A small village on the western edge of Banfield, a Midlands town many years ago known for heavy industry and mining. A quiet place, bordering the countryside sweeping west; land that climbs over the Welsh mountains until it reaches the Irish Sea. Leeford may be quiet, but its characters and their activities keep the village alive and vibrant. None more so than Vera Cleeve, who is in danger of falling into a life of crime; the sort of crime many people wouldn’t even notice. Or care about.
Gnomes. She loves them, does Vera. Any sort of gnome, not just the bearded guy sitting on a stool fishing all day. No, Vera will ‘collect’ any gnome from anywhere. Living opposite the vicarage in Market Street has given her lots of opportunities to add to her collection. The Reverend John Peterson and his family have a huge garden (ideal for fêtes) and his wife, Hilda, also has a liking for gnomes. She has been known to scour Amazon or Ebay for the gnome she wants. The last order she placed was for a ‘Posh and Becks’ pair. No accounting for taste.
Gnomes have been going missing all over the village for years. The ‘Great Leeford Gnome Mystery’ is not really a mystery at all. Everyone knows it’s Vera, but two years ago, Hilda Peterson had an embarrassing run-in with Sergeant Miller when someone had an entire West Bromwich Albion team of gnomes stolen from their front garden.
‘But Hilda, the evidence is there for everyone to see. In your garden.’
‘Stephen, you’re not going to be stupid are you.’
‘Sergeant Miller when I’m on duty, if you don’t mind.’
‘Alright, Sergeant Miller. You can call me Mrs Peterson. Anyway, what makes you think I did the great Albion Gnome Heist?’
‘Well...’ spluttering over the cappuccino he had collected before confronting the suspect.
‘Hil... Mrs Peterson. The Albion team disappeared from a garden in Green Crescent, not 150 yards away, and, well, they’re here. In YOUR garden.’
‘I have a receipt from Amazon. Bought them two weeks ago.’
It takes Hilda five minutes to produce said receipt; the colour draining from the policeman’s face.
‘Stephen, I’m not the only person who likes gnomes. Might I suggest you cross the road and check in the Cleeve back garden?’
Life can be strange in Leeford. For the last six weeks, Swedish phrases have been found written in various places in the village. On beer mats in The Cross, the local pub; on the advertising board at Spendfield Supermarket; they’ve also been found on scraps of paper left in books in the library. The phrases are usually accompanied by diagrams of the Swedish flag and a drawing of a moose (maybe an elk, no one seems to have sufficient knowledge to decide). The phrases themselves are nondescript, even mundane. It’s as if the artist (or linguist) is making basic statements or asking questions. We only knew this because, by chance, Ted Coleman (publican) has been doing a basic online Swedish course.
‘Well, Ted, what the hell does this mean then?’
‘du har en tidning?’
‘Good tidings? Christmas thing, is it?’
‘No, it means “do you have a newspaper”’
Doug Taylor, a young man obviously impressed by the knowledge of his elders, places another beer mat on the bar.
‘What about this one Ted?’
‘Strange one this, Doug. “Vargen tar en ren.” The wolf takes a reindeer.’
‘They have reindeer in Sweden, don’t they?’
‘Yes, but why tell people in Leeford Village about wolves chasing reindeer?’
George Dennis, a retired teacher, is popular in the village. No one takes him seriously, particularly his wife, Clara. He does have a rather strange habit.
‘Yes, me old drainpipe, the poor old girl is simply lonely. Craves male company.’
‘She’s got you, George,’ Doug forever helpful.
‘You don’t understand old potato, she needs canine company.’
‘Well she is a poodle. Depressed, you say?’
‘Old fruit, you’ve hit the nail on the head; but any concrete suggestions?’
Frank Watson can’t take any more. He likes George, but making a fuss about a dog (and a poodle at that) is not in his makeup. Nine years younger than the ex-teacher, and still running a business in East Banfield, he convinces himself, that he, F. Watson, has his feet on the ground. That doesn’t include pampering to poodles.
‘For pity’s sake, George, nip down the RSPCA and ask for a boyfriend for Tiddles.’
‘Chloe, if you don’t mind, young ginger biscuit.’
‘Chloe? You’ve got to be kidding.’
‘After my second wife. She ran off, like the first.’
