All Things Biddermouth

All Things Biddermouth

About the blog

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

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


All The Way From America

July to September 2015Posted by Ian Ashley Sat, September 26, 2015 07:45PM

Based on the assumption that leopards rarely change their spots none of my friends were looking forward to Violet Weaver’s return to Biddermouth on Sea from America after an absence of forty five years. Even her own sister Lila viewed the prospect with dread. Still I suppose having wall papered her hall and stairs four times, re-carpeted her house on credit and spent weeks in the run up to Violet’s arrival living on Slim Fast to lose two stone she could be forgiven for feeling a little edgy about their reunion and taking up smoking.

So I have to say when I finally met Violet I was surprised to find out she was nowhere near as bad as everybody had led me to believe. I think even they were pleasantly surprised once they’d got over the shock that whatever Violet used to be, or for all we knew, still might be, she had arrived fully determined to be ‘one of the girls’ as she put it.

Lila, who had spent years hearing about Violet’s luxury condominiums, walk-in closets and fridges the size of a small bedroom, was pleasantly surprised to hear her little terraced house described as ‘delightful and so roomy’.

Vera, who remembered her as a ‘stuck up cow’ was particularly impressed when they went shopping and Violet showed her a trick or two when it came to removing store security tags.

‘You know I had no idea you could do that with a nail file,’ said Vera proudly showing off her two newly acquired dresses.

However that still left two people reserving their judgement.

Of course Hilary Mason only has herself to blame. Telling a near total stranger how you were taken from behind by a man in rubber hood at a local swinger’s party is never a good opening conversational gambit. Even if it’s with somebody who had sex with the same boys as you did at school.

As Violet said, before cutting Hilary dead, ‘those were the days,’ and the two of them never spoke again.

My neighbour Beattie Hathaway on the other hand, whilst blessed with the memory of an elephant, thankfully held back from charging in with a long list of Violet’s youthful short comings. But I think that’s only because she knew that she’d met her match. There was a slight thaw when Violet agreed to accompany Beattie to church one Sunday but then Hell soon froze back over when Violet turned up for communion wearing sling backs and too much make-up.

However what started out as a thin layer of frost became the next Ice Age when Violet was spotted arm in arm on the promenade with our local councillor and fishmonger George Cawdrey. Not that Beattie claims to be remotely interested in him you understand but it’s common knowledge George has carried a candle for her since her Arthur passed away, if not before. So you can imagine when Violet leapt at the chance to join us for Old Time Dancing at the Over 60’s Beattie finally came out fighting and was so determined to have that last waltz I got a phone call from a very worried Kevin at the Bona Curl Salon.’

‘She’s brought in a picture of Jean Harlow,’ he whispered, ‘what do I do Maureen?’

‘But Jean never had a perm, ‘I replied although why I was whispering as well I do not know.

‘And neither will Mrs H if I put that amount of bleach on hers. Do you think she’ll settle for something more Titian and a little eyebrow shaping?’

Now I’m not sure who got the biggest shock. Beattie herself when she must have seen a complete stranger looking back at her from her dressing table mirror or us when she arrived at the Community Centre. However there she was, if not exactly a picture of radiant loveliness, certainly wearing enough war paint to make Custer’s Last Stand look like a good natured skirmish between best mates.

Of course Violet was wearing more than enough make-up herself. The only difference was she’d had more practice with it. And used a lip liner pencil. Beattie hadn’t. Which was probably why Vera asked her if she’d eaten the last of the raspberry sorbet because there didn’t seem to be any left.

Anyway George Cawdrey remained oblivious to her charms sweeping Violet round the floor in a haze of haddock and Chanel No5. So as not to be out done Beattie broke ranks and grabbed Donald Foster. Now had she not been wearing a corset and he’d had both legs the same length their rumba might have been of exhibition standard. As it turned out it looked more like two people locked together but not hearing the same tune.

Then Violet threw herself into an energetic tango and Beattie followed suit. However because she dipped when Donald was on his short leg they both fell over. Luckily the loud ‘crack’ we all feared was a hip turned out to be only a whalebone snapping somewhere around Beattie’s waist. Donald just went a very funny colour and had to be collected by his son Vernon.

I tried to distract Beattie with a plate of shortbread fingers. Lila tried with a cup of sweet tea. Vera just told her she was making a complete arse of herself in public and should just sit down.

However our fighting temeraire had one last salvo left in her. Despite listing heavily to starboard Beattie entered into the ‘Ladies Excuse Me’ with such gusto poor George was halfway round the floor before he realised he’d even changed partners.

Now whether it was an accident as Beattie claims or whether she deliberately raised her knee and made contact with George’s crotch who can say. Either way he hasn’t been seen all week and nobody dares to mention kippers in Beattie’s presence.

Still time will tell. If she gets a sudden yen for soused herring it could be game on all over again.

