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All Things Biddermouth

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All the latest news and views from Maureen. Beattie and friends in Biddermouth on Sea.

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Slim for Spring

Vintage Biddermouth 2018 Posted on Fri, March 09, 2018 04:42PM

Ever since
our local Biddermouth on Sea department store revealed its latest swimwear
collection my friends Vera, Hilary and Lila have been in the grip of a
rejuvenation programme that has seen them trying to turn back fifty years’
worth of strong tides in the space of two weeks, which I have to say will be
quite a challenge. Not that any of them plan on taking a dip but there is
nothing like a burst zip on last year’s spring frock or the sight of a leopard
print thong to make you realise June won’t be the only thing ‘busting out all
over’ if you keep eating pies.

as usual because none of the girls can ever agree on anything, instead of
supporting each other they are all going about it in their different ways. Why
they couldn’t have signed up for the ‘Slim and Trim’ club I don’t know. Well I
do. According to Vera it was a waste of money. She reckoned Karen Braithwaite
had been going there for six months and had recently had to have extra panels
sewn into all her kaftans.

‘She can
say what she likes about it being a colour co-ordinated stripe, but if you ask
me it’s a sure sign of a lack of commitment.’

Lila said,
what could you expect when Karen spent the whole of the exercise class touching
other people’s toes because she couldn’t reach her own?

So based
on the assumption that ‘Slim and Trim’ was money for old rope, Hilary has gone
lo-carb no-carb because she claims that was why all the Middleton family looked
so good at the Royal Wedding; Lila has bought a large elastic band she saw
advertised on a shopping channel that turned an obese housewife from Iowa into
Cameron Diaz in under week and Vera has got her hands on a stolen blender courtesy
of her delinquent grandson Dwayne. This means she now starts her day with a
glass of broccoli and cornflake purée.

‘It’s an
acquired taste,’ she said, ‘mind you I’ve never felt so full of get up and go.’

Hilary, on
the other hand, reckons this is due to the diet pills she washes down with it.

‘I tell
you Maureen,’ she said, ‘I’d no more buy tablets off that grandson of hers than
fly. I mean you’d think Vera would have learned her lesson when that slow
cooker he gave her for Christmas exploded on Boxing Day because it was wired
for export only. God only knows what she’s swallowing but all her lights are
still on at three in the morning and don’t tell me you get that lease of life
from raw vegetables.’

Mind you with
that coming from a woman who thinks chocolate éclairs can’t be fattening
because choux pastry is full of air I’m not convinced she’s right and I don’t
believe that was how Princess Catherine got her figure back after that baby
either. Neither does my neighbour Beattie.

‘You mark
my words Maureen,’ she said, ’it will all end in tears. I mean it’s not as if
any of them were belles of the ball at school to start with.’

having seen some of their old school photos I put that down to a large punnet
of sour grapes. Lila Peartree, as she was then, was a dead ringer for Sandie
Shaw, Hilary had a gymslip you could just about see below her cardigan and
Vera, believe it or not, looked like Twiggy, only thinner. My neighbour, on the
other hand, looked as though the Swinging Sixties had swung right by without
her even noticing. Even at fifteen she was wearing what she refers to as
‘timeless classics’.

Poor Kevin
at the Bona Curl Salon took one look at the picture of the ‘Class of 64’ and
asked if the fat woman at the back with the perm was the teacher?

hair-do’s and body image issues aside the spring fitness drive has already
claimed it first victim. Well to be honest we all thought Dot Dobson was on a
hiding to nothing when she bought that tracksuit let alone started jogging. I
mean when you’ve already got a sister with a walking frame you’d have thought
she’d have been a bit more careful. But no.

somebody she knew found her clutching her chest with one hand and the promenade
railings with the other and called an ambulance,’ said Beattie. ‘Still I’d keep
a few days clear in your diary Maureen, by all accounts Dot’s lips are still a
funny colour so you never know we may be called upon to dab our eyes and
pretend we’re sorry she’s passed over.’

Of course,
all this healthy living has led to some very sorry coffee mornings at the
Silver Lantern café, what with Vera only drinking hot water with a slice of
lemon and not being able to sit still for more than two minutes and nobody
daring to tell Hilary just how many calories there are in three éclairs plus we
haven’t seen Lila for a couple days either.

