As regular readers will know ever since Bella Bynge took over responsibility for the Arts on behalf of our local council Biddermouth on Sea has seen a flowering of culture that has included a series of concerts by a Peruvian nose flautist, some woman with a massive chest murdering Puccini, an all-female production of Hamlet and poor Granny Patel forced to hold ethnic dancing lessons at the community centre.
I have to say that was the one I enjoyed most. You see the first record she played was ‘Rock Around The Clock’ which was something she said they did a lot of in Kampala in the 1950’s. Unfortunately Bella was expecting something with more sitar than guitar and ended up refusing to pay for the hire of the hall. She wasn’t too impressed either when a photo of our friend Hilary Mason being swung between Allan Stansbury’s legs made the front page of the Gazette. To be honest neither was Allan’s wife, especially as he suffered a stroke soon after. To my mind I think they should have used the picture of Granny Patel and her sister Bindi jiving with their saris tucked in their knickers. That would have done wonders for race relations. It might even have stopped people spraying offensive graffiti on Mr Patel’s security shutters at the corner shop. One thing it would have done for certain is to have made for an easier life every time Hilary and Mavis Stansbury came face to face in the supermarket but that’s another story.
Anyway Bella’s latest attempt to bring culture to the masses was to hold an exhibition of local artist’s self-portraits at the Town Hall. I mean apart from the people who sit on the promenade in all weathers painting the sea I’m not sure we have any local artists so personally I think she should have left well alone. As my friend Vera Preston said,
‘Culture is all very well but it’s best left to the people in London. That way they can all ‘ooo’ and ‘ahhh’ together over a plate of samosas and let the rest of us get on with enjoying ourselves.’
‘Well I’ve enjoyed doing mine,’ said Lila Morris, which I thought was odd because I’ve seen her paint a kitchen door, or try to, so quite how she was going to manage turning out a self-portrait was a bit of a mystery.
‘And mine’s nearly finished too,’ said Hilary Mason, ‘although nobody is going to see it until the exhibition opens because it’s an anniversary present for Clive and I don’t want any of you lot spoiling his surprise.’
To be honest I wasn’t that bothered about seeing it myself. Last year she’d got him a bridle and spurs which may have surprised her husband but was nothing to the one we all got when she told us what he did whilst wearing them.
However when it came to sharing artistic endeavour Lila wasn’t so reticent. As she just happened to be on her way to getting her entry framed she had it with her in a carrier bag so out it came and you could see at first glance that the problem with the kitchen door had nothing to do with size. Even scaled down to A2 it was obvious she was better at knitting. Still I kept my mouth shut which was more than Vera did.
‘When did you ever look like that Lila Morris?’
‘When I was younger,’ said Lila clearly caught on the back foot.
‘Well I’ve known you since you were five and I don’t ever remember you looking like the Mona Lisa.’
That apart I’d always thought the whole point of painting by numbers was to stay inside the lines. Clearly Lila had thought otherwise and somewhere along the line she’d gone off on a tangent with the colours. There were at least three number 4’s that didn’t match.
‘It was harder than it looked,’ she admitted. ‘Especially that bit with the pier in the background because I had to draw it free hand and I’m still not sure I got the perspective right.’
And she hadn’t because it didn’t so much recede into the distance as get bigger which if you stared at it long enough made you feel slightly queasy.
Of course if what you heard was to be believed the only people in town who weren’t busy painting their own faces were me, Vera and my next door neighbour Beattie. Even Linda Parkin weaned herself off Tamazipan and made a brave attempt although I think she must have got the wrong end of the stick because she actually painted her own face bright yellow. Unfortunately she used gloss and according to the nurse at the A&E she now has to avoid strong sunlight for at least three weeks whilst she heals.
So you can imagine it was with a sense of dread mixed with curiosity that we ventured down to the Town Hall on opening day. Especially as Stella Wheatley’s self-portrait, entitled ‘Ecstasy’ had already been banned.
Still at least George Cawdrey from the fishmongers looked vaguely recognisable although as Lila said he was clearly the only person who thought he looked like Errol Flynn which could have a bad case of sour grapes on her part had it not been true.
Of course there was one picture we were all secretly anxious to see. However because none of us fancied stumping up £5.00 for a catalogue we had to do several circuits until Vera pointed to the crowd around exhibit 217 and cried, ‘I bet that’s Hilary!’
Beattie said, ‘oh!’
Lila said, ‘you’d have thought she’d have painted her face.’
Now I’m no expert in these matters but personally I think if you’re going to be painting things like that the least you could do is try and get the angle of the mirror right and as for Clive Mason’s birthday surprise I think even Hilary’s gynaecologist would have been shocked.
To view my books ‘Bell, Book & Handbag’ and ‘Tourist Trouble & other short stories’ all featuring Maureen, Beattie and their friends from Biddermouth on Sea please click HERE
All stories in The Biddermouth Gazette ©Ian Ashley 2016