Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Mary was that mother mild

“The English language is a flippin’ curious mistress,” was Sweary Mary’s opening gambit as she rustled, laden with shopping bags, into the Patisserie, and ordered a chocolate and almond croissant. I’m not being paid for this recommendation (though for future reference, I am open to bribery), but  the Patisserie’s c-and-a croissant is stunning, and only about 75 calories. Or 750. One or the other.

“Go on, then,” I said, not that Mary was ever not going to go on.

“I’ve been doing some Christmas shopping…”

“It’s TOO SOON.”

“There are only 28 blinking days to go. It’s futile to stick your head in the tinsel.”

“I don’t think that is an actual expression.”

She let rip a hearty rendition of the first few bars of the rude version of ‘God Rest Ye Merry Gentleman.’ I gave a subtle gesture of appreciation that anyone watching might have mistaken for the ‘wanker’ hand signal.

“So anyway,” Mary said, seguing seamlessly from ‘to save us all from Satan’s power,’ back to shopping, “while buying presents, I noticed the way stores use clever blimming language to entice us. The obvious one is that very Lewes thing of calling string ‘twine’. Twine sounds much nicer. You say, crikey, £6 for a ball of string? Are you ‘aving a larf?” (Mary gave it the full Dick van Dyke.) “But the shopkeeper says, why no madam, that’s finest quality twine.” She gave an awkward little cough. “And before you know it, you’ve damn well bought it, in three different colours.”

Poor Mary. I said, “I’m really looking forward to opening my twine on Christmas Day.” 

She smiled gratefully. “The lilac’s surprisingly nice.”

“What else did you fall for, I mean, what other language tricks did you notice?”

“Local. Bung local in front of something and it’s instantly more worthy. It’s not till you’re half-way through the first glass that you think, son of a gun, maybe local wine isn’t ever going to be as fablis as Chablis.” She warmed to her theme. “Actually, all adjectives should be banned. ‘Elegant.’ ‘Finest.’ ‘Cosy.’ ‘Stylish.’ ‘Innovative.’ ‘Stunning.’”

“But you love a good adjective, Mary.”

“Only the sweary sort, darn it. Not the ones that are just there to shake me down.”

“Then there’s all the Christmas words,” I said. “Like festive. That’s used on everything. Festive carrots, for serving alongside the other delicious trimmings as you and your happy loved ones sit down to a groaning table, and save one for the snowman’s nose that you and your happy loved ones will make together later with lots of laughter and no arguments about whether the stones you’ve used for the eyes are two different sizes.”

“Cripes, are you all right?” Mary asked.

“Yes thanks,” I said, wiping my eyes. “I’m feeling stunningly festive, seasonal, magical, lavish and wintry.” 

Then I put the rest of my croissant in my mouth to form a kind of plug.

Beth Miller

Sunday, October 26, 2014

The shit I see, it don't cease to amaze me

“Ooh I just had a bit of a turn,” Country Mouse said, with an accompanying damp crackle of disintegrating paper bags, as she joined Hoxton Mum and me in the Patisserie. Mouse likes to shop while she’s in Lewes, as the only chance to buy anything in her hamlet is when the chip van visits on Wednesdays. But she agrees with me that when it rains, as it was now, one thinks fondly of the days before we realised that plastic carriers were an evil scourge. I carry a couple of emergency placcy bags in my coat pocket, and I passed them discreetly under the table now. Mouse began decanting her purchases into them. 
“Yes,” she continued chattily, “I was looking in the shop windows at those cute photo boxes of ye olden days, when I passed the funeral parlour and saw a painting of a chap I know. Good gracious, I thought, has that poor bugger popped his clogs? Only saw him last week, Time’s Winged Chariot, etc. Texted his wife to say how awful, and she had no idea what I was on about.”
“Ah, the good old-fashioned sympathy text,” I said.
“It was just an exhibition, wasn’t it,” said Hoxton Mum. She was clearly not in the mood for Country Mouse’s wide-eyed astonishment at our Big City ways.
“Heavens to Betsy,” Mouse said, removing a blade of wheat from her hair. “I find that a baffling choice of venue, don’t you? There are plenty of nicer places to display pictures. Your café, for instance, Hoxie.”
A frisson of cold air shimmied round the table, and Hoxton Mum put down her pastry with a surprising clatter. “Um, Mouse,” I said, “the reason we’re force-feeding Hoxie French fruit tarts is that she has just been fired from the café/art gallery/twine shop at which she has slogged for the last three years.”
“That’s ridiculous,” said Country Mouse, “you lived, ate and breathed twine, Hoxie.”
“ I did,” Hoxie said, returning to her pastry. “I gave it my all, frankly.”
“The new owner,” I confided to Mouse, “has brought in his mother to replace Hoxie.”
“And she knows nothing about twine,” cried Hoxie, spraying us with confectioner’s custard. “Rien! Zip! Diddly-squat!”
“Lewes is such a strange place,” Country Mouse sighed. “Alive people in funeral parlours, workhorses replaced by people’s relatives, and also why are there two identical shops next to each other up at the Nevill? I’d give my eye-teeth for just half a shop in my godforsaken parish.”
“So true,” Hoxton Mum said, feeling warmer towards Mouse now that the correct amount of compassion had been expressed. “And another thing….” she was interrupted by a loud boom of fireworks, which made her spill her flat white. “Setting off fireworks in the daylight! What’s the point of that?”
“Ah well,” Country Mouse and I said in unison, “Bonfire surpasses all understanding.”
“That’s all you’ve got?” said Hoxton Mum.
“Yep,” we said, using scraps of paper bags to mop the coffee.

