October to December 2014Posted by Ian Ashley Tue, December 30, 2014 10:33PM
The good thing about Boxing Day in Biddermouth on Sea is
that if you are Stella Wheatley of ‘Stella’s Styles’ you throw a huge party and
if you are Kevin from the Bona Curl Salon you accept her invitation out of
spite. If you are Vera Preston or Lila Morris you get to take your
grandchildren for a blustery walk along the prom and rejoice in their mastery
of new bikes or roller skates. And this year, if you are Hilary Mason you have
woken up on a cruise ship in a force nine gale.
Still as Vera said,
‘We all tried to tell her that ‘The Western Isles’ didn’t
mean Bermuda, but you know what she’s like, would she listen? No she would not.
Oh well I dare say the Hebrides can look quite picturesque if the sun comes
However the bad thing is, if you are me and you live next
door to Beattie Hathaway, even retching your way round Benbecula and South Uist
or watching a sixty year old Stella in fishnets doing selections from ‘Cabaret’
sounds quite appealing. You see for the last ten years, apart from enduring dry
turkey, over boiled sprouts and the Queen’s Speech in silence on The Great Day
itself I’ve been obliged to join her on the traditional Boxing Day pilgrimage
to St Matthews and All Angels.
Not that we pop into that gloomy old place for a sing-song.
Oh no! This is the day Beattie goes to check that none of the assorted
Freemantle and Hathaway ancestors have escaped or had their monumental masonry
otherwise tampered with. Of course there are other inspections during the year
but this is the only one where she, and therefore ‘we’, clank our way into town
looking like elderly gypsies about to go door to door with an assortment of buckets
and scrubbing brushes just so her forebears can face the coming New Year moss-free
and in tip top condition.
‘Right then Maureen,’ she said. ‘ I think this year we’ll
start with The Right Honourable Edwin Freemantle and work our way back round to
‘After all,’ she continued, taking me by surprise, ‘I did give
him a bit of a polish in the autumn and that’s the good thing about quality
marble, it keeps its’ shine.’
You see normally we always start with Arthur. That way he
gets first call on the hot water out of the thermos flasks and the most
vigorous scrubbing. Beattie may call it ‘wifely devotion’ but the way she works
those bristles into his nooks and crannies it always looks more like
post-mortem revenge to me. However it does give her a chance to relive the
funeral and her day of triumph as the gracious widow of a civic dignitary. It
also gives me a chance to scrub in time to a bit of internal Dusty Springfield as
long as I remember to get all my ‘oh really’s, fancy that’s’ and ‘ well that
was nice’ in the right order when Beattie pauses for breath.
Anyway apart from all that it also gives her a chance to cast a critical eye over the final
resting places of the other inhabitants, many of who we have personally seen
laid to rest over the years, going to funerals being a bit of a hobby with my
neighbour and therefore a hobby of mine by default.
‘You know Maureen,’ she said as we made our way through the
tomb stones up into the posh bit where all the Freemantle ancestors were laid
out in strict chronological order, ‘
that Cath Rookby can say what she likes about her mother’s Angel of Mercy but it
still looks like a bird of prey you’d get from a garden centre to me. I mean
what was wrong with a simple cross? It’s not as if they even spoke to each
other after that shoplifting business is it?’
‘That was Prozac,’ I said in Cath’s defence.
‘That was greed, ‘said Beattie, ‘why else would anybody
attempt to leave Sainsbury’s with a dozen frozen chickens they hadn’t paid for
in a bin bag?’
‘And just look at that!’ she added pointing across the way
to where Gladys Tompkins was still spending eternity next to her estranged
husband. ‘Fancy being squeezed in between Desmond and his mistress. I know
they’d bought a double plot but you would have thought her children would have
shown some respect, especially when you think how they skimped on the catering.
Honestly Maureen I’ve had bigger meals during Lent.’
‘Don’t look at me like that, you were the one who suggested an
All Day Breakfast on our way home not me!’
Now of all the graves in the posh bit the big one belonging
to the Right Honourable Edwin was Beattie’s proudest moment. In fact for a
while, after Vera had discovered it under the Yew tree last year whilst helping
one of her many grandchildren with a school project, the tomb had almost
eclipsed that of the late departed and much loved Arthur himself. At least
since then Beattie had never missed a chance to interrupt anybody’s private
family mourning by pointing it out.
‘I’ll do the trefoils with this tooth brush Maureen,’ she
said pulling on her rubber gloves. ‘ You can make a start on that moss but go
careful, I’ve seen you attempting to clean windows and I have to say sometimes
I have my heart in my mouth.’
I said I thought the moss added a certain something. Beattie
said I was just looking for an excuse to be slapdash as usual and to get
scrubbing. So I did.
Now had Vera and Beattie really been friends, or had Beattie
had as much access to stolen computer equipment as Vera did courtesy of her
delinquent grandson Dwayne, things might have turned out differently. There is
something called ‘Google’ apparently which is a mine of information according
to Kevin, and he should know the hours he puts in on-line. I know that at the
time of the discovery Beattie may have said some very unkind things about
Vera’s parenting skills but I don’t think Vera was entirely innocent either and
has to be held responsible for what happened next.
You see it only took a few savage brush strokes from Beattie
to reveal the awful truth.
