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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Economic Reality

April - June 2016Posted by Ian Ashley Sun, June 26, 2016 07:12PM

Whilst the rest of the country woke up to Brexit tales of gloom doom and possible mortar fire from across the English Channel our friend Vera woke up to something much worse than the news of a tumbling pound and that Bella Bynge and her friends from Abbots Sepsis had already cleared our local Waitrose of its remaining stocks of stuffed olives and Brie. Sadly late arrivals may have been stunned to find they had to settle for what was left of the linguini but I can tell you that was nothing to the shock Vera had when she discovered that her favourite reality TV programme had been axed. She was still speechless when we all met later for morning coffee at the Silver Lantern Café.

Not that TV schedules were uppermost in our minds I have to say. You see Bernie Heffernan the manageress was trying to work out how a pound that was worth 20% less than yesterday could still buy a chocolate éclair that was the same size it had always been.

My neighbour Beattie said it would make more difference if they were fresh and settled for a scone only to find that because of currency fluctuations Bernie had shored up her takings by adding a surcharge for the cream.

Lila Morris said she didn’t think it worked like that and to prove a point emptied her purse on to the table so Bernie could see that the pound coins were still the same size.

‘Otherwise,’ she added with the blithe assurance of the Chancellor bewildering the nation with a budget, ‘they’d all be smaller wouldn’t they?’

Now personally I’m not a huge fan of any of the reality programmes. So one less was fine by me. Fair enough if people want to kick start failing careers eating worms and having their plastic surgery filmed that’s their business but it’s hardly entertainment is it? I mean I know there are people who think Catherine Cookson is boring but say what you like, no matter how close to death the heroine gets by nine forty five she’s always made a miraculous recovery. However you could see the demise of ‘Can’t Swim! Won’t Swim!’ had hit Vera hard. She’d just about managed to point to a toasted teacake and was now having trouble spreading the butter.

‘I haven’t seen her like this since Diana died,’ whispered Lila wondering if she should help by cutting it into bite sized morsels or worse, actually start feeding her.

‘If you ask me it serves them right,’ said Hilary Mason. ‘Letting that poor woman drown like that.’

Beattie, who hasn’t watched anything made after 1979 since she’d spotted an unfettered breast on a children’s programme, argued that was all very sad but surely any non-swimmer who allows themselves to be thrown off a cross channel ferry in search of fame must be aware of the risks they are running.

‘I mean supposing they did ‘Can’t Jump! Won’t jump!’ and I allowed myself to be hurled off the top of the town hall and died. Whose fault would that be?’

Nobody answered but it was obvious that even in the depths of darkest despair Vera was still capable of spotting the glimmer of a good idea when she saw one.

Still as Lila pointed out the company had paid for the funeral although as Hilary said it was the least they could have done considering they’d got a two hour Bank Holiday Special out of the search for the body.

‘Which you watched if I’m not mistaken,’ replied Lila.

‘It was all that was on,’ said Hilary adding that they’d had some problems with Sky TV when her and Clive had subscribed to the Adult Channel.

‘Well it’s nice to see you’re finally watching something cultural,’ said Beattie. ‘If they start re-running Kenneth Clarke’s Civilisation you’ll have to invite me round to watch it. Anyway about this Brexit business.’

I could tell she still felt uneasy with the fact I’d persuaded her to come out and leave her mother’s old WWII gasmask in the cupboard under the stairs because every time a plane went over she gripped her napkin and only let go when she saw it was one of ours.

‘They did pay for her husband to marry that woman off The Voice,’ Lila went on obviously determined not to let a little thing like an historical moment get in the way of more weighty topics. Still that was enough to jolt Vera out of her trance. If there was anything she knew a lot about, apart from how to remove serial numbers off stolen electrical appliances, it was reality TV.

Apparently wife number two hadn’t been on The Voice at all. According to Vera she’d been on ‘Exploding Implants’ and their matron of honour had been runner up on ‘Chickens That Talk.

‘Dear God,’ sighed Beattie and I could see her visibly sinking into her corset as she alone shouldered the combined weight of an ailing economy and a possible German invasion whilst the rest of the world bickered about who had married who and whether the choir had been made up of the entire cast of ‘Deafening Flatulence’.

It was only Bernie slamming the till shut and saying it was like her sister’s house in Cork, that caused the flatulence debate to run out of puff.

‘You see not long after she bought it, we had the Crisis and it was suddenly only worth half of what she’d paid for it wasn’t it just.’

‘And,’ asked Beattie?

‘Well I’m after thinking that it still had the three bedrooms and the walk thru lounge despite being half of the price. So if an éclair was a pound yesterday and its worth 20% less today then by rights it should only cost 80p.’

Needless to say none of us argued when the bill arrived. Least of all Beattie who was happy to see that her cream was now included free of charge.