Beth Miller

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

I ain't afraid of no ghosts

There’s more to Halloween than purring from behind your sexy cat mask at terrified  teenage boys who only want a packet of Haribo. I’ve learned that the hard way. Here are my Lewes Halloween Rules (and you can start by removing that apostrophe from between the e’s).

Rules for trick-or-treaters

1. No lit pumpkin, no knock. NO KNOCK. Hear me, yobbos? It’s not cool to hassle un-pumpkined houses, m’kay?

2. Take a polite number of sweets. Three or four; fewer, if we’re talking Milky Ways. Sure, you can go for the two-handed grab. But it’s a small town. Next year you’ll be barred, and will have to go to Uckfield instead.

3. If you’re old enough to go without a parent, are you too old to go? I’m genuinely torn here. Sure, no-one wants to give Percy Pigs to adolescent mobs who’ve made NO EFFORT other than a pair of ripped fishnets. But on the other hand, it’ll be really nice when my kids can go by themselves.

4. Mums, you do NOT have to panic-buy tarty schoolgirl/sexy cat tat from the big Asda. This is not what Emmeline Pankhurst fought for. How about being a zombie Angela Merkel (interview outfit and let your jaw drop a bit)? Dads, seen one warlock, seen ‘em all. Mix it up a little. Have you thought about being a sexy cat?
5. Ask yourself before you go out: what IS the trick? No-one ever knows. There’s a savvy woman in Lewes who doesn’t bother buying in sweets. She just asks all-comers for a trick, knowing she will be greeted with bafflement. We can do better, people. Prepare a proper trick, like a squirty bow tie, or a way of conning the homeowner out of their life savings.

Rules for homeowners

6. Got no lit pumpkin? Then you cannot answer the door. It spreads confusion and spoils it for everyone. I don’t care if it’s your long lost brother who’s finally shown up after six years adrift in the Belgian Congo. He can come back tomorrow.

7. Remember, your sole purpose is to terrorise small children. You want to see them screaming. The sweets are merely a sop so that their parents don’t sue you.

8. Confound their expectations. Treaters will chat away as they approach, not prepared for a fright until they’ve rung the bell. Hide under a tarpaulin outside your front door, and just before they knock, quietly say, ‘Boo.’ They will wet their pants.

9. Your pumpkin should be scary. A skeleton, ghost, or elaborate hanging scene. Mickey Mouse has no place here.

10. Follow the example of the legendary woman in Southover who gives out what she calls witches’ fingers. These are carrots. The most talked-about ‘treat’ my child got last year was a potato. Admittedly it was talked about unflatteringly, but it made for a memorable Halloween. Who remembers the sherbert fountains? They only remember the potato.

Beth Miller. Published in Viva Lewes, October 2014. Illustration by Michael Munday.

