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