Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Don't follow leaders, watch the parkin' meters

‘Can’t stop’, gasped Barcombe Baby-Mama, bursting into Nero’s and flinging a potty into my lap - empty, luckily. ‘Got no change and a Blue Meanie’s on the way.’

A chorus went up: ‘You said you’d stop for coffee!’ and ‘We can sort you some change’, but she was already gone, latest victim of the War on Terror.

We leaned back in the stained leather chairs – our pre-schoolers were finger-painting with milk-shakes – and nodded sadly. ‘Remember that time’, said Grange Girl, ‘when my ticket flopped backwards? It was still attached but you had to peer in?’

How could we forget? We it was who had nursed her back to health. We bowed our heads and intoned the solemn mantra, ‘Thirty pounds.’

Pells Boy pulled the Beast off the table where she was performing a Greek crockery routine and said, ‘What about when I got back to the almost empty car-park at five past six, but they were still writing it out?’

Some scars never fade. ‘Thirty pounds’, we chanted gravely.

‘You know what I hate?’ asked Absent Minded Girl, as she vaguely tried to change my nappy. ‘Their little cameras. It’s the only time you ever see anyone taking a photo in an evil kind of way.’

‘I wonder’, said Grange Girl, and we turned respectfully to listen, as she doesn’t have a toddler and therefore often speaks in coherent sentences, ‘I wonder what we talked about before the parking scheme?’

Was there a time before? We scratched our heads. We tried to cast back our minds to those palmy days of peace.

Pells Boy looked blanker than usual. ‘I thought there was always a parking scheme’, he said, then drained his latte and stood up. ‘In fact I’ve only got thirty minutes left on my ticket and it takes me that long to get the Beast’s coat on.’

I gently took the potty from Absent Minded Girl as she was about to drink from it. ‘Grangey’s right’, I said. ‘We used to be able to park for more than two hours at a time. But I can’t imagine what we talked about back then.’

Silent till now, ignoring us and the child sitting on his head, Born-and-Bred Boy slowly lowered his Daily Mail. His default position is that Lewes has got steadily worse since 1974, and his reasoning incorporates the words ‘London’, ‘from’ and ‘down’. Though he’ll hang out with incomers if his old mates aren’t looking.

‘Before parking’, he said, ‘we droned on about house prices and football and last night’s telly and all the things I have to talk about on those rare and depressing occasions when I am forced to go somewhere other than Lewes.’

‘Oh my lord’, cried Absent Minded Girl, ‘Did we really? How deadly! How could anyone have stood the boredom?’

And we all raised our cups in heartfelt toast to the marvellous parking scheme, defender of the town’s café conversations.

Beth Miller, 10th March 2009. Published in VivaLewes.com and in Viva Lewes magazine, April 2009. Photo by Alex Leith


  1. Dear Beth
    Following your description of cafe society in Lewes, I have taken to hanging out in local tea drinking establishments hiding behind a copy of 'Green Parenting' in order to disguise my true identity. Being newly divorced I seem to have more time for this sort of thing.

    Anyway, I can now report two other series of conversations that I regularly hear. The first is 'isn't it fantastic how we got Harvey's beer back to the Lewes Arms' this clearly from a group of women who had never drunk a pint of beer in their lives.

    The second topic is about whether or not the group are going to do anything about standing up to the overdevelopment of Lewes - this seems to be about trying to remember the times and dates of meetings they could have gone to if they could remember the times and dates...

    I would be interested to hear your views on the above.

    Your fan


  2. Dear Grangey

    I would strongly encourage more of this sitting hiding behind 'Green Parenting' and eavesdropping.

    As you are aware, you are my main source of ideas and inspiration so I would like to employ you on a quid pro quo basis (I think that means I buy you a Status Quo record for a pound) to spend your week loitering, listening, and reporting back. Any ideas I might nick would be copyright, to er, me, I guess.

    With regard to your overheard conversations so far: that group of women sound like comedy gold and must be followed diligently for further gems.

    Keep up the good work Grangey!