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.

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Oh! Come All Ye Faithful

October to December 2015Posted by Ian Ashley Sun, December 20, 2015 08:06PM

As far as the inhabitants of Biddermouth on Sea are concerned the supermarkets could start displaying mince pies in August if they wanted to but our Christmas doesn’t truly begin until we’ve all been to the local carol concert at St Matthew’s and All Angels on the last Sunday before the Great Day itself. This year it’s been touch and go as to whether we’d be going or not.

You see in previous years it’s always been a case of ‘Oh Come All Ye Faithful’ with the dwindling congregations of the local churches putting aside their various doctrines and doing their level best to fill that great barn of a place with something that approximates to a pleasant noise. Even those great rivals St Joseph’s and St Mary Magdalen’s had ended up joining forces until the year young Father Rafferty introduced cinnamon flavoured wafers into the midnight mass. This caused the traditionalists amongst the congregation to praise the miracle of the Saviour’s body suddenly tasting like Christmas cake and only a stiffy worded letter from Rome forced them to think otherwise. Apparently they also got through a lot of communion wine too, as those who suspected sleight of hand complained of an unpleasant aftertaste.

‘Well I for one will not be going,’ said my neighbour Beattie who was firmly of the opinion that any vicar who may or may not have once been a man could not be trusted where Christmas was concerned.

‘It’s going to be very traditional,’ argued Vera who was a huge fan of Velma’s more modern approach.

‘She said that about Easter,’ Beattie replied. ‘And what happened? She held a ‘Get Down with God’ disco in the crypt to celebrate the Resurrection and hung that poor little choir boy on a cross until one o’clock in the morning!’

Vera pointed out that he wasn’t nailed there, only strapped on with gaffer tape but I could see from Beattie’s face that made no difference at all to her plans. This year she would add her harmonies to the massed voices of St Stephen’s and that was that.

‘Even if I do end up sitting with the Baptists’, she added which I have to say showed a level of determination that even I’d never seen in the ten years I’ve known her. I mean when Lucy Jarvis threw her lot in with the Methodists she’d been all for passing a motion to have her banned from the Over 60’s club.

Still Lila wasn’t too sure about going either. Whilst she admitted she’d enjoyed dancing to the Abba mix of Hymns Ancient and Modern she’d found all those skulls with night lights in them a bit unnerving.

‘Your only God daughter’s child is singing ‘Away in a Manger’, so you’re going Lila Morris whether you like it or not,’ snapped Vera.

Well this was news to us. In fact it was the first we’d heard that three year old Kiara Marie could say anything except ‘Red Bull’. Apart from those two words and a lot of screaming her social skills were usually limited to kicking and biting. The fact that Vera was claiming she was word perfect in a Christmas carol took us all completely by surprise.

‘Chantal’s been teaching her,’ she explained which caused Beattie to wonder out loud how that had come about. As far as she knew Vera’s youngest daughter could only read four letter words herself and only then if they were sprayed on the side of a bus shelter, a comment Vera uncharacteristically chose to ignore although I dare say she’ll get her own back before the year is out.

‘And you can all come back to ours afterwards for mulled wine and picky bits,’ added Vera which I suppose was her way of making our minds up for us. Although I have to say if I hadn’t already been halfway to St Stephen’s with Beattie the threat of a glass of Vera’s homemade Beetroot Merlot even with the added distraction of spices should have been enough to get me there. Especially as she’d previously boasted how the first batch had exploded in her airing cupboard and ruined four bath towels.

‘It is Christmas, ‘I said to Beattie later which was short hand for ‘please don’t make me go on my own.’

‘It can be Armageddon, ‘she replied. ’I am not going. You can risk liver damage in the company of transvestite vicars if you like Maureen. I’d much rather prefer a couple of hour’s quiet prayer and contemplation on the miracle at Bethlehem. And besides we’ve only got Vera’s word for it that child’s no longer infested with head lice.’

Now it may be that Beattie went home and prayed too quietly that night, or perhaps, as it’s one of His busiest times of year the Almighty got his wires crossed. I don’t know. But I do know Beattie’s claim that the vicar of St Stephen’s appendix burst as a result of Velma sticking pins in a wax effigy was definitely wide of the mark. Still divine intervention or the black arts it was the lights of St Matthew’s blazing that Sunday night whilst St Stephen’s remained in total darkness.

Still whatever pact Velma had made with her boss St Matthew’s was so full Beattie ended up sandwiched between a couple of Unitarians who, she was forced to admit, had just the right sort of voices to harmonise with hers even if they’d needed counting in at the start of each verse. Vera was sat at the front in case Kiara Marie needed prompting and Lila did her best to look happy next to her although I did see her scratch her head a couple of times. I’d arrived tactfully late and managed to sit at the back with Kevin and a friend of his called Dean who was dressed as Jean Harlow.

