All Things Biddermouth

All Things Biddermouth

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All the latest news and views from Maureen. Beattie and friends in Biddermouth on Sea.

To find out more, please visit me at: www.ianashley.co.uk


Is Lent Spent?

THIS WEEKPosted by Ian Ashley Mon, April 10, 2017 08:28PM



I know the way the Easter weekend bobs about the calendar like a thing possessed must be pretty annoying for people that sell eggs and greetings cards but here in Biddermouth on Sea it’s the forty days of Lent that cause the most problems. Especially when it begins in February, because that’s when my neighbour Beattie starts making her lists of things we could all do without during the Lenten period.

Last year she said people like me were responsible for the moral decay of the nation when I flatly refused to abstain from eating Bourbon Cream biscuits because I happened to like them.

‘Where would we be,’ she’d said, ‘If Our Lord had given into such temptation during his forty days and nights in the wilderness?’

This time around it was less about Jesus’s choice of biscuits and ending up as a Methodist and more about giving up life’s little luxuries to cleanse the soul. At least that’s the tack she took earlier on in the year when she arrived in my kitchen with her note pad and pencil.

Well that maybe so but when you’re living on a state pension luxuries are few and far between. Unless you count being able to have the gas fire on if there’s a cold snap that is. And I’m sure even Beattie’s God, who I have to say seems more wrathful than most other versions I’ve heard about, wouldn’t advocate elderly women freezing to death in their own homes. Or would he I wonder?

‘I could stop buying new clothes,’ I said when we seemed to have exhausted all the other possibilities on Beattie’s list, including walking which even she thought might be taking things a bit too far.

But she was having none of that. Apparently with half the world giving up chocolate me turning a blind eye to a one pound fifty skirt from the reduced rail in the charity shop was hardly going to cut much ice with the Almighty.

‘It has to be something meaningful,’ she said. ‘How about giving up feeding that cat of yours?’

‘He’ll starve to death,’ I replied knowing how fractious Mr Mong gets if he doesn’t have his three meals a day and do you know I’d swear by the look on Beattie’s face she didn’t think that was such a bad idea.

‘Then what about wearing flat shoes? At least you’d be able to walk properly and not stagger all over place looking like you have a drink problem.’

Well I’m sorry but even advanced warning of the Second Coming wouldn’t get me into those Velcro fastening things Beattie straps on her feet and well she knows it. She tried that one birthday as a surprise then got one of her own when she found them in my dustbin. Still that’s what you get for being nosey and shifting through other people’s household refuse when you think they’re not looking.

‘I’ll put you down for not playing your Dusty Springfield records then,’ she said making a note in her book. ‘At least that way the world will be spared the sound of you singing along at all hours.’

Yes and there’s always headphones I thought as I signed on the dotted line. Unchristian but true. Also I noticed there was no mention of her refraining from bellowing the Hallelujah Chorus when she was polishing her parquet flooring.

However I think I got off quite lightly considering the deprivations Beattie had in mind for the rest of our friends. How or why she thought Bernie Heffernan was going to give up being a Catholic I don’t know. But she did and seemed quite put out when she was met with a flat ‘no’.

‘Think of the money you’ll save on candles,’ she said, ‘and you could eat meat on a Friday.’ But Bernie still refused to be swayed.

‘After all,’ she said, ‘it’s not like the potato famine was exactly His fault. And besides what else could Father Jerome do on a Sunday if we all stayed at home?’

‘She’s told me to give up wearing pink,’ said Rita Randall, which I must say we all thought was a bit like asking the sun not to shine and the birds to fall silent. ‘I mean we can’t all wear beige. I know it suits Beattie but then with her complexion anything beyond Eau de Nile and she looks like she’s having a coronary.’

Lila Morris was even more adamant. In her opinion the whole thing was a farce anyway. How, she wondered, considering they could pinpoint Jesus’s birthday to December 25th, could they keep moving the date he died?

‘Surely somebody would have tweeted if the world was plunged into darkness? I mean it’s not as if something like that happens every Friday is it?’

Rita said perhaps they didn’t have Fridays then, which was a pretty profound thought when you consider it came from a woman who spent all day reading true confession magazines, painting her toenails and backcombing her hair.

‘And she’s put Vera down for giving up smoking again,’ Lila added, ‘which, if you ask me, is placing a lot of faith in the power of prayer when you consider nicotine patches and hypnosis haven’t worked. Still I suppose she means well.’

‘So did Hitler by all accounts,’ said Rita. ‘At least that’s what he told the Austrians.’

Of course, if you looked at what Beattie was going without for forty days you’d have thought she was planning on being beatified. She’d reached four double column pages before the rest of us had even reached March. Although when she last ate linguine I don’t know. Or climbed a mountain for that matter. But there they were, on the list, along with garibaldi biscuits (which she hates) and being nice to Vera (which she never is).

Still for every Beattie in the world there are one thousand people getting into spirit of things by not eating chocolate which can’t be a bad thing. Can it?

To view my books ‘Bell, Book & Handbag’ and ‘Tourist Trouble & other short stories’, ‘A Festive Falling Out’ and ‘Turkey And All The Trimmings’ all featuring Maureen, Beattie and their friends from Biddermouth on Sea please click HERE

All Things Biddermouth stories ©Ian Ashley 2017









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What's Wrong With Jayne Eyre?

