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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The Great Biddermouth Press Conspiracy

April to June 2014Posted by Ian Ashley Sun, June 29, 2014 04:01PM

The Great Biddermouth Press Conspiracy

Maureen writes…

It’s funny what you can find in a wheelie-bin these days, even in Biddermouth on Sea. I once found a pair of nearly new red sling back sandals in mine. I have no idea where they came from but the strange thing was they were exactly my size. But even that story can’t beat what happened during the heat wave of 1976. That was when Queenie Thompson’s mother found a man in hers. Well not a whole one, just a couple of arms and foot but it still took her a while to get over the shock.

‘I mean imagine it Maureen,’ said my neighbour Beattie, ‘there she was popping out with a few scrapings of Hot Pot and in among yesterday’s potato peelings are human remains!’

‘What happened? I asked.

‘She screamed,’ said Beattie and gave me one of those looks she reserves for the mentally infirm. ‘What do you think she did? Rinsed them off and made soup? Mind you that wouldn’t have surprised me with that family. They were forever having new cats.’

Before I had a chance to ask anything else my Mr Mong slipped quickly out through his cat flap and made himself scarce just in case she’d come across a recipe for Feline Fritters in an old copy of Good Housekeeping. Well you never know with Beattie. I’m not saying she would wilfully do my dear old cat any harm but he always keeps his distance whenever she’s around, especially after the incident with her Weeping Cherry. Mind you I’d be the same. If she’d doused me with a bucket of cold water whilst I was minding my own business having a wee I’d be a bit wary of her in future too.

Sadly I never did get to the bottom of the story about the severed limbs as Beattie got distracted by an advert in the local paper for wide fitting shoes and she changed the subject. But I have since found out from Kevin at the Bona Curl Salon that the incident occurred when Bay View House was still a lunatic asylum. By all accounts the staff there had a habit of leaving the doors open especially in hot weather which allowed the mentally ill and seriously disturbed to come and go as they pleased. Well, go, because apparently not all of them came back.

Not that the situation is much different now. You still see them wandering the streets. But you can blame the government for that. All these cut backs in Mental Health funding mean that the poor souls are left homeless, vulnerable and sleeping in doorways. I know those old places weren’t particularly pleasant but at least they had somebody who cared enough to make sure they took their medication and didn’t get set light to. These days they are just abandoned.

Anyway to be honest I’d forgotten all about the mysterious contents of Grace Watkins dust bin until the other day when history threatened to repeat itself in Palmerston Terrace.

It being Wednesday I wasn’t surprised to hear my next door neighbour banging about in her back yard. That’s the day when dressed in an old nylon overall and her third best hairnet she does what she calls her ‘outdoors’. Of course when I first moved in I thought this was some sort of euphemism like ‘downstairs’ for women’s problems, so I always made sure I kept to my front room in case she was attempting some sort of naked outdoor ablutions. However it wasn’t long before I realised what she meant.

Beattie Hathaway is a creature of habit. Monday is net curtains, Tuesday is doors and lintels and Wednesday is the day she does her drains, her back step and her wheelie bin.

So there she was on a bright sunny morning armed with her usual caddy of caustic cleaning materials, disinfectants, bleach and scrubbing brushes, looking forward as she always does to enjoying nothing more than a quiet hour suffocating in a miasma of eye-watering fumes in the same way some people enjoy a round of golf or a Jane Fonda Workout video when all of a sudden I heard her yell out,

‘Maureen!’ I’ve been terrorised!’

Thinking that somebody had daubed swastikas on her back gate again I ran round in my nightdress only to find her staring open mouthed at her bin.

‘You could have got dressed,’ she said as if everybody has the appropriate wardrobe to hand for dealing with a terrorist attack. ‘Honestly Maureen you can see right through that…that thing!’

‘Anyway look!’ she said averting her eyes towards the dark recess of her wheelie bin.

So I leaned in and looked cautiously fully expecting at least a severed head. ‘Goodness,’ I said stepping back. ‘Who on earth would do that?’

‘Al Qaeda,’ she said dropping the lid on what she clearly thought was a homemade explosive device.

‘It was the same with the IRA you know. They tried to blow up my Arthur’s car when he was Chairman of the Chamber of Commerce.’

Now unbeknown to Beattie I had heard that story before but I’d always been too polite to mention it. However I was able to take the attempt on her late husband’s life with a very large pinch of salt. Valerie Hutchins had told me all about how the police had evacuated Palmerston Terrace whilst an entire Army Bomb Disposal Unit tried to defuse a suspect package wedged under the wheels of the late Arthur Hathaway’s Hillman Minx. Quite honestly I’d have thought even Beattie would have preferred not to remind herself how the bomb had turned out to be a packet of cigarettes somebody had dropped in the gutter on their way home from the pub. But there you go. The woman either has short memory when it suits her or no shame. Ten years of living either side of an adjoining wall and I’m still not sure which.

Of course we all know Beattie likes to think of herself as a political widow in the same light as Jackie Kennedy Onassis but her Arthur was only the Town Clerk so she is hardly in the same league is she? I mean why would a worldwide terrorist organisation want to blow up an elderly woman with a penchant for Branston Pickle and operatic arias? Unless…I racked my brains trying to remember if Beattie had upset the local Muslim community on one of her radio phone-ins but being as they no longer put her calls through I figured that wasn’t very likely. Ever since she’d managed to turn a debate on the decline of the bee population into a full scale argument about AIDS she had been persona non grata as far as Biddermouth FM was concerned. Except of course when she managed to call in pretending to me. But I soon put a stop to that. One quiet word with Gillian the programme controller and a heavy hint that Beattie had ‘issues’ and it was game over as far as that little ploy was concerned.

However even with my rudimentary knowledge of high explosives I could see we were in no immediate danger, which was just as well. The way Beattie had slammed that lid down we’d have all be blown to kingdom come.

‘It’s not a bomb,’ I said. ‘It’s a computer.’

Beattie just looked at me incredulously. Well she’s not the most technically minded of people. Such is her relationship with modern machinery she can even reduce the self-scanner in our local supermarket to a state of panic. Quite an achievement when you consider it is supposed to be a recorded voice. When a lightning strike de-tuned her radio she had to call in a man to get her back on to Classic FM. Then she moaned for days because he’d charged her five pounds for doing it.