It was useless trying to explain that a Free-MAN plus moss
could easily be mistaken for a buffed up Free-MANTLE because Beattie was having
none of it. Deprived of her illustrious ancestry and with no hot water left to
take it out on Arthur all she could talk about on the way home was the set of
expensive chisels in the old tool box she still had in the shed.
‘It can’t be that hard Maureen, ‘she said as we got off the
bus. ‘Look at Michelangelo. He couldn’t even read.’
Now surely she won’t, and I sincerely hope she doesn’t
because I am sure that defacing people’s graves is illegal no matter whose face you are trying to save in the process but why else would I have just spotted Beattie out in her back yard
wearing safety glasses and practising her skills with a mallet?
Mind you if she's serious she'd better keep trying. That shed wall resembles something out of a war zone and none of the words look like 'TLE' at all.
October to December 2014Posted by Ian Ashley Mon, December 22, 2014 06:18PM
Like all English towns Biddermouth on Sea’s festive season
wouldn’t be complete without its annual Christmas Pantomime at the Town Hall
Theatre, and this year the tradition was being kept alive with a production of ‘Aladdin
in the Woods’.
I was looking forward
to it for two reasons. Firstly having a bit of show biz in my veins from my
time on the Fun Fair I’ve always enjoyed a good show and secondly it meant that
Beattie, Hilary, Vera, Lila and myself had managed to get through the whole festive
calendar and were still speaking to each other.
Normally, this close to Christmas, one of them isn’t talking
to somebody and between you and me it’s been a pretty close run thing this year
what with Hilary and Vera falling out over the Nativity Play and all that
trouble Lila’s daughter, Bex, caused breastfeeding in Stirrup and Morley’s tea
room. Not that my next door neighbour Beattie has behaved like a saint either. It
was only a spot of emergency bridge work on her canines that stopped her taking
a nip out of Vera when she discovered that she was the one who took all Beattie’s
decorations off the tree at the Over 60’s club and replaced them with her own.
‘Tonal’, Vera had said.
‘Tawdry,’ said Beattie. But that was later when she was
reunited with her part denture and by then the moment for biting had passed.
However I could tell that she hadn’t forgotten the incident and I’m sure Vera
got the message when she opened her Christmas card. I know it was sold in aid
of leprosy but even I thought that elf was more hideously disfigured than
Fortunately Beattie sent me one from Save the Children with a
very nice picture of Jesus on it, I think, supposedly drawn by a blind girl in Nigeria.
That was why I gave it pride of place on my mantelpiece. Well actually that
wasn’t the real reason at all. To be honest I was feeling guilty. Not because I
had 20/20 vision but because Beattie and I had had a bit of a falling out and in
a fit of pique I’d sent her a card with a huge Robin on the front knowing full
well that she saw them as birds of ill omen.
However Christmas cards aside, the problem with the
Biddermouth panto was that each year the cast got less and less famous. Vera
and Hilary could both remember the year Cilla Black had played Dick and by all
accounts she’d had much better legs than Lulu who’d stood in for Kathy Kirby at
the last minute the following season.
‘Not that we went to see her, ‘said Vera.
‘In case she tried to sing, ‘added Hilary.
Mind you Beattie’s memories went even further back. She
could remember Russ Conway playing ‘Side Saddle’ and Arthur Askey playing ‘Widow
‘We never saw you there!’ said Vera.
‘Well you were probably in the stalls,’ said Beattie and for
a while a very un-festive silence threatened to derail our pantomime plans for
However this year the star of the show was somebody called
Chardonnay McMichael. Now who she was and why she was billed as a celebrity nobody
really knew. At first we thought she’d been a Blue Peter presenter but as
Beattie pointed out Valerie Singleton would never have shown that much cleavage
in a poster. Then Vera remembered she’d been the girl in East Enders who’d
married her own brother, got addicted to cocaine and ended up being hit by tram.
‘That was Coronation Street,’ said Lila, ‘and she certainly
wasn’t in that!’
Anyway it turned out
that Kevin from the Bona Curl remembered her playing the patient in the bed
next to Hannah Gordon in ‘Casualty’.
‘Not that she had any lines,’ he said. ‘Every time she was
in shot she had a thermometer in her mouth. Anyway why don’t you all come to
the panto at the Jolly Seaman? Johnnie and Franz are doing ‘A Lad in the Gents’
and Stella Wheatley’s playing, ‘Penny Scillin ‘, The Fairy Godmother.
‘And what are you playing?’ Beattie wanted to know.
‘Dick Throbbing’, said Kevin and we all wished she’d never
So there we were, all on the horns of a pantomime induced
dilemma. Did we raise money for AIDS research and sit through Stella mangling her
way through ‘ I am what I am,’ which she did every year, or did we spend good
money to see somebody who may or may not have been sucking a thermometer in the
bed next to Hannah Gordon?
In the end it was Beattie’s local government connections and
free tickets that won the day.
‘Just think if my late Arthur hadn’t been Chairman of the
Chamber of Commerce for twenty years you’d all be sitting with the unemployed in
those cheap seats they keep back for the concessions and holding handkerchiefs
to your noses to hide the smell of cut price cider. ’
Well for somebody who’s claim to fame was sucking a
thermometer Ms McMichael didn’t do too bad a job and although she’ll never be the
next Cilla Black everybody agreed she was better than Lulu. True, there was a nasty
moment when her harness got entangled in a spot light but fortunately one of
the Shetland ponies pulling the coach relieved itself at the same time which
made all the kids laugh.
