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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A Star is Born

Jan to March 2015Posted by Ian Ashley Sun, March 29, 2015 06:14PM

One of the good things to come out of the Rev Stephen Chase’s poorly prostate has been that his colleague, the Rev Velma Meakin from St Werburgh’s, has taken over the running of the Over 60’s club at our local community centre. Of course this hasn’t been seen as a popular move in some quarters. Thanks to my neighbour Beattie it is widely believed that before taking up the cloth Velma used to be a man.

However leaving aside the origins of her genitalia there is no denying the fact that Velma Meakin has been a breath of fresh air when it comes to organising the entertainment. For a start she’s got rid of those drippy folk singing girls, Imogen and Seraphina, with their endless renditions of ‘Streets of London’, we no longer have to wave Union Jacks in time to Vera Lynn and Velma’s very large foot has come down firmly against the local Tories using it as a propaganda HQ.

‘Well I’ve got better things to do with my time than sit and fold squares of paper with a man in a frock,’ said Beattie scanning Velma’s latest colourful poster advertising the forth coming Over 60’s Karaoke Tea Party.

‘That’s origami,’ I said.

‘So we won’t have to wear pyjamas and hit each other with sticks then,’ asked Lila?

‘That’s taekwondo,’ Vera replied before asking in an unnecessarily loud voice if she was the only one who thought Lila was showing early signs of dementia.

Either way Beattie was adamant.

‘Well I’m not eating seaweed with sticks for anybody.’

So instead she opted for an afternoon of dipping her nets rather than joining us for a bit of light hearted fun and a chance to win a tin of assorted biscuits in the free raffle. Not that she was missed. If anything more people turned up when they heard she wasn’t coming which is a bit unfair as she’s not that bad. Well not all the time anyway. Still I’m not blind to the fact that people do have a habit of starting their conversations with me with the words,

‘I know she’s a friend of yours Maureen but…’

Anyway as Hilary said the afternoon would be a chance to dress up. Which was true because even the lure of a giddy game of whist doesn’t exactly inspire you to search through your wardrobe and make the most of yourself. In fact at the last one Joan Pilchard had turned up in her bedroom slippers and a pair of her husband’s old socks causing some very nasty speculation about the early onset of Alzheimer’s to echo between the cries of ‘trumps’.

Even so some people’s idea of dressing up left a bit to be desired. I don’t know where Lila got that frock from but if she thought it made her look like Alma Cogan she was very much mistaken. I’d given my Dusty Springfield wig some serious attention and even if those black suede stilettos pinched my corns at £2.50 from the charity shop they rounded off a very smart homage to the Queen of the Mods. Hilary said she’d been inspired by Kathy Kirby and we all smiled politely and left it at that. Vera on the other hand looked uncharacteristically smart in a new fuchsia shift dress.

‘Our Chantal got it for me for Mother’s Day,’ she said which explained why she had to keep her cardigan on to hide the hole her daughter had made in the back whilst cutting the security tag off in the fitting room.

Now the trouble with being a single woman of a certain age in Biddermouth on Sea is that what few men there are left alive of a similar vintage aren’t really worth making an effort for and even three of those have recently acquired Thai wives young enough to be their granddaughters.

‘I see George Cawdrey’s gelled his hair,’ said Vera, ‘it’s just a pity he hasn’t got enough left to make a decent quiff. Still I suppose he’d pass for Gene Vincent in a poor light if you had cataracts.’

‘Anyway look what I’ve brought,’ she added producing a small bottle of vodka from her handbag and surreptitiously pouring it all into a bowl labelled ‘fruit punch’.

Unfortunately she didn’t tell Hilary or Lila which was why at some point in the afternoon the punch was also topped up with two small bottles of gin.

Now I think the Thai girls must have been practising. Their Supremes medley was great. However their Whitney Houston went on a bit and only the men clapped at the end of their Celine Dion number. However by that point they had stripped down to matching g-strings which might have had something to do with the level of appreciation. And to be honest George Cawdrey’s attempt at ‘Be-bop-a loo-la’ petered out because he couldn’t see all the words without his bifocals. Mind you I have to say Jeff Dawson’s ‘Fly Me to the Moon’ had us all tapping our feet. Then his top set shot out and landed in Vera’s lap.

Now whether it was the effect of the fruit punch or just the devil-may-care atmosphere I don’t know but somehow Vera, Lila and Hilary ended up doing a pretty lively version of ‘Leader of the Pack’. However the star of the afternoon had to be Ida Dobson. After all it’s not every day you see a woman on statins with a walking frame doing a Tina Turner number.

With hindsight she’d have been better off staying seated and just clapping her hands because it seems that these days the government’s benefit fraud investigators are everywhere. Despite being registered as disabled for the last twelve months she’s since received a letter proclaiming her ‘fit to work’ and advising her of a number of suitable zero hour contract employment opportunities.

