If there is one place, apart from the pedestrian crossing on Merchants Street that is guaranteed to strike terror into the hearts of people of a certain age in Biddermouth on Sea it’s the Riverbank Home for the Elderly. You see as far as we are all concerned it’s that land from which no traveller ever returns and what with today being half-price wash and set day at the Bona Curl Salon the news of its latest resident had become a bit of a hot topic.
‘Well that’s the last we’ll hear of her,’ shouted my neighbour Beattie signalling franticly for Kevin the owner to switch off her hair dryer so she could join in the conversation, or at least not burst into flames.
‘I’ll give her till June,’ said Lila Morris.
‘May more like,’ replied Beattie mopping her face with a handkerchief. ‘Are you sure you’ve fixed that dryer? I’ve roasted potatoes in a cooler oven’.
She then pulled her funeral diary out of her handbag and wrote Glenda Mottram’s name and a couple of question marks between the two Bank Holidays.
‘Remember Doreen Jackson? She only lasted two weeks.’
Vera said you couldn’t blame Riverbank for that one. It was common knowledge Doreen had been in a hospice and had no pancreas left to speak of.
‘But still unexpected,’ replied Beattie. ‘My late Arthur had a cousin who lost his spleen and he still went to Torquay twice a year.’
All of which brought forth the familiar story of how once Beattie had heard Doreen had rallied she’d seized the opportunity to pop her black wool coat into the dry cleaners.
‘And what happened? I was the only mourner in heather mix tweed. I felt so humiliated I had to leave by the side door. I couldn’t even show my face at the funeral tea. Not that anybody would have minded. Four of her grandsons were wearing white socks and trainers and her Janine looked like she’d just finished a shift at a lap dancers club. But there you are. Some of us have standards no matter what.’
And there we were indeed. Not wondering why Janine Jackson had taken up lap dancing whilst tipping the scales at fifteen stone but why Glenda, who only two weeks before had been seen doing the twist at one of Granny Patel’s rock n roll afternoons at the Community Centre, had now suddenly been whisked behind the laurel hedge and securely locked wrought iron gates of Riverbank.
‘Conservatory brochures,’ said Vera.
‘Have they been made illegal then’, asked Lila?
Vera said they were if you only had one daughter and you were planning to spend £12,000 of her inheritance on a sun room.
‘If you ask me once her Valerie got wind of that it was a race to see who got to Glenda first, the architect or social services. It’ll serve her right if they make her sell her mother’s house to pay for the care. Look what happen to Phyllis Withers? Three weeks they told her. Just till they could take the tubes out and the next thing she knew the housing association had moved four Somali’s into her flat and she never saw her Pyrex tea service again.’
Beattie thought that in itself must have been a blessing because she’d been there for a cup of tea once, and knowing how many germs could live in a chipped rim had taken one look at the cups and pretended she wasn’t thirsty.
Now whether or not the story of Phyllis was one of Vera’s urban myths I don’t know. Because where Riverbank is concerned everybody over sixty five that you speak to has a tale to tell about a friend of a friend who was either driven to the brink of insanity by being made to sit in a circle to watch daytime TV or rendered totally witless by regular sessions of clapping along to ‘Tipperary’. Lila even claimed to know somebody whose replacement knees had been put in back to front to prevent them from escaping.
‘And none of the staff speak English,’ said Beattie. ‘I mean
it’s all well and good that Nesta Balldock boasting that she’s
learned to speak Lithuanian but what good is that to a woman who’s never been
further than Bournemouth on a coach?’
'Or ever likely to again,' added Vera
Even so where Glenda was concerned Lila thought Vera might have a point. Valerie was, or so she said, a very nasty person even as a child.
‘She bit my Bez so hard one day in the playground she had to have a tetanus injection. Luckily she’s had a tattoo over the scar or she’d still not be able to wear a short sleeved blouse to this day.’
Beattie said that in her opinion she’d rather be scared for life than have a tattoo saying ‘ Fuzz R Pigs’ and Vera suggested Valerie had only bitten Bez in self-defence as Bez had just broken her wrist over a disputed square in a game of hop-scotch.
‘All the same ladies,’ said Kevin trying to stave off World War III by bringing us our second cup of tea of the morning, ’it could have been worse. They put my granny in Bay View Asylum when she went a bit funny in the head.’
Lila told him that planning a conservatory was a bit different to hacking your way through a classroom door with a meat cleaver and putting the lives of innocent children at risk. Neither of which were things Glenda could be accused of.
‘She has left the gas on a couple of times though,’ she added. ‘But then we all do stupid things. Remember that day I went shopping in my slippers?’
Beattie and Vera raised their eyebrows but Lila didn’t notice. She was too busy laughing how she’d come back home with four bottles of bleach when she’d really meant to buy carrots.
Personally I think she should keep quiet about that. Social services, like walls and Vera, have ears.
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