slightly less panicky. Pale trembling people are slowly emerging, blinking in the unfamiliar sunlight like post-hibernation hedgehogs. There is tentative talk of Pimm’s, and suncream, and hayfever medication; and I saw someone take off a cardigan the other day (though they put it back on again sharpish). I have even overheard hardy types making plans for barbecues. In short, everything in the garden is rosy.

Or is it? Where there is harmony, may I bring discord. During winter, when everything in the garden is unrosy, I’ll be honest with you: a weight is lifted off my shoulders. The garden in spring and summer can sometimes feel like one great big chore. Weeding, pruning, planting, chucking slugs over the fence – it never ends. Then suddenly in November it all comes to a juddering stop. It’s a bit like the house announcing, ‘Put the hoover away: I’ll not bother gathering dust for a few months.’ It’s marvellous. I lock the back door and forget there’s even anything out there. But just as I’ve got used to all the unexpected free time, the garden wakes up with a Zebedee-like boing, and demands attention.

Last spring I surveyed the muddy Somme that passes for a backyard and did the math. Two small vegetable beds plus two small children equals 26 hours a day. Hmm, think there’s something wrong with my integers there. Then someone told me about Lewes Landshare [], which ‘connects growers to people with land to share’ (or, had I been in charge of their publicity, ‘connects those with time and energy to those who can’t be arsed’). That’s  just so Lewes, I thought, though in fact it turns out to be a national thing. The Landshare website was slightly tricky to navigate – like some old duffer putting her profile on I inadvertently double-posted – but soon I was getting dates, er I mean replies. The most plausible match was a trained gardener called Horti Culturist (ok but it should be her real name), who lived in a garden-less house in the middle of town. Within days she had ‘turned’ the beds, ploughed in compost, and planted little seedlings that grew up to be beans, chard, beetroot and carrots. It was win-win: she got to grow stuff, one bit of the garden looked nice, and she gave us surplus veg. Somewhere along the way we became friends, and to my relief, she’s coming back this year, with plans for tomatoes and rocket. So I don’t need to demand that Ullr prolong winter any further. Sorry about that, by the way.

Beth Miller. Published in and Viva Lewes magazine, June 2013

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Hoxton Mum’s May Diary

Weds 1st
Totes excited! So many festies, so little time. Brighton first, obvs. Lovely Mikey Rosen with his droopy eyes and populist spin. Have found cerrr-azy sounding kids’ event for Django, called Flathampton – culturally challenging, plus creative participation: perfecto. And Lysander will heart the play I’ve booked for his birthday treat: We’re All Gonna Die.

Fri 2nd
Everything on the Fringe sounds amazeballs, but so hard to know which will - like last year’s one-woman monologue I Want To Be A Vicar - prompt Lysander to storm out demanding refund. Mind you, he later made me sit through sub-Frankie Boyle ‘comedy’ show during which I was actually sick into my Chloé tote. I said, Lysander, if I want to hear jokes about mental health problems I will jolly well make them myself, thanks very much! Plus you owe me £1100 for new bag.

Sat 3rd
Gutted I missed Early Bird for Elderflowerfields. Bought Late Bird tickets, then double-gutted to discover it’s on the same weekend as Meadowlands! When I worked at the Battersea Arts Centre, heads would roll for such a scheduling faux pas.

Mon 6th
Trotted round town watching the Knots of May do their bell-jangling thang. Lysander, three Harveys down, rudely said that women Morris dancers even less enjoyable than men plus not traditional. Was in midst of eloquent feminist retort, when Django let side down by ripping his flower garland to shreds.  Fear his father is engendering the rigid gender roles we’d agreed Django must reject.

Thurs 9th
Woke at 3am in cold sweat: had forgotten to book Charleston. Rushed to laptop and spent ten minutes blinded by panic into believing that only Melvyn Bragg was left. Thank god managed to get Joanne Harris and Audrey Niffenegger. LOVE Charleston, I will channel Virginia by wearing long cardie. And by sleeping with my friends. Kidding!

