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