Previously in Leeford Village: Sherry is kept in the dark about her sister’s tryst with Mr Allen Gomez, the manager of the Launderette. The new rock band continues to practise at the vicarage, and Zack’s mother embarrasses him as she plies the rockers with lemonade and biscuits. Agnes thinks that her husband, Cody, is far too old and unfit to play football, and Ted Coleman is still unaware of his football-related administration blunder. Linda goes out again, lying to Sherry about who she is meeting. The band decide on a name, and only Zack appears unhappy.
‘She’s done it again!’ grumbles the over-worked police sergeant.
‘Who has?’ asks his sidekick, P.C. Gary Carr.
‘What’s she done now?’
‘Seems that most of the gnomes in the village have gone missing. I suspect we’ll find them in the Cleeve garden.’
‘How do you know?’
‘Vicar’s wife. Doesn’t sound very Christian, but she’s ratted on Vera.’
‘What you gonna do, Sarge?’
‘Very professionally put, Gary. You’ll go far. As for Vera, I suppose we should go and have a look.’
They don’t need to bother with the car, as the station is located less than thirty paces from the East Banfield Road, just past the shallow brook (that famously flooded in the deluge) and the Cross pub, frequented by most of the inhabitants of Leeford Village at some time or other. The two men, trying to look official (and even the smart uniforms don’t help) narrowly avoid a tragic end, failing to stop at the bright red pelican stop light, the equivalent of the American ‘Don’t Walk’ sign. Well, they DO walk, and the esteemed Parish Council leader, Mr F. Watson, engineers a manoeuvre that many would think impossible. Lewis Hamilton-esque, he swerves one way and then the other, appearing to aim for the two officers of the law. Fortunately, their nimble feet and youthful gait propel them from certain death to the safety of the pavement.
‘I’ll have him one day, Gary, I swear.’
‘What do you mean, who? Didn’t you see him?’
‘You mean Frank? Yeah, he waved at me as he went past.’
‘Went past? Give me strength. Did I interview you for this job, Gary?’
‘Yes, with A.C.C. Garfield from Banfield. In fact, it was at Banfield Station. Alice in accounts makes a nice brew there.’
‘For God’s sake, Gary, get a grip. Let’s get up to Vera’s.’
‘Hi, is that Paul Simon?’
‘Eh, is that you, Linda?’ stutters Allen, almost dropping his phone.
‘Answer my question.’
‘Paul Simon? Put me out of my misery.’
‘Your last text. You said, “call me Al”.’
‘Got you. Sorry, I’m all over the place at the moment. Can I see you later?’
‘You can see as much of me as you like, Mr Gomez.’
‘Are you messing me about, Linda?’
‘Allen, I haven’t seen your flat yet. I think we need some time alone, don’t you?’
Allen’s mouth dries, his lips sticking together as he struggles to find the words he needs.
‘You there, Allen? Are you ready for this?’
‘Of course I am. You know how I feel about you, Linda. You’re driving me crazy.’
‘Meet you in the usual place at six. Then it’s back to your flat.’
‘Here’s your post, Ted. Why they don’t bring it to you in the bar beats me.’
‘You’re not here at lunch time very often. Any reason?’
‘I don’t get mistaken for a football coach very often either.’
‘What do you mean?’
‘You know I have little or no interest in sport, apart from the Ashes. A certain tradition that I adopted from my father, you know. He always used to say “Frank Watson, we cannot afford the humiliation of losing to the Australians. Most of them were deported from England years ago. The shame…” ’
‘Frank, sorry to interrupt your late father in full flow, but what’s that got to do with what you just said?’
‘The football coach thing?’
Ted nods his head.
‘Oh, some of the school kids got the idea that I was the coach of the new team. One of them had the cheek to say he wouldn’t even sit on the subs bench for me.’
‘But it’s Frank Reed that’s... oh, I see.’
‘Yes, I know what people think of me, particularly the youngsters after the Zack mobile affair. Maybe you could put them straight?’
Ted starts to open the first envelope, murmuring to himself as he does so while doing his best to take in Frank’s rambling.
‘Banfield and District Football League... you were saying, Frank?’
‘Tell them it’s Frank Reed, not me. They’ll stop pestering me and I realise they’d rather play for him. They listen to you, Ted.’
‘Ok Frank,’ mutters Ted, losing concentration.
‘Something important in the post?’
‘From the league – hang on – aah, they’ve accepted my application, blah blah, can’t be doing with the small print, great, we’re in!’
‘Well done, lad. I’ve no interest in football, but I’m pleased for you.’
‘Thanks Frank, I appreciate it.’
‘What is it, Gary?’
