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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Banish Those January Blues

Jan - Dec 2017Posted by Ian Ashley Mon, January 16, 2017 08:11PM

You know that flat bit you get between New Year and February? Well it’s the same here in Biddermouth on Sea. All we’ve had to look forward to so far is the announcement of the spring programme of entertainment at the community centre for the Over 60’s. And to be honest after last season’s offerings even that wasn’t guaranteed to be up to much since Councillor Bella Bynge has decided our minds needed stimulating to ward off dementia.

‘I blame global warming,’ said my neighbour Beattie as she turned her nose up at the pile of choux buns that had been on display in the Silver Lantern Café for the last week.

‘There was a time when people dropped dead by the dozen in January but now? There’s not one funeral tea in my diary for January and if somebody doesn’t die soon we’ll be looking at the first week of February before we get so much as a free ham sandwich. I had high hopes of Gloria Chang passing but apparently the antibiotics have worked and they say she’s breathing again. Now does that look like a chocolate chip muffin to you Vera or is it a burned fairy cake with a dead fly in it?’

Vera said, out of malice, it was a chocolate chip muffin and Bernie Heffernan who runs the place and doesn’t have the same history with Beattie came clean and admitted it was probably a fly.

‘The extermination machine’s been on the blink so it has it,’ she said. ‘You know the one that’s supposed to go ‘phtzzzzzzz’? Well it’s never really been the same since that sparrow flew into it the day Noreen left the back window open trying to cool down the Apple Turnovers. The feathers smelled something dreadful so they did. Now would yourself be wanting me to scrape it off for you?’

‘It’s all this mild weather,’ Beattie went on choosing to ignore her and settling instead for three bourbon creams that came in a sealed wrapper.

Apparently, before the advent of aerosols and carbon dioxide the steps next to the old wool shop that lead down to the promenade used to be good for at least a couple of fatalities when it turned icy.

‘That’s true,’ piped up Lila Morris. ‘One year we had three at once, Jean Mollison, Nella Hargreaves and Pat Whithers. Down like ninepins they went. One after the other.’

Vera said that wasn’t ice. They had all rolled under a number 47 bus. Although she still had no idea whatever possessed three grown women to attempt the Lambeth Walk in sub-zero temperatures like that.

‘All the same,’ replied Lila, ‘if Pat hadn’t lingered we’d have been hard pushed to have managed three funerals in one day. We only just made it to St Anne’s in time for Nella’s ‘ashes to ashes’ after that vicar with the stutter caused Jean’s do at St Mark’s to overrun.’

‘He had trouble saying ‘Mollison’ you see,’ Vera explained for my benefit because I hadn’t been living in Biddermouth at the time. ‘If you ask me he should have just stuck to ‘dearly departed’ and shovelled a bit faster. Anyway what have we got here?’

Pulling a leaflet out of her handbag and adjusting her glasses she read,

‘Biddermouth on Sea Community Centre Spring Calendar. Dear God! Surely not?’

‘What,’ asked Beattie?

‘More female explorers,’ Vera said. ‘Only this time it’s ‘Borneo On Foot’. Why can’t they just get proper jobs and stay at home? If you ask me they’ve got too much time on their hands.’

In Lila’s opinion it sounded much better than last year’s couple who had rowed the Atlantic single handed. In Vera’s opinion they had done no such thing.

‘How can you row single handed when there’s two of you,’ she asked?

‘All the same,’ replied Lila struggling with the metaphysics of it all, ‘they still had to drink their own urine when they ran out of water.’

‘And seemed very proud of it too,’ said Beattie, adding that if she ever found herself in a similar situation the last thing she’d want to do was broadcast the fact to members of the Town’s Women’s Guild.

‘Some people have no shame. Now whatever happened to that nice woman who used to give the demonstrations of decorative icing,’ she wondered?’

‘Cataracts,’ said Vera.

Lila said she thought she’d had them done and Vera said she had. On the National Health.

‘Now she can’t see a thing. Ah! This looks interesting. ‘Annual Sex, the last bedroom taboo’.

‘That’s ‘anal’,’ said Lila craning her neck to read the leaflet at the same time as handing Vera a serviette so she could clean her glasses and although whilst she had no idea what it meant Lila was certain it couldn’t just be something that happened on her Keith’s birthday. And to be honest if it was I have to say none of us wanted to spend two hours sitting on hard plastic chairs to hear about it.

‘How about Pilates,’ asked Vera? ‘There’s a talk on that for beginners.’

Lila said that was no good as none of us spoke Greek, or was it Latin? Anyway since when had Vera been interested in ancient philosophers?

