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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Come Dancing

July to September 2014Posted by Ian Ashley Sat, October 24, 2015 05:35PM

My next door neighbour Beattie Hathaway is never ill. Well that’s not strictly true she did have an upset stomach once but then that wasn’t her fault. I still blame that pork pie we ate at Jack Gillam’s wake because I was ill too. Then again we both should have known better because as Beattie said afterwards she’d seen the state of his wife’s kitchen, ‘in passing’.

Since when the words ‘in passing’ came to mean letting yourself in through a side gate and peering deliberately through somebody’s windows I don’t know. However we both ended up with a nasty bout of diarrhoea the day after the funeral. Of course not that Beattie owned up to having an upset stomach but she didn’t need to. When you live either side of an adjoining wall you do get to hear when a flush is being pulled on the half hour.

So when she stuck a note through my door saying she had a touch of the ‘flu’ and didn’t want to be disturbed for a couple of days I immediately smelled a rat. You see for the last ten years I’ve had to listen to how Beattie owes her robust good health to her Freemantle genes. Apparently this is also the very DNA that has kept her hair the same shade since she was married forty odd years ago.

‘When Nanny Freemantle died she didn’t have a grey hair in her head,’ she said proudly one day showing me some old photos that I thought at first were of an old music hall act in drag. However on closer inspection I could see the family resemblance which at least explained where Beattie got those hips from. As for the hair, she can claim it’s natural until the cows come home but the whole of Biddermouth on Sea knows it’s called Balmoral Mink because Kevin at the Bona Curl Salon told us.

However knowing full well that the day before Beattie went down with flu she’d bitten hard into one of Karen Braithwaite’s Florentines and pulled a very strange face everything pointed to broken dentures. Not that she has those of course, but then neither did the legendary Nanny Freemantle. Still it did mean that I was able to take Carol Wilson up on her invitation to join in with the ballroom dancing at the Town Hall.

Apparently it was going to be a real treat because Sargent Sargent III, our town’s only remaining American airman had some old buddies over from the States and he had let it be known that they were looking forward to ‘cutting up the rug’ whatever that meant because as far as I could remember the Town Hall Ballroom had polished parquet flooring.

‘It’ll make a nice change though,’ said Carol. ‘I had to send my dress to the dry cleaners after two waltzes with George Cawdrey. I mean I know he’s a fishmonger but you’d think he’d wash his hands when he’s finished work wouldn’t you?’

‘And don’t go barefoot Maureen,’ added her friend Joan. ‘They do chiropody there in the morning and they are not too fussy about sweeping up after themselves. My tights had holes in both toes after last week didn’t they Carol?’’

Well forewarned was forearmed and I wasn’t about to let a few hastily discarded nail clippings ruin the chance of an afternoon out, especially one minus my usual chaperone. Plus it was an ideal opportunity to dress up in something other than black. You see an afternoon out with Beattie usually means a funeral. Fair enough it also means a free tea afterwards but like everybody else these days even the bereaved seem to be having to watch the pennies. Gone, it seems, are the days when you got three types of sandwiches and a choice of cake.

‘I’ve had bigger meals during Lent,’ was Beattie’s comment on the fare offered at Esme Waltham’s interment. ‘A nice choice of hymns I’ll admit Maureen, but that made it a very expensive sausage roll even splitting the cost of that wreath between us.’

So knowing I was going to get free tea and biscuits and a chance to finally dress up I was more than looking forward to it. Sadly when it came to choosing what to wear I had to deprive Dusty Springfield of a chance to shine. She may well be my favourite wig of all time but I figured with all that back combing she’d be a bit of a liability during a quick reverse. In the end Kevin and I settled on Alma Cogan and a dirndl frock with yards of netting in the under skirt.

‘You’ll be the belle of the ball Mo,’ he said. ‘Mind you I have it on good authority you’ll have some pretty stiff competition. You-Know- Who has had her tips re-frosted.

Well I suppose it was inevitable that once word got round that the ‘Yanks were coming’ then Stella Wheatley, the towns one woman sexual peace envoy would be out showing her gratitude for D-Day especially as she only just missed it first time round. Although how she was managing to tear herself away from the young Polish lads who had been decorating her flat for the last six weeks I do not know.

‘I mean how long does it take for three men to hang wall paper?’ Beattie had asked. ‘She’s only got the one bedroom. If you ask me Maureen…,’

‘Precisely,’ I’d replied and we left it at that because with what we both knew about Stella no more needed to be said.

Anyway there I was, two thirty on the dot, stepping out of the taxi I’d treated myself to for the trip into town. Well normally you can get away with wearing Alma on public transport but that frock was so full I was afraid they’d ask me to pay for two seats on the bus.

Now normally afternoons at the Town Hall Ballroom are pretty sedate affairs by all accounts even allowing for your tights being shredded by razor sharp corns and callouses. Due to a shortage of men with enough breath left to manage both steps in a Military Two Step most of the women end up dancing with each other. And that’s ok as long as you agree upfront who is being the man and stick to it. It’s only when you forget who’s supposed to be leading that the trouble starts. Judging from the tangle Eileen Harris and Velma Peter’s had already got themselves into behind the potted palms one of them had clearly suffered a memory lapse. And that was only during a warm up Veleta.

And that wasn’t the only thing that was wrong. Apparently before I’d arrived there had already been a bit of aggravation when one of the Americans called Dwight Something the Fourth had cut in between our George Cawdrey the First and Vera Preston, whisking her off from under his very nose. This had led to some ill-natured pushing and shoving and now the men of Biddermouth were arranged down one side of the dance floor like sulky teenagers with their American counterparts lined up opposite flashing their teeth and surrounded by all the women. Vera, I noticed, was hanging on to Dwight’s arm for grim death and trying her best to look as if she didn’t spend five mornings a week cleaning a bank and was used to wearing lipstick. Why she was bothering I do not know. Nothing was ever going to compete with Stella’s plunging neckline and spray tanned legs.

To say there was an atmosphere was an understatement. And like all boys even at sixty plus none of them could resist showing off even though some of them were wearing trusses. Of course had they stuck to old-time dancing things might have passed off peacefully with just the odd grunt of ill-will towards the visitors and some daring glides and reverses of almost exhibition standard. However somebody, and I suspect it was Stella in a party mood, requested a Jitter Bug and all hell broke loose.

As soon as Benny Goodman blasted out of the one speaker that was working properly battle lines were drawn. George grabbed Stella. Stella grabbed Dwight and Vera not to be out done swung her handbag. Unfortunately hitting George in the stomach only allowed Stella to romp on to the dance floor with her new paramour and pretty soon she was spinning like a top with her thighs clasped firmly round his waist. Clearly all that paperhanging had left her with a degree of suppleness the rest of us could only marvel at.

Not to be outdone Eileen Harris abandoned Velma and launched herself into the arms of Dwight’s old mess buddy Ivan. George Cawdrey got his breath back and took Vera by surprise as he changed gear from Jive to Jitter. I didn’t even get a look in. Well Grace Worthy did offer but I politely declined.

It is probably not a good idea to try and swing a cleaning lady of a certain age between your legs, at least not without some prior warning, especially when you’ve not washed your hands after handling Mackerel. After all everybody knows how oily they are. That’s why the government wants all of us to eat more of them. They are supposed to be good for you, although I suspect in view of what happened Vera would argue the point strongly.

However under his legs Vera went. George lost his grip and on she carried across the highly polished parquet floor scattering couples like they were nine pins as she made a bee-line towards the refreshment table. Of course had her skirt not been over head by this time she might have seen it coming and been able to take evasive action, or at least aimed herself at the potted palms.

Luckily the tea urn only wobbled a bit on impact but the biscuits did end up all over the floor. Some people gathered them up and dunked them in their tea later. However mindful of the extra crunch some of them may have contained l settled for a taxi and a packet of uncontaminated Bourbon Creams in the safety of my own home.

Hopefully Beattie’s dentures will be fixed soon. Fred Mercer is being buried on Friday and we don’t want to miss that. His widow’s in catering.