According to Vera she is planning to appeal although as Lila said, if they show that video in court…

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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Spring Cleaning Blues

Jan to March 2015Posted by Ian Ashley Sun, March 22, 2015 05:36PM

The trouble some people have with Easter is that unlike Christmas it bobs about in the calendar and never stays in one place long enough for you to get used to it. Personally I quite like the randomness of the event. There is a sort of ‘oh it’s Easter soon’ about the holiday that you just don’t get when the countdown to Christmas starts in August making the final two days a violent crescendo of pent-up rage and disappointment.

So as you can imagine for somebody as diary-bound as my next door neighbour not having a specific date for the crucifixion plays heavily on her mind and her domestic arrangements.

This year Beattie has done the unimaginable and brought her spring cleaning forward by two weeks. Traditionally a creature of habit she took one look at her diary, another at the number of people she knows who are currently in hospital and like a swallow sensing an early autumn made a snap decision to fly into action.

‘They won’t all survive Maureen,’ she said coming out of PoundMart with two carrier bags full of cleaning materials to add to the armoury already under her kitchen sink. ‘And if we get a rush of funerals I don’t want to be caught celebrating Easter in a house full of cobwebs, unlike some people I could mention…’

I assumed by that she meant me.

‘There is more to owning a home than just having somewhere to sit and read books you know Maureen, although I could understand it if you read anything decent,’ she added looking critically at the biography of Elizabeth Taylor I’d bought whilst she’d been filling her basket with enough Brasso to last a lifetime.

‘I’d lend you Grandfather Hathaway’s collection of leather- bound Dickens novels if I thought you wouldn’t stand your coffee mug on them.’

According to her I could have invested that pound in some spray polish instead.

‘God knows I’ve tried you with Catherine Cookson,’ she said. ‘At least there are no nasty surprises in them.’

Tell me about it, I thought. Homeless on every page 29 and giving birth in a gutter on every page 101. At least in a Jilly Cooper people have sex and enjoy it, they don’t just have a miraculous conception over a barrel of herring.

Now normally these squalls over my lack of ability to even bond with a damp cloth come and go and we agree to differ. This year Beattie had other ideas.

I think something she heard in last Sunday’s sermon about helping those less fortunate than ourselves struck a cord and gave her the idea that if cleanliness was next to Godliness offering to help me with my spring cleaning would make up for her only giving up pasta for Lent. Plus it was cheaper than making a donation to Oxfam.

In previous years her Lenten sacrifice has been chocolate. Unfortunately her niece Pauline had come back from a weekend in Belgium with an enormous box of pralines which somehow, like Eve and the apple, had managed to worm their way between Beattie and her Maker. So attacking my cobwebs seemed a good way of salving her conscience against only having to turn down the odd lasagne.

So there she was on Monday morning, bright and early and in full battledress of rubber gloves and a wraparound pinafore. Clearly she was envisaging shifting debris the size of Ypres because she was wearing her third best hairnet, the one she reserves for doing her drains and wheelie bin. She didn’t exactly say, ‘now to God’s work’ but she had a messianic glint in her eye that could have felled Saladin’s army in one fell swoop and I feared for my ornaments.

You see the one thing about my neighbour is that confined spaces only seem to make her appear bigger than she really is so manoeuvring herself around my furniture was a bit of a trial. A little side table was the first casualty of this particular skirmish, sending a pile of novels across the hearth rug.

‘If you kept those in your book case instead of all those old gas bills that wouldn’t have happened,’ she said holding the broken leg and looking puzzled when it wouldn’t fit back together.

For somebody so proud of her St John’s Ambulance First Aid Certificate she had a funny way of dealing with compound fractures and this one definitely seemed beyond her.

‘Oh well I expect you got it out of a skip,’ she added. ‘It’s not like it’s worth anything.’

Neither, apparently, was my china poodle from Blackpool although she did say that the head could be stuck on with superglue and nobody would see the join.

Now I don’t want to sound ungrateful and I’m sure the Nazi’s genuinely believed they were doing the Austrians a favour by making their presence felt but there was no way Beattie was getting her hands on my shepherd and shepherdess.

‘But she’s got a hand missing Maureen.’

‘And sentimental value Beattie!’ I said.

She replied that was just as well, looked at the base and asked me who I knew who’d been to China?

‘That was a present from Vera last Christmas.’

Beattie just flipped her into the bin and said in that case she’d probably come from that burglary down at the Arcade. Which knowing Vera may well have been true but as always it is the thought that counts.

For the next three hours I was held hostage by my own dust and when we got to the kitchen she had the nerve to say that the Environmental Health Officer would have a field day.

‘That swing bin is a positive health hazard Maureen.’