And over at the Jolly Seaman? Well by all accounts our Stella
went down a storm, especially when she pitched head first into the crowd having
had one Malibu and Pineapple too many in the dressing room. Johnny and Franz
fell out of the new barman from Latvia and everybody yelled, ‘He’s Behind You!’
each time Kevin came on stage.
It may be nothing like show business but we ‘re all secretly
glad that panto is still alive and kicking in Biddermouth even if we don’t know
who’s in it.
October to December 2014Posted by Ian Ashley Mon, December 15, 2014 04:02PM
Dark Forces Ruin Christmas
You could be forgiven for thinking that there are Dark
Forces out to ruin Christmas in Biddermouth on Sea. What should normally be a
joyous time of year has been spoiled for the rest of us by a handful of
I am quite sure that when Lila Morris’s daughter Bez ( and
her partner Caz and infant son Waz) started all this breast feeding hoo-ha in
Stirrup and Morley’s Tea Room she just thought she was being her usual bolshie
self and hogging the limelight. However since the professional feeders have
latched on to her it has become a very different story and Bez, who has a
reputation for trouble making anyway is obviously punching way above her
These women are what Vera calls ‘hard core’ and it seems
that Bez is paying a very high price for being their latest poster girl. Having
claimed to all and sundry to have been so traumatised by the experience she can
no longer be seen leaving the house. Bez is also having professional coaching
on how to appear distressed in her Face Book photographs. I thought it was only
me and Kevin that thought she looked smug but apparently not.
And other lives are being affected too. Caz, her partner found
herself pelted with bread rolls by some pro-bottlers who chased her round the
supermarket and poor little Waz will have to grow up known as the ‘Donor Sperm
Baby’ for the rest of his life having been splashed across the front of the
national newspapers. As for poor Lila
and her husband, having TV crews camped in your back yard cannot be easy when
you still have an outside toilet.
Also the silent majority of tactful breast feeders have been
made to feel that bonding with their infants in the luxury of the Mother and
Baby Room or under cover of a discrete shawl is letting the side down and their
commitment to motherhood has been called into question.
Anyway one thing led to another. News got round that that
the professional feeders were coming from Southampton to organise a ‘feed-in’
at Stirrup and Morley’s and somebody, probably Stella Wheatley, staged a
counter protest so that when the women arrived they found the tearoom full
of men. At least they looked like men
that would know Stella, socially and biblically. Not that that stopped the
women as they sat on the floor making life very hard for the waitresses to
serve the morning coffee. It also made it impossible for the pro-bottlers who
had brought re-enforcements from all over the county to get any further than
the 4th floor lighting department, which was where I lost my
neighbour Beattie who was determined to get 60w bayonet bulbs come hell, high
water or a very bewildered presenter from News At Ten.
The odd thing was
that some of the pro-feeders didn’t actually have children of their own to
feed. One of them was a man. Still as he said on camera, ‘you didn’t have to
suffer FGM to know it hurt and was morally wrong.’
‘That one used to be Greenpeace and Ban the Bomb,’ said my
friend Kevin who had turned up to see what all the fuss was about. ‘Then he was
Civil Liberties until he finally found somebody to sleep with then for a while
he was quite normal. I suppose him and Dean have split up which is why he’s
back to being a professional misery.’
I can’t say that
either side did themselves any favours, especially amongst those of us that had
a fair bit of shopping to do that day. Stirrup and Morley’s must have lost a
good deal of money, the market was cut off by huge wagons with satellite dishes
on their roofs, and you couldn’t get into Sainsbury’s because several of the
protesters came with Pit Bull Terriers that they tied to the railings.
However Stella’s men
chanting ‘Get your tits out for the boys’ could hardly be called a moral
victory because I think it was this that sparked off the scuffle that knocked
over the Christmas tree in the first place. Being lit up at the time didn’t
help either as it sent a shower of sparks on to the Nativity Scene below
destroying the Three Wise Men and two shepherds. Luckily the straw was damp due
to the weather so the Holy Family avoided going up in flames. However that
didn’t stop them being trodden underfoot as the Pro-feeders and the Pro-
bottlers clashed in the market place.
The sad thing is all this could have been avoided in the
first place, but no, Bez Morris has to make herself the centre of attraction
and now nervous café owners are putting up signs saying no children under 12
allowed just to be on the safe side, spoiling it for everybody.
It’s also spoiled the Nativity Scene for next week’s carol
concert as we think Baby Jesus may have got swept up in the rubbish when the bin-men
tried to do a bit of tidying up. The Vicar of St Matthews and All Angels has
offered a small reward so please keep your eyes peeled, he’s about twelve
inches long and believed to have a boot print across his forehead. Regardless
of condition we would dearly like him back.
October to December 2014Posted by Ian Ashley Sun, December 07, 2014 04:55PM
Breast Feeding Furore
Ruins Mince Pie Eating Contest
Two events have marred the pre Christmas festivities in
Biddermouth On Sea this week and for once neither of them involved my next door
neighbour Beattie or our friend Vera Preston.