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Buyer Beware

July to September 2014Posted by Ian Ashley Sat, October 24, 2015 05:33PM

Buyer Beware

No matter what David Cameron and his storm troopers may be telling us about the rising British economy most of us have yet to feel the benefit in our purses. Even Beattie with her widow’s pension from the council, her annuity and her love of parsimony has taken to stocking up on her cleaning materials from the local discount shop. You have never seen such a look of happiness on a one women’s face as when she got four tins of Brasso, plus five assorted spray polishes and still had change from a ten pound note.

When I say, ‘she got change,’ I mean, ‘I did’, because it was me she sent in with a list whilst she waited outside the more up-market Boots the Chemist.

‘After all Maureen, ‘ she’d explained, ‘as the widow of a man who was chairman of the local chamber of commerce for twenty years I have got my reputation to think of. You haven’t. Everybody knows you get your clothes from the Cancer Care Shop so seeing you with a discount carrier bag wouldn’t come as a great surprise to anyone.’

Mind you I know she won’t be sending me back to get any more of that bleach. I’m not sure what brand it was because I can’t read Russian. Neither can Beattie. Come to think of it I’m not even sure if it was bleach at all.

Of course after the first time she’d used it I’ve never known a woman wax so lyrical over a cleaning product before, not even those strange ones in the TV adverts who get orgasmic over carpet shampoo. You know the ones I mean? They dash round in frenzy wearing their best clothes and make-up then greet their husbands with an inane look of triumph the minute he gets home from work. And of course he always notices doesn’t he? Just like real life.

Well for all his faults I don’t suppose my Archie was that different from 99% of husbands when it came to his observation skills. If he came home hungry he wouldn’t even have spotted me swinging naked from a light fitting with a big sign saying TAKE ME hanging round my neck. So the chances of him noticing I’d spent all day having extended foreplay with a domestic appliance would have been pretty remote. I mean it was two days before he realised I’d come home from the hospital with twins.

‘I thought she was just taking a long time with her bottle Mo, ‘he’d said in his defence. ‘I didn’t realise you was feeding one after the other.’

It wasn’t until I pointed out that we had Sandie as well as Cilla that he cottoned on to being the father of two baby girls.

Of course when it came to noticing things on the domestic front it seems the late Arthur Hathaway was the exception that proves the rule. Beattie once told me a blood curdling tale of how he used to inspect the door lintels every Saturday morning for dust before handing her the housekeeping money. Personally I would have killed him. But then the more I hear about Arthur the more I realise I’d not have waited even that long. I think I might have been moved to slip arsenic into the wedding cake along with the mixed fruit, and not just his slice either. Anyway it seems that one man’s poison is another woman’s love potion which goes a long way to explain Beattie’s ‘amore’ of caustic cleaning products and my distrust of policemen.

Now I know I’m no expert in these things as regular readers will know, much preferring to read a good book rather than dust. I mean once you’ve finished your novel it’s finished. Once you’ve dusted all you’ve done is made room for more of the same stuff to settle. However even I understand that when a substance melts your rubber gloves there is a need to exercise caution.

But not Beattie. The minute she felt her fingers tingle she went into a state of rapture.

‘You should see my drain,’ she said triumphantly. ‘You can read every letter on that grid.’

Well I didn’t need the evidence of my own eyes to know that. It was enough for me that it took three hours before the air in my back yard was safe to breathe. However it was this latest austerity drive that was very nearly to prove Biddermouth on Sea’s undoing.

You see word travels, at least it does when Beattie gets hold of it. Over time I’ve come to appreciate that she is the past master of turning rumour and supposition into fact in the space of a few breaths. Of course I’ve learned now that when she prefaces a conversation with those famous words of, ‘I just happen to know that...’ it usually means she knows nothing of the sort.

‘Not that I’m one for repeating idle gossip,’ she usually adds.

No, I always think, but that doesn’t prevent you from starting it.

However most normal people would have thought ‘bleach’ and gone on talking about fibroids or the weather. Sadly Beattie can’t. As usual she seized upon this wonder product with her usual fiery brand of evangelism and took it upon herself to spread the good word. Pretty soon she had the whole terrace using it. And they must have told their friends who told their friends and so on. Of course there was the odd pocket of slatternly resistance as I flatly refused to buy any and I’m sure mine's not the only household where the pursuit of leisure overtakes doing the housework.

Now to put all this into context you need to remember that Biddermouth on Sea had its heyday in the time of the Victorians. It wasn’t until that paddle steamer sank in 1863 creating the spectacle of two hundred bodies being washed up on the beach that anybody started taking the town seriously. To this day, whenever I see an old shoe washed up by the tide I can’t help but wonder how long it’s been waiting to come ashore.

Anyway like Beattie our nineteenth century forebears also had a thing about drains. So you can imagine, under our streets there is a network of sewers to rival any metropolis. In fact the council were so proud of this technological leap that the inauguration of a new manhole cover became a major civic event. Some were even inscribed with the names of their financial backers, like the one outside Stella Wheatley’s salon. That one is dedicated to the memory of Cllr Walter Stott and placed there in loving memory by his wife Louisa Victoria in 1897.

Of course in these more enlightened times with their twin wonders of in-vitro fertilisation and TV talent shows you just whip your plug out or flush your toilet and think no more of it. You have some vague idea where all the waste ends up but what route it takes remains a mystery. I for one had no idea that the drains ran from Palmerston Terrace and joined up with those under the High Street right below the very manhole cover Louisa Victoria Stott had wept over all those years ago. Neither, I think did Stella. Why would we? And if we had known would it have made any difference to the outcome? I doubt it.

Unfortunately Beattie's isn’t the only purse feeling the pinch because that very week Stella had taken delivery of a batch of new hair dye. Rumour has it one of her Polish builders brought a car boot full of the stuff back from a recent trip home to see his wife. I mean I don’t know how good Stella’s Polish is, I suppose given the life she leads it might extend to ‘yes, more’ and ‘harder’ but you can bet your bottom dollar it isn’t up to translating instructions on boxes of hair dye. Plus she gets very slap dash when she’s in love.

However in view of what happened later I would say Stella’s knowledge of Polish is on a par with that of Beattie’s ability to read Russian. Zero.

Now had it rained overnight, or had Stella not been doing a roaring trade in date expired ‘Shades of Gdansk’ during the day then disaster might have been averted. But then life is like that isn’t it? After all there is a school of thought that believes the outcome of the Battle of Waterloo would have been very different had Napoleon not had haemorrhoids. The big events of history, it seems, are writ large by the smallest of things. In the case of Biddermouth on Sea it was an unseasonably heavy downpour about three minutes before Stella started rinsing Janice McCarthy’s hair.

In fact Janice still swears it was only the fact that her head was wrapped in a towel that saved her from sustaining serious injuries when the bleach laden flood water of Palmerston Terrace hit the full force of ‘Shades of Gdansk’ pouring out of Stella’s waste pipe. Karen Braithwaite, from the cake shop across the road later told reporters that she’d heard a gurgling from the drains followed by a loud explosion. Nobody needed to tell anybody that the cast iron memorial to the late Cllr Stott had blown out of the ground and gone straight through Stella’s window. It was there for all to see, half buried in a large hole in the salon floor.

Of course everybody blamed everybody else. At one point anyone with a sun tan was subjected to a ‘stop and search’ procedure which as you can imagine in a seaside town in the height of summer wasted an awful amount of police time. Sadly stones were thrown at the Patel’s shop window but after the last time Mr P had invested in stout shutters and therefore avoided any serious damage. Then things calmed down when the environmentalists hit upon the idea of blaming the plastics factory on the industrial estate which resulted in a temporary loss of employment for one hundred people who could ill-afford it.

Beattie on the other hand went quietly to the supermarket, paid tip top price for a well-known household brand and kept her mouth shut. I’d like to think she also donated some tinned products to the food bank collection but I doubt it.

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A Funeral to Die For

July to September 2014Posted by Ian Ashley Sun, August 31, 2014 08:14PM

A Funeral to Die For.