As for the mulled Beetroot Merlot it wasn’t that bad. As Beattie said if you didn’t let it linger on your palette all you had to worry about was the heartburn afterwards. And besides it was Christmas.

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

All stories in The Biddermouth Gazette ©Ian Ashley 2015

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The Legend of the Christmas Tree

October to December 2015Posted by Ian Ashley Tue, December 15, 2015 07:35PM

Down at the Biddermouth Gazette we’ve taken some time out from reporting on the perils of cheap tree lights from China, toys that burst into flames and lying to people with our usual ‘STRESS FREE CHRISTMAS TIPS’ to delve into the mystery that is that much loved festive centre piece – The Christmas Tree.

Did you know that in the United Kingdom we buy 8 million Christmas trees per year and that the average age of each tree is five years old?

Of course there are as many stories concerning the insertion of this evergreen symbol at the heart of our festive celebrations as there are fir trees themselves and none is more miraculous than the one depicted in the stained glass window situated in the Lady Chapel of the famous 13th century Biddermouth church of St Woeful the Unprepossessing.

This rare example of the glaziers craft celebrates the day Joseph of Arimathea planted his walking stick in our fertile south coast soil causing it to burst forth into life and, Lo! The legendary Biddermouth Tree was born. However many claim that the tree itself grew from a fragment of the Holy Cross that was dropped by Mary Magdalen when she visited the area on her way to what later became Newcastle. This alternative view is based on the discovery in the 15th century of a pair of rather tarty looking shoes and a copper make-up mirror buried in the soil near the trees roots. This was also used to explain why the tree would burst into flower on Christmas Day and at no other time of year.

Regardless of its origins the tree was seen by many as possessing miraculous powers and from as far back as 878 AD there are tales of parents hanging their sick infants from its branches over night as a cure for a range of ailments including rickets and what we now believe to be Whooping Cough. Those that survived were considered blessed. Those that did not were deemed to have been taken directly by the Lord himself. The last recorded child to be hung there was one George Flange in 1828 although two more discovered in 1956 were believed to be the work of an inmate that had escaped from a nearby asylum.

You would still be able to see the tree today had it not stood for two thousand years on the site now occupied by the railway station extension. However a plaque on the floor of Costa Coffee now marks the spot where this ancient specimen once flourished.

A replacement spruce donated by the good people of Iceland was burned down by angry Biddermouth fishermen during the Icelandic Cod War when several people seen wearing bobble hats were also beaten with umbrellas in the mistaken belief that the invasion had started. These days we have to make do with a sorry looking specimen that is often decorated with old kebab wrappers after a high wind which is sent to us every year by the good people of our twin town Pyongyang.

However we do know evergreen boughs, not kebabs, have been part of pagan rituals long before the idea of Christmas was a twinkle on a Druids sickle and apparently Martin Luther was once so touched by the sight of a snow bound spruce glistening in the moonlight that he brought it home for the family.

What Frau Luther felt about the mess it made on her carpet was never recorded but her spirit lives on today in the tradition known as the ‘Annual Shedding of the Needles’. This involves vigorous brushing of carpets until the Spring Equinox and shows its pagan roots as it is often accompanied by a chorus of pre-Christian curses.

Presumably, before Prince Albert brought a tree from his native Germany, we simple British folk took the boxes of baubles down from the attic, stared at them for a while and, at a loss as to what to do with them, put them straight back.

We know this is true because a fragment of an unpublished Jane Austen novel entitled ‘Cora Marries for Money’, reveals that the Whyff-Gusset family of Bell End Acre had the very same problem. Luckily an unexpected legacy from a spinster aunt allowed them to employ a servant whose sole job was to stand in a corner and be decorated for Christmas. Sadly she was found dead in a cupboard under the stairs the following year. It is thought she died of tuberculosis however even by 19th century standards Jane’s spelling is a bit random, a fact not helped by several large splashes on the manuscript of something that looks suspiciously like Sweet and Sour sauce. *

The tree standing in the garden owned by Mr and Mrs Desmond Trilby is claimed to have been raised from a cutting taken by Mrs Trilby’s grandfather in the late 1800’s. The fact that it bears a healthy crop of Victoria Plums each August is seen by many as further evidence that God does indeed work in mysterious ways.

* now in the possession of Mr Dawson of Dawson and Dawson Commissioners for Oaths, The High Street, Biddermouth on Sea) (The author wishes to acknowledge the contribution made to this article by local folklorist and town librarian Miss Margaret Milner)

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

All stories in The Biddermouth Gazette ©Ian Ashley 2015

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TURKEY & all the trimmings

October to December 2015Posted by Ian Ashley Sun, December 13, 2015 08:57AM

Last week’s Victorian Christmas Street Fayre could well be the last. Although Bella Bynge, who is employed by the Biddermouth Council to market our little town to the rest of the world is trying to put a positive spin on the e-coli outbreak that was traced to her friend Livia’s Quorn Hot Pot stand.