But to be honest even I was a bit confused myself. I mean why would anybody dump a computer in a wheelie bin belonging to a respectable widow? Child pornography? MI5? Money laundering? The mind boggled.

‘I think we ought to call the police,’ I said.

Well from the look on Beattie’s face you’d have thought I’d suggested we run naked down the High Street hand in hand.

‘Are you mad Maureen? Supposing its’ got smutty pictures on it? How would that look being found in my wheelie bin? It’s all right for you. You haven’t got a reputation worth saving. I have. Don’t forget my Arthur was Chairman of the Chamber of Commerce for twenty consecutive years. As the widow of a civic dignitary I do have a certain standing in the community you know.’

That was when she had the idea that we swap bins.

‘Then if it does turn out to be smut nobody will be surprised Maureen, especially seeing you dressed like that! Dear God! At least cover your nipples with this dish cloth.’

So that’s why I phoned Kevin. Not because I wanted him to see my nipples but because being younger and sexually active he’s more in tune with all this computer stuff. As he said once, why bother to go out looking for it when you can click and collect? Granted there were times when he told you things you’d rather not have heard but by and large he’s a good lad. For example these days he never talks about bondage in front of Beattie unless she’s upset him first.

‘It’s probably some guilty husband dumping his porn collection Mo,’ he said confirming Beattie’s suspicions. ‘You want me to come round and have a look? ‘

‘Well if it’s pornography,’ I said, ‘you tell me this. Why is it marked ‘Property of the Biddermouth Gazette’?’

‘Ah, well in that case Mo…I mean…considering recent events…’

‘Precisely,’ I said.

So I did and when the police eventually came and took it away Beattie pointed out loudly and several times that the bin in question was most definitely mine. At least we assumed we were talking to the police although these days anybody can pop on a fluorescent tabard and call themselves a community officer. But you know what? It’s been weeks and we haven’t heard a thing…and that’s the strangest part of all this because according to Queenie Thompson neither did her mother.

@copyright Ian Ashley 2014

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World Cup Fever

April to June 2014Posted by Ian Ashley Sun, June 22, 2014 06:52PM

World Cup Fever

Maureen writes....

World Cup fever came to Biddermouth on Sea this Saturday in the shape of the Boys Under 14’s county football championships and this morning, according to my neighbour Beattie, the vicar at St Matthews and All Angels is holding a special prayer service for the injured, which is where I’ll be heading once I’ve finished this. I wasn’t keen on going to be honest but as Beattie pointed out I didn’t get this cut over my left eye listening to Alma Cogan so I owed it to the walking wounded to show some solidarity. Of course she’s been in her element dabbing my injury with neat Iodine no matter how much I scream. But then that’s Beattie for you. One St John’s Ambulance course and she thinks she’s Florence Nightingale.

Now normally I wouldn’t bother with the game at all. Why it’s called ‘beautiful’ is beyond me unless you count that nice Alan Shearer having a chat at half time. Even then I watch it with the sound down, which tells you that I’m not really interested in whether they win, lose, or equalise. However Karen Braithwaite was running the burger stand and she’d asked me to help her out. I don’t think I was asked because of my mental arithmetic skills. I was simply the thinnest person she knew who would say ‘yes’, her own daughters being far too large to fit in the van with their mother who, it has to be said, isn’t exactly svelte herself.

Anyway the catering arrangements aside, the Biddermouth versus Curston cup qualifier was always going to be a grudge match even at the Under 14’s level. What started out five years ago as a well-meaning attempt by the council to get youngsters involved in sport has, over the years, found itself caught up in allegations of match fixing, accusations of inappropriate behaviour, and the deadly rivalry between two ice cream dynasties.

Now whether money has ever changed hands or whether bars of soap were deliberately dropped in the showers has never been proven but the rivalry between the Pulciano family of Biddermouth On Sea and the Pannini’s of Curston has always been beyond doubt and has marred many a summer event over the years.

Apparently our own sexual peace envoy, Stella Wheatley, has tried to heal the rift by sleeping with both parties. Unfortunately they do say that between two stools comes a fall and I suppose the same must be said of beds. Luciano Pannini found out about Monty Pulciano, there were flick knives at dawn, and Stella, who is no stranger to a bit of rough stuff, ended up with her arm in a sling. I suppose the big surprise for her was that it happened when she was fully clothed. Anyway like Tony Blair promoting peace in the Middle East and declaring that we should bomb them at the same time it only served to make matters worse.

So when Biddermouth Under 14’s drew Curston in their first qualifying match the outcome was never going to be a pretty one especially when Dino Pannini and Cesare Pulciano were nominated as team captains. You see they are both direct descendants from the lads that started it off in the beginning all those years ago.

At first, just after WWII, when the families were released from the internment camp on Biddermouth Common, it was just a bit of good natured name calling as they pedalled their ice creams up and down the promenades. Then both families prospered, moved into more permanent premises and established their own turfs. Vittorio Pannini invented the double flake ‘99’. The original Monty Pulciano sprinkled his with hundreds and thousands. The Pannini’s fought back with a wafer half dipped in melted chocolate and the Pulciano’s went the whole hog and covered theirs completely. But as usual it was a woman who brought things to a head. Enter the lovely curvaceous raven haired Lina Pannini, the Anna Magnani of the south coast.

Now the blossoming of young love could have seen the merger of two great ice cream dynasties, chocolate wafers could have been put aside and with the help of the local priest all the bad blood could have been forgotten. But no. Like the story of Romeo and Juliet it all went terribly wrong. Lina Pannini became pregnant and fingers and flick knives were all pointed at Pietro Pulciano. Of course he denied all responsibility. Then the church became involved. A distant cousin of the Pannini’s got the Vatican to issue a proclamation. Pietro stuck to his guns and the whole family were threatened with excommunication. Even when Lina gave birth to black twins the battle still raged. Instead of being exonerated the Pulciano’s found themselves accused of casting spells and placing a curse on her family. And it was this curse that hung invisibly in the clear skies over the pitch on Saturday.