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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Ladies Day

April - June 2016Posted by Ian Ashley Sun, June 19, 2016 07:44PM

‘Well there’s a misnomer if ever there was one,’ my neighbour Beattie said when she heard that our friend Vera was going to Ladies Day at Ascot with the Biddermouth Seaside Landladies Association.

As I didn’t know what a ‘misnomer’ was I just nodded like I always do when Beattie shows off by trying out a new word she’s got from a crossword puzzle in every day conversation. But when I looked it up later I had to admit that where Vera Preston and the landladies were concerned she was probably right, no matter where she got the word from.

Anyway no matter what Beattie may have thought Vera had talked about nothing else since she’d been invited to join the coach party.

‘I don’t know why,’ said our friend Hilary Mason, ’she was only asked at the last minute because Gill Bronson from ‘The Bella Vista’ has gone down with shingles and is in too much pain to wear anything with a zip. I mean I know Vera’s rough but even she’ll be hard pushed to hold her own with that lot.’

Now that’s not to say all our town’s landladies are tarred with the same brush. Just in case you’re thinking of spending a couple of weeks in Biddermouth on Sea some of them have very pristine net curtains and Hilda Wansworth even advertises special meals for guests with lactose intolerance. However there are others, like Lois Hendry, this year’s Chair, who are not so accommodating. Apparently anybody unfortunate enough to be staying at ‘Sea View’ on a Friday gets a Tina Turner cabaret which I believe includes Lois’s version of ‘Simply the Best’ with her husband doing his best to keep his organ in time to all the actions.

‘Of course,’ Beattie had continued, ‘there was a time when that was exactly what it was Maureen, a day for ladies. Now when I went with my Arthur…’

Here we go I thought. Another tale from her twenty year reign of terror as consort to the Chairman of the Biddermouth Chamber of Commerce. And I wasn’t wrong either although I still doubt that the late Queen Mother had actually got her Lady in Waiting to slip her the recipe for a fruit loaf. Beattie may call it ‘royal’ but if you ask me it doesn’t taste half as good as the ones you get from ‘Karen’s Kakes’ on the High Street. Although that’s probably to do with the fact that Beattie’s oven always manages to burn one side of whatever she puts in it. Still she did go on a lot about hats, gloves and sensible shoes and even produced photographic evidence of her and Princess Alexandra smiling as if they are best of chums. Well Beattie is smiling. HRH just looks stunned.

So as you can imagine with a Chairperson like Lois in charge and a heady mix of fake tanned cleavages, too much champagne and a few hats that looked like dead birds on an Alice band to cope with none of us were surprised to hear they ran into a spot of bother. However none of us expected Vera to end up with her arm in plaster and a nasty cut over her left eye. Certainly not Hilary anyway. Especially when she got a phone call at two in the morning to collect her neighbour from A & E.

‘Apparently Vera’s Gordon was too drunk to even find first gear and he only managed to call Hilary because he dropped the phone and they had her on speed dial,’ said our friend Lila Morris who was out buying magazines to take round to the invalid.

Beattie said we could cross her off the visitor’s list as she was busy. She’d reached the critical stages of a diphtheria outbreak in her Catherine Cookson novel and was more interested in knowing whether the heroine survived or not than Vera’s tales of a drunken brawl at the races.

Lila said it wasn’t a brawl. It was a road accident and Vera was lucky she hadn’t been killed.

Now this was probably a slight exaggeration as even I know there is an entire dictionary of medical conditions between a broken limb and death. However being as I’m sure that of all our friend’s funerals Vera’s is the one Beattie is most looking forward to she was suddenly more than happy to let her heroine linger and even went so far to buy Vera a magazine herself.

‘Well it’s no good wasting your money on anything with too many words in, ‘she added scanning the pages. ‘As it is she’ll probably have to look up Portofino.’

Well I was right about Lila exaggerating. Far from being at death’s door, or even in the same street, Vera was full of it. Fair enough her Dwayne had got her some painkillers from a chap he’d met in a pub so she may have been slightly high. However there was an awful ring of truth to her story of Lois and her friend Vanda Goatley mooning a passing Polish articulated lorry which was what caused the accident in the first place.

‘I expect he jack-knifed,’ said Lila but all Vera could remember was everything going black then waking up in hospital.

‘However,’ she said, ‘at least we got to talk to the Queen. I think she must have got lost looking for the toilet tent bless her, well she is ninety, so she was lucky we’d all just been and were able to tell her where it was.’

I don’t think Beattie was too happy having her Princess Alexandra story well and truly trumped because on the way home she said,

‘Dear God I hope for Her Majesty’s sake Vera was hallucinating. If not that poor woman now knows exactly how Marie Antoinette must have felt when she came face to face with the ‘sans culottes’. I tell you Maureen if meeting Vera Preston doesn’t trigger an abdication crisis nothing will.’