However I’m not sure any of the fifteen people affected will agree with her statement that having an extra three weeks off work over Christmas is such a good thing especially when you are spending them in an isolation ward. Della Cromwell certainly won’t. Sadly she’ll be resting for a great deal longer than the others unless The Almighty brings Judgement Day forward to avoid clashing with the New Year fireworks display on the Promenade. Still as Bella said there is always an extra risk when somebody has underlying health issues. She also said that the thoughts of the Town Council were with Della’s family and friends at this tragic time which would have been some comfort to them had she meant it.

Of course Beattie said she had no sympathy with any of them and that Della should have known better than to go buying hot food from somebody who’d had their hand in a muff all evening.

‘Mind you she had some regrettable habits of her own did that one. I know you should never speak ill of the dead Maureen but I used to pop in now and then for a cup of tea until I realised she let her Jack Russell sleep on her hob.’

Still that doesn’t alter the fact that Della’s funeral is all set to clash with the Over 60’s Christmas Dinner at the community centre which has caused a bit of soul searching I can tell you. I mean do you miss a free sit down lunch in the hope that you’ll get more than a sausage roll in a napkin at Della’s funeral tea? Or do you cut your losses, send a wreath along with your apologies and settle down to roast turkey and all the trimmings? Mind you even there Beattie has advised caution. She’d managed to get a sneak at the food preparation rota and seen Polly Meacham was down to do the parsnips.

‘And I tell you Maureen if you’d seen the state of her tea towels when she hangs them on the line you wouldn’t accept so much as a glass of water from her kitchen. Not even if you provided your own glass. Mind you don’t go saying anything to Vera. Her tea towels always look like they could do with a good boil too.’

Now normally the Over 60’s dinner is a jolly affair. Especially last year when Vera’s grandson Dwayne made the trifle with vodka jelly and everybody had second helpings. Not that any of this is public knowledge. You see Vera swore us all to secrecy after a few angina cases suffered bad reactions due to their medication stating ‘strictly no alcohol’. I have to say that did put a bit of a damper on the community singing afterwards. Fortunately, due to the quick thinking of the paramedics, Dwayne Preston managed to avoid adding a charge of manslaughter to his long record of other misdemeanours. Unfortunately it did mean we missed out on Santa. You see the ambulances had blocked the disabled parking bays and he wasn’t up to walking the extra ten yards.

However leaving aside the fact that it would be unwise to eat this year’s roast parsnips I was really looking forward to the dinner. You see because I normally spend Christmas Day at Beattie’s it will be my last chance to eat a bit of turkey that hasn’t been cooked to a crisp and have a drop of decent gravy. Unfortunately Beattie will insist on serving what she refers to as ‘Nanny Freemantle’s Special Recipe‘, which I strongly suspect was also a wartime substitute for wall paper paste.

‘Well I’ve got to be at the dinner because I’m on the committee,’ said Vera, which was a direct attack on Beattie because she wasn’t.

She used to be. But a block vote from the vegetarians who’d found they’d unwittingly ingested beef extract after pouring Nanny Freemantle’s Special Gravy on their nut roast and broccoli bake saw her unceremoniously removed. Even the Chairpersons didn’t bother to save her with their casting vote. Still that serves her right. Starting the rumour that the Rev Velma Meakin used to be a man hadn’t helped her cause one little bit. Which explained why last year she found herself sat on the table that’s normally reserved for those with bladder issues and was forced to endure a very disjointed conversation on the merits of various types of incontinent pads through all three courses.

‘At least that table was near a radiator,’ she’d said trying to put on a brave face.

‘And gets a whiff of bleach every time the toilet door opens,’ muttered Vera who must have been in her element when it came to arranging the seating plan.

Apparently this year will be different. Or so Lila Morris says. They’ve put her in charge of the seating arrangements which ought to ring a few alarm bells because she still struggles to remember her cash card pin number is 1234. How she’ll manage to get fifty people evenly distributed between five tables remains to be seen. Plus she’s going to struggle with her idea of alternating the men and women as there are twice as many ladies as there are gentlemen. So unless she’s planning some sort of ‘Gentleman’s Excuse Me’ between mouthfuls I don’t know how she’s going to pull that one off either. None of which I have to say bodes well for the big day.

Then again neither does the chance of having to listen to Beattie moaning when all she gets for her ‘Abide With Me’, is a stale sausage roll and a cup of tea made with sterilized milk.

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

All stories in The Biddermouth Gazette ©Ian Ashley 2015

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Oh Father Christmas!