Jan - March 2017Posted by Ian Ashley Tue, March 14, 2017 09:09PM



Here in Biddermouth on Sea we’d have had a quiet week if it hadn’t been for Rose Milner voicing her concerns about our local Women’s Reader’s Group. As she said, if it wasn’t for the fact that they met in the upstairs room at the town library every Wednesday afternoon she wouldn’t be too bothered. After all what people chose to read in their own homes was their own business. However, being as she is the librarian she did have a responsibility for what happens on the premises.

‘It wasn’t so bad in the days when they used to read Jane Austen,’ she said. ‘Although even then some of them got out of hand whilst reading ‘Pride and Prejudice’ and left half eaten biscuits down the side of the armchairs.’

‘Well it’s your own fault Rose Milner,’ said my neighbour Beattie. ‘Some of those books on your shelves beggar belief and it’s no good you trying to tell me they are all approved by the county either. I haven’t dared put one foot in ‘romantic fiction’ since I found that male full frontal poking out between the Georgette Heyers’.

Rose tried to explain that wasn’t her fault. People, she said, quite often put things back in the wrong slot.

Vera Preston wanted to know what they were reading now and when Rose said the latest Jane Trench my neighbour Beattie let out a snort of self-righteous indignation because she’d been duped in borrowing it herself only to find it was full of smut.

‘Is that the one where Polly is divorced from the merchant banker, loses her job as a high-powered publishing executive and is forced to move into rented accommodation before she has sex with a bin man who is really a millionaire trying to come to terms with the death of his first wife,’ asked Lila?

‘No,’ said Vera, ‘that was the one before. In this one Holly gets divorced from a stock broker, loses her job as an executive PA, opens a very successful shop selling cupcakes on a remote Scottish island and falls in love with a local fisherman who turns out to be a relation of the Queen Mother’s with his own castle just down the road from Balmoral.’

‘And they have a lot of sex in the heather,’ added Hilary.

‘Precisely,’ replied Beattie. ‘What’s wrong with the Bronte’s I’d like to know? Nobody has reproductive organs in their stories, or at least if they do they keep them to themselves. Even Heathcliffe kept his trousers on. And what about Jane Eyre?’

Rose vouched safe that nobody had touched her for at least eighteen months, maybe even longer.

‘What the group really needs are a few more readers like yourselves. It’s only one afternoon a week ladies. I do wish you’d come along.’

Vera said not likely. She’d been caught like that before.

‘I thought that ‘Middlemarch’ was never going to end. In fact I seem to remember it went on for so long Sally Tilsley had time to have both hips replaced and we were still reading it long after she’d made a full recovery. So I’m sorry Rose, but the answer is no!’

Luckily there are still some people in the community imbued with the public spirit. Vera may have been dead set against broadening her literary horizons but Beattie was made of sterner stuff. Once she realised she had the opportunity to steer the moral compass of the local reading group towards a higher ground she was all for signing up.

‘And next week’s bingo is on me,’ she said launching a masterful three-line whip that had Vera recapitulating on the spot.

‘It might cost me a few pounds but it’ll be worth every penny to see if that woman can actually read anything that doesn’t have pictures in,’ Beattie said as we headed off to our first meeting a few days later.

I have to say that our arrival in the room did boost the average age of the reading group by about thirty years and based on the polite chit chat before we got down to business we were the only ones who didn’t think Gwyneth Paltrow was the second Messiah. I’m not sure Vera cut much of a dash either talking about how her grandson Dwayne’s electronic tagging devise chaffed his ankle.

However at least Beattie had read the book from cover to cover and visibly bristled when they started talking about what an aspirational role model Jane Tench’s heroine was.

‘Of course,’ said their chairperson, ‘it would be fascinating to hear what perspective our more life-experienced new members have on these things.’

You could tell from her face that Vera’s perspective of ‘total shite’ was not what she was expecting. I think they also struggled with the concept that on an island with a population of two hundred and fifty the demand for cupcakes was likely to be minimal at best and certainly not a life changer. Even if you branched out into sausage rolls. And as Beattie said, even hardy islanders are not likely to risk sailing over stormy seas for a squirt of lemon frosting.

Lila’s observation that if Holly hadn’t been so self-centred her marriage wouldn’t have ended in the first place sent an audible shock wave round the room and then Hilary, sensing the opposition were already looking for a means of escape, declared that what they’d done in the heather on page ninety seven was anatomically impossible.

‘You can’t even do that on a rubber sheet,’ she said. ‘And believe me I’ve tried. Twice!’

Of course how many of the Readers Group will come back next week nobody knows. Very few I would imagine after Beattie confiscated their Jane Trench’s and handed them all copies of something she promised was more uplifting.

I’m not saying Jane Eyre is a laugh a minute but once you get into it it’s not so bad. I’m already halfway through and so far, I’m pleased to say, not once has she turned her hand to baking.

To view my books ‘Bell, Book & Handbag’ and ‘Tourist Trouble & other short stories’, ‘A Festive Falling Out’ and ‘Turkey And All The Trimmings’ all featuring Maureen, Beattie and their friends from Biddermouth on Sea please click HERE

All Things Biddermouth stories ©Ian Ashley 2017



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GENTRIFICATION!

