Previously, in Leeford Village: Nick Allthorpe, the Community Centre Manager is reminded by Frank Watson, the Parish Council leader that he is not eligible to sit on the Parish Council. George Dennis has spent the weekend at an Old Boys’ reunion at his old school. His wife, Clara has put up posters about the handbag containing the ring, which is still in her possession. However, Sheri Lyons, the charity shop manager suspects Clara is not telling the whole truth. Suptra Singh has confided to Ethel, the café owner, he will be killed if he returns to India.
‘Ah, there you are, Nick. And Jessica.’
Frank Watson leans on one of the tables laid out in preparation for the Friday morning mother and toddler group.
Nick continues to lay out tables. Frank nods and sucks in a large draft of air, expelling it a couple of seconds later, followed by a loud cough.
‘Are you OK, Frank,’ Jessica asks, looking more concerned than she ought, given her and Nick’s past run-ins with Frank.
‘I am, yes. I am,’ puffs Frank.
Nick glances towards him, but quickly turns back towards the tables.
‘I’m here on council business, in my capacity as Chair, having being elected unanimously at last night’s Parish Council meeting.’
Frank straightens his tie, as an elected chairman of the council should.
An uncomfortable silence is broken by Jessica.
‘Was it a good meeting, Frank?’
‘Oh, yes. An excellent meeting. In fact, that’s what brings me here. Nick, could I have a word?’
Nick only meant to put out three tables, but in his effort to avoid talking to Frank there are now enough tables around the room to hold a large jumble sale. At first, he ignores Frank’s request, but curiosity gets the better of him. Frank is sitting on a far-too-small plastic chair Jessica has fetched him, out of fear he might collapse at any moment.
‘What is it?’
Frank shakes his head.
‘Oh, Nick. I sense a touch of bitterness there, my lad.’
‘So, the committee decided to hold our first ever village fête. It’s been proposed for several years, but no-one has ever grasped the nettle by the horns, as they say and made it happen,’ Frank tugs at his tie, ‘until now.’
‘Of course, we want to use the Centre as the base, headquarters if you like, mission control, you might say, where the fête sub-committee could meet to get their collective heads together to formulate a strategy, so to speak.’
‘You’re saying you want to hire the Centre?’
‘In a nutshell. Of course, it would only be council members attending, you understand. They would require the appropriate level of privacy, befitting their status and the task in hand, you might say.’
Jessica cannot hide her annoyance.
‘Don’t worry, Frank. We’ll make sure we let them in and then beat a hasty retreat, as you, particularly you, would say.’
‘Well, there’s no need to be like that, Jessica. But, good on you for understanding the importance of the endeavour.’
Nick decides the best way to get rid of Frank is compliance.
‘So, which days and how many of you?’
‘Well, the sub-committee is four. Reverend Peterson is the Chair, not of the Parish Council, that’s yours truly, but of the sub-committee and three others.’
‘There’s a small room to the side of the kitchen they could use. What do you think, Jessica?’
Nick looks towards Jessica for confirmation, but Jessica is deep in thought.
‘Sorry, I was just…Frank, what is the criteria for Council eligibility, again?’
Frank looks at her quizzically.
‘We’ve been through this, before. You must live in the village and own your own home.’
‘Thought so,’ says Jessica. ‘So, if you don’t own your own home, you can’t be on the Council?’
‘That’s the nub of it, yes.’ Frank turns to Nick. ‘So, can we talk dates, Nick?’
Before Nick can answer, Jessica speaks again.
‘Reverend Peterson owns the vicarage, does he?’
Frank takes a moment to think about this.
‘Of course not. But he is the vicar. He has to be on the Parish Council. He’s, well, he’s…well, anyway, you couldn’t have a Parish Council that doesn’t have the vicar on it.’
He looks at Nick. ‘Could you?’
Nick shrugs. Frank’s face reddens.
‘I agree Frank,’ says Jessica, clearly enjoying the moment. ‘But the fact is, he does not own his own home. So, technically, the rule regarding home ownership is being broken.’
Frank begins to utter a word that comes out as a high-pitched squeal.
‘So, it would unfair to not consider others who may want to sit on the council, but do not own their own home, wouldn’t it? Such as Nick and I, for example?’
‘Could you make me up a cheese sandwich, Ethel?’
Nita Sangra is in a hurry.
‘Of course, love.’ Ethel takes a wedge of cheese from the fridge and slices it thickly.
‘Off to school?’