‘Why are we going round the back?’
‘For one thing, I know Vera’s out. This is her keep-fit day at the Community Centre. Nick gave me the nod.’
‘Oh, very Maigret.’
‘And, Clouseau, if we’re using fictional detectives for pet names - and yes, I did hear you – Vera lives opposite the vicarage. You know what Hilda is like, AND she’s a gnome fanatic. I simply don’t want her involved. OK?’
‘I’ve never been round the back of these houses,’ muses Gary.
‘Well, you’ll have your chance in a minute,’ the exasperated sergeant replies.
‘Here we are then.’
‘What do we do now, Sarge?’
‘See that hedge?’
‘Yeah, the eight-foot thing?’
‘That’s the one.’
‘What do we do then?’
‘Not we, you. Climb up and have a look in the garden.’
‘It’s always flamin’ me,’ mutters Gary.
‘What was that, P.C. Carr?’
‘Nothing Sarge, nearly there.’
‘What can you see?’
‘Hang on, bit prickly this. Hang on a minute, what’s this?’
‘Yes, Gary, what is it?’
‘You’ve got to see this, Sarge!’
‘I’ll climb up – give me a hand.’
He joins Gary at the top of the hedge, only to be confronted with the most amazing site he has witnessed since moving to Leeford. It would be fair to say, however, that in terms of the sites and scenes to be experienced in a small village like Leeford, there is not a great deal of competition. Stephen reaches the top and peers over, hanging onto Gary’s arm for support.
‘It’s a bloody gnome convention!’
‘There must be three hundred of the blighters in her garden,’ exclaims Gary.
‘But we’ve only had reports of a few dozen missing - the entire gnome population of Leeford can’t be more than fifty. Where the hell has this lot come from?’
‘When is it, anyway?’ queries Sheri.
‘What?’ replies Ethel.
‘You were just talking about it – Leeford Day.’
‘Oh, I’m not sure of the exact date.’
‘How can we find out? I don’t really know anything about it.’
‘When did you first hear about the celebrations, Sheri?’
‘Well, Clara was chatting to Vera and a couple of others in the...’
‘Clara? Is she back?’
‘Yes, we’ve got over our problems, Ethel. I knew at the time she was under such tremendous strain. It must be a relief that poor old George is getting proper treatment now.’
‘I’m so pleased – about Clara I mean – and George as well, if he’s a little better.
‘Apparently, Leeford Day originates between the wars – 1930s probably. Leeford was such a small village, or Hamlet, going back to the sixteenth century so they say, with only twenty or thirty people living here as recently as ninety years ago. The County Council, as it was then, created the town of Banfield which became a Metropolitan Borough, with all the various regions within the town. Even back then, people had started moving out of the centre of the town towards the countryside to the west.’
‘Those that could afford it,’ interjects Ethel.
‘Exactly, plus a few tradesmen, and then the market developed. Brought a few people in.’
‘Sorry to butt in, ladies’ says Cody, who had somehow managed to escape the fish and chip shop for a quick coffee and bun at lunch time.
‘How did you get past your Agnes?’ asks Ethel with a smile.
‘Got a tunnel,’ he quips.
‘Got one into the card shop as well,’ shouts George Owens, sitting in the window with his special mug as he keeps an eye on the stall.
‘Belt up, George!’ snaps Cody.
‘Anyway,’ he continues, ignoring his friend, ‘I might be able to help.’
‘How?’ chime the two ladies, almost in unison.
‘As you say, we’re pretty sure that the origin of Leeford Day is in the 1930s, and I happen to know there’s only one person still alive in the whole of Leeford who lived here at the time.’
‘Who’s that?’ asks Ethel.
‘Howard Smithson. He’s at least ninety-six and he lives in Rosewood Nursing Home on the Banfield Road, just before the General. On the left-hand-side. Ironically, opposite a chip shop. Not really competition for us as it’s two miles out of the village, but...’
‘Sorry, Cody, could we stick to the point?’ jumps in Sheri.
‘Tell us more about Howard. I vaguely remember him. Wasn’t he a postman?’
‘Yes, and he first did that job on a push-bike in about 1935. They started ‘em young in those days. If you’d got a job you could leave school.’
‘Has anyone spoken to him recently?’
‘Frank Watson knows him quite well, but he says that Howard’s concentration and memory come and go. On any given day, he might not recognise you, and Leeford Day wouldn’t mean anything to him.’
‘We need to know more. Let’s go and see him,’ says Ethel.
This time Cody and Sheri are in unison.
‘Can’t shut the cafe now, and you’ve got a chip shop to run. We’ll have to organise something.’
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