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 Refugee Crisis

July to September 2015Posted by Ian Ashley Sun, September 20, 2015 08:17PM

The Rev Velma Meakin’s impassioned sermon on the current refugee crisis appears to have a struck a chord with everybody in Biddermouth on Sea. Although I will say that some of those chords have been less than melodic and in the case of the vicar of St Stephen’s decidedly un-Christian.

Now I know that he has seen his congregation dwindle dramatically since Velma stormed the pulpit of St Matthews and All Angels wearing her ‘God for the People’ tabard over her surplus. I also know there are certain members of the community, like my next door neighbour Beattie, who share his suspicions that Velma may once have been a man just because she stands six foot two in her stockinged feet and joins in with the baritones. However putting all that in a letter and accusing the Editor of the Biddermouth Gazette of ‘secular sensationalism’ hasn’t done him any favours either.

‘I don’t know why that woman can’t stick to St Paul’s Letter to the Corinthians,’ said Beattie. ‘I mean what’s a Refugee Pop-up Shop when it’s at home?’

Well it’s no good trying to explain Velma’s idea for collecting warm clothes to a person who thinks anybody fleeing north in a dangerously overcrowded dingy should have the foresight to pack a winter wardrobe is it?

Fortunately not everybody shares my neighbour’s firm belief that if you wear flip flops you deserve to get cold feet and we’ve all been busy down the community centre sorting out sacks full of unwanted clothing. All except Beattie that is.

Whilst the rest of us were hunting out old cardigans and unwanted coats she dived into her cupboard under the stairs, dug out an old pair of binoculars and negotiated an all-day rate on a deckchair so she could scan the horizon looking for any Syrians attempting to land a lilo on the beach.

‘You may well laugh Maureen,’ she said coming home after a hard day wrapped in a blanket against a biting wind, ‘but you won’t think it’s so funny when you pop out to empty your swing bin and come back to find twenty of them squatting in your front room. I remember 1956 and the Hungarians. The town was swamped.’

Vera said all she remembered were the Horthy twins learning to sing ‘Twinkle Twinkle Little Star’ and that in her opinion squeezing Eva and Josef into a class of thirty six year olds wasn’t exactly an invasion.

Anyway so much for Beattie’s watchful eye. All she logged to date was Iris Naomi from the Bona Curl Salon having sex with her boyfriend under the pier and the rear view of Jimmy Pointer indulging in a bit of nude bathing. Considering this is something he’s been doing every day for the last seventy of his ninety two years you might have thought she’d have had the good sense to avert her gaze. But no. Still you have to admire her commitment. Even being mistaken for a vagrant and offered a cup of warm soup by the local volunteers for the homeless didn’t shake her resolve. If anything it made her even more determined not to contribute to the Salvation Army Brass Band next Christmas.

‘It contained chunks of real meat,’ she said, ‘no wonder people are sleeping on the streets if that’s what they get to eat.’

Lila wondered out loud what would happen if all these boat people arrived at night?

‘Well…,’ said Beattie because she’d obviously not thought of being a refugee as a twenty four seven occupation.

‘Well?’

Now credit where credit’s due she did last until midnight. Then a tramp put his hand on her knee and suggested they cosy up for the night with half a bottle of methylated spirits and she decided the tide was turning and it was time to head for home.

Still it seems that despite Mr Churchill’s vow to fight them on the beaches the real battle raged on the front page of the Biddermouth Gazette. St Stephen’s fought back with an all-night candlelit vigil. Unfortunately torrential rain and tea-lights are not a match made in heaven and once everybody got wet they went off the idea of praying for people forced to sleep under sheets of plastic in all weathers and headed home to their central heating.

Even St Mary Magdalen’s tried to gain a few column inches but Father Dwyer’s much advertised twenty four hour mass-a-thon had to be curtailed when several nuns experienced respiratory problems due to inhaling incense for twelve hours on the trot. There was also a wafer shortage at half time because nobody thought to organise refreshments. Karen from ‘Karen’s Kakes’ took a very ecumenical line and offered Father Dwyer three blueberry cheesecakes however even he baulked at trying to transubstantiate three pints of whipped cream into the body of Our Lord. So those that didn’t need the service of paramedics went home hungry, or drunk. Presumably nobody thought to tell the good Sisters it’s never wise to drink on an empty stomach.

So it seemed that Velma had lit a bonfire that was rapidly blazing out of control. I’m not sure what the Methodists did but the Baptists held a sponsored under water breath-holding contest which I believe past without incident and very nearly set a new national record in the process.

Back at the community centre clothes flew in thick and fast. Granny Patel contributed a couple of Chanel suits she said she couldn’t get into anymore and neither could Vera when she tried them on otherwise I’m sure they would have found their way into her shopping bag. That might explain why she’s been seen about town wearing a navy wool coat. It looks suspiciously like the one I donated but I could be wrong.