‘Well, yes and no. It’s a training day, so there are no kids. I forgot to make my lunch and the buffet they provide is usually awful.’
Ethel arranges the cheese slices on a thick slice of well-buttered white bread.
‘Anything on it?’
Nita wishes she had asked for granary, then doubts whether it would have been an option.
‘A bit of pickle, perhaps?’
Ethel spoons pickle from a large jar and spreads it until hardly any cheese can be seen. Nita is reassessing her opinion of the school’s buffet provision. Ethel places another slice of thick white on top and presses it down with her hands. A few chunks of pickle escape the sandwich and fall onto the chopping board.
‘How’s your uncle, Nita?’
‘He’s fine, Ethel. Why do you ask?’
‘Oh, he seemed a little agitated earlier, that’s all.’
Nita has no time to stop to talk to Ethel, but this worries her. She has noticed her uncle has not been himself over the past couple of weeks, but she has been too busy with lesson planning, two parent’s evenings and various after school meetings to ask him about it.
‘Thanks, Ethel,’ she says, stuffing the doorstop sandwich into her bag and making a swift exit before Ethel can say another word.
Clara is cashing up and Sheri is straightening the bookshelves for the umpteenth time.
‘Why would anyone in their right mind put back a Penny Vincenzi novel next to Monty Don’s The Complete Gardner? It makes you wonder what their own homes are like.’
Sheri’s words do not reach Clara, whose mind is on her husband, George. Having collected him from the reunion she had watched him spend the evening preparing a talk to give to the new school intake. Clara had tried to convince him he was no longer a headmaster and suggested he let someone else give the talk, just this once, to which he replied that if the first voice of authority the young whippersnappers heard was that of one of these long-haired good for nothing teachers, their education would be over before it had begun. No, he was determined to give the welcome speech himself, as he had done for the past twenty years.
‘Penny for them.’
Sheri waves her hand in front of Clara who is staring at the till.
‘It’s George. I think he’s finally lost it, Sheri.’
‘The headmaster thing? Well, maybe it’s just a passing phase and he’ll come back to his senses.’
Clara sighs. ‘I’m not sure he has his senses anymore. I’m really not.’
Sheri places a hand on Clara’s shoulder.
Just then the door crashes open.
‘Oh, I’m so glad you’re still open!’
Clara is about to say, ‘we’re not’, when the tall, well-dressed woman utters the dreaded words: ‘I’ve come about the handbag.’
Clara’s blood drains down to her feet.
‘It’s my mother’s. Well, it was my mother’s. She’s not around anymore. Well, she is, but in a home. We had to put her there when she lost her…well, you know how it is with old people.’
Clara thinks of George at home, probably rehearsing a speech he will never give.
Sheri, wary after Vera’s attempt to claim the bag, asks the lady to give more information.
‘It’s brown, with cream flecks.’
‘And?’ Clara is hopeful that the lady is merely describing the bag pictured on the flyer.
‘It has a pink lining, two internal pockets and a gold buckle on the strap.’
Sheri nods and looks at Clara, now very pale.
‘Well, that sounds like the bag. I’ll go and fetch it.’
The woman explains to Clara they had cleared her mother’s house, putting clothing and accessories into bin liners which they donated to different charity shops. The lady’s mother was pleased her possessions, for which she no longer had a use, would be sold for good causes. The only thing she wanted and which they were to not let go under any circumstances was a brown leather bag with cream flecks. The lady and the husband had spent a fruitless couple of days trying to retrace their steps to recover the bag, but to no avail.
‘Then, my husband remembered he had dropped off the last bag at this shop.’
‘Here it is,’ says Sheri, handing the bag over to its owner.
‘Oh, that’s wonderful. It’s not the bag she really wants. It’s her engagement ring she has always kept in this pock…’, the lady unzips the inside pocket and feels for the ring. She opens the other pocket, sweeps her hand around the bottom of the bag, tips it upside down, before finally, as much as she is able, turns it inside out.
She emits a loud wail.
Sheri looks at Clara.
Clara shakes her head.
‘I’m sure you must have lost the ring elsewhere. It wasn’t in the bag, love.’
Sheri looks at Clara again who is staring at the woman.
‘Was it a special ring?’ Clara’s voice is hardly audible.
‘It was her mother’s engagement ring, Clara!’
The woman’s wails have turned to sobs.
‘It’s not just that. Mother had it valued last year. It’s worth thirty thousand pounds!’