As many of you will know already apart from making tapestry cushions my friend Beattie has another time consuming hobby, namely going to funerals. Sadly, having lived next door to her for the last ten years she has also made it a hobby of mine too. Not from choice I might add. Personally I’d opt for something more cheery. Unfortunately her take on ‘cheery’ and mine are very different. I mean look at her idea of interior design for a start. Before I met Beattie I had no idea beige came in so many shades. Mind you before she’d met me I don’t think she’d ever seen a room with red walls and an orange patterned carpet, or a cherry red three piece suite with huge pink peonies on the cushions. So I suppose that makes us quits.

‘I don’t know how you can bear to be in this room Maureen,’ she’d said shielding her eyes on her first visit to her new neighbour, ‘it must be like being a member of the Rolling Stones twenty four hours a day. And as for your bedroom, well I’ve nothing against chintz either but I always thought the idea was that it would match. What did you use, remnants?’

So you can see why we do funerals whilst our more spritely friends have signed up for ballroom dances classes at the Town Hall. Then again from what I hear that hasn’t exactly lived up to expectations either. Not only is there a shortage of men but at our age those that do turn up don’t seem to have the bladder capacity to make their way through a veleta let alone anything more vigorous like a Polka.

‘What with that and being trodden on all the time,’ said Pam Sturgess one day when I’d enquired how they were getting on. ‘Now you know why I spend all afternoon dancing with Eileen Thomas, at least she doesn’t dribble.’

So you can also see why Beattie got so excited when she found out that The Rt Hon. Mrs Chaddesly – Hammond had finally died.

‘Didn’t I tell you that she’d looked flushed when we went to visit Sylvie? You can say what you like about the NHS Maureen but when they put you in the bed next to the door it’s never a good sign no matter how well-connected you are. Obviously all those well-wishers who wasted money on ‘get well soon’ cards hadn’t seen her recently. Still it will be the funeral of the decade as far as this town is concerned, which is more than you can say for that carnival you made me go to last week.’

Now I’d thought Liz Crombie’s cremation was quite tasteful. At least she slid through the curtains to a bit of light classical and not Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass like Millie Marsh did. Not that Beattie was up for going at first. Where cremations are concerned she has some very strong opinions.

‘It’s not Godly Maureen. It really isn’t. I mean whatever must St Peter think when he opens the Pearly Gates and sees a pile of ash on the doorstep? Now when I buried my Arthur at St Matthews…’

Well I didn’t need telling for the umpteenth time how he’d been despatched with two hundred sausage rolls and one hundred and fifty tea bags. Neither did I need to hear how Beattie, swathed in black had walked behind the hearse followed by the entire town council or how everybody had said she’d reminded them of Jackie Kennedy. I can’t see how. For a start in no film I’ve ever seen of President Kennedy’s funeral was his widow seen to stomp. She didn’t have those hips either.

Anyway the thing that finally persuaded Beattie to pay her last respects to Liz was when she got wind of the sit down lunch afterwards. Despite her strongly held belief that a cremation was only one up from a Black Mass she’d eventually risked her immortal soul under the guise of her Christian duty and in return was rewarded with three decent slices of roast pork and some very nice crackling.

‘Now this will be what I call a funeral,’ said Beattie going through my wardrobe looking for something suitable for me to wear. ‘You see Maureen, I just happen to know that the aristocracy has a way with these things.’

The trouble was, apart from me apparently only owning clothes fit for lap dancing, was that neither of us had actually known Mrs Chaddesly – Hammond and we’d heard that the service was invitation only. As Beattie said that was to keep out the free-loading riff raff, which I assumed was how the family viewed the likes of us. However Beattie wasn’t going to let a little thing like that stand in her way. The minute she’d read about the death in the newspapers, she’d telephoned every Free Mason and every member of the Chamber of Commerce she knew to get us an invitation. All done from my house mind you, and with not so much as a ten pence piece left in the box, but at least we got tickets.

‘Invitations Maureen,’ she said when they finally arrived in the post. ‘It’s a funeral not the Cup Final. Which reminds me there’ll be people there who have shaken hands with Royalty so none of your animal print please, and if you must wear that Dusty Springfield wig do something to make her look more mournful and flatten her down a bit. People behind you will want to see the altar not spend all afternoon trying to peer round somebody who looks like a gangster’s moll. I was going to get you another Thora Hird for your birthday but the one in the advert looked a bit ginger and I’m sure she never looked like that unless it was my television playing up.’

That Beattie was even admitting that there was another universe that ran parallel to her own, one where she wasn’t always right was quite a big step. That she cracked open her cheque book and bought me a new black dress was another. Of course it wasn’t what I would have chosen for myself but as Beattie said it was one thing being an ex-prostitute but there was no need to advertise the fact.

I’d like to state here and now, just for the record, that my past may have been colourful but I have never actually been on the game. When she’d first said it I will admit to being very upset, then when I realised that she said that about anybody who wore sling backs I didn’t feel so bad. Still it’s not a nice thing to say, especially as I’d only ever worked on a funfair.

‘And do remember, Maureen the wake’s at the Imperial Hotel so don’t go pocketing the spoons or asking for your tea in a mug. And please eat your cake with a fork. Don’t just cram it in.’

I have to admit, funeral or not, St Matthews and All Angels looked a lot more cheerful than the last time we’d been here. The altar was decked with flowers which made the place smell nice and even that thirty foot high stained glass window looked better for a bit of sunlight. It made The Damned look more like they were anticipating a helter-skelter ride rather than a descent into the fiery pit. Needless to say we’d got there early to get a good seat and Beattie was in her element waving regally to a positive ‘Who’s Who’ of Biddermouth on Sea society.

Admittedly most of the people she knew were her old cronies from Stirrup and Morley’s tea room including that Mrs Dennington – Wriggley. Personally I doubt that her husband was ever more than a clerk in the Indian Civil Service or that her broach is real diamonds but Beattie treats her as if he’d been the last Viceroy. She also volunteers me to carry carrying her shopping to her taxi for her. So you can see why I refused to wave back.

‘Oh there’s Councillor Bartram and his wife.’ Beattie whispered. ‘She claims she’s polycystic but if you ask me hormones are no excuse for that much hair on a top lip. No wonder he strays. And look at the shine on that casket! You don’t get that on veneered chipboard I can tell you.’

Apparently it was custom made. According to Beattie you could tell that just by looking at the joints and the quality of the handles.

‘And I bet it’s lined with real silk,’ she said adding her regrets that we’d not gone to the Chapel of Rest to have a look. ‘Still with Mrs Chaddersly - Hammond being a Lady in Waiting to the Queen Mother, you’d have thought one of Them would have put in an appearance even if only to say thank you for all the embarrassing bouquets she must have carried on Her behalf over the years.’

It was then Beattie let out a gasp and her hand flew to her mouth. ‘It’s the Bishop of Arundel!’ she gasped,’ and.....oh Maureeeeeeeeeeeen look who’s with him!’

I felt myself arm locked into making a sweeping curtsy which isn’t easy when you’re wearing Dusty Springfield. Getting up wasn’t any better either. But at least I wasn’t the one that needed help.

‘It’s her!’ she said looking for all the world as if she’d just witnessed the Virgin Mary materialising in the door way.

Well Beattie may not have got to stand next to the Queen at the wake because the Chaddesly – Hammonds had the foresight to book a private room, presumably to keep out the riff raff. It was also guarded by two surly looking detectives. Of course had they known who the late Arthur Hathaway was I dare say they would have saluted and let Beattie through the door. But they didn’t.

‘Oh well,’ she sighed resigning herself to fetching another slice of cake for Mrs Dennington- Wriggly, ‘you can’t expect Her Majesty to remember every name that’s ever been put forward for an OBE can you? At least there are no crusts on the sandwiches.’

No, I thought, and there’s a very nice set of teaspoons in my handbag thank you very much.

