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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Biddermouth Mother of the Year

Jan - March 2016Posted by Ian Ashley Sat, March 26, 2016 10:57AM

As with most things in Biddermouth the Mother of the Year Award always starts out with good intentions but usually manages to cause more than a little friction along the way. For example last year’s surprise winner Donna Merkin, hasn’t spoken to her sister-in-law for nearly twelve months. Mind you everybody said at the time that Muriel Merkin could have found a more flattering photograph than the one she chose to send in to support Donna's nomination.

‘There must have been at least one picture of Donna with her teeth in,’ said Lila Morris. ’And nobody could spend their entire holiday sitting on an Elsan toilet in a caravan surely?’

According to Vera Preston she hadn’t and that was the root of the problem.

‘Had that Donna stayed put her knickers wouldn’t have wound up in the fold away bed of Muriel’s camper van. Although why she thought her Kelvin was such a saint was a complete mystery to anybody given his reputation with the women,’ added Vera whose own win in 1971 was up there with the Marie Celeste as far as mysteries and my next door neighbour Beattie were concerned.

As she once said to me, having made sure that Vera was well out of earshot, although she didn’t particularly care for children herself you didn’t have to be Mother Teresa to know it was wrong to leave little ones tethered by their reins to the railing outside a bingo hall in all weathers.

‘How Vera was ever voted Mother of the Year I’ll never know. They may well have had a bag of chips on the way home if she called ‘house’ but more often than not Maureen they had to make do with a bottle of cold tea and an evening paper if it came on to rain. They do say…’

Unfortunately at that point Vera asked who we were talking about so I never found out who ‘they’ were or what was said. Then soon after that all our thoughts moved from Vera to Hilary Mason. Now she might have been a contender for the title herself had her daughter Joanne not run away from home. To this day Hilary never mentions her. You’d think she would. After all there can’t be many girls from Biddermouth who’ve wound up in a Middle Eastern harem can there?

However the minute this year’s competition was announced you didn’t’ have to be the captain of the Titanic to see a very large iceberg looming on the horizon. You see Vera and Lila were nominating their respective daughters Chantal and Bez and both were already looking forward to the first prize of an all-inclusive family break in Florence. Vera had gone shoplifting for a swimsuit because she thought it was somewhere in Greece. Lila went one up with what she thought was a second hand Italian phrase book from the market. Although I have to say her habit of greeting everybody with ‘Cómo está?’ suggested she should have at least opted for one with the cover intact.

Even though she was more likely to end up with a Paella than a Lasagne that still didn’t stop Lila canvassing hard for votes and like most politicians she based her case more on why Chantal Preston shouldn’t win rather than on why her Bez should.

‘Well I’m not voting for either,’ said Beattie returning mentally bruised from a trip to the chiropodists where she’d had the misfortune to bump into both mothers in rapid succession. ‘Anybody who votes for Chantal Preston needs their head examined. I mean I know her social worker enrolled her in parenting classes but you can’t tell me they only do modules on texting and drinking Red Bull. And if they do she must have slept through the one on hygiene because that Kiara Marie’s always got head lice. And as for that Bez Morris well…’

At which point Vera cornered us in the Silver Lantern café and took up the story in her own words. None of which were too kind I’ll admit. But then where Bez is concerned they never are.

‘I’m not saying lesbians can’t make good mothers,’ she said referring to Bez’s same sex partnership with Caz, ‘God knows my Gordon had a great aunt who used to go camping with a woman who had a moustache so we’re the last people to be homeopathic. But when it comes to donor sperm…I mean whose is it? Kiara Marie's daddy might well be in prison but at least our Chantal knows where he is and don’t you go telling me there was a return address on the back of that jiffy bag!’

So I’ll be honest. Both Beattie and I have heaved sighs of relief since the Editor of the Gazette announced ‘all change’ on the competition front. ‘Mother of the Year 2016’ will now consist of a four page colour spread in ‘Biddermouth Life Magazine’ rather than be crammed in between the Births Death’s and Marriages and Situations Vacant pages as in previous years. He said Biddermouth should promote family values. Bella Bynge the Life Style Editor went one step further. She said publicly they were looking for women who embraced motherhood and the challenges of being female in the twenty first century.

‘Think Gwyneth Paltrow,’ she said.

Privately she let slip that the sponsors, Gold Star Travel, were adamant they weren’t spending money flying anybody to Florence if their only claims to fame were a prowess with savoury mince and the ability to breast feed. They also stipulated the winner had to have their own teeth which is why Bella has handpicked the four finalists who all happen to be married to dentists.

To be honest she’s probably done us all a huge favour. At least now our friends can retire to their respective corners and declare a no score draw. Vera will probably try and get a refund on her swimsuit, Lila can stop trying to be bilingual and the good people of Florence have been spared a fate worse than death. And so have we.

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

All stories in The Biddermouth Gazette ©Ian Ashley 2016

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Is Blood Really Thicker Than Water?