‘I think it’s something that Sylvia Protheroe does with those women in leotards,’ suggested Beattie. ‘You know the ones. They can’t eat anything with egg in it or sit on chairs covered in man-made fibres. ‘

Was it an exercise then, Lila wanted to know?

‘Attention seeking more like,’ replied Beattie whose low opinion of Sylvia and her fitness classes had its roots in the time when they took ballet lessons together after school.

Apparently Sylvia was chosen to become a cygnet in the class production of Swan Lake and Beattie was chosen to open and close the curtains. But we don’t mention it, even now.

‘Well,’ said Vera, ‘looks like we’ll have to spend Wednesday afternoons changing our library books.’

And I think, unless there’s a cold snap or an undiagnosed case of antibiotic resistance she may well be right.

To view my books ‘Bell, Book & Handbag’ and ‘Tourist Trouble & other short stories’, ‘A Festive Falling Out’ and ‘Turkey And All The Trimmings’ all featuring Maureen, Beattie and their friends from Biddermouth on Sea please click HERE

All Things Biddermouth ©Ian Ashley 2017

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Claws & All

Jan - Dec 2017Posted by Ian Ashley Mon, January 09, 2017 08:35PM

‘Don’t ask where they came from,’ said our friend Vera Preston. ‘Think of them as a late Christmas present.’

To be honest I’d have been happier with something nice to put in the bath. However after last years ‘Oriental Spice’ bath foam experience, perhaps not. I was still trying to get rid of the smell at New Year. So with that in mind I supposed Vera’s unexpected gift would make less pungent alternative. At least I wouldn’t have to sit there huddled over the gas fire with all the windows open. Still whilst I know you should never look a gift horse in the mouth I did wonder what I was supposed to do with a pair of stolen lobsters.

So did my neighbour Beattie as neither of us are exactly famed for our fine dining habits. She may claim things taste better off her Royal Worcester china than my mismatched plates but if you ask me even a fancy hallmark and a gilt rim will struggle to turn over-boiled vegetables into haute cuisine.

Anyway I thought that whilst I was on the phone thanking Vera for her nice surprise I’d broach the subject of what to do with them.

She said she had no idea because she’d been expecting them to be four boxes of duvet sets her grandson Dwayne had bought off a mate in the pub on New Year’s Eve and if I thought I had a problem I should come round and take a look in her freezer.

‘I’ve got three dozen of the things staring at me every time I open the door,’ she added, ‘and two of those have managed to stick themselves on a frozen trifle so I suppose unless I can scrape some of the cream off that’s ruined too.’

Our other friend Hilary Mason was no help either. Did lobsters have the same aphrodisiac qualities as oysters, she wondered, because if so she was planning to serve an enormous seafood platter the next time it was her and Clive’s turn to host one of their Swingers parties.

‘Anyway give Lila a ring,’ she said. ‘I think she’s got a recipe from her sister in America.’

So I did. And she had. But only for the sauce.

Now some of you may remember Lila’s sister Violet. Last year she came back to Biddermouth on Sea forty years, five husbands and a great deal of costume jewellery later and also, if Beattie is to be believed, carrying a lot of plastic surgery before her.

‘You can say what you like Maureen,’ she’d said after Violet had gone back to Placid Flats, ’but she certainly wasn’t a 48 DD when she set sail all those years ago. And why on earth does she keep on marrying alcoholics? Unless it’s her that drives them to drink.’

Well none of us could answer that one. Even Beattie had been too well-mannered to ask. However one of the many things we did learn was that Violet, or Vileen, as she now called herself, had a walk-in freezer the size of our back kitchens which according to Lila was full to the brim of every luxury food stuff known to mankind, including lobsters. All of which brings me back to why Lila phoned her sister in the first place.

‘But did you ask her what we’re supposed to do with them,’ I asked?

‘I most certainly did not,’ she replied. ‘She made enough fuss over having to eat Corned Beef Hash and Spam fritters and chips so there is no way I was letting her know I hadn’t a clue what to do with a lobster. Anyway I don’t know why Beattie can’t just ask George Cawdrey. She’s always in his fishmongers commenting on the size of his halibut.’

Personally I think that was just Lila being deliberately meddlesome. She knew as well as I did that Beattie would rather walk barefoot over hot coals than step over his threshold. You see whatever dalliance there might have been between her and George was definitely ‘off’ since she’d heard he was spending most of his free time ‘on’ the more happy-go-lucky Rita Randall. Fair enough he was also seeing a chiropractor three times a week as a result of Rita’s pelvic floor but in Beattie’s compendium of verse that was nowhere near enough poetic justice to compensate for the humiliation she’d suffered at his hands. Death by thunderbolt might have been more befitting but sadly Divine retribution had seen fit to confine itself to the use of a walking stick.

