Previously in Leeford Village: Zack and Simon, with some amusement, discuss the ‘alternative’ life that they think Agnes has led. Frank reckons that Adam and Lucy will never leave the village. Allen is in the van with Jimmy Sanjay when it is overtaken by the police, and they are arrested. Allen blacks out. John Peterson tells Ted he intends to speak to the bishop, but, instead of preparing his next sermon, he starts to write his letter of resignation.
‘Forget Jason, what about me?’ says Jack Simmons. His chest visibly expands as he prepares himself for his next few words. Words for which he has prepared himself from the age of six when his dad took him by the hand and led him up the grey stone steps of Banfield Library. Words that have kept, sustained and encouraged him through employment and unemployment and many an evening at the Cross. Words that he is about to utter.
‘I’m going to write a book.’
At first, no one laughs. Then, Jack’s pride is sucked out of his chest as a cackle squawks its way from the corner. Ken Taylor’s brand of cackle.
‘What’s so funny, Ken?’
‘Well, I ask you. A book. You?
‘Anyway, what’s it called?’ enquires Ted, as he examines the pint glass he is holding so closely he could be valuing an antique.
‘Not thought about that.’
This time, a guffaw, slightly elevated from the Taylor-esque cackle, and then a ripple of laughter emanates from the usual crowd.
‘What’s it about then, Jack?’ asks Cody, who glances towards the door when Zack and Simon enter.
‘The Pound Challenge,’ replies Jack.
‘What’s this then, Jack?’ asks Simon.
‘I’m going to write a book about the Pound Challenge in Leeford, but I can’t think of a title.’
Zack gives his order to Ted, winks at Simon, turns towards Jack and says, ‘what about The Leeford Pound Challenge?’
Jack looks up at Zack with an expression that says, ‘oh, I never thought of that.’
‘Family meeting. Basement. Twenty minutes!’
John Peterson makes the proclamation like a sergeant major rousing the troops from their bunks. Sunday morning, and the only member of the clan with anything special planned is the Reverend John Peterson, Bachelor of Theology (BTh). He has already ensured that the full complement of Petersons would be present at the breakfast table nice and early, surprising everyone by vacating the bathroom before 6.00 a.m. and proceeding to knock on bedroom doors announcing the availability of the facilities.
‘What’s going on, Dad?’ grumbles Zack.
Similar utterances emanate from the mouths of the twins, Roberta and William. Roberta, an admin assistant at the community centre, continues to obsess about early seventies pop, even after the ‘event’ at the Marina Folk Club. William, a clerk at the local bank, is passionate about Formula One, realising he has little talent for high-speed driving after crashing three times while kart racing on his twenty-first birthday. Neither twin has these hobbies / passions on their mind as their father bellows his instructions. As Hilda slides out of bed, she thinks, he must have his reasons.
‘All he needs is a town crier’s bell,’ mutters Roberta, as she pulls on her dressing gown.
Breakfast, prepared by the ever-attentive Hilda, is a frying affair. Monday to Saturday it’s every man / woman for himself / herself (cereals, orange juice and coffee), but Sunday morning is when Mom is in her element. Toast, fried bread (just for William), bacon, sausages, beans, and tea all round. Brown sauce for everyone except for Roberta who issues her usual ‘ugh’ as Zack drowns his bacon and beans with HP / Daddies, and then squeezes ketchup onto her own fried breakfast. Hilda can only guess what is going on (and she’s not far off with her guess after recent events) as John swallows the last of his tomato and beans, washing it down with tea from the mug that has Best Vicar in the World stamped on the side.
‘Did you hear me, folks? You’re all free this morning. I know, you confirmed it last night. I’ve got a service later, so I need to get on. See you in the basement.’
As his father leaves the kitchen, Zack looks at his mother and mouths the words ‘what is up with Dad?’
‘Don’t know, let’s wait and see,’ is the reply he receives that could have been interpreted by a raw beginner in Speech and Language Therapy.
‘Where’s Bognor, then?’ enquires George.
Jason looks up at his brother, his standard withering look developing across his face.
‘Where do you think it is?’
‘George, what makes you think that?’
