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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Mince Pie Eating Contest

Christmas 2016Posted by Ian Ashley Sun, December 18, 2016 06:06PM

Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas in Biddermouth on Sea without the annual Mince Pie eating competition. Those of you in the know will remember that last year our very own Karen Braithwaite only just managed to clinch the title after seeing off some stiff competition. Of course there was a steward’s enquiry at the end but the rule book clearly states… ‘If both parties have consumed an equal number of pies it’s the last one to be sick who is declared the winner…’

So although it’s not exactly a time trial it did mean our Karen won fair and square by a margin of under a minute.

However this year it was touch and go as to whether we would have a competition at all. According to the local council promoting binge eating, even for fun, sends out a very poor message to anybody suffering from an eating disorder. They have even slapped a by-law on Sanjay Patel’s ‘All You Can Eat Curry Garden’ that makes it illegal to allow people to visit the buffet more than three times. That in itself is an odd stance to take when you consider they are the same people that don’t see anything wrong in allowing the pubs and supermarkets to tempt alcoholics twenty four seven or for the local Arcade having gaming machines that can swallow a gambling addicts entire week’s wages in one go. Thankfully common sense prevailed despite Sylvia Protheroe’s slimming club organising a petition.

‘It sets a very bad example to my ladies,’ she said when we couldn’t get away from her in the supermarket. ‘Some of them really struggle to stay under eight stone.’

Fortunately she had an under-eater’s class at eleven o’clock and beat a hasty retreat towards the checkout to pay for her bag of beansprouts and some pumpkin seeds. Had she stayed then no doubt we’d have heard the age old story of how she was dropped from the Royal Ballet for eating a cough drop.

Still that didn’t stop her and some of her ladies turning up on the day to make their feelings clear about the contest. Not that they formed much of a protest as most of them were too weak to hold their placards up for long, even when they tried sharing one between two.

‘It’s not as if any of them actually live in the town,’ said Vera, which was true as most of them were from the nearby gated village of Abbots Sepsis where they’d already forced the local shop to close down and be replaced by a very expensive boutique.

‘And at least this year’s finalists are both from Biddermouth on Sea,’ added Lila, ‘although I think Karen may well have a fight on her hands this time round as I hear June Elliot’s been practising with whole Cornish Pasties.’

‘If it is June,’ replied Vera. ‘Those Elliot girls all look alike especially from behind. And even head on they all look like their brother Michael.’

Lila said she thought he had a moustache.

Vera just shrugged and said, ‘so’?

Of course when it came to defending her title Karen Braithwaite was no slouch. She’d devoted the whole of November to a regular morning regime of four Sacher Tortes followed by a light evening’s jog through two dozen chocolate eclairs moving up to thirty six at the weekends. Once she hit December her husband and personal trainer Derwent had her stabilising her digestive juices with three cartons of Chow Mein interspersed with a raspberry blancmange followed by a forty eight hour fast for the two days before the competition. To say that Karen looked fighting fit was an understatement.

That said June Elliot, or it could well have been Marion or Mandy, looked in pretty good form too as they both took their seats opposite each other and gamely shook hands.

Then the referee blew his whistle, Sylvia’s ladies started chanting and the gloves, as they say, were well and truly off.

Derwent’s forty eight hour fast paid dividends in the early stages with June Elliot soon trailing ten pies behind a hungry Karen. When she extended her lead to twelve the Elliot camp protested only to be quickly over-ruled. Obviously Derwent had done his research well. There was nothing in the rule book about not using two hands.

There was also nothing about ‘two at a time’ either, a tactic which soon allowed June to draw level then go three up before she got a yellow card for belching. At that point we all stepped back. Just in case… Although this year Beattie had suggested the wise precaution of standing upwind of the competitors. Last year we got there late and hadn’t been so lucky. Neither had our rain macs. I have no idea what they put in the mincemeat but even after three trips to the dry cleaners Lila’s is still only fit for wearing on her allotment. But then she would insist on standing in front of everybody.