Friday, September 5, 2014

I never knew you, you never knew me

“I was just thinking,” said Grange Girl, “about the time I tripped up Bob Geldof.”
We were sipping homemade lemonade in Baltica, spinning out the last taste of summer. Grange Girl’s words jolted me from my melancholy reverie on the futility of existence. “I’m sorry?”
“He deserved it, honestly. You see the lead singer of my band, Megahertz…”
“Hang on! What the what?” I knocked over the lemonade in my confusion. You’d be looking at Grange Girl a long time before you thought, there’s a person who was once in a band.
“In the early 80s, we busked outside what’s now Churchill Square.”
I encouraged her to go on by means of the universal signal, the dropped jaw.
“Well, Bob Geldof pinched our lead singer’s ideas for costumes for his Rat Trap video. Naturally, when I saw him walking down the Kings Road, I stuck out my leg. He went down like a sapling in a storm.”
I gazed at Grange Girl. “Who are you?”
This certainly snapped out of my September torpor. Just how many of my friends, I wondered, had these odd bits of unexpected backstory? That evening I put the question to Pixie Haircut, and she immediately said, “Well, I wrote to Jimmy Savile…”
“OH MY GOD!” What can of worms was I blithely approaching with a tin-opener?
“No, it’s all right. I was upset he didn’t reply, but obviously with hindsight that was the best outcome. I asked him to fix it for me to trim Denis Healey’s eyebrows.”
Back home I made the same enquiry of Man of the House. He lowered the paper, his own not-insubstantial eyebrows beetling, and said, “I was once a model in a fashion show.”
“Ha ha, good one!”
He spread Gentleman’s Relish onto a Bath Oliver. “Photographic evidence in my filing cabinet. Under ‘I’ for ‘Implausible.’”
Stone the crows if it wasn’t true. Though younger and more hirsute, MotH on the catwalk had the familiar dour expression I know so well, though so would anyone who’d been asked to wear that shirt. I showed him the picture and he nodded gravely. “Fund-raiser for the Scottish Enlightenment Society.”
Ah! A dry-as-dust cause. Maybe that wasn’t so out of the ballpark after all. And thinking about it, Pixie Haircut is a neat and orderly person, who as a child would doubtless have been irritated by Denis’s negligent grooming. So I just needed to find some aspect of  Grange Girl’s story that would put her back into her pigeonhole. “This band,” I asked her. “What music did you play?”
“We did a fine version of Leaving On a Jet Plane.”
OK. Nerdy. Tick. Things were begin to slot back into their proper place. “And what was your instrument?”
“The cowbell.”
Of course it was. All was right with the world. “Welcome back, old friend,” I said.

Beth Miller. Published in Viva Lewes September 2014, and Illustration by Michael Munday.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Go wild in the country

(With apologies to DH)
Wild swimming sounds much more bacchanalian than it is. When Grange Girl invited me to go wild swimming a few years ago, it sounded like something I couldn’t miss. I imagined nudity at the very least, and loud music, and alcohol, and wafty dancing by those crazy-eyed hippies who turn up to everything. Why I thought Grangey might be the person to introduce me to such a scene I cannot say. It’s the word ‘wild.’ It addles my brain. “Want to see this band, The Boring and Dulls?” a friend will say, and I will reply, “Nuh-uh.” But if the friend adds, “they’re really wild,” I’ll be there down the front before you can say, “I can’t believe they’re doing Phil Collins covers”.

Anyway the first clue that the sort of wild I imagined was well, wildly inaccurate, was when we set off to a lake at 3pm, rather than midnight. The second clue was Grangey’s kit: goggles and a flask of hot chocolate, whereas I’d brought glow sticks and ecstasy. Wild swimming, it turns out, is just a cool way of saying ‘outdoor swimming.’ Grange Girl deliberately played on my ignorance. She knows I don’t even go in the leisure centre pool until August.

I am surrounded by people who love outdoor swimming. My family (save my youngest child who has inherited my dislike of the cold and wet) are Pells season ticket-holders. They are never done with flinging themselves whoopingly into the pool. Oh yes, I tell anyone who asks, of course I adore the Pells. What I mean is, I love the grassy area where I sit under a blanket, and the snack counter where I buy tea. I enjoy watching awkward teens flirt by dive bombing each other. I just don’t love the blinking freezing water.

That’s not to say I never swim out of doors. On very rare occasions at the peak of summer, I may be persuaded to take a dip at Barcombe Mills. While half my family is already splashing noisily, I will lower myself slowly down the side of the bank, one centimetre every five minutes. Often my loved ones are out and towelling themselves off by the time my shoulders are submerged.