‘You’ve had no more luck than Tid - er - Chloe,’ observed Doug, trying to sympathise.
Ted Coleman steps in, urging his regulars to contribute to his meagre income for that day. He encourages banter, but had a distinct preference for the type of banter that could be pursued whilst holding a container for a drink in one hand or the other.
‘Come on lads; let’s get some refills in, eh?’
‘Hey, Ted,’ enquires Frank, ‘have you seen that strange bloke hanging around?’
‘What strange bloke?’
‘You know, duffle coat, scruffy hair, complete stranger. He scuttled away to the library when I tried to say hello.’
‘Probably one of those refugees the Council have brought in.’
‘That must be it.’
Banfield Council had decided to take fifty Syrian refugees. Most of them were allocated places in the high-rise flats of East Banfield. However, a family of four was offered a flat above the shops in Leeford. This had been unoccupied for over a year. Everyone you speak to in the village sympathises with the refugees, but it seems that more than a whiff of Nimbyism can be detected if one searches for it.
The empty flat, above the fish and chip shop, needed extensive renovation. Cody and Agnes Thornton, who run the shop, found the whole process particularly disruptive. Sadly, the Thorntons seemed to place the burden of responsibility on the family earmarked for the flat.
‘Why here, Agnes?’
‘Cody, you’re asking the wrong person. I’m on your side. Phone the Council.’
‘Waste of time. It always seems to be you and me that cop for it.’
‘Not always love, we’ve done ok.’
‘Until now. Anyway, I’m off to the Cross.’
All shades of opinion on any matter are heard in the Cross, and everyone was asked for their thoughts - Cody no exception as he enters the pub.
‘What’s your take on it Cody?’
‘Now, Doug, we don’t know he’s a refugee,’ contributes Ted.
‘What does he look like,’ asks Cody.
He had seen the family when they first arrived to view the flat. The father, a rather portly chap and sporting a neat beard contrasting with a distinct lack of growth in the cranium area.
‘No, that’s not him, and I don’t know if any other refugees are heading for the village. At least not yet. You know Agnes, she’s on the ball when it comes to local politics and stuff.’
‘Mystery man, then,’ offers George.
After the Hilda incident two years ago, Sergeant Miller never did check in the Cleeve garden. There is a simple reason for this. Miller knew that Vera Cleeve stole gnomes. Everyone knew. He was going through the motions, knowing full well that the gnomes were being ‘borrowed’, maybe a sort of gnome holiday, with Vera as the landlady. Recently, however, there have been a spate of gnome robberies from shops and market stalls, not just temporary transfers from garden to garden. Everyone had got used to Vera. They knew the gnomes would eventually return to their rightful owner. Unfortunately for Vera, the sergeant also has a piece of evidence - the only market stall not losing gnomes is Vera’s stall from which she sells books, bric-a-brac and ornaments, including gnomes.
‘Are you going to arrest me, Stephen?’
‘If this carries on, I might have to.’
‘I’ve been framed.’
‘Vera, this isn’t New York; this is Leeford market. Why should you be framed?’
‘You’ll soon find out if you look hard enough.’
A quiet day at the Cross. No one in the bar except Ted. The man doesn’t open the door fully, but peers round it at the publican. Ted stares at the man, recognising him from the description Frank had provided.
‘Good morning; coming in for a drink?’
‘Money... not much.’
Ted thinks he recognises the accent.
‘How much do you have?’
He approaches the bar, holding an old leather purse and empties the contents onto the bar.
Ted counts £1.78
‘Not enough for a pint - have a half; I’ll throw in a bag of crisps.’
At that, Ted’s interest surges.
‘My God, you’re Swedish, aren’t you?’
Ted realises the man has a problem. He calls Sally, his wife, then opens the side-door leading to their private rooms, beckoning the man through.
‘What is your name?’ Ted asking in both English and Swedish.
The man doesn’t know who he is or how he arrived in the village, but he admits to creating the drawings and phrases. The stranger’s English limited, but Ted starts to piece together the man’s story, such as it is. Now he understands.
‘Sally, call Doctor Roberts. Get him to come over as soon as.’
‘This poor man has lost his memory.’
Episode 1: No Place Like Gnome - by Michael Braccia and Jon Markes. For more details visit www.michaelbraccia.co.uk