October to December 2015Posted by Ian Ashley Tue, December 08, 2015 07:23PM

Each week as part of our ‘countdown to Christmas’ the team at the Biddermouth Gazette are taking a break from editing the ‘Lonely Hearts’, ‘Under a Tenner’ and ‘Lost Pets’ columns to take a closer look at some well-known Christmas traditions and how we still keep them alive in our little corner of the English south coast that is Biddermouth on Sea.

This week we are exploring the legend of Father Christmas.

Now did you know that for Father Christmas to deliver 200 million presents to 75 million homes in the space of 24 hours he would need to travel at 5,083,000 mph?

Whatever legends abound around the origins of Father Christmas it does seem odd to our modern day sensibilities that responsible parents would actually encourage bearded old men to climb down their chimneys, get drunk on sherry and then sneak unaccompanied into their children’s bedrooms in the dead of night. Had we known then what we know now it would have seemed a very high price to pay for a pair of roller skates or a Compendium of Games.

Also the days are gone when your mother paid a shilling to propel you, unaccompanied, through a gap in a curtain and straight into the arms of the local child molester. Still I suppose that’s no bad thing as by all accounts the presents were pretty rubbish. However you do wonder what modern children make of it all when they see Santa flanked by two eastern European security guards in his grotto at our local department store, Stirrup and Morley’s. (A spokesperson for the store has asked us to stress that each one of their Santa’s has been vetted by the local police and the use of strong peppermints to disguise the smell of alcohol on the breath is strictly forbidden.) .

However long before Santa was sanitised he existed in pagan celebrations as the early Saxon King Frost before morphing into the Lord of Misrule and presiding over the racy feast of Yuletide. Ale flowed and midwives found themselves unexpectedly in demand the following September. This is a tradition that still upheld in our town today when the Association of Biddermouth Seaside Landladies has its annual Christmas Skittles and Chicken in a Basket get-together. This year they are proud to welcome Cilla Devonish (landlady of the Golden Eagle - Biddermouth) back into their fold following her three year ban and two year prison sentence for assaulting Gloria Munford ( The Queens Arms – Curston) during a bit of a fracas at the Biddermouth Service Station in 2012.

Clearly this symbol of licentiousness couldn’t continue so enter St Nicolas. He is rumoured to have popped gold coins into the shoes of three sisters who, having lost their Job Seekers Allowance due to a computer error at their local benefits office, were on the verge of prostitution. Thus the legend of Father Christmas being a kindly old soul was born.

However our local Biddermouth Cub Pack are convinced that Father Christmas does actually exist because last year they spotted him climbing out of Stella Wheatley’s bedroom window. Apparently Mrs Christmas was waiting for him and gave chase. Much to the Cub’s disappointment she was wearing a rain coat and curlers at the time rather than her customary red fur trimmed mantle.

Further Santa sanitization occurred in the Coca Cola adverts of the 1930’s when the old man lost his traditional pipe and gained a fizzy drink. So the image that we are left with today is a curious Anglo/ US hybrid. Although you can still spot the difference if you look close enough. The British Santa has a hood ( presumably to avoid detection on our ubiquitous CCTV) whereas his stateside buddy wears a jaunty hat similar to the ones worn by drunken British telesales girls in the mistaken belief they look sexually attractive whilst staggering home from their office parties carrying their shoes and vomiting Tequila slammers.

Our Biddermouth Father Christmas was always the man who ran the candy floss stall on the Promenade but since that incident linking him to a Tory MP and a couple of under aged school boys the job has fallen to Wilf Turnball. Sadly his allergy to animal hair forces him to undertake his duties from the back of a Nissan truck. It’s not the same as a sleigh however it does mean that he is never more than a couple of feet away from his oxygen cylinders and the beard conveniently covers his respirator. So the tradition of the Biddermouth Santa will live on as long as Wilf survives the freezing winds that blow off the English Channel in December.


Since writing this article we understand that Wilf will not be continuing in his duties as the Biddermouth Santa because according to his new Thai bride, Marjorie, he is too breathless these days to climb on anything and that includes the Nissan.

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There's no business like showbusiness

October to December 2015Posted by Ian Ashley Sun, December 06, 2015 05:17PM

Well being as there were all sorts going on in Biddermouth on Sea this week as we head towards the festive season the front page of the Gazette should have been full of festive cheer. But it wasn’t. Instead the main headline went to Delia Cartwright’s Madrigal Society because one of her singers caught her farthingale on a brazier and burst into flames outside the library. It’s probably not the sort of publicity they were aiming for I’m sure as they were hoping to attract new members.

Apparently now they are down to five anything requiring a six-part harmony has been cut from their repertoire so it’s doubtful they’ll be able to honour their commitments to sing carols at the River Bank Home for the Elderly. Still I suppose the article serves as a timely warning to keep your Advent candles well away from your curtains and not to set light to your Christmas pudding whilst wearing a polyester blouse.