According to her husband she’s
been decorating the spare room for when her sister comes from America.
According to Kevin, who has a friend Kurt in the double glazing business, all
her attempts to rival Cameron Diaz came to nothing when that elastic band shot
off her foot and fired an ornament off the top of the telly and clean through
one of her patio doors.

And according to Beattie it’s

She’s already been round to check
and apparently if you lean right out of Myra Stansome’s back bedroom window and
crane your neck you can see the boarded-up window quite clearly….

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

All Things Biddermouth ©Ian Ashley 2018

Is Lent Spent?

Jan - Dec 2017 Posted on Mon, April 10, 2017 08:28PM

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

‘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

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

All Things Biddermouth stories ©Ian
Ashley 2017

What’s Wrong With Jayne Eyre?

Jan - Dec 2017 Posted on Tue, March 14, 2017 09:09PM

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

‘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

‘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

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

All Things Biddermouth stories ©Ian
Ashley 2017


Jan - Dec 2017 Posted on Mon, March 06, 2017 07:35PM

It all started when the Webley – Harding’s bought Mona
Peering’s old house at number 32. Until then I have to say that apart from the
appearance of the odd hanging basket in the summer ‘gentrification’ wasn’t a
word you would normally associate with Palmerston Terrace. I mean we’ve all
done bits inside our various properties and even my neighbour Beattie’s
downstairs gets an annual lick courtesy of Harry Hinton and his extendable
ladders. Of course she can moan all she likes that he’s charging her through
the nose to change her colour scheme from ‘Frappuccino’ to ‘Café Delight’ but if
you ask me beige is still beige no matter what you call it on the tin. So if
she never has anything except the smell of paint to show for her troubles then I
think she needs to be a little more adventurous when it comes to colour. Although
maybe nobody should be as courageous as Lila and Keith Morris have been in their
choice of wallpaper for their hall, stairs and landing.

‘I’m not saying there isn’t a time and place for giant
cacti,’ said Vera Preston, who’d likened her journey to their upstairs bathroom
to an impromptu trip through the Mohave Desert, ’and I know they both love
Marty Robbins but this is Biddermouth not the west Texas town of El Paso.’

‘Easy for her to say,’ sniffed Beattie, who whilst no fan of
giant cacti herself never missed an opportunity to ask Vera if she’d got the
red flocked wallpaper in her lounge from the same place Sanjay Patel had bought
his for the ‘All You Can Eat Curry Garden’, or did he have some left over?

Anyway all this paled into insignificance when the skips started
turning up outside number 32 only to leave once Tris and Fliss, as they wished
to be known, had filled them with an assortment of doors, floorboards, window
frames and fireplaces plus an avocado bathroom suite that Vera soon had her beady
eye on.

‘Gordon and I will be over there the minute it gets dark,’
she said. Only somebody else must have had the same idea because by the time they’d
got the bath into their back yard the toilet and washbasin had gone.

Personally I was surprised Mona’s house needed that much
doing to it. Beattie wasn’t.

‘She had fourteen cats,’ she said. ‘It’s a wonder they
aren’t having to have the place re-plastered. She never let any of them out you
know. Unlike some people I could mention.’

I knew she was only saying this for my benefit as we’d
recently had a bit of a falling out over my Mr Mong relieving himself against
her Weeping Cherry.

‘That’s why it never flowers,’ she’d said whilst remaining
blind to the fact that the main reason for its failing to live up to the
picture on the label is because she will insist on pruning it when it’s still
in bud. Still she’ll not be told.

Not that the Webley – Hardings looked like the sort of
couple to grow Weeping Cherries. When they weren’t wearing face masks and
sanding floorboards they were wearing a lot of lycra and jogging off somewhere with
their yoga mats and once a perfectly serviceable but ancient gas cooker had
been tossed into a skip to make way for a brand new Aga it was fairly obvious
they weren’t going to be the type of people we were used to. Mind you Vera had
already worked that out for herself when they refused her offer of two
neighbourly mugs of tea.