And so apparently was my bargain book on Liz Taylor. I’ve just found her abandoned in the dustbin and covered with something that might once have been the inside of my oven. Oh well Catherine Cookson it is. Now page 29…

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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The Biddermouth Flasher

Jan to March 2015Posted by Ian Ashley Sun, March 15, 2015 06:54PM

The headlines of the Gazette have been a bit bland of late. In fact so bland that last week they devoted the whole front page to the Mayor visiting the Willow Bank Home for the Elderly to inaugurate a new bed hoist. Now I’m not saying that wasn’t news worthy, I mean just the fact that it took the Scouts and Guides three years to amass that amount of milk bottle tops was an achievement in itself. But quite where the NHS was in all this they didn’t say but how that woman from the Ministry had the nerve to turn up and smile for the camera I don’t know. When the care of the elderly is dependent upon little kids foraging for scraps of silver paper I’d have thought she’d have hung her head in shame. But no. All she said was that it was a marvellous demonstration of the Prime Minister’s BIG SOCIETY in action and how important it was that we all pulled together in these challenging times.

Well, I thought, you try telling that to an old lady who’s being dying for a wee for weeks and can’t get out of bed!

Anyway this morning’s headline had Beattie blasting round from number 51 and nearly taking my back door off its hinges.

‘He’s struck again,’ she said waving her newspaper. ‘What did I tell you Maureen? No woman is safe walking the streets anymore even in daylight.’

To be honest I hadn’t bothered with the paper that morning. I’d got a bit side tracked styling my Dusty Springfield wig and having a bit of a sing-a-long with the Diva herself. And not in tune either if my neighbour’s comments about it sounding like X Factor for the terminally insane were anything to go by. But then that’s Beattie for you. Although if you ask me there are plenty of times when her beloved Maria Callas fails to be pitch perfect and she’s supposed to be a professional.

‘Anyway there’s no time to waste, get your coat, I’ve phoned Vera and she’s meeting us at the Bona Curl Salon.’

Now the fact that Beattie had actually spent money on a phone call should have told me something momentous was going down. Usually she makes her personal calls from my house and always promises to pay later. She never does but being as I was having my arms forced into my overcoat at the time I decided to let it pass and concentrate on not ending up with a dislocated shoulder. Honestly it’s just as well her and Arthur never had children. Getting all four limbs into a Baby-gro would have flummoxed her completely and probably resulted in a lengthy sentence for child cruelty.

However there was no denying that this was NEWS in capital letters. Not only had the town centre pervert struck again but a ‘mystery woman’ had been flashed at.

‘It can’t have been Stella Wheatley,’ Beattie panted as we raced up the High Street. ‘She’d probably have taken him home.’

I say ‘raced’ in the loosest possible terms because Beattie had weighed herself down with two mace sprays, an old tennis racquet and a large rubber torch. Quiet what she planned to do with either I didn’t ask but as she said, these days it seemed a woman couldn’t be too careful even down the side alley by the cinema.

‘And to think they spent all that money on hanging baskets to brighten the place up,’ she said as we fired through the salon door. ‘All they did was turn it into a fragrant haven for perverts. I tell you Maureen we had none of this when my Arthur was Chairman of the Chamber of Commerce.’

Whether that was true or not I don’t know but if the pile of old cricket bats and assorted weaponry in the umbrella rack was anything to go by Vera, Lila and Hilary had also armed themselves to the teeth before venturing out on the streets. That meant whoever the ‘mystery woman’ was it wasn’t any of them. Mind you with Hilary’s libido the way it is since she’s upped her HRT if it had been her the poor chap would probably be under lock and key at 16 Gladstone Terrace by now.

Still as you would expect everybody had a theory who the ‘mystery woman’ was which led to some lively debate with Sadie Grainger from Cancer Care coming out in pole position by virtue of the fact that her shop was right opposite the scene of the crime. Miss Milner from the library was running a close second until Lila pointed out that it was closed on a Wednesday and we were just pondering Karen Braithwaite from the cake shop when all twenty stone of the lady herself burst in with a tray of Belgian Buns, the full security presence of her husband Derwent and a breathless cry of,

‘Queenie Frazer!’

‘No!’ said Vera

‘But she’s as deaf as a post,’ said Hilary.

‘It’s her new NHS hearing aids,’ wheezed Karen. ‘Apparently she heard his mac flap and turned round. But you know what she’s like without her glasses.’

We all nodded.

‘Well if she needed glasses,’ said Hilary who was only saying what we were all thinking.

However all credit to the police because they did take Queenie’s claim to have been flashed seriously enough to undertake a thorough search of the area. I’m not sure what they were looking for and to be honest I’d rather not know however they did remove a large black rubbish sack that had somehow managed to get blown into the fire exit at the back of the cinema. Apparently this could easily sound like a raincoat flapping in the breeze if you’ve got the volume on your hearing aids set too high.

Still as Beattie says, there is no smoke without fire so she’s added a mole wrench to her armoury just to be on the safe side.