Jan - March 2016Posted by Ian Ashley Sun, March 20, 2016 06:08PM

Holly, Molly, Polly and Dolly Hedges were our town’s only recorded case of quadruplets. I’m sure there must have been others but I expect either they got overlooked in the general population boom of the Victorian era or were quietly dropped off the end of the pier by mothers already finding it hard enough to feed the mouths they had. However last week there they were. Splashed across the front of the Biddermouth Gazette in all their black and white infantile glory under the headline – Biddermouth Lottery Millionaire Quads.

‘Ah bless them,’ said Vera going dewy-eyed as she looked at the family group on the front page. ‘My mother remembers them being born you know.’

Hilary Mason pointed out that Vera’s mother also claimed to remember having sex with Herman Goering.

‘That was her medication,’ snapped Vera. ‘At least we never had to have a policeman on point duty outside our house to direct the flow of USAF jeeps.’

‘And my mother never had to wear men’s socks till V.E. Day,’ argued Hilary.

Our friend Lila, who always had a sense of when of old scabs were being lifted and raw wounds about to be picked at, wondered whatever had possessed the quad’s mother to call them Holly, Molly, Polly and Dolly?

‘They had a brother Wally,’ said my next door neighbour Beattie as if that explained everything.

‘Yes I know but Holly Hedges? I mean I ask you?’

More to the point, we all wondered what they were going to do with the money. After all it wasn’t as if any of them had children and needed to make the trip of a lifetime overseas to see their descendants was it?

‘They could always get a stair carpet,’ suggested Beattie. ‘I had to pop up stairs once to use their ‘you-know-what’ and nearly slipped and broke my neck on that lino on the way down. That old house is a death trap Maureen. Just like yours.’

I said there was nothing wrong with my house but Beattie begged to differ.

‘My lights always flicker when you plug your iron in,’ she said adding that it was only the amount of money she’d spent on the upkeep of her side of the adjoining wall that prevented me from living under a heap of rubble.

Anyway we didn’t have to speculate too long when it came to the matter of how they’d be spending their lottery win because by the time we’d settled ourselves at our usual table in the window of the Silver Lantern Café the word was out.

Of course you couldn’t expect Holly, Polly and Dolly to be very happy with Molly’s decision to keep all that money to herself. Even if, as she claimed, it was her ticket that won.

‘And as for saying she’s after paying to have her sister’s put in a home, well I’m thinking that’s just un-Christian even for Methodists so it is,’ said Bernie the waitress whilst we hovered between the cream horns and the apple Danish.

Vera thought she fancied a cinnamon bun for a change but Bernie advised caution if she valued her teeth.

‘Between you and me they’ve been in and out of the Tupperware for nearly a fortnight,’ she whispered. ‘Personally I think if they go another week without getting the mildew it’ll be a miracle.’

What was a miracle was that within a matter of days Molly Hedges had cast aside the family uniform of an anorak and Velcro fastening shoes and was spotted in the High Street wearing a fur collared coat and doing her level best to remain upright in her first pair of high heels.

‘And she’s been in the fishmongers making eyes at George Cawdrey,’ said Vera which upset Beattie I can tell you. Not that she was remotely interested in George herself of course. But that never stopped her being violently opposed to anybody who was. Still at least that proved Molly was finally getting the hang of applying lipstick at long last.

‘Three herrings and a nice bit of plaice apparently,’ added Lila. ‘Presumably to follow the three sausages and the nice bit of steak she bought at the butchers the day before.’

‘And not to mention the new bed,’ said Kevin from the Bona Curl Salon who’d dropped in to add his grist to an already overworked mill. ‘Believe you me I’ve had it all this morning ladies. Pink flock wall paper apparently, a nice shag on the floor plus an Elvis wall clock that sings ‘Love Me Tender’ on the hour. And did I think she could look like Lulu if she let her perm grow out?’

Then he opted for a cinnamon bun and Lila quickly changed the subject.

‘Well they do say money doesn’t buy happiness.’

Vera disagreed. She said that after seventy years of not having a life of your own Molly was entitled to whatever little happiness she could find.

‘I mean fancy having to always wear the same clothes as your sisters?’

‘Never bothered me,’ said Kevin, although you could tell by his expression something did. Probably the taste of his cinnamon bun.

However it looks very much as if the Biddermouth Quads minus one will be making the headlines of the Gazette again this week. Beattie is convinced she was right about that lino whereas Vera's money is on the new high heels. Lila reckons it could have been combination of both that caused Molly to take that final tumble.

Either way Holly, Polly and Dolly all have cast iron alibis for Wednesday afternoon. And with them all looking alike in their anoraks who is to say exactly who was in the butchers, the library or the wool shop at the time? I know they do say blood is thicker than water but in this case that’s purely academic. Once the will is read they won’t have to worry about removing any stains from that rug in the hall. They can just throw it out and buy a new one.

