"Its so bracing here, isnt it Mother?" said Ted.
"I love these seas breezes, they get everywhere," replied Beryl. "I like to feel them around my cheeks."
"I can feel them on my face as well," laughed her husband, proud of his ready wit, which all too often fell far short of the others understanding.
Pensioners Ted and Beryl Westwood sat in a windswept, rain-lashed bus shelter on Morecambe Promenade at a low point in the holiday season. But mind, they did not. It was their forty-second consecutive annual visit to the jewel of the North Western Riviera, as Ted was inclined to call it - when he could get his tongue out of his cheek.
"Its a lovely view, I allus think. Looking out over Britains Bonniest Bay," observed Ted, as he chewed nonchalantly on his unlit pipe.
"Youre right, love. It is when it stops raining, look at those puddles," returned his wife.
"Never mind, it makes everything fresh."
Ted struck a match, and within seconds was puffing away, as if he were the Flying Scotsman pulling out of Edinburgh Waverley. Beryl busied herself tightening the straps on her floral-patterned, plastic rain-hood. Satisfied it could withstand the worst that any prevailing westerly might throw at her, she turned attention to dismantling a stale Sunblest crust into beak-watering bite-size pieces for the gathering gaggle of gulls which was amassing at the elderly couples feet.
"I like it here, me!" announced Beryl.
"Ee, I do," said Ted. "How long have we been coming to Morecambe now?"
"Ooooh, its at least
" Beryl paused, scratching the multi-purpose plastic hood which was keeping her brain cells warm.
".........Its since before your Nellie ran off to Huddersfield with that window cleaner," she offered.
"Thats ages. Bloomin heck, Accrington Stanley were still in t First Division, then, Mother!"
Ted spluttered and directed a less than friendly boot towards a kamikaze kittiwake that had ventured a trifle too close for its own good.
"I heard they were living in Bradford," said Beryl, picking up a shiny black handbag and pulling out a packet of sweets.
"Our Nellie, of course, and her para-moor!"
"Whats a flippin paramoor when its at home, then?" asked Ted in bewilderment.
"Im not sure," replied an equally perplexed Beryl. "But Deirdre had one in Coronation Street. He were a salesman for that double-glazing factory."
"Perhaps its one of them live-in lovers. I wonder if theres any in Morecambe. I mean, it is THE romantic capital of the North, you know," said Ted trying to recall the sexy grins of his youth.
"Dont be cheeky, Ted. Oh, look at that seagull, Ive never seen that one, before!" proclaimed Beryl in excited agitation.
She pointed seawards with a pink, chubby digit, and only when satisfied her husband had identified the supposed newcomer - which was difficult, as Teds ornithological interest extended only as far as pigeons, seagulls were tantamount to vermin in his eyes but he put up with them for Beryls sake - did she return to her bread dismantling.
"Blimey, how do you know? They all look the same to me," enquired Ted, feigning interest.
"No, seagulls are like humans. Theyre all different." Beryl puffed up her ample bosom, which was well strapped into her brand new holiday raincoat, and nodded as if to underline her point. End of argument as far as she was concerned.
Ted, who really should have known better, returned: "Get away. YOU cant tell them apart!"
"Ill have you know Ive spent many happy hours sat sitting here, waiting for it to stop raining. For years Ive been feeding them on Mrs Ribbentrops packed lunches. I know the Morecambe seagulls."
Beryl gave Ted that affronted look. He knew it well. Hed first encountered it in the early days of their marriage. Returning from the Dog and Partridge, somewhat worse for wear and much later than hed promised his young bride, the situation could have been resolved. But hed forgotten the peace offering!
A thorough examination of his overcoat pockets had revealed one half-crown, a pencil and a dog-eared copy of the Football Pink. Not a bottle of milk stout in sight. Beryls withering glance had said it all, and Ted never forgot, or broke a promise again.
When confronted with the affronted there was only one way forward - change the subject.
He said: "Speaking of Mrs Ribbentrop, its nearly dinner-time. Shell be scraping the slugs off our lettuce at this very minute."
"Dont be rude, Ted. Weve always done very well by Mrs Ribbentrop. I know she can be a bit harsh, but her hearts in the right place. I wish I knew how she got her boiled ham so thin, though."
"I know. If you hold a slice up to the window, you can see through it. On a good day, if youre really lucky you can see the shipyards at Barrow-in Furness across the Bay." Ted chuckled to himself, obviously pleased with his observations.
Mrs Ribbentrop owned the Bella Vista boarding house on the West End Promenade. It was a rambling pre-war multi-bedroom terraced property, overlooking the pitch-and-putt, kiddies playground and the empty space that used to be occupied by the West End Pier. Before the winter storms had washed it away, that is. You couldnt miss Bella Vista. It was garishly decked out in purple and yellow as a result of Mrs Ribbentrops home improvement campaign the previous winter.