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 World is full of Married Men

April - June 2016Posted by Ian Ashley Sun, June 12, 2016 05:53PM

I’m not sure which bit of ‘married man’ eluded Vera Preston when her daughter Chantal started going out with Ronnie Shergold. As far as she was concerned he was a really nice bloke who thought the world of Chantal and doted on her little daughter Kiara Marie as if she was his own. As well he might. You see it turned out he’d had plenty of practice which was why he drove a people carrier. I mean surely that alone should have been enough to set alarm bells ringing and as Hilary Mason said,

‘What single man goes to the trouble of having kiddies seats fitted on the off-chance of meeting an unmarried mother with two toddlers?’

Lila Morris said Chantal only had one, but typically I think she’d missed the point Hilary was trying to make there. Still you have to admire her for doing the honourable thing and trying to stick up for the girl. After all Chantal is her God daughter.

‘She should have been drowned at birth,’ remarked my neighbour Beattie who hadn’t even been invited to the christening. ‘That girl’s been more trouble than she’s worth ever since she first drew breath. I tell you Maureen every time I hear Vera going on about her brood I thank the Almighty my Arthur and I were never blessed. If ever there was a poster family for mass sterilisation it’s the Prestons.’

I thought she was being unduly harsh and so did Lila. The Prestons may be the first port of call for anybody wishing to purchase a stolen kitchen appliance but that didn’t mean they merited mass extermination. But as usual where the moral high ground is concerned Beattie assumed it was hers by right whilst being happy to overlook the fact that the serial number on her new toaster wouldn’t exactly stand up to close scrutiny. And whilst Chantal may spend her entire life in a pink tracksuit living on a diet of Red Bull and Pringles I said you had to feel sorry for the girl.

‘Well at least she only went out with him for a couple of months,’ said Lila. ‘Not like Irene Knowles. She spent fifteen years of her life only seeing Malcolm Brewster on a Wednesday between three and four thirty because he’d told her he couldn’t leave his wife until the children were old enough to understand.’

‘And did he,’ I asked?

‘No,’ she replied, ‘his youngest was four when Irene finally called it a day. Of course by then it was too late. Within three months she’d started wearing her shoes on the wrong feet and talking to herself so any chance of happiness she may have had was long gone. Which was a real shame because she’d been such a pretty girl.’

Beattie said lost beauty was one thing Chantal would never have to worry about looking back on and we both ignored her because when’s she’s in that sort of mood it’s the best thing you can do. Besides as much as I love Lila you can bet she’d be straight on the phone to Vera going, ‘Beattie said …’, and there’s not exactly a great deal of love lost between the two of them as it is.

Of course not being on-line ourselves we had to rely on Kevin from the Bona Curl Salon to break the news that Chantal was being ‘trolled’ on Facebook. Not that we knew what it was but it didn’t sound very nice.

‘It’s her own fault,’ he explained. ‘If I took to social media every time I’d been let down by a married man I’d never have a minute to myself let alone have the time to find another one.’

Apparently Chantal did that thing celebrities do when they’ve been dumped. She posted hundreds of pictures of herself on-line looking happy.

‘Which is all right if you’re Rhianna and everybody likes you,’ said Kevin. ‘But if you’re Chantal Preston it’s social media suicide. Plus whoever told her green eyeshadow was flattering ought to be shot. You know she’s even received death threats from as far away as the Isle of Wight? Mind you no ‘lady’ would have called Ronnie ‘a small dicked wonder’ in the first place. So I’m not surprised he wife hit back with that picture. I’m not saying it’s him, it can’t be, I’ve seen him in a tracksuit, but it made my eyes water just to look at it.’

Well I have to say this Facebook thing was news to me. I thought the whole idea was that you had friends and so it seems did Chantal. But according to Kevin that wasn’t the way it worked. As he said he may have been Facebook friends with her online, and so were 1500 other people but he wouldn’t be seen dead in the street with her in real life. Although he did admit he was proud of himself for quickly deleting a post that branded her as a fat slag with a sexually transmitted disease.

‘I don’t think she saw it,’ he said. ‘And if she did I’ll just say I was hacked.’

Still according to her mother, Chantal is having the time of her life, out with her mates every night and doing the best to put the heartbreak behind her.

However whilst it might be all right for the rich and the famous to be snapped coming out of nightclubs much the worse for wear when they’ve had an emotional crisis the same rules do not apply when you’re a single mother on benefit. Being photographed vomiting Malibu and Lucozade down a drain with your tracksuit bottoms round your knees is hardly liable to win you any public sympathy. If anything it plays straight into the dangerous hands of the Beattie Hathaway’s of this world.

Mind you I know where Vera’s hands will be if she ever finds out it was Kevin who uploaded it to YouTube in the first place.