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

All stories in The Biddermouth Gazette ©Ian Ashley 2016

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The Politics of Fear

Jan - March 2016Posted by Ian Ashley Sun, March 13, 2016 06:38PM

It seems you couldn’t move in Biddermouth on Sea last week without bumping into something or somebody desperate to tell you about the perils of voting ‘OUT’ in this EU referendum thing. Of course our Tory council were out in force and loving every minute of it. Especially when an angry supermarket crowd turned on Moira Weller, our local Labour party chairman, and pelted her with bread rolls. Apparently that was something to do with her closing down the Trident missile programme which you and I both know has nothing to do with the European Union at all. To be honest it doesn’t have much to do with Moira either. Her grasp of world politics begins and ends with recycling jam jars. However it just shows how confused people are over this issue and how willing everybody is to jump on a passing bandwagon when they have an axe to grind.

Poor Karen Braithwaite, the owner of ‘Karen’s Kakes’, suffered a nasty shock when our MP’s wife let slip that if we left the EU she’d no longer be able to sell pain rustique.

‘She also said Sacher Torte would become a thing of the past and if I so much as whispered the word ‘patisserie’ I’d risk ten years in prison and my City and Guilds certificate would be burnt in my own bread oven,’ a tearful Karen told us whilst she self-medicated with restorative mouthfuls of raw chocolate sponge mix.

‘You can tell how upset she was,’ remarked my friend Vera as we headed up the High Street towards the chemists, ‘Clearing a bowl that size takes some doing with just your tongue.’

However the people I felt most sorry for were the residents of the River Bank Home for the Elderly. You see normally if it’s Wednesday its whist. Only this week it was the Politics of Fear as they enjoyed a visit from our caring and sharing Tory MP instead. I use the word ‘enjoyed’ loosely as three of them ended up being sped away in a convoy of ambulances having suffered cardiac arrests. Luckily the two that just fell out of their wheelchairs only had superficial cuts so they were dealt with at the scene by matron.

‘Well I’m not surprised,’ said Lila Morris. She’d got chapter and verse from her sister Madge who cleans there four days a week so there was no reason to disbelieve the story that he’d told the partially sighted, the stone deaf and the mentally frail that if they voted ‘OUT’ their pensions would be stopped and they’d be out on the streets. Or worse. Sent to live in the North.

‘Of course by then he was all horrible and sweaty, or so Madge said,’ Lila added. ‘Apparently he was banging his fists on the table and shouting so loud that even the dementia patients got the message that the state wouldn’t be able to afford to look after them. He even said that a Great Britain outside Europe would seriously have to consider introducing euthanasia just to balance the fiscal deficit. I mean it’s not surprising some of the old dears were taken poorly listening to that is it?’

And it got worse with ‘Kiddies Story Time’ at the local play group taking on a very nasty twist. You see one of the Tory Town Councillors popped in to tell them about all the Macedonians who would invade the country and that their favourite food was little girls. And just to make sure none of the boy’s parents complained of a feminist bias she added that they did unspeakable things to little chaps too.

‘I mean you try explaining that one to a three year old, ‘said Vera whose granddaughter Kiara Marie had kept them up all the previous night screaming her head off.

Even our local church has found itself sucked into the political maelstrom. Although it has to be said it doesn’t take much to set the Rev Velma Meakin off once she gets wind of social injustice. Having thrown open the doors of St Matthews and All Angels to all races and creeds during the refugee crisis she was incandescent when Father Jerome at St Joseph’s gave a sermon to his flock that clearly implied God was white and European or why else would he have set up home in Rome?

‘Vote OUT and you’re spitting in the face of the Almighty,’ he bellowed which has pulled Bernie Heffernan and her husband firmly into the ‘IN’ camp as they are already risking a life of purgatory for using a condom on their honeymoon.

‘I’ve been after saying two hundred extra Hail Mary’s a week since 1969 as it is,’ Bernie said as we dithered over her cake trolley in the Silver Lantern café. ‘And wouldn’t you know we had the damned thing on upside down anyways. Hence Trenna and Tralee. As if four days in labour wasn’t punishment enough. But this EU thing, I’m telling you, if I vote ‘OUT’ I’ll need to get a longer rosary.’

The strange thing is none of us can really remember why we voted to join the EU in the first place. Apart from Hilary Mason that is. She’d had two weeks of unbridled lust with a French exchange student and voted ‘YES’ in hopes of getting more of the same. Vera said she seemed to remember reading a leaflet about being invaded by the Nazi’s if we didn’t join and how all our power stations would be turned into gas chambers and that jogged Lila’s memory too.

‘I voted YES because I thought it would help us win the Eurovision Song Contest,’ she said.