During my slow descent I stare in amazement at all the people who just run up and leap in. They don’t re-appear screaming and swearing, as you’d expect. No, they bob up smiling, saying “it’s like a bath,” (which it isn’t, unless you went to a public school), and “very refreshing,” (in the way that electric shocks are very refreshing). Once in, I thrash about, sobbing, until finally, after a couple of horrible lengths, I acclimatise, and become an annoying convert. “It’s lovely! Like a bath! Very refreshing.” My son stands on the grass, clutching the blanket around him, shaking his head. He’s not wild about it, to be honest.

Beth Miller. Published in Viva Lewes August 2014, and in by Michael Munday.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Like a glittering prize

Why isn’t recycling a competitive sport? Yes, I know we shouldn’t need external reward; we are supposed to be motivated solely by a warm self-righteous feeling. That used to work for me; I’d ostentatiously recycle the Guardian, secure in the belief that I was offsetting the hundreds of long-haul flights taken by politicians attending environment conferences in interesting places.
I’m so over that now. The thrill of putting out plastic Matey bubble-bath bottles for its own sake has dulled. Prizes would help reinvigorate the whole process, and create an upswing in the amount and quality of everyone’s recycling, and help save this whole goddamn planet of ours. I’d certainly not have chucked that hard-to-clean Nutella jar in the dustbin if there’d been points at stake.

I suspect that my idea will eventually lead to a major award, presented by David Attenborough. But I’m just going to focus for now on the recycling competition categories I think I’d do well in. Let’s start with those Matey bottles, the ones in the form of a sailor, pirate, or mermaid. Or the rarer parrot. Our house is the world’s archive for those bottles. I have probably singlehandedly made a whole fleet of politicians’ aeroplanes, if planes are made from recycled plastic, how would I know, out of Matey bottles. Yet I just looked in the bathroom and we still have fourteen. I will put them out this week.

I am also a dab hand at getting shot of important papers that look like rubbish. Was it Tolstoy whose maid used his manuscript for kindling? Or Samuel Johnson? I get those long-hand pen guys a bit muddled. But anyway, I am in that maid’s league. Members of my family are always saying, “Has anyone seen that phone bill/homework/decree nisi that I left on the table?” Then they have the cheek to complain as I quietly retrieve said document from the paper box. Only a few times has it been actively too late, the little Trumpton recycling truck being too far away to run after.

The big trophy, of course, will come for my natural talents in the cardboard category. “There’s no more room,” less serious competitors might say, on seeing a bag overflowing with cereal packets. They might even consider a supplementary bag – usually a plastic one from Waitrose, but sometimes a paper bag, as if that makes it better. They have already lost. Stand back, I will say. Let an expert through. One time, we missed a recycling collection, and nonetheless the following week I still managed to cram all the cardboard into the one bag. I squeezed toilet roll tubes into places the bag didn’t even know it had places. When I held the bag upside down and banged its bottom, nothing budged. I reckon that effort alone will make up for any UK politicians who are jetting off to the forthcoming climate change summit in New York.

Beth Miller. Published in Viva Lewes July 2014, and in Illustration by Michael Munday.

