Previously in Leeford Village: The Reverend John Peterson reflects on recent events – a successful fête and a few surprises. Agnes throws Cody out of the flat and Adam will not speak to him. Allen and Linda are becoming closer, and he wants to buy the café.
I really don’t need these tablets, but Helen insists that they keep me calm, he thinks, as he settles in his study with the intention of doing battle with his next sermon. Now, do I preach about the depths that people will plunge in their relationships? No, I don’t want Zack and Clare thinking it’s about them - not that they ever attend – and anyway Zack has now accepted Clare’s refusal. I’m sure they won’t do anything silly before they do, inevitably, marry. Hope they ask me to officiate.
I need to think. Something that will move people. Maybe I’ll have one quick snifter – just one – to help me to concentrate. ‘Keep off the booze,’ Jeremy told me. ‘You know what it does to you, especially combined with the antidepressants.’
One won’t hurt.
One turns to two, and by the time Hilda returns from her weekly sojourn at Spendfields, the Reverend John Peterson, former teetotaller of this parish, is almost horizontal. As a newt. The small of his back pivots on the edge of his favourite armchair, legs wide apart, one slipper hanging off the end of his big toe, the other acting as a paperweight, holding down his initial pre-snifter attempt at a sermon as the gathering breeze blows through the study window.
‘John, how could you?’ she says.
Adam Stringer, a Certified Accountant, has a spare room in the house he shares with his wife, Lucy, in Green Crescent. The equipment she uses to keep in trim for her job as a personal trainer doesn’t take up all the space in the room. Adam and Lucy also have a rather large camp bed. Adam insists on calling it his ‘Angler’s Bed’, although he hasn’t been fishing since the unfortunate incident involving Ted, Roy and Ken on one of the annual lads’ jaunts that never end well. The piscatorial incident ranks as the worst, but others vie for second place.
One year, they decided, for some inexplicable reason, to tour the upper reaches of Scotland in February. No fishing on this particular occasion, but the trip is remembered as ‘The one with Roy’s lip’. Ken’s van tends to freeze up very easily, and Roy’s propensity for utter dimness knew no bounds as he breathed on the lock after Ken threw him the keys, asking him to open the rear door.
‘No Roy, don’t do…’
Too late, but at least the lads got to know the Accident and Emergency Department at Caithness General quite well, Doug even managing to exchange contact details with Staff Nurse Frobisher, a large girl who would no doubt make a smashing farmer’s wife one day. The ‘unfortunate incident’ - fishing related - involving a keep net, flask of coffee, and a rather large trout, will never be spoken of; the details are too gruesome to repeat in polite company. No more to be said, except that the Stringers are known for their ‘Angler’s Bed’ and the spare room.
This is where Cody enters the picture. After the ‘Jolene’ rendition at the fête and now what seems to be an irreparable relationship with his spouse and first born, our favourite fish and chip man is residing with the Stringers. How long for, we don’t know, and Cody will continue with his attempts to find a bridge across the schism. He does this with a combination of flowers, chocolates, multiple declarations of ‘I love you’ and the evocation of memories from days long buried by the girl he married who says she has ‘finally had enough’ and ‘that woman is the last straw’.
Cody has one final piece of ammunition in his locker, and he intends to strafe Agnes with it tonight. In the First World War, the Germans used the phrase ‘may God punish England’. Well, if Agnes is God, Cody is certainly batting for England. His version of the cluster bomb is one indisputable fact - one of his premium bonds has come up. Cody and Agnes have a joint bank account, but they both possess individual savings and investments. His five hundred premium bonds have to date yielded not a solitary sausage after twenty years of checking the numbers, but on the third working day of the month, his routine of entering his holder’s number in the ‘Premium Bond Prize Checker’ website finally bore fruit. However, he has no immediate plans to tell his estranged wife how much he has won. That is for another day. For now, it would suffice for the lonely character sleeping in the Stringers’ ‘Angler’s Bed’ to get himself back in the flat above Leeford Plaice and worry about the details after Agnes has taken his hand once again.
Although Sally Coleman, with good reason, disputes the veracity of her husband’s musings, she is forced to concede that the intellectual discussions sparked, in particular, by the erudite Jack Simmons esq, have a modicum of merit.
‘I have to say, Ted, some of Jack’s Pound Challenges are quite interesting. Is he in tonight?’