Clearly a diet of pasties and Chow Mein plus the benefits of elasticated waistbands were paying off as Karen’s long standing record of one hundred and twenty one pies was soon easily passed and the finalists found themselves neck and neck at one hundred and thirty and still matching each other chew for chew. Then it happened. One of those things that people often claim to be the hand of God although some may simply call it Fate. But that didn’t stop the Elliot’s being labelled ‘foul-mouthed’ when June’s chair suddenly gave way beneath her with a resounding crack. She went down hard and at least twenty of the one hundred and thirty pies came up just as violently.

Of course Karen could have gone on to much greater things, but she is nothing if not gracious in victory. She merely made her point by finishing pie one hundred and thirty one with a lady-like flourish, touched up her lipstick and raised her trophy aloft for the waiting photographers.

To view my books ‘Bell, Book & Handbag’ and ‘Tourist Trouble & other short stories’, ‘A Festive Falling Out’ and ‘Turkey And All The Trimmings’ 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 not-so Silent Night

Christmas 2016Posted by Ian Ashley Sun, December 11, 2016 07:02PM

This year, and don’t ask me how this has happened, my neighbour Beattie has managed to put our names down to help out at the Riverbank Home for the Elderly’s annual Christmas party. The first I knew about it was when I got a letter from the matron thanking me for giving up my afternoon although I wasn’t aware I had volunteered to do any such thing. Neither had Lila Morris. Vera Preston certainly hadn’t. She put her letter straight into the bin.

‘That matron’s got a bloody nerve if you ask me,’ she said, ‘after she flatly refused my mother’s application to move in.’

Lila remarked that was because Vera’s mother was an arsonist.

‘She does have the safety of the other residents to consider you know,’ she added.

‘One mattress, does not an arsonist make, thank you very much Lila Morris,’ replied Vera. ‘Plus it was her own, at least she thought it was. It wasn’t her fault she got confused and ended up in the wrong room. Those tablets were supposed to be taken with food, not on an empty stomach so no wonder she had a bit of a funny turn. And anyway I notice nobody has asked Hilary to help out have they?’

Well this was true, they hadn’t, or rather Beattie hadn’t volunteered her services because as she’d said there were men there and we all knew full well that putting Hilary in the same room as twelve pairs of trousers was tantamount to tossing a lighted match into a waste bin full of paper.

‘Just because they’re all deaf and over eighty Maureen, doesn’t mean they’d be safe and I would think even if you were suffering from dementia you’d find the sight of Hilary in one of her peek-a-boo bras highly disturbing. And that’s why I didn’t put Rita Randall’s name down on the list either.’

Now that I could understand. The oft married Rita was widely known to be between men at the moment, the circus having left town and taken its troupe of young Italian acrobats with it. Not that they were actually at risk as even Rita knows her own limitations when it comes to flying without a safety net, but we did hear that their father had taken to locking himself in with the lions whenever he thought she was prowling round the Big Top.

What none of us could understand was how Beattie had managed to get herself in charge of the party in the first place. Two years ago she’d actually been banned from putting one foot across the threshold. Although as Lila pointed out, perhaps the new matron hadn’t made aware of this.

‘She’ll soon see the error of her ways, ‘said Vera, ‘I mean I know Beattie is house proud but tidying all their rooms and throwing their old clothes out in black sacks was a bit much.’

‘So was rearranging all the furniture in the day room,’ added Lila. ‘I mean fancy putting those footstools right where the partially sighted could fall straight over them? Two of them suffered broken hips and one had a very nasty sprain. And she was only there for two hours.’

Anyway be that as it may, no amount of pleading on our part could shake Vera’s resolve. Mind you when Beattie called us all to order two days before the party Lila and I were already wishing we’d shared Vera’s strength of mind. I mean it is bad enough visiting Beattie at the best of times. What with having to remember not to lean back to avoid denting the cushions on her settee or scuff your shoes on her woodblock flooring, trying to string your thoughts together long enough to hold a polite conversation just cannot be done. Not that we were expected to do any of the talking this time. It was more a case of ‘listen’ as Beattie handed out instructions of who was to do what and when. Luckily I was only given the washing up.