So there we are. It seems that the ‘IN’ camp can’t think of a good reason to stay apart from having a high old time scaring people to death about the consequences of voting ‘OUT’. And as for Bernie? I think she’s wavering. She’s discovered a three foot long rosary on sale at

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

All stories in The Biddermouth Gazette ©Ian Ashley 2016

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The Runaway Bride

Jan - March 2016Posted by Ian Ashley Sun, March 06, 2016 01:13PM

You would think that having 365 days in the year is ample time for people to get themselves into trouble wouldn’t you? But no. Every four years we get given an extra twenty four hours for things to go wrong. Hilary Mason got herself rear-ended in a darkened country lane, Vera’s grandson Dwayne got arrested for riding a moped with no lights and no insurance and our MP announced that if we voted to come out of Europe ten million Bulgarians would be living in tents outside Dover. Of course everybody was quick to realise he was making a fool of himself as usual because any book will tell you there are only about 8 million of them to start with. So perhaps if we’d gone straight into March he might have thought twice before opening his mouth. But as for Rita Randell, well God knows I had no idea what she was thinking except that she’d shoved an envelope through my door with her keys in inside and a message to pop round and feed her cat until I heard otherwise.

Luckily, because she was still up at 5.30 am whilst the rest of us were sleeping, Vera Preston was first with the news of Rita’s misfortune.

‘She’s disappeared,’ she said.

Well that worried me straight off. You see she’d only left three tins of food for Snowy and I don’t have the sort of money to throw about feeding other people’s abandoned pets.

‘At least she left her cat,’ said Lila. ‘Christine Harvey only left a shoe in the woods.’

Vera pointed out that wasn’t strictly true as the rest of Christine had turned up three years later in a shallow grave outside Curston.

‘Most her anyway,’ she added. ‘Still she wasn’t last seen buying fancy knickers a size smaller than she needed in Marks & Spencer. Rita was.

Well we knew Vera’s niece Jodie was doing work experience on the till at the time because she’d already upset my neighbour Beattie by saying loudly she had no idea support tights came in a fifty two inch hip. However it seems Jodie had already learned enough on her customer service module to fathom out there was no way Rita Randell was a size 12. Even in a Brazilian thong.

‘That means only one thing,’ said Lila. ‘A man.’

Now I have to say that didn’t come as a great surprise to any of us. In her time Rita has been described as all manner of things by her men friends from ‘lively’ to ‘good company’. Beattie just calls her ‘a slut’ and she’s even been called ‘trouble’ by the local swingers group. But as Hilary, who is also a member says, that’s her own fault. Most people wait until they get inside before taking their clothes off.

However it’s not in Rita’s nature to run herself out of town every time she has a relationship issue, as she calls them so I started to think we should be worried and so did Lila.

‘There are a lot of white vans about these days,’ she said. ‘You can’t open your Daily Mail without finding a story about what those drivers are like. Rita might have got in one and well….’

‘Especially if she got in the front, added Hilary whose own experience of white van cabs had once resulted in severe bruising from a gear knob.

‘I bet she’s run off with George Cawdrey,’ said Vera. ‘She said she was going to pop the question being as it was Leap Year.’

Beattie said not. She’d already called in the fish shop for a piece of smoked haddock and could safely say its owner was all present and correct, not to mention smelling just as bad as usual.

Then she suggested calling into the Silver Lantern Café to find out what was going on but Vera had already been there. She said Bernie the waitress had no idea and she couldn’t get any sense out of her anyway because she’d had a letter from Ireland informing her that her nephew Declan was dead.

‘He isn’t,’ said Vera. ‘He‘s just left the seminary, changed his name to Niamh and started wearing a dress but you know what they’re like over there. The whole family is praying he enters a convent and Bernie’s got candles all over the counter.’

So that left us with one other place. ‘Karen’s Kakes’. Because if anybody would know what was going on it would be her.

I suppose being up at the crack of dawn to make sure her partner Derwent kneeds her buns properly gives Karen an edge when it comes to getting the early morning gossip because she had chapter and verse, not to mention a sliced wholemeal loaf that would only go to waste as Rita wouldn’t be in to collect her usual order. Beattie seized the moment, haggled it down to half price and stuck it in her shopping bag before Karen had had a chance to swallow a whole blueberry cheesecake and tell us what was going in.

‘She got a bit tipsy,’ said Karen. ‘In fact so tipsy Rita completely forgot she’d already asked Pete Goodwin to marry her before she asked all the others. Well you know what it’s like at Leap Year.’

‘No,’ said Beattie, which I have to say didn’t surprise me as rumour had she’d arm wrestled her late Arthur on to one knee to make sure he’d proposed on her birthday.

‘How many,’ asked Vera?

Karen said she had no idea but ‘Angela’s Flowers’ across the road had been doing a roaring trade all morning and was nearly out of foliage.

By lunch time the tally of would-be grooms had reached fifteen and the police had been called to deal with some very ugly scenes outside Rita’s front door. As for Rita herself, I’ve heard nothing. I hope she comes back soon. Snowy is down to her last tin and there are dead flowers all over the doorstep.

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

All stories in The Biddermouth Gazette ©Ian Ashley 2016

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The Biddermouth Madonna Mystery

Jan - March 2016Posted by Ian Ashley Sun, February 28, 2016 05:24PM

Did she fall? Was she pushed? Or was it an Act of God?