Single-handedly, she ran a tight ship, with a strict regimentation based on a code of house-rules which prospective guests had to memorise post haste, if they knew what was good for them.
She was a Morecambe institution, no-one knew where she came from. It was as if shed been there forever. Was she married? Had she ever been married? Children or family? It was never revealed, and Mrs Ribbentrop (did she have a Christian name?) wasnt one for gossip or the niceties of small talk.
Back in the Fifties, Ted Westwood had tried to start a rumour that shed been thrown out of the Nazis for cruelty, and instead of fleeing to Argentina she had sought political asylum on the North Lancashire coast. Clearly her unfortunate surname and mid-European accent didnt help her cause, but so far she had escaped the recriminations of any War Crimes Commission, be it for misdemeanours real or imagined.
Whatever the truth of her origins, Ted and Beryl always stayed at Bella Vista. It was their holiday home, an annual retreat from their two-up, two-down existence in Blackburn, once a thriving cotton metropolis, now its not so sure. Over the years, Ted had enjoyed many hours of amusement at Mrs Ribbentrops expense, but never to her face, of course. That would have been suicidal.
"Youve always been rude about Mrs Ribbentrop, Ted. She does her best."
Beryl continued to toss crumbs into the sqwawking, scavenging masses at their feet as she spoke.
"I know, lets get some fish and chips and eat them on the way back," suggested Ted.
"Shell know, she doesnt miss anything. Shell probably smell the vinegar on our fingers or something," said Beryl, as if pouring water on Teds excitement.
"So what? Were on holiday, lets live a little!" retorted Ted. After a hard morning sitting in a bus shelter, the hunger pangs were beginning to gnaw, and the prospect of half a boiled egg, one regulation lettuce leaf and a triangular slice of bread spread with a thin film of cheap margarine didnt exactly inspire.
Beryl saw things differently.
"Shell give us that Isnt my food good enough for you routine, if she finds out."
"Oh, I suppose so. Remember the time that Scottish bloke refused to eat his Brussels sprouts?" said Ted, conceding defeat on the fish and chips proposal.
"Oh yes. I never knew Mrs Ribbentrop could swear like that! I just didnt know where to look."
"I did. She used to work for the Corporation, on a dustbin wagon. Even before all that Womens Lib stuff. A long time before she set up at Bella Vista. She must have learnt it on the bins." Ted was a mine of information, when he chose to be.
"Well, all these years and I didnt know that, our Ted."
Beryl dispersed the final fragments of bread amongst the battling birds below, circled her palms together to remove the remaining traces of Sunblest, and enquired:
"Do you think she believes in Womens Lib and all that, Ted?"
"How should I know? And Im not going to ask her. Mind you, I hope shes not thinking of burning her bra. The size of it, itd be like the Great Fire of Morecambe." Ted stamped his feet in laughter at the mental images, scattering the marauding gulls as they fought over the dwindling crumbs.
"Stop being crude, Ted. Mrs Ribbentrop means well, she just has an unfortunate manner. I dont see why you have to keep making fun of her." Beryl admonished Ted in time-honoured fashion.
"Because shes a fat, grumpy, miserable, money-grabbing, penny-pinching moaning old bag," he thought, but tactically failed to transfer his thoughts into words. Instead, he offered:
"Means well! An unfortunate manner! I think youd say that about the Yorkshire Ripper."
"Im not that keen on Yorkshire, Ted," she replied, refusing to take him on and guiding him away from the touchy topic that was Mrs Ribbentrop, mine hostess
..or Mien Hostess, ve hav vays of making you eat! And you vill only use ze two, zat is zwei pieces, of toilet paper in one visit. Ve are not made of ze money
..as Ted might have retorted in one of his many exaggerated impersonations of Mrs Ribbentrop in an imagined former life, that of a Commandant in a concentration camp.
In terms of Trans-Pennine relations, Ted was always slightly more accommodating.
"I like their puddings, but Ive no time for that Geoffrey Boycott. He scored a few runs, but hes never in t same league as Cyril Washbrook. Hed more class, and he played for Lancashire. That Boycotts got too much to say for himself."
The very mention of cricket and Beryls interest in the conversation evaporated. There was absolutely no point at all in addressing Beryl Westwood on the subject of square legs, or even googlies, shes more likely to imagine youre delivering a lecture on anatomy. If in doubt, then change the subject again. So she did.
"Whos looking after your pigeons this week?"
"Bloomin Darren! I hope he remembers to let them out at the right time and count them back in. My best hen went missing last year when he was in charge."
Darren Woodhouse was next doors eldest, a rutting adolescent with probably more spots than brain cells. On Teds People with Personality popularity list, Darren was probably hovering just below Mrs Ribbentrop.