© Ian Ashley 2014

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Matters Psychic

July to September 2014Posted by Ian Ashley Sun, August 24, 2014 05:11PM

Matters Psychic

Ever since our near death experience at the hands of my old rival Doris Morris, fully recorded on my behalf by Ian in ‘Bell Book & Handbag’, my neighbour Beattie has made me swear never to dabble in the world of Spirit again. To be honest part of me agrees with her. If witnessing your best friend being nearly decapitated with her own girdle isn’t enough to pull even the most hardened medium up short then materialising the ghost of your own late husband most definitely is. But it was the way she did it that I objected to.

‘I can see now why the church wasted good firewood burning people like you Maureen,’ she said once we were on speaking terms again. ‘It was for your own good. God knows why you can’t just spend your spare time making tapestry cushions like most women our age. Still I suppose it’s just like your wigs and your short skirts, it’s all about attention seeking. No wonder that judge sentenced you to three years in prison. I tell you, Maureen, you were lucky. Four hundred years ago you’d have found yourself standing on a pile of faggots in the market place praying for rain.’

I’m not sure how owning a collection of Diva Wigs links with the reign of terror of the Witch Finder General but then her mind has always been a place of mystery even to me and I’ve known her for just over ten years. Anybody who can connect the prevalence of unfettered breasts amongst children’s TV presenters and global warming in the same breath ought to be the subject of serious scientific research in my opinion. As it is she is banned from taking part in radio phone-ins and not before time too if you ask me. You can still see those swastikas somebody daubed on her front door even under three layers of gloss paint. And all that started out with a discussion on the best plants to put in hanging baskets. I suppose it was the words, ‘hanging’ and ‘pansies’, that caused her to jump tracks and speak out against gay marriage, I don’t know.

Anyway Beattie was determined to call time on my career as a medium. I can understand her being a bit wary. Finding ourselves trapped in Grangely Manor like that was not pleasant. But I thought she’d secretly enjoyed herself. Sorting out people’s lives for them is what she likes to do best so I’d have assumed she’d have been in her element exorcising ghosts and sending them back to whence they came but apparently not.

‘I’ve been thinking about oaths,’ she said, quite out of the blue and between mouthfuls of Viennese Whirls. ‘I know you’ve said you won’t do it again Maureen but I also know you. You’re duplicitous by nature. Look what happened when we set aside that week to do our spring cleaning? I did my house from top to bottom. You gave your worktops a quick wipe with a dish cloth then sat and read three Danielle Steele novels. Honestly there is tinned food in your cupboards that could have been on Scott’s trip to the Antarctic.’

Well she did have a point there even if she was exaggerating a bit. Those prunes she found were nearly nine years old but then as I don’t share her obsession with regular bowel movements they’d kept getting pushed to the back behind the peach slices.

‘And that swing bin of yours has gone beyond swinging to a positive health hazard. No I’m sorry Maureen, if you won’t help yourself then it’s my Christian duty as your best friend to see that I do it for you.’

That comment alone should have put me on my guard. Beattie may be a regular church goer and act as though the Almighty is Immortal, Invisible and Hers, but her idea of Christian duty is more akin to the Crusades than living in a multi faith society in the twenty first century. She still believes the Patel’s kitchen fire started when Sangeeta tried to set light to her daughter-in-law over a dowry dispute. The rest of us know full well it was a flaming pan of Pakoras that just happened to catch on a roller blind. Fires happen and hot fat is a dangerous thing no matter where you come from.

‘You sit here night after night chanting. And don’t say you don’t because I’ve heard you. Honestly some evenings it’s like talent night in an asylum. You chanting ‘Son of a Preacher Man’ ruined, ‘A Room with a View’ for me. I could hardly hear a word Maggie Smith was saying and as for Helena Bonham Carter I might as well have been deaf. It was only because her eyebrows kept bobbing up and down that I knew she was speaking at all.’

‘I’m singing,’ I said in my defence. Fair enough I may not have Beattie’s fine contralto voice but when her parents were paying for her singing lessons mine got me a paper round and a second hand bike with no front brakes.

‘Yes Maureen, singing with dead people! Alma Cogan, Kathy Kirby, Dusty Springfield, they’re all gone you know and you trying to commune with them is not healthy. What would happen if they all turned up like your Archie did? Where would you put them all? You’ve only got one spare room and that reeks of damp so don’t think for a single minute any of them would be welcome next door.’

Quite how she thought my singing along to my favourite records was different from her joining in with Maria Callas I don’t know. At least Dusty doesn’t sound like a cat in mangle and as far as I knew Miss Callas was dead as well. Perhaps Beattie knew different. Perhaps she’d read in the Daily Mail that the star of Tosca was flipping burgers in the same diner as Elvis and Glen Miller. Anybody who genuinely believes it was Princess Margaret who flashed a torch at Princess Diana’s chauffeur is capable of deluding themselves into thinking anything is possible.

‘Anyway Maureen you can prevaricate as much as you like. Don’t forget I’ve seen what you’re capable of and it’s not decent. So it stops and it stops now. No more trances, no more communing and definitely no more chanting. I haven’t spent all that money on being re-wired to have Satan living next door.’

Of course that’s the thing about Spiritualism. You’re either for it or you’re not. Even those who aren’t sure can usually be won over with a spirit granny or two. Not that I’ve ever set out to mislead anybody although I will admit I did get a bit carried away with that WPC Frobisher. But then times were hard. Archie had left me. I had the twins to feed, rent to pay and Mr Karagoulis, my land lord, was offering to accept payment in kind if I couldn’t find the money by Friday. Under those circumstances any woman and mother confronted with a crisp twenty pound note would have done the same. Unfortunately I failed to convince the jury as Beattie never ceases to remind me.

‘It’s that Dusty Springfield wig,’ she said. ‘It’s got ‘false alibi’ written all over it. Looking like that it’s a wonder you weren’t sentenced to death.’

I know Beattie makes a great play of her Christian compassion but I bet if you dropped her bible it would fall open on a page with a stoning or at least some poor soul being smote by The Almighty.

‘Now in the normal scheme of things, ‘ said Beattie dabbing her fingers in the remaining biscuit crumbs, ‘all we’d need is a trip down to St Matthew’s and a promise in the sight of God. However you being a heathen I know that won’t work. I have heard that the new vicar at St Stephen’s is reforming prostitutes with incense so it might be an option although even he’d need more than The Lord’s Prayer if he tries to set you and Stella Wheatley on the path to righteousness. And don’t look at me like that Maureen. Anybody who thinks a cremation is as good as a Christian burial wouldn’t think twice about breaking their word even on the bible Nanny Freemantle gave to me on my confirmation. So if the mountain won’t come to Mohammed….’

For a moment I thought she was planning on dousing me on the spot with Holy water or at least trying to drive out evil spirits with the application of a pair of red hot fire tongs. But thankfully even Beattie’s idea of Christian duty stops a little way short of torture. Instead she started flicking through my record collection.

‘Umm,’ she said rifling through the album covers, ‘Shirley Bassey is no good. There’s all that slashed to the thigh business not to mention the unbecoming writhing about. Now what about Alma Cogan? Perhaps not Maureen, it’ll take more than tango’ing with an eskimo to keep you in check although the life you’ve led I wouldn’t be surprised if you haven’t done that or worse. If you ask me the line between you and Stella Wheatley is a very fine one indeed. Aha! Now this is what we want!’

To my surprise and horror she pulled out my treasured copy of Dusty Springfield’s Greatest Hits, autographed in the Diva’s own hand.

‘If this doesn’t stop you Maureen then nothing will, now hold it in both hands and repeat after me…I Maureen Truscott do solemnly swear…’

And there I was trapped, just like King Harold when William the Conqueror surprised him with a pile of old bones, and hearing myself promising on the soul of a Diva never to dabble in the world of Spirit ever again.

Well that’s all very well for the likes of Beattie. She hasn’t got the gift. I have and it’s something you can’t just put aside. When it calls, it calls. Mind you the thought of the Almighty swooping down and snapping Dusty in two might just make me a little more careful in future. I’m not promising anything mind you, I’m just saying that it might.

