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       A Festive Falling Out And Other Christmas Short Stories, p.1

           Ian Ashley
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A Festive Falling Out And Other Christmas Short Stories

  A Festive Falling Out


  other short

  Christmas Stories


  Ian Ashley

  Copyright 2015 Ian Ashley

  Introduction from the author

  These short stories began life as a weekly blog for my friends who had enjoyed the exploits of Maureen and Beattie in my novel ‘Bell, Book & Handbag. Then something exciting happened. Strangers started reading them, leaving comments and talking about The Biddermouth Gazette on social media. Now Beattie and Maureen plus their friends enjoy a world-wide following of regular readers from as far away as Japan.

  Biddermouth on Sea may not exist (and some readers have tried to look it up without success) but the trials and tribulations of everyday life the stories reflect are real enough. The humour is warm, the gossip is biting and the retribution for anybody getting above their station is usually swift. It’s a small world and if you’ve ever lived in a quiet English town you’ll recognise many of the situations – if you haven’t then in this collection you can still enjoy a slice of English life viewed sideways.

  Bell, Book & Handbag is available on https://ianashley.co.uk/books.html

  Tourist Trouble is available on https://ianashley.co.uk/books.html

  More short stories from the Biddermouth Gazette are available at https://ianashley.co.uk/blog.html

  More details are available at https://www.ianashley.co.uk

  Table of Contents

  A Festive Falling Out

  Dial 999 For Christmas

  Big Money Bingo

  Black Friday Madness

  It’s The Thought That Counts

  Breast Feeding Ruins Mince Pie Eating Contest

  Dark Forces Ruin Christmas

  Panto Dilemma t

  Biddermouth Christmas Legends

  The Biddermouth Tree

  Dowsing the Virgin

  A Grave Mistake

  The Trouble With New Year

  A Festive Falling Out

  Christmas is a funny time of year isn’t it? For something that started out as a message of peace and goodwill to all men it doesn’t half seem to bring out the worst in people. I mean we’re only in the middle of November and already two of our friends are not on speaking terms over the casting of the nativity play at St Matthews and All Angels. Thankfully not having grandchildren means that neither Beattie nor I have to take sides but that doesn’t stop Vera and Hilary trying to pull us into one camp or the other.

  Now traditionally that Sunday night before Christmas provides an ideal opportunity for hatchets to be buried, a rousing rendition of ‘Hark the herald angels sing,’ and in the case of Stella Wheatley the chance to spread a bit more goodwill to all men, especially the ones sat at the back who have had a drop too much to drink and managed to escape from their wives for a couple of hours. It also gives the local play group a chance to dress up as angels whilst the older children who aren’t subject to ASBO’s get the speaking parts. Of course over the years even that has been radically altered since none of the proud parents are allowed to take photographs lest one of them turns out to have a thing about toddlers dressed as beasts of the field.

  However not only did Vera’s three year old granddaughter fail to make it through to the final round of the heavenly host but to make matters worse Hilary’s eldest grandchild, Janine, had been chosen to play the Virgin Mary and would be centre stage of the whole production.

  ‘My Kiara Marie had her heart set on being an angel,’ said Vera, yet again, when she cornered us outside the Post Office. ‘She was word perfect in ‘Twinkle Twinkle Little Star’ and our Chantal has already made her wings and everything. You try explaining to a three year old why she’s got to crawl about on all fours covered in a sheepskin rug when all her little friends have halos.’

  According to Vera the vicar has had it in for her family ever since that misunderstanding with her grandson Dwayne. According to Hilary there was nothing to misunderstand at all.

  ‘I mean even if the choirmaster was a child molester he’s hardly going to try it on with some lout with acne and M.U.F.C tattooed on his forehead is he?’ she said loving every minute of it. ‘And you can’t blame Miss Milner for not wanting an angel who wets herself on stage, can you? And after all my Janine is a very talented young girl. Another couple of years and she’ll on X Factor.’

