It’s amazing how quickly an empty diary can fill up when you’ve been invited to something you don’t want to go to isn’t it? And that’s exactly what happened to the four of us when Rita Randall suddenly announced she was having a Valentine’s Day Party at her house and we were all invited.
‘It’ll be lovely,’ she said. ‘We’ll have a real girls’ night in, we’ll all wear pink and sing along to loads of Tammy Wynette.’
Now normally we all let Valentine’s Day go by uncelebrated, hence the empty diaries. My neighbour Beattie always says she’d rather be alone with her memories of her late Arthur, which would be quite romantic in itself if you didn’t know they centred on a man who’d sent her the same card every year for forty years and inspected their door lintels for dust every Friday night before handing her the housekeeping money. Vera Preston reckoned there was no point making a fuss when you’d been married for forty five years and Lila Morris said she didn’t need a special day either.
‘Romance is alive and kicking every day with my Keith,’ she boasted provoking Vera to ask if she’d bought a defibrillator on Amazon?
So there we were. It was either find something to do or spend an evening with Rita and her Queen of Country collection.
Beattie said she had the perfect excuse. There was a programme on the Holocaust she’d missed first time round and it was bound not to be repeated.
‘You’re more than welcome to join me Maureen,’ she added, ‘I’ve got a packet of your favourite Bourbon creams.’
Which left me praying the twinge in my back would develop into full-blown sciatica. That way I could look forward to a night spent sleeping on the floor eating my own biscuits and being spared the twin horrors of Tammy or a night with Beattie and Hitler in one fell swoop.
‘Well Vera and I are going to have to go,’ said Lila. ‘Hilary’s having one of her Swingers parties next door and we don’t get a wink of sleep since they’ve fixed a set of manacles on our adjoining wall.’
Vera said Hilary had invited her and Gordon along to make up the numbers but as her Gordon said what was the point of going to all the trouble of having a bath and buying deodorant when you couldn’t even have a cigarette afterwards?
‘I know Hilary’s gone and had cream carpets fitted throughout but considering what they get up to on those rugs you’d think she’d turn a blind eye to a bit of ash wouldn’t you? And besides what if Rita’s got something special to celebrate?’
‘Meaning,’ asked Beattie?
Why she felt the need to ask none of us knew. You see it was common knowledge Rita had, in her own words, been going strong, with George Cawdrey for some months and with five husbands already behind her Rita Randall was never going to be one to let the grass grow under her feet where the possibility of spouse number six was concerned.
‘They’ve been looking at rings,’ said Lila although as Beattie was quick to point out that in itself meant nothing.
‘She does that even when she’s on her own.’
Now I have to point out that in the romantic annals of Biddermouth on Sea it had always been assumed that if George was going to be allowed to marry anybody it would be Beattie. Not that she admitted it but why else would she spend ages in his fish shop drooling over the size of his halibut? And I have it on good authority from Vera that Beattie had been round his house offering to iron his shirts the minute she’d heard they’d switched off his late wife’s life support system. She’d even assumed the role of hostess at the wake. At least she’d made sure she was the one circulating amongst the guests with a tray of the best sandwiches and spouting so many kind words about the departed Mavis Cawdrey Vera still wondered to this day why her tongue wasn’t covered in blisters.
So I could see that when it came to the possibility of finally losing one George to one Rita the fate of over six million Jews was suddenly neither here nor there. Which explains why Beattie turned up at Rita’s Valentine’s party wearing black. At least Lila and I had followed the dress code with pink blouses and even Vera had made an effort although I do think there is a time and a place for a pink tracksuit don’t you?
There is also a time and a place for telling a newly engaged woman that the ring being so proudly displayed had once been the property of the late Mrs Mavis Cawdrey but with Tammy standing by her man, Vera’s ballet pumps playing havoc with her bunion and Rita in seventh heaven even Beattie who is normally a stickler for punctuality realised this was not it.
‘I’m sure Mavis was wearing that ring when I went to see her at the chapel of rest,’ said Beattie as we made our excuses and left early.
‘Well he must have whipped it off her finger just before they screwed the lid down,’ said Vera who had decided to risk shredding her new tights and walk home barefoot. ‘Now if we get a move on we’ll just be able to get some fish and chips off the van before it closes.’
It might not have been the most romantic Valentine’s evening on record but there’s something to be said for sitting on a wall and eating a fish and chip supper with your best friends. Even Beattie, who normally struggles to eat anything hot without cutlery tucked into her pickled egg with gusto. Maybe she realised that one widow, unlike six million Jews, had had a very lucky escape.
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