© Ian Ashley 2014

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Shoot out at the Copper Kettle Café

July to September 2014Posted by Ian Ashley Sun, August 17, 2014 07:25PM

Shoot out at the Copper Kettle Café

Now you would think that in an English seaside town like Biddermouth of Sea there would be plenty of places for people to sit and enjoy a cup of coffee but there aren’t. Over the last few years many of our haunts have disappeared for one reason or another. Some you can understand. For a start two fell into the sea when the pier collapsed and nobody ever went to The Silver Lantern again after three foreign language students died eating those open prawn sandwiches. Not that any of us locals were surprised. We were just amazed that Kathleen Bennett had got away with shampooing dogs in the same kitchen for as long as she did. True it did re-open but let’s be honest after a hard day’s shopping what you want is a nice strong cup of tea and a bun not a Kale smoothie served up by some girl with curtain rings through her bottom lip and a nail through her left eyebrow.

It’s ironic really when you think how long we used to spend in front of a mirror making ourselves look attractive on a Saturday night. Fair enough it didn’t always work and sometimes you ended up having to jive with your best friend and taking turns to be the boy but at least whilst you were putting on your mascara there was hope. Nowadays it seems being liberated means you just rummage around in a tool box, stud your forehead with drawing pins, blast your private parts with a hygiene spray and as they say in America, you are good to go. Not that it seems to make much difference. Take young Iris Naomi for example. She’s Kevin’s assistant at the Bona Curl Salon and never short of boyfriends even though she goes about the place looking like Meatloaf. Mind you I think things are changing a bit there. According to Kevin since she’s met Rodney with the Ford Fiesta she’s stopped having sex in the bus shelter which must be a relief for people who can’t afford a taxi to get them home at night.

‘Then again Mo, have you seen her mother?’ he said. ‘Imagine Sid Vicious in leggings and you’re not far off the mark although you’d think she’d carry a handbag and not a four-pack of cider.’

Anyway back to our coffee crisis. Of course we’ve got those Starbucks places and Costa Coffees just like everywhere else. And I will say that they always look very nice and clean inside but what exactly is a double decaf skinny flat latte when it’s at home? And when did ‘grande’ start meaning medium? It certainly had me and Beattie flummoxed the one time we went there. Honestly it was like trying to buy a cup of coffee in a foreign country. And why anybody in their right mind would pay nearly two pounds for biscuit I do not know. Still the place is always packed with young mums talking about on-line shopping whilst their badly behaved children clamber over the back of the seats. However the final straw was when Beattie thought she was being propositioned by the young boy behind the counter when he asked to know her name.

‘Personally Maureen I blame Joan Collins,’ she said as she barged her way in high dudgeon out through the door and nearly fell over a pushchair. ‘Just because she can be bowled over by hair gel and acne doesn’t mean the rest of us have to follow suit. Mind you if that lad tries the same thing with Stella Wheatley he’ll bite off more than he can chew you mark my words.’

I didn’t have the heart to tell her that he’d only wanted to write her name on her cup. Nor did I tell her that it would be a while before Stella felt the urge to visit Starbucks and pick up a skinny boy with spots because according to Kevin she was currently enjoying a ménage a trois with the brawny Polish lads who were decorating her flat. Whether they were enjoying he didn’t say however that’s’ never stopped her before. Plus there were actually four of them but even Kevin didn’t know the French for that.

‘Right,’ said Beattie, ‘we’ll just have to go to the Copper Kettle.’

I must have shot her a look and frozen in my tracks.

‘It’s all right Maureen, I just happen to know it’s under new management.’

It would have to be, I thought. The last time we had coffee there we left in the back of a police van and amongst many of the things I learned during my three years being married to Archie one of them was that it’s very hard to go back to any place where people still remember you being escorted off the premises in handcuffs.

However I will say that it was not my fault Beattie and I got arrested at the Copper Kettle. In fact I only got into the back of the police van to stop Beattie trying to hit those young policemen. Even handcuffed she’s still dangerous with a well-aimed fashion accessory although I’d say the proper term for that handbag would be a weapon of mass destruction. It’s huge. Still it has to be with the amount she crams in it. I mean only the other day she saw a finger print on a shop window and whipped out a can of spray polish and a duster the way any normal woman would pull out a powder compact. Also I didn’t think she’d take too kindly sharing a bench seat with two prostitutes from the Happy Hands Massage Parlour.

Beattie Hathaway may have hips wide enough to make even normal sized rooms seem small but for all her bluster she’s still an innocent abroad where many things are concerned. That was why she believed me when I said they were actresses and she started asking them if they’d ever appeared in ‘The Sweeney’ or ‘The Bill’.

‘Well they looked just like you do Maureen when you’re wearing that Dusty Springfield wig of yours, she said later. ‘Common.’

However before the police came and before Beattie thought she was sharing a ride with graduates from RADA there was the small matter of a dead wasp in a cream horn. Unfortunately it was in Beattie’s and not mine. Personally I have just called the waitress over and either had a replacement or a refund. I mean it’s a fact of life. Wasps do like jam and like all living things they do die. Had it been an Eccles cake I could understand her being a bit cross. After all dead wasps and currents can look almost the same except for one important difference. A current might make you cough if it goes down the wrong way but it would never sting your tongue.

So there we were. Me enjoying a Danish pastry and Beattie trying to earwig to what Janet Whithers was saying to Noleen Deegan about her prolapse. I’m not saying that the outcome would have been any different had Beattie not been distracted by the comparative merits of dissolvable stiches over staples but at least she would have been paying attention to what she was eating.

‘And they’ve found a fibroid,’ Janet said at which point Beattie bit down hard, came face to face with a dead insect and started screaming loudly.

Quick as a flash Doreen Parson’s, who was then the manageress, shot out from behind her counter to see what all the fuss was about. I’m talking figuratively here when I say ‘shot’. Even in trainers Doreen’s bunions precluded speed. She’s not much faster now she’s retired but as Beattie say’s you do take your life in your hands having surgery at the Princess Diana and if wounded soldiers can play basketball with two artificial legs there is no excuse for Doreen holding up the bus queue with one. Which I thought was a bit spiteful especially as it wasn’t Doreen who struck the first blow.

Of course she should have known better than to accuse Beattie of being mistaken but she was only trying her best to contain the situation. Then again I don’t suppose they throw in anger management classes when you’re studying pastry making at night school. And why would they? These days it’s all about dealing with people who can’t eat cakes containing flour, eggs, milk, sugar or peanuts. Not that Beattie was in danger of swelling up but she was pretty close to bursting point or at least as close as you can be when you’re tightly laced into a twenty year old girdle.

At some point a plate got smashed. Then another one rapidly followed by a cup and saucer only I think when you aim crockery at somebody’s head the technical term is ‘thrown’ because they only actually smashed on impact.

However I will say in Beattie’s defence that she may have smashed a bit of crockery and she definitely had Doreen in a headlock because there were signed witness statements to the fact read out in court later. But all that business with the Lemon Meringue Pie was an accident. If Doreen Parsons hadn’t managed to break free Beattie could have just gone on strangling her. However hindsight is a wonderful thing and break free she did. So Beattie just reached out and grabbed the nearest thing to hand.

Now if Stella Wheatley hadn’t chosen that precise moment to stand up it would have missed her by a mile. As much as Beattie disapproves of her I don’t think she ever consciously planned to hit her in the face with a sixteen portion Lemon Meringue. But she did. Full on, fair and square and adding baked egg white to her Farrah Fawcett frosted tips. How that woman could see to dial 999 through all that pastry I do not know to this day. All I can say is that with the life she leads she must have them on something that Kevin calls ‘speed dial’.

But she did and the two of them are still not speaking to this day and that was why we never got to see inside the newly redecorated Copper Kettle café that morning.

We were just about to cross the road, in fact Beattie was already half way across having stopped the traffic with her umbrella despite the lights being against us, when who should come tottering down the street and into the Copper Kettle Café in her red fox fur coat and five inch heels but Biddermouth on Sea’s very own geriatric sex siren, Stella Wheatley herself.

