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
'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