Friday, June 13, 2014

To the lighthouse, my friend

“Are you seriously planning to wear that?” Grange Girl asked, as I stepped out of the front door.
“What’s wrong with it?” I asked. “Or should that be ‘them’?” I was hoping to distract Grangey from my outfit, into a discussion about one of her pet peeves: misuse of the English language. Specifically, the tendency of fashion types to use the singular for plurals (eg ‘team this with a flat shoe’ and ‘a cropped trouser’). She didn’t bite.
“Go and change,” she said firmly.
“But dungarees have come round again.”
“I, however, have not come round to them.” She flapped her hands at me. “Shoo.”
I took a closer look at my bossy chum. She was wearing a knee-length floral skirt and a long cardigan, teamed, as Vogue might say, with a brogue and a blue stocking. “That,” I said, pointing to her neck, and failing to keep a raised eyebrow off my face, “is a floaty scarf.”
“You could do worse than don a scarf yourself, Greenham woman.”
Muttering rebelliously – since when did one have to dress up to visit a garden? – I returned to my boudoir and put on a skirt. I don’t own any floaty scarves, so I accessorised with my woolly Lewes FC scarf. When she saw my new outfit Grange Girl did so dramatic an eyeroll, her eyeballs got stuck behind her lids. I took advantage of her temporary disability to push her in the car and drive us off on our outing.
“How can you have not been to Charleston?” Grangey asked, when her vision had returned to normal. “It’s almost wilful.”
“I don’t know. I’ve been to Monks House,” I offered, as a sop, but Grangey was not mollified. She directed me along the A27, and we were soon wandering, floatily, through the Bloomsbury blooms. I trailed a few paces behind Grange Girl, who was now wearing a large blue hat, not wanting people to think I was out with my mother. We took a tour round the house, where it was Grange Girl’s turn to disown me as I interrogated the tour guide with prurient questions about the household’s shenanigans back in the day. The guide unembarrassedly supplied many fascinating details, which I relayed to Grange Girl when I caught up with her in the bedroom used by John Maynard Keynes.
“Quite a narrow bed,” I pointed out, “to fit both him and Duncan Grant. Plurals in a singular.”
“For heaven’s sake,” Grangey said, fanning herself with her scarf. “Do you have nothing better to think about?”
“Well, they didn’t seem to, did they? If they weren’t painting on the furniture they were panting on it, if I remember correctly from that odd film about Dora Carrington starring Emma Thompson.”
“They were writers, and artists,” Grange Girl said sniffily.
“I bet Vanessa wore a dungaree to paint in,” I said.

Beth Miller. Published in Viva Lewes June 2014, and in Illustration by Michael Munday

Thursday, May 15, 2014

I won’t dance, don’t ask me

“Do you remember when we couldn’t eat South African oranges?” Hoxton Mum asked me, as she picked over the citrus fruit in Waitrose.
“Um, vaguely. Why?”
“And remember when we had to boycott a certain company because of something to do with baby milk in Africa?”
“Um, vaguely. Why?”
“Well, I’ve got those same guilty feelings about the May festivals.”
We moved over to the organic tomatoes. I raised an enquiring eyebrow at Hoxie, which was all she needed to expound at length.
“You know I usually go to everything. But this year it’s a minefield. Do these look vine-ripened to you? For instance, Charleston.  I can’t go see Mark Lawson because he’s under a cloud re. bullying.”
“He’s not appearing now, anyway.”
“Fallen on his sword, has he?” She consulted her list. “Pork sausages. And I can’t go to Richard Dawkins because the Chief Rabbi accused him of anti-semitism.”
“Doesn’t the Chief Rabbi accuse everyone of that, including some other rabbis?”
“Grayson Perry’s over-exposed, Carol Ann-Duffy is disappointingly un-radical, and Alan Bennett’s national treasure status is surely about to be rocked by a scandal of no-coming-back-from-it proportions.”
“So much for Charleston. What’s wrong with the Brighton Festival?”
“I don’t like dance.”
“What, all dance?”
“Yes. It’s just people wobbling about. I need Nigella seeds now. They’re named after Nigella, you know.”
“They’re not. But anyway, Brighton’s not all dance, is it?”
“It’s dance-heavy. And aside from that, I’ve had all the thrillingly inventive Slovenian productions of The Cherry Orchard I can handle.”
“Fringe, then?”
“Too whacky. Too much chaff, not enough wheat. Reminds me, I need bread flour for sourdough. I refuse to take Django to one more so-called ‘children’s theatre’ in a basement in which the only suspense is which of the under-rehearsed theatre studies students will forget their lines first.”
“We seem to have moved away from guilty feelings and political boycotts and onto more general artistic criticism.”
Hoxton Mum shrugged and put eleven jars of pesto in the trolley. “We’re currently mad for mozzarella chicken with pesto.”
“Hello? Recession? Lysander’s consultancy business is dry as the Sahara.” She consulted the list on her iPad. “Prosecco.” She sailed off to the booze section, leaving me trotting behind in her wake.
“They sometimes have cheap standing tickets.”
“I’m not standing through Der Rosenkavalier, thank you. To be honest,” she whispered, looking round to see who was nearby, “I wouldn’t sit through it, either.”
We reached the checkout. “Looks like May’s going to be a quiet month for you, then.”
“Not at all,” she said, pulling out numerous Bags for Life from her handbag, “I’m intending to shop local and give my patronage to the marvellous Battle of Lewes celebrations.”
“Re-enactments? Plays about military strategy? Won’t you feel bad celebrating the suffering of all those people who were killed or injured in the battle?”
Hoxton Mum bagged up her pesto and gave me a withering look. “That’s just silly,” she said.

