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.