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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The Break Up Conundrum

Jan to March 2015Posted by Ian Ashley Sun, March 08, 2015 04:43PM

Let me tell you it’s not just the gales off the English Channel that have been blowing through Biddermouth on Sea in the last few days either. Particularly violent gusts of the Winds of Change have been hammering on the doors and windows of 16 Gladstone Terrace, causing a certain amount of structural damage to Hilary and Clive Mason’s marriage in the process and forcing us all to take sides whether we want to or not.

‘That’s what comes of having a so called ‘open marriage’,’ said Lila Morris, who having gone thumbs up on a Belgian Bun in the Silver Lantern café was now wondering, Nero-like, if it was time to go thumbs down on Hilary. ‘I told her time and time again that there was more to marriage than sex.’

For once Vera Preston agreed with her although I sensed that where Lila was thinking ‘companionship’, Vera was probably thinking more about the shared joys of fencing stolen goods than cosy nights spent watching ‘Casualty’. Still each to their own I suppose.

‘Of course Hilary blames Clive fair and square,’ Lila went on, ‘apparently he’s worked nights since their Steven was born.’

‘Well I don’t believe that, ‘said Beattie, ‘their Marina is three years younger than her brother.’

‘February baby’ said Lila.

After silently counting backwards we all said in unison, ‘May Bank Holiday.’

Now as you’ve probably guessed as Hilary’s best friends we’d known about her rocky nuptials for some time and if we didn’t, her being caught red-handed kissing Charlie Stacey on the Promenade would have been sufficient evidence unto the day thereof, or whatever they say in those TV Crown Court programmes, proving her guilt beyond all reasonable doubt.

But to hear her speak you’d think Hilary was the wronged party.

Apparently she claims that Clive has never noticed her, which I have to say takes some swallowing. Since she’s bleached her hair and now looks like Marilyn Monroe on steroids she is very hard to overlook even in a crowd. The walk doesn’t help either. Then again she did what a lot of desperate women do; bought her shapewear the size she’d like to be rather than the size she was and that cannot be comfortable when you try and stand up straight, especially if you opt for the ones with poppers in the gusset.

Still the big news was that Clive may have worked nights but it seems he wasn’t averse to putting in the odd day shift at the Happy Hands Massage Parlour. Kevin from the Bona Curl Salon also claims to have spotted him coming out of the Hot Shots Male Sauna.

‘Probably exploring his bi side,’ he said which for some reason set Beattie off talking about cycling, Vera saying that Clive was always odd even as a lad and Lila shutting her up by reminding her that he used to go camping a lot with Vera’s husband when the two of them were Boy Scouts.

‘There’s nothing wrong with my Gordon in the bedroom department thank you very much Lila Morris. Some nights he’s like a lad of sixteen.’

‘I dare say he would too given the chance,’ said Lila who obviously wasn’t listening.

Fortunately neither was Vera. In fact we were all transfixed by the sight of Clive Mason holding what we hoped was a paint bush in the upstairs window of Stella Wheatley’s flat.

‘Dear God…’

‘…don’t tell me…’

‘…not with Stella surely?’

Now whilst we all knew it was only a matter of time before the owner of Stella’s Styles found herself a new man, none of us ever expected it to be Clive. After all since last October she’d been carrying on with three young Polish decorators who’s combined ages probably only just added up to her own. And who knows, if somebody hadn’t tipped off the immigration authorities she might still well have been in the process of changing her mind about the bedroom wall paper for the fourth time and Hilary’s marriage would have remained intact.

‘That’ll break Hilary’s heart,’ said Vera, ‘she’s had to decorate their place single handed every year since 1997.’

‘Apart from 2005,’ said Lila, ‘when she had everything taken away and couldn’t even lift a kettle.’

Clive Mason’s lack of decorating prowess aside, this latest turn up for the books left us all in a very peculiar position regarding our friendship with Hilary, and none more so than my next door neighbour Beattie especially as I am sure she was the one that phoned the authorities about Stella’s decorators in the first place.

You see on a scale of one to ten Beattie only loathed Hilary to about a seven whereas she had hated Stella at somewhere around the eleven mark ever since the unfortunate incident in the Copper Kettle with that serves sixteen Lemon Merengue Pie. I know two wrongs don’t make a right but I still think Stella over reacted. All she got was egg on her face, literally, whereas Beattie got a police caution and would probably never be allowed entry into the United States as a result.

And this is where it starts to get complicated. You see Beattie now has to be friends with somebody she doesn’t like so she can detest somebody she hates even more. But as she says, compassion is a virtue and she is not one to take her Christian responsibilities lightly.

Mind you she must be ruing the day she blew the whistle on Stella’s Polish ménage. If those lads had stayed put Beattie could have thrown her considerable weight behind Clive Mason and bad mouthed his wife with a clear conscience. Sadly now it’s a case of grin and bear it where Hilary is concerned.