As for Beattie, having spent two days in bed with a temperature of 102, even she’s decided that anybody who can get across the English Channel on a lilo deserves to be welcomed with open arms.

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A Night at the Opera

July to September 2015Posted by Ian Ashley Sun, September 13, 2015 09:27AM

Once we’d all got over the disappointment that our friend Lila Morris hadn’t won a meal for four at our local tratoria we all did our best to look forward to free tickets she'd actually won to see ‘Rigoletto’ performed by the Biddermouth on Sea Operatic Society instead. Of course billing themselves as the ‘Orapetic Society’ did make you look twice at the posters but I suppose by the time they were printed it was too late to do anything but stick them up and hope nobody noticed the typo.

Luckily there was one of us who knew coloratura wasn’t a red lettuce. Sadly it was my neighbour Beattie. Being a bit of an opera buff she took it upon herself to invite us all round to her house for afternoon tea. The idea was we could listen in comfort to the whole thing played very loudly whilst she explained, equally loudly, what was going on. The understanding was that we wouldn’t scuff her parquet flooring, drop crumbs on her rug or settle too comfortably against her cushions.

Now I know that where Beattie is concerned it’s always better to listen and not argue and Vera should know the same by now. But she didn’t. She reckoned it all sounded a bit far-fetched even for Italians.

‘I mean let me get this straight,’ she said having already had two warnings about leaning too far back on Beattie’s settee. ‘This Gilda falls in love with the wrong bloke, dresses up as a man and gets killed in a sack.’

‘By mistake,’ added Beattie as if the reason made the outcome anymore probable.

‘She could have used her phone,’ said Lila who having got completely the wrong end of the stick when it came to ‘La donna è mobile’ was already beginning to regret she hadn’t just kept her mouth shut and put four lasagnes and accompanying side salads on her credit card.

So round we went again. Lovers. Mistresses. A duke who couldn’t keep his codpiece to himself. A man with a hump. And of course a sack race that went terribly wrong.

Vera, whose musical preferences start and end with Jim Reeves, still couldn’t see why Gilda got in the sack in the first place unless she was an idiot and Beattie, sensing she was rapidly losing ground to the sound of distant drums sighed loudly and said it would all make sense on the night.

Somehow I doubted that. Beattie had dragged me off to see the B.o.S.O.S once before. On that occasion it was something about a prostitute with TB. Still she’d enjoyed it even if I hadn’t. However we all agreed it would be a chance to dress up. Usually we go to the bingo and that only requires wearing a cardigan. But as Beattie said, or warned, a night at the opera required more than a bit of acrylic, even if it did have matching buttons.

‘And flipflops,’ she added fixing Vera with a stare.

Anyway on the night we all did our best. Beattie turned up looking like an armchair in a dress she’d recently had made out of several yards of water damaged brocade she’d bought years ago in a ‘Flood Sale’. Vera wore something she said was called a ‘fascinator’.

‘Which looks anything but,’ said Beattie and even I thought it resembled a dead crow stitched on to an Alice band.

Still I suppose when you’re keeping an eye out for store detectives you don’t have much time to linger in front of a mirror. But Vera had sponged the Ribena stains off her mac. I wore my best black cashmere coat. Lila was wearing the expression of somebody who’d rather have been tucking into Spaghetti Bolognese.

‘I see it’s the Finkley’s on parade again,’ said Vera borrowing my glasses to read the programme.

Well she did have a point. That family does seem to have a stranglehold where the casting of shows is concerned. So it was no surprise to learn that young Gilda would be played by Frieda Finkley. Now we all know for a fact she celebrated her fiftieth birthday last year. Vera caused a fight at the party. Also the man with the hump was Frieda’s husband Gerald and the roving cod-piece was attached to their son Timothy. There were also numerous other Finkley’s scattered amongst the minor parts but I have to say, and I know it’s all acting, but the thought of Timothy trying to seduce his own mother just made the whole thing seem a bit mucky in my eyes.

Mind you things did look up when Lila spotted the entire brass section of the orchestra consisted of Ted Aldis and his Syncopated Foot Tappers and Louella Aldridge had hitched her skirt up so she could get her cello between her thighs. Beattie was too busy waving at strangers to even notice.

However she came too when Ted and his boys whipped the overture up into eight beats to the bar and so did Julian Ormrod the conductor who nearly took off attempting to keep order with his baton. Vera didn’t help either when she started clapping along. Still I suppose that’s what happens when you hear ‘Bella figlia dell amore’ played in the manner of Arty Shaw. At least she’d stayed in her seat and hadn’t got up to dance. Connie Belshaw did and two ushers escorted her out.

After all that I don’t think the bit with the sack could come fast enough for anybody. Frieda certainly looked like she’d welcome the chance to lie down and get her breath back.

‘I haven’t seen her perspire like that since ‘Guys and Dolls’,’ said Beattie who was already muttering about demanding her money back from the box office despite the fact that we’d had free tickets.

