This has not been a good week for our friend Vera Preston. Normally she takes life in her stride, which is just as well with her family. However all this business with her husband, her grandson and her daughter Chantal has sent her back to smoking heavily despite wearing nicotine patches, chewing gum and attending the local NHS Stop Smoking clinic every Wednesday.
Had it just been her Gordon being made redundant she’d probably been able to weather the storm. As she’d said at the time, that just proved no good ever came of paying tax and National Insurance.
‘We were far better off when he was working for himself.’
Lila Morris thought out loud that fencing stolen goods wasn’t exactly a career then immediately wished she’d kept her mouth shut when Vera reminded her half of her kitchen appliances had passed through Gordon’s hands at one time and another.
I think my neighbour Beattie was going to say something too, at least she opened her mouth but a look from Vera had suddenly reminded her that she’d only paid £5.00 for her slow cooker. I did too, although it was definitely not the bargain Vera claimed it to be. You see neither of us have dared to switch them on since Lila’s exploded, blowing a hole clean through her kitchen ceiling and showering her Greyhound with beef stew. Still I suppose when something is clearly marked ‘Turkmenistan Only’ you get what you pay for, or in Lila’s case more because apparently dog tranquilisers do not come cheap.
So that was Vera’s Monday and on Tuesday her daughter Chantal came back from the Bona Curl Salon with a full set of dreadlocks.
‘Well at least that’s got her out of that wretched scrunchy thing,’ said my neighbour Beattie, ‘although where she got the money from heaven only knows unless Social Services have started handing out free hair-do’s to single parents, which I have to say wouldn’t surprise me in the least. You know they get a free buggy with every baby and a two week holiday in a caravan don’t you?’
Fortunately at that point Vera joined us for coffee before Beattie had the chance to mount one of her favourite soap boxes and gone into her speech about making single mothers scrub the Town Hall steps. In her day, or so she reckoned, they all wore grey uniforms and worked at the local laundry. Not that she had any personal experience you understand but she had known a couple of girls who hadn’t ‘kept themselves tidy’.
Anyway the dreadlocks were only the half of it and even Vera admitted that once you got used to them they weren’t quite so bad. Plus she thought it was good to see Chantal taking an interest in other cultures.
Beattie said it was a pity Chantal’s cultural awareness hadn’t extended to hanging on to the washing up job Sanjay Patel had given her at the ‘All You Can Eat Curry Palace’.
‘That wasn’t Chantal’s fault,’ Vera replied. ‘Her social worker told Sanjay at the time she’d had no previous experience so he should have expected a few broken plates and not got on his high horse and sacked her during her first shift. No wonder kids these days can’t get jobs if people take that sort of attitude.’
Unfortunately Chantal’s desire to immerse herself in other cultures didn’t stop at having a new hairstyle as Vera was to find out in the early hours of Friday morning when she returned home having spent seven hours in the local A&E with her grandson Dwayne.
According to Lila he’d been attempting to make a quick get-a-way on a stolen bicycle which even she thought was asking for trouble being as he had no idea how to ride one in the first place, at least not one with twenty gears.
Anyway one plastered arm and twelve stitches later Vera, already annoyed that she’d had to miss Big Money Bingo, gets back home with Dwayne and decides to pop in and give her little granddaughter a good night kiss.
‘You know how she dotes on little Kiara Marie,’ said Lila.
Beattie said she couldn’t see why, the child was a positive menace to society. Even at three she’d been expelled from so many play groups Vera was now forced to take her on a lengthy bus ride there and back just so she could play with children she hadn’t bitten.
‘Yet’ added Beattie, although even Lila and I thought it was only a matter of time.
Anyway that was when, according to Lila, Vera got the biggest shock of an already trying week. Instead of finding Kiara Marie tucked up safely in her fairy princess outfit she leant over and came face to face with…and here Lila paused, lowered her voice and said,
‘A little black baby,’
‘Dear God,’ exclaimed Beattie who’s mind was already trying to squeeze dreadlocks, nine months and a home birth into a time frame of only four days and failing miserably.
According to Lila Vera let out such a shriek that her and Keith heard her next door. Gordon called the police and Vera, remembering the dozen microwave ovens stacked in her lounge did her best to disguise them with a couple table cloths.
Of course the police were immediately suspicious, as a three year old girl had earlier been abandoned on the police station steps and had already chewed her way through a packet of chocolate biscuits and a well-meaning WPC.
Sadly this is not the first time Kiara Marie has been swapped so none of us can see the police turning a blind eye to this one. Dwayne once exchanged her for an incontinent bull mastiff puppy although the owners soon begged for their dog back.
‘It’s no wonder she bites,’ said Beattie in a rare moment of maternal compassion. But it didn’t last long. In a skip and a heartbeat she was back on her soap box talking about grey uniforms and laundries.
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