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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Beattie and the Radio Psychic

Jan to March 2015Posted by Ian Ashley Sun, March 01, 2015 03:49PM

‘Night Time with Noreen’ is one of Biddermouth on Sea’s guilty pleasures. A bit like the joys of soaking your feet in a bowl of hot water. We all do it. We just never admit to it. Especially on a Wednesday. Of course we all claim that ‘the radio just happened to be on,’ or that, ‘there was nothing decent on the TV’, but the truth is we are all avid listeners to Edna Burnaby, the guest psychic on Biddermouth FM. And that goes for my next door neighbour Beattie Hathaway as well.

Now for somebody who claims only to ever listen to the Classic FM Evening Concert she always shows an encyclopaedic grasp of the psychic goings-on of our small town when we meet up with Lila, Hilary and Vera on a Thursday, a knowledge that is way beyond anything you would expect from your average Shostakovich groupie.

Of course during the rest of the week we all give the show a miss. For some reason Noreen thinks that anybody still awake at 11 pm has an overwhelming desire to phone in and talk about ‘Whatever happened to haberdashery’ or her latest obsession, ‘Bee Keeping’. She also has a strange belief that at that time of night people find Celine Dion soothing. Personally I don’t.

However on a Wednesday night we are all glued to our radios as we sail towards the midnight hour. Sadly it’s not the most exciting show. You see Edna’s psychic powers seem more geared towards locating stray pets and passports that have slipped down the back of the settee.

‘I mean look how confused she got when that woman rang in to find her daughter?’ said Vera. ‘Water,’ Edna said. ‘Deep water.’ And what happened? The police spent three days dredging the reservoir looking for her body when all the time she was servicing lorry drivers in a wet lay-by on the A1.’

‘She did find that tortoise though,’ said Lila.

‘They should have looked in the bottom of the incinerator to start with,’ replied Vera clearly still nursing a great deal of disappointment where Edna’s psychic powers were concerned.

‘Well I shan’t be listening to it, as you well know,’ said Beattie and we all had to look away. Had we caught Vera’s eye she would have only felt compelled to say something unpleasant.

Anyway last Wednesday’s broadcast started off much the same as all the others and I must admit I was in two minds whether to switch off or not. However with these radio psychics you never know. One night they may just land THE BIG ONE,’ even on Biddermouth FM.

True to form Edna’s first caller, a Daphne from Victoria Street, was anxious about her late mother. Even truer to form Edna got the name wrong and despite a few heavy hints from Daphne took several attempts to go from ‘Mary’ to ‘Josephine’ before rounding off with a flourish that included the fact that the passing had been peaceful.

‘She was run over by a tram,’ said Daphne who was sounding a bit miffed by the whole thing.

‘Ah yes,’ said Edna quick as a flash, ‘on this earthly plain we see Death in all its physical pain and discomfort but in the world of Spirit all is peace and all mortal woe is forgotten.’

Before Daphne had a chance to wonder exactly at which point being hit by several tons of fast moving metal became a moment of serenity she was cut off and we had Clarice from Peel Street on line two. However despite the new caller sounding as if she had undergone major dental surgery that very afternoon there was no mistaking that voice.

How Beattie thought speaking with a mouthful of Kleenex was going to disguise her avaricious nature I do not know but apparently ‘Clarice’ had been having dreams of a sudden windfall.

‘Could Edna help her,’ she wondered?

Apparently Edna couldn’t.

‘Gifts from the spirit world come in many forms my dear,’ she said. ‘But I can tell you that your loved ones are all around you,’ which was clearly not what ‘Clarice’ had in mind when she was focused on winning lottery numbers.

There was a sharp intake of breath on the other end of the line and you didn’t need a sixth sense to know this was the sound of an argument brewing but before ‘Clarice’ had the chance to say anything Edna knocked the wind right out of her sails.

‘I’m seeing love, ‘she said. ‘A special romance is heading your way.’

Well that line went dead faster than you could say ‘ telephone charges’ and Noreen leapt at the chance to fill the dead air space with a loud blast of the theme from ‘The Titanic’.

Of course the following day Beattie may have given us all a lengthy lecture on the merits of Brahms and the outstanding acoustics of the Albert Hall but I could tell she was unnerved and taking no chances where men were concerned.

For a start she uncharacteristically let a woman push in front of her at the fish shop without comment rather than be served by George Cawdrey and when Harold Meakin said ‘Good Morning’ all he got was a curt nod and I was made to cross the road in a very firm arm lock and against a red light. Even the young lad in the green grocers got short shrift, although why he’d be interested in a sixty seven year old widow in a gabardine raincoat and hairnet I really do not know.

Now whether there is romance in the air I cannot say but I do know Beattie and it will take more than a fishmonger or a teenage lad with acne to make her give up her widow’s pension from the local council. Seeing her check her savings on a daily basis you can tell she’s not looking for husband number two no matter what the world of spirit says.