Sun 19th
Got festival survival kit ready for our Elderflower/Meadowlands weekend (we are dashing between the two). Hunters wellies, tagine, Jo Malone room diffusers.

Fri 26th
As we were about to leave, those male swine I live with appeared in headbands and TIE-DYE T-SHIRTS. To complete hideous tableaux, Lysander had taught Django to roll a spliff one-handed, and this is a child who can’t yet tie his laces. (His Geox all have Velcro fastenings). Sent them to change and loudly pretended to call divorce lawyer.

Tues 28th
I remarked that two festivals in one weekend sure is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Lysander retorted that he wished the once had been twenty-five years earlier, rather than now. I am so shattered I went to bed without removing my sparkly festival eye-shadow; face now resembles crumpled glitter wrapping paper.

Fri 31st
Thank god I have a month to prepare for July: Hop Farm and Love Supreme (both same weekend, thanks again, Scheduling Fiends), and then of course lovely Mumfords. Fired up and ordered latest essential festie must-have: portable Nespresso machine. Totes sorted.

Beth Miller. Published in Viva Lewes magazine, May 2013.


Friday, April 12, 2013

And it’s a hard rain’s a-gonna fall

Spring is here! The grass is riz! I wonder where the… oh. It’s still freezing. I wonder if one way to put a stop to this appalling, never-ending winter – other than flinging oneself on the next flight to Antigua -  is to write about it. Whinging on in print about the rubbishness of the weather will surely instantly herald blazing sunshine and balmy breezes? Hmm, still raining, I see. Oh actually, that’s sleet. Let’s keep trying. “This is a very late spring indeed,” says the National Trust spokesman. No kidding, cupcake. Frogs are going back into hibernation, and who can blame them? I haven’t had a single conversation for months that didn’t revolve round fleece-lined tights. Little versions could perhaps work for frogs’ legs. And I have never before needed such a stiff drink after opening the gas bill, which was about the same amount as a flight to Antigua.

For years, it never snowed. As a child I prayed hopelessly every winter for a thick layering of the cold white stuff, but my prayers went unheard; now as an adult I pray for it not to snow, and the sky chucks it down non-stop. No wonder I’m an atheist. About fifteen years ago, during the era of usually-not-snowing, it snowed briefly, and though this was considerably too late for my childhood, I hadn’t yet become jaded. Man of the House and I squeaked with excitement and dashed from our Cooksbridge home into Lewes to buy two blue plastic sledges from Homebase, or Texas as I believe it was then. Of course, the snow had already melted by the time we got home, and the sledges spent the next decade forming a crucial bottleneck in the shed, preventing us from reaching the secateurs and other tedious gardening implements. 

Our children have had a completely different experience. Since they’ve been sentient it has snowed pretty much every winter (and this year, in March as well). Global warming, natural climate variation, snow fairies working extra shifts, call it what you will, the kids expect snow as their birth-right. They gaze at us with disbelieving eyes when we warn them each autumn that it doesn’t always snow, that they should prepare for disappointment. Their disappointment preparation is very poor, I’m afraid; they would never get a badge in it like we 70s kids did.
So we’ve passed on the pristine blue sledges to the younger generation, who have a graded system of local slopes (Baxters Field, steep but crowded; Paddock, more space to build snowmen; Priory ruins, less steep, but exciting bit where you can either whizz through a gap in the wall or get concussion). This isn’t working at all because now I see the wind has got up, making the rain dance sideways. For goodness sake! I guess it is we adults who need to work on our disappointment preparation a little harder: we must get ready for there being no spring.