Of course I know the sudden urge to have fish and chips in the British Home Stores restaurant was only Beattie trying to save face. What with having been importuned by a teenager with acne and nearly laddering her support tights on a push chair I don’t think my neighbour had the strength left to deal with her old nemesis but then again she was offering to pay for my lunch so coffee at the Copper Kettle café would just have to wait.

© Ian Ashley 2014

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Hospital Visiting

July to September 2014Posted by Ian Ashley Sun, August 10, 2014 05:56PM

Hospital Visiting

I do not like visiting hospitals. My neighbour Beattie does. Second only to wearing black and pretending to dab her eyes at a good funeral, it’s her idea of nice afternoon out. Of course you don’t get the benefit of a funeral tea but then as anybody who has ever sat about on a ward visiting the sick will tell you when the patients are left to dehydrate its highly unlikely that the nurses will start offering visitors cups of tea is it? Still as Beattie says there are other compensations.

‘At least we can budget for wreaths Maureen,’ she said, ‘and plan our diaries accordingly. That way you can avoid booking yourself in at the chiropodists and having to miss the funeral. Now look sharp or we’ll miss the number 27 and have to take the 19 instead and you know what that means. I’m wearing my pearls so I’d rather not have to hang about changing buses in the middle of the council estate thank you very much.’

Now the good thing about having a pensioner’s bus pass is that it means visiting the sick costs us nothing. It’s a bit like being a member of the National Trust I suppose, only not so interesting. Technically it should give us unrestricted access to both of Biddermouth On Sea’s hospitals except that one of them, The Princess Diana, is strictly off limits as far as Beattie is concerned. This means we have to restrict our visits to St Mary’s which according to her may have not seen a lick of paint since it was opened by Queen Alexandra in 1906 but at least there you could die peacefully of your own ill-heath and not of some secondary infection.

‘If you knew the number of amputations they’ve had to do at the Princess Di due to flesh eating viruses you wouldn’t be so keen to step foot in the place either,’ she said. ‘All that NHS money and what did we end up with Maureen? A charnel house that’s what. It’s all very well them boasting about have the biggest eating disorder unit in the south of England but I ask you, who in their right mind wants to pop in for a free plate of spaghetti hoops and walk out with a limb missing?’

Well this latest health crisis was all news to me. Then I suppose it’s not the sort of thing they put in the local paper. People would only start panicking. I mean who would knowingly swap an in-growing toe nail for an artificial leg? Still when Beattie tells you these things you have to be a bit sceptical. You see she gets these snippets of local gossip from her niece Pauline who works on the switchboard at the local Council offices. Although I have to say that some of the stories she passes on to her aunt may bear the rubber stamp of officialdom but clearly lack the ring of truth.

There was all that business about the Mayor building a nuclear bunker under Boots the Chemist for a start. To this day Beattie still skirts the manhole cover out of respect for the mayoral regalia. Any normal person would have given those excavations the once over and thought, ‘gas works’. Or in Stella Wheatley’s case ‘unrestricted access to lonely young Polish workmen’.

However I had heard all about the great day when the Princess herself had come to open the hospital proudly bearing her name. Not from Beattie though, the great day having been a Tuesday.

‘Of course had she been proper royalty Maureen I would have dipped my nets the day before and left the silver till Wednesday,’ she’d said explaining her absence from the town’s festivities. ‘But I’m sorry, once she did that dancing thing with Wayne Sleep all my benefit of the doubt went straight out of the window as far as she was concerned.’

So I’d had to learn everything about the visit from Kevin who styles my wigs at the Bona Curl Salon. He’d camped out the night before to get a decent spot on the Town Hall Steps, along with several hundred others all eager to catch a glimpse of Her Royal Highness, as she was then.

‘It was amazing Mo,’ he’d said, still clearly excited about it after all these years. ‘Two paraplegics actually got up and pushed their wheelchairs home AND a woman who had been trying for a baby for twenty years conceived on the spot. I’m sure seeing her that day cured my verruca, just imagine what might have happened had I actually got to shake her hand like they did? No wonder she was so popular with those lepers in Africa.’

Anyway miracle cures or not The Princess Diana, along with the council estate was a no-go area as far Beattie was concerned. This meant we only ever went to St Mary’s where at least they had a coffee shop and according to my neighbour she’d seen them scalding the teaspoons with her very her own eyes.

As it happened this week we had a choice of wards because two people we knew had been recently admitted. Not that actually knowing people was ever high on Beattie’s list of visiting requirements. If they had a double barrelled name she’d sit and talk for hours because as she said, better class people always had their funeral teas at the Grand Hotel.

‘At least there Maureen you get pastry forks and proper china not some piece of stale Swiss Roll and two crisps on a paper plate.’

Well there I did agree with her. The last time we’d been to a wake at the Grand I’d managed to get some very nice cutlery and a cruet set into my handbag without anybody noticing whilst Beattie was waxing lyrical about proper linen table cloths and filling her pockets with mini-macaroons.

However this week, once Beattie realised why Jimmy Westmoreland was in hospital our choice narrowed down to one.

‘Luckily I met his daughter in the green grocers, Maureen. He may well be an old friend of my Arthur’s from his Bowling Club days but I am not spending the afternoon sat on a plastic chair in male urology talking about double tops and bulls eyes.’

‘That’s darts,’ I said but Beattie wasn’t listening. I noticed she was too busy tucking her pearls into her blouse because a couple of teenage mothers in pink tracksuits had got on the bus when it stopped to pick up outside the Family Planning Clinic.

I did think though that Beattie was being a bit mean.Poor old Jimmy only had the one child so he couldn’t have had many visitors could he? And time must drag when you’re fitted with a catheter without even a trip to the loo to break the monotony. I didn’t suppose he saw much of his wife either. Sadly Jean Westmoreland suffered from dementia and having given her carer the slip told everybody in the Cancer Care Shop Jimmy had left her for a land army girl and she had no idea where he was.

So that left us with Sylvie Martin.

Not that she was a close friend of either of us. I knew her to pass the time of day with and then she only spoke to me if I happened to be shopping on my own. If I was with Beattie she just waved and made some excuse about leaving the gas on. Quite why we were going to see her I had no idea.

‘Spleen,’ said Beattie as if that explained everything. ‘Now you may be stupid enough to believe those doctors when they say you don’t need one Maureen, but if you ask me the Good Lord put it there for a reason and letting anybody tamper with it is simply asking for trouble. Remember Frieda Waverley?’

As usual with Beattie whether I did or not was neither here nor there. Once she gets on to the topic of surgical procedures there is no stopping her.

‘She was pleased as punch one minute with her key-hole surgery and dead as a door nail the next. Anyway here’s our stop. And if Sylvie starts looking around for a bunch of flowers I’ll tell her you left them on the bus. God knows there’d be no point buying anything that would last in a vase anyway.’

I could tell from the expression on Sylvie’s face that she was pleased to see me. I could also see how it changed the minute Beattie straightened herself up from inspecting under the beds for fluff and hoved into view.

‘How you can sleep in here with all that bleeping going on I really don’t know Sylvie,’ she said dropping herself into a chair. ‘Still I suppose they switch them off a night.’

Sylvie explained that they were heart monitors but Beattie wasn’t listening. She was too busy scanning the rows of beds for anybody she was on a nodding acquaintance with who just happened to be terminally ill.

‘Well how are you feeling Sylvie?’ I asked. Hardly original I know but what else can you say?

‘Tip top Maureen thanks,’she said. ‘And you should see the scar. Honestly this keyhole surgery is wonderful. It means I’ll still be able to wear a bikini when we go on that cruise my Ron’s booked for the autumn.’

Beattie looked up and would have no doubt said something about Frieda Waverley and making sure Ron could get a full refund on his deposit had she not spotted The Right Honourable Mrs Chaddesly- Hammond propped up in a bed opposite. Without a bye or leave she was off like a shot leaving Sylvie and I to have a disjointed conversation about knitting, which I didn’t do, grandchildren, which I didn’t have, and the Caribbean, which I’d never been to.

