Here in Biddermouth on Sea we’d have had a quiet week if it hadn’t been for Rose Milner voicing her concerns about our local Women’s Reader’s Group. As she said, if it wasn’t for the fact that they met in the upstairs room at the town library every Wednesday afternoon she wouldn’t be too bothered. After all what people chose to read in their own homes was their own business. However, being as she is the librarian she did have a responsibility for what happens on the premises.
‘It wasn’t so bad in the days when they used to read Jane Austen,’ she said. ‘Although even then some of them got out of hand whilst reading ‘Pride and Prejudice’ and left half eaten biscuits down the side of the armchairs.’
‘Well it’s your own fault Rose Milner,’ said my neighbour Beattie. ‘Some of those books on your shelves beggar belief and it’s no good you trying to tell me they are all approved by the county either. I haven’t dared put one foot in ‘romantic fiction’ since I found that male full frontal poking out between the Georgette Heyers’.
Rose tried to explain that wasn’t her fault. People, she said, quite often put things back in the wrong slot.
Vera Preston wanted to know what they were reading now and when Rose said the latest Jane Trench my neighbour Beattie let out a snort of self-righteous indignation because she’d been duped in borrowing it herself only to find it was full of smut.
‘Is that the one where Polly is divorced from the merchant banker, loses her job as a high-powered publishing executive and is forced to move into rented accommodation before she has sex with a bin man who is really a millionaire trying to come to terms with the death of his first wife,’ asked Lila?
‘No,’ said Vera, ‘that was the one before. In this one Holly gets divorced from a stock broker, loses her job as an executive PA, opens a very successful shop selling cupcakes on a remote Scottish island and falls in love with a local fisherman who turns out to be a relation of the Queen Mother’s with his own castle just down the road from Balmoral.’
‘And they have a lot of sex in the heather,’ added Hilary.
‘Precisely,’ replied Beattie. ‘What’s wrong with the Bronte’s I’d like to know? Nobody has reproductive organs in their stories, or at least if they do they keep them to themselves. Even Heathcliffe kept his trousers on. And what about Jane Eyre?’
Rose vouched safe that nobody had touched her for at least eighteen months, maybe even longer.
‘What the group really needs are a few more readers like yourselves. It’s only one afternoon a week ladies. I do wish you’d come along.’
Vera said not likely. She’d been caught like that before.
‘I thought that ‘Middlemarch’ was never going to end. In fact I seem to remember it went on for so long Sally Tilsley had time to have both hips replaced and we were still reading it long after she’d made a full recovery. So I’m sorry Rose, but the answer is no!’
Luckily there are still some people in the community imbued with the public spirit. Vera may have been dead set against broadening her literary horizons but Beattie was made of sterner stuff. Once she realised she had the opportunity to steer the moral compass of the local reading group towards a higher ground she was all for signing up.
‘And next week’s bingo is on me,’ she said launching a masterful three-line whip that had Vera recapitulating on the spot.
‘It might cost me a few pounds but it’ll be worth every penny to see if that woman can actually read anything that doesn’t have pictures in,’ Beattie said as we headed off to our first meeting a few days later.
I have to say that our arrival in the room did boost the average age of the reading group by about thirty years and based on the polite chit chat before we got down to business we were the only ones who didn’t think Gwyneth Paltrow was the second Messiah. I’m not sure Vera cut much of a dash either talking about how her grandson Dwayne’s electronic tagging devise chaffed his ankle.
However at least Beattie had read the book from cover to cover and visibly bristled when they started talking about what an aspirational role model Jane Tench’s heroine was.
‘Of course,’ said their chairperson, ‘it would be fascinating to hear what perspective our more life-experienced new members have on these things.’
You could tell from her face that Vera’s perspective of ‘total shite’ was not what she was expecting. I think they also struggled with the concept that on an island with a population of two hundred and fifty the demand for cupcakes was likely to be minimal at best and certainly not a life changer. Even if you branched out into sausage rolls. And as Beattie said, even hardy islanders are not likely to risk sailing over stormy seas for a squirt of lemon frosting.
Lila’s observation that if Holly hadn’t been so self-centred her marriage wouldn’t have ended in the first place sent an audible shock wave round the room and then Hilary, sensing the opposition were already looking for a means of escape, declared that what they’d done in the heather on page ninety seven was anatomically impossible.
‘You can’t even do that on a rubber sheet,’ she said. ‘And believe me I’ve tried. Twice!’
Of course how many of the Readers Group will come back next week nobody knows. Very few I would imagine after Beattie confiscated their Jane Trench’s and handed them all copies of something she promised was more uplifting.
I’m not saying Jane Eyre is a laugh a minute but once you get into it it’s not so bad. I’m already halfway through and so far, I’m pleased to say, not once has she turned her hand to baking.
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 Things Biddermouth stories ©Ian Ashley 2017