Jan - March 2017Posted by Ian Ashley Mon, March 06, 2017 07:35PM

It all started when the Webley – Harding’s bought Mona Peering’s old house at number 32. Until then I have to say that apart from the appearance of the odd hanging basket in the summer ‘gentrification’ wasn’t a word you would normally associate with Palmerston Terrace. I mean we’ve all done bits inside our various properties and even my neighbour Beattie’s downstairs gets an annual lick courtesy of Harry Hinton and his extendable ladders. Of course she can moan all she likes that he’s charging her through the nose to change her colour scheme from ‘Frappuccino’ to ‘Café Delight’ but if you ask me beige is still beige no matter what you call it on the tin. So if she never has anything except the smell of paint to show for her troubles then I think she needs to be a little more adventurous when it comes to colour. Although maybe nobody should be as courageous as Lila and Keith Morris have been in their choice of wallpaper for their hall, stairs and landing.

‘I’m not saying there isn’t a time and place for giant cacti,’ said Vera Preston, who’d likened her journey to their upstairs bathroom to an impromptu trip through the Mohave Desert, ’and I know they both love Marty Robbins but this is Biddermouth not the west Texas town of El Paso.’

‘Easy for her to say,’ sniffed Beattie, who whilst no fan of giant cacti herself never missed an opportunity to ask Vera if she’d got the red flocked wallpaper in her lounge from the same place Sanjay Patel had bought his for the ‘All You Can Eat Curry Garden’, or did he have some left over?

Anyway all this paled into insignificance when the skips started turning up outside number 32 only to leave once Tris and Fliss, as they wished to be known, had filled them with an assortment of doors, floorboards, window frames and fireplaces plus an avocado bathroom suite that Vera soon had her beady eye on.

‘Gordon and I will be over there the minute it gets dark,’ she said. Only somebody else must have had the same idea because by the time they’d got the bath into their back yard the toilet and washbasin had gone.

Personally I was surprised Mona’s house needed that much doing to it. Beattie wasn’t.

‘She had fourteen cats,’ she said. ‘It’s a wonder they aren’t having to have the place re-plastered. She never let any of them out you know. Unlike some people I could mention.’

I knew she was only saying this for my benefit as we’d recently had a bit of a falling out over my Mr Mong relieving himself against her Weeping Cherry.

‘That’s why it never flowers,’ she’d said whilst remaining blind to the fact that the main reason for its failing to live up to the picture on the label is because she will insist on pruning it when it’s still in bud. Still she’ll not be told.

Not that the Webley – Hardings looked like the sort of couple to grow Weeping Cherries. When they weren’t wearing face masks and sanding floorboards they were wearing a lot of lycra and jogging off somewhere with their yoga mats and once a perfectly serviceable but ancient gas cooker had been tossed into a skip to make way for a brand new Aga it was fairly obvious they weren’t going to be the type of people we were used to. Mind you Vera had already worked that out for herself when they refused her offer of two neighbourly mugs of tea.

Now we all know she’d only gone over there to be nosey but there was no need to tell her they never drank anything with tannin or lactose was there? And there was certainly no need to look at her as if she was the Antichrist when she declined a kale and sour dough cookie. That said she did manage to get her head in far enough to give us an up-date on the downstairs fireplace.

‘Black lead,’ she said. ‘Apparently they are restoring the place to its Victorian heyday.’

‘You mean they’re going to share a toilet with next door,’ asked Lila? ‘And have no electricity?’

Well we didn’t have to wait too long for an answer to that one because pretty soon Bella Bynge, Lifestyle Editor of Biddermouth Life, had lined the Webley-Harding’s up with a four page spread in her magazine along with some pretty shocking ‘before’ photos that must have been very embarrassing for Mona’s family.

‘You can’t tell me Mona didn’t have a floor in her spare bedroom,’ said Vera, ’otherwise all her cats would have fallen straight through and landed on the cooker.’

Beattie said that wouldn’t have mattered as it only had one jet that worked properly anyway.

‘Well if I was her Nathan I’d sue that magazine for defamation of character,’ added Lila but Beattie thought otherwise.

‘She wasn’t exactly God’s gift to housekeeping. And that’s not just me talking. Anybody will tell you that woman was a stranger to bleach so if you ask me I’d say least said soonest mended.’

I have to say the article was one up on last month where Bella claimed Polly and Ollie had restored their country cottage from little more than a Norman lintel and proudly used old jam jars instead of a proper flower vase. But giving it the headline ‘From a slum to Victorian splendour’ hasn’t gone down too well with the rest of us I can tell you. In fact Lila was all set to write in with some pictures of her hall, stairs and landing but thankfully even she’s had second thoughts about the cacti. Mind you I’m not sure her current yen for a mural of the Grand Canal will look any better even if her Keith does reckon they can fit the whole of the Rialto Bridge on one wall without it having to go round a corner.

To view my books ‘Bell, Book & Handbag’ and ‘Tourist Trouble & other short stories’, ‘A Festive Falling Out’ and ‘Turkey And All The Trimmings’ all featuring Maureen, Beattie and their friends from Biddermouth on Sea please click HERE

All Things Biddermouth stories ©Ian Ashley 2017



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Ring-a-Ding

Jan - March 2017Posted by Ian Ashley Sun, February 19, 2017 11:56PM


It’s amazing how quickly an empty diary can fill up when you’ve been invited to something you don’t want to go to isn’t it? And that’s exactly what happened to the four of us when Rita Randall suddenly announced she was having a Valentine’s Day Party at her house and we were all invited.