Now I know this sounds wicked but that bell couldn’t come soon enough for me. Or Sylvie I suspect. Beattie on the other hand had to be prised from her latest quarry’s bedside by a very insistent ward sister and a security guard.

Of course she was full of it all the way home. It would seem a terminally ill member of the aristocracy trumped a retired lollipop lady without a spleen any day.

‘Did you notice, Maureen, how Mrs Chaddesly - Hammond's bed was right near the door? That’s never a good sign in my book. Mind you there can’t be much money left if she’s having to go National Health, poor soul. And that bed jacket had seen better days. It was shedding swan's down all over the place. No wonder she was finding it hard to breathe. Still perhaps all her money is tied up in property. It usually is with that class of person. Either way I wouldn’t go booking anything for Wednesday week. She looked a bit flushed if you ask me.’

©copyright Ian Ashley 2014

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Marry in Haste Part IV

July to September 2014Posted by Ian Ashley Sun, August 03, 2014 05:18PM

Marry In Haste IV

The Great Day Arrives

To say that things in Biddermouth On Sea reached fever pitch in the build up to Avis and Harold’s wedding would be an understatement. Short of having bunting in the streets some people said it was like Charles and Diana all over again.

‘And we all know how that turned out,’ said Beattie, ‘still at least Prince Charles didn’t have a previous wife in an urn on his mantelpiece.’

That indeed was true. Whatever you thought about Camilla she was very much alive whereas it was common knowledge under the hairdryers at the Bona Curl that Harold had yet to make a decision regarding the scattering of the ashes. But as far as I was concerned there were bigger problems ahead of us than what Harold should do with Millie Marshall’s mortal remains. There was my outfit for a start.

My next door neighbour Beattie had said ‘tonal’ and even if you’re colour blind in the red spectrum you’d be hard pushed not to notice the contrast between my red sequinned poppies and her heather mix tweed two piece. And Beattie had anything but defective vision. Sometimes the things she told you about people made you wonder if she was blessed with the ability to see through walls. She wasn’t. Instead she was blessed with a niece who worked on the switchboard of the local council offices. Apparently because Pauline had signed up to the Official Secrets Act every snippet of gossip she passed on to her aunt was assumed to come with the rubber stamp of officialdom and could not possibly be questioned.

Not that my outfit would cause the phones to ring off the desks at the council offices but I could see a major incident brewing if Beattie got carried away and started swinging her handbag at me. Even empty it was good for a couple of cracked ribs. When it was stuffed full of the dusters, cans of spray polish and lengths of bias binding that she always carried in case of emergency it was lethal.

Kevin from the Bona Curl was so worried about my personal safety that he’d offered to come round early and go to the church with us. Bless him.

‘After all Mo,’ he’d said, ‘if Mrs Hathaway turns nasty I’ll start telling her that story about when I was handcuffed to the bandstand and…’

I’d cut him off quick.

Beattie has a very extreme reaction to matters sexual, even on the telly. The minute that nice Mr Attenborough had started talking about salmon spawning that plug was pulled out, the iron switched on and razor sharp folds were being steamed into her tea towels before you could say ‘Winter Fuel Allowance’.

You see old friends that we are only once in ten years had we ever broached the subject of marital relations. Even then I’d waited until she’d eaten the best part of a box of rum truffles and had two glasses of sherry. Rightly or wrongly I’d always been a bit curious about that side of things where she was concerned. Every time the wedding album came out the story stopped short at the photo of Beattie in her going away outfit. Where they went she never said.

Archie and I had enjoyed three days in Rhyl. At least I think it was three days. With the curtains drawn it had all blurred into one. But I do know it took two cans of hair lacquer to get my beehive back into shape for the return journey. Quite what happened to Beattie’s perm she never said. Mind you looking at the photos of Arthur I suspect it only needed patting back into place in the morning. All she ever said about ‘that side of things’ was,

‘Arthur had his marrows you see.’

And we left it at that. What he did with them or why he had them in the first place I never found out and to be honest I’m not sure I wanted to know.

Anyway I was still in a state of trepidation when my door knocker slammed down three times which was Beattie’s way of announcing that we were off.

Now sometimes there is a God. He may well kill thousands in tsunamis but once in a while he does take pity on an elderly woman in a Dusty Springfield wig and sequinned appliqué. Without any prompting from me He struck Beattie dumb allowing me to rush headlong into the stunned silence with what I thought was a master stroke.

‘My God Beattie, you have lost weight,’ I said knowing full well she’d had her two piece let out at Monica’s Modes. ‘It must be all those tinned peaches you ate on that diet.’

Well that took the wind right out of her sails I can tell you. Her mouth opened and closed a few times but even severely deflated she usually finds enough air left to say something. And she did.

‘I hope that’s a seam in the back of your stockings Maureen because if it’s varicose veins they’ll have to amputate,’ she said.

Judging by the silence on our way to the church I think I got off quite lightly because apart from the odd glance and accompanying snort at the poppies nothing more was said.

Mind you once inside Beattie had a field day. Not only is St Matthews and All Angels her favourite church but there, despite the heatwave raging outside, was Stella Wheatley in her Red Fox fur.

‘How that woman has the nerve to step foot in a House of God I really don’t Maureen,’ Beattie said thumbing through her hymn book to find ‘Oh God Our Strength in Ages Past.’

Personally I thought that given the number of times Stella had stood at the altar her and The Almighty would be on first name terms by now but I let it pass.

‘You know her and Harold…’

‘Never!’ I said.

‘In the back of his post van apparently,’ Beattie added. ‘It would serve her right if she was struck by lightning, flaunting herself like that. And who is George Cawdry waving at I’d like to know?’

‘You,’ I said.

Well that caused Beattie to make the kind of face she usually reserved for people who let their dog’s foul pavements. She said he could wave all he liked after all she was still the widow of a man who had been Chairman of the local Chamber of Commerce for twenty years and what was George Cawdrey? A fishmonger.

‘And a councillor,’ I said.

‘With a very small majority Maureen, and he reeks of haddock.’

She was just in the process of giving him a curt nod when her mouth fell open for the second time in less than an hour as in walked Karen Braithwaite.

‘Dear God! Maureen. What does she think she looks like?’

Well from where we were sitting I’d have said a very precariously balanced cake stand, covered as she was in several yards of printed polyester cupcakes. You could tell it was homemade. Any dress maker worth her salt would have somehow managed to avoid getting printed cherries just on the nipple line. But before I had a chance to say anything the organist struck up ‘Here Comes The Bride,’ and Avis bowled down the aisle in a very smart cream lace dress holding what Beattie later swore to be a bouquet containing some of the foliage from the wreath we’d bought her predecessor.

Personally I think that was just sour grapes. Not only did Avis look lovely but she’d chosen some very nice hymns and despite all of Beattie’s prayers Stella Wheatley wasn’t turned into a pillar of salt. However the bride looked more angry than blushing when Stella left big lipstick kisses all over the bridegrooms face as we lined up at the reception. But then if what Beattie said was true who could blame her? At least Harold was retired now and even my Archie would have had his work cut out in the back of a Reliant Robin.

And what a reception it was! Despite burning the midnight oil marshalling yards of cupcakes into a frock Karen had still found time to do us all proud. Everywhere you looked there were plates piled high with sausage rolls, quiche, cold meats, pork pies and vol au vents. Karen was circulating urging everybody to eat up as there was plenty more out the back in the kitchen. At least I think that’s what she said. To be honest she had six sausage rolls in her mouth so it was hard to be absolutely certain. Still Beattie didn’t need telling twice. Hating waste she managed to get several pork pies in her handbag without anybody seeing. By the time she’d made it to the fondant fancies her feet had swollen so much she had to sit down and kept sending me up to refill her plate so when Avis and Harold eventually cut the cake that heather mix two piece looked seriously in danger of needing yet another trip to Monica’s Modes.