Well that’s the question that was dividing public opinion as we squeezed into our regular table in the Silver Lantern Café. And I have to say it’s taken everybody’s minds off the town council’s threat to cut public services I can tell you. You see for whatever reason when the vicar of St Stephens opened up his church last week he found the Biddermouth Madonna flat on her face, her frame in pieces and with a very nasty rip in her halo. The trouble is, leaving aside the fact that a priceless religious artefact has been badly damaged, this has led to a great deal of finger pointing and recrimination between the powers that be.

As much as the Bishop and the vicar would love it to be an Act of God they know such rash behaviour on behalf of the Almighty would only invalidate the insurance. As would a nuclear war. However so far we’ve been spared that one here on the south coast. Mind you if you listen to our MP the minute we vote ‘OUT’ the combined fire power of the EU will be raining down upon us, cheap olives will be a thing of the past and the Volkswagen showroom will have to be turned into a carpet shop.

Lila reckoned it was the Paninis.

‘They’re Italian,’ she said. ‘Perhaps they thought they’d have her back. Like the Greeks and their marbles. That’s what will happen if we vote ‘NO’. All we’ll be left with is David Hockney and that girl’s dirty bed. We might even have to send back the Queen. She’s part German.’

I’ll admit it was worrying that somebody who had a vote could be that susceptible to propaganda but not half as worrying as West Biddermouth Council intimating that the vandalism was the work of local Labour Party.

‘If that was the case they must have had help’, said Hilary. ‘Everybody knows Moira Weller gets vertigo in high heels so God knows what she’d be like up a fifteen foot ladder. It wasn’t your Dwayne was it Vera?’

‘I thought he was tagged,’ said Lila Morris dithering over the calorie content of an éclair.

‘Only when he wears it,’ Vera replied caught between a Flapjack and a Danish pastry. ‘The police show them how to take them off so they don’t get sued about chaffing.’ Then she quickly changed the subject to the local Green Party who had already sought assurance from the dioses that the Madonna’s frame would be recycled.

Never one to dither where her stomach’s concerned my neighbour Beattie came down firmly on Cream Horn. She also came down just as firmly on the idea that the mysterious figure supposedly seen leaving the church in the dead of night had less to do with the Angel Gabriel and more to do with the Rev Velma Meakin from St Matthews,

‘She’s been trying to get her hands on that painting since she took up the parish,’ Beattie added

‘Well you’re wrong there,’ said Vera now pondering an Iced Finger. ‘She’s in Torquay doing ‘Lesbians for Jesus.’

That upset my neighbour I can tell you because no matter what her personal feelings maybe about our vicar even she had to admit that’s not the sort of alibi anybody would give themselves unless it happened to be true.

‘Ah,’ said Bernie our waitress as she hovered pen poised for our order, ‘Himself moves in mysterious ways. Look at my cousin Alma and her stigmata. Now if the Almighty had chosen her sister Kathleen instead it would have been a different matter. Her being the one that makes the wedding dresses. Luckily Alma married a butcher in Cork so’s you don’t notice the blood so much especially if she’s been serving the offal. Now we’ve some lovely raspberry jam if any of you’s was wanting the scones?’

Nobody was. Although I did notice Beattie furtively inspecting her palms because despite her pronounced views on all things Catholic I bet she’d have been over the moon if they ever started bleeding of their own accord.

Anyway whether Alma Heffernan was genuinely blessed or just careless when slicing liver the question of who and why the Biddermouth Madonna had been damaged remained unresolved and more to the point, would she, or could she still perform miracles with her halo in shreds?

As Hilary Mason said there was many a girl in town who’d offered up a silent prayer in St Stephens when they found themselves a few weeks late.

‘Late for what,’ asked Lila?

‘Their periods,’ replied Hilary which led Beattie to splutter something about the traffic lights opposite the Post Office having just turned green.

Vera said she remembered that time. It was when Hilary thought she was going out with the Kershaw twins.

‘I was Vera’.

‘Yes Hilary. On alternate nights. Did you ever see Billy and Bobby Kershaw together? No neither did I.’

Not that it mattered said Hilary. Her prayers to the Madonna had been answered. As soon as she’d said ‘Amen’ apparently but none of us wanted to go into the details.

‘If you was after asking me I’d say it’s quite simple,’ said Bernie coming back with her tray. ‘When I was a little girl we had a statue in the village started to cry real tears so it did. And people came from miles around just to witness the miracle. Only it wasn’t. There was a hole in the church roof letting the rain in. Of course none of us wanted to believe the truth. So we didn’t.’

Of course we’ll never know for certain if it was vandalism. It could have been metal fatigue. After all that picture had been hanging on that hook since 1723. Then again, like Bernie’s statue, the Kershaw twins and Hilary’s erratic gynaecological clock, the truth may well be out there. We’d just all rather not see it sometimes.

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

All stories in The Biddermouth Gazette ©Ian Ashley 2016

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Another Library AXED!