Of course Vera is still convinced Beattie had played us the record at the wrong speed. As she said later, ‘nobody would pay good money to listen to anything that sounded like that would they?’

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 Great Biddermouth Bake-off

July to September 2015Posted by Ian Ashley Sun, September 06, 2015 04:14PM

Considering that the Great Biddermouth Bake-off was supposed to be the centre piece of the annual Agricultural Show you’d have thought more local bakers would have got through to the final. But you would be wrong.

As the organiser Bella Bynge said in her column in Biddermouth Life Magazine, she was looking for people who really pushed the envelope of baking into the future. Miss Milner’s Lemon Drizzle cake never even made it through to the heats and neither did Sandra Washington’s Orange Crunch Cheesecake when the judges found what looked like cat’s hairs in the filling. Which goes some if not all the way to explaining why Jo Rossington of The Old School House had got a full page spread out of an organic mung bean pasty made without the added distractions of gluten, lactose and animal fats.

‘I firmly believe in cooking healthy meals for all the family,’ said Jo looking very self-righteous in a skirt (available at the JoJackii Boutique – price £275) and a blouse (from the same – price £195). ‘No sweets in our house!’

‘I bet she even makes her own bread,’ said Vera whose own idea of a family meal centred round anything that could be cooked whilst smoking a cigarette.

Lila said she did indeed and quoted paragraph three where the saintly Jo claimed to be up at 5.00 am proving and kneeding before embarking on a three hour round trip school run.

‘Which explains why her husband spends so much time ‘on business’ in Thailand,’ remarked Vera.

Anyway none of this boded well for our own favourite baker, Karen from Karen’s Kakes. Famed as she is as much for her lavish funeral teas as for her size twenty kaftans even she admitted having to look the word ‘gluten’ up in the dictionary to see what she needed to leave out. As a result she’d spent all week trying unsuccessfully to make her signature Sacher Torte without flour.

‘It’s all right though, if you eat it with a spoon,’ she said having boldly taken it upon herself to dispose of her failures single handed.

However I think Bella would have found herself on very shaky ground had she tried to discount Karen’s culinary efforts on the grounds that each one was an impending coronary on a doily. Especially her double chocolate choux buns with a dairy fudge glaze. Whilst they are very nice even Karen says eating more than three leaves her feeling a bit giddy afterwards.

But the real issue was that many people in the town felt Bella had already been guilty of deception over the matter of the celebrity judge.

‘She didn’t exactly say it was Mary Berry,’ said Lila in Bella’s defence.

‘But she did say ‘celebrity,’ argued Vera, ‘and I’m sorry but I can see nothing to celebrate about something called a food blogger.’

‘Which is, asked Beattie?

Oddly enough it was a question none of us could answer although Lila wondered if it meant somebody who took lots of pictures of everything they ate and we left it at that. Who or what a food blogger was, and why she was famous would have to wait until the Great Day.

Of course Karen’s chances of success were slightly skewed when the Gazette pictured her in all her glory surrounded by cakes and her very large off-spring opposite a picture of Ms Rossington and her three anaemic looking children gazing listlessly at something containing nothing but broccoli and an organically reared egg. Which was why we decided Karen needed all the support she could get on the day and made plans to spend the day at the showground.

By all accounts The Biddermouth Show isn’t what it was. My neighbour Beattie remembers it as being patronised by Royalty and full of local gardeners buffing up onions the size of footballs.

Vera has other memories, mainly centred on sweaty farriers, claiming that no girl was safe once the boys had spent all afternoon in the beer tent and certainly on a hiding to nothing if they went in with them.

‘How else do you think Hilary got that mark on her backside?’

Lila said she’d always thought she'd been born with it.

‘She was branded,’ added Vera.

Well assuming that no brawny lad wielding a hammer was going to be interested in four women of a certain age we made straight for the Bake Off Tent where Jo Rossington, minus her husband, was busy telling a crowd of adoring women all wearing the same skirt how to avoid getting a soggy bottom and why everything tasted better cooked in an Aga. According to her husband, Derwent, Karen’s claim to just ‘throw everything a bowl’ was simply the result of nerves and fatigue.

‘She’s been up all night baking and only managed a gluten free Sacher Torte on the twelfth attempt. Anyway,’ he said with a wink, ‘I’ve swapped her flour for the one she normally uses so I think she’ll be ok. But don’t tell her eh? I want it to be a nice surprise.’

And it was. But not only for Karen, who gave Derwent a sly thumbs up when it emerged magnificent from the oven, but also for the doyen of The Old School House, whose Aduki Bean and Rice Flour Victoria Sponge looked a bit sorry for itself in comparison. Once Karen’s Sacher Torte was slicked with chocolate it was all down to the tasting.