The families turned up en masse. And the families of families plus anybody else who feared never to be able to buy an ice cream in either town again. Beattie of course was absent. She had set aside the day for winding wool from unpicked sweaters. However when I saw all those people spread along the rival touch lines I was secretly glad of the protection of Karen’s burger truck. After all if it was strong enough to withstand her crashing about in it I figured it would more than cope even if one of the families had thought to arm themselves with a grenade launcher.

However the pre-match atmosphere, although tense, had a sort of carnival feel about it. Both sides were singing operatic arias, Neapolitan folk songs and granny Pannini was playing along with gusto on her accordion. The Patel’s, whilst not strictly seen as business rivals, had wisely made camp on the small hill to the side of the pitch to cheer their young Dev along in relative safety. I have to say that Sanjay, his father, is a lucky man. Dev’s mother Meena looked stunning in a strapless fuchsia mini dress. No wonder her parents are so proud of her.

Anyway, kick off came. Dino got possession of the ball, as Mr Shearer would say, and Cesare, with what I thought was a fair tackle, got the ball back. There was a bit of pushing and shoving as you would expect when lads get excited, after all it’s what they see on the telly isn’t it? Then the Curston wing went on the attack, sprinting down the pitch like a veritable Georgie Best, swerving his way around the other players and knocking Dev Patel over in the process. Up on the hill there was a good natured groan of British disappointment but no abuse for the referee. That left nothing but Ryan Braithwaite between the home goal mouth and one up to Curston. His mum got so excited she took a bite out of two cheese burgers at the same time and nearly choked. I just held my breath and busied myself brushing crumbs off my blouse. Ryan may only be thirteen but like all that family he is a big lad.

Now as I’ve said, when it comes to football I am no expert. My late husband Archie tried to explain the off-side rule many times but by then he was usually too drunk to make much sense and often ended up contradicting himself. However even to me it looked like a clear cut one-on-one situation. All the Curston lad had to do was swerve his way round Ryan and he’d be home and dry. If it came to sprint there would be no contest and I think the Braithwaite boy knew that. So he lunged.

All eleven stone of him came crashing down on the Curston winger, who naturally lost possession of the ball plus most of the wind from his lungs. Whistles blew. Wingers doubled up in pain. Ryan rolled. Karen spat half chewed minced beef. Then granny Pannini stopped playing Neapolitan folk songs and struck up something far less melodious. That was a signal for Panini’s and Pulciano’s to sprint towards each other from their respective side lines and pretty soon a pitched battle was raging.

Karen screamed ‘My baby!’ and launched herself at the door as Ryan disappeared under a pile of bodies.

Unfortunately I was stood next to it at the time and wasn’t able to get out of the way quick enough. Out we went, Karen, me and several trays of buns. We sailed through the air, adding our cries to those already yelling for the police, an ambulance and the army. I suppose I was lucky. Being the lighter of the two I travelled the furthest. Karen just went down with a belly flop at the foot of the steps. I crash landed face first on to the trampled remains of an accordion. It wheezed. I groaned and felt a trickle of blood running down the side of my face, hence my sporting injury.

The lovely Meena gave me a lift to casualty in her Audi convertible and she wasn’t even bothered when I dripped blood on her white leather upholstery. Others were not so fortunate. Apparently the paramedics, working on the premise of ‘safety first’ didn’t bother about who was who. They just loaded the ambulances and sped off so the fighting continued all the way to the hospital where the security manager had already called in reinforcements.

My luck held. Meena had phoned ahead and her uncle, Dr Patel, was ready and waiting, treated me like royalty and saved me from bleeding to death in a six hour queue for treatment…

…anyway Beattie has arrived wearing her usual Sunday morning church expression, the one that makes her look like the Almighty planning to part the Red Sea and drown the Egyptians. I’m not sure which side she is on but I think it will be a while before we treat ourselves to a choc ice on the promenade.

@copyright Ian Ashley 2014

If you wish to receive notifications of further postings about the lives of the folk in Biddermouth on Sea either click the RSS icon on this page or e-mail me at and I’ll add your name to the subscriber list – it’s free, you can leave comments and you have the right cancel at any time.

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Tourist Trouble

April to June 2014Posted by Ian Ashley Sun, June 15, 2014 10:31PM

Tourist Trouble

Maureen writes…

One of the joys of living in Biddermouth on Sea is that you don’t need to go on a holiday yourself because once the tourists arrive you can just sit back in a deck chair and join in with theirs. Of course you still have to buy your own chips and ice creams but it’s a lot less trouble than actually going away. For a start you get to sleep in your own bed at night and as Beattie says, you don’t have to worry whether they’ve scalded the cutlery or not.

Of course having lived here all her life Beattie never fails to point out that things are not what they were, although between you and me I’m not sure it was ever as grand as she makes out. I don’t doubt for a moment that King George VI visited but I don’t believe he stayed any longer than he needed to. However I suppose she may have point. Any pier collapsing with that loss of life is bound to change the complexion of a place isn’t it? Apparently those bodies were being washed up for days afterwards and even now when you see a discarded flip-flop at the water’s edge you can’t help but wonder how long it’s been in the sea.

That said people still come in their thousands, mainly those who can’t afford anywhere better or have had their travel documents confiscated by the authorities it is true, but this year what with the UK Passport Office being in total disarray we were expecting the place to be packed. You see despite rising crime and a plague of slugs eating their way through half the floral clock we still have a major attraction that other seaside towns would kill for or at least we did until last week.

For the last seven years the big draw on the promenade wasn’t some girl from X factor miming to hits from the musicals, all night Bingo or even a fun fair. It was our very own local celebrity Wanda the Human Cannonball. Twice daily during the season they let her off with a big bang. It used to be three times a day but since she started suffering from tinnitus she’s had to scale back her appearances a bit. But go off she does nonetheless. And as you can imagine with the amount of gunpowder it takes to blast a fifteen stone woman out of a reinforced metal tube the result sounds very similar to an allied bombardment on Iraq.

Unfortunately for Wanda, Jimmy Johnson, the man who has been firing her into her safety net between the old candy floss stall and the Tourist Information centre since she first got the job all those years ago was away having a hernia operation, so his nephew Clive was standing in for him.