Beth Miller. Published in Viva Lewes May 2014, and in Illustration by Michael Munday

Friday, April 11, 2014

You’ll be the grandest fella in the Easter parade

The Easter Bunny is a rubbish figurehead, not fit to polish Santa’s sleigh. For one thing, his (her?) image is vague. The Easter Bunny in my head is huge and terrifying, like Harvey, the invisible six-foot rabbit in the Jimmy Stewart film. But a highly scientific straw poll I conducted recently, revealed Bunnies resembling Hartley Hare from Pipkins, Bigwig from Watership Down, and the sexy Caramac bunny. Plus, his role is unclear. Some people (such as my children’s friends, thanks a bunch, guys), insist the rabbit brings their Easter eggs, whilst we’d been getting on fine without chocolate input from some damn cottontail. Santa and the tooth fairy take the credit for everything else, so I tried to resist. But last year the pressure got to me, so I put cutesy notes from the E.B. on the eggs. The children gamely humoured me, proving you can’t suddenly introduce a meddling bunny tradition without getting royally patronised by your kids.

Nothing about Easter is properly organised. The administrator is clearly one of those jaded types who does their online shop in work time. Take the timing of egg eating. Regardless of who brings them, it’s just chaos. Some wait till after Good Friday, others scoff the lot as soon as schools break up. Man of the House tries to insist on restraint till Easter Sunday, unless we spend four hours at a vigil mass. Others simply confiscate the eggs and put them on a high shelf for safe-eating, I mean safe-keeping.

Easter, in short, is no Christmas. Everyone knows what they’re meant to do at Christmas: make passive-aggressive remarks about their presents, and eat until they’re so log-jammed they’re pushing roast potatoes in with a plunger. Who knows what you’re meant to do at Easter? Sure, religious people have plenty to be getting on with – palms and stations of the cross – while Pagans have their tabloid-friendly fertility rites. But the rest of us have no fixed roles. All that’s on offer, really, is blowing egg out so you can decorate the shell (no-one has  ever done this successfully, I don’t believe you), and standing around aimlessly on low hills, watching small children sob because their badly-decorated eggs have only rolled a couple of feet. And that’s not even an annual thing; people only ever go to an egg-rolling event once.

In an attempt to scaffold some structure round this imprecise holiday, I’m introducing some Easter customs into my household. Telly – Easter Parade (like the Wizard of Oz, it stars Judy Garland). Game – egg jarping. This is conkers played with hard-boiled eggs, with nice clear rules, as determined by the World Egg Jarping Association (look it up, doubter). Eat – chocolate. C’mon, let’s not mess with success. Gifts – chocolate. This is where Easter has the potential to outclass Christmas, if it only had better PR. No need to stress about what gifts to buy, it’s choccie eggs all round. Just leave the bunny out of it.

Beth Miller. Published in Viva Lewes April 2014, and Illustration by Michael Munday.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