Now there are some people in town who think Karen should give the trophy back. There are others of the opinion that Mila Minchin, celebrity food blogger, should have been wearing something that identified her as gluten and lactose intolerant. There are others still, including Vera and Lila, who claim had they known the young farrier with the dark curly hair and tattoos was trained in mouth to mouth resuscitation they would have lapsed into a coma outside the beer tent too. Derwent, of course, is saying 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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The Biddermouth 10k

July to September 2015Posted by Ian Ashley Mon, August 31, 2015 02:59PM




Because this year’s Biddermouth 10k race had the added excitement of two competing vicars we all made an effort to go down to the Promenade and watch the proceedings just like we did when it first started ten years ago. You see this year our popular vicar The Rev Velma Meakin has bet the vicar of St Stephens her Jacobean silver chalice from St Matthew’s against his Biddermouth Madonna and the race, as they say, is very much on.

Of course in the early days, before it got hijacked by serious competitors, the race was billed as a ‘fun run’ and it was. For those taking part it was an opportunity to don fancy dress and raise a bit of money for local charities. For those of us watching it was a chance to see a pantomime cow trip over its own udders or somebody wearing a large papier-mâché head of the Queen running full tilt into a lamppost. One year we even got to see a slightly tipsy ‘Princess Margaret’ being fished out of the harbour by the local rugby club which was quite a spectacle in itself considering they were all wearing wedding dresses at the time.

‘Why they always have to dress up as women I don’t know,’ said our friend Vera. ‘Especially with those big shoulders.’

Kevin, who runs the Bona Curl Salon, said he thought it was obvious.

‘That was what happens when you put fifteen men in a bath with one bar of soap.’

Mind you that theory could just be the product of an over wrought imagination or even wishful thinking on his part. However, the supposed proclivities of our local prop forwards aside, for the spectators there was always the added frisson of seeing somebody you recognised receiving medical attention as they collapsed over the finishing line.

‘Muriel Knowles said her Simon was never the same man again,’ added our other friend Lila Morris as we sat in the Silver Lantern Cafe waiting for the race to begin.

‘Well what was she expecting,’ asked Vera? ‘She had him cremated. Now are you going to finish that Danish pastry Beattie or can I have it?’

It would seem this year’s ‘challenge of the parishes’, as it’s billed in the Gazette, appears to have brought out both the best and the worst in people. It’s certainly had a marked effect on my next door neighbour Beattie who can’t decide whose side she’s on, claiming the whole affair has left her dangling on the horns of a spiritual dilemma and quite ruined her appetite. In fact it was only the hope that The Rev Meakin would go the same was as Simon Knowles that persuaded her to come along in the first place.

You see since Velma took over the pulpit at Beattie’s favourite church, started meals for the homeless and offered the use of a side chapel to the newly arrived Macedonian Muslim community for their Friday prayers until they can get a mosque organised the two haven’t exactly seen eye to eye on a great many things. Velma believes God is all embracing. Beattie believes He is hers and only loans Him out to what she considers to be deserving causes.

‘That chalice has been part of the church plate since time immemorial’ she said, ignoring the fact that St Matthews’s was only built in 1850.’Whereas The Biddermouth Madonna...’

Well whatever she said nobody was listening because we’d dashed outside as the Mayor had climbed on to the rostrum and was calling the runners to their marks.

I have to say Velma certainly stood out amongst all the other women looking as they did like pieces of string held together by a bathing costume. She certainly looked in better shape than our local star athlete Inga Krone-Ellison who having already done a three mile warm up was showing just how unappealing even a Swedish woman can look when she has the body mass index of a heavily perspiring dried fruit. But then at six foot two and wearing her ‘God for the People’ running vest Velma would probably have cut a dash at the Olympics. Which I have to say was more than could be said for the vicar of St Stephens. He was already having his calves massaged having got cramp walking to the start line.

Vera rubbed her hands. She said it was a dead cert, which was just as well as she’d bet all her housekeeping money on Velma winning and would probably have her electricity cut off if victory went to St Stephens. Beattie just closed her eyes and prayed silently for Divine Retribution.

Well according to the tannoy at the 5k mark the two ecclesiastics were neck and neck, Inga Krone-Ellison was in the lead and one of the rugby team had fallen over and torn his frock. By 7k somebody wearing a papier-mâché head of Tony Blair had been pelted with tomatoes, a pantomime cow was now competing solo having fallen out with its own rear end and our two vicars were still battling chalice for icon on the uphill run.

Now whether it was the hand of God that dropped that banana skin on the downhill stretch by the bank or as many said merely Inga taking on extra carbs for the home straight who can say. It might even have been the Almighty striking a deal with Beattie that kept all parties happy. Either way down went Velma and the vicar of St Stephens. Mind you it was Velma who was borne across the finish line on a seaside donkey. The vicar of St Stephens had to make do with four Boy Scouts and a stretcher. As for Vera, well she stopped off on the way home to stock up on candles and said there was always Bingo on Tuesday night. It won’t be the first time she’s been cut off and I don’t suppose it will be the last.