Now if I tell you that Clive is the brother of Iris Naomi from the Bona Curl Salon you may get some idea where this is all heading. She’s the one I have told you about before, three years on a youth employment scheme and stills manages to get water inside the front of your blouse remember? Her mother refers to her as ‘my daughter the hairdresser’ but personally I think you have to be trusted with scissors before you can call yourself that. Anyway, so Jimmy was in recovery and he’d left young Clive in charge with a long list of step by step instructions in very big writing and a warning to phone him if he wasn’t sure about anything. And in his defence he’d probably have done a decent job if it hadn’t been for Wanda herself.

As I’ve said she is not a small woman. Even when confined in her purple lycra flying suit she is not exactly what you might call aerodynamic with or without her helmet on and it was obvious at the start of the season that she was having a bit of trouble loading herself into the barrel. So without telling anybody, Terri, her life partner, put her on Slimfast. It was just a pity that nobody thought to tell Clive she’d lost nearly a stone in weight.

Anyway on the day in question Beattie and I just happened to be on the promenade having done a spot of shopping and because we’d been looking at the second hand paperbacks in the Cancer Care shop Beattie had popped into Pounds R Us to get some antiseptic wipes.

‘Some people have some very unsavoury habits Maureen,’ she’d said passing me one. ‘That Danielle Steele you’ve bought may look pristine but you never know where they’ve been reading it.’ She added that she didn’t suppose the classics got treated with any more respect either which was why she’d passed up the chance to buy a copy of ‘Bleak House’ for twenty pence.

We were just wondering where to go for a cup of tea when the crowds started gathering in time for Wanda’s first blast of the day. Now I’ve always had a soft spot for that girl. After all being born with a clubbed foot she could of have opted for a life on disability benefit but credit where credit’s due, she’d forged quite a nice little career for herself instead. Beattie, it has to be said, wasn’t fussed about staying to watch. Not only is Wanda Jean Shanks niece, which wins her no points in my neighbours eyes but she has also embraced an alternative lifestyle with a woman called Terri which is something else Beattie doesn’t approve of.

‘You socialists may call it alternative Maureen,’ she said. ‘Right minded people would call it unnatural and if you ask me that whole family is tainted. Look at Jean’s grandson. In and out of that remand home so often it’s a wonder he hasn’t got his own key and her thinking she’s a cut above the rest of us. I don’t know why she bothers. Its common knowledge her stair carpet stops on the landing and the rest is all lino.’

As usual the promenade was packed. Tension was in the air. The drums rolled as Wanda climbed her ladder and the crowd fell silent in anticipation. Now I know most people had their fingers crossed for her but you can’t tell me there weren’t a good many there anticipating that something would go wrong. Sadly that’s just human nature I suppose. I mean without the promise of the odd fatality Grand Prix racing is just so many cars going round and round and Wimbledon is always more interesting when someone volleys a shoot into a ball boy isn’t it?

The drums stopped. The crowd held its breath. Wanda gave a wave from the mouth of the cannon and Clive, bless him, following his instructions to the letter, pressed the button and with an explosion worthy of Krakatoa launched our Wanda into the air to a rousing cheer. There were ‘Ooooo’s’ of amazement as she sailed skyward, gasps of disbelief as she carried on gaining height and finally a stunned silence as it became obvious even to the uninitiated that something was amiss. Even I’d never seen Wanda flaps her arms like that before.

And on she went, on and on, over the candy floss store, over the Tourist Information Centre, the stunned silence giving way to cries of disbelief followed by screams of terror and the sound of breaking glass as Wanda shot through the window of the Amusement Arcade where she destroyed two fruit machines before coming to rest inside a severely damaged case of the Laughing Policeman. Beattie and I found ourselves surging forward with the crowd. Not that we were eager to get a glimpse of Wanda’s mangled remains but because we’d have been trampled to death if we hadn’t. According to Kevin at the Bona Curl people were already uploading videos on that YouTube thing in the hope of getting themselves on the national news or at least being able to show their grandchildren a picture of a corpse. And people say the media harassed Princess Diana!

Thank God she was wearing her crash helmet that’s all I can say. Of course she was bit dazed, and who wouldn’t be after an experience like that, which was more than you could say for the Laughing Policeman, he didn’t look as though he’d found it very funny at all. Neither did the town council. That was two of our key attractions destroyed in the space of a few seconds. Quite how the season will recover I don’t know especially with the wax works at Curston re-opening next week after an extensive refit and with new attractions….

To be continued…

@copyright Ian Ashley 2014

If you wish to receive notifications of further postings about the lives of the folk in Biddermouth on Sea either click the RSS icon on this page or e-mail me at and I’ll add your name to the subscriber list – it’s free, you can leave comments and you have the right cancel at any time.

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Politics is a dirty game!

April to June 2014Posted by Ian Ashley Sun, June 01, 2014 06:11PM

I expect you’ll know by now all about the UKIP gains and Lib Dem losses in the last round of voting but you may not know that in Biddermouth on Sea we reflected the national mood perfectly. I suppose it’s nice to know that we represent the silent majority but it’s a shame to think that with our empty shops, unemployed young people and badly maintained pavements we must also be typical of the towns up and down the country.

However, true to form the Lib Dems are no more. To add insult to injury their local party HQ mysteriously burnt to the ground a few days after the result was announced. So I think we may have seen the last of them for a while. I mean who wants a Prime Minister called Clegg? Anyway they’ve gone now and so has poor Moira Weller (Lab). Perhaps next time she’ll make sure she’s put her jam jars in the correct receptacle before standing on a recycling ticket. Blithely tossing that glassware in her wheelie bin cost her dear I can tell you.

Now I know UKIP and the Tories make unlikely bedfellows but with our local council in a right-wing strangle hold I reckon there is only the Independent candidate between us and a seaside ‘Kristallnacht’. However you would think my neighbour Beattie would be chuffed to bits at the thought of uniformed thugs beating the unemployed with sticks wouldn’t you? Well she’s not.

‘I enjoy those concerts on the bandstand as much as you do Maureen,’ she said violently screwing her copy of the local paper into a very small ball, ‘ I mean there is nothing to match the sound of twenty men blowing in harmony but that still leaves the issue of what goes on there after dark. What if we had to take a short cut through the park one night, just think of that for a moment will you?’