I'm a bad mutha

“Last year,” said Honesty Girl, “I made the mistake of saying that just a card would be lovely.”
I guess we all do things out of character sometimes.
She continued, “You know how that Tiger Mother once rejected a card made by her four-year-old, yelling, ‘I deserve better than this?’ and throwing it at her?”
I indicated that I remembered, by making a ‘yes, isn’t she dreadful face.’
“I thought she was remarkably restrained.”
I adjusted my face appropriately. “Sounds like last Mother’s Day was one to remember.”
“Blood bath.” Honesty Girl shuddered.
“There are such a lot of expectations, aren’t there?” murmured Supermum, gently.
“Yes, I have,” said Honesty Girl, possibly mishearing, “and this year I am making my requirements crystal clear, with a list issued three weeks ahead of time.”
“What’s on it?” I asked.
She whipped out a notebook and consulted it. “Lie-in till eleven. Breakfast in bed. I have specified the breakfast menu, shall I read it?”
“No,” we chorused.
She flipped through a couple of pages. “Section 2: cards and presents. If homemade, I need to see evidence of effort. I do not need any more clay ornaments. I am all sorted for ineptly-folded pieces of card scrawled with faded yellow felt-tip, which, as I have mentioned before, does not show up well on white. I am no longer accepting gifts made from cereal packets or toilet roll inserts, nor will I give house room to any more macaroni pictures.”
Supermum and I took a sharp intake of breath at the macaroni diss.
“Acceptable homemade gifts are mosaic tiles, bookmarks which don’t feature yellow on white, and small papier-maché pots if they’re sturdy enough to put earrings in.”
I didn’t know whether to be appalled or impressed, a dichotomy I also experience when reading about the Tiger Mother.
“Next, my flower and chocolate specifications.”
“You’re asking for flowers as well as a homemade gift?” asked Supermum, agog.
“Yes, and a proper present too, like a DVD or bracelet or car.”
“Isn’t that a bit…”
“Excuse me, but WHOSE day is it?” boomed Honesty Girl. “The clue is in the name. It’s MY day. I is the mutha.”
Supermum and I looked at each other over the rims of our teacups. “So what have you ‘suggested’ to your family for the rest of the day?” I asked.
Honesty Girl inspected her list again. “They take me out to lunch – here are five restaurant suggestions – and in the afternoon they all clear out, leaving me to a binge-watch of the Real Housewives of Orange County, accompanied by a large packet of Doritos.”
“What about your own mother?” asked Supermum. “Don’t you give her a call or take her out to lunch?”
Honesty Girl frowned. “That woman’s had all the papier-maché pots out of me that she’s going to get.” She gave an evil smile. “But I might just scrawl her a card.”

Beth Miller. Picture by Michael Munday. Published in Viva Lewes magazine, March 2014, and in

Monday, February 3, 2014

Yeah, we like pancakes

Last February I was surprised to get a text from Hoxton Mum inviting me to a ‘Pancake Day Party.’ Was this a thing now? Mind you, Hoxie does have previous on extracting festive  occasions out of less common celebratory days. Who can forget her Maundy Thursday extravaganza of 2008, for instance? Some of us would like to.
I was supportive of her giving Pancake Day an extra push, because I rate it as the third best holiday, after Halloween (which is all about sweeties) and Mother’s Day (which legitimises monstrous demands regarding lie-ins and pampering). Pancake Day is great because you know in advance what you’re having for supper, so no tedious mucking about going, ‘What do you want?’ ‘Dunno.’ ‘Pasta?’ ‘Yeah OK.’ Also, supper is effectively just a lot of dessert.
The pancake party began with each of us being given our own jug of batter and a turn at the Aga. ‘So we can all have our pancakes just how we like them,’ cried our hostess. Way to spin getting your guests to cook for themselves, Hoxie. She leaned on the Rayburn rail, swigging Waitrose Rioja, clearly on a later glass than the first one, bantering with the guest/cooks (‘that one looks a bit crepe, hahaha’). As my turn came to step up to the hob, I realised I’d never cooked, or crucially, tossed, a pancake before. Those are tasks I tend to delegate to Man of the House.
‘Ooh,’ Hoxie slurred, as I poured batter experimentally into the pan, ‘I see you like them nice and thick.’ Her elbow slipped off the rail. I felt apprehensive, because I knew I would soon have to try and flip this molten mess into the air. Several other guests were eating smugly and saying, ‘pancakes are brilliant, why don’t we have them more often?’ Everyone always says this, once a year.
Django came up to ask his mother for the Nutella.
‘Anything other than sugar and lemon is verboten, Django.’ Clearly the edict about having our pancakes just how we like them only went so far.
‘I want Nutella.’
‘Philistine.’ (She said it more like ‘phishistine.’)
‘He’s just a kid, Hoxie,’ I butted in, hoping to distract her so I could sneakily turn my pancake over with a fish-slice.
‘Age is no barrier to phishistinishm.’
‘Django, put that Nutella down…’
In the ensuring kerfuffle – Nutella is messy stuff - I got my pancake/scrambled egg out onto a plate. I quickly ate it before anyone saw, and was too embarrassed to try and make any more. I threw down a couple of glasses of wine to fill in the remaining time.
When I got home, the beginnings of a not-enough-food hangover clearly visible on my brow, Man of the House reported that he’d made the children ten highly successful pancakes each. ‘I could whip up some more batter,’ he said. He is a kind man. ‘No, you’re all right,’ I told him. ‘I’ll just have some pasta.’

 Beth Miller. Published in Viva Lewes magazine, February 2014. Picture by Michael Munday