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Keith Bradshaw


"It’s so bracing here, isn’t 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 other’s 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.

"It’s a lovely view, I allus think. Looking out over Britain’s Bonniest Bay," observed Ted, as he chewed nonchalantly on his unlit pipe.

"You’re 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 couple’s feet.

"I like it here, me!" announced Beryl.

"Ee, I do," said Ted. "How long have we been coming to Morecambe now?"

"Ooooh, it’s at least……" Beryl paused, scratching the multi-purpose plastic hood which was keeping her brain cells warm.

".........It’s since before your Nellie ran off to Huddersfield with that window cleaner," she offered.

"That’s 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.

"Who was?"

"Our Nellie, of course, and her para-moor!"

"What’s a flippin’ paramoor when it’s at home, then?" asked Ted in bewilderment.

"I’m not sure," replied an equally perplexed Beryl. "But Deirdre had one in Coronation Street. He were a salesman for that double-glazing factory."

"Perhaps it’s one of them live-in lovers. I wonder if there’s 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.

"Don’t be cheeky, Ted. Oh, look at that seagull, I’ve 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 Ted’s ornithological interest extended only as far as pigeons, seagulls were tantamount to vermin in his eyes but he put up with them for Beryl’s 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. They’re 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 can’t tell them apart!"

"I’ll have you know I’ve spent many happy hours sat sitting here, waiting for it to stop raining. For years I’ve been feeding them on Mrs Ribbentrop’s packed lunches. I know the Morecambe seagulls."

Beryl gave Ted that affronted look. He knew it well. He’d first encountered it in the early days of their marriage. Returning from the Dog and Partridge, somewhat worse for wear and much later than he’d promised his young bride, the situation could have been resolved. But he’d 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. Beryl’s 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, it’s nearly dinner-time. She’ll be scraping the slugs off our lettuce at this very minute."

"Don’t be rude, Ted. We’ve always done very well by Mrs Ribbentrop. I know she can be a bit harsh, but her heart’s 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 you’re 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 couldn’t miss Bella Vista. It was garishly decked out in purple and yellow as a result of Mrs Ribbentrop’s 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 she’d 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?) wasn’t one for gossip or the niceties of small talk.
Back in the Fifties, Ted Westwood had tried to start a rumour that she’d 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 didn’t 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 it’s not so sure. Over the years, Ted had enjoyed many hours of amusement at Mrs Ribbentrop’s expense, but never to her face, of course. That would have been suicidal.

"You’ve 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, let’s get some fish and chips and eat them on the way back," suggested Ted.

"She’ll know, she doesn’t miss anything. She’ll probably smell the vinegar on our fingers or something," said Beryl, as if pouring water on Ted’s excitement.

"So what? We’re on holiday, let’s 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 didn’t exactly inspire.

Beryl saw things differently.

"She’ll give us that ‘Isn’t 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 didn’t know where to look."

"I did. She used to work for the Corporation, on a dustbin wagon. Even before all that Women’s 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 didn’t 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 Women’s Lib and all that, Ted?"

"How should I know? And I’m not going to ask her. Mind you, I hope she’s not thinking of burning her bra. The size of it, it’d 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 don’t see why you have to keep making fun of her." Beryl admonished Ted in time-honoured fashion.

"Because she’s 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 you’d say that about the Yorkshire Ripper."

"I’m 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……

… 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 I’ve no time for that Geoffrey Boycott. He scored a few runs, but he’s never in ‘t same league as Cyril Washbrook. He’d more class, and he played for Lancashire. That Boycott’s got too much to say for himself."

The very mention of cricket and Beryl’s 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, she’s more likely to imagine you’re delivering a lecture on anatomy. If in doubt, then change the subject again. So she did.

"Who’s 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 door’s eldest, a rutting adolescent with probably more spots than brain cells. On Ted’s People with Personality popularity list, Darren was probably hovering just below Mrs Ribbentrop.

Ever the sympathetic one, Beryl mused: "I’m sure he means well, our Ted."

"There you go again, Mother. You see the best in everybody. The lad’s a stark raving, bone-idle idiot. But there’s just no-one else. It ruins my holiday wondering about the damage he’s inflicting on my prize birds, while we’re sat sitting in this bus shelter having the time of our lives," ranted Ted.

"You were snoring again last night, said Beryl accusingly.

"I wasn’t! I was lying awake, worrying about my pigeons!"

"Oh, calm down, Ted. Forget it! We’re having a lovely holiday again. Look, it’s clearing up. You can nearly see the beach now."