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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Biddermouth Hospital Crisis

Jan to March 2015Posted by Ian Ashley Sun, February 22, 2015 03:45PM

All manner of things sexual, cultural, political and medical have been looming large in Biddermouth on Sea this week which isn’t bad when you consider that most of the residents are over sixty and like a quiet life. Of course this means that my neighbour Beattie has been in high dudgeon since last Monday when she read that the Town Hall Theatre was staging a one woman show by somebody none of us have heard of called, ‘Look out! Here comes my vagina!’

‘Critically acclaimed my eye,’ said Beattie. ‘By who I wonder? Not by Judi Dench I’ll be bound! Whatever’s wrong with a nice Noel Cowerd? Honestly Maureen the rot set in the minute they started allowing plays on stage without proper scenery. At least when you see French windows you know a vicar is going to walk through them at some point. I mean just look at the picture of the women who wrote it for heaven’s sakes, those hands haven’t seen soap and water since I don’t know when.’

Well I know you can’t judge a book by its cover, or in this case a play by the picture of the writer but I have to say if this show is in any way shape or form biographical the minute she reveals her private parts the audience will be heading for the emergency exits in droves. I also hoped that ‘Turdie’ was a typographical error on the part of the Arts Editor and that her real name is Trudie. Although looking at her you can’t be too sure.

Beattie said that was one play we definitely wouldn’t be going to and was just about to pick up my telephone to cancel her ‘Friends of the Theatre’ subscription when Lila rang with the news that Vera Preston’s grandson Dwayne had had his eye stitched in a tent at the Princess Diana Memorial Hospital over the weekend.

‘If you ask me Maureen,’ said Beattie afterwards. ‘That’s just Vera’s Trotskyite vitriol boiling over because they’ve stopped his benefits,’ she added flatly refusing to believe that her beloved David Cameron would bring the National Health Service to such a crisis point that cash strapped hospital authorities would be forced to replicate WW1 triage units in hospital carparks.

So now we’re about to find out if it is true or not. Not that either of us would willingly go to the Princess Di considering its shocking rate of secondary infections and subsequent limb removals but because the other reason for Lila’s call was to say that poor old Dot Dobson had been transferred there from St Mary’s.

‘Apparently she was bed blocking,’ said Lila, ‘although how you can be blocking beds when you’ve spent a week on a trolley in a corridor is beyond me anyway I can’t stop, I’ve got Keith's underpants boiling on the stove and I can smell something funny.’

Now neither of us are close friends of Dot, or her sister Ida for that matter but as Beattie said she does have some very nice floribunda roses in her back border and they’ll need to go to a good home should anything happen to her.

‘In fact,’ she added,’ we could go round and dig them up now but I suppose we’d better pay her a visit to make sure she’s not coming back just to be on the safe side.’

This was how we came to be making our way across Biddermouth on Sea by bus when a political bombshell virtually exploded in our laps. Well Beattie’s lap because she was the one reading the Gazette at the time. Of course with the nation heading towards a General Election you have to take all these stories with a pinch of salt and I for one seriously doubt that local Tory Party secretary Nora Bone was sexually harassed at all.

According to the article, which Beattie read out in tones of ever increasing indignation, having her buttocks brushed by one of the local Labour councillors had left Nora too traumatised to work anything more complex than a stapler, although I have to say, having witnessed Nora’s backside on several occasions the word ‘brushed’ would hardly describe the amount of effort you’d need to get to grips with it. However my neighbour like so many others believed every word she read.

‘That’s just typical of your lot Maureen,’ she said as if the entire opposition party were my kith and kin, ‘stooping to dirty tricks just because you know you can’t win honestly. I mean fancy doing that to Nora? Who is going to stuff all Mr St John Hawley’s leaflets in envelopes now? Honestly you’re no better than those Russians that go about putting radioactive waste in people’s cups of tea.’

Fortunately I was spared a further lecture on the Tory belief that allowing people to evade income tax pumped more money into the economy because the bus stopped right outside the Princess Di and there, in the car park under a sign that proudly proclaimed it to be the A&E Overflow there was indeed a very large tent.

Not that Beattie was moved by the sight of the NHS on its knees because as she said to hear Vera go on you’d think Dwayne had been treated in a Boy Scouts bivouac not a marquee.

‘If that marquee was good enough for the dahlia’s at the County Show’ she said, 'it's plenty good enough for the unemployed. Now remember Maureen you may be a socialist but I don’t want your losing a leg playing on my conscience so once we’re inside keep your gloves on, touch nothing and if anybody from the Eating Disorder Unit offers you a free bowl of spaghetti hoops just say we’ve already had lunch. And who knows, if Dot’s lips are still a funny colour we can go and dig up those roses on the way back.’

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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Blonds Have More Fun

Jan to March 2015Posted by Ian Ashley Sun, February 15, 2015 05:23PM

I don’t suppose the organisers of Moore House Secondary Modern School’s reunion dance ever really thought through the implications of cramming two hundred ex-teenagers into a school assembly hall on Valentine’s Day and I know full well that the last thing my neighbour Beattie expected to see on her way to church on Sunday morning was a newly blond Hilary Mason on the promenade locked in a passionate embrace with a stranger. And she was wearing somebody else’s shoes. They had to be. As Beattie said, they were definitely men’s.