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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Celebrity Biographies

April - June 2016Posted by Ian Ashley Sun, June 05, 2016 05:34PM

It’s not often a small town like ours produces a star of the magnitude of Pat Logan. So you can imagine how excited we all were when news got out that the ‘Julie Christie of the Hampshire Riviera’, as she was known in the 60’s, had finally put pen to paper and written her autobiography. Especially our friends Vera and Lila who remembered her from their school days as being beautiful, talented and destined for greater things even from an early age. Hilary Mason was slightly less complimentary. She described Pat as ‘posh, pushy and far too full of herself’, whilst my neighbour Beattie who’d been in the same year put it even more bluntly. She remembered her in their school production of Romeo and Juliet and recalled her as an ambitious little slut.

‘And that’s saying something,’ she added with a look that was completely wasted as Hilary was too busy staring across the road at a couple of shirtless young gasman to even notice.

Vera tried to defend Pat’s reputation by saying that was just sour grapes because Beattie had been left out of the cast and put in charge of the props table instead.

‘Anyway,’ she added, ‘all that business with her shift had been an accident. Everybody knows muslin always looks transparent under really strong lighting.’

However Beattie was having none of it. She might well have only been in charge of the odd bottle of poison and a few wooden daggers but she also just happened to know that when Judi Dench had played Juliet she’d kept her knickers on and had probably worn a vest as well.

Anyway, whether Pat Logan’s private parts had been visible all the way to the back row or not, the tale was that in true storybook fashion, there had been a film producer in the audience that night and given the choice between taking her ‘O’ levels and becoming a Hollywood star young Pat chose the latter. Unfortunately like Garbo there could only ever be one Julie Christie and Pat Logan wasn’t it. So unless she’d slept with Elvis, met Marianne Faithfull or sung with Dusty Springfield my £15.99 was staying firmly in my purse.

As Kevin from the Bona Curl salon said, how much of interest could there be in the autobiography of a woman who’d made a name for herself playing corpses and was last seen being terrorised by a swarm of giant ants?

Quite a lot apparently because a large poster appeared in our bookshop window announcing that the star herself would be returning to her home town for a book signing the following week. Not that the younger generation were that interested. Iris Naomi, who is Kevin’s assistant, thought she was the posh woman who had that programme on telly baking cakes whilst her boyfriend thought Pat Logan had scored the winning goal for England in the 1966 World Cup Final.

However it did cause a bit of a stir at the Over 60’s especially when Vera announced that there was bound to be a chapter on Pat’s school days so they were all bound to get a mention.

Ted Aldis said he hoped not as he’d never told his wife about him and Pat and to be honest I don’t think anybody took George Cawdrey’s claim of a night of passion on Burgess Hill seriously because as Beattie said he’d always smelled of fish even then.

‘Of course,’ she added, ‘that wasn’t his fault, his father being a fishmonger but all the same…’

‘Well I’ll definitely be in it,’ said Vera. ‘Pat and I were really good friends.’

‘You mean she used to let you carry her satchel,’ said Hilary whose memory of those halcyon days were clearly very different.

‘At least Pat never stole my boyfriend,’ snapped Vera which should have been Hilary’s cue to start staring at the gasmen again. But it wasn’t.

Instead she said she’d never really liked Danny Dobson anyway.

‘Funny that,’ replied Vera sensing that she had the lead in this particular argument. ‘You liked him enough to think he’d got you pregnant.’

‘That doesn’t mean actually I liked him Vera Preston! It was raining. We were in a bus shelter. I mean what else was there to do?’

Personally I thought Pat was either desperate for sales or extremely foolhardy to risk a public appearance in her home town, and apparently so did Pat in the end. Maybe her agent had second thoughts. Who knows? Either way she was ‘regrettably indisposed following a riding accident on the Algarve’ which meant the book signing fell a bit flat, as it would when there is nobody there to sign anything.

Still that didn’t stop Vera helping herself to a copy when she thought nobody was looking. Hilary actually paid for hers. As she said it wasn’t every day you got the chance to knock a budding film star out cold in the school playground so she might be in it too. Ted bought one but kept it hidden from his wife although as it turned out he needn’t have bothered as he wasn’t even mentioned. Mind you that kept George Cawdrey’s reputation intact as Burgess Hill wasn’t mentioned either.

Sadly neither was Vera. Apparently Pat had no fond memories of the girl that used to carry her satchel. She did remember being bullied at school for her beauty which Hilary reckoned was a result as everybody in their year knew she was the reason Pat had been carted off in an ambulance.

Mind you, as Vera said bitterly, at Pat’s age she was bound to forget some things. Especially as she’d probably been on drugs for years and looked like she had an alcohol problem. Although I think she was bit harsh blaming her omission as a sign of Pat’s early dementia.

Indeed said Beattie. And she was right. Because on page 64 that famous muslin shift was mysteriously made of stout white cotton. So who knows?