Beth Miller, 18th March 2013. Published in

Sunday, March 10, 2013

So tie me to a post and block my ears

Born & Bred Boy is very excited about the Mumford & Sons festival, and not just because they have an ampersand in common. “I’ve hired out my hard-standing to some bloke with a campervan,” he says, ticking money-making opportunities off on his fingers. “A family is renting my spare room for two nights. And I’m selling glow-sticks outside the gate.”
I don’t know whether to be impressed or horrified by his entrepreneurship. “Don’t you need a licence, Boy? But otherwise, you know, well done, very Apprentice and all that.”
He “pshaws” at my concerns. “Licence to print money, you mean. People who’ve paid £75 for their kid’s ticket are hardly going to balk at bunging them a glow-stick for two quid.” His eyes are alight with dollar signs, like Scrooge McDuck.
Grange Girl’s festival priorities are different. She’s been staying in every night, hunched by an overheating Spotify, to familiarise herself with the entire Mumford back catalogue. She’s nearly mastered that folksy spiritual facial expression she’s gonna need to fit in with the hardcore fans down the Convent Field.
I must confess that I hadn’t even heard of Mumford & Sons until their Lewes tour was announced, and even then, when I heard their name I initially thought they were a BBC sitcom, in the Open All Hours mould. Though why would a sitcom need a tour? Actually it’s rather a good idea, must see if Born & Bred Boy fancies backing it.
Ah, there was a time – specifically 1982 – when I knew not only every band in the top twenty, and the words to their songs, but also the names of all the band members, AND was very clear about which band member was the most fanciable (often not the one marketed as such – for instance in Madness I preferred Chris Foreman, while in the Human League it was Joanne Catherall). Looking at Mumford & Sons I suspect one is meant to go for Marcus Mumford, and apparently the lovely Carey Mulligan has done so, but surely the pin-up money is on the other one, the one with nice teeth? It was reassuring to know that Grange Girl wasn’t familiar with Mumford’s oeuvre either, but being Grangey, she wasn’t going to just wing it. Be Thorough Even If Wrong is her family motto. I, on the other hand, was planning to wing it proper. Only uncool people sing along at concerts, is the way I see it, so why bother knowing the songs in advance? But of course I was going to be there. What, miss the biggest thing to hit Lewes since Waitrose arrived? And more to the point, miss a festival that’s a five minute walk from home, and a proper toilet? My younger self might have known who the drummer in the Undertones was, and the reason why Haircut 100 were so-named, but there was one vital thing she didn’t understand: the importance of being able to nip home easily from a festival.

Beth Miller, published in

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Stay, little valentine, stay!

Sender: To: [dullniece] Subject: V Day.
Oysters, roses, shampoo, yada yada. Obv choccies no good viz. Dukan diet. I’ve tried it all, Niecey. Left-field ideas, please.

Sender: To: Subject: Re. V Day.
Fine Uncle, thanks for asking, and how are you?

Sender: To: [dullniece] Subject: V Day.
Was rather hoping we could skip the social niceties. I’m *desperate* for original Valentine’s gift for E and you occasionally come up with bizarre ideas that might just work.

Sender: To:
You do know I can see your ‘cute’ bracketed nickname for me, don’t you? Why did you give her shampoo? Bit weird. Initial ideas off top of head: lingerie, shoes, diamond collar for that strange dog she carries about.

Sender: To: [lovelyhelpfulniece]
Shampoo = champagne, pleb. Strange dog = Bonsai the chihuahua. Your ideas = zzzz. Whither thine imagination? I’m thinking of taking her somewhere interesting. Suggestions?

Sender: To: [annoyinguncle]
Ok. Marrakesh? Hindu Kush? Legoland? Rights of Man?

Sender: To: [lovelyhelpfulniece]
Done, done, done, the what?

Sender: To: [annoyinguncle]
Just chucked in the last one to wake you after all the zzz’s. It’s a new pub here.

Sender: To: [lovelyhelpfulniece]
Now actually you might be onto something, O child of my brother. Emmanuelle surprisingly keen on Lewes last visit.

Sender: To: [annoyinguncle]
I am meant to be working, dear Unckie. The only thing she liked was Mimi clothes shop. That won’t keep her occupied for long; what, about three hours? You’d have time to take in your favourite event, Seedy Saturday.