Ever the sympathetic one, Beryl mused: "Im sure he means well, our Ted."
"There you go again, Mother. You see the best in everybody. The lads a stark raving, bone-idle idiot. But theres just no-one else. It ruins my holiday wondering about the damage hes inflicting on my prize birds, while were sat sitting in this bus shelter having the time of our lives," ranted Ted.
"You were snoring again last night, said Beryl accusingly.
"I wasnt! I was lying awake, worrying about my pigeons!"
"Oh, calm down, Ted. Forget it! Were having a lovely holiday again. Look, its clearing up. You can nearly see the beach now."
The incessant rain of the morning had certainly eased and the Promenades puddles seemed less animated. The skies were at least a lighter shade of battleship grey than of late, and less threatening as a result. As if to mirror the lifting of the pervading gloom that had spent the morning hanging over Britains Bonniest Bay, Ted forgot about his differences with Darren and reverted to his jocular self.
Tapping the ashes from his pipe and crunching them under his boot, he asked:
"What are you taking back for our Kathleen this year?"
"Ive been looking in those gift shops on the front. I think Ill get her one of those musical tooth mugs. Im sure she hasnt got one."
"What does it do, then?"
"Well, its pink with a few daisies on. You put your false teeth in at night, and then it plays Rock-a-bye-baby before you go to sleep," explained Beryl resignedly, as if it should have been obvious.
Ted gasped in mock awe.
"Amazing! Every home should have one of these! Shell be thrilled to bits, and shell wonder how shes managed to survive all these years without one. Blimey!"
"If I didnt know you better, Ted Westwood, Id say you were being sarcastic!"
"Me? As if I would."
With arms wide open, and a restrained grin from ear to ear, Ted was the very picture of feigned innocence.
Beryl said: "Mrs Ribbentrop tells me theyre building an extension to the abattoir in the winter."
"Oh, thats nice. Well be able to sit up in bed and watch even more sheep lining up to meet their maker. Even more baa-ing and calling all night long, then it all goes quiet. Talk about Silence of the Lambs. I mean, I like a nice lamb chop, but I dont want to be in at the kill."
Beryl, clearly uncomfortable with Teds train of thought, fidgeted with her packet of sweets.
She said: "Dont talk like that, Ted. Its not nice!"
Disgruntled again, he replied: "Well, I thought Bella Vista was Portuguese or something for Beautiful View. A bedroom overlooking Wainwrights slaughterhouse isnt what I had in mind, even if they do have a bleedin Charter Mark. Whatever that means!"
"Be thankful for small mercies, Ted. Were having a lovely time. You know we couldnt have our normal bedroom overlooking the Prom. Its now the Bella Vista Honeymoon Suite. They seem very nice in there, that Wayne and Kylie from the Isle of Man, and theyve been married for two days now. They dont come out much, though, do they, bless em?"
Ted raised his eyes skywards, possibly to bless them, but probably not.
"Happen youre right. Mrs Ribbentrop was the first real test of our marriage, dyou remember?"
"Course I do," said Beryl. "I was really jealous of how she looked at you and winked at breakfast-time."
Beryl was never one for humorous remarks, witty one-liners or harmful jibes. But ever since the honeymoon in Morecambe, shed enjoyed teasing Ted about their first encounters with Mrs Ribbentrop. Which probably accounts for the lack of cordiality expressed by the former towards the latter. And he always took the bait.
"Thats not true, and you know it! She had a big red boil in the corner of her eye. She was always blinking. Thats blinking, not winking. Youd be blinkin blinking, with a big red spot in your eye like that. Im surprised you could bring yourself to look at it!"
Ted kicked out at another encroaching seagull, one which had taken a fancy to his bootlace, which understandably could have been mistaken for a ragworm. It soon got short shrift and retreated raucously.
"Only joking, my precious," said Beryl patting Teds knee and smiling. Inwardly, she was fighting to erase a shameful mental picture of Ted and Mrs Ribbentrop locked together as they waltzed around the Winter Gardens Ballroom (defunct) in full evening regalia. For over forty years, Teds fidelity had been beyond question, and Beryl was naturally grateful. However, on occasions, she was plagued by this recurring fantasy of Ted in top hat and tails and a besequinned Mrs Ribbentrop representing the North West Counties in the BBC Come Dancing Grand Finals.
Beryl in uncharacteristic teasing mode always unnerved Ted. He supposedly had the Westwood monopoly on such activities, and didnt care for it when Beryl stuck her oar in. Suitably miffed, and eager to move off this sensitive topic, Ted commented:
"Its a pity we cant go for a walk on the Pier anymore."
"Well, it got washed away in the storms. Remember, you blamed that Mrs Thatcher."
"She probably had something to do with it. She flippin spoiled most things, didnt she?"