‘I know you’re ham-fisted Maureen,’ she said, ‘but if you break a few plates it won’t matter. Its’ council issue crockery not fine china.’

Lila thought she’d got off quite lightly too. But why Beattie thought she needed a cloakroom attendant when nobody would be wearing a coat we had no idea.

‘The Mayor will be there,’ she explained. ‘So you make sure you handle his regalia with due reverence Lila Morris and wear gloves. Which only leaves us one down because Karen Braithwaite’s bringing two Victoria sponges and Rose Millner’s organised the accordionist for the carols.

‘It’s not too late to ask Rita,’ I said only to be met with exclamations which I took to mean, ‘No’.

Now whether somebody (probably Vera) had tipped off the matron I don’t know but all the doors leading upstairs were securely locked and every foot stool had been removed from the day room. Still nobody choked on a sandwich or spilled their tea and everybody joined in with ‘Silent Night’ even if it did sound more akin to a vigorous polka. In fact everybody was having a lovely time, even Beattie, when the double doors opened and two of the porters wheeled in an enormous cake.

‘Courtesy of the corporation no doubt,’ said Beattie looking very proud of herself. ‘This’ll knock spots off last year’s Punch and Judy show.’

And as usual she was right. It did. Although I have to say I doubt anything, apart from Jesus himself turning up for his birthday tea, will ever top the sight of Rita Randall as she burst through a layer of lemon frosting yelling ‘Whoopee Boys!’ The fact she was wearing a pair of Santa earrings and a see-through body stocking appliqued with several strategically placed strips of angelica seemed almost incidental.

Still you have to hand it to matron. She’s obviously well trained when it comes to using a defibrillator which is just as well because Beattie was first in the queue.

To view my books ‘Bell, Book & Handbag’ and ‘Tourist Trouble & other short stories’, ‘A Festive Falling Out’ and ‘Turkey And All The Trimmings’ 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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Loose Mousse

Christmas 2016Posted by Ian Ashley Sun, December 04, 2016 07:36PM

Sitting in the Silver Lantern Café we all agreed there were certain words we didn’t want to read in magazines at Christmas.

Vera Preston said it was ‘Your most stress-free Christmas ever,’ which she says always makes her wonder how the magazines could have got it so wrong last year.. For our friend Lila Morris it was about having ‘Your best-ever Festive season,’ because as she said what with so many people having nowhere to live and being forced to rely on food banks we all know that for many out there it will be anything but.

Hilary Mason reckoned hers was anything to do with Mary Berry promising you a trouble free Christmas dinner for twenty four people because unless you’ve posed for the article with an army of assistants in May something will always burn or boil over on the day.

‘I followed her recipe for Raspberry Mouse to the letter for one of my parties,’ she added, ‘and it still brought me up in rash.’

Vera said that was because you were supposed to eat it and not smear it all over your body and get other people to lick it off.

‘Personally,’ I said jumping in quickly whilst Hilary was still trying to think of something to say, ‘I’d happily read any of those if I didn’t have to listen to Mariah Carey screeching her way through ‘All I want for Christmas is you.’ At least you can put magazines in the bin and have done with it. With her she’s blasting out of every loudspeaker in every shop you go into.’

My neighbour Beattie said she wasn’t blasting out in the charity shop anymore and Vera grimaced. Unfortunately she’d actually been there when Beattie smashed the CD player with her umbrella and gave the woman behind the counter a lecture on the real meaning of Christmas music so it was easy to see why Vera had no wish to relive the moment even from behind the relative safety of a Cream Horn and a cappuccino.

However in Biddermouth on Sea that morning there was one thing none of us wanted to hear and it was Vera who said it.

‘You’re all welcome to come round to us on Christmas evening,’ were her exact words although even if she’d whipped gilt edged invitations out of her handbag you could see from the look on everybody’s faces that the thought of having a ‘bit of a knees up’ at Vera’s wasn’t their idea of festive fun.