Still leaving aside the effect naked flames can have on old frocks I have to say the recent flurry of activity has tested our friendships to the limit. I am not a huge fan of 'The Messiah'. My neighbour Beattie is. And from the minute she managed to get herself a part in the production by the Biddermouth Choral Society she has talked to us and at us about nothing else.

‘If you ask me, ‘said our friend Vera, ‘when you’ve heard one Hallelujah you’ve heard them all. I mean whatever was that man on when he wrote it?’

Lila Morris said he was German so perhaps he didn’t know many other English words but as Vera argued even the Polish girls at the local supermarket can hold their own when it comes to having a conversation about the special offers.

‘So I’m not going,’ she said.

Of course all that changed when her Chantal managed to get cast in the lead role of ‘The Sleeping Beauty’ at St Matthews and All Angels and Vera was anxious to ensure a sell-out performance on her daughter’s opening night.

‘Well that’s typical of that Velma Meakin,’ fumed Beattie later when Vera’s back was turned. ‘I mean fancy casting Chantal Preston as the lead when she can’t sing and can’t act?’

‘That’s the whole point, ‘replied Vera who clearly hadn’t turned her back enough to render herself deaf. ‘For the first bit she’s asleep anyway and when it comes to the singing and dancing The Rev Meakin’s arranged a double.’

Now whilst I’m the first one to admire the Rev Velma’s faith in the Almighty I did think she was asking a lot of Him when it came to making an audience believe that Chantal Preston and Padmini Patel were one and the same person. For a start Padmini is much shorter.

So anyway after playing the game of ‘my Messiah gets your Sleeping Beauty’ and declaring a one-all draw Lila Morris made matters worse by saying she’d got us all tickets to see The Biddermouth People’s Theatre production of the Christmas Story.

‘They’ve managed to get the council to let them use one of the old fish warehouses down on the quay for nothing and if I’m sitting through your Chantal’s snoring and your damned Hallelujahs you’ve all got to come and see my Bez and her partner Caz playing Mary and Josephine. They’ve even got little Waz playing the Infant Jesus although he’s not happy with being swaddled. Still Bez reckons a few drops of Calpol and he’ll sleep through the whole thing.’

If you ask me Kevin at the Bona Curl got off lightly. He knew full well I’d be the only one of us going to see him in Johnny and Franz’s annual Christmas Drag spectacular at the Jolly Seaman pub so he didn’t have to indulge in any of the vigorous horse trading that was going on behind the scenes.

All I hoped was that nobody had got tickets for our friend Hilary. You see she’d told me she’d bought a big jar of chocolate flavoured body paint to wear at the Biddermouth Swinger’s Clubs Christmas Party and there was no way I was being blackmailed into going to that. I mean I was embarrassed enough the day her Clive caught me without my top set in so imagine the shame of bumping into him whilst trying to disguise yourself as a Chocolate Digestive?

Anyway no matter how rigorous Beattie claims the auditions for the Messiah were you only had to look at the assembled choir to see they’d opened it up to anybody who could hold a song sheet. Even then they’d put Beattie right at the back. She said it was to balance the voices. Vera reckoned it was because she couldn’t sing. Personally I’m not sure some of them could even read. I mean it’s one word most of the time and even then some of them needed prompting.

As for our Sleeping Beauty I have to say Chantal slept well but then being as she hasn’t done a stroke of work since leaving school staying in bed all day is something she should be good at. However I was right about Padmini Patel. At four foot ten in her stockinged feet she fooled nobody.

Which left us with the Biddermouth People’s Theatre’s Christmas story.

Well having sat through their summer production of Jane Eyre where the governess found happiness in the arms of Mrs Rochester none of us should have been surprised see the Three Wise Men recast as the Three Wise Women. However I do think claiming that the Holy Family were forced into a stable because a homophobic innkeeper refused to let a same-sex couple share a double room was stretching things a bit too far even in this day and age.

Still Vera didn’t seem to mind. She said she’d had the best three hours sleep she’d had in ages but then she was the one holding the bottle of Calpol not me. ‘

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

All stories in The Biddermouth Gazette ©Ian Ashley 2015

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The Ghost of Christmas Present

October to December 2015Posted by Ian Ashley Sun, November 29, 2015 05:54PM

If a turkey is only for Christmas and a dog is for life the perfect Christmas present ought to sit somewhere in between shouldn’t it? Unless it’s a tapestry cushion kit like the one my neighbour Beattie bought me one year. That has been buried in my cupboard under the stairs for so long it will probably outlast me. I mean why would you buy that for somebody who uses that iron on stuff to hem curtains and once gave a computerised sewing machine a nervous breakdown in the haberdashery section of our local department store, Stirrup & Morley’s?

Unless it was out of spite.