On the very day we are all looking forward to the annual
Mince Pie Eating Competition, and more importantly our very own Karen
Braithwaite’s attempt to break her own record of 120 mince pies in an hour,
Lila Morris’s daughter Bez caused a furore when she was asked to leave the Tea
Room at Stirrup and Morely’s department store for breast feeding in public.
Beattie was particularly incensed as it was her day to treat
her well-to-do acquaintance, Mrs Dennington- Wriggly to afternoon tea and as
usual she had invited me along to fetch, carry and pour. Luckily Vera wasn’t
there, Wednesday being the day her grand-daughter Kiara Marie has an hour’s
access to her biological father Ronan. Chantal, her mother is no longer allowed
to accompany the child following an earlier incident with a pair of scissors
and a restraining order. All of which places a great burden on Vera and her
pension and makes those of us without issue glad of the fact that we will die cold,
unwanted and alone.
However there was Beattie trying to look interested in one
of Mrs D-W’s tales of the Raj when on the table behind us Bez whips up her tank
top and starts feeding. Now I know it has to be done and I will admit most
mothers using the Tea Rooms either feed discreetly or make use of the excellent
facilities of the Mother and Baby Room. But it seems Bez’s inalienable right to
suckle in public was at stake and she became extremely vocal when the
manageress offered her what Bez loudly referred to as a ‘tit tent’. Apparently
the infant Waz becomes anxious when covered, a fact reiterated in the press by
Bez’s life partner Caz.
Having posted pictures of herself on Facebook looking
anything but a shrinking violet Bez went on to say how she’d been pressurised
into breast feeding by the system and how humiliated and traumatised she was by
the manageress and her inflexible attitude in front of a restaurant full of
people. Somehow this does not ring true of the Bez we know who went public over
her mail order sperm and whose blog of her pregnancy ended with a very graphic
video of her episiotomy. Lila tried to put on a brave face by applauding her
daughter’s stand for all nursing mothers, which is commendable considering the
rest of us just think she was out to make trouble because she couldn’t get her
own way. Apparently she was just the same when Chantal Preston got a bicycle
for Christmas and she got a scooter.
Anyhow it was a very subdued little party that made its way
to support Karen in her record breaking attempt later that afternoon. For the
last seven years Karen has been the Biddermouth Pie Eating champion and even
took up a summer training regime that involved mini quiches and jam tarts. As a
result of all her hard work she now weighs in at two stone higher than her
previous years fighting weight and can only sleep in a deck chair. Say what you
will but you have to admire her commitment to pushing the physical boundaries
of her chosen sport.
What none of us had taken into account was the challenge
fielded by our rivals across the bay. Curston have been trying to win the Pie
Eating prize since their Ladies Bowls team failed a drugs test in 2013 and were
banned for life from further competition. Quite where they got Gert Juggs from
nobody knew. Even Beattie, with her encyclopaedic knowledge of south coast
bloodlines couldn’t cast any light on her provenance but she certainly looked
likely to give the Pride of Biddermouth a run for her money.
The rules of pie eating are simple – they are to be consumed
one at a time, matching your opponent and the first one to black out is
considered to have lost. The same goes for vomiting.
The first fifty were quite companionable with lots of good
natured joshing between the rival camps. A barely susceptible belch on pie
sixty five was only picked up by Karen’s coach and husband Derwent who was
handed an official warning for yelling ‘BREATHE! From that point Gert looked
comfortable until both women had reached the hundred mark.
This was where Karen’s training started to pay off ,
experience and technique kicked in, she stepped up a gear from two chews to
three and her perfect circular breathing saw her cruise majestically to pie 115
leaving Gert breaking into a sweat and clawing at the table cloth.
Derwent put his arm as far as he could around their son
Ryan, Beattie held her handbag in both hands and my stomach bulged out in such sympathy
I wished I worn bigger knickers. Even Stella held her breath as we inched pie
by pie towards the magic 120.
Both women squirmed. Both women shut their eyes tight. Both
women turned that terrifying shade of green that heralds sudden and projectile
vomiting. There was a trickle of juice down Karen’s chin. An undigested raisin
slid into Gert’s cleavage. Karen rocked. Gert wobbled. The crowd held their
breath and the wise ones took a step back as the combined force of 240 mince
pies prepared to hurtle towards the judges table.
Karen may have only equalled her own record but like all
great husband and wife partnerships taking Derwent’s advice to vomit into the
wind gained her that vital one hundredth of a second and pride was restored to Biddermouth.
Of course how the rest of the world will view us now Bez has
gone viral we do not know but she needs to learn that there is a world of
difference between looking traumatised and looking full of yourself especially with
your breasts exposed in a selfie. Sounds like a set up to me.
October to December 2014Posted by Ian Ashley Sun, November 30, 2014 10:15AM
Going Going Gone!
This morning Vera Preston is officially listed as one of the
walking wounded. My next door neighbour, Beattie Hathaway, also has an official
capacity. But she is recorded as helping the police with their enquiries. I’m
not sure what the difference between making a voluntary statement and being
formally arrested is but all I’m saying is that if our local department store
hadn’t advertised Black Friday Bargains in their haberdashery department none
of this would have happened. Then again how were they to know that a simple
advert stating, ‘All Knitting Wool 70% off’ would cause such mayhem?