Sender: To: [cleverniece]
Now we’re cooking with gas Niecey! I’ve always had a very special time at that surprisingly-wholesome-given-its-name affair, LOL. It certainly would be left-field. And low-cost, appeasing my turbulent stock portfolio. Sweeten it with a stay in a welcoming yet cheap apartment and perhaps a trifling gee-gaw from one of your many jewellers, and Bob’s your Uncle. Well, no he’s not, I’m your Uncle. Well done, my fine ping-pong ball. Now, may I ask, what is your manfriend is getting YOU for Lover’s Day?

Sender: To: [annoyinguncle]
We don’t do Valentine’s. We’re married.

Sender: To: [sadpatheticniece]
What a dreadful indictment of today’s youth.

Sender: To: [infuriatinguncle]
I’m ploughing through a rather dense report, Unc, and I’ve read the same sentence six times. Can I go now?

Sender: To: [sadpatheticniece]
Certainly. I’d just like to return the favour, so ping over hubby’s email address and I’ll give him some ideas to spice up your stagnant romance.

Sender: To: [infuriatinguncle]
I like all the things you dismissed at the start, esp chocolates and ‘shampoo.’

Sender: To: [niecehusband]
Excuse the intrusion, old thing, but heads up, as the youngies say: I just know that B’s PRAYING for family trip to Legoland for Valentine’s. And while you’re there, E and I are only too happy to housesit.

Beth Miller, published in Viva Lewes handbook, February 2013

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Fever, in the morning

Having a cold is like You’ve Been Framed, or childbirth. You forget how bad these things are till you’re right in the middle of them. Plus there’s an element of denial. Every single Day Zero (the day before I realise I have a cold), I take antihistamines by the fistful, convinced that my non-stop sneezing is due to an unseasonal outbreak of hay-fever, brought on by all the, er, snow pollen. I do vaguely wonder why the Clarityns aren’t working but generally my cotton wool head can’t be bothered thinking about it; a cotton wool head being, of course, another Sign Of A Cold.

Then I awake on Day One, with a rasping throat seemingly lined with jagged Kettle Chips, and light dawns. I Have A Cold. The next phase is pondering out loud how I could possibly have contracted this virus. It remains a mystery until Man of the House points out that the children have permanent colds all year round, and that more specifically, Thing Two sneezed in my cereal the other day. “And you just carried on eating,” he accuses, making his ‘my wife is disgusting’ face. I’m not saying I did carry on eating, but I will say that it was the last of the Shreddies.

Day Two is when you wake to find your pillow more drool than polycotton, because your nose has delegated the role of breathing to your mouth. Day Three is when you start sketching blueprints of processing factories that could harness the power of your extraordinary quantities of mucus, and turn it into alternative energy. This is also the day when you put false hope in chemical cures. Two aspirin, a decongestant, an ibuprofen chaser, and a Lemsip to wash it all down, that’ll sort me out, you think. But this Belushi-esque drug cocktail merely trades Coldy Person for Stultified Person. Beware any Day Three decisions you make: they may be dangerous, and will definitely be unstylish. Such as deciding new brake pads are not as essential a purchase as that pink tartan Fedora, to take a random example.

Day Four is when you forget what it’s like not to have a cold. This is it now, you think, dragging your dull body round like a bulging sack of miserable. This is how it’ll be for the rest of my pitiful life. Coincidentally, this is also the day when friends and family become unsympathetic, and say things like, “It’s only a cold,” “Your used tissues are not an art installation, please remove them from the table,” and “Take off that ridiculous tartan Fedora.” Day Five you remember you’re meant to feed a cold, so you make up for lost time with a king-size Galaxy Bubble bar.

Day Six the cold starts to wane. It’s almost been worth having it, for how wonderful you feel when you start to get better.

Beth Miller, 11th Dec 2012. Published in