  Well, all this made life very difficult. I like to go to the carol concert because there is something about ‘Away in a Manger’ that always brings tears to my eyes and Beattie likes to go because it’s at her favourite church. Hilary expects us to be there because it’s Janine’s big moment and Vera thinks we should all stay away.

  ‘You won’t be going then Vera? asked Lila Morris pretending to know nothing about all this what so ever.

  ‘Over my dead body!’ said Vera, at which point I saw Beattie’s ears prick up. You see I’d long suspected that of all our friend’s funerals Vera’s was the one Beattie was looking forward to the most. However, much to Beattie’s disappointment, having had her free flu jab Vera now considered herself good for another winter.

  I did wonder if Beattie could have a word in the vicar’s ear. After all she was always banging on about what good friends they were but I think she was secretly glad of the fact that Vera was avoiding everybody. Lila wasn’t and neither was I.

  If this continued it wouldn’t be just the carol concert that was ruined but all the other little Christmas treats the five of us enjoyed like decorating the community centre, helping out at the annual tea party, watching the mayor turn on the lights and listening to the Salvation Army Band playing on the promenade before Wanda the Human Cannon Ball shot into her safety net wearing a fairy outfit.

  ‘They’ve been friends since we were all at Moor House School,’ said Lila as the three of us sat at our usual table for five in the Silver Lantern tea rooms. ‘I mean I know Vera can be a bit sharp tongued but she does have her good points if you look close enough.’

  ‘If you could find a microscope big enough, ‘ added Beattie which I thought was a bit rich considering where there was trouble she was usually at the centre of it. ‘If you ask me they’re both as bad as each other.’

  Lila said that two wrongs didn’t make a right and a couple of days later it seemed that Vera and Hilary had come to the same conclusion because there they were side by side under the driers at the Bona Curl Salon laughing and joking as if the last few weeks hadn’t happened.

  Now the gospel according to St Hilary stated that her Janine had decided being the Virgin Mary in a nativity play wasn’t a smart career move for somebody destined to be the next X Factor sensation and had given her part to Gurpreet Patel. The gospel according to St Vera said it had all been a misunderstanding and Miss Milner had re-instated Kiara Marie to the ranks of the heavenly host on the condition that she wore a nappy. So in that way peace and goodwill were restored to the Biddermouth Christmas festivities.

  ‘You see Maureen, the good Lord moves in mysterious ways, ‘said Beattie as we looked through the Christmas Cards in Help The Aged.

  At least he did until the gospel of St Lila, via that of Granny Patel and her sisters, told a very different story. Quite how Hilary and Vera will take to the idea of being great grandmothers I do not know but even Beattie will have a hard time pinning that one on the Almighty.

  Dial 999 for Christmas

  So Christmas is coming and I suppose if you’re unfortunate enough to be a goose you’d find yourself getting fat. If you’re unfortunate enough to be me you’d have found yourself caught between Vera and Beattie as they battled it out for
the right to decorate the Community Centre for the festive season.

  You see five years ago the committee decided that to keep things fair and square the decorations would be done on a rota basis. Unfortunately they also voted to put my next door neighbour Beattie in charge of the rota so you can guess what happened. That’s right. She’s put herself down to do them every year. Fair enough there was one occasion where she had to stand in for Janice Burrows at the last minute but I have a sneaking suspicion Beattie knew when she put her name at the top of the list Janice wouldn’t live to see Christmas.

  Anyway according to Vera Preston this year it was going to be very different. According to Beattie it wasn’t.

  ‘People like tradition Maureen,’ said Beattie when she claimed to be calling in for a cup of coffee. She gave me the distinct impression she wasn’t thirsty at all. What she wanted was a fight so she thought she’d practice on me before having a go at Vera.

  ‘Do they,’ I replied?

  ‘Yes they do,’ she went on looking round my back room and screwing up her nose. ‘I mean look at you! You haven’t given this place as much as a lick of paint in the last ten years. How traditional is that? And let’s not even talk about the state of your hob.’