Mind you listening to the local news it seems that Stirrup
and Morely’s got off lightly. In one of the supermarkets in nearby Curston, a
baby buggy, fully occupied I might add, was lobbed by an irate father into the
crowd massing around discounted televisions, somebody was shot trying to save
20% on a coffee machine and Bella Bynge’s Range Rover was ram-raided during a
parking space dispute. Hopefully Ida Dobson has also seen that and realises how
lucky she was to have been queuing to buy cut-price darning needles and not an
expensive electrical appliance. As it is her walking frame is a write-off.
‘Don’t they get enough out of us already,’ asked Hilary
Mason joining us in the queue and wondering out loud if the aim of the day was
to give special privileges to the town’s immigrant population.
‘It’s an American tradition,’ said Lila Morris. ‘Like silk
stockings, chewing gum and Walt Disney’s birthday.’
Of course the day started off peacefully enough. Even
Beattie was in a good mood having made me spend the previous evening going
through her extensive collection of old knitting patterns to try and find a
particular cardigan she remembered making many years ago.
‘Try the box marked 1976 Maureen,’ she said. ‘You can’t miss
it. It’s got a picture of a woman on the front of it.’
Anyway by 7.30 am that Black Friday morning there we were, standing
outside Stirrup and Morely’s and forming an orderly queue along the High
Street. In fact there was a bit of a carnival atmosphere which Lila Morris said
was just like the war. And I suppose in a way it was, especially when the
ladies from the Madrigal Society, who’d been there since six started the
Normally at this festive time of year, because we have never
ever celebrated Thanksgiving, there are a few empty days between the age-old
ceremony of ‘Dowsing the Biddermouth Virgin’ and the more modern switch on of
the town’s Christmas lights. If nothing else it gives you a chance to sort out
those last minute Christmas cards and plan your outfit for the big day. Sadly,
like all ancient traditions the ‘Dowsing’ has lost some of its religious
significance over the years. For a start these days none of the girls look
remotely untouched but that doesn’t stop the Mayor enthusiastically drenching
them with buckets of cold water to see who will bear the title of ‘Miss
Nipples’ for the coming year.
However I suppose if the early Christians hadn’t absorbed
all those pagan traditions in the first place celebrating the birth of Jesus
would be a bit of a non-event and we’d eat Mince Pies all year round. So you
could argue that welcoming another country’s religious tradition into our
Yuletide calendar is a natural thing to do.
Unfortunately as we queued peacefully, just like the war,
the rumours started. Somebody said that 4-ply and Quick Knit were limited to
six balls per customer and you could feel a ripple of unease spread through the
crowd. Beattie was especially unnerved. Being somewhat larger than the rest of
us six balls of wool wasn’t likely to knit up to anything more than a couple of
sleeves and a bit of ribbing at the most.
‘You better make sure you buy the same colour as me Maureen,
‘ she hissed, ‘and I’ll give you the money when we get home.’
Even Vera and Hilary put their customary animosity to one
side and teamed up to form a black market gang should lemon 2-ply prove to be
in short supply.
‘You get your ration,’ said Vera, ‘and I’ll pay for your
bingo cards next Friday.’
‘Fair enough, agreed Hilary readily striking the deal as she
needed enough 4-ply to knit six bobble hats with matching scarves and mittens
for her grandchildren. ‘Then I’ll buy your fish and chips afterwards.’
Ida Dobson, in pole position since 5 am, passed a message
back that she was getting darning needles at 70% off come hell or high water.
The ladies from the Madrigal Society were also adamant that they hadn’t stood
there since dawn braving wolf whistles from passing tramps only to be denied
cut-price dress fabrics and beside me Beattie was already trying to work out if
she could adapt her pattern to make a waistcoat. I was wondering why I’d
bothered to get up so early, especially as I didn’t know how to knit
Looking back I think it all started with the revolving
doors. You see as soon as they started spinning the crowd surged forward, Ida’s
walking frame got jammed and behind her the ladies of the Madrigal Society
pressed on in case the rumour about a shortage of crushed velvet turned out to
be true. Sadly light weight NHS aluminium was no match for twenty women
chanting in a six-part harmony and Ida, trapped inside her battered appliance,
was swept of her feet and unceremoniously dumped on top of a fridge freezer.
Being incapacitated by statins all she could do was scream for help whilst the
rest of us swept past.
By the time we arrived at the haberdashery department nobody
was in a mood to take no for an answer. Vera got into a tussle with a woman in
a pink tracksuit and was being punched a lot harder than she could punch back
when Beattie, high on adrenalin having grabbed two dozen balls of 4-ply, struck
on her behalf. At least she would have done had her arms not been full at the
time which was how she came to land a such devastating head butt instead.
I suppose that’s the trouble with adopting these pagan
traditions full stop. If the first Christian missionaries hadn’t got a firm
grip on things then who knows what we’d be doing on December 25th. Perhaps pulling a cracker over your Christmas
Turkey could really take your head off? And god only knows what would be in the
mince pies. I mean after you’ve sacrificed a virgin what do you do with the body?