‘It’ll be lovely,’ she said. ‘We’ll have a real girls’ night in, we’ll all wear pink and sing along to loads of Tammy Wynette.’

Now normally we all let Valentine’s Day go by uncelebrated, hence the empty diaries. My neighbour Beattie always says she’d rather be alone with her memories of her late Arthur, which would be quite romantic in itself if you didn’t know they centred on a man who’d sent her the same card every year for forty years and inspected their door lintels for dust every Friday night before handing her the housekeeping money. Vera Preston reckoned there was no point making a fuss when you’d been married for forty five years and Lila Morris said she didn’t need a special day either.

‘Romance is alive and kicking every day with my Keith,’ she boasted provoking Vera to ask if she’d bought a defibrillator on Amazon?

So there we were. It was either find something to do or spend an evening with Rita and her Queen of Country collection.

Beattie said she had the perfect excuse. There was a programme on the Holocaust she’d missed first time round and it was bound not to be repeated.

‘You’re more than welcome to join me Maureen,’ she added, ‘I’ve got a packet of your favourite Bourbon creams.’

Which left me praying the twinge in my back would develop into full-blown sciatica. That way I could look forward to a night spent sleeping on the floor eating my own biscuits and being spared the twin horrors of Tammy or a night with Beattie and Hitler in one fell swoop.

‘Well Vera and I are going to have to go,’ said Lila. ‘Hilary’s having one of her Swingers parties next door and we don’t get a wink of sleep since they’ve fixed a set of manacles on our adjoining wall.’

Vera said Hilary had invited her and Gordon along to make up the numbers but as her Gordon said what was the point of going to all the trouble of having a bath and buying deodorant when you couldn’t even have a cigarette afterwards?

‘I know Hilary’s gone and had cream carpets fitted throughout but considering what they get up to on those rugs you’d think she’d turn a blind eye to a bit of ash wouldn’t you? And besides what if Rita’s got something special to celebrate?’

‘Meaning,’ asked Beattie?

Why she felt the need to ask none of us knew. You see it was common knowledge Rita had, in her own words, been going strong, with George Cawdrey for some months and with five husbands already behind her Rita Randall was never going to be one to let the grass grow under her feet where the possibility of spouse number six was concerned.

‘They’ve been looking at rings,’ said Lila although as Beattie was quick to point out that in itself meant nothing.

‘She does that even when she’s on her own.’

Now I have to point out that in the romantic annals of Biddermouth on Sea it had always been assumed that if George was going to be allowed to marry anybody it would be Beattie. Not that she admitted it but why else would she spend ages in his fish shop drooling over the size of his halibut? And I have it on good authority from Vera that Beattie had been round his house offering to iron his shirts the minute she’d heard they’d switched off his late wife’s life support system. She’d even assumed the role of hostess at the wake. At least she’d made sure she was the one circulating amongst the guests with a tray of the best sandwiches and spouting so many kind words about the departed Mavis Cawdrey Vera still wondered to this day why her tongue wasn’t covered in blisters.

So I could see that when it came to the possibility of finally losing one George to one Rita the fate of over six million Jews was suddenly neither here nor there. Which explains why Beattie turned up at Rita’s Valentine’s party wearing black. At least Lila and I had followed the dress code with pink blouses and even Vera had made an effort although I do think there is a time and a place for a pink tracksuit don’t you?

There is also a time and a place for telling a newly engaged woman that the ring being so proudly displayed had once been the property of the late Mrs Mavis Cawdrey but with Tammy standing by her man, Vera’s ballet pumps playing havoc with her bunion and Rita in seventh heaven even Beattie who is normally a stickler for punctuality realised this was not it.

‘I’m sure Mavis was wearing that ring when I went to see her at the chapel of rest,’ said Beattie as we made our excuses and left early.

‘Well he must have whipped it off her finger just before they screwed the lid down,’ said Vera who had decided to risk shredding her new tights and walk home barefoot. ‘Now if we get a move on we’ll just be able to get some fish and chips off the van before it closes.’

It might not have been the most romantic Valentine’s evening on record but there’s something to be said for sitting on a wall and eating a fish and chip supper with your best friends. Even Beattie, who normally struggles to eat anything hot without cutlery tucked into her pickled egg with gusto. Maybe she realised that one widow, unlike six million Jews, had had a very lucky escape.

To view my books ‘Bell, Book & Handbag’ and ‘Tourist Trouble & other short stories’, ‘A Festive Falling Out’ and ‘Turkey And All The Trimmings’ all featuring Maureen, Beattie and their friends from Biddermouth on Sea please click HERE

All Things Biddermouth stories ©Ian Ashley 2017



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No Word of a Lie

Jan - March 2017Posted by Ian Ashley Sun, February 05, 2017 10:29PM


If there is one place, apart from the pedestrian crossing on Merchants Street that is guaranteed to strike terror into the hearts of people of a certain age in Biddermouth on Sea it’s the Riverbank Home for the Elderly. You see as far as we are all concerned it’s that land from which no traveller ever returns and what with today being half-price wash and set day at the Bona Curl Salon the news of its latest resident had become a bit of a hot topic.

