Previously in Leeford Village: Jack Simmons’ quotes perplex the regulars in the pub, but Zack thinks he has a plan to win the Pound Challenge. Suptra contacts his cousin in Kolkata to seek advice about returning to India. Clara wrestles with her conscience over what to do with the £30k ring.
‘Just a minute, dear. I’ve got one more to get! Seven down. A letter for Socrates. Something, something, G, something, A. Hmm.’ George sucks on the end of his pencil. ‘Any idea?’
‘No idea, love. George, there’s something I need to talk to you about.’
‘OK, dear. Let me just finish this. Now, what word has a G in the middle? Funny it ends on an A. Not many English words do that. Could be Latin, I suppose.’
Clara sighs and picks up her crotchet. Since rumours of a village fete began to circulate, she spends nearly every evening with her crotchet needle and wool making baby clothes for the craft stall, assuming one of the younger women from the play group at the Centre will set one up. Perhaps she should suggest it herself.
‘Magma. Could that be it, petal?’
It will never be known whether Clara was ever going to reply as George immediately answers his own question.
‘Now, why would it be magma? What’s that to do with Socrates?’
George sits at the opposite side of the room, underneath the standard lamp. He’s looking old, Clara thinks and his behaviour is more erratic since he came back from the reunion. Still, he is her husband and she should tell him her predicament. A problem shared is a problem…
‘Sigma! That’s it! By Jove! Socrates was Greek, so we’re looking for a Greek letter. Sigma! Obvious, really. I wonder if Palmer got it. I’ll ask him in the staff room, tomorrow. Now, Jove. He was Roman, wasn’t he Clara?’
‘George, can I speak to you now? I have a problem and I need…’
‘Later, dear. Whatever it is, we can talk about it later. To celebrate my success, I’m going to The Cross for a swift half. Fancy coming along, old girl?’
‘No, George, I’d rather stay here and…’
‘Finish your knitting. Of course.’ George folds his newspaper, shoves it into a magazine rack then stands and smooths the front of his trousers. He walks across to Clara and kisses the top of her head.
‘Shan’t be long, my dear. Make sure the boys stay in their dorms.’
Clara hears George in the vestibule, putting on his coat. He opens the front door, but after standing looking out into the dark of the street he turns and goes back into the house. Clara is aware of his presence behind her in the doorway. A couple of minutes pass, before George utters in an uncertain voice: ‘when is the baby due, Clara?’ Clara looks at the nearly completed pink cardigan on her lap.
She turns around and sees George looking like a lost child, wringing his hands as though he is about to be scolded for daring to ask a question. She smiles at him.
‘There is no baby, George.’
George looks down at his feet.
‘Oh, my dear girl. I’m so sorry.’
When Clara looks up again, he is gone.
Clara feels a single tear run down her cheek. Then she jumps up and rushes to the still open front door. She shouts down the street, ‘George. You’ve still got your slippers on!’
It’s nearly closing time. Linda and Sherry pull the last load out of one of the dryers, folding the warm clothing into a plastic basket.
‘Want one?’ Sherry thrusts a packet of Minstrels in front of her sister.
‘Actually, Sherry. I don’t, thank you.’
‘Are you ill? You never refuse a Minstrel. Or anything else edible, for that matter.’
Linda places the basket on the top of the counter.
‘For your information, I’m on a diet.’
‘A diet?’ Sherry tries and fails to stifle a small giggle.
‘Yes. So, Minstrels are no longer for me.’
‘Since when have you been on this diet, then? Can’t say I’ve noticed.’
‘A few days.’
‘A few days?’ Sherry almost spits out the Minstrel she has just put in her mouth, but manages to suck it back in. It hits her on the back of the throat, causing her to cough violently.
Linda looks at her sister, unconcerned that she might be about to choke to death.
Sherry regains her composure and pops another Minstrel into her mouth.
‘What about last night? The two packets of Doritos you demolished before going to bed? Or, the half bottle of Coke you drank when you got up this morning? How do they fit into your diet?’
Linda holds up a pair of slacks that have turned themselves inside out during the washing and drying process.
‘Sherry, you can’t waste the food you’ve already bought. Not when half the world is starving. But once that has gone, everything I eat will be low-fat.’
Sherry smiles and takes the last Minstrel from the packet. She waves it in front of Linda.
‘No, thank you. Anyway, I’ve already started making a few changes.’
‘Such as, this morning, when I got my latte from Ethel’s, I had it with semi-skilled milk.’
‘Semi-skilled milk? From an apprentice cow, would that be?’