Eventually Avis and Harold said their ‘goodbyes’, more confetti was thrown and they set off to the airport with their libidos in matching suitcases for a honeymoon in Antigua with us wishing them all the best and good luck.

‘If you ask me they’ll need it Maureen,’ said Beattie later throwing herself into an arm chair and prising off her court shoes.

And for once I agreed with her. I know Harold said that Millie had always wanted to go to Antigua but I did feel for Avis. I mean it’s a long flight at the best of times. It must have seemed like an eternity knowing your new husband had an urn in his hand luggage.

Now apparently, or so Josie Shrapnel told Karen, who told Kevin, who told us, Avis got her own back and declared Millie’s ashes at customs. Harold spent a very uncomfortable night in a cell suspected of smuggling drugs and as far as we know Millie ended up in a waste bin at the airport. Hardly an auspicious start to a marriage but then neither is driving back from Wales in a stolen Austin…

@copyright Ian Ashley 2014

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Marry In Haste Part III

July to September 2014Posted by Ian Ashley Sun, July 27, 2014 06:54PM

Marry In Haste Part III

I think Beattie must have grown a bit since the heather mix tweed had its last outing.

‘I’m just taking it to the dry-cleaners Maureen,’ she said quickly when I caught her sneaking out of the house with it.’

Well let me tell you that’s not what I heard from Karen Braithwaite. It’s amazing what you can pick up for the price of two Eccles cakes and a small sliced loaf, especially when Karen is in a good mood. And that particular day she’d just polished off a whole Sacher Torte single-handed so the news that she’d seen my neighbour nipping furtively into Monica’s Modes came tripping off her tongue with very little coaxing.

‘It’ll only go stale,’ she said in between licking her fingers and the plate. ‘And you wait till you see the dress I’ve made for the wedding Mrs Truscott. My Derwent found a great printed fabric on e-bay. It’s got…well let’s just say it will be a lovely surprise shall we?’

I smiled. But I wasn’t going to start holding my breath. Where Karen’s clothes are concerned the words ‘surprise’ and ‘shock’ are often interchangeable. I know they do say the Junoesque form can carry off a large print but after those boy scouts had got under her stripped kaftan thinking it was the tea tent you’d have thought she’d have taken the hint. But no.

However as Monica’s shop was nowhere near the dry-cleaners it could only mean one thing. Alterations and lots of them. All of which must have been disappointing for Beattie because having read in the Daily Mail that there were no carbohydrates in fruit she’d been living on tinned peaches for the last fortnight.

Now whether she’d read the article correctly or not I don’t know. I doubt it. Usually she’s in such a state after the headlines she just starts shouting and making up her own versions. However you didn’t need to be Dr Atkins to work out that evaporated milk three times a day was not a good idea unless you were training to become a Super Heavyweight lifting champion at the Commonwealth Games. And Beattie wasn’t. All she was planning to do was sit in a pew and make snide comments as Avis and Harold plighted their troth. Mind you watching her struggle down the road with something that could well have been a corpse in a body bag you could see she needed all the strength she could get. I know there is such a thing as ‘lightweight wool’ but stitched together in those quantities that suit must have weighed a ton.

Anyway I‘m all set for the Big Day. And if I say so myself, Dusty Springfield was already looking magnificent. I don’t know what was in that hair spray Handbag Sammy’s brother, Kamal, sold me but at fifty pence a can it was worth every penny even if it did say on the label to be sure and use it outside and wear a mask. True, I wasn’t too happy about the way it made the varnish blister on my dressing table but you can cover all sorts of domestic mis-haps with a few well-placed ornaments. Ask Kirsty Allsopp and Martha Stewart if you don’t believe me.

And the black shift dress? Well to be honest I wasn’t too sure at first. When Kevin looked at it he’d just pulled a face.

‘Audrey Hepburn?’ I said hopefully, having twirl in front of the mirror. ‘ Breakfast at Tiffany’s?’

‘More like Fry-up at Joe’s Café Mo. Still at least it fits which is a start. You sure that’s bleach on the bust? Oh well…Now I know just what we need.’

Apparently we also needed his friend Libby who helped with the wardrobe at the Town Hall Theatre when she wasn’t shifting scenery. That worried me a bit. You see she was always Kevin’s first port of call whenever he needed a new fancy dress outfit. Well he called it ‘fancy dress’. I’m a firm believer in people having the right to lead their own lives the way they choose so I never asked too many questions. Mind you having seen a photo of him dressed as Lana Turner all I will say is that had she actually looked like that in the film the postman wouldn’t even have stopped to knock let alone ring twice.

Fortunately Libby was a bit more in tune with my way of thinking. Left alone with Kevin God alone knows what I’d have ended up looking like. A reject from ‘Sunset Boulevard’ I expect. Where he thought he was going to stitch all those feathers I do not know. Anyway for a girl who spends her entire life in a Motorhead t-shirt and black leggings young Libby did a good job. Probably more than I was intending, I’ll admit, but I could see her point about the appliqued sequinned poppies. They did give it a certain lift. And the big one on the bust covered that bleach stain perfectly.

Of course Libby was more concerned about me not upstaging the bride. I wasn’t. After the initial euphoria had worn off I was more worried about upsetting Beattie.

‘Tonal’ she’d said.

Well I couldn’t see that happening unless some freak of nature turned her heather mix Glen Coe into a replica of Flanders fields overnight. So I decided against the red stilettos and matching handbag. Tone it down, I thought Maureen, politely rejecting the offer of co-ordinating elbow length gloves.

Libby said they’d come from an old production of ‘Hello Dolly’ and that there was a hat to match, which she knew wouldn’t be missed if I wanted it. But I ask you! A hat on my Dusty? No wonder some of these young girls go out looking a mess.

‘You know how it is sometimes,’ I said giving Kevin a quick phone call later on for reassurance. ‘You try something on, stand there and think ‘yes’. Then you think, ‘maybe’ not. Then again… perhaps? Or even, ‘dare I?’

‘Frequently Mo,’ he said. ‘And your point is?’

‘Well Avis is wearing cream lace.’

Kevin said she was the bride. She was entitled to look over-dressed. All brides did, apparently.

I said I didn’t.

‘No I’ve seen the photographs Mo, you in that dirndl skirt and Archie in his drainpipes made a very handsome couple. Unlike some people we could mention…’

‘Now Kevin, those pearls were all hand stitched.’

‘I know,’ he said having endured Beattie’s wedding album as often as I had. ‘And the fabric was hand woven by Belgian nuns. Although if you ask me they must have shipped them in from all over Europe to make that much satin at such short notice and as for that bodice, well you could have bounced cannon balls off it. No wonder her Arthur looked so scared. Don’t worry Mo. You’ll look lovely. Anyway you haven’t seen what Karen’s wearing yet.’

‘Have you?’



‘Cup cakes.’

‘Oh,’ I said.

Well there wasn’t much else I could say except that her husband had found the fabric on e-bay but according to Kevin a shop called Dunelm sold it by the metre. He knew that for a fact because his mum had bought some to make a cloth for her patio table.

‘Anyway I can’t hang about chatting Mo. I’ve got Linda Parkin under the drier and I can smell burning. Now stop worrying. We’ll have a lovely time.’

Easy for him to say. Next door was a vastly expanded heather mix two piece which, if the noise coming through our adjoining wall was anything to go by, was already having its pleats hammered into place with the precision of a Clyde side wielder, which was probably why Beattie was humming along loudly to ‘The Anvil Chorus’. For lighter weight fabrics she usually favoured Puccini.

‘Well Dusty,’ I said pinning a big red velvet bow into her hair, ‘time to fight back!’

A woman can feel invincible wearing a diva wig whilst belting out, ‘I only want to be with you’, at the top of her voice, especially when her door is locked and the chain is on. Quite how that same woman would feel next weekend when she had to open it wearing red sequined poppies remained to be seen.

…to be concluded next week when Avis and Harold finally say ‘I do’ and Beattie say’s a great deal more.

@copyright Ian Ashley 2014

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