Now we all know she’d only gone over there to be nosey but
there was no need to tell her they never drank anything with tannin or lactose was
there? And there was certainly no need to look at her as if she was the
Antichrist when she declined a kale and sour dough cookie. That said she did
manage to get her head in far enough to give us an up-date on the downstairs

‘Black lead,’ she said. ‘Apparently they are restoring the
place to its Victorian heyday.’

‘You mean they’re going to share a toilet with next door,’
asked Lila? ‘And have no electricity?’

Well we didn’t have to wait too long for an answer to that
one because pretty soon Bella Bynge, Lifestyle Editor of Biddermouth Life, had
lined the Webley-Harding’s up with a four page spread in her magazine along
with some pretty shocking ‘before’ photos that must have been very embarrassing
for Mona’s family.

‘You can’t tell me Mona didn’t have a floor in her spare
bedroom,’ said Vera, ’otherwise all her cats would have fallen straight through
and landed on the cooker.’

Beattie said that wouldn’t have mattered as it only had one
jet that worked properly anyway.

‘Well if I was her Nathan I’d sue that magazine for
defamation of character,’ added Lila but Beattie thought otherwise.

‘She wasn’t exactly God’s gift to housekeeping. And that’s
not just me talking. Anybody will tell you that woman was a stranger to bleach so
if you ask me I’d say least said soonest mended.’

I have to say the
article was one up on last month where Bella claimed Polly and Ollie had
restored their country cottage from little more than a Norman lintel and proudly
used old jam jars instead of a proper flower vase. But giving it the headline
‘From a slum to Victorian splendour’ hasn’t gone down too well with the rest of
us I can tell you. In fact Lila was all set to write in with some pictures of her
hall, stairs and landing but thankfully even she’s had second thoughts about
the cacti. Mind you I’m not sure her current yen for a mural of the Grand Canal
will look any better even if her Keith does reckon they can fit the whole of
the Rialto Bridge on one wall without it having to go round a corner.

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

All Things Biddermouth stories ©Ian
Ashley 2017


Jan - Dec 2017 Posted on Sun, February 19, 2017 11:56PM

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

‘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

‘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

All Things Biddermouth stories ©Ian
Ashley 2017

No Word of a Lie

Jan - Dec 2017 Posted on Sun, February 05, 2017 10:29PM

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

‘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

‘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

‘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

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

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

All Things Biddermouth stories ©Ian
Ashley 2017

Lipstick, Powder & Paint

Jan - Dec 2017 Posted on Sun, January 29, 2017 09:40PM

There’s been a pretty mixed reaction this week to Lila
Morris winning a free makeover in a phone-in competition on Biddermouth FM, not
least from the prize winner herself. You see Lila had set her sights on coming third
and walking off with a fluorescent green colander and a set of Italian designed
kitchen utensils to match. So in some ways you can understand her

Reactions hereabouts have ranged from a non-committal grunt
from my neighbour Beattie, through a sniffy ‘about time’ from Rita Randall and finally
to a surprised ‘who’d have thought Ho Chi Min was a real person’ from Vera

‘I was tempted to say that myself,’ she added, ‘ but I’d
swear I had one once off Gloria Chang’s take-away van and it came with rice and
free prawn crackers. I mean you never think of people being named after things
on menus do you?’

‘What about Peach Melba,’ asked Beattie?

Vera said that was exactly her point.

‘She wasn’t called that at all was she? Even I know her name
was Nelly and she had really deep voice.’

‘That was Clara Butt,’ said Beattie but I could see that
even with her self-professed encyclopaedic knowledge of the opera she’d have
her work cut out pitting her wits against a woman who thought Nigel Kennedy had
named the ‘Four Seasons’ after a pizza.

Luckily Bernie Heffernan from the Silver Lantern Café filled
in the silence with a warning that Lila needed to be careful. The same thing
had happened to a cousin of hers from Donegal, she confided. She’d won a
make-over in a magazine and her eyebrows never had never been the same again.

‘Every morning after that she had go to work on her face
with a pencil so she did. Which wasn’t easy what with her being left handed and
all that. Mind you neither was rolling pastry.’

Vera said that being left handed wasn’t an affliction but Bernie
suggested she should try telling that to a woman who’d lost her right arm
fishing lint out of a loom.

All of which left a big enough gap in the conversation for
Lila to casually mention that instead of just popping down to our local
department store for a lick of blusher as we’d all thought, she was actually
going to be on local TV and broadcast live from the cosmetics department of
Stirrup & Morleys.