All in all it seems it is going to take a while to infuse
Black Friday with a bit of goodwill to all men if what we’ve seen this year is
anything to go by. Still it’s good for the shops and means guaranteed work for
security guards. But for now Lila, Hilary and I are prepared to swear on oath
that Beattie slipped on a wet floor and no malice was intended. It is Christmas
October to December 2014Posted by Ian Ashley Sun, November 23, 2014 01:05PM
It’s the thought that counts.
This is turning out to be a very tricky run up to Christmas
I can tell you. Having survived the two week long war between Vera and Hilary
over the casting of the St Matthews and All Angels Nativity play it seems that I’m now about to be
plunged into a battle of my own over where I will be choosing to spend
Until last Thursday I thought it
was all settled. Beattie was going to spend the day with her niece Pauline and
her family which, to be honest, was fine by me. At least with her otherwise
engaged I was off the hook as far as the usual routine of spending Christmas
Day with Beattie was concerned.
‘That’s good,’ said my friend
Kevin, the owner of the Bona Curl Salon, ‘you can come and spend the day with
us, all the usual crowd will be there, Dean’s coming dressed as Jean Harlow and
if you get there early enough we’ll give
that Dusty Springfield wig of yours a bit of festive ‘jush’.’
In fact Kevin had been so full of the
Christmas spirit at the Halloween Party at the Jolly Seaman he’d even invited
Stella Wheatley and those three Polish friends of hers, always assuming she gave
them the day off from decorating her bedroom.
‘Do you realise,’ he added,
‘they’ve been at it for three months? I mean how many rolls of wall paper do
you need to hang in a room twelve foot by twelve foot? No wonder they’re all
So there I was, looking forward
to Christmas with Kevin because not only is he a good cook, which Beattie
isn’t, but he always has at least five Christmas trees, all colour co-ordinated
and the flat looks lovely.
Then I go and bump into Hilary
Manson in the Help the Aged shop. She was busy trying to find a suitable card
for my next door neighbour only, as she said, she was having trouble finding
one small enough that had a robin on the front as we all know that Beattie, for
some reason, sees them as a bird of ill omen.
And that’s when I found out that my
neighbour’s Christmas with her niece was off. It seems that Calvin, Pauline’s husband,
had become so full of the festive spirit when he heard that Beattie was
spending the day with them that he’d booked ten days in the Caribbean for his
whole family and taken out a substantial bank loan to pay for it.
‘Apparently’, said Lila Morris,
who was on the same mission as Hilary, ‘You and Beattie are enjoying a nice
little turkey crown with all the trimmings as usual.’
They both gave me the kind of
look you’d give to a friend who’s been made homeless on Christmas Eve but I
noticed neither of them offered me an alternative arrangement. So I supposed that was my festive season taken
care of for the tenth year running.
Now don’t get me wrong. There
have been times when I have been glad of Beattie’s company, like my first
Christmas in Palmerston Terrace for example. Back then and not knowing a soul,
I will admit that the prospect of having to spend the day on my own was a
daunting one. Looking at other people’s shopping trolleys only made it worse.
Even though they looked decidedly bad tempered and snapped at each other over
how many chipolatas wrapped in bacon you needed to feed twelve people it wasn’t
hard to imagining their angry faces wreathed in smiles as they opened their
doors to friends and family, the house smelling of roast turkey and stuffing,
children absorbed in their presents and at the centre of it all a splendid
Christmas Tree twinkling away to the accompaniment of Carols from Kings.
Of course we all know it’s only
like that in the adverts on the telly. At best, for most people, it’s the feigned
surprise at an unwanted gift or the grimace on the doorstep as the in-laws
arrive. So I suppose spending Christmas with Beattie isn’t that different.
Every year when the subject arises I say, ‘why not come to
me this time? And Beattie comes back with an answer designed to keep me firmly
in her clutches. One year she even said
it would be a treat for me to have my dinner off matching crockery. So you can
imagine the pall that cast over the proceedings can’t you? Apart from not being
a very nice thing to say to anybody having to play ‘Snap’ against someone you
are technically not on speaking terms with isn’t easy. Luckily we had two packs of cards and ended
up playing ‘Patience’ for three hours at opposite ends of the dining table
until it reached a seemly time for me to go home.
And then there is her choice of Christmas gifts. I mean I’d
be more than happy with a box of chocolates but no! One year she bought me an
oven cleaning kit.
‘Just think Maureen, ‘she said after I’d forced a smile,
‘you can see the New Year in with a clean hob. Mind you if you ask me the only
thing between your cooker and the scrap yard is that ride on the back of the
lorry. How you’ve not died of food poisoning I really do not know. Honestly
eating a meal prepared on that thing must be like playing Russian roulette with
Last year was no better. I mean just because she has a mania
for making tapestry cushions it doesn’t necessarily follow that it is shared by
the rest of the world does it? Especially as she’d forgotten to take the ‘blue
cross sale’ sticker off the packaging.
‘I was going to get you one that said ‘Home Sweet Home’ but
I know what your spelling is like,’ she said whilst trying to teach me to
thread a needle.