Which could well explain the oven cleaning kit (unused since Christmas 2010), a book titled ‘1000 Stain Removal Tips ( un-opened since Christmas 2011) and best of all the 100% nylon wig ( unworn since Christmas 2012) that she swore would make me look like Thora Hird. It didn’t. It made me look like Cocoa the Clown and worse than that, it made my head itch because I had to wear it all Christmas Day just to keep her happy. Well she was cooking lunch. However having to spend Boxing Day to New Year with a bottle of medicated shampoo seemed a very high price to pay for two slices of bone dry Turkey crown and Brussels sprouts that had been boiling on the hob for nearly two hours. The pudding wasn’t much better either. I don’t know what tea towel she’d wrapped it in but no amount of flaming brandy could disguise the tang of Jeyes Fluid.

Still none of them comes anywhere close to the Shire horse ornament Vera’s mother gave her in 2005. Why, we never did manage to work out. Perhaps one of the less violent patients was allowed to make the other residents gift purchases as part of a programme to get them re-introduced into the community and used to traffic. Anyway by Christmas 2006 that horse had found its way under Lila Morris’s tree thanks to Hilary Mason. She’d spotted it in the charity shop when she was paying for a second-hand bit and bridal. Not that Hilary has a horse but by all accounts she wore them both and for a few hours made her husband Clive believe there really was a Santa Claus.

Now had Vera not fallen out with Lila the following year she might have got the customary basket of bath crystals and body buffing brush she’d given her every other Christmas or even better a record token so she could add yet another album to her ‘Slim Whitman’ collection. However harsh words had been exchanged over something trivial and Lila, ever the peace maker gave the horse to Vera because as she said with a very insincere smile on her face, she knew how much Vera loved the one her mother had given her.

‘And now you’ve got a pair,’ she said.

I got it in 2008 and I’m sorry to say it went straight into the Scout’s Jumble Sale because I’m not one for horses, especially when they have their back hooves set the wrong way round. This was where Hilary saw it, thought Lila had given away her present and out of malice paid a pound for the thing so Lila too could have a matching pair.

Quite what happened in 2009 I don’t know but at the time Lila was having an extension built, (or a lean-to if you listen to Beattie) so I expect it went in the loft. Unfortunately what with the subsidence and not having proper planning permission anyway by the following year Lila and Keith weren’t speaking and she was on Prozac which in high doses can play havoc with your memory. At least that was what Hilary said when she unwrapped it in 2010.

By Christmas 2011 the Shire horse was one of the prizes in the Town Hall Raffle for the Over 80’s food parcels and was duly won by Iris Naomi Carlton who is Kevin’s assistant at the Bona Curl Salon. Admittedly she was a bit disappointed at not winning the Shrek DVD but after Kevin stuck a horn on its forehead and told her it was really a unicorn she became quite attached to the thing. And there it would have stayed had Vera’s delinquent grandson Dwayne not decided to burgle Mrs Carlton’s house. Still at least Vera only ended up with a china horse. Her grandson got probation and Mrs Carlton never did see her collection of thongs again because Hilary took one look at her present from Vera and put them straight on the fire.

After Christmas lunch in 2013 when Beattie and I sat down to open our presents she couldn’t wait to get her hands on the big box with a bow from her niece Pauline, which was just as well because she was so busy she didn’t see the look on my face when I came face to face with the complete works of Jane Austen. When or where she thought I’d ever learned to read braille I do not know. However when she realised she was now the proud owner of one Shire horse with deformed rear hooves Beattie’s face was a picture. Still that kept her out of my way all Boxing Day as she was too busy re-writing her will to even pop round for a cup of coffee.

No doubt Vera would have got it back last year had she not put two and two together, swapped labels and got her hands on the tapestry cushion depicting a dog with a squint that should have been Beattie’s gift to Lila.

Where it will end up this year nobody knows. Still priced at ten pounds I reckon we’re all pretty safe although as Beattie said it would be worth every penny to see those happy faces when that African village gets a supply of fresh water. Mind you at least they’d be genuinely thankful. That’s more than might be said for Vera. Or me.

To view my book ‘Bell, Book & Handbag’ featuring Maureen and Beattie and ‘Tourist Trouble & other short stories’ please click HERE

All stories in The Biddermouth Gazette ©Ian Ashley 2015

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It's Big Money!

October to December 2015Posted by Ian Ashley Sun, November 22, 2015 04:26PM

My friends Vera and Lila love the Bingo. I don’t and my neighbour Beattie Hathaway claims it’s the devil’s own pastime. Our other friend Hilary won’t go either. You see Wednesday is her and Clive’s Swingers Night so she’s otherwise engaged.

Vera said they asked her and Gordon once.

‘Don’t look so shocked,’ she said. ‘When we got there it was no-smoking so we got some chips and came straight back home. Only by then it was too late. I’d missed the Jack Pot.

