Previously in Leeford Village: Jack Simmons announces he is writing a book about the Pound Challenge, much to the amusement of his cronies in the Cross. Revd. Peterson gathers his family together to tell them that he is leaving the clergy. Jason and George Owens settle on Weston-Super-Mare as the destination for the upcoming Cross trip to the seaside. Linda visits Allen in hospital and informs him that Jimmy Sanjay has been arrested, following a tip-off from Arjun Bandra.
‘How are you feeling, love?’
Linda places a mug of tea on the bedside table next to where Allen is slowly rousing himself from a deep sleep. He stretches and blinks a few times to adjust to the morning sunlight streaming through the window. Linda sits on the bed next to him and strokes his forehead.
‘I might get fed up of that after a couple of hours,’ says Allen, smiling for the first time in many days. He props himself up and takes a sip of tea. It tastes particularly good this morning.
‘When you’re ready to talk, you can tell me all about it.’ says Linda.
‘You and the police,’ says Allen, the smile disappearing from his face.
‘Don’t worry about the police. I told you, Stephen will sort that. You had no idea what you were getting into and, in the end, you didn’t actually commit a crime, did you?’
Allen is less certain. ‘I was an accessory. That’s enough. What will people think of me now? All I was trying to do was earn some money, to set myself straight.’
‘I know. And that’s what everyone will think. You also helped to stop Jimmy Sanjay’s game, which Arjun thinks has been going on for years behind his back. I think Jimmy will go down for a long time, as well as the people from the factory.’
‘I hope so, Lin. It was awful. I’ve been involved with a few less-than-strictly-legit things in the past, as you know. But this was a different league. From now on I am squeaky clean.’
‘And I’m going to make sure of that! Now, drink your tea and put all this behind you. Today’s a new day.’
‘You’re quiet today, Zack. Whassup, mate?’
Simon and Zack have been killing time wandering around the village. Simon has suggested several activities, including taking a bus into Birmingham to visit the musical instrument shops but Zack has dismissed every one of them, preferring to shuffle along the Leeford streets looking down at his feet.
‘If I tell you, you mustn’t breathe a word to anyone,’ says Zack, eventually.
‘Of course, I won’t. I’m your best mate, aren’t I?’
Zack nods. They arrive at a bench outside The Cross, where a few early drinkers are making their way into the pub for their Sunday morning tipple.
‘Go on, then?’ implores Simon, eager to know what is making Zack so unhappy.
‘My dad’s giving up being a vicar.’
Simon feels a chill run through his body. He suspected Zack might have broken the whammy bar on his guitar, or had an argument with Clare, or was still recovering from the trauma of discovering Agnes Thornton’s outfits in the chest. But not this.
‘Wow, mate. That’s pretty serious.’
‘It is. It means we’ll have to give up the vicarage.’
Jason and George Owens are approaching the pub, talking animatedly. Simon hears the words ‘mackerel fishing’ and ‘fifty-two-seater coach’ which would normally prompt him to ask what the brothers are talking about. He lets them pass, tipping his head to acknowledge them as they go through the door.
‘Straight away? I mean, will you be homeless?’ he asks.
Zack shrugs his shoulders.
‘No idea. I suppose we’ll just have to rent somewhere, though it’ll be difficult with Dad being out of work.’
‘Didn’t he used to be a teacher, before he became a vicar? Maybe he could go back to that.’
‘He’d have to retrain. It must be thirty years since he was in a classroom, except for the monthly visits to the Primary to take assembly.’
‘Did he say why he was giving it up?’ asks Simon.
‘Not really. Mom knows, but all she’ll say is that he feels he’s not being honest with his flock.’
‘Yeah, it’s a term they use to describe the people he ministers to. Like a shepherd, I suppose.’
All Simon can say is ‘wow’ which he does four times, until Zack admonishes him.
‘But, your dad’s a great vicar. The villagers love him and he does so much for people.’
‘I know. I can’t imagine him doing anything else. I’ve only ever known him as a vicar.’
Jason and George Owens are holding court in the bar at The Cross. A crowd of men has gathered around them, their glasses charged with Ted Coleman’s best ales.
Jason clears his throat.
‘As you know, George and I have been planning an excursion to the seaside and, from the information we have been able to gather, it seems that many of you are, er, up for it.’