‘Still,’ said Lila,’ it can’t be that difficult. They serve lobster pate at the Imperial Hotel don’t they?’

‘But does it have claws,’ I asked?

Lila had to admit I did have a point there. As far as she recalled it didn’t although it did come with little bits of toast.

‘Anyway,’ she added. ‘Keith and I are having ours tonight. I’m planning a candle lit supper to go with that baby doll nightdress he gave me for Christmas. I know I said I wanted a new vacuum cleaner but I suppose you have to make the effort don’t you otherwise you’ll end up like Hilary and Clive, having sex with strangers in the park.’

‘Sorry,’ I asked although knowing Hilary I wouldn’t have put it passed her.

‘It’s the only place with swings’, she explained and set off determined to get herself in the mood for a night of sparkling wine, romance and two plates of Lobster Thermidore.

With hindsight I think even Lila would now admit she should have swallowed her pride and asked Vileen how to prepare a lobster because I gather the evening wasn’t exactly a roaring success. Keith’s idea of sparkling wine turned out to be two cans of warm lager and he’d fallen asleep before the new nightdress had even made its way out of the drawer. As for the seafood all she would say was that it was crunchy, very crunchy.

‘In fact Maureen, ‘she said, ‘you couldn’t even get a knife and fork in either of them. But that sauce was lovely.’

To view my books ‘Bell, Book & Handbag’ and ‘Tourist Trouble & other short stories’, ‘A Festive Falling Out’ and ‘Turkey And All The Trimmings’ all featuring Maureen, Beattie and their friends from Biddermouth on Sea please click HERE

This ‘All Things Biddermouth’ story is ©Ian Ashley 2017

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Mince Pie Eating Contest

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lila said she thought he had a moustache.

Vera just shrugged and said, ‘so’?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To view my books ‘Bell, Book & Handbag’ and ‘Tourist Trouble & other short stories’, ‘A Festive Falling Out’ and ‘Turkey And All The Trimmings’ all featuring Maureen, Beattie and their friends from Biddermouth on Sea please click HERE

All stories in The Biddermouth Gazette ©Ian Ashley 2016

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A not-so Silent Night

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To view my books ‘Bell, Book & Handbag’ and ‘Tourist Trouble & other short stories’, ‘A Festive Falling Out’ and ‘Turkey And All The Trimmings’ all featuring Maureen, Beattie and their friends from Biddermouth on Sea please click HERE

All stories in The Biddermouth Gazette ©Ian Ashley 2016

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Loose Mousse

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I looked and she said,

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

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

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

To view my books ‘Bell, Book & Handbag’ and ‘Tourist Trouble & other short stories’, ‘A Festive Falling Out’ and ‘Turkey And All The Trimmings’ all featuring Maureen, Beattie and their friends from Biddermouth on Sea please click HERE

All stories in The Biddermouth Gazette ©Ian Ashley 2016

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Elf & Safety

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘They got burned though,’ said Lila.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To view my books ‘Bell, Book & Handbag’ and ‘Tourist Trouble & other short stories’, ‘A Festive Falling Out’ and ‘Turkey And All The Trimmings’ all featuring Maureen, Beattie and their friends from Biddermouth on Sea please click HERE

All stories in The Biddermouth Gazette ©Ian Ashley 2016

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Hip Displacement Theory

Sept - November 2016Posted by Ian Ashley Sun, November 20, 2016 04:46PM

There is a mythology around hip sizes in Biddermouth on Sea that could make shopping for clothes with our friends very difficult. Luckily as in most friendships it’s not what you say but what you don’t say to each other’s faces that keeps us all ticking along. And when it comes to choosing Christmas Day outfits it’s always a case of the least said, the soonest mended. And I’m talking egos here, not split seams or dropped hems.

You see it all began when my neighbour Beattie declared she’d been a size eighteen for the last fifteen years and Vera Preston said to Lila Morris,

‘If she’s an eighteen I must be a twelve!’

To which Lila Morris replied because she’s Vera best friend.

‘I thought that’s what you were anyway.’

She then said,

‘At least that’s what you’ve always led everybody to believe,’ because even now she still harbours a great deal of resentment about the dress Vera made her wear when Lila was her bridesmaid.

She also added she’d been luckier with her own figure because she’d been a size ten since her daughter Bez was born.

Vera then had to tell me all about it because there were things she couldn’t say to Lila that she felt had to be said, namely that Lila never ate properly and being scrawny was never a good look on an older woman because it added at least ten years to her face.