‘Well that’s the last we’ll hear of her,’ shouted my neighbour Beattie signalling franticly for Kevin the owner to switch off her hair dryer so she could join in the conversation, or at least not burst into flames.

‘I’ll give her till June,’ said Lila Morris.

‘May more like,’ replied Beattie mopping her face with a handkerchief. ‘Are you sure you’ve fixed that dryer? I’ve roasted potatoes in a cooler oven’.

She then pulled her funeral diary out of her handbag and wrote Glenda Mottram’s name and a couple of question marks between the two Bank Holidays.

‘Remember Doreen Jackson? She only lasted two weeks.’

Vera said you couldn’t blame Riverbank for that one. It was common knowledge Doreen had been in a hospice and had no pancreas left to speak of.

‘But still unexpected,’ replied Beattie. ‘My late Arthur had a cousin who lost his spleen and he still went to Torquay twice a year.’

All of which brought forth the familiar story of how once Beattie had heard Doreen had rallied she’d seized the opportunity to pop her black wool coat into the dry cleaners.

‘And what happened? I was the only mourner in heather mix tweed. I felt so humiliated I had to leave by the side door. I couldn’t even show my face at the funeral tea. Not that anybody would have minded. Four of her grandsons were wearing white socks and trainers and her Janine looked like she’d just finished a shift at a lap dancers club. But there you are. Some of us have standards no matter what.’

And there we were indeed. Not wondering why Janine Jackson had taken up lap dancing whilst tipping the scales at fifteen stone but why Glenda, who only two weeks before had been seen doing the twist at one of Granny Patel’s rock n roll afternoons at the Community Centre, had now suddenly been whisked behind the laurel hedge and securely locked wrought iron gates of Riverbank.

‘Conservatory brochures,’ said Vera.

‘Have they been made illegal then’, asked Lila?

Vera said they were if you only had one daughter and you were planning to spend £12,000 of her inheritance on a sun room.

‘If you ask me once her Valerie got wind of that it was a race to see who got to Glenda first, the architect or social services. It’ll serve her right if they make her sell her mother’s house to pay for the care. Look what happen to Phyllis Withers? Three weeks they told her. Just till they could take the tubes out and the next thing she knew the housing association had moved four Somali’s into her flat and she never saw her Pyrex tea service again.’

Beattie thought that in itself must have been a blessing because she’d been there for a cup of tea once, and knowing how many germs could live in a chipped rim had taken one look at the cups and pretended she wasn’t thirsty.

Now whether or not the story of Phyllis was one of Vera’s urban myths I don’t know. Because where Riverbank is concerned everybody over sixty five that you speak to has a tale to tell about a friend of a friend who was either driven to the brink of insanity by being made to sit in a circle to watch daytime TV or rendered totally witless by regular sessions of clapping along to ‘Tipperary’. Lila even claimed to know somebody whose replacement knees had been put in back to front to prevent them from escaping.

‘And none of the staff speak English,’ said Beattie. ‘I mean it’s all well and good that Nesta Balldock boasting that she’s learned to speak Lithuanian but what good is that to a woman who’s never been further than Bournemouth on a coach?’

'Or ever likely to again,' added Vera

Even so where Glenda was concerned Lila thought Vera might have a point. Valerie was, or so she said, a very nasty person even as a child.

‘She bit my Bez so hard one day in the playground she had to have a tetanus injection. Luckily she’s had a tattoo over the scar or she’d still not be able to wear a short sleeved blouse to this day.’

Beattie said that in her opinion she’d rather be scared for life than have a tattoo saying ‘ Fuzz R Pigs’ and Vera suggested Valerie had only bitten Bez in self-defence as Bez had just broken her wrist over a disputed square in a game of hop-scotch.

‘All the same ladies,’ said Kevin trying to stave off World War III by bringing us our second cup of tea of the morning, ’it could have been worse. They put my granny in Bay View Asylum when she went a bit funny in the head.’

Lila told him that planning a conservatory was a bit different to hacking your way through a classroom door with a meat cleaver and putting the lives of innocent children at risk. Neither of which were things Glenda could be accused of.

‘She has left the gas on a couple of times though,’ she added. ‘But then we all do stupid things. Remember that day I went shopping in my slippers?’

Beattie and Vera raised their eyebrows but Lila didn’t notice. She was too busy laughing how she’d come back home with four bottles of bleach when she’d really meant to buy carrots.

Personally I think she should keep quiet about that. Social services, like walls and Vera, have ears.

To view my books ‘Bell, Book & Handbag’ and ‘Tourist Trouble & other short stories’, ‘A Festive Falling Out’ and ‘Turkey And All The Trimmings’ all featuring Maureen, Beattie and their friends from Biddermouth on Sea please click HERE

All Things Biddermouth stories ©Ian Ashley 2017



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Lipstick, Powder & Paint

Jan - March 2017Posted by Ian Ashley Sun, January 29, 2017 09:40PM


There’s been a pretty mixed reaction this week to Lila Morris winning a free makeover in a phone-in competition on Biddermouth FM, not least from the prize winner herself. You see Lila had set her sights on coming third and walking off with a fluorescent green colander and a set of Italian designed kitchen utensils to match. So in some ways you can understand her disappointment.