This time it was Beryls turn to gaze upwards. Shed heard it all before, countless times. When considering the problems of world, Teds finger of suspicion landed on former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher more often than most other potential suspects. Even Mrs Ribbentrops supposed faults paled into insignificance when compared to the so-called Iron Lady.
"But you blame her for everything. Even when our Co-op burnt down, it was her fault. No person can be as bad as you make out. Anyway, do you want a mint imperial?"
Ted took one with good grace, popped it in his mouth and piped up, though in muffled tones this time:
"Thanks, are you trying to spoil my holiday?"
"You mentioned She who shall remain unmentioned!"
Beryl sucked long and hard on her mint imperial, thinking as she rolled it over her tongue, sliding it round her upper dental plate.
"I dont know whos worst in your book, Mrs Thatcher or Mrs Ribbentrop. I feel sorry for both of em. Did you know theyre cheaper in Morecambe than at Mr Patels on our corner?"
"Look, youve mentioned her again! Give over! What are?" asked Ted gruffly.
"Mint imperials, silly. Theyre forty pence at Patels and only thirty seven in Woolworths over there."
"Cor, well have to have a trip every week to get bloomin mints next. You know what I read in t Blackburn Telegraph? They pump raw sewage into t sea here, and at Blackpool, and at Southport. What about that, then?"
"Ooh, thats not very nice, is it Ted?" said Beryl, screwing up her nose as if to prove a point.
"I think they should issue your seagulls with wellies and protective clothing. Paddling about in all that sh
Beryl thought to chastise him, then changed her mind as he hadnt quite blasphemed in her eyes. She did give him that affronted look, however.
"They wouldnt wear it, Im sure," she offered instead, as if Teds original suggestion had actually contained an ounce of seriousness.
"At least theyd have the choice. Like with smoking, the Irish Sea should carry a Government Health Warning. I wouldnt want to swim in that lot!" Ted pointed forcefully out to sea with his pipe.
"You used to swim in it, when you were younger. Ive got the photos at home," laughed Beryl, popping another mint into her mouth.
"I didnt care, then
..Ted Westwood, daredevil! Do anything for a laugh. I still am a bit like that, " boasted Ted. "Ive been wondering about this here bungee-jumping."
"Ooooh, no, I couldnt let you do that. Youd lose your teeth for a start-off, and all the blood would rush to your head. And Im the one who washes your underpants, dont forget that."
Ted laughed out loud.
"No, only joking, love. The bravest thing Ive done in years is take TWO packets of tomato ketchup when Mrs Ribbentrop wasnt looking."
He suddenly felt decidedly moist and his cheeks paled, just a touch, at the thought of this act of reckless courage. Even though it was more than three summers ago now, the prospect of Mrs Ribbentrop finding out and the imagined eruptions, way beyond the Richter Scale, occasionally returned to haunt him. And as if to ram home the point, Beryl said:
"Shell charge us extra if youre not careful!"
Despite his inner fears, Ted brazenly retorted: "I know, but I like the thrill of the challenge. One day Im going to ask her for TWO sausages, stand back and watch her explode."
"You just love to stir her up
.and she likes you!"
"What? How do you figure that one out," said Ted with maximum incredulity.
"Mrs Ribbentrop told me, ages ago. She said you were polite, clean and even acceptable - for a man!"
At this point a mangy dog poked its head round the corner of the bus shelter, sniffed the air, cocked its leg, relieved itself, sniffed again and went on its way, heading back towards the town centre. Its a dogs life, some would say, but this particular hound seemed satisfied with its lot, as it bounded away, wagging its tail and barking at the wheeling gulls.
For his part, Ted was bemused at the recent revelations, and pleased that the dog had missed his boots, which despite the mornings rain, retained their Cherry Blossom sparkle. He liked clean boots, did Ted, and constantly reminded anyone who would listen that it was due to his Army training. As were all his other finer characteristics. The Army was a character building exercise as far as Ted was concerned. He could never understand why they ever did away with conscription. Once National Service was abolished, the country went to the dogs, according to the Collected Thoughts of Chairman Ted. With all these dogs in mind, Ted returned to the previous conversation.
"Mrs Ribbentrop thinks Im acceptable? Well, theres praise. Ill have to half a mild to celebrate, or to settle my nerves, even. I might go mad and have a go on the horses."
"Dont overdo it, Ted. Come on, well have to be getting back, shell be fretting.
"And her lettuce will be crawling back into the kitchen. And shell be goose-stepping up and down the lino. Hey, lets buy her a pound of tripe as a peace offering."
"Oh, stop it Ted. Blimey, its starting to rain again. Wheres my plastic hat?"
"Its here, where its always been. On your head while youve been sat sitting here for three hours, enjoying yourself."
Its twelve oclock nearly, come on, Ted, lets hurry up