‘It’s bad enough having to step over pools of vomit outside that hostel for the homeless, Maureen, ‘ she said, still visibly shaken by the sight, ‘but I never expected to have to walk through Sodom and Gomorrah to get to morning service. It’s one thing praying for your own forgiveness let alone having to take on the added responsibility for people like Hilary Mason. Whatever does she think she’s playing at? And the communion wafers were stale. It’s that temporary vicar. Why he can’t use Tupperware like everybody else I do not know. The sooner Rev Armitage gets his prostate sorted out the better if you ask me.’

I hadn’t but that’s the curious thing about my next door neighbour. She very often imagines that you’ve said something and just because she’s heard it in her own head thinks it must be so. However just for the record it wasn’t me that said Hilary was a good for nothing slut either. That was Beattie’s own thoughts clanging about in the dark recesses of her brain and ringing out loud.

‘I’ve a good mind to call her Clive up and tell him,’ she said. ‘Do you mind if I use your phone?’

Well I did as it happened. Not because I knew I wouldn’t get the money back, although that’s always a consideration when you’re living on a state pension, but I didn’t want my equipment being used to break up a friends marriage. What goes on between a man and wife should stay that way. Mind you how that squares with a third party in a lip lock in broad daylight I don’t know. But if Clive Mason was going to find out about his wife’s uncontrollable lust for a stranger he wasn’t going to find out from me, or my telephone.

Anyway as it turned out whilst Beattie and I were debating the wrongs and rights of the situation my doorbell rang and there stood Lila and Vera, both looking slightly the worse for wear and both resembling lionesses, who having chased their quarry for miles, were looking forward to sitting down and having a damned good chew. Lila had even brought cake which was a sure sign that they hadn’t popped by on the off chance of borrowing a cup of sugar.

Of course when you’ve got three versions of events being relayed simultaneously it’s hard to keep track of who did what to whom and in what order.

‘And to think she’s a happily married woman, ‘said Lila.

‘Correction, ‘said Vera, ‘she’s a married woman and therein lies the difference. If you ask me Hilary and Clive have had absolutely nothing in common for years.’

‘Neither have you and Gordon,’ replied Lila suddenly finding herself with the smallest portion of her own Victoria Sponge.

‘Nonsense,’ said Vera. ‘For one thing Gordon’s never let me go to court on my own when the kiddies have been in trouble and for another we both smoke.’

‘Well you should have kept more of an eye on her, that’s all I’m saying. The minute you two got on to the Sambuca I should have called a taxi and got us all home safely.’

By all accounts the evening had started off quite well. At least whilst everybody was still at the complimentary fruit punch stage and pleasantly surprised to see old friends after all these years everything was fine. Then in walked Duggie Anderson.

Now whatever Lila and Vera thought about the merits of drinking liqueurs in half pint glasses they both agreed that he still resembled Billy Fury.

‘Only fatter,’ said Lila

‘Much fatter,’ added Vera.

‘But he’s….’ I paused.

‘Married?’ Asked Beattie sensing scandal number two looming large.

‘Gay,’ said Vera at which point Beattie snapped the handle clean off her coffee mug.

‘Anyway…’ she continued.

At this point Vera and Lila’s versions of ‘anyway’ noisily parted company and Beattie was too busy trying to stem the flow of blood with the edge of my table cloth to act as referee.

‘I hope you’ve boiled this Maureen, ‘Beattie said twisting her makeshift tourniquet round her finger. ‘If you just swilled it at thirty degrees I’ll need to get a tetanus jab.’

However there was one point where the divergent ‘anyways’ were in agreement. It seems that everything had been going well as far as Hilary and Duggie were concerned whilst they danced to Gerry and the Pacemakers and he was under the illusion that the woman in his arms was Corrine MacPherson who’d always looked like Ruth Ellis even back then.

‘Of course, ‘said Lila, ‘the last time he’d seen Hilary she’d been her natural mousey colour and about four stone lighter. But now…’

‘With her being bleached…’

‘…he dropped her like a hot potato the minute he found out who she was.’

Vera said it served Hilary right. Telling everybody who would listen that Duggie suffered from premature ejaculation on their one and only date was not the mark of a lady. Sambuca or no Sambuca.

‘Enter Charlie Stacey and a small bottle of Vodka,’ said Lila knowingly.

Well I suppose that accounts for how Hilary Mason lost her self-respect and her reputation because even a seasoned drinker would know that Sambuca and Vodka just don’t mix. But as Beattie said later, whilst attempting to stave off a secondary infection with liberal doses of Iodine on her cut finger, that still doesn’t explain the shoes.