Jan - March 2016Posted by Ian Ashley Sun, February 21, 2016 06:17PM

West Biddermouth Councillor Bella Bynge has just come back home from a town-twinning fact finding mission with the rest of her committee, namely the two Livia’s and a Poppy who also happen to be her best mates. Not that any of them actually live in Biddermouth itself you understand and to be honest none of us are sure what being twinned with an up-market Swiss ski resort will mean for our little seaside town. Apart from disappointment that is. After all they are bound to make a return visit and I can’t see the good people of Davos being over impressed with our shingle beach and the charred remains of our Victorian pier.

Anyway the dreaded Bella Bynge has found herself with bigger things on her mind than questions concerning her expenses because last week West Biddermouth Council voted to close the town’s library and being as she’s all about Arts and Culture she was the one who had to break the news. True she did add the word ‘sadly’ although I have to say our local Tory MP looked anything but on the front page of the Gazette.

‘I’ll be sorry to see the old place go,’ said Hilary Mason who still had fond memories of one wet Thursday afternoon when she’d simultaneously discovered the joys of the Kama Sutra and three grammar school prefects when she should have been doing her homework.

‘It was the only place you could meet boys who read books without moving their lips,’ she added.

Lila said it was the disabled children she felt sorry for.

‘They’ve got a ramp now,’ said Vera. ‘It’s not like the old days when we had to carry Tina Mallory up the steps and try to avoid getting her calliper hooked in the revolving door.’

‘It’s not just that,’ Lila replied dabbing her eyes with her handkerchief. ‘Bella said if we keep the library open they’ll have to be gassed because there’ll be no money available to look after them.’

Hilary said it wasn’t the first time our Tory council have used the politics of fear to get their own way. She said they were exactly the same when Mr and Mrs Svetlov arrived from Bulgaria.

‘Don’t you remember,’ she added, ‘one of the Councillors claimed there were another 3,000 Svetlov relations all planning to cram themselves into a two bedroomed flat over the green grocers once the wind changed and they could set sail from Calais on a lilo.’

‘And all getting £3000 a week,’ said Vera whose own family had an encyclopaedic knowledge of the benefit system.

‘Well you know my views on the subject,’ said my neighbour Beattie coming out of the supermarket where she’d just wrestled with the manager over a refund on a misshapen tomato.

And we did. She’s been campaigning to have the place closed for years. Although that does owe more to the fact she once found a copy of ‘The Penis in Photography’ inadvertently thrust between two Catherine Cookson novels and little or nothing at all to do with saving the lives of children in wheel chairs.

‘It’s not like they’ve ever spent any money on the place though,’ said Vera. ‘I mean some of those chairs were slashed when the Mods and Rockers had a set too here in 1964.’

‘And the toilets have never worked properly, added Hilary. ‘You always did get wet feet when you flushed that end cubicle.’

But the fact remains, whether you had your first French kiss in Victorian Love Poetry or found a penis in Modern Romance, I firmly believed Biddermouth Library was more than just a place for borrowing books.

‘It’s Rose Milner I feel sorry for,’ I said and I did because our long serving librarian has worked hard to keep it at the centre of the community.

‘You mean she lets tramps spend all day in there pretending they can read the newspapers,’ said Beattie counting the coins back into her purse. ‘And she spent all that money on the sandwich section.’

That was news to all of us I must say. We knew the library had Punjabi and Guajarati sections but we had no idea Rose had moved into catering.

‘All that LGBT business,’ huffed Beattie convinced she was a penny short. ‘I mean its Lettuce Bacon and Tomato for heaven’s sake. How many books do you need to tell you that? And if you ask me Maureen if your Tony Blair hadn’t made us spend all that money on drop-in centres for Somalis we wouldn’t be having to pull our belts in now.’

I had the distinct impression this was not a good time to ask her sign the petition. Not that Bella Bynge and her cronies are the sort of people to care about a woman who has devoted her life to the Dewey decimal classification system but it’s always worth a try.

‘After all it worked with the pedestrian crossing on Merchants Street,’ said Vera adding ‘Meryl Streep’ to a very long list of names that also included Shrek.

Lila said that had more to do with the mayor actually seeing Ted Bowyer being pulled fifty yards along the road behind a window cleaners van but she signed anyway and so did Hilary.

The sad thing is we’re up against a government that is quite happy stepping over homeless soldiers and living in a country where other people’s children often go to bed hungry so I don’t suppose the thought of four middle aged women having to forego a few pages of a good book before turning out the light will bother them too much. It certainly won’t bother Bella Bynge. Apparently she’s posting pictures on her web site of her après ski with two Livias and a Poppy.

The good news is that Mr Cameron has approved a gift of £1.5 million to cushion the blow of being £1.75 million short and our MP has written a nice letter to say ‘thank you.’