Reactions hereabouts have ranged from a non-committal grunt from my neighbour Beattie, through a sniffy ‘about time’ from Rita Randall and finally to a surprised ‘who’d have thought Ho Chi Min was a real person’ from Vera Preston.

‘I was tempted to say that myself,’ she added, ‘ but I’d swear I had one once off Gloria Chang’s take-away van and it came with rice and free prawn crackers. I mean you never think of people being named after things on menus do you?’

‘What about Peach Melba,’ asked Beattie?

Vera said that was exactly her point.

‘She wasn’t called that at all was she? Even I know her name was Nelly and she had really deep voice.’

‘That was Clara Butt,’ said Beattie but I could see that even with her self-professed encyclopaedic knowledge of the opera she’d have her work cut out pitting her wits against a woman who thought Nigel Kennedy had named the ‘Four Seasons’ after a pizza.

Luckily Bernie Heffernan from the Silver Lantern Café filled in the silence with a warning that Lila needed to be careful. The same thing had happened to a cousin of hers from Donegal, she confided. She’d won a make-over in a magazine and her eyebrows never had never been the same again.

‘Every morning after that she had go to work on her face with a pencil so she did. Which wasn’t easy what with her being left handed and all that. Mind you neither was rolling pastry.’

Vera said that being left handed wasn’t an affliction but Bernie suggested she should try telling that to a woman who’d lost her right arm fishing lint out of a loom.

All of which left a big enough gap in the conversation for Lila to casually mention that instead of just popping down to our local department store for a lick of blusher as we’d all thought, she was actually going to be on local TV and broadcast live from the cosmetics department of Stirrup & Morleys.

Well that was news indeed. You see none of us had ever been on the television apart from Beattie and that was only a short segment on the local news showing her being forcibly moved off-camera after she’d managed to turn an on-the-spot interview about traffic congestion into a five minute monologue about the perils of nurses wearing their uniforms on public transport.

‘I’m going to be on ‘Live This Morning’ with Sheena Henson,’ Lila announced.

Was that the same Sheena that usually did the ten o’clock slot about pets with skin diseases Vera wanted to know? Because if it was Lila needed to make sure she was wearing gloves.

‘Last week she was examining a goat with cystitis.’

‘Anyway,’ said Lila choosing to ignore her advice, somewhat at her own peril I thought, ‘Sheena won’t actually be doing the make-over. It’s going to be done by one of their top beauty consultants. And they’ve asked me to look out some pictures of what I’d like to look like. So what do you think of these?

Beattie winced and said she didn’t really see Lila as Grace Kelly which was harsh but true whilst Rita Randall certainly didn’t see her as Ava Gardner.

‘After all,’ she added, ’she had style. And even Vera hasn’t got the mouth for Joan Crawford.’

Or the shoulders thankfully,’ replied Vera who distracted by a tramp urinating outside the café window had allowed Rita’s comment to fall uncontested somewhere between the sugar bowl and the salt and pepper.

Which was all well and good but with the Great Day rapidly approaching and Lila still dithering between Elizabeth Taylor in ‘Butterfield 8’ and the vain hope that she would metamorphose into Meryl Streep if she concentrated hard enough it was down to Vera to come up with the great idea that perhaps Lila should just settle for being herself.

‘After all,’ she said, ‘you used to be quite pretty. I mean you did win that Sandie Shaw look-alike contest at school.’

Lila reminded her that was Hilary Mason.

‘The trouble is,’ she confided, ‘I’m just no good with make-up.’

Rita Randall said that was no problem. As long as they were using Jeanette from Claudinelle because she was the one that always did her face when they had a special offer on. Which I have to say caused raised eyebrows all round because the kindest thing anybody could ever say about Rita’s make-up was that it was colourful.

‘But,’ she added, ‘make sure you put your foot down if they offer you that Linda from Bella Visage. The last time she did my mascara she had all bits of pasty between her teeth and stank of piccalilli.’

Well you could tell all this indecision was taking its toll on Lila because one day she appeared in the High Street having spent a whole evening studying Dusty Springfield only to be handed a leaflet advertising a refuge for battered wives.

So you can imagine our surprise when we all switched on at ten o’clock to see Linda from Bella Visage doing her level best to turn Eileen Kitchener into Sophia Loren, and failing dismally.

As Eileen said on camera she was as surprised as the next person that anybody would want to swap this once-in-life time opportunity for a set of kitchen utensils. I just hope Miss Loren was too busy eating her cannelloni to be watching the telly. I mean if she thought for a moment she looked like a dinner lady from Gladstone Terrace she’d never step one foot outside again would she?

To view my books ‘Bell, Book & Handbag’ and ‘Tourist Trouble & other short stories’, ‘A Festive Falling Out’ and ‘Turkey And All The Trimmings’ all featuring Maureen, Beattie and their friends from Biddermouth on Sea please click HERE

All Things Biddermouth stories ©Ian Ashley 2017





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The Great Britsh Veg Crisis

Jan - March 2017Posted by Ian Ashley Mon, January 23, 2017 08:17PM


You may have read the bad news that the UK is in the grip of a severe food crisis. Not quite on the same scale as the one afflicting east Africa you understand but in some quarters this rapidly approaching humanitarian crisis has already taken its toll. We have had paramedics on standby in our local supermarket carpark to deal with panic attacks and one woman from Abbots Sepsis has been arrested for ram-raiding a green grocer’s shop with her four wheel drive and all because she couldn’t serve up a Ratatouille at her supper party.