‘I’ve no idea how they do it, Sherry. And, if I get used to it, I’ll go the whole way and drink my coffee de-caffeinated.’
Sherry laughs loudly.
‘Because there are loads of calories in caffeine, obviously!’
Linda takes the basket of still-warm laundry into the back room, ready for ironing.
She grabs their coats and switches off the light. She throws Sherry’s coat at her and puts on her own.
‘I’ve no idea how many calories are in caffeine, Sherry, but if they can take it out the coffee, every little bit helps.’
Pippa Philpotts is about to turn the sign on the Post Office door to ‘closed’ when she sees Ethel walking up the path.
‘Oh, glad I caught you,’ says Ethel, a little breathless.
Pippa returns to the counter.
‘What can I do for you, Ethel?’
‘Just a book of stamps, please. How are you?’
Pippa hands the stamps to Ethel.
‘Well, a funny thing happened today, Ethel. I received ten parcels for Vera Cleeve and they were all gnome-shaped!'
Ethel purses her lips.
'Yes, very strange, that. Very strange indeed.'
The regulars are gathered around the bar in The Cross, watching the Wolves match on the TV in the corner, communicating with a succession of ‘oohs’ and ‘arrhs’ and the collective nodding, or shaking of heads. So immersed in the action are they that when Jack bursts through the door, no one notices. However, when he shouts: ‘he’s fallen in the water!’ at exactly the same moment the referee blows the whistle for half-time, they turn towards the door. Ted responds first.
‘That’s easy, Jack. Pickles, from the Goon Show.’ He punches the air, as if celebrating a victory, then puts his hand to his throat and warbles ‘he’s fallen in the water’ in a high falsetto. He looks for an appropriate response from his customers, which is not forthcoming. Feeling slightly embarrassed, he looks back towards Jack. There is no Jack.
‘Oh, where’s Jack gone?’
‘Pickles?’ Frank hands Ted his empty glass.
‘That was his name, wasn’t it?’ Ted places the glass under the beer tap.
‘No, not Pickles,’ says Cody. ‘You’re thinking of Eric Pickles. He was in For Love of Ada, with Irene Handl.’
‘That’s right, Cody. That’s who I’m thinking of. Now, what was his catchphrase? Jack’d know. Where is he?’
He puts a pint of mild down in front of Frank.
Then, in the voice of a Victorian Liverpudlian washer-woman he shouts, ‘have you been, Walter? Have you been?’
He laughs at his own impersonation.
Frank picks up his pint and takes a long gulp.
‘It wasn’t Eric Pickles, Ted. It was Wilfred Pickles. Eric Pickles was the darts player, wasn’t he?’
‘At Conservative Party conferences, I assume,’ laughs Cody. Ted, immediately realising his mistake joins in with the laughter and soon all the men are laughing loudly. That is, all except Zack, who has his back turned to the group. He’s looking down at his phone, which he holds close to his chest.
‘It wasn’t Pickles at all!’ He thrusts his phone into his trouser pocket, then turns around to face the rest of the men, all red in the face now.
‘Who wasn’t Pickles?’ asks Ted, as though the past three minutes had not happened at all.
‘It was Eccles who said “he’s fallen in the water”, in the Goon show. Not Pickles. Actually, a few of the characters said it over several episodes, Bluebottle in particular and it was said in the last ever broadcast of the show.’ Zack takes a drink of Coke and smacks his lips together.
‘He’s right, Ted,’ says Cody. Frank nods in agreement.
Ted raises his eyebrows and purses his lips.
‘Well, I never, Zack. Walkin’ bleedin’ encyclopaedia you are, my son.’
Zack flushes with pride.
‘I’m off for a pee before the second half,’ says Frank, taking another long gulp of beer then slamming his glass down a little too hard on the counter.
‘Sorry, Ted,’ he says and begins the long, breathless journey across to the other side of the bar.
As he is about to reach the passageway leading to the toilet, the front door opens and Jack is standing there, his shirt sleeves rolled up to his elbows.
The others look at Jack and then at each other.
Jack regains a little breath and shouts: ‘He’s fallen in the water!’
‘Eccles!’ shout the men together, then burst out laughing.
‘Eccles? What?’ Jack takes a step nearer to the men. ‘I’m not talking about Eccles. I’m talking about George. He’s fallen in the water.’
‘The water?’ chorus the men at the bar.
‘Yes,’ there is urgency in Jack’s voice.
‘The brook at back of the Police Station. George is up to his neck in it.’