‘Y’know, the peat bogs and stuff.’
‘Geography was never your strongest subject, was it?’
‘Where is it, then, clever clogs?’
‘Not a million miles from Portsmouth, on the south coast, near Chichester.’
‘Sounds a bit posh for our lads. Anywhere nearer? A bit more…’
‘Common?’ snaps Jason.
‘Working class, I was going to say. Hey, what about Weston-Super-Mud?’ suggests George.
‘Yeah, we loved it there, didn’t we? Those day trips with Mom and Dad.’
‘Is it decided, then, our Jason?’
‘Let the lads know, see what they think, and I’ll make a few calls. I can get the coach cheap from a mate of mine,’ says Jason.
‘Weston won’t know what’s hit ‘em!’
‘Yes, that’s what’s worrying me,’ murmurs Jason to himself.
‘You’re not going to do a speech, are you, Dad?’
Zack is always the first to comment, question, criticise, berate. His parents are used to it. His teachers spotted very early in his school career that they had a bright child on their hands. A creative child, but someone who would no doubt stretch the patience of Job later in life. John doesn’t do himself any favours, however. He does go on a bit, but Hilda would explain to their offspring that it goes with the job. Vicars do go on a bit.
‘Just sit down and listen, Zack. This is important,’ says their father.
William, for once, manages a retort before his younger brother piles in.
‘You’re worrying us now, Dad. What is it?’
Hilda touches her husband’s hand. She knows.
‘Okay, here it is. I’m sorry to say that I’ve decided to leave the clergy.’
‘What!’ exclaims Roberta, ‘you mean, give up being a vicar?’
‘Where will the new vicar live?’ asks Zack, forever practical, belying his creative side.
‘That’s the thing, you see. I’m so sorry. The vicarage, our home, goes with the job. We will have to move.’
‘John, you never said…’ Hilda can’t finish the sentence. She looks at the floor, and this doesn’t make John feel any better.
‘Hilda, what can I say? You know what it’s been like.’
‘But why, Dad, why?’ Roberta cries out.
‘Darling, it’s so difficult to explain.’
‘Dad, this house has five bedrooms. One of them is your study. We use the basement for our music. Will our new house have the same?’
‘Zack, this is something you need to understand. We might have to rent something for a while. We don’t have any property to sell, and we will have to downsize.’
‘You don’t mean we might have to share a room?’ snaps William. ‘I’m not sharing with Zack!’
‘I wouldn’t share with you if you paid me!’ shouts Zack.
Hilda has had enough. ‘Be quiet, both of you! I think you need to understand this. We’re all adults. Dad is going to have to find another job. We’ve got savings, but they won’t last forever, and there’s no way we could afford a house this size. Right, John?’
‘That’s exactly the point. I’m so sorry, everyone.’
‘Can you hear me, Allen?’
The voice is distant and strange. Allen doesn’t recognise the deep, southern accent.
‘Your blood pressure is still a little high, but you’re going to be alright. You have a visitor - a young lady called Linda. Would you like to see her now?’
He can barely keep himself awake, but he nods his assent. The door opens and he is aware that someone has taken his left hand and she is speaking.
‘Allen, whatever you’ve been up to, I forgive you. Looks like you haven’t been very well and the incident in the van was the last straw.’
‘Linda… sorry, I’m…’
‘Don’t worry now, love. Just rest.’
‘I will tell you one thing, Allen. Our boss, Arjun Bandra – you know, he’s part-owner of the launderette - has been brilliant. He regrets getting involved with Jimmy Sanjay and he made the difficult decision to tell the police everything. He put a good word in for you, saying that you were persuaded against your will to get involved – and only because you were desperate to pay off a loan. They know you’re not a criminal.’
Allen is now drifting off, unable to take in anything she is saying, but it doesn’t stop Linda.
‘He’s taken a big risk telling the police. They are closing down the illegal handbag and clothes operation. It also involved illegal immigrants, forced labour, the lot. Jimmy’s been arrested. You might end up in court, but Stephen reckons it won’t be more than a fine or community service…’
She realises that Allen is asleep. She leans over and gently kisses his forehead.
‘See you tomorrow, love.’