Now I’m not saying the Preston’s aren’t the most hospitable family in the world and as Lila went to great pains to point out when we were concocting our excuses later on in the day, Vera always pulls out all the stops when it comes to the catering, even if she has stolen most of it during her Christmas shopping forays into the local supermarket.

‘Although how she managed to get out with a whole Brie last year is still a mystery,’ she added, ‘and I was with her all the time.’

Beattie said it might as well all be stale bread and water as far as she’s concerned because nothing, not even the birth of Our Dear Lord, would induce her to swallow anything prepared in a kitchen by a woman whose tea towels looked as though they only just managed to survive the Blitz.

According to Lila that wasn’t Vera’s fault. The thermostat on her deep fat fryer had gone and it was lucky she had them to hand or the whole house would have burned down.

‘Even so,’ replied Beattie, ‘there’s always bleach and a bucket.'

'Anyway Maureen,' she added looking at me, 'you’ve already got your excuse not to go so I don’t know what you’re worrying about. You and I will have a lovely evening just like we did last year. A couple of glasses of ginger wine and Handel’s ‘Messiah’. What could be nicer? And you and Keith are quite welcome to pop round too Lila. It’ll make a nice change for you to listen to something not being sung by Slim Whitman.’

Luckily for Lila, or unluckily depending where you stood on the subject of Vera’s tea towels, she’d already been forced to say ‘yes’ to the Prestons although you would have thought having found herself in the middle of a police raid at last year’s festivities she’d have been happier to opt for the safer option of being slowly bored to death by Handel than risking a custodial sentence for a mouthful of York ham. But obviously not. So I was clearly on my own.

‘I thought you said you’d had a miserable evening at Beattie’s,’ said Lila as we made our way home together. ‘Didn’t you have a falling out over a game of Ludo?’

‘We did,’ I replied. ‘I threw four double sixes and sent all of her markers back to base.’

‘Well at least you’re not going to Hilary’s Swingers Party. Honestly Maureen you’d think that if people must have sex over Christmas they’d at least have it with their own partners and not somebody else’s. She asked me and Keith but thankfully he’s happy with a paper hat and some warm nuts so no dangling from the ceiling in chains for me!’

I looked and she said,

‘You don’t live next door to Hilary, I do, so at least spending the evening at Vera’s I’ll be able to hear myself speak.’

So I suppose given that my options consisted of eating food that might have come into contact with Vera’s tea towels or smearing myself with Mary Berry’s Raspberry Mousse and being licked by strangers the prospect of spending yet another Christmas evening with Beattie trying desperately NOT to land on any of her Ludo pieces seemed the safest alternative.

Mind you I have looked at that recipe myself. But I have to say that as partial as I am to soft fruit, like Mary Berry, I still prefer mine served in a bowl.

To view my books ‘Bell, Book & Handbag’ and ‘Tourist Trouble & other short stories’, ‘A Festive Falling Out’ and ‘Turkey And All The Trimmings’ 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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Elf & Safety

Christmas 2016Posted by Ian Ashley Sun, November 27, 2016 10:02PM

I couldn’t help thinking that Christmas this year in Biddermouth on Sea was going to be a bit of a sad affair because our local council Health & Safety had been all over our usual festivities like a rash. I mean I could understand them cancelling the traditional Christmas Street Fayre and so, in some ways, could my friends Vera and Lila. My neighbour Beattie couldn’t.

‘All I’m saying is if people will insist on eating Quorn Hot-pot then they deserve all they get,’ she said, ‘and why Della Cromwell suddenly fancied becoming a vegetarian at her age I’ll never know.’

‘Neither did the coroner,’ added Lila, ‘but all the same…’

But Beattie had refused to be moved. Had Della’s family laid on more than ham sandwiches and a few Chelsea buns for their mother’s funeral tea I think she might have been more sympathetic. After all she grieved for a week when she had a plate of smoked salmon at Norman Kettering’s do, even if she did say it was a shame his family hadn’t thought to spend their money on buying him a decent stair carpet when he was alive instead of showing off with a wake at the Imperial Hotel once he’d passed over.