So one lesson learned there I think. At least that explains the weekly ritual of Vera’s lucky pens, Lila’s assortment of rabbit’s feet and my night in with a good book. I’m not sure what Beattie actually does but she makes a lot of noise for somebody who claims to be working on a tapestry cushion.

Anyway last week saw the start of Big Money Christmas Bingo and that was all Lila and Vera could talk about; how much the prize money was, who won last year, the time Delphine Hewitt called ‘house’ then dropped down dead as a doornail and how Vera was one number away two years running.

‘Still you and Beattie should come. It’s big BIG prizes and it’s not like either of you couldn’t do with the money.’

‘Where? ’ said Beattie who would hear that word even if her head was encased in a block of cement.

‘Big Money Bingo. Wednesday night,’ replied Vera going for the hard sell.

Now in principle Beattie was all in favour of sudden windfalls. In her mind’s eye she must have seen herself splashed across the front of the Gazette holding the cheque because suddenly it was yes all round and I supposed I was being dragged along too.

It was only later and after a sleepless night that my neighbour confessed to a terrible dilemma. Presumably somewhere between ‘lights out’ and ‘reveille’ she’d squared her conscience with the Almighty but she was still in a quandary about what to wear.

‘I haven’t got a tracksuit Maureen, ‘she said in a voice that implied I had a whole wardrobe full of them. ‘You’ve got all sorts of miss-matched things in your wardrobe so you’ll be all right. All my outfit’s co-ordinate. I’ll stick out like a sore thumb.’

‘How about your Tuesday frock?’

‘That’s the one I wear to do the drains, reeks of Jeyes fluid and I’m not being seen in that in any company, polite or Bingo, thank you very much Maureen.’

So when Wednesday evening arrived I have to say she didn’t look too out of place in the frock she usually wore for dipping her nets.

‘I keep thinking it’s Thursday,’ she said before adding in a very loud voice that the large broach she’d accessorised it with was only made of coloured glass.

‘In case anybody has a mind to steal it during the interval,’ she added quietly so only I could hear her.

Well I have to say it was all very exciting. I was a number away from a line when one of the Elliot sisters called out and won herself a hundred pound. I’m not sure which one it was because all three of them look like their brother right down to the tattoos. Beattie got so carried away she called ‘fix’ when another Elliot sister, or it may have been the same one, called ‘house’ on the first game. I thought for a minute they were going to come over and sort her out but by the time they’d made themselves enough room to get out from behind their table we were into the second game.

That one ended in a lot of booing because the winner wasn’t a regular. She’d come over with a coach party from Curston.

‘If one of them wins the Jackpot there’ll be trouble,’ said Vera. I thought she was joking but the Randal’s and the Hosiers on the table behind us agreed. The Elliot sisters just glared and muttered to each other. To have said there was an atmosphere brewing was an understatement. As it was there had already been a bit of ill-tempered jostling by the fruit machines during the interval.

Anyway on came the Big Money Prize game. Vera got out another lucky pen. Lila rearranged her rabbit’s feet and Beattie looked decidedly business like when she pushed the sleeves of her cardigan up her arms. Across the aisle the Elliot’s just glared round the room.

Soon numbers started coming thick and fast. Pens thumped down on cards. There were moans of despair. There were groans of disappointment. The Elliot sisters nudged each other and when Vera nudged me I could see Lila Morris’s hand was shaking. And I wasn’t surprised. If the next number called was 22 she’d be £1000 better off.

Now when the caller announced ‘two little ducks’ Lila made the fatal mistake of catching the Elliot sister’s eyes. She swallowed hard. Paused, then paused even longer with her hand hovering above her card. Beattie however is made of sterner stuff. Being a big girl herself she wasn’t about to be intimidated by fifty stone of combined Elliot sorority and slammed Lila’s pen on the page.

She called ‘HOUSE!’ Lila defended herself from the Elliot’s by crying, ‘NOT REALLY!’ and it seemed like the entire female population of Curston chanted ‘RECOUNT!’ and banged their glasses on their tables.

It’s just as well Biddermouth on Sea is a small town with tangled bloodlines because one of the Elliot’s, it could be Mo, Mim or Mary I’m still not sure, is married to Lila’s husband’s second cousin twice removed and blood, still being thicker than water even where prize money is concerned in our small community, meant they calmed down a bit when they realised it wasn’t Beattie.

Mind you as far as I know the Hathaway’s never tainted their fragrant marriage beds by wedding a Morris so the question of going 50/50 has yet to be resolved.

To view my book ‘Bell, Book & Handbag’ featuring Maureen and Beattie please click HERE

All stories in The Biddermouth Gazette ©Ian Ashley 2015

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Dial 999 For Christmas

October to December 2015Posted by Ian Ashley Sun, November 15, 2015 05:44PM

So Christmas is coming and I suppose if you’re unfortunate enough to be a goose you’d find yourself getting fat. If you’re unfortunate enough to be me you’d have found yourself caught between Vera and Beattie as they battled it out for the right to decorate the Community Centre for the festive season.