I did, simply because I’ve got used to doing what she tells me, but to be honest I didn’t think it was very likely that we would. Since that man exposed himself behind the shopping centre Beattie gets very twitchy about being out anywhere after sunset without a torch, spare batteries and a whistle. Although why she worries I do not know. Wearing a corset and belted into a gabardine mackintosh she’s hardly liable to arouse passion in even the most desperate pervert unless it’s raining. And as for Kevin and his friends, well I know it’s not nice but at least they can’t be seen from the main road and they are very respectful of the herbaceous borders.

‘And what will we do if Biddermouth On Sea leaves the Common Market? It’s all right for me Maureen I’ve got a passport so I’ll still be able to get to Southampton but you haven’t. You’ll be trapped here. Have you thought of that? No I thought not. Mr St John Hawley said David Cameron promised us a referendum after the next election but with that UKIP lot in the Town Hall it will be too late. And I can’t see the RAF dropping food parcels like they did for Berlin can you?’

Well no, she was right there. I couldn’t. Neither could I see Biddermouth On Sea surrounded by barbed wire and machine gun posts either. However that did explain the extra tins of stewed steak and six packets of sultanas she’d bought when we’d gone shopping earlier on. And there was me looking forward to a slice of homemade fruit cake. Ah well. She always burns the top anyway.

‘Just to make sure any salmonella have been killed off’, she says.

‘Dodgy thermostat’, I say, but quietly so she can’t hear me.

Of course she can huff and puff about rampant homosexuals and shout ‘Ich Bin Ein Berliner’ till she’s blue in the face but the real reason for the violent screwing up of the local newspaper had nothing to do with used condoms in rose bushes and imminent starvation at all. Oh no. The real reason was much nearer to home I can tell you.

Somehow Stella Wheatley had got herself into the photograph of Mr St John Hawley thanking his tireless election team, of which you will remember Beattie had also been a member. Still it’s a sad fact of life, even for the anti-fur brigade, that a full length mink coat will trump a heather mix tweed two piece every time. Even in a black and white photo. However not only was Stella in shot, horror of horrors, you could clearly see she was picking fluff off the Tory candidate’s collar.

‘It’s like Princess Margaret and Peter Townsend all over again’, Beattie said.

Knowing Stella’s reputation I thought it was more like Christine Keeler and John Profumo but as usual I kept my thoughts to myself. Stella was safely in her salon. I was within slapping range just the other side of the dining table.

‘Of course,’ said Beattie, ‘you know what’s behind all this don’t you?’

Unbridled lust I thought? A wife at home who didn’t understand him? Maybe some hitherto undiscovered chapters of the Karma Sutra? You can say what you like about the Stella but with a string of husbands behind her, and not all her own I might add, at least she was still game. Beattie was just jealous.

‘It’s her facade Maureen that’s what it is you mark my words.’

Now I know Stella still needed a bit of work on the left hand side of her face. That’s the trouble with having a facelift in instalments especially if they work right to left and not top to bottom but surely Beattie wasn’t suggesting that party funds were going to be diverted to finance Stella’s plastic surgery? I hoped not. She was bad enough when she read that Hazel Blears had billed the nation for her bath towels.

‘You know as well as I do Maureen, that salon is in a Grade II listed building and I was well within my rights to object to her sticking that neon sign all over the front of it. It was just the same with her breast implants.’

Whilst I didn’t remember Beattie lodging a complaint at the Town Hall about those I did recall Kevin telling me how Stella had trawled the Lonely Hearts columns until she’d ensnared a prosthetic salesman. They do say that love is blind and I suppose with her eyes fixed on being 42DD Stella was prepared to overlook the fact that he was only four foot eleven inches tall and from South Shields. Not that he lasted long. It was common knowledge at the Bona Curl that she was hardly round from the anaesthetic before the poor chap was sent packing up the M1 and Stella found a six foot tall Polish hospital porter. So perhaps she’d found another willing dupe in our new Tory councillor. Mind you with their history you do have to take most of the things Kevin says about her with a pinch of salt. I mean that story about her and the paper lad...surely not? Then again...Stella...

‘I am not taking this lying down Maureen,’ said Beattie.

I thought that was a bit of a tactical error. Stella usually did and this time secured the political advantage as a result. All my neighbour had got was a red face and incipient heartburn. Her second mistake was thinking she could take Stella on at all. I mean look what happened that time Beattie hit her in the face with that Lemon Meringue Pie? Beattie and me ended up in the back of a police van manacled to a couple of prostitutes from the Happy Hands Massage Parlour.

‘You may be quite happy with her flashing all over the High Street Maureen but some of us care too much about our architectural heritage to turn a blind eye. I’m with the Prince of Wales.’

Well that was a Tory U-turn worthy of George Osbourne if ever there was one. Beattie had been anything but with His Royal Highness when he was happily reunited with Camilla.

‘Don’t forget my Arthur was chairman of the local chamber of commerce for twenty years. He may be gone, God rest his soul, but the name Hathaway still means something to most right minded people round here. If Stella Wheatley thinks she can sleep her way through a planning application she’s got another thing coming.’

Beattie pulled on her gloves, cracked her knuckles and said in a low voice,

‘If politics is a dirty game, then so be it Maureen. So... be... it.’

To view my book ‘Bell, Book & Handbag’ featuring Maureen and Beattie please click HERE

All stories in The Biddermouth Gazette ©Ian Ashley 2014

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Note from Ian

April to June 2014Posted by Ian Ashley Wed, May 21, 2014 09:24AM
Regular visitors to News from Biddermouth on Sea will have already read Electioneering Biddermouth Style Part I but for those of you visiting for the first time I have re-ordered the three posts with Part II and Part III so they follow on in a more logical'll find them posted after Part I. far as Maureen and Beattie are concerned this election is going to the wire!

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Votes for Women

April to June 2014Posted by Ian Ashley Wed, May 21, 2014 09:09AM

This wretched election business has thrown all of us in Biddermouth on Sea into a bit of a quandary. Even my next door neighbour Beattie, who thinks you should only be allowed to vote for the Tory Party, has seen her ballot paper cross hover in confusion on a daily basis. Of course I know that she thrives on making a crisis out of most things however this time I do think she has point. I mean just who do you vote for?

‘I’m in a cleft stick Maureen,’ she said.