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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Rewriting History

July to September 2015Posted by Ian Ashley Sun, August 23, 2015 05:37PM

It’s been a week of surprises in Biddermouth on Sea not least for Ruby Macdonald whose husband Peter was knocked down in that notorious accident blackspot, Merchant’s Street. Of course the real surprise wasn’t that he was supposed to be in Southampton at the time but that he was found to be wearing a pair of lady’s silk knickers under his corduroys. And if that was wasn’t surprise enough for Ruby they weren’t even hers.

However that was Monday. By Tuesday there were other things to take our minds off lingerie following the publication of ‘Biddermouth Houses. Great and Small’ by local historian and librarian Rose Milner and at £5.99 it makes riveting reading for anybody interested in the history of our little seaside town.

For a start who knew that in 1607 the Biddermouth Witches were tortured in the upstairs room of what is now the Christian Book Shop before being led out and burnt to death in the Market Place? Or that the flint wall sticking out of the side of Hill House is all that remains of the town’s Norman Castle? Of course this has caused a few red faces at the local council who have already spent a considerable portion of the rates building a Visitors Centre on Castle Mound and are busy trying to pass the book off as the rambling fantasies of a sixty year old spinster. However when a woman has turned her back on an active sex life in favour of the Dewey Decimal Classification System you have to believe she would be diligent in her research. Especially as she wears her glasses on a chain. All of which means Castle Mound is just that, a mound, with nothing worth visiting unless you enjoy seeing a load of out of work actors who couldn’t make the grade as Hamlet whirling swords above their heads.

Luckily the Jameson’s at The Gables can see the funny side to spending a small fortune doing up what had once been a notorious brothel. However knowing it had ‘royal connections’ has gone some way to make the cost of the re-wiring and the installation of a brand new Aga seem worthwhile. And as Mary Jameson said in her interview for Biddermouth FM they had always wondered why there was a set of manacles bolted to their cellar wall.

‘Well that’s nothing out of the ordinary is it?’ said Lila Morris. And she was right although we’d all rather not know that Hilary and Clive Mason have turned their spare bedroom into an adult play den with the installation of similar household accessories.

‘Where their grandchildren will sleep now I don’t know.’

Vera said it was OK. The manacles were detachable and Hilary had kept the Sleeping Beauty wallpaper so Tina and Tanya would be none the wiser.

At a more local level my neighbour Beattie is not happy that our Palmerston Terrace failed to warrant more of a mention and has already added her voice to the rising tide of dissent by writing to the editor of the local newspaper.

‘After all,’ she said, ’my late Arthur was chairman of the local chamber of commerce for twenty years and you would have thought being the residence of a civic dignitary would have earned it more than just ‘built in 1863’.

‘Well it was,’ said Lila.

‘And we can’t all live on a site of historical significance,’ added Vera who was already wondering if she was going to be the subject of a television programme.

You see the book has also shed light on a few other local mysteries. Now Vera knows her street traverses the site of the old town plague pit she’s said she can happily turn a blind eye to the bits of human jaw bone that regularly surface amongst her runner beans every time we get a down pour.

‘At first I said to Gordon we ought to go to the police. I mean they never did find Gloria Haslam’s body, did they? But he said she’d only had one mouth when he’d gone out with her and being as he’d spent six weeks building that patio it was best all round to let sleeping dogs lie.’

‘Especially as most of the slabs belonged to council in the first place,’ said Lila who seemed to have forgotten that she owed her new path to Gordon Preston’s nocturnal forays with a wheelbarrow and pick axe.

Anyway as far as Rose Milner is concerned there is more to all this to than a few old bones amongst Vera’s vegetables and whether Arthur Hathaway is honoured in print or not. You see thanks to her latest book several prominent local figures have found themselves not living where they thought they were living and as a result are threatening to take collective action against her for ruining the value of their properties, not to mention their social pretensions.

Hilda Matheson has already been forced to resign as President of the local Madrigal Society as there is no evidence that Elizabeth the First ever visited the town let alone relieved herself in the porch of Tudor Lodge as Hilda has always claimed.

However Beattie has come out fighting. Having failed to see her husband immortalised in print she has set about making enquiries at the local iron mongers concerning the cost of commemorative plaques. Although I’m not so sure about her plans to turn number 51 into a tourist attraction. Mind you if they have to close down the Visitor’s Centre no doubt there will be a few failed Hamlets more than happy to earn a living dressed as the late Arthur Hathaway. However it remains to be seen who will play Beattie. You see all of those unemployed Orphelia’s are pretty slim. Still in Beattie’s mind she’s only a size sixteen. And if the Jameson’s can make a nice home out of an old brothel who knows, Ruby and Peter might be able to do a bit of restoration work on their marriage.

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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Danger! Contains Nuts!