Not that she doesn’t try to make you feel welcome, although
once you’ve been warned about not making scuff marks on her parquet flooring,
scraping her Royal Worcester dinner plates with your cutlery or daring to dent
one of her cushions then some of the gilt definitely wears off the ginger bread
especially when you’re forced to watch the Queen’s Speech sat bolt
upright. And you do get plenty to eat,
even with her incendiary way with roasting meat and her firm belief that spouts
need boiling for at least an hour there is always plenty to go round.
So I suppose that’s my Christmas Day sorted. Kevin will be
having a high old time with all his friends, Dusty Springfield will have to
forego being decked with boughs of holly and Stella will probably be draped in
something transparent as she tries to take her decorator’s minds of their wives
and families back in Poland.
I was tempted to follow Hilary’s example and pick a very
small card to send next door but after all it is Christmas and Beattie is my
best friend. In the end I settled on a large one with an angry looking Robin on
the front. I know she won’t like it, but then again, at this time of year, it
is the thought that counts.
© Ian Ashley 2014
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October to December 2014Posted by Ian Ashley Sun, November 16, 2014 06:34PM
A Festive Falling Out
Christmas is a funny time of year isn’t it? For something
that started out as a message of peace and goodwill to all men it doesn’t half
seem to bring out the worst in people. I
mean we’re only in the middle of November and already two of our friends are
not on speaking terms over the casting of the nativity play at St Matthews and All
Angels. Thankfully not having grandchildren means that neither Beattie nor I
have to take sides but that doesn’t stop Vera and Hilary trying to pull us into
one camp or the other.
Now traditionally that Sunday night before Christmas
provides an ideal opportunity for hatchets to be buried, a rousing rendition of
‘Hark the herald angels sing,’ and in the case of Stella Wheatley the chance to
spread a bit more goodwill to all men, especially the ones sat at the back who
have had a drop too much to drink and managed to escape from their wives for a
couple of hours. It also gives the local
play group a chance to dress up as angels whilst the older children who aren’t
subject to ASBO’s get the speaking parts. Of course over the years even that
has been radically altered since none of the proud parents are allowed to take
photographs lest one of them turns out to have a thing about toddlers dressed
as beasts of the field.
However not only did Vera’s four year old granddaughter fail
to make it through to the final round of the heavenly host but to make matters
worse Hilary’s eldest grandchild, Janine, had been chosen to play the Virgin
Mary and would be centre stage of the whole production.
‘My Kiara Marie had her heart set on being an angel,’ said
Vera, yet again, when she cornered us outside the Post Office. ‘She was word
perfect in ‘Twinkle Twinkle Little Star’ and our Chantal has already made her
wings and everything. You try explaining to a four year old why she’s got to
crawl about on all fours covered in a sheepskin rug when all her little friends
According to Vera the vicar has had it in for her family ever
since that misunderstanding with her grandson Dwayne. According to Hilary there
was nothing to misunderstand at all.
‘I mean even if the choirmaster was a child molester he’s
hardly going to try it on with some lout with acne and M.U.F.C tattooed on his
forehead is he?’ she said loving every minute of it. ‘And you can’t blame Miss
Milner for not wanting an angel who wets herself on stage, can you? And after
all my Janine is a very talented young girl. Another couple of years and she’ll
on X Factor.’
Well all this made life very difficult. I like to go to the
carol concert because there is something about ‘Away in a Manger’ that always
brings tears to my eyes and Beattie likes to go because it’s at her favourite church.
Hilary expects us to be there because it’s Janine’s big moment and Vera thinks
we should all stay away.
‘You won’t be going then Vera? asked Lila Morris pretending
to know nothing about all this what so ever.
‘Over my dead body!’
said Vera, at which point I saw Beattie’s ears prick up. You see I’d long
suspected that of all our friend’s funerals Vera’s was the one Beattie was
looking forward to the most. However, much to Beattie’s disappointment, having
had her free flu jab Vera now considered herself good for another winter.
I did wonder if Beattie could have a word in the vicar’s
ear. After all she was always banging on about what good friends they were but I
think she was secretly glad of the fact that Vera was avoiding everybody. Lila
wasn’t and neither was I.
If this continued it wouldn’t be just the carol concert that
was ruined but all the other little Christmas treats the five of us enjoyed
like decorating the community centre, helping out at the annual tea party,
watching the mayor turn on the lights and listening to the Salvation Army Band
playing on the promenade before Wanda the Human Cannon Ball shot into her
safety net wearing a fairy outfit.
‘They’ve been friends since we were all at Moor House
School,’ said Lila as the three of us sat at our usual table for five in the Silver
Lantern tea rooms. ‘I mean I know Vera can be a bit sharp tongued but she does
have her good points if you look close enough.’
‘If you could find a microscope big enough, ‘ added Beattie
which I thought was a bit rich considering where there was trouble she was
usually at the centre of it. ‘If you ask me they’re both as bad as each other.’
Lila said that two wrongs didn’t make a right and a couple
of days later it seemed that Vera and Hilary had come to the same conclusion
because there they were side by side under the driers at the Bona Curl Salon
laughing and joking as if the last few weeks hadn’t happened.