‘Besides,’ she went on, ‘ that’s why she’s got no bust’, which was cruel as we all knew how sensitive Lila was about being flat chested and having to rely on gel pads when wearing evening wear.

However that did mean battle lines had been drawn. Until Beattie confessed to being any larger, Vera was forced in perpetuity to be a twelve and Lila was doomed to a life of not eating cream cakes in public by declaring herself a size ten. The only one of our friends who wasn’t bothered was Hilary Mason. Not that I’m surprised because if you’re confident enough to expose yourself to strangers at Swinger’s Parties the odd extra inch or two is neither here nor there.

Of course you could argue the reverse and say the blame lay with Lila in the first place. Had she been honest about not being a ten, Vera could have been bigger than a size twelve, Beattie could have had her pick of any number between fourteen and infinity and Hilary could have just carried on swinging with her husband Clive and not needed to give her hips a second thought.

Still good friends that we are we all knew Beattie’s self-proclaimed hip size was just one more of her little fictions, like her ancestors being landed gentry, her late Nanny Freemantle’s single strand heirloom pearls being worth a king’s ransom and that wretched Georgian cream jug she’s forever polishing being made of solid silver. It isn’t, because according to Vera it’s only EPNS.

Apparently if you hold it up to the light at the right angle you can see the base metal showing through, something that must have happened one time when Beattie was otherwise distracted because normally the silverware is kept under lock and key in Vera’s presence.

‘I’m not saying she would steal it Maureen,’ Beattie said to me one day, ‘ and this is not something I’d ever say to her face but it would go against my Christian nature to wilfully put temptation in her way. After all it’s only her word against Gloria Houghton’s about that missing handbag.’

Not that Beattie was actually at Stella Wheatley’s Boxing Day party because she wasn’t invited and in Vera’s defence, as Lila said at the time, nobody could swear Gloria Houghton had arrived with a handbag in the first place

‘But,’ she added, once Vera was well out of earshot, ‘I’d never say this to Vera’s face but when you make a career out of shop lifting and fencing stolen property like she does if a bit of mud gets flung some of it is bound to stick isn’t it?’

So you can imagine going on any shopping trip to buy, or in Vera’s case steal, something new for a special occasion involves a great deal of planning and even more biting of tongues.

You see Beattie has to buy something in a size eighteen that she knows she’ll never wear but that Vera will be happy to accept off her. Vera has to steal something that she can’t get into but can pass on to Lila and Lila buys anything she can find in a size ten knowing full well Beattie will, out of the kindness of her heart, always offer to return it to the shop and exchange it for something ‘in a size eighteen’ that fits.

In theory this should work however the following day is never without its little barbs because none of them have the same taste in clothes.

Beattie, because she’s been forced to buy something that earns Vera’s approval often gets her own back by saying that she’s had second thoughts. Either looks a little too garish, too cheap or down right tarty but, she always adds, Vera’s quite welcome to it if she thinks she could get some wear out of it.

Vera, who always has to steal something Lila will want once went as far to say her Gordon had taken one look at her choice when she’d tried in on at home and told that was just the sort of thing her mother would wear.

‘He said if I thought he was being seen out with me dressed like that I could think again, mind you Lila it’s more your colour than mine…so if you’d wear it…’

I know all this sounds complicated but then where good friends are concerned you sometimes have to go that extra mile, or in Beattie’s case, several miles on a free bus pass, just to keep the peace. And like all mythologies, if you don’t dig too deep, it works.

To view my books ‘Bell, Book & Handbag’ and ‘Tourist Trouble & other short stories’, ‘A Festive Falling Out’ and ‘Turkey And All The Trimmings’ all featuring Maureen, Beattie and their friends from Biddermouth on Sea please click HERE

All stories in The Biddermouth Gazette ©Ian Ashley 2016

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No Country For Old Women

Sept - November 2016Posted by Ian Ashley Sun, November 06, 2016 06:32PM

Carole Cartwright has been the anchor woman for our local TV station for the last twenty years. Come rain, shine, plague, pestilence, hospital scandals, Royal visits, abnormally high tides or particularly gruesome murders it’s been her face that has beamed into our living rooms at six o’clock and ten o’clock every weekday evening warning us to stay inside with our doors locked for our own safety or get out and make the most of the warm weather for our own good. But not anymore.

In fact since the new Head of Programming set out on a mission to give Biddermouth TV a more youthful appeal we’ve lost quite a few familiar faces off our screens, and all of them women. Those that haven’t gone completely have spoken joyously about ‘discovering’ new career paths, mainly on the radio, or simply spending more time in the garden playing with their grandchildren. In fact in last months ‘Biddermouth Life’ magazine they ran an article called ‘Life Away from the Spotlight’ about Denise Maudsley who supposedly stepped down from presenting a programme on antiques to take up a new and exciting hobby in the form of golf.