July to September 2015Posted by Ian Ashley Sun, August 16, 2015 06:22PM

Food seems to have become a bit of an obsession in the lives of the folk of Biddermouth just recently as it seems that you can no longer eat what you like when you like without suffering some dire effect on your body. One day you read can get bowel cancer from a cheese sandwich and the next thing you know they are telling you eating Cheddar stops you getting osteoporosis. And now they are saying saturated fats are good for you but you admit to liking butter on your vegetables and people start making the sign of the cross behind your back. Even Chantal Preston’s new social worker has dared to venture the opinion that her daughter Kiara Marie’s bad behaviour could have its roots in her diet, something that has not gone down too well with the child’s grandmother I can tell you.

‘It’s not as if that interfering woman’s got any children of her own,’ said Vera in an attempt to defend Chantal’s random approach to parenting, ‘some children like cupcakes and Red Bull.’

‘Yes but not at every meal,’ said my neighbour Beattie who despite being childless herself firmly believed that where Vera’s granddaughter was concerned a plate of broccoli and a good slap would work wonders.

‘She eats cocoa pops as well you know,’ snapped Vera and no doubt this could have led to a full scale argument had we not arrived at the Silver Lantern Café to find a ‘closed until further notice’ sign stuck in the window.

Now it’s not the first time the Silver Lantern’s been declared off-limits by the Environmental Health people but as Beattie was quick to point out that was back in the days when it was owned by Kath Patterson.

‘How she thought she’d get away with running a pet grooming business in the back kitchen I really do not know,’ she added. ‘Still if she hadn’t nearly killed those four Japanese exchange students with her open prawn sandwiches nobody would have been any the wiser.’

‘And Kath was so good with dogs,’ said Lila. ‘We used to take the greyhound there to get his claws clipped because the vets always made him so nervous he’d pee in the car on the way. If you ask me all this food business has got out of hand.’

‘Exactly,’ said Vera who clearly refused to see the connection between Kiara Marie’s staple diet and her habit of growling and sinking her teeth in to all the other children at her playgroup. ‘I mean it’s not as if Della Waring didn’t know she had an allergy before she ate that nut cluster is it? She’s been like that for years.’

‘Ever since that time she kissed Ian Kitchener and her lips swelled up because he’d just eaten a bag of peanuts,’ added Lila. ‘Which served her right anyway. He was engaged to Sally Morecombe at the time.’

‘She did stop breathing though’, said Vera.

Lila said a lot of girls did. Ian Kitchener was known to be the best kisser ever at Biddermouth Secondary Modern.

‘Even the boys said so, ‘she added.

Of course it’s Annie Jeffries we all feel sorry for. She’s worked hard single handed to make the Silver Lantern what it is and for a woman with two artificial hips that’s no mean feat. How she can roll out pastry that thin with a frozen shoulder I do not know. But she does. Even Karen Braithwaite of Karen’s Kakes doesn’t have her touch when it comes to Cream Horns. And now Della Waring is threatening her with financial ruin all because she didn’t have a disclaimer saying her nut clusters contained nuts.

‘Well I’ll tell you now if Della gets any compensation I’ll be asking her to stump up for that cappuccino I had to leave half-finished when the ambulance arrived, ‘said Beattie who’d been working herself up to one of Annie’s choux buns all morning.

Now I know people do suffer from food allergies. Lila’s niece Joanne can’t be within twenty yards of a cauliflower or her hair falls out and Karen Braithwaite claims she was banned from one slimming club because Ryvita brings her out in hives. Both are terrible things to have to live with although I think we can take Hilary’s claim that her rampant libido is due to dairy products with a pinch of salt because she’s still having two pints of Gold Top Full Cream milk delivered daily.

But if you ask me Della Waring brought all this on herself. I mean why wouldn’t you put two and two together and work out for yourself that anything visibly decorated with walnuts was bound to have nuts in it? Even if it didn’t have a label advising you of the fact?

‘Compensation,’ said Beattie who because her stomach was starting to rumble broke a confidence and announced that she just happened to know, via her niece at the Council Offices, that the Waring’s were six months in arrears with their rent. ‘Which is why, if you ask me, she only took a small bite before throwing herself on the floor and clutching her throat.’

So whether Della’s was an act of desperation or simply a failure to recognise a walnut when she saw one we will never know. Either way there will be no more Cream Horns at the Silver Lantern for the foreseeable future which is why we settled for fish and chips at the Kingfisher Restaurant where they still fry everything in dripping.

Not that it seems to have had much effect on Dezzie the owner. Despite a daily diet of pure lard he still jogs three times a week and runs the Sea Scout boxing club. So maybe it is good for you after all. That said, as Vera was quick to point out, he is on his third wife so we ordered a side salad as well 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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Things that go bump...

