I know the way the Easter weekend bobs about the calendar like a thing possessed must be pretty annoying for people that sell eggs and greetings cards but here in Biddermouth on Sea it’s the forty days of Lent that cause the most problems. Especially when it begins in February, because that’s when my neighbour Beattie starts making her lists of things we could all do without during the Lenten period.
Last year she said people like me were responsible for the moral decay of the nation when I flatly refused to abstain from eating Bourbon Cream biscuits because I happened to like them.
‘Where would we be,’ she’d said, ‘If Our Lord had given into such temptation during his forty days and nights in the wilderness?’
This time around it was less about Jesus’s choice of biscuits and ending up as a Methodist and more about giving up life’s little luxuries to cleanse the soul. At least that’s the tack she took earlier on in the year when she arrived in my kitchen with her note pad and pencil.
Well that maybe so but when you’re living on a state pension luxuries are few and far between. Unless you count being able to have the gas fire on if there’s a cold snap that is. And I’m sure even Beattie’s God, who I have to say seems more wrathful than most other versions I’ve heard about, wouldn’t advocate elderly women freezing to death in their own homes. Or would he I wonder?
‘I could stop buying new clothes,’ I said when we seemed to have exhausted all the other possibilities on Beattie’s list, including walking which even she thought might be taking things a bit too far.
But she was having none of that. Apparently with half the world giving up chocolate me turning a blind eye to a one pound fifty skirt from the reduced rail in the charity shop was hardly going to cut much ice with the Almighty.
‘It has to be something meaningful,’ she said. ‘How about giving up feeding that cat of yours?’
‘He’ll starve to death,’ I replied knowing how fractious Mr Mong gets if he doesn’t have his three meals a day and do you know I’d swear by the look on Beattie’s face she didn’t think that was such a bad idea.
‘Then what about wearing flat shoes? At least you’d be able to walk properly and not stagger all over place looking like you have a drink problem.’
Well I’m sorry but even advanced warning of the Second Coming wouldn’t get me into those Velcro fastening things Beattie straps on her feet and well she knows it. She tried that one birthday as a surprise then got one of her own when she found them in my dustbin. Still that’s what you get for being nosey and shifting through other people’s household refuse when you think they’re not looking.
‘I’ll put you down for not playing your Dusty Springfield records then,’ she said making a note in her book. ‘At least that way the world will be spared the sound of you singing along at all hours.’
Yes and there’s always headphones I thought as I signed on the dotted line. Unchristian but true. Also I noticed there was no mention of her refraining from bellowing the Hallelujah Chorus when she was polishing her parquet flooring.
However I think I got off quite lightly considering the deprivations Beattie had in mind for the rest of our friends. How or why she thought Bernie Heffernan was going to give up being a Catholic I don’t know. But she did and seemed quite put out when she was met with a flat ‘no’.
‘Think of the money you’ll save on candles,’ she said, ‘and you could eat meat on a Friday.’ But Bernie still refused to be swayed.
‘After all,’ she said, ‘it’s not like the potato famine was exactly His fault. And besides what else could Father Jerome do on a Sunday if we all stayed at home?’
‘She’s told me to give up wearing pink,’ said Rita Randall, which I must say we all thought was a bit like asking the sun not to shine and the birds to fall silent. ‘I mean we can’t all wear beige. I know it suits Beattie but then with her complexion anything beyond Eau de Nile and she looks like she’s having a coronary.’
Lila Morris was even more adamant. In her opinion the whole thing was a farce anyway. How, she wondered, considering they could pinpoint Jesus’s birthday to December 25th, could they keep moving the date he died?
‘Surely somebody would have tweeted if the world was plunged into darkness? I mean it’s not as if something like that happens every Friday is it?’
Rita said perhaps they didn’t have Fridays then, which was a pretty profound thought when you consider it came from a woman who spent all day reading true confession magazines, painting her toenails and backcombing her hair.
‘And she’s put Vera down for giving up smoking again,’ Lila added, ‘which, if you ask me, is placing a lot of faith in the power of prayer when you consider nicotine patches and hypnosis haven’t worked. Still I suppose she means well.’
‘So did Hitler by all accounts,’ said Rita. ‘At least that’s what he told the Austrians.’
Of course, if you looked at what Beattie was going without for forty days you’d have thought she was planning on being beatified. She’d reached four double column pages before the rest of us had even reached March. Although when she last ate linguine I don’t know. Or climbed a mountain for that matter. But there they were, on the list, along with garibaldi biscuits (which she hates) and being nice to Vera (which she never is).
Still for every Beattie in the world there are one thousand people getting into spirit of things by not eating chocolate which can’t be a bad thing. Can it?
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