‘She could have stayed on like Vanessa Duxbry’, said my friend Vera Preston. ‘After all you’d have thought she’d have been so fed up having to appear enthusiastic about other people’s old junk that after ten years she’d have been glad of the change.’

‘Perhaps she didn’t want to get up at two every morning to do ‘Celebrity Thighs Live’,’ replied Lila Morris. ‘I know I wouldn’t. No wonder Vanessa’s looking tired.’

Hilary Mason said it wasn’t as if they were real thighs either.

‘Marlene Dietrich has been dead for years,’ she added, ‘plus don’t tell me that was really a photo of the Queen hitching up her skirt to have a paddle at Weymouth. And what on earth has Fiona Waller done to her face?’

Well nothing apparently, according to her agent. But we all agreed she was the only one of the old timers who’d kept their original jobs.

‘Yes but for how long,’ asked my neighbour Beattie? ‘The whole point of being a TV presenter is that you can move your mouth so people can understand what you’re saying surely?’

‘And be able to blink,’ said Vera.

‘Preferably with both eyes at the same time,’ added Lila. ‘Honestly, seeing Fiona do the traffic round up last night was like trying to watch Wimbledon.’

Beattie said that was Lila’s fault for having a fifty two inch screen in such a small room.

‘No wonder your greyhound is always moulting. It’s stress.’

This comment only caused Lila to leap yet again to ‘Sparky’s’ defence. According to her he’d been perfectly all right until the slow cooker she’d bought off Vera exploded and covered him in hot beef stew. This cause Vera to say, yet again, that if Lila ever got the hang of answering her mobile phone she’d have got the message saying, ‘Don’t plug it in. It’s wired for Turkmenistan only!’

However leaving aside the on-going battle over the perils of buying stolen kitchen equipment off friends and the fact that Fiona’s twenty year old face no longer matches her fifty year old hands there was also the question of whether the delightful Kamilla Khan had moved willingly from consumer affairs to present ‘My Pet’s Done a Whoopsie’ at 4.30 pm on a Tuesday or not.

Hilary said not. She’d heard that there had been some battle over covering her head.

Lila said she didn’t know Kamilla did that.

‘She doesn’t, but they wanted her to and she was given the choice. Cover up or ship out. Mind you how much longer she can go on smiling over video clips of dog poo remains to be seen.’

However the one thing we were all agreed on was that replacing Carole with Tricia Hopwood was not a good idea.

‘Hopwood- O’Deegan,’ said Vera and we all looked as this was news to us.

‘That wretched Moira Hopwood cornered me in the supermarket last Friday and I got chapter and verse about how her daughter had been double barrelled since marrying one of our local footballers.’

‘And long before then,’ said Hilary, ‘if what I’ve heard is correct.’

Now whatever may or may not be true about that last statement, and whether or not CCTV footage really exists of Tricia and three members of Biddermouth F.C entering the Golden Fleece Hotel at three in the morning who can say, but giving a prime time newsreader’s job to somebody who couldn’t even get the weather report right seems an extremely unwise move. Even if that person is half Carole’s age and has much bigger breasts.

Of course to hear Moira talk you’d think Tricia had got it on sheer talent alone and already had a cabinet full of awards for incisive reporting. However having witnessed Carole’s last appearance on television you could see why she’d thrown in the towel.

‘It couldn’t have been easy for her doing a piece about road kill on the local by-pass when you’re used to covering royal weddings,’ said Beattie.

‘Or having to hand back to somebody half your age who’s sat at the desk you’d occupied for the last twenty years,’ added Vera.

‘And it was raining,’ said Lila. ‘You have thought they’d have at least given her an umbrella. I mean nobody looks good in a kagool.’

We all tried not to look at Vera who was actually wearing one at the time, but it wasn’t easy.

Now whether Vera’s hood had made her deaf, or as is more likely, she’s just biding her time where Lila’s concerned I can’t say but in twenty years Carole Cartwright never had a problem with ‘Pyongyang’ and never once referred to Prime Minister’s Question Time as ‘PMT’. Of course Honolulu doesn’t normally have eight syllables either but luckily there was a map behind Tricia’s head so we all knew where she meant…Moira said it was nerves.

To view my books ‘Bell, Book & Handbag’, ‘Tourist Trouble’ & ‘A Festive Falling Out’ all featuring Maureen, Beattie and their friends from Biddermouth on Sea please click HERE

All stories in All Things Biddermouth ©Ian Ashley 2016

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