This year, and don’t ask me how this has happened, my neighbour Beattie has managed to put our names down to help out at the Riverbank Home for the Elderly’s annual Christmas party. The first I knew about it was when I got a letter from the matron thanking me for giving up my afternoon although I wasn’t aware I had volunteered to do any such thing. Neither had Lila Morris. Vera Preston certainly hadn’t. She put her letter straight into the bin.
‘That matron’s got a bloody nerve if you ask me,’ she said, ‘after she flatly refused my mother’s application to move in.’
Lila remarked that was because Vera’s mother was an arsonist.
‘She does have the safety of the other residents to consider you know,’ she added.
‘One mattress, does not an arsonist make, thank you very much Lila Morris,’ replied Vera. ‘Plus it was her own, at least she thought it was. It wasn’t her fault she got confused and ended up in the wrong room. Those tablets were supposed to be taken with food, not on an empty stomach so no wonder she had a bit of a funny turn. And anyway I notice nobody has asked Hilary to help out have they?’
Well this was true, they hadn’t, or rather Beattie hadn’t volunteered her services because as she’d said there were men there and we all knew full well that putting Hilary in the same room as twelve pairs of trousers was tantamount to tossing a lighted match into a waste bin full of paper.
‘Just because they’re all deaf and over eighty Maureen, doesn’t mean they’d be safe and I would think even if you were suffering from dementia you’d find the sight of Hilary in one of her peek-a-boo bras highly disturbing. And that’s why I didn’t put Rita Randall’s name down on the list either.’
Now that I could understand. The oft married Rita was widely known to be between men at the moment, the circus having left town and taken its troupe of young Italian acrobats with it. Not that they were actually at risk as even Rita knows her own limitations when it comes to flying without a safety net, but we did hear that their father had taken to locking himself in with the lions whenever he thought she was prowling round the Big Top.
What none of us could understand was how Beattie had managed to get herself in charge of the party in the first place. Two years ago she’d actually been banned from putting one foot across the threshold. Although as Lila pointed out, perhaps the new matron hadn’t made aware of this.
‘She’ll soon see the error of her ways, ‘said Vera, ‘I mean I know Beattie is house proud but tidying all their rooms and throwing their old clothes out in black sacks was a bit much.’
‘So was rearranging all the furniture in the day room,’ added Lila. ‘I mean fancy putting those footstools right where the partially sighted could fall straight over them? Two of them suffered broken hips and one had a very nasty sprain. And she was only there for two hours.’
Anyway be that as it may, no amount of pleading on our part could shake Vera’s resolve. Mind you when Beattie called us all to order two days before the party Lila and I were already wishing we’d shared Vera’s strength of mind. I mean it is bad enough visiting Beattie at the best of times. What with having to remember not to lean back to avoid denting the cushions on her settee or scuff your shoes on her woodblock flooring, trying to string your thoughts together long enough to hold a polite conversation just cannot be done. Not that we were expected to do any of the talking this time. It was more a case of ‘listen’ as Beattie handed out instructions of who was to do what and when. Luckily I was only given the washing up.
‘I know you’re ham-fisted Maureen,’ she said, ‘but if you break a few plates it won’t matter. Its’ council issue crockery not fine china.’
Lila thought she’d got off quite lightly too. But why Beattie thought she needed a cloakroom attendant when nobody would be wearing a coat we had no idea.
‘The Mayor will be there,’ she explained. ‘So you make sure you handle his regalia with due reverence Lila Morris and wear gloves. Which only leaves us one down because Karen Braithwaite’s bringing two Victoria sponges and Rose Millner’s organised the accordionist for the carols.
‘It’s not too late to ask Rita,’ I said only to be met with exclamations which I took to mean, ‘No’.
Now whether somebody (probably Vera) had tipped off the matron I don’t know but all the doors leading upstairs were securely locked and every foot stool had been removed from the day room. Still nobody choked on a sandwich or spilled their tea and everybody joined in with ‘Silent Night’ even if it did sound more akin to a vigorous polka. In fact everybody was having a lovely time, even Beattie, when the double doors opened and two of the porters wheeled in an enormous cake.
‘Courtesy of the corporation no doubt,’ said Beattie looking very proud of herself. ‘This’ll knock spots off last year’s Punch and Judy show.’
And as usual she was right. It did. Although I have to say I doubt anything, apart from Jesus himself turning up for his birthday tea, will ever top the sight of Rita Randall as she burst through a layer of lemon frosting yelling ‘Whoopee Boys!’ The fact she was wearing a pair of Santa earrings and a see-through body stocking appliqued with several strategically placed strips of angelica seemed almost incidental.
Still you have to hand it to matron. She’s obviously well trained when it comes to using a defibrillator which is just as well because Beattie was first in the queue.
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