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

All stories in The Biddermouth Gazette ©Ian Ashley 2016

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Spiritualists in Show Ticket Scam

Jan - March 2016Posted by Ian Ashley Sun, February 14, 2016 05:41PM

Our friend Vera Preston is often full of surprises. Not always nice ones I will admit. I mean look at those exploding slow cookers she sold everybody last year? Lila Morris’s greyhound still won’t go anywhere near the kitchen but luckily Clive Mason was able to patch the hole in her ceiling. You see Lila couldn’t really claim on the insurance because each appliance was clearly stamped ‘Turkmenistan – Export Only’. Anyway last week Vera excelled herself.

‘The Biddermouth on Sea Spiritualists have got cheap tickets to see ‘Carousel’,’ she said as we all met up in the Silver Lantern Café for coffee and a bun. ‘The trouble is its members only so I’ve enrolled us which means you all owe me a fiver.’

My next door neighbour Beattie spat crumbs and flatly refused on two counts. One, she never takes too kindly to other people spending her money on her behalf and two, as she said, she wasn’t paying five pounds to spend an evening with anybody especially Beelzebub.

Lila, ever the seeker of the middle ground where Beattie and Vera’s tempestuous friendship is concerned said it would be ok as we wouldn’t actually have to go to any of their meetings.

‘We can just get on the coach with the rest of them can’t we Vera?’

To which Vera replied, ‘Ah.’

‘Can’t we Vera?’

Well apparently not. You see as Vera tried to explain there was some sort of constitutional technicality that required us to present our membership cards in person to be stamped. Only then would we be bona fide spiritualists and entitled to half price tickets to see the show. Otherwise it was sixty five pounds each, not including coach fare and that only got you a seat with a view of a lighting rig between yourself and the stage.

For once Hilary Mason said she was with Beattie on this one. However before my neighbour could say ‘thank you’ she added not because of any of that silly mumbo jumbo but because the trip was on a Tuesday and that was her Swinger’s Club evening.

‘I thought that was Wednesday’s,’ said Vera.

‘We’ve joined a new one,’ Hilary replied. ‘Don’t get me wrong they were lovely people but apart from that bloke who cleans the shopping centre windows and his sister me and Clive were always the youngest people there.’

‘Moving on swiftly,’ I said having suddenly gone right off my cream horn. ‘From what I’ve heard there’s nothing to worry about. The local spiritualists aren’t that good anyway.’

Beattie muttered about pots calling kettles black and Vera sensing a shift in diplomatic ties unexpectedly leapt to my defence.

‘No fair’s fair Beattie, when Maureen read Doreen Hibbert’s teacup she was right about her going on a bus.’

‘Exactly,’ chimed Lila, ‘You weren’t to know she’d be plastered all over the front of the thing and not actually sitting in it were you Maureen?’

Vera now sensing she already had three votes for and only two against made a direct bid for Hilary’s support by saying she’d heard Billy Bigelow did most of Act III naked. Suddenly all Hilary’s thoughts of septuagenarian swingers vanished in a flash and Beattie found herself in a gang of one.

That is also how she found herself one wet Wednesday night perched precariously on a folding chair in the Sea Cadet Hall and eagerly awaiting the appearance of that evenings guest medium Madame Savatova, Well perhaps not as eagerly as some, but at least she was there and wedged between Hilary and myself with no chance of escape.

‘If she tells me I’ve got a Red Indian spirit guide I’ll slap both of you,’ threatened Beattie just to prove she may well have lost the battle but the war was still raging. Mind you I don’t know what she was worried about. I mean one look at Madame Savatova and you could tell she wouldn’t be up to much. She may have had her arms full of bangles and a headscarf fringed with old sixpenny pieces but apart from that she looked quite harmless.

And she was. At first. Two elderly people down the front apparently had grandmothers in the spirit world and Kathleen Worsley had had a dog at some point in her life. She said not as she was allergic to pet hair, but as Madame assured her, perhaps she’d been too young to remember. However things did start to unravel a bit when she wanted to come to the two sisters at the back because one was Vera and the other one was Lila.

‘Soul sisters,’ she added quickly and you had to admire her for thinking on her feet. ‘And with your dear mothers ever close.’

Beattie said that Vera’s mother was only ever as close to her as the locked door and electrified fences of the asylum would allow and for once Vera declined to take umbrage because she was still riled at the thought of being mistaken for Lila’s sister. Even in a metaphysical sense.

Where it really went wrong was when Madame asked if anybody could take a Dick? A hand went up in the front row but they could only take a Richard.

‘It’s definitely a Dick,’ Madame asserted at which point Hilary’s hand shot up and Beattie slapped it down hard with her handbag. After that the evening dwindled into cascades of spirit flowers raining down upon us and the golden glow of our auras for which Madame thanked us all very much.

‘If that Billy Bigelow wears so much as a sock Beattie Hathaway you’ll be hearing from my solicitor,’ said Hilary already starting to lose the feeling in her right hand. ‘And just for the record Clive’s father was a Dick. Now if I catch the number 27 bus,’ she added checking her watch, ‘that window cleaner may still be looking for a younger woman.’