Well that was news indeed. You see none of us had ever been
on the television apart from Beattie and that was only a short segment on the local
news showing her being forcibly moved off-camera after she’d managed to turn an
on-the-spot interview about traffic congestion into a five minute monologue
about the perils of nurses wearing their uniforms on public transport.

‘I’m going to be on ‘Live This Morning’ with Sheena Henson,’
Lila announced.

Was that the same Sheena that usually did the ten o’clock slot
about pets with skin diseases Vera wanted to know? Because if it was Lila
needed to make sure she was wearing gloves.

‘Last week she was examining a goat with cystitis.’

‘Anyway,’ said Lila choosing to ignore her advice, somewhat at
her own peril I thought, ‘Sheena won’t actually be doing the make-over. It’s
going to be done by one of their top beauty consultants. And they’ve asked me
to look out some pictures of what I’d like to look like. So what do you think
of these?

Beattie winced and said she didn’t really see Lila as Grace
Kelly which was harsh but true whilst Rita Randall certainly didn’t see her as
Ava Gardner.

‘After all,’ she added, ’she had style. And even Vera hasn’t
got the mouth for Joan Crawford.’

Or the shoulders thankfully,’ replied Vera who distracted by
a tramp urinating outside the café window had allowed Rita’s comment to fall uncontested
somewhere between the sugar bowl and the salt and pepper.

Which was all well and good but with the Great Day rapidly
approaching and Lila still dithering between Elizabeth Taylor in ‘Butterfield 8’
and the vain hope that she would metamorphose into Meryl Streep if she
concentrated hard enough it was down to Vera to come up with the great idea
that perhaps Lila should just settle for being herself.

‘After all,’ she said, ‘you used to be quite pretty. I mean
you did win that Sandie Shaw look-alike contest at school.’

Lila reminded her that was Hilary Mason.

‘The trouble is,’ she confided, ‘I’m just no good with

Rita Randall said that was no problem. As long as they were using
Jeanette from Claudinelle because she was the one that always did her face when
they had a special offer on. Which I have to say caused raised eyebrows all
round because the kindest thing anybody could ever say about Rita’s make-up was
that it was colourful.

‘But,’ she added, ‘make sure you put your foot down if they
offer you that Linda from Bella Visage. The last time she did my mascara she
had all bits of pasty between her teeth and stank of piccalilli.’

Well you could tell all this indecision was taking its toll
on Lila because one day she appeared in the High Street having spent a whole
evening studying Dusty Springfield only to be handed a leaflet advertising a
refuge for battered wives.

So you can imagine our surprise when we all switched on at ten
o’clock to see Linda from Bella Visage doing her level best to turn Eileen
Kitchener into Sophia Loren, and failing dismally.

As Eileen said on camera she was as surprised as the next person
that anybody would want to swap this once-in-life time opportunity for a set of
kitchen utensils. I just hope Miss Loren was too busy eating her cannelloni to
be watching the telly. I mean if she thought for a moment she looked like a
dinner lady from Gladstone Terrace she’d never step one foot outside again
would she?

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

All Things Biddermouth stories ©Ian
Ashley 2017

The Great Britsh Veg Crisis

Jan - Dec 2017 Posted on Mon, January 23, 2017 08:17PM

You may have read the bad news that the UK is in the grip of
a severe food crisis. Not quite on the same scale as the one afflicting east
Africa you understand but in some quarters this rapidly approaching
humanitarian crisis has already taken its toll. We have had paramedics on
standby in our local supermarket carpark to deal with panic attacks and one
woman from Abbots Sepsis has been arrested for ram-raiding a green grocer’s
shop with her four wheel drive and all because she couldn’t serve up a
Ratatouille at her supper party.

‘I’ve got a vegan sister-in-law staying the weekend,’ she
sobbed as she was led away from the scene in handcuffs and floods of tears.

You see here in Biddermouth on Sea it seems you cannot buy a
courgette for love nor money.