July to September 2015Posted by Ian Ashley Sun, August 09, 2015 05:04PM




It seems that this year Biddermouth in Bloom will being doing without Pearl Clough’s massed hanging baskets festooning number 37. Normally the front of Peal’s house is buried under a riot of colour, something my neighbour Beattie is sure contravenes a local by-law.

‘It wouldn’t be so bad if she sprayed them,’ she said,’ we never had a single greenfly in the terrace until Pearl won that cordless drill in the Christmas raffle. If she’d settled for the tin of luxury Belgian chocolate biscuits I wouldn’t be having to spray my Weeping Cherry morning noon and night.’

Still leaving that aside number 37 remains unadorned and we all know why. You see Pearl Clough, as was, is a woman haunted.

At least we hope she is because if several people haven’t seen Ken Clough’s ghost then she held that memorial service for him under false pretences and according to my next door neighbour poor Pearl will have some explaining to do.

As far as Beattie is concerned, because Radio 4 has failed to unearth any evidence of Life After Death, she had been duped into paying for a wreath she needn’t have bought. Of course being a firm believer that the Pearly Gates clanged shut behind you forever more anything that smacked of a haunting was at best a case of mental health issues and at worse clear evidence of being in league with Satan.

My reminding her that we’d split the cost between us so technically Pearl only owed her seven pounds fifty didn’t make matters any better either.

‘And I’ve a good mind to ask her for it too,’ she added. ‘Her mother was just the same you know. Went to her grave owing every house in the street a cup of sugar. Buried at sea my eye!’

‘Pearl’s heard noises in the night and Ken did fall off an oilrig,’ argued Vera who claimed to have actually seen the telegram stating the fact. 'And she got compensation…’

‘..which paid for that conservatory,’ added Lila before admitting that her and Keith had once had a similar spectral problem.

‘Then those young Polish lads next door moved out, Stella Wheatley stopped coming round at all hours and we never heard another thing.’

Vera thought they could rule out Stella in this instance as number 39 belonged to Ned Allsopp who was well into his nineties.

Lila said she wasn’t so sure.

Anyway all this really took off when Doreen Hailstorm thought she’d seen a ghost. Although why Ken Clough would make his presence known to her I really do not know, unless he’d heard what she’d said about the tuna sandwiches Pearl had served at the memorial service. Still that didn’t stop her having a bit of a panic. I mean one minute she claimed she was leaning over to grab a pound of sausages in the supermarket and the next thing, or so she says, there he was.

Naturally word got back to Pearl and more to the point to Edwin who despite enjoying being part owner of a very nice sun room was now worried he was actually only part-owner of his wife.

‘It’s him I feel sorry for,’ said Lila, ‘he spent all that money flying his family back from Australia thinking he was marrying a widow…

‘…and getting his hands on that brand new conservatory, ‘added Vera Preston. ‘Apparently he’s wondering if the Rev Velma Meakin can do an exorcism.’

Beattie said she wouldn’t be surprised. After all as far as she was concerned any vicar who actively encouraged her congregation to celebrate Ramadan and Passover probably wouldn’t be above holding the odd Black Mass or two either.

‘Although how you can exorcise the Living I do not know,’ she added, still firmly convinced that Ken Clough’s sudden reappearance owed more to his swimming the North Sea than slipping unnoticed passed St Peter.

‘If that woman’s hearing anything it’s the sound of her own uneasy conscience.’

‘Or Ned and Stella,’ added Lila which I have to say gave us all pause for thought and resulted in four half eaten cream horns being left on our plates at the Silver Lantern Café.

Of course Velma being Velma is never one to resist a challenge. Just recently she’s been a familiar sight on the Promenade in a tracksuit and leg weights training for the Biddermouth Half Marathon having wagered the vicar at St Stephen’s half her church plate if he wins. If he loses, which seems very likely the way Velma whips passed the 10 km marker, St Matthews and All Angels becomes the new repository of a Jacobean chalice and the much coveted Biddermouth Madonna. Quite what the bishop thinks of all this we do not know as so far he has failed to reply to any of Beattie’s letters. She thinks he’s waiting for Divine Inspiration. I think he’s put them in the bin.

However all this has caused quite a bit of excitement in Palmerston Terrace and number 37 is now included in the Biddermouth Ghost Walk which according to Granny Patel has seen ice cream sales go through the roof at the corner shop.

Still I know Pearl and Edwin would rather not be the centre of attention and or have hordes of Japanese tourists peering at them through their front window.

And the Rev Velma Meakin is no fool either. As she said, ‘the ways of the Lord are many and mysterious,’ which might explain why nothing more has been said about the matter since Vera spotted the local heating engineer’s van parked in the back alley and a lot of new copper piping making its way through Pearl and Edwin’s kitchen door.

‘Plumbing,’ she said with more than a trace of disappointment.

As for the matter of seven pounds and fifty pence owing Beattie is still buying sausages every day in hope of spotting Ken.

‘If it goes to court, Maureen,’ she said. ‘That’ll be all the proof I need.’

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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