‘Due any minute, love,’ he replies as he tests the bitter in his favourite jug, behind the pillar that seems strategically positioned to avoid the Wrath of Sally.
‘He told me yesterday he’d got something different planned,’ popping his head into view.
Frank Watson, unusually quiet, leans on the bar. The rest of the ‘Crew’ are there, huddled round two tables, waiting for Jack. The door opens and Jack approaches the bar. Frank Watson only catches the end of Jack’s pronouncement.
‘Who are you calling a moron?’
‘No Frank, oxymoron.’
‘Eh?’ prompting guffaws from the Crew, already well lubricated.
‘Oxymorons – that’s my theme for tonight.’
‘Come on then, Jack,’ says Ken. ‘Let’s have ‘em.’
‘For starters, Ken, I give you the classic oxymoron used by your favourite duo, Laurel and Hardy.’
‘Got it, Jack, is it “another fine mess”?’
‘You’ve got it, and when I leave the Cross tonight, I might say that “parting is such sweet sorrow”.’
‘What a load of rubbish,’ posits Frank.
‘You may well say that, Councillor Watson, and I would say that you are “deeply superficial”, and that is my “unbiased opinion”.’
Jack scans the room, having grabbed their attention.
‘First one to give me five more oxymorons, preferably amusing ones, gets free drinks for the rest of the evening.’
‘It’s a definite possibility I can win this,’ says Roy.
‘One to you, Roy,’ replies Jack. ‘Hope someone is keeping score.’
‘You’ll need a business plan,’ says Linda, pausing to check if Allen, for once, is listening.
‘And an accountant,’ she adds.
‘Does it need to be that complicated?’
‘If you need funding for a new business, the Banfield Business Committee offer grants up to £3,000.’
‘Don’t you mean loans?’
‘Those as well, but if you do a proper plan and cash flow forecast it’s a grant you don’t have to pay back. Takes a bit of effort.’
Allen looks at her, his eyes scanning her face for an explanation.
‘How do you know all this? I thought Sherry was the clever one.’
‘Thank you very much.’
‘Sorry, Lin. That came out all wrong, but you know what I mean.’
‘If you must know, the last two years I’ve been doing an introductory business course online.’
‘Does Sherry know?’
‘Well, it hardly matters now, but, no, actually, I kept it from her. Sherry always thought I was researching new diets.’
‘Diets? You’re on a diet?’
‘Do you think I need to diet, Allen?’
‘Not at all. You’re just the right shape.’
‘Correct answer. Come here, you say all the right things…’
‘Just one more thing, Lin. The BBC. Really?’
She knows about Cody’s problems, but is also aware that Agnes continues to tolerate his presence in the shop. Agnes needs him, Adam only being useful to the extent that he can carry bags of potatoes from the storeroom at the back of the shop. He has no interest in learning the business like his father, and grandfather before him. Amanda Smythe also knows that Cody would leave the shop around 7.00 p.m.
She has watched him from afar, admiring his sturdy frame and the way he holds himself. Amanda is not a petite woman and she likes her men big. Cody matches the specification. She has told no one about her feelings, but prayed that, one day, Agnes would relinquish her hold of Cody’s reins. He would be free to fall into the arms of one Amanda Smythe. She has held this longing in her heart for years, also with the knowledge that Cody held a candle for another - the girl in the card shop.
After the ‘Jolene’ episode that Amanda had observed from the rear of the vicarage garden, she felt that, at last, her chance had come. With Cody’s secret in the public domain (and it would appear that neither Agnes nor Meredith wished to welcome him with open arms), Amanda muttered a single word to herself before slipping out of the garden towards the car park and then North Banfield, leaving the fête behind.
She’s had a good day in the shop. Five bouquets made up for delivery ready for the weekend. Everyone seems to be having anniversaries this week, she thinks. Stocks of tulips and roses need to be replenished. However, all thoughts of her thriving business are pushed aside. She has the target in her sights as he leaves Agnes to prepare for the evening stint. Everyone wants chips on their way home from the pub.
I can make it to Green Crescent before Cody, she decides. Cut him off at the pass, so to speak. Then I’ll strike. I heard Lucy say that they’re out tonight.
She arrives before he turns into the crescent. He opens the front door as Amanda steps towards him.
‘Are you going to let me in?’