‘I’ve got a vegan sister-in-law staying the weekend,’ she sobbed as she was led away from the scene in handcuffs and floods of tears.

You see here in Biddermouth on Sea it seems you cannot buy a courgette for love nor money.

As Councillor Bella Bynge wrote in her lifestyle column in the local Gazette we’ll all soon be reduced to eating kale and mashed swede, which is odd because only last month she was extolling the virtues of ‘clean eating’ in general and kale in particular. She also has a friend Miranda who has only eaten grass for the last ten years and still gone on to be the mother of three bouncing baby boys and the PR director of a charity for a disease nobody has ever heard of. But unlike grass, kale, or so Bella also claimed to have discovered, could also be used as a suppository for an instant boost to the immune system.

‘I blame Theresa May,’ she wrote in her article. ‘Next it will be the mange tout disappearing from our dinner menus and don’t expect to be able to buy Lollo Rosso or Pyrenean endive in the spring.’

Of course there are others who take an even more extreme view, namely that the combined psyches of Trump supporters and Brexit voters have somehow managed to create adverse climate conditions over Spain thus ruining the crop upon which her vegetable farmers depend. They haven’t. It’s just rained a lot, which if you’re staring at a blue sky in Ethiopia day after day I would think could be seen as a bit of a bonus.

Not that any of this cut much ice with our friend Vera Preston, but then that’s hardly surprising when she allows her Chantal to pack little Kira Marie off to nursery with a can of Red Bull and two Kit-Kats. Neither did it resonate with Karen Braithwaite from ‘Karen’s Kakes’. She said she was lucky when it came to food because her partner Derwent didn’t believe in vegetables in any shape or form.

‘Unless it’s chips,’ she added, a comment our friend Vera heartily endorsed. ‘Or a pork pie’.

When my neighbour Beattie pointed out that as far as she was aware pork pies didn’t have vegetables in them Karen disagreed.

‘They do if you eat them with chutney’, she said. So there was really no arguing with that was there?

‘Well I don’t see what’s wrong in eating vegetables when they are in season’, said a slightly miffed Beattie as we left Karen’s shop. ‘When my Arthur was alive he was up his allotment in all weathers and we never went short of anything.’

Having lived next door to her for over ten years part of me could understand why he’d want to risk pneumonia harvesting sprouts in the winter chill but as usual I held my tongue. All the same it wasn’t difficult to imagine his disappointment when his pride and joy were served in front him having been rapidly boiled for over an hour. Beattie still cooks them like that now. But if you pretend they are foul tasting spinach and swallow quickly they aren’t too bad.

Vera said she couldn’t see what all the fuss was about and Lila Morris agreed. She said it was just like the war and was thankful she’d seen a programme on the television about making parsnips taste like bananas just in case things got really bad.

‘After all,’ she added, ‘we never had courgettes when we were growing up and it hasn’t done us any harm has it?’

‘We didn’t have toilet paper till 1957 either,’ said Vera.

‘Well we did,’ replied Lila,’ but then we also had a toilet. Unlike some people.’

Anyway toilets aside Lila has proved to be uncharacteristically right about the wartime mentality as it seems that, just like stockings and tinned fruit during the Blitz, courgettes are to be had for those with the right connections. Not that you’d suspect for one moment tiny Ida Jenkins and her veg stall were the epicentre of the Biddermouth black market but it seems in these hard times the Devil and Ida look after their own.

‘I’ve kept something underneath for my regulars,’ she said with a wink when Beattie and I were giving her cauliflowers the once over and within seconds we both had two courgettes hidden in our shopping baskets under our potatoes.

Not being a huge fan of them, especially at a pound each, I had been on the point of saying no when I felt a swift kick from Beattie telling me to change my mind.

‘But I don’t like them,’ I said as we walked away. ‘And neither do you.’

‘Who said anything about liking them,’ hissed Beattie? ‘Hand them over. All that rubbish about parsnips and bananas has given me an idea.’

Clearly there was more to all this wartime bonhomie than doing the Lambeth Walk in a gas mask because Beattie walked swiftly up to a nearby Range Rover, rapped on the driver’s window with her umbrella and just as swiftly came back ten pounds better off.

‘There’s a war on,’ she said, handing me four pound coins. I know it should have been five but she was claiming a handling fee of twenty percent. Still I suppose that explains what Vera said about Beattie’s family being the only ones who didn’t celebrate VE Day. And I thought that was just her being malicious.

To view my books ‘Bell, Book & Handbag’ and ‘Tourist Trouble & other short stories’, ‘A Festive Falling Out’ and ‘Turkey And All The Trimmings’ all featuring Maureen, Beattie and their friends from Biddermouth on Sea please click HERE

All Things Biddermouth ©Ian Ashley 2017





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Banish Those January Blues

Jan - March 2017Posted by Ian Ashley Mon, January 16, 2017 08:11PM


You know that flat bit you get between New Year and February? Well it’s the same here in Biddermouth on Sea. All we’ve had to look forward to so far is the announcement of the spring programme of entertainment at the community centre for the Over 60’s. And to be honest after last season’s offerings even that wasn’t guaranteed to be up to much since Councillor Bella Bynge has decided our minds needed stimulating to ward off dementia.