‘Me too,’ I said and immediately wished I hadn’t. You see being an only child my neighbour isn’t very good at sharing anything, even her own indecision. All it did was provoke her into blaming ‘people like me’ for the state of the nation.

‘If your lot hadn’t got rid of our gold reserves at knock down prices so you could go on handing out money willy-nilly to work-shy lesbians we wouldn’t be bumping along on a half percent interest rate and I wouldn’t be trying to make ends meet on a four percent ISA,’ she said.

Well we may have had our indecision in common but never in a million years would we have voted for the same person. In fact since Tony Blair high jacked Princess Diana’s corpse and his unfortunate wife refused to curtsey to the Queen I haven’t voted at all. That Labour poster gets put in my window for two reasons and two reasons only. Firstly it stops other people pestering you when you’re trying to watch television and secondly because it winds Beattie up something chronic.

‘Have you any idea what having a Labour council would do to our equity Maureen?’ she said yet again warming to a very familiar theme. ‘Property in this town would be worthless and anybody with a spare room would be forced to take in refugees.’

I didn’t have the heart to tell her that it was her mob who’d introduced the Bedroom Tax but all the same she did make me think. Perhaps its’ people like me who have ceased to vote that have played a big part in landing this country where it is today. So this time I will be doing my bit. But which bit? If somebody with unshakable convictions like Beattie can have doubts what does that say for the rest of us?

One minute she was all for coming out of Europe. The next she was all for staying in just to keep an eye on the Germans.

‘She may wear court shoes Maureen but that Merkel woman doesn’t fool me one bit,’ she said. ‘Look what happened the last time we looked the other way. We lost Poland.’

Personally I thought they might have been sisters under the skin. After all neither of them had the first clue when it came to applying make-up and they both clung to that ‘vintage’ look that had more to do with being thrifty than being stylish. Clearly I was wrong. Of course I knew that there was a more deep rooted reason behind Beattie's' political wavering.

This had less to do with politics and more to do with the fact that the local Tory candidate had turned down her kind offer to canvass on his behalf. Where this sudden flirtation with UKIP was concerned she wasn’t so much seeing the light as throwing her toys out of one pram and into another. Beattie may have sighed and claimed to be disaffected but the reality was that her nose had been put out of joint. For some reason it never occurred to her that having somebody who thought shoplifters should be branded with red hot irons canvassing on your behalf would not be viewed as a political asset, so in my opinion all this disaffection was less about an Act of Parliament and more about an Act of Spite.

Still none of this was helping me and I firmly believe there’s still a lot to be said for being continental. Before we’d joined the Common Market it was instant coffee or nothing. Now you can even get a cappuccino in the British Home Stores restaurant. Also what about those lovely ‘Pain Rustique’? Do we really want to go back to eating misshapen bread rolls? No we do not.

‘It’s not about bread rolls Maureen,’ she said. ‘It’s about stopping all these foreigners coming in and stealing our jobs. The trouble is every time you see that Nigel chap on the telly he’s got a pint of beer in one hand and a cigarette in the other. I ask you, do we really want this country run by somebody with an alcohol dependency problem and bad breath? And then there’s that business of those smutty photographs to consider. You’d never get David Cameron posing in the nude would you Maureen?’

No you would not, I thought, but then again why would you want him to in the first place? I know size isn’t everything but I do like a man with a decent chin. Anyway my comment that the pictures weren’t actually of Nigel Farage himself, in flagrante or even in a frock, fell on conveniently deaf ears.

I could see Beattie’s nostrils were twitching the way they always do when she smells trouble. When I looked up I saw the much married Stella Wheatley, local siren and so-called beautician, coming up the High Street in her full length mink coat.

‘There’s one person who won’t be voting UKIP,’ said Beattie with a sniff. ‘I just happen to know she’s had more Polish plumbers round to replace her washers than she’s got taps in her salon.’

‘She’s Lib Dem,’ I said although why I was defending Stella Wheatley I have no idea. We hadn’t even exchanged smiles since that incident at the Copper Kettle Tea Rooms. Not that Stella smiles much these days but then that's Botox for you.

‘You mean she was Maureen, until he went back to his wife. Come on let’s cross the road before we have to speak to her.’

Well avoiding Stella Wheatley was the easy part, deciding who to vote for was much harder. You see I’d seen our local candidate’s pictures in the Biddermouth Gazette and a sorry bunch they looked too.

One was pledging to improve the National Health Service by closing down our local A&E department, another was promising to finally put a zebra crossing outside the library, presumably so we wouldn’t get knocked down and need medical assistance, whilst a third was planning to solve both issues by closing the library down and turning it into a Pizza Express. That way nobody would ever need to cross the main road anyway. The other candidate was a woman. She thought we should recycle more household waste and looked as if she cut her own hair with poultry shears.

Well at least that was one candidate I didn’t have to worry about. I mean if she wasn’t bothered by split ends who’s to say what else she’d turn a blind eye too? I know bad hair never stopped Ann Widecombe from making her presence felt but at least she could dance.

Still the good thing is that time is on our side. There are still a few days to go before any of us have to make a decision. With a bit of luck it might rain and we can all just stay at home and watch ‘The House of Elliot’. Of course that begs the question, should you leave the likes of Beattie Hathaway with the casting vote and suffer the consequences in silence? Or should you risk getting your feet wet in a peep-toe sandal and do the right thing, make your mark and fight back?..

To view my book ‘Bell, Book & Handbag’ featuring Maureen and Beattie please click HERE

All stories in The Biddermouth Gazette ©Ian Ashley 2014

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Electioneering Biddermouth Style

April to June 2014Posted by Ian Ashley Wed, May 21, 2014 09:06AM

As you know deciding who to vote for in these next elections isn’t easy, especially when you have been out of the political arena as long as I have. I’m not sure whether we had the vote or not whilst I was in prison, at least nobody ever said but then maybe they just burnt our ballot papers. All manner of things went missing in that place, but that’s another story.

Then we had Tony Blair and to be honest I wasn’t impressed. All he seemed to want to do was set himself up to be Queen of Europe and curry favour by bringing incapable women into the cabinet. Well we all know what happened there don’t we? Personally I think he was turned down for the top job because of his wife. I mean imagine Cherie trying to hold her own against all those glamorous French women? Not a hope. So I expect that’s why he got bumped out to the Middle East. At least there she has to cover up.