The incessant rain of the morning had certainly eased and the Promenade’s 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 Britain’s 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?"

"I’ve been looking in those gift shops on the front. I think I’ll get her one of those musical tooth mugs. I’m sure she hasn’t got one."

"What does it do, then?"

"Well, it’s 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! She’ll be thrilled to bits, and she’ll wonder how she’s managed to survive all these years without one. Blimey!"

"If I didn’t know you better, Ted Westwood, I’d 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 they’re building an extension to the abattoir in the winter."

"Oh, that’s nice. We’ll 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 don’t want to be in at the kill."

Beryl, clearly uncomfortable with Ted’s train of thought, fidgeted with her packet of sweets.

She said: "Don’t talk like that, Ted. It’s not nice!"

Disgruntled again, he replied: "Well, I thought ‘Bella Vista’ was Portuguese or something for ‘Beautiful View.’ A bedroom overlooking Wainwright’s slaughterhouse isn’t what I had in mind, even if they do have a bleedin’ Charter Mark. Whatever that means!"

"Be thankful for small mercies, Ted. We’re having a lovely time. You know we couldn’t have our normal bedroom overlooking the Prom. It’s now the Bella Vista Honeymoon Suite. They seem very nice in there, that Wayne and Kylie from the Isle of Man, and they’ve been married for two days now. They don’t come out much, though, do they, bless ‘em?"

Ted raised his eyes skywards, possibly to bless them, but probably not.

"Happen you’re right. Mrs Ribbentrop was the first real test of our marriage, d’you 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, she’d 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.

"That’s not true, and you know it! She had a big red boil in the corner of her eye. She was always blinking. That’s blinking, not winking. You’d be blinkin’ blinking, with a big red spot in your eye like that. I’m 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 Ted’s 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, Ted’s 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 didn’t care for it when Beryl stuck her oar in. Suitably miffed, and eager to move off this sensitive topic, Ted commented:

"It’s a pity we can’t 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, didn’t she?"

This time it was Beryl’s turn to gaze upwards. She’d heard it all before, countless times. When considering the problems of world, Ted’s finger of suspicion landed on former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher more often than most other potential suspects. Even Mrs Ribbentrop’s 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?"

"No, why?"

"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 don’t know who’s worst in your book, Mrs Thatcher or Mrs Ribbentrop. I feel sorry for both of ‘em. Did you know they’re cheaper in Morecambe than at Mr Patel’s on our corner?"

"Look, you’ve mentioned her again! Give over! What are?" asked Ted gruffly.

"Mint imperials, silly. They’re forty pence at Patel’s and only thirty seven in Woolworths over there."

"Cor, we’ll 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, that’s 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…shtuff."

Beryl thought to chastise him, then changed her mind as he hadn’t quite blasphemed in her eyes. She did give him that affronted look, however.
"They wouldn’t wear it, I’m sure," she offered instead, as if Ted’s original suggestion had actually contained an ounce of seriousness.
"At least they’d have the choice. Like with smoking, the Irish Sea should carry a Government Health Warning. I wouldn’t 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. I’ve got the photos at home," laughed Beryl, popping another mint into her mouth.

"I didn’t care, then……..Ted Westwood, daredevil! Do anything for a laugh. I still am a bit like that, " boasted Ted. "I’ve been wondering about this here bungee-jumping."

"Ooooh, no, I couldn’t let you do that. You’d lose your teeth for a start-off, and all the blood would rush to your head. And I’m the one who washes your underpants, don’t forget that."

Ted laughed out loud.

"No, only joking, love. The bravest thing I’ve done in years is take TWO packets of tomato ketchup when Mrs Ribbentrop wasn’t 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:

"She’ll charge us extra if you’re not careful!"

Despite his inner fears, Ted brazenly retorted: "I know, but I like the thrill of the challenge. One day I’m 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. It’s a dog’s 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 morning’s 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 I’m acceptable? Well, there’s praise. I’ll have to half a mild to celebrate, or to settle my nerves, even. I might go mad and have a go on the horses."

"Don’t overdo it, Ted. Come on, we’ll have to be getting back, she’ll be fretting.

"And her lettuce will be crawling back into the kitchen. And she’ll be goose-stepping up and down the lino. Hey, let’s buy her a pound of tripe as a peace offering."

"Oh, stop it Ted. Blimey, it’s starting to rain again. Where’s my plastic hat?"

"It’s here, where it’s always been. On your head while you’ve been sat sitting here for three hours, enjoying yourself."

It’s twelve o’clock nearly, come on, Ted, let’s hurry up…………