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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The happiest days of our lives

Jan to March 2015Posted by Ian Ashley Sun, February 08, 2015 04:32PM

As regular readers will know Biddermouth on Sea is in the grip of school reunion fever. (High School Reunion). Moore House Secondary Modern is celebrating its centennial year, an event that has caused many memories, both good and bad, to resurface with a vengeance between my friends Beattie, Lila, Vera and Hilary. And after fifty years I suppose you have to accept the fact that people will suffer from selective memory syndrome no matter how much other people swear to the contrary.

For example Hilary Mason has always insisted that she looked like Lulu which is why Vera Preston maliciously produced an old photo from her handbag the other morning as we gathered for coffee in the Silver Lantern. Well unless Lulu morphed back into a dumpy potato-faced adolescent the minute she stepped away from the camera Hilary has been deluding herself for the past half century.

‘She had a big mouth,’ said Vera, ‘and there the similarity ended.’

‘And big thighs,’ added Lila, which was easy to say when you’ve got a faded rosette proving you once won a Sandie Shaw look-alike contest at the local youth club.

Mind you I don’t suppose Vera’s tale of a fifteen year old Diane Lincoln delivering her own twins in the boiler room would stand too close a scrutiny either. However since their daughters had that fight in the supermarket (Clothes For Boys) Lila and Vera have been doing their level best to be nice to each other so Lila just busied herself licking the cream off her éclair and didn’t dare contradict her.

‘I thought she married an insurance salesman and moved to Reading,’ said Beattie.

But according to Vera that was much later which left Diane’s moment of shame unchallenged in the realms of playground legend.

‘I do remember the place had rats,’ added Beattie who prefers to think that teenage pregnancy only came about under Tony Blair.

‘Only in our bit,’ said Vera. ‘You were all right upstairs with all the other brain boxes. It was only us thickos on the ground floor that suffered. You want to try concentrating on Shakespeare with a rat doing its level best to climb up your stockings. No wonder we left the place with no qualifications.’

This revelation came as a bit of a surprise to Beattie. For a start in the few school photos I’d seen she’d always worn white socks and Clarkes T-bar sandals even at sixteen and secondly she thought everybody left school with at least a Maths and English ‘O’ level. Still never passing up an opportunity to slap one on Vera she said that had she known that she wouldn’t have bothered with joined up writing in her Christmas card for all these years which left a very nasty silence broken only by the sound of teaspoons stirring our coffees.

Luckily Lila came to the rescue and changed the subject. She said the magic words ‘Duggie Anderson’ and even Beattie gave her paper napkin an involuntary squeeze. Vera, on the other hand, was less shame-faced and more vocal. She said he was ‘her first’.

‘I thought that was Charlie Stacy,’ said Lila.

‘Excuse me Lila Morris! He had acne and wonky teeth!’


With her keen sixth sense for where this conversation was going Beattie tried to signal for the bill. You see she has mortal dread of discussing matters ‘down there’ unless they happen to be in the context of things medical and only then if there have been known to be complications. I’ve even seen her whip the plug out of the wall the minute a Wildebeest gets mounted in a nature programme and no amount of reassurance from David Attenborough and careful editing will ever make her behave otherwise.

However Vera suggested ordering more coffees because she’d had a win on the bingo and besides she was in no hurry as she didn’t need to take her granddaughter Kiara Marie to Social Services for her monthly meeting with her natural father, Ronan.

‘He’s had a spot of bother with the police,’ she confided. ‘Although he swears he has a water tight alibi so if you ask me they’ve just got it in for him because he’s black.’

Beattie said she couldn’t see why Chantal couldn’t take her own daughter but Vera explained the visits clashed with her NVQ in Office Management and they were in the middle of a very tricky module on using photocopiers.

‘Still at least she’ll come out of it with a qualification,’ added Vera proudly.

Beattie just sniffed and ordered a cappuccino with extra whipped cream as Vera was paying. I knew full well that in her opinion all Chantal Preston needed was a good wash, less nose piercing and to wear something other than a bright pink tracksuit every day.

Anyway Chantal’s attempts to take the world of office management by storm were soon forgotten once the subject of Duggie Anderson was out on the table.

Vera hinted at something to do with the size of his anatomy and Beattie, caught unawares, inhaled her whipped cream so hard she would have probably choked to death if Lila hadn’t given her a good thump on the back. Unfortunately it seems you can only wash bras for so many years before the clasps weaken. Still it gave Beattie a perfect excuse to dash to the ladies with her arms folded under her bust.

I didn’t want to know about Duggie Anderson’s endowments either so thank God Vera was suddenly struck by another thought of even greater magnitude.

‘That’s why Hilary’s going blond!’

Now whether the chance of seeing her high school heart throb again was really what was behind Hilary’s sudden urge to resemble a geriatric Jayne Mansfield I don’t know. However I have recently heard from Kevin that Duggie and his partner run a dog grooming parlour in nearby Curston. I just hope he doesn’t bring Jason with him or all that bleach will have been for nothing.

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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