‘I blame global warming,’ said my neighbour Beattie as she turned her nose up at the pile of choux buns that had been on display in the Silver Lantern Café for the last week.

‘There was a time when people dropped dead by the dozen in January but now? There’s not one funeral tea in my diary for January and if somebody doesn’t die soon we’ll be looking at the first week of February before we get so much as a free ham sandwich. I had high hopes of Gloria Chang passing but apparently the antibiotics have worked and they say she’s breathing again. Now does that look like a chocolate chip muffin to you Vera or is it a burned fairy cake with a dead fly in it?’

Vera said, out of malice, it was a chocolate chip muffin and Bernie Heffernan who runs the place and doesn’t have the same history with Beattie came clean and admitted it was probably a fly.

‘The extermination machine’s been on the blink so it has it,’ she said. ‘You know the one that’s supposed to go ‘phtzzzzzzz’? Well it’s never really been the same since that sparrow flew into it the day Noreen left the back window open trying to cool down the Apple Turnovers. The feathers smelled something dreadful so they did. Now would yourself be wanting me to scrape it off for you?’

‘It’s all this mild weather,’ Beattie went on choosing to ignore her and settling instead for three bourbon creams that came in a sealed wrapper.

Apparently, before the advent of aerosols and carbon dioxide the steps next to the old wool shop that lead down to the promenade used to be good for at least a couple of fatalities when it turned icy.

‘That’s true,’ piped up Lila Morris. ‘One year we had three at once, Jean Mollison, Nella Hargreaves and Pat Whithers. Down like ninepins they went. One after the other.’

Vera said that wasn’t ice. They had all rolled under a number 47 bus. Although she still had no idea whatever possessed three grown women to attempt the Lambeth Walk in sub-zero temperatures like that.

‘All the same,’ replied Lila, ‘if Pat hadn’t lingered we’d have been hard pushed to have managed three funerals in one day. We only just made it to St Anne’s in time for Nella’s ‘ashes to ashes’ after that vicar with the stutter caused Jean’s do at St Mark’s to overrun.’

‘He had trouble saying ‘Mollison’ you see,’ Vera explained for my benefit because I hadn’t been living in Biddermouth at the time. ‘If you ask me he should have just stuck to ‘dearly departed’ and shovelled a bit faster. Anyway what have we got here?’

Pulling a leaflet out of her handbag and adjusting her glasses she read,

‘Biddermouth on Sea Community Centre Spring Calendar. Dear God! Surely not?’

‘What,’ asked Beattie?

‘More female explorers,’ Vera said. ‘Only this time it’s ‘Borneo On Foot’. Why can’t they just get proper jobs and stay at home? If you ask me they’ve got too much time on their hands.’

In Lila’s opinion it sounded much better than last year’s couple who had rowed the Atlantic single handed. In Vera’s opinion they had done no such thing.

‘How can you row single handed when there’s two of you,’ she asked?

‘All the same,’ replied Lila struggling with the metaphysics of it all, ‘they still had to drink their own urine when they ran out of water.’

‘And seemed very proud of it too,’ said Beattie, adding that if she ever found herself in a similar situation the last thing she’d want to do was broadcast the fact to members of the Town’s Women’s Guild.

‘Some people have no shame. Now whatever happened to that nice woman who used to give the demonstrations of decorative icing,’ she wondered?’

‘Cataracts,’ said Vera.

Lila said she thought she’d had them done and Vera said she had. On the National Health.

‘Now she can’t see a thing. Ah! This looks interesting. ‘Annual Sex, the last bedroom taboo’.

‘That’s ‘anal’,’ said Lila craning her neck to read the leaflet at the same time as handing Vera a serviette so she could clean her glasses and although whilst she had no idea what it meant Lila was certain it couldn’t just be something that happened on her Keith’s birthday. And to be honest if it was I have to say none of us wanted to spend two hours sitting on hard plastic chairs to hear about it.

‘How about Pilates,’ asked Vera? ‘There’s a talk on that for beginners.’

Lila said that was no good as none of us spoke Greek, or was it Latin? Anyway since when had Vera been interested in ancient philosophers?

‘I think it’s something that Sylvia Protheroe does with those women in leotards,’ suggested Beattie. ‘You know the ones. They can’t eat anything with egg in it or sit on chairs covered in man-made fibres. ‘

Was it an exercise then, Lila wanted to know?

‘Attention seeking more like,’ replied Beattie whose low opinion of Sylvia and her fitness classes had its roots in the time when they took ballet lessons together after school.

Apparently Sylvia was chosen to become a cygnet in the class production of Swan Lake and Beattie was chosen to open and close the curtains. But we don’t mention it, even now.

‘Well,’ said Vera, ‘looks like we’ll have to spend Wednesday afternoons changing our library books.’

And I think, unless there’s a cold snap or an undiagnosed case of antibiotic resistance she may well be right.

To view my books ‘Bell, Book & Handbag’ and ‘Tourist Trouble & other short stories’, ‘A Festive Falling Out’ and ‘Turkey And All The Trimmings’ all featuring Maureen, Beattie and their friends from Biddermouth on Sea please click HERE

All Things Biddermouth ©Ian Ashley 2017





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