“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.