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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Saints Alive!

April - June 2016Posted by Ian Ashley Mon, May 30, 2016 01:16PM

It’s amazing what some people bring back from their holidays. Our friend Vera Preston still laughs about the time her and Gordon came home with somebody else’s child. As she said the service station car park was busy that night and it was also raining heavily at the time so it could have happened to anybody. Luckily little Sanjay’s parents also saw the funny side of things and the two families still exchange Christmas cards. But some people are not so fortunate. Two years ago our other friend Hilary came back from Tenerife with a very different souvenir. In fact it was so far removed from the traditional holiday trinket that we only knew she had it because Clara, the receptionist at the Health Centre told us she’d called in for a repeat prescription. Bound as she is by patient confidentiality Clara couldn’t tell us what it was but to judge from her gesticulations it wasn’t a sore throat. Even so, apart from knowing that whatever it was has put Hilary off Pernod and Blackcurrant for life, we are still none the wiser.

However if you’re planning a visit to our little seaside town at any point this summer you will probably want to treat yourself to one of the Biddermouth Madonna souvenirs that the vicar of St Stephen’s is marketing to commemorate the painting’s 500th anniversary. He’s also trying to raise money to replace the missing lead on his roof which would be commendable if it wasn’t for the rumour that he was responsible for its theft in the first place. I mean he may well have bought his new Vauxhall on four years interest free credit but sadly there is no smoke without fire. Harsh I know, but very often true.

Of course all this has caused more than a ripple of dissention amongst the town’s clergy, especially Father Jerome at St Joseph’s. He claims he has proof that instead of being a painting of the Madonna it is in fact a portrait of a well-known Genovese prostitute and has even gone on record as saying that far from radiating the serenity of the Holy Spirit her enigmatic smile merely hides the fact that she has a mouth full of rotten teeth.

Other members of the cloth have been more subtle. The Rev Velma Meakin at St Matthews and All Angels merely said she detected a whiff of Rome swirling about the pulpit of St Stephens whilst the Methodists went a step further and claimed in their newsletter that its vicar was openly committing adultery. This was later blamed on a typo that should have read ‘idolatry’ but by then the damage was done. Needless to say the Baptists were otherwise distracted. They’ve been busy draining their pool since the Environmental Health Authority discovered Legionella in the pipes.

That said, as reproductions go, they are pretty good quality. I’ve not been tempted myself and neither has my neighbour Beattie but Vera has bought one of the Madonna keyrings to hang off her lucky bingo pen and Hilary has invested in a set of coasters and half promised herself the matching table mats. Sadly our friend Lila Morris hasn’t fared so well. But as Vera said, surely the clue was in the corset and suspenders? And as Beattie added that’s what you get buying things off a market stall. Still you would have thought Lila would have found out that if you pressed the statues head down she sang ‘Like a Virgin’ in a very suspect oriental accent before handing over her money or at least it did until Lila’s greyhound bit her in half.

‘I should have stuck to my guns,’ she said as we sat in the Silver Lantern Café having our usual morning coffee. ‘I said to Keith at the time a tea towel would be more use but would he listen? No he would not. Anyway,’ she added nodding towards the counter, ‘have you seen what’s hanging up over there?’

We all looked and sure enough Bernie Heffernan, the manageress, had given pride of place to the Biddermouth Madonna over her till.

‘I know she bats for the other side so to speak,’ she told us, ‘but as I said to the Almighty we are living in contrary times what with the weather being upside down. Besides I was needing to give St Clodagh of Clonmel a bit of a breather after all that trouble over my cousin’s kidney stone. Three day’s in the passing it was and there was the whole family going at poor St Clodagh day and night and for what? A huge bill for the candles and a piece of grit that small you’d not even have noticed it had it blown in your eye. But I’m after thinking it was a lot to ask of a woman who’s spent the last two years devoting herself to keeping the flies of the Florentines. Still what with St Agnes doing a grand job out the back giving eye to the Tupperware I was needing something to hide that stain on the wall. And there she was, £17.50 and exactly the right size, so if that’s not a miracle I don’t know what is.’

Sadly one woman’s miracle often turns out to be another woman’s curse. Despite hanging a Biddermouth Madonna key ring from her lucky bingo pen Vera still failed to carry off the jackpot last Friday. Lila’s greyhound needed emergency treatment to a blocked intestine and Hilary should have bought the tablemats when she first saw them as they are now all sold out. Which isn’t surprising when you consider most of them are now in the Silver Lantern Café.

Apparently The Biddermouth Madonna did such a great job removing the stain on the wall that Bernie is hoping for more of the same for the tablecloths. As for St Clodagh of Clonmel we’ve all agreed to give the Florentines a miss until she’s back on duty.