Now the gospel according to St Hilary stated that her Janine
had decided being the Virgin Mary in a nativity play wasn’t a smart career move
for somebody destined to be the next X
Factor sensation and had given her part to Gurpreet Patel. The gospel according
to St Vera said it had all been a misunderstanding and Miss Milner had re-instated
Kiara Marie to the ranks of the heavenly host on the condition that she wore a
nappy. So in that way peace and goodwill were restored to the Biddermouth
‘You see Maureen, the good Lord moves in mysterious ways, ‘said
Beattie as we looked through the Christmas Cards in Help The Aged.
At least he did until the gospel of St Lila, via that of Granny
Patel and her sisters, told a very different story. Quite how Hilary and Vera
will take to the idea of being great grandmothers I do not know but even
Beattie will have a hard time pinning that one on the Almighty.
October to December 2014Posted by Ian Ashley Mon, November 10, 2014 06:26PM
Flu Jabs for the Elderly
It’s the flu jab season in Biddermouth on Sea once more and
because we’ve all had our letters advising us to make an appointment to see our
GP that’s exactly what Beattie and I have been trying to do since last
Wednesday. But you try getting an appointment at the surgery!
Vera Preston has had the same problem although this year
there will be one less for the NHS to worry about. Hilary Manson says she’s not
going to bother this time. Apparently she’d read an article saying that the
government are planning to deliberately infect vulnerable pensioners with
influenza in the hope of reducing the numbers of us drawing money from the
state whilst cutting down on the amount of hip replacement operations at same
‘They trialled it with the Civil Service,’ she said as we
gathered at the Bona Curl Salon, ‘and the money they saved on redundancies and
pensions meant David Cameron could give tax breaks to his rich friends. So now
it’s our turn.’
Of course this may just be one of those urban myths put
about to keep the elderly in a permanent state of fear like bogus gas men, back
to front knee transplants and Mint Humbugs giving you cancer. But Hilary was
adamant. The plan is to eradicate the elderly to finance a new war in the
‘It’s Statins all over again,’ added Lila, never once questioning
how an ex-lollypop lady had suddenly become privy to such classified
information. ‘Look what happened to Viv Jennings. Fit as a flea one minute on a
diet of full fat milk and fresh cream doughnuts, then wham! One week on the
tablets and she lost the use of her legs.’
‘And now she’s dead,’ said Hilary as if proving her point.
At which point Karen Braithwaite popped in from the bakery
next door with a box of choux buns which she said would only go stale if we
didn’t help her eat them. So we did.
Of course we all know that nobody in the government likes
the thought of people living too long unless they’ve got their own trust fund
which is why they’ve raised the retirement age. If any of those poor young kids
ever get a job they’ll be kept at it until their ninety. But who wants to be
served in a supermarket by somebody having an angina attack?
Still, if what Hilary says is true, you would imagine that
the surgery would be welcoming us with open arms wouldn’t you? I mean if all it takes to bring down the National
Deficit is a quick jab with a needle you’d think Big Dave and his cronies would
be incentivising our GP’s to do away with us in the same way lads used to be
able to get money for killing grey squirrels.
Of course you could argue that by NOT giving us appointments
they are actually doing their bit and saving on the price of vaccine at the
‘It’s that new receptionist, Irene Bedford,’ said Beattie.
‘You never had any trouble seeing a doctor when Anne Winters was behind the
‘Well I never have a problem getting in,’ said Ida Dobson,
when we met her hobbling around Sainsbury’s with one of those baskets that sits
over your Zimmer frame. ‘But then I’m classed as ‘at risk.’
‘That’s because she signed up for Statins ’, said Beattie as
we watched her shuffle on her way. ‘If you ask me they know a mug when they see
‘And to think only six months ago she was Line Dancing at
the Community Centre,’ Vera added.
Now we all know what
my neighbour Beattie is like. Just the sight of her steaming down an aisle in
her gabardine rain coat and demanding to see the manager is usually enough to
make sure she gets what she wants but when it came to dealing with Irene at St
Matthew’s Road Surgery she’d clearly met her match.
‘There’s nothing wrong with you, ‘said the receptionist
despite the fact that Beattie was waving her letter under her nose. ‘My
doctor’s are too busy to waste time on people in perfectly good health. You’ll
have to come back next week or telephone between 8.30 and 8.35 am unless you
want to see the practise nurse. Next please!’
‘My doctor’s if you
please, ’said Beattie as we sat drinking tea at the Over Sixties Club. ‘And why
should you have to be practised on by anybody? I know for a fact the one with
the ganglion and dirty finger nails used to work in that green grocer’s on
Merchant Street before it closed down.’
‘And she wears her uniform on the bus,’ said Vera, ‘and that
can’t be right either.’
According to Lila it’s no better when you telephone them.
‘By the time you’d pressed One, then Four, then Six you have
to press something called ‘hash’ because you’d forgotten what it was you were
supposed to be pressing in the first place, ‘ she said. ‘Then you get that Irene
lying through her teeth about how important your call is before the line goes
dead and you have to start listening to Vivaldi all over again. I mean if they
played something you could hum along to you wouldn’t mind waiting would you?’
And so there we are. All in the same boat, free jabs on
offer and no appointments available. So maybe I’m right and Hilary is wrong. It
won’t be the jab that kills us but the lack of one. And maybe that’s the whole
point of the exercise after all.
Of course Ida Dobson will get hers but how she’ll get to the
surgery I do not know. According to Beattie she has taken a turn for the worse
and it’s only a matter of time.