As Councillor Bella Bynge wrote in her lifestyle column in
the local Gazette we’ll all soon be reduced to eating kale and mashed swede,
which is odd because only last month she was extolling the virtues of ‘clean
eating’ in general and kale in particular. She also has a friend Miranda who
has only eaten grass for the last ten years and still gone on to be the mother
of three bouncing baby boys and the PR director of a charity for a disease
nobody has ever heard of. But unlike grass, kale, or so Bella also claimed to
have discovered, could also be used as a suppository for an instant boost to
the immune system.

‘I blame Theresa May,’ she wrote in her article. ‘Next it
will be the mange tout disappearing from our dinner menus and don’t expect to
be able to buy Lollo Rosso or Pyrenean endive in the spring.’

Of course there are others who take an even more extreme
view, namely that the combined psyches of Trump supporters and Brexit voters
have somehow managed to create adverse climate conditions over Spain thus
ruining the crop upon which her vegetable farmers depend. They haven’t. It’s
just rained a lot, which if you’re staring at a blue sky in Ethiopia day after
day I would think could be seen as a bit of a bonus.

Not that any of this cut much ice with our friend Vera
Preston, but then that’s hardly surprising when she allows her Chantal to pack
little Kira Marie off to nursery with a can of Red Bull and two Kit-Kats.
Neither did it resonate with Karen Braithwaite from ‘Karen’s Kakes’. She said she
was lucky when it came to food because her partner Derwent didn’t believe in vegetables
in any shape or form.

‘Unless it’s chips,’ she added, a comment our friend Vera
heartily endorsed. ‘Or a pork pie’.

When my neighbour Beattie pointed out that as far as she was
aware pork pies didn’t have vegetables in them Karen disagreed.

‘They do if you eat them with chutney’, she said. So there
was really no arguing with that was there?

‘Well I don’t see what’s wrong in eating vegetables when
they are in season’, said a slightly miffed Beattie as we left Karen’s shop.
‘When my Arthur was alive he was up his allotment in all weathers and we never
went short of anything.’

Having lived next door to her for over ten years part of me
could understand why he’d want to risk pneumonia harvesting sprouts in the
winter chill but as usual I held my tongue. All the same it wasn’t difficult to
imagine his disappointment when his pride and joy were served in front him having
been rapidly boiled for over an hour. Beattie still cooks them like that now. But
if you pretend they are foul tasting spinach and swallow quickly they aren’t
too bad.

Vera said she couldn’t see what all the fuss was about and
Lila Morris agreed. She said it was just like the war and was thankful she’d
seen a programme on the television about making parsnips taste like bananas
just in case things got really bad.

‘After all,’ she added, ‘we never had courgettes when we
were growing up and it hasn’t done us any harm has it?’

‘We didn’t have toilet paper till 1957 either,’ said Vera.

‘Well we did,’ replied Lila,’ but then we also had a toilet.
Unlike some people.’

Anyway toilets aside Lila has proved to be
uncharacteristically right about the wartime mentality as it seems that, just
like stockings and tinned fruit during the Blitz, courgettes are to be had for
those with the right connections. Not that you’d suspect for one moment tiny
Ida Jenkins and her veg stall were the epicentre of the Biddermouth black
market but it seems in these hard times the Devil and Ida look after their own.

‘I’ve kept something underneath for my regulars,’ she said
with a wink when Beattie and I were giving her cauliflowers the once over and
within seconds we both had two courgettes hidden in our shopping baskets under
our potatoes.

Not being a huge fan of them, especially at a pound each, I had
been on the point of saying no when I felt a swift kick from Beattie telling me
to change my mind.

‘But I don’t like them,’ I said as we walked away. ‘And
neither do you.’

‘Who said anything about liking them,’ hissed Beattie? ‘Hand
them over. All that rubbish about parsnips and bananas has given me an idea.’

Clearly there was more to all this wartime bonhomie than
doing the Lambeth Walk in a gas mask because Beattie walked swiftly up to a
nearby Range Rover, rapped on the driver’s window with her umbrella and just as
swiftly came back ten pounds better off.

‘There’s a war on,’ she said, handing me four pound coins. I
know it should have been five but she was claiming a handling fee of twenty
percent. Still I suppose that explains what Vera said about Beattie’s family
being the only ones who didn’t celebrate VE Day. And I thought that was just
her being malicious.

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

All Things Biddermouth ©Ian Ashley 2017

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