There is a general murmur of assent and a collective raising of glasses.
Jason looks towards George, his cue to make the next part of the announcement.
‘Oh, yes. It’s me now, isn’t it?’ George takes a sip of beer. And another.
‘Gerronwithit!’ shouts a voice from the back of the crowd.
‘Okay, okay. Keep yer ‘at on,’ shouts George, clearly irritated.
‘Hair,’ says Ken Taylor, standing at the front.
‘What?’ snaps George.
‘Hair. The phrase is “keep your hair on”. It’s not “keep your hat on”,’ states Ken with some authority.
‘He’s right, George,’ chimes in Roy Cohen. He turns to the men. ‘Keep your hat on was in a song, wasn’t it? Didn’t Rod Stewart sing it? In that film?’
Nigel Cleeve, arriving with a tray of meat for the Cross’s kitchen interjects.
‘Not Rod Stewart, Roy. It was Tom Jones.’
Roy snaps his fingers. ‘That’s the one. Always get them mixed up.’
There’s a cough from Jack Simmons, Leeford’s very own walking encyclopaedia.
‘Here we go,’ whispers Ted Coleman to his wife Sally who has arrived behind the bar.
‘Of course, the original song was by Randy Newman, who also composed it. And it was “leave your hat on”, not “keep your hat on.”’
‘I’m glad you’ve cleared that up. Ken. Now can I speak?’ says George, lifting his glass to take a final swig of beer then realising it is empty. He looks at it disappointedly. A sea of faces stare at him waiting expectantly for his next words. He feels suddenly hot and his vision blurs a little. It’s the same feeling he once had in school when asked to stand on the stage and recite a poem the class had been learning, in front of a hall full of parents.
‘This year’s Cross day out is to wonderful Weston-Super-Mare will cost twenty pounds a head we’ve booked a fifty-two-seater coach give your money to Jason by the end of next week thank you.’ With his message delivered in one breath, George hurries to the bar.
‘Pint, please Ted.’
There’s a brief silence before Ken speaks.
‘No, Ken. Not Bognor,’ says Jason.
The next voice is that of Vera Cleeve, who has arrived just in time to hear George’s announcement.
‘Weston. Lovely. I’m looking forward to it already, Jason.’
Jason looks at Vera. The crowd of men look at Vera, then at Jason. Jason looks towards George but he is leaning on the bar, cradling his glass with his back to the room.
‘Actually, Vera, I think…I don’t think…what we had in mind…’
It’s Ken who comes to Jason’s rescue.
‘What he’s trying to say, Vera, is that this is a men only trip. For the lads.’
The crowd of men parts like the Red Sea as Vera makes her way to the front, where Jason is nervously fiddling with the collar of his polo shirt.
‘Is that right Jason?’ asks Vera.
Jason attempts a weak smile.
‘Well, I never…we never… that is, when we thought of …we didn’t…well not really…’
Ken sighs and turns to Vera. ‘What he means is that you can’t come, Vera, you being a woman and all that.’
Vera smiles. She opens her purse and takes out a twenty-pound note, which she slaps into Jason’s hand.
‘This is my payment. And if I’m not on that coach on the way down to Weston-Super-Mare, I’ll have you all for discrimination.’
John Peterson is alone in the kitchen. The morning sermon had been well received by the small congregation, though he had felt uncomfortable delivering it after making his announcement to the family. He could see that the children were confused and disappointed and he hated having to tell them that the only life they had ever known was going to be pulled from under them in the next few weeks. Maybe sooner, if the bishop finds someone wanting to take up the post quickly. A new family would enjoy the life the Petersons had. A new vicar, maybe younger and full of ideas, would be leading the congregation, maybe even increasing it. Yes, he has regrets, but, in his heart, he knows this is the right thing to do. And Hilda has been wonderfully supportive, even though he knows she loves being a vicar’s wife and supporting him in his ministry. There is a knock on the front door.
‘Coming,’ John shouts as makes his way down the long hall.
He opens the door and is surprised to see Simon standing in the doorway.
‘Hello Simon. I’m afraid Zack’s not here. In fact, I thought you and he…’
‘It’s not Zack I’m here to see, Reverend. It’s you. There’s something that’s been on my mind for a while and only you can help me.’