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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A Question of Second Hand Knees

April - June 2016Posted by Ian Ashley Sun, May 15, 2016 08:48PM

The Biddermouth Annual Fete is always a major high light in the social calendar and I have to say that because the unseasonably mild weather has meant funerals have been few and far between since Xmas it is nice to have something to look forward to otherwise we’d have been in for another long month with nothing to do.

Not that we ought to complain funeral-wise I suppose. We did have a bit of a flurry in November when following that mix up with the flu vaccine six residents of the River Bank Home for the Elderly vacated their rooms earlier than expected and all in the same week. Of course the coroner can say what he likes about there being ‘underlying health issues’ but you can’t tell me nobody brought the fact that all the instructions on the bottles were in Albanian to his attention.

And I can tell you now, trying to keep up with half a dozen funerals all at different churches and all in the space of five days was quite an achievement in itself. In fact even my next door neighbour Beattie was so tired by the Saturday she let her nets go another week without being dipped.

Vera Preston said she hoped the fete would be safer than last year and Hilary Mason said it would be because she happened to know that this year the Biddermouth Caledonians had been asked to confine themselves to demonstrating the Highland fling and banned from their annual display of caber tossing. You see last year one member lost his grip and manage to toss himself into the arena where our late friend Julie Jackson was just about to collect her Gold Medal for her Quince Jelly.

Hilary thought there were worse ways of dying than underneath fifteen stone of flying Scotsman but my neighbour Beattie took a more practical approach to the tragedy. She said she couldn’t help but think it had been a waste of new knee joints especially as Julie’s children had all clubbed together so she could have them done privately.

‘I mean it’s not like they could get a refund is it?’

Lila Morris said, no but they’d probably been transplanted because she knew for a fact Julie had always carried a donor’s card and even though Vera pointed out that the cards were for vital organs not knee joints Lila was adamant she was right. And to prove her point she recounted a story she’d read in one of the daily papers where a woman in Bradford had received donor knees and ended up word perfect in Gujarati.

‘And she’d never been further than Skegness in her life,’ she added. ‘After all they must have to take them out for the cremation so they’d only go to waste. I mean what else could you do with them?’

Vera suddenly turned pale at the memory of going to see Julie at the Chapel of Rest.

‘If I’d known she was lying in that casket with no knees I wouldn’t have gone,’ she added. ‘I even said my Gordon at the time she’d looked shorter than I remembered.’

Hilary said having second hand knees couldn’t be as bad as waking up to find you had somebody else’s womb because at least joints could be boiled.

Beattie wanted to know who Hilary knew that had a second hand womb and Vera wanted to know where she’d put her donor card because she was certain she’d only ever offered up her heart and kidneys. Even when she’d found it in her purse, borrowed my glasses and read the small print it still wasn’t clear what was up for grabs and what wasn’t so she tore in it half just in case. Unfortunately for everybody Lila was still going on about Julie’s knees.

‘Well she’d only had them for a month,’ said Lila as if that made all the difference, ‘and for two of those four weeks she was on sticks so they were hardly used were they?’

Beattie said that wasn’t the point. Many years ago her Arthur had bought a second hand Hillman Minx and despite the fact that, like Julie’s knees, it had only had one careful owner even after swabbing the PVC with Dettol she hadn’t felt comfortable sitting in the passenger seat until Arthur had gone out and bought new seat covers.

‘Of course in those days you could only get nylon but at least that was better than leaving your skirt open to cross contamination. But even then I was never fully at ease if he had to brake hard because of the static. Which reminds me, speaking of contamination, I’d give the homemade cake stall a wide berth this year if I were you. That Barbara Grimshaw may say her drains have been fixed but I popped in the other day and you could still smell sewage in the hallway so God alone knows what her kitchen must be like. Apparently it came up through the floor boards.’

‘Whilst they were in Tenerife for a fortnight too,’ added Lila.

I have to say that banning the caber tossing appears to be the thin end of the wedge because according to the Gazette this will be the safest fete ever. You see the council have also banned donkey rides for the children, there will be no hard balls in the cocoanut shy, and nobody will be allowed to film the Girl Guides showing off their country dancing skills. However there is something reassuringly English about the pleasure of buying a raffle ticket for a tombola and ending up with a leaky bottle of shampoo. Which is just as well really as I’ve just heard they are not allowed to offer any prizes in a glass bottle.

Still as Hilary said, the Biddermouth Caledonians are definitely performing the Highland fling and even if we can’t take photographs, on this particular stretch of the south coast it can still be very windy.

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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A Dose of the Carnival Queen Blues

April - June 2016Posted by Ian Ashley Sun, May 08, 2016 06:20PM

It seems these days that you can’t move an inch in Biddermouth without somebody knowing what you’re up to. As our friend Vera recently found out. Apparently the store detective submitted the CCTV footage of her trying to hide two packets of fish fingers down the front of her anorak as evidence in court. Luckily a mate of her grandson Dwayne ‘knew’ the magistrate and the Colonel allowed the matter to drop with nothing more than a caution. However it seems that some of the contestants in the heats for this year’s ‘Biddermouth Carnival Queen’ competition haven’t fared so well, including Vera’s youngest daughter Chantal.