You see five years ago the committee decided that to keep things fair and square the decorations would be done on a rota basis. Unfortunately they also voted to put my next door neighbour Beattie in charge of the rota so you can guess what happened. That’s right. She’s put herself down to do them every year. Fair enough there was one occasion where she had to stand in for Janice Burrows at the last minute but I have a sneaking suspicion Beattie knew when she put her name at the top of the list Janice wouldn’t live to see Christmas.

Anyway according to Vera Preston this year it was going to be very different. According to Beattie it wasn’t.

‘People like tradition Maureen,’ said Beattie when she claimed to be calling in for a cup of coffee. She gave me the distinct impression she wasn’t thirsty at all. What she wanted was a fight so she thought she’d practice on me before having a go at Vera.

‘Do they,’ I replied?

‘Yes they do,’ she went on looking round my back room and screwing up her nose. ‘I mean look at you! You haven’t given this place as much as a lick of paint in the last ten years. How traditional is that? And let’s not even talk about the state of your hob.’

So we didn’t. Instead I had to listen to her extolling the virtues of the traditional community centre nativity scene, several boxes of threadbare tinsel and paper chains well passed their sell-by date plus a Christmas fairy that always manages to look spiteful.

‘People want something new,’ said Vera who also popped round later. She was quite happy with a coffee because spoiling for a fight is not in her nature. Vera just hits people without warning.

‘Do they,’ I replied? Boring I know but I was getting quite good at this game having already had Lila Morris on the phone about the very same thing.

She had reckoned it was time for a change as well.

‘That nativity scene has been on its last legs for years,’ she said. ‘And it always looks the same.’

Well yes, Lila was right there. It did. However I thought that was the whole idea. You had to have shepherds, wise men and the Virgin Mary otherwise it would be like casting Macbeth as a widower wouldn’t it?

Of course Beattie lays the blame for all this ‘need for change’ fairly and squarely at the size ten feet of the Rev Velma Meakin. She wasn’t happy when Velma was drafted in to replace Rev Stevens on a temporary basis. Now it looks very much like she’s staying on my neighbour has been writing once a week to the Bishop claiming that transgender vicars might have a place in churches that have no architectural merit and folding chairs instead of proper pews but not ( and here she always underlines the word) NOT at St Matthew’s.

‘That woman has a lot to answer for Maureen,’ she said. ‘She ruined Easter for me saying we should all spare a thought for Judas and she’s not (probably mentally underlined heavily and in red) NOT spoiling my Christmas and neither is Vera Preston!’

In her defence Vera claimed nothing was further from her mind. As she said, how could you ruin Christmas for somebody who religiously believes sprouts need cooking for an hour and turkey isn’t safe to eat unless it’s charred? Still even she took a determined lurch back into the past when Lila’s daughter got up a petition to replace the Holy Family with a same-sex mixed race union to reflect modern times.

‘It’ll be great,’ said Bez Morris, ‘and we can sit Mary in a wheelchair.’

‘That way we’ll embrace the whole community,’ added her partner Caz.

Fortunately that idea proved to be short lived. Only three people signed up and one of those was Lila. Still Beattie was taking no chances. As chair of the decorations committee she had a new padlock fitted on the store cupboard and was wearing the key round her neck on a piece of string.

‘At least the Holy Family will be safe,’ she said. Mind you how she thought that was going to stop a family like Vera’s breaking and entering I do not know.

As it turned out they didn’t have to. Faced with a burst pipe Tom Woodridge the caretaker did what any self-respecting public servant would do. He called Beattie for the key. When he got no reply he tried the fire brigade and with one blow of an axe that door was open.

‘And out they all floated,’ he said. ‘I’ve put the three wise men by the boiler to dry out but I ‘ave me doubts and that Mary was already mouldy. I reckon the pipe must ‘ave been dripping for weeks before it finally gave up the ghost.’

Now if there was one malign spirit determined to carry on it was Beattie. Joseph, she admitted was beyond saving. He’d always reminded her of George Cawdrey the local fishmonger so that was no loss. Mary on the other hand would be fine. All she needed was a new frock and a squirt of air freshener. Mind you had Beattie not been so pig-headed and refused to listen to Vera she might have thought twice about Lila’s offer to dry out the Infant Jesus.

‘Five minutes in a microwave will do it,’ she claimed.

Well it’s a good job they had a fire extinguisher handy. Had those flames had reached the roller blind Lila and Keith might have been glad of a draughty old stable themselves.

To view my book ‘Bell, Book & Handbag’ featuring Maureen and Beattie please click HERE

All stories in The Biddermouth Gazette ©Ian Ashley 2015

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