‘At least nobody died when we had the ox roast in the Market Place.’

‘They got burned though,’ said Lila.

According to my neighbour that was only once. Danny Liversage in 1973 apparently and as far as most right minded people were concerned that was a blessing in disguise for Bronwen, his wife.

‘He’d kept her short for years,’ she explained, ’so she’d never been so well off once his disability money came through. She even went to Fuengirola twice which for a woman who hadn’t been further than Portsmouth in a coal lorry must have been quite a treat although I wouldn’t fancy it myself.’

Personally I thought the council could have just been a tad more circumspect about the catering arrangements and let us get on with it. After all no Fayre meant no Father Christmas for the kiddies, no Christmas market and, although I never thought I’d say this, no place for Delia Cartwright and her ladies of the Madrigal Society to do their medley of popular carols in a five part harmony. It also meant there would be no grand switching on of the Christmas lights.

Not that there was going to be any need to worry about that either, as they’d banned those as well. Something to do with being disrespectful to other cultures, or so they said. Which I have to say did not go down too well with Macedonian Muslims.

Since the Rev Velma Meakin threw open the doors of St Matthew and All Angels to all comers at the height of the refugee crisis they’ve made quite a nice little mosque for themselves in the Lady Chapel and I have to say celebrating their Eid’s has brought a bit of life to the normal run of Assumptions, Ascensions, Crucifixions and Resurrections that we’d grown used to.

So it seemed that whilst Biddermouth on Sea was prepared to forego its annual Christmas Fayre, the odd outbreak of e-coli and the risk of having your handbag stolen, the banning of the lights proved to be a step too far where our local Muslim community in general and The Rev Velma Meakin in particular were concerned.

I can’t quite bring myself to print what she actually said in her sermon and I’d like to think that if she’d stuck to what she’d written and not ad-libbed she might not have said it at all. I mean I’m no prude but I have to agree with Beattie when she said she never thought she’d live to see the day when she heard such language from the pulpit.

‘How she managed to get from St Paul’s letter to the Corinthians to telling the council to go…well you heard her Maureen…to go….themselves I really don’t know. And with the mayor in the congregation to. I didn’t know where to put my face.

Vera said Velma had point. After all nobody on the council had thought about cancelling the Miss Biddermouth Nipples wet T-shirt competition on New Year’s Day.

‘And we all know why,’ chimed in Lila, ‘because they are the ones throwing buckets of icy water over those poor girls.’

Anyway leaving aside our mayor’s predilection for bra-less teenage girls in very thin cotton T –shirts it seems that Velma’s words, strong and unwelcomed though they might have been, haven’t fallen on deaf ears.

You’ll be pleased to know that there will be a Christmas Fayre after all. And light’s. Fair enough I don’t expect the donation from the Somalian Women’s Refuge will buy enough bulbs to run the entire length of the promenade like we’re used to but Velma has promised that St Matthew’s at least will be a beacon of light in the midst of our dark and turbulent times.

As for the Christmas Fayre, once word got round that Velma was planning to hold it in the church yard support flew in from all sides. The Muslim ladies have offered to cook some traditional Macedonian stew, Karen Braithwaite reckons there’s enough room for her burger van between the yew tree and the vestry and Sanjay Patel from the ‘all you can eat’ Curry Garden will be doing his bit underneath the big stained glass window. Even Delia Cartwright has said her and her ladies will be more than happy to lead the carols although if she hears so much as one person chanting they will pack up and leave hey nonny or no!

The only person who isn’t too happy about all this is Beattie. Apart from claiming she has no intention of eating goat, stewed or otherwise, having paid a small fortune for her late husband Arthur’s grave stone she’s threated to sue if she finds so much as a single crumb on the marble.

To view my books ‘Bell, Book & Handbag’ and ‘Tourist Trouble & other short stories’, ‘A Festive Falling Out’ and ‘Turkey And All The Trimmings’ 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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