Presumably he wasn’t because according to Vera her neighbour was home just after ten.

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

All stories in The Biddermouth Gazette ©Ian Ashley 2016

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Diana Day

Jan - March 2016Posted by Ian Ashley Sun, February 07, 2016 05:42PM

Apart from the obvious public holidays and Biddermouth Pride there are two days that stand out loud and proud in our small town’s calendar. One is July 31st. That’s when we commemorate the day in 1863 when two pleasure steamers collided with the pier resulting in deaths of over two hundred school children. The other important date is February 12th. This is known locally as ‘Diana Day’ and commemorates the visit the ex HRH made to the town to open the Princess Diana Hospital. Of course it’s now called the Princess Diana Memorial Hospital and is better known for its high amputation rates due to secondary infections and the fact that it has the biggest eating disorder clinic outside London.

Still as my neighbour Beattie says, risking a limb for a free bowl of spaghetti hoops seems a very high risk strategy even if you are underweight.’

However you ask anybody who was in the crowd thronging the High Street in 1996 and they will all have a treasured memory to share of that Great Day. Even Beattie has total recall because she refused point blank to join in the festivities and spent a merry day at home dipping her nets.

‘Once that woman started hugging everybody the writing was on the wall as far as I was concerned’ she said.

Still by all accounts she missed quite a bit, apart from the flags and the screaming I mean. Kevin from the Bona Curl Salon swears Diana’s smile cured his verruca. Vera claims she was inspired with a winning lottery line that netted her £112 and Lila is adamant that Diana descended from the clouds despite photographic evidence involving a BMW.

But whether, as some will tell you, the Dead did actually rise from their graves is debatable. So is the story of the woman who conceived on the spot despite having undergone a hysterectomy two years previous. Kevin firmly believes she did. He also believes the one about the two paraplegics being restored to full mobility through a Royal handshake. However for Pam Spammer it was a life changing moment in more ways than one.

You see despite having been in a wheel chair for years and claiming every benefit going it was wildly believed that the only thing wrong with Pam’s legs was her questionable taste in shoes. I mean how else had she won that Hokey Cokey contest in Benidorm? And that wouldn’t have become public knowledge either if she hadn’t fallen out with her sister over some indelible tyre marks she left on Val’s new woodblock flooring.

Anyway as Vera tells it, and you have to remember that she was under the illusion she had five numbers and a bonus ball in the bag herself at the time, Pam was so determined to get her picture taken with the ex-HRH that when Diana turned her back on her in favour of kissing two children with psoriasis she leapt up yelling ‘I’m cured! I’m cured!’

Well that got Pam on to the front page all right. It also got her a pretty swift visit from Social Security and despite claiming she’d later suffered a relapse they took away her free car. Three days later a party of workmen arrived and the grab-bars in her bathroom were gone too. They couldn’t do anything about the stair lift. You see it was custom built. But they did remove the seat. The newspaper deal with the News of the World fell through too. Because they opted to run the story under the headline ‘Big Fat Fraud’ Pam never got a penny. Now she suffers from emphysema and despite turning blue at regular intervals still has to support herself working part-time at the supermarket because you know what they say about the little boy who cried ‘wolf’?

However the person I feel most sorry for is Bernie Heffernan. Sound of wind and limb and as hard working as they come all she wanted was an autograph on a record sleeve.

‘I’d loved that wee girl ever since she won Eurovision in 1970,’ she lamented, ‘ so when I heard that Dana was coming to open the new hospital I dressed Trenna and Tralee up as leprechauns and rushed down there with my Greatest Hits LP.’

Of course hindsight is a wonderful thing and even Bernie admits to being a bit hazy as to exactly when the Irish singing sensation had married HRH The Prince of Wales but I suppose she was caught up in the hysteria just like everybody else.

‘I will admit, ‘said Bernie, still clearly troubled some twenty years later, ‘I was having a spot of bother myself with the Valiums at the time and to be sure I did think she looked a bit brassy. But then that’s what happens when a girl marries money and loses a lot of weight. I mean I remember Deirdre O’Halloran. She came back from Cork one summer with a fur coat, black twins and a second hand Vauxhall Viva. So such things do happen to be sure.’

‘Anyways it wasn’t till I gets home that I realises the autograph says ‘Diana’ and not Dana! I was mortified. Twenty odd years I’d cherished that LP and there it was, ruined in a flash and only fit for the refuse.’

This year, according to the Biddermouth Gazette, Diana Day will be more low-key than in times gone by as the hospital has banned the leaving of floral tributes on its front steps. Apparently they cause greenfly to be sucked up into the air conditioning and last year some were found to have made their way into the operating theatre. They have also banned the use of tea-lights after a midwife slipped on a bunch of Gala Lilies and suffered third degree burns.

We won’t be going either. Beattie never was a fan and I’m settling down with a nice cup of tea and a good book about the Duchess of Cornwall.

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

All stories in The Biddermouth Gazette ©Ian Ashley 2016

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