Luckily we’d told Vera to meet us at the Silver Lantern Café at ten thirty. We’d all got there at ten because as Lila said it wouldn’t be fair on Vera to mention the photographs in her hearing.

‘I expect Chantal was tricked into taking her clothes off anyway,’ she said. ‘Apparently it happens a lot. There was a programme on it the other morning. It’s even becoming a problem in primary schools.’

Hilary wondered how anybody could be tricked into undressing as in her experience most people just asked. But either way she said it must have been quite a trick because Social Services had been trying to get Chantal out of that pink tracksuit for years and some poor bloke with a webcam and an internet connection had been able to do it in less than five minutes.

‘Anyway she’s not missing much,’ she added. ‘In my day being Carnival Queen meant something.’

‘Like what,’ asked Beattie who’d never been asked to take part on account of her hips and a bathing costume not being a match made in heaven.

Whilst Hilary was having to think hard about that one Lila reminded her she’d only made the final because she’d padded out the front of her bikini.

‘How you thought your brother’s two red football socks were going to make you look like Jayne Mansfield I’ll never know. Especially as one fell out. No wonder you didn’t win.’

‘At least I never posed for mucky photos!’

Lila snapped back that was rich coming from somebody who’d displayed herself on the ‘Wicked Wives’ contact site in a peek-a-boo bra which led Hilary, yet again, to swear on her mother’s life that it wasn’t her.

‘Your mother died two years ago,’ Beattie reminded her and with equal speed Lila added that her Keith had recognised the bedspread. Fortunately for Lila she knows a hole when she’s digging one for herself and had the good sense to explain it was the one Hilary had ordered from her catalogue.

‘So in that case Lila Morris it could have been any one of a hundred women. More to the point what’s your Keith doing taking an interest in my bedroom accessories?’

Lila said he was there when it was delivered which should have closed the subject then and there so was there any need for Hilary to add that she doubted Keith Morris had enough puff in him to climb a flight of stairs let alone to do anything worthwhile when he got there? I think not. So perhaps it was just as well Vera arrived when she did as in either of those wrong hands that cake slice could have become a very lethal weapon.

‘I really didn’t think she’d have the nerve to show her face this morning,’ said Beattie as we watched Vera hurrying across the road against a red light to join us for morning coffee.

Lila said she’d always been brazen. But not, she added with a quick look at Hilary, as brazen as some she could mention.

Of course to hear Vera talk you’d think the crown had been cruelly snatched off her daughter’s head rather than Chantal simply being disqualified from a local heat held at The Spread Eagle public house. As she said, calmly choosing a Vienna Slice and ordering a cappuccino, they were private photos.

‘You’ll be telling us next she was tricked into posing for them,’ said Hilary Mason.

‘She was,’ replied Vera. ‘In fact it’s more common than you think. Didn’t you see that programme on it the other morning? We really ought to go to the police.’

‘Better hide those dozen microwave ovens first then,’ said Hilary.

Lila Morris, as befits a best friend in need, not mention a worried owner of a stolen microwave, tried to console her by saying she thought it was so unfair. Vera said, ‘Thank you’ and added that she knew her old bridesmaid would always stand by her.

‘What I meant was,’ Lila continued, suddenly pricked by the memory of being forced into a pale blue frock and a pair of flat beige shoes, ‘it was unfair because the girl that won has a worse reputation than your Chantal.’

‘How many times do I have to tell you, it wasn’t her you saw in the bus shelter. My Chantal’s not the only person with an underactive thyroid you know.'

Hilary said it wasn’t her thyroid that gave the game away. It was her daughter’s name tattooed on the sole of her foot everybody had recognised.

‘Anyway’, replied Vera, ‘our Chantal’s not the only one nursing a disappointment this morning.’

Of course I knew who she meant. I’d been woken up in the early hours of the morning by a very tearful Kevin from the Bona Curl Salon who’d lost out on his own chance of a crown in the ‘Alternative Miss Biddermouth’ contest at The Jolly Seaman pub.

I did suggest gently that maybe it was time he tried being somebody other than Barbara Stanwyck and whilst he always did a good job of singing ‘All of Me’, perhaps it was also time for a new song. But as he said what good would that have been up against a crane driver dressed as Michelle Obama who brought the house down with a spirited rendition of ‘Mule Train’?