Now you wouldn’t think of Biddermouth on Sea as the cradle of democracy but just like the rest of the country people here are starting to fight dirty. Perhaps our votes really do count after all. The local paper has already banner headlined our UKIP candidate as being racist despite the fact that he was once engaged to Meena Patel whose parents run the shop on the corner of Palmerston Terrace. It wasn’t his fault she turned him down in favour of Sanjay and a chain of take-aways, a fact her mother was quick to point out in an interview on the local television. I must say Mrs P looked lovely on camera in her Jaeger suit. Plus the poor chap’s wife comes from Sri Lanka. So where is the sense in all of that I ask you?

They have even had a go at Moira Waller, our local Labour hopefull, although why they bothered I don’t know. She’s never polled more than 250 votes each time she’s stood. However this time her vocal stance on recycling has been exposed as a sham. Apparently somebody went through her wheelie bin and found a flagrant disregard for global warming in the shape of three jam jars that should have been in her glass recycling box. So I hope she doesn’t need the deposit money back.

Of course the original Tory candidate did himself no favours trying to pick up that young lad in the park. But that was months ago. I’m not saying it was true and we’ll never know if money did actually change hands but despite promising to stand by him in an interview his wife looked pretty grimfaced and they have both resigned as a school governors. Fortunately that was at the same time that our Human Cannon Ball over shot her safety net on the promenade and demolished half of the amusement arcade so the story was well and truly buried in all the excitement of Wanda’s concussion.

So there I was having a cup of tea and reading all about how at six years old our UKIP man had once got a Blue Peter badge for his Robertson’s Jam golliwog collection when Beattie burst through my kitchen door like a Russian tank invading Prague with the news that despite his earlier protestations the local Tory candidate had finally come to his senses and got her involved in his campaign.

‘We all have to play our part Maureen,’ she said as she crammed her mouth full of my bourbon biscuits, obviously in a considerable state of excitement. ‘Did you know that you get more on the dole than you’d earn being a doctor? No? Well it’s true. I read it myself in the Daily Mail. And why do you think you can never get an appointment at the doctor’s surgery? I’ll tell you why Maureen, because it’s full of people with nothing better to do all day than sit at home and get pregnant on the state that’s why.’

Whilst I’m not entirely sure that Beattie’s manifesto would have clauses on mandatory abortions for the unwed and unemployed I had a nasty feeling there may be hints contained in the small print so you can see why Mr St John Hawley was trying to keep her services at arm’s length.

‘Of course Maureen,' she said dabbing her finger in the remaining crumbs,’ in the old days they would have jumped at the opportunity to have the widow of a leading political figure supporting them on the hustings.’

Somehow I doubted they’d have jumped very high. From what I’d gathered her late Arthur owed his twenty year tenure as chairman of the local chamber of commerce more to the apathy of the other members rather than to any political savvy shown by his spouse.

‘I mean the Kennedy’s got Jackie to support her brother-in-law didn’t they?’

‘He was assassinated,’ I said and although I didn’t like Mr St John Hawley I had no wish to see anybody gunned down on the steps of the Town Hall, Tory or otherwise. Beattie was bad enough as the widow of the town clerk; splattered with the blood of the Tory Martyrs she’d be unbearable. All the same I was dying to know what she would be doing for The Cause. As usual, when it’s all about her, I was to be kept on tenterhooks and slowly stretched.

Apparently, or so she said, that ‘dear man’ was only thinking of her.

‘Tories do have hearts Maureen, despite all those lies you read about people in iron lungs being forced to work in supermarkets. Mr St John Hawley said he couldn’t possible impose on me because of all the memories it would bring back of my dear Arthur.’

Here we go, I thought, and true to form out came the hanky and both eyes were duly dabbed. Of course I know it’s just an act. When her Arthur died she got her hands on two pensions, slashed her weekly shopping bill by fifty percent and got the starring role in Biddermouth on Sea’s funeral of the century to boot. Beattie Freemantle may not have been built to be a radiant bride but as Beattie Hathaway she was triumphant in her widowhood.

‘I mean he does have a point Maureen,’ she said folding her hanky neatly before popping it into her handbag.

Well I had to agree with him there but for less sentimental reasons. Beattie on the Tory doorstep last time round and a fifty percent swing to the local Liberal Democrats had to be more than mere coincidence. Mind you rumour has it that the BNP candidate only lost his deposit due to a high number of defectors who somehow got the impression that the Tories were all for gassing shoplifters and jumped ship. Personally I’d like to think she simply got carried away in the heat of the moment but you never know with her.

‘Anyway at least we’ll be playing our part Maureen.’


‘Yes ‘we’. It’s high time you raised your political consciousness out of the gutter of socialism and played an active part in this country’s democratic processes. It may come as a surprise to you Maureen but Mrs Pankhurst wasn’t force-fed so that people like you could have free condoms and National Health glasses.

As I’d never been on the receiving end of either I was at a loss as to what to say. Normally I can bite back with something but seeing Beattie morph into a hybrid of Margaret Thatcher and Magda Goebbels before my very eyes had left me stunned.

Still it turned out that far from leading the women’s movement of the Third Reich Beattie had been given the more humble job of distributing leaflets and I, or so it seemed, had volunteered to help her...

To view my book ‘Bell, Book & Handbag’ featuring Maureen and Beattie please click HERE

All stories in The Biddermouth Gazette ©Ian Ashley 2014

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More to politics than shaking hands

April to June 2014Posted by Ian Ashley Wed, May 21, 2014 09:03AM

As it turned out leafleting with Beattie wasn’t going to be as bad as I thought. Because of her civic connections through her late husband Arthur, she thought that if anybody could swing the local business community behind the Tories it would be her. Personally I had my doubts. In the last month four independent retailers had gone to the wall because of the increased commercial rates. Fair enough we may have gained a Starbucks and a Café Nero but if you wanted knicker elastic it now meant a bus ride to the out of town shopping centre and back. It’s all right for Beattie, she stocked up on haberdashery in a fire sale at Owen Owen twenty years ago. Most of us thought, wrongly as it turned out that the wool shop would be there for eternity.

