So Good They Named It Once
It's not often, walking round town, that you start to ponder the many ways in which Lewes is actually a lot like New York. In fact, it's never happened to me before. It probably hasn't happened to anyone before. But suddenly, on Saturday, there I was, thinking, hmm, yes, Grange Gardens is just like a very small, clean, safe Central Park. If you squint a bit. And the twittens are kind of laid out in a grid, really, aren't they? Just not a very conventional grid.
What, I hear you plead, led to this Manhatten-obsessed train of thought? I'm glad you asked. It was a small thing, really. I was trundling along the High Street, and I'd like to say I was minding my own business, but that's not true, because not only was I peering nosily into every shop window and smiling randomly at old ladies, but I'd also just caused a minor fracas in the bank, the details of which needn't detain us here. Anyway, in the midst of this not minding my own business, I was suddenly brought up short by an unfamiliar and extremely unexpected sight: a chollah in the window of that cheesy shop (as in, they sell cheese, not that they are naff and like Val Doonican).
A what? I hear you gentiles cry. A chollah: it's a plaited loaf, traditional in Jewish homes on a Friday night. Well you could have knocked me down with a chollah, as the old saying I've just made up goes. I haven't seen one of those since the last century when my dear old East End mum would mutter an ancient blessing over such a loaf on Sabbath evenings (and would be ably supported by my brother and I saying ?Get on with it, we want to watch ?Winner Takes All').
I bustled in to the cheesy shop and was about to seize a chollah, possibly two, for who knew when these times would roll round again, when a horrible thought struck me. This was Lewes, right? Not Manhattan, or Ilford, or Hove, even. Probably ? and here I let out a disappointed sigh ? almost certainly ? this chollah was nothing but brioche in rabbi's clothing. ?Is this brioche?' I asked the sales assistant, putting the full force of my disdain into the word so that it sounded as if I was swearing. ?No', she replied, ?It's chollah'. She pronounced it perfectly.
Strolling away with the bag under my arm (I only bought one in the end ? it's just a loaf of bread for god's sake, nothing to make a song and dance about), suddenly Lewes was lit with a more cosmopolitan light. My overdraft-related fracas in the bank now seemed like a vibrant and forthright exchange between two colourful and busy city-types, rather than an overheated scene of public humiliation.
And that wasn't all. Why yes! Like New York, we have an amazing array of shops, some of which even sell things you want to buy. We have restaurants with food from many nations, although mainly Italy. We have a melting-pot of people, from all over Sussex and the south-east, and if we don't have a mayor who preaches a zero tolerance regime, we do at least have a parking system which operates on the same principle.
So ran my thoughts, as I wandered home, imagining that the lone Big Issue seller was in fact a large number of witty pan-handlers, and that if I popped into Beckworths they could sort me out with salami on rye to go.
The chollah tasted of brioche, by the way. But it was very nice brioche.
Grange Gardens, Beckworths, Cheese Please, Parking
A funny thing happened..
A funny thing happened to me as I walked up Cliffe High St on Friday.
My attention was drawn towards a worrying sight, the type that makes you cross the road. A man, in his 40's I would say, was shouting out angrily.
Not at anyone in particular it seemed, he was addressing his anger at himself and the language was almost as bad as it gets.
As he turned down Station Street, naturally, people did cross the road to avoid him, and once they had safely negotiated this potential hazard they would turn round and look at him, shaking their head and laughing.
He turned right at Southover Road, seemingly heading for the Grange, still spitting out Venom. He stopped at the bottom of Watergate Lane close to a white van and sat down by the water trough.
The guys from the van were fixing something but stopped to look at the commotion. They approached the raving plastic bag carrier and just talked to him, gently, for less than a minute. I am not sure what they said but it seemed to have some effect.
The previously furious character sat quietly for a few moments and then walked up Watergate Lane as quiet as a mouse, seemingly content.
Well the do say 'calmness can placate fury'
Cliffe High Street, Rage, Station Street, The Grange
Lewes court complex
Lewes Crown Court is one of the town's most striking buildings and has been the scene of notorious criminal trials down the years. The recently held Open Day had record numbers of visitors with crowds queuing down Fisher Street.
The Building is a grade one, first tier Crown Court centre, so it can hold the most serious trials in the county and is the head of what is now a ten court centre, up from six ten years ago. The Lewes building comprises four courts; there are four at Hove and two more in Brighton.
The Lewesian asked Tyler, the security manager at Lewes Crown Court, why Lewes needs two court centres. He explained the demand for court space led to Lewes magistrate's court being built nearly 20 years ago in Friars Walk, to handle lower level cases. This court has been criticized architecturally as a monstrosity.
It is underused and runs well below capacity. Tyler said, 'my colleagues are required to man the court during its opening hours even if no cases are scheduled. If an incident occurs the courts are required to deal with it at the first available opportunity so the place needs to be ready to do this. Unfortunately, the practical effect is that they are often killing time.'