  So we didn’t. Instead I had to listen to her extolling the virtues of the traditional community centre nativity scene, several boxes of threadbare tinsel and paper chains well passed their sell-by date plus a Christmas fairy that always manages to look spiteful.

  ‘People want something new,’ said Vera who also popped round later. She was quite happy with a coffee because spoiling for a fight is not in her nature. Vera just hits people without warning.

  ‘Do they,’ I replied? Boring I know but I was getting quite good at this game having already had Lila Morris on the phone about the very same thing.

  She had reckoned it was time for a change as well.

  ‘That nativity scene has been on its last legs for years,’ she said. ‘And it always looks the same.’

  Well yes, Lila was right there. It did. However I thought that was the whole idea. You had to have shepherds, wise men and the Virgin Mary otherwise it would be like casting Macbeth as a widower wouldn’t it?

  Of course Beattie lays the blame for all this ‘need for change’ fairly and squarely at the size ten feet of the Rev Velma Meakin. She wasn’t happy when Velma was drafted in to replace Rev Stevens on a temporary basis. Now it looks very much like she’s staying on my neighbour has been writing once a week to the Bishop claiming that transgender vicars might have a place in churches that have no architectural merit and folding chairs instead of proper pews but not ( and here she always underlines the word) NOT at St Matthew’s.

  ‘That woman has a lot to answer for Maureen,’ she said. ‘She ruined Easter for me saying we should all spare a thought for Judas and she’s not (probably mentally underlined heavily and in red) NOT spoiling my Christmas and neither is Vera Preston!’

  In her defence Vera claimed nothing was further from her mind. As she said, how could you ruin Christmas for somebody who religiously believes sprouts need cooking for an hour and turkey isn’t safe to eat unless it’s charred? Still even she took a determined lurch back into the past when Lila’s daughter got up a petition to replace the Holy Family with a same-sex mixed race union to reflect modern times.

  ‘It’ll be great,’ said Bez Morris, ‘and we can sit Mary in a wheelchair.’

  ‘That way we’ll embrace the whole community,’ added her partner Caz.

  Fortunately that idea proved to be short lived. Only three people signed up and one of those was Lila. Still Beattie was taking no chances. As chair of the decorations committee she had a new padlock fitted on the store cupboard and was wearing the key round her neck on a piece of string.

  ‘At least the Holy Family will be safe,’ she said. Mind you how she thought that was going to stop a family like Vera’s breaking and entering I do not know.

  As it turned out they didn’t have to. Faced with a burst pipe Tom Woodridge the caretaker did what any self-respecting public servant would do. He called Beattie for the key. When he got no reply he tried the fire brigade and with one blow of an axe that door was open.

  ‘And out they all floated,’ he said. ‘I’ve put the three wise men by the boiler to dry out but I ‘ave me doubts and that Mary was already mouldy. I reckon the pipe must ‘ave been dripping for weeks before it finally gave up the ghost.’

  Now if there was one malign spirit determined to carry on it was Beattie. Joseph, she admitted was beyond saving. He’d always reminded her of George Cawdrey the local fishmonger so that was no loss. Mary on the other hand would be fine. All she needed was a new frock and a squirt of air freshener. Mind you had Beattie not been so pig-headed and refused to listen to Vera she might have thought twice about Lila’s offer dry out the Infant Jesus.

  ‘Five minutes in a microwave will do it,’ she claimed.

  Well it’s a good job they had a fire extinguisher handy. Had those flames had reached the roller blind Lila and Keith might have been glad of a draughty old stable themselves.

  Big Money Bingo

  My friends Vera and Lila love the Bingo. I don’t and my neighbour Beattie Hathaway claims it’s the devil’s own pastime. Our other friend Hilary won’t go either. You see Wednesday is her and Clive’s Swingers Night so she’s otherwise engaged.

  Vera said they asked her and Gordon once.

  ‘Don’t look so shocked,’ she said. ‘When we got there it was no-smoking so we got some chips and came straight back home. Only by then it was too late. I’d missed the Jack Pot.