Anyway taking Beattie’s command to dress suitably for a political party worker I’d pulled out all the stops. Mind you when she turned up looking like The Queen Mum at Balmoral in a heather mix tweed two piece I knew even without looking at her face I’d got it wrong with my Dusty Springfield wig and fake ocelot raincoat.

‘We’re representing the party Maureen, ‘ she said, ‘not going to one although I shudder to think what sort of party you’d go to dressed like that, it wouldn’t be Tupperware that’s for sure. And in those heels you’ll be crippled before we even get as far as the Scope shop. Still there’s no time to change, tempus fugit Maureen! Tempus fugit!’

She was still doubting the suitability of my outfit when I managed to hand out fifty leaflets to some Territorial Army lads, and to be honest so was I. Climbing into that lorry in a mini skirt wasn’t easy. Getting out wasn’t much better either I can tell you.

‘Well at least you’re wearing underwear,’ she muttered, although how a piece of net curtain and two bits of string can be called lingerie I really do not know. Now, ‘Karen’s Cakes’ and no buying her Chelsea Buns. I had one last week and it was stale.’

True to form all twenty stone of Karen Braithwaite greeted us cheerily with a choux bun in each hand and cream round her mouth. Then her expression changed when she saw the leaflets. In fact she spat cream all over the pristine heather mix tweed whilst ranting that the Tories were all ‘kiddie fiddlers’. Unfortunately, even with her encyclopaedic knowledge of Biddermouth blood lines, Beattie had missed the fact that the lad in the park incident was a cousin on Karen’s husband’s side. It wasn’t her fault. Even I agreed he’d looked thin in the newspapers.

‘That’s the last time I risk my teeth on her Florentines,’ said Beattie trying to wipe herself down with a tissue. ‘Right onwards and upwards Maureen, if David Cameron can survive being pelted with eggs I’m sure I can cope with a bit whipped cream.’

And so with the bit firmly between her teeth, her dander up and her political significance elevated by Cream-gate Beattie bowled into the Bona Curl Salon. Unfortunately my friend Kevin the owner had already decided to vote ‘Independent’ because their candidate had nice eyes and also pledged to save the bandstand from demolition.

‘And we all know why,’ Beattie hissed as we turned left and headed up the High Street. ‘The things he gets up to behind that bandstand don’t bear thinking about. And to think it was opened by Royalty.’

Now had she not accused poor little Miss Milner once of stocking pornography we might have had more luck at the library. But we didn’t. Then the manager of the local building society took the wind right out of her sails when he said exactly the same thing as Kevin.

‘But he’s got a wife and kiddies’ she wailed. ‘What is this town coming to Maureen? I tell you we didn’t have homosexuals until the Lib Dems seized power. It’s a wonder we’re not all wearing dungarees it really is.’

To be honest that damned leaflet bag was getting heavier not lighter and being as I was the idiot carrying it I’d have given anything to have dumped the lot in a waste bin, so I suggested that we might get rid of a few in the Jolly Seaman pub. Well you’d have thought I was suggesting a fortnight in Sodom and Gomorrah the look she gave me.

‘Gay men do have a vote too’, I said struggling to get comfortable.

‘To be used for saving bandstands apparently Maureen.’

‘Well why don’t we just dump this lot in that bin and go and have a cup of tea in the British Home Stores?’

‘Maureen Truscott! I’ll pretend I didn’t hear that. These may be just bits of paper to you but how far would Mrs Thatcher have got if she hadn’t walked the streets of Finchley? I’ll tell you. Nowhere. And what would we be doing right now? Speaking Argentinian that’s what and paying tip top price for coal for we don’t need.’

I wasn’t exactly sure which Tory myth had Mrs Thatcher flagging down kerb crawlers on the streets of north London for votes so I assumed that as usual my neighbour and I were at cross purposes. And now wasn’t the time or the place to get into the rights and wrongs of the Miner’s Strike otherwise we’d just come to blows. According to Beattie they were all much happier since the slag heaps had been landscaped and planted with trees.

‘And they’ve all got indoor facilities now’ she’d added as if destroying whole communities could be made right by installing a few lavatory bowls in an extension.

‘Right! Where next?’ she said looking round to get her bearings as if she was Hitler taking his pick of the Low Countries.

‘Home perhaps?’

I might as well have saved my breath. We did well at the Cancer Care Shop, especially when Beattie reminded them loudly and at length how well they’d done when she’d cleaned out Arthur’s wardrobe. Next we hit The British Heart Foundation where Beattie rendered me speechless by telling the girl behind the counter that I’d been fitted with a Pacemaker and had weeks to live. I tell you if there had been a charity shop for new knees I’d willingly have swapped mine but there wasn’t and by the time we got to Scope I was having some very uncharitable thoughts about callipers. Even Guide Dogs for the Blind got a few bundles of leaflets thrust upon them. Not that either of us have got dogs but Beattie quickly sussed that the poor woman there was visually impaired and without one hint of a blush told her if the Lib Dems got back in on the council she just happened to know they planned to replace all the pelican crossings with silent ones.

That only left one place unvisited; Stella Wheatley’s salon.

‘We can’t!’ I said knowing full well that Stella and Beattie were sworn enemies till Death.

‘This lady is not for turning Maureen,’ Beattie said which even then struck me as highly unoriginal.

‘But you hit her in the face with a Lemon Meringue Pie!’

‘A week is a long time in politics,’ she said. ‘Now come on, we’re going in.’

Only we didn’t go anywhere. Instead we were rooted to the spot.

‘Dear God Maureen! Look!

I did and how! No wonder Beattie had gone a funny shade of puce. Not only was there a Tory Party poster in Stella’s window but there was the man himself, Mr St John Hawley, sitting in a chair and having a neck rub off the much married Mrs Wheatley.

Now I will say this for Beattie, for a girl who waddles when she walks she has a very quick and decisive mind. That bag was off my shoulder and those leaflets in that waste bin in less time than it takes to say ‘Artificial Hip Replacement’.

Well at least that was one of our minds made up. As for me I’m still not sure although I do enjoy the concerts in the bandstand during the summer. So perhaps, as they say at Westminster, the eyes do have it after all.

To view my book ‘Bell, Book & Handbag’ featuring Maureen and Beattie please click HERE

All stories in The Biddermouth Gazette ©Ian Ashley 2014

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