Lewes crown court has seen a number of high profile cases in recent years, amongst them, the trial of Roy Whiting, (convicted of the murder of Sarah Payne) dubbed by the media as the 'body in the box' case. Graham Coutts was also sentenced for the murder of Brighton school teacher Jane Longhurst.
The public are allowed to view cases at the court centre after passing through a security check and Tyler told The Lewesian, 'In a big case the atmosphere in the court can be electric and highly intense.'
One of the countries most notorious trials was held at the Lewes Assizes in 1949. John George Haigh was convicted of 6 murders in which he dissolved the victim's bodies in sulphuric acid before forging papers to sell their possessions and pocket the proceeds. Haigh was under the mistaken impression that police needed a body in order to successfully prosecute. Mr Justice Travers Humphrey sentenced him to death, one of the last times this sentence was passed in this country.
Lewes Crown Court
Not Many of Them to the Pound
So I was with a few friends in a Lewes restaurant the other day, celebrating my birthday. No, I never mind presents being late, it's fine. Chocolates, flowers, anything glittery and expensive. Just send them care of lewes.co.uk. Anyway, the pink champagne was flowing (actually the pink Cava, in these straightened times), and Cricket-Girl said, ?I nearly gave you a Lewes pound as part of your present'. Oooh, the rest of us said, have you SEEN a Lewes pound?
Well knock me down with a chollah if she didn't whip one out of her purse there and then, and it was passed round the table to general amazement. Blackberry-Man offered to buy it from her for a fiver, but Cricket-Girl is honest to a fault and told him there were now many more pounds in circulation, thus dampening the previous ebay-generated hyper-inflation. The note got passed to me and I examined it closely, though that was mainly because I could see two of them, a 100% increase caused by too much pink Cava. It looked like real currency if you held it up to the light, and like toy money if you didn't.
?Do you know', and here Cricket-Girl dropped her voice to a whisper, which was awkward as the restaurant had foolishly agreed to play my new birthday CD which was blasting out ?Part Time Punks' at top volume, ?Do you know that I went into X Shop and they had been bullied into accepting the Lewes Pound?' She didn't say X Shop, obviously, she was more specific, but I'm being discreet, like.
?How do you mean, bullied?' we all gasped.
?The owner had loads of people coming in and being rude about them not taking the Lewes Pound, and people even saying they wouldn't shop there unless it was brought in.'
I was so appalled at the thought of our town, famous for its democratic insistence on democracy, behaving in such a fashion, that I gulped down considerably more Cava in one go than I should have.
?Ordinary punters were saying that?' I spluttered, ?Or was it whoever's in charge of the Lewes Pound?' I've never been very good at knowing who's in charge of things. I still have no idea what the difference is between the Town Council, District Council and County Council. For all I know, our bin collection is organised by the British Council.
Cricket-Girl put me straight. ?Transition Town Lewes brought in the Pound', she said, ?And there is absolutely no suggestion whatsoever that they have been hassling people into accepting it.' Well, that's all right then.
?But here's some really good gossip', she said, and lowered her voice still further, though by now the manager had ripped my CD off the deck and reverted to Mantovani, so I could hear just fine, ?Rumour has it that not only were no shopkeepers surveyed about whether they wanted the Lewes Pound, but there wasn't even a vote taken amongst the members of Transition Town.'
?Allegedly!' everyone yelled hurriedly, mindful of the dreadful import of any implication that the proud town of Thomas Paine should be involved in such an un-constitutional business. We all took a slug of Cava to wash the very thought out of our mouths.
Then Cricket-Girl made me give her back the pretty Lewes Pound. I wasn't going to keep it, honestly. Even if it should have been my birthday present.
Lewes Pound, Transition Town, Thomas Paine
I grew up in the Borough, and have taken part since I was a baby. When I was 21 I saw the light and joined Cliffe, and have been with them ever since. My funniest memory, was when I went to an outmeeting in Battle. One of the pubs there used to charge 1 to get in, so loads of us (literally feet away from the bouncers on the door), climbed through a small window at the front of the pub, to avoid paying. Unfortunately (and even though I was a lot smaller than I am now), I got stuck on the latch. Loads of people inside were pulling me, and the people outside pushing, when eventually, my trousers ripped, and I went flying through the air. Luckily, one of our members was in the way, so I had a nice soft landing!! This was the famous year of the pumpkin, of which one of our other members will have to enlighten you.
I love it, one of the reasons being, is that it draws the community together. What other hobbies do you have in which the elderly and the young, and those in-between can mix, with no regard to their age, social standing, occupation etc.
What would make it better is:
1. Fewer police
2. Fewer people coming into town
3. No street venders, allowing only for a handful of food outlets.
4. Stopping people walking in the procession, who can only be bothered to come out on one night of the year.
5. More chinese crackers
6. Allowing people to stand on Cliffe bridge (not allowed last year, for health and safety purposes.
7. Allowing bonfire members to be able to go in the police "exclusion/safety" zones. Surely me going up Station Street on my own is safer than walking down Friars Walk, carrying a torch, with hundreds of members of the public around me.
Final comment, why oh why, do members of the public have such a fascination with discarded torches???
Bonfire, Cliffe, Torch