  So one lesson learned there I think. At least that explains the weekly ritual of Vera’s lucky pens, Lila’s assortment of rabbit’s feet and my night in with a good book. I’m not sure what Beattie actually does but she makes a lot of noise for somebody who claims to be working on a tapestry cushion.

  Anyway last week saw the start of Big Money Christmas Bingo and that was all Lila and Vera could talk about; how much the prize money was, who one last year, the time Delphine Hewitt called ‘house’ then dropped down dead as a doornail and how Vera was one number away two years running.

  ‘Still you and Beattie should come. It’s big BIG prizes and it’s not like either of you couldn’t do with the money.’

  ‘Where? ’ said Beattie who would hear that word even if her head was encased in a block of cement.

  ‘Big Money Bingo. Wednesday night,’ replied Vera going for the hard sell.

  Now in principle Beattie was all in favour of sudden windfalls. In her mind’s eye she must have seen herself splashed across the front of the Gazette holding the cheque because suddenly it was yes all round and I supposed I was being dragged along too.

  It was only later and after a sleepless night that my neighbour confessed to a terrible dilemma. Presumably somewhere between ‘lights out’ and ‘reveille’ she’d squared her conscience with the Almighty but she was still in a quandary about what to wear.

  ‘I haven’t got a tracksuit Maureen, ‘she said in a voice that implied I had a whole wardrobe full of them. ‘You’ve got all sorts of miss-matched things in your wardrobe so you’ll be all right. All my outfit’s co-ordinate. I’ll stick out like a sore thumb.’

  ‘How about your Tuesday frock?’

  ‘That’s the one I wear to do the drains, reeks of Jeyes fluid and I’m not being seen in that in any company, polite or Bingo, thank you very much Maureen.’

  So when Wednesday evening arrived I have to say she didn’t look too out of place in the frock she usually wore for dipping her nets.

  ‘I keep thinking it’s Thursday,’ she said before adding in a very loud voice that the large broach she’d accessorised it with was only made of coloured glass.

  ‘In case anybody has a mind to steal it during the interval,’ she added quietly so only I could hear her.

  Well I have to say it was all very exciting. I was a number away from a li
ne when one of the Elliot sisters called out and won herself a hundred pound. I’m not sure which one it was because all three of them look like their brother right down to the tattoos. Beattie got so carried away she called ‘fix’ when another Elliot sister, or it may have been the same one, called ‘house’ on the first game. I thought for a minute they were going to come over and sort her out but by the time they’d made themselves enough room to get out from behind their table we were into the second game.

  That one ended in a lot of booing because the winner wasn’t a regular. She’d come over with a coach party from Curston.

  ‘If one of them wins the Jackpot there’ll be trouble,’ said Vera. I thought she was joking but the Randal’s and the Hosiers on the table behind us agreed. The Elliot sisters just glared and muttered to each other. To have said there was an atmosphere brewing was an understatement. As it was there had already been a bit of ill-tempered jostling by the fruit machines during the interval.

  Anyway on came the Big Money Prize game. Vera got out another lucky pen. Lila rearranged her rabbit’s feet and Beattie looked decidedly business like when she pushed the sleeves of her cardigan up her arms. Across the aisle Elliot’s just glared round the room.

  Soon numbers started coming thick and fast. Pens thumped down on cards. There were moans of despair. There were groans of disappointment. The Elliot sisters nudged each other and when Vera nudged me I could see Lila Morris’s hand was shaking. And I wasn’t surprised. If the next number called was 22 she’d be £1000 better off.

  Now when the caller announced ‘two little ducks’ Lila made the fatal mistake of catching the Elliot sister’s eyes. She swallowed hard. Paused, then paused even longer with her hand hovering above her card. Beattie however is made of sterner stuff. Being a big girl herself she wasn’t about to be intimidated by fifty stone of combined Elliot sorority and slammed Lila’s pen on the page.

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