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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All's not well that ends badly

April - June 2016Posted by Ian Ashley Sun, May 01, 2016 06:16PM

The last time the Biddermouth on Sea Amateur Dramatic Society ‘did’ Shakespeare their production of Hamlet was hailed by Gale Mooney, our local theatre critic, as being ‘up there with ‘Move Over Mrs Markham’ when it came to laughs…’ Of course those of us not familiar with the story would have probably failed to notice anything wrong in the hero calling his girlfriend Desdemona had the prompt not insisted on yelling ‘Ophelia’ from the wings every time he said it. Gayle certainly didn’t.

Come to mention it she didn’t even notice that at fifty Frieda Finkley was a bit long in the tooth to be playing a teenager which explains why you’ll now hear Gayle’s voice at the other end of the line should you wish to place an advertisement for your old lawn mower.

So you can see why we were all a bit reluctant to spend an evening at the Town Hall Theatre watching the BoSADS perform their next masterpiece as part of the town’s celebrations to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the death of nation’s greatest playwright.

Luckily nobody took the Rev Velma Meakin’s idea to re-enact the burning of the Catholic Martyrs in the market place with real flames seriously but even so I still think we’ve gone a little over the top what with all the maypole dancing, ox roasts and out of work actors wandering about the place strumming lutes. Especially as there is no evidence that Shakespeare died here or ever visited Biddermouth when he was alive. And even if he did pop through unannounced I doubt he wrote ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ whilst staying at ‘The Old Swan Hotel’ despite what Vic and Angie who run the place tell all their American tourists.

However that hasn’t stopped the Madrigal Society causing a backlog at Morton’s whilst they have their enormous skirts dry cleaned. Mind you, according to Kevin at the Bona Curl Salon, who was told his curtains would take at least two weeks, their appearance in the interval is still in doubt. Apparently their mezzo soprano had a spot of bother with a glass of flaming Sambuca and now sounds like Louis Armstrong which has left a question mark hanging over their ability to perform a six-part harmony.

Anyway madrigals aside Vera was already in two minds about going to the play but said if it had French windows and a vicar with no trousers she’d give Big Money Bingo a miss.

‘It’s Shakespeare’ said my neighbour Beattie. ‘They didn’t have vicars.’

Lila replied she was sure there was one in ‘Romeo and Juliet’ and Vera said she was right, there was, and what a lot of trouble he’d caused everybody supplying narcotics to teenagers. Still as long as we could have fish and chips on the way home we could count her in. Beattie, who always has trouble eating anything on the move with a knife and fork looked doubtful. Lila said that sounded ok by her and that she was sure Hilary Mason would be up for it as well but she’d give her a call just to make sure.

‘I thought Wednesday was her Swinger’s Club night,’ said Vera.

‘Cystitis,’ Lila replied. ‘She can only drink cranberry juice and can’t go anywhere near a Salt and Vinegar crisp for at least a fortnight. Anyway according to Rose Milner we need to get our skates on as tickets are selling like hot cakes.’

Beattie asked what the play was called.

‘All’s Well That Ends Well’, answered Lila and Beattie said she doubted that very much given their track record.

‘That Frieda was exactly the same when they did, ‘The Sound of Music.’ I know there’s a Maria in ‘West Side Story,’ but surely being dressed as a nun should have given her some sort of clue? And why she started going ‘out damned spot,’ in the middle of Ophelia’s mad scene I’ll never know.’

‘Was Ophelia Hamlet’s other girlfriend then,’ asked Lila?

Beattie let out a sigh of despair. She said the speech was from Macbeth and Lila added that it was just as well then Frieda had ad-libbed because at no point had Shakespeare let on that Desdemona needed to wash her hands. At least that explained how she fell into the river.

‘She committed suicide,’ said Beattie.

Vera said she wrong there. She’d been strangled. And by Lawrence Olivier no less. Although now she thought about it his face had been in need of a good wash too which gave Lila the opportunity to further confuse things by adding that it just went to show what a tragic thing OCD could be if taken to extremes but then she supposed that in Shakespeare’s day they didn’t have very good soap.

‘That’s why my Keith swears by Swarfega.’

‘We know that Lila,’ replied Vera. ‘My dress stank of the stuff after he got behind me in the Conga at the Over Sixties Christmas Party.’

‘Well are we going to this wretched play or not,’ Beattie asked? ‘Because by the sound of it we’ll need to act quick or it will be sold out.’

Vera thought it seemed a waste of money going to see something that gave the end away in the title. After all, as she said, it was exactly like that film, ‘Titanic’ and she couldn’t have been the only one who wasn’t surprised when the ship sank surely?

Lila had second thoughts too. Unfortunately they involved dancing round the maypole which was a bit unfair on Beattie as we all know full well she can’t skip anywhere on account of her girdle. That was probably why she suddenly became enthusiastic about the ox roast. At least that comes in a bun so she won’t be needing a knife and fork. As for Hilary I’m sure she’ll be fine. Failing that she’ll have to bring her own cranberries won’t she? After all if we can pretend to enjoy ourselves I don’t see why she can’t.

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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