Previously in Leeford Village: George Owens tells Jason that Vera must be allowed to attend the trip to Weston, but Jason has other ideas. John explains the pitfalls of ordination to Simon, who is behaving rather strangely. Ted loses his cool, live on air, but becomes a hero with the regulars at the Cross.
Tricia passes the envelope to Ethel.
‘It’s from Clara. She briefly said what it was about. I think you know, deep down.’
Ethel takes a deep breath and carefully picks at the triangular folded part of the envelope. She has always opened letters cautiously, re-using the envelopes if possible. Just like her mother. She guesses what it is about, her hands shaking, but starts to read the single sheet.
This will come as a shock to you, but George and I have left Leeford. Probably for good. I am sorry that I didn’t pop in to say goodbye, but it was too emotional for me. You are my dearest friend, but I’m sure you understand I need to look after George, and I need a lot of help.
My cousin, Elizabeth, who lives in a fishing village in Cornwall, knows a therapist who has written a book about the problems George is having. She has offered to put together a series of therapeutic sessions over twelve months, and can also arrange for care workers to come in.
Elizabeth lives in a large house and has two spare rooms and wants us to stay with her. She says we can set up the second room specifically for George’s needs. It was all quite sudden, although she’s been offering to help for some time. Sheri has the keys to the house, and I wondered if you would mind helping to keep an eye on things. The Estate Agents will need access soon.
What I would dearly love is for you and Edward to visit us. You could stay with him in Devon for a few days and break the journey. George would love to see you as well. Don’t worry about what Edward will think – I’ve already phoned him, and he agrees.
I have enclosed Elizabeth’s address and phone number. Look forward to hearing from you soon, my dear friend.
All my love,
It’s not often that Frank Watson visits the local police station. This is one of those occasions. Sergeant Stephen Miller, who runs the station and lives above it, is also Deputy Chair of the Leeford Village Council. He tolerates Frank’s efforts to appear like Detective Chief Inspector Morse to Stephen’s Sergeant Lewis.
‘Three times I had to ring that bell. Where were you? Suppose there had been an emergency?’
‘Good morning to you, Frank. Haven’t seen you all week. Is it an emergency?’
‘Emergency? I should say so! Let me in so we can discuss the matter.’
Stephen reluctantly lifts the countertop to let Frank into the inner sanctum of The Thin Blue Line of Leeford. He likes to think of himself as Robin Hood, no, Columbo, or rather, Dixon of Dock Green. He can never make his mind up, but they are all heroes to him.
‘Sit down, Frank. You’ll have to bear with me, Gary is at a counselling session.’
‘Counselling? What’s his problem? It can’t be stress!’
Frank smiles at his own joke, but Stephen makes an effort to demonstrate to Frank that not only did he not hear him, but also that he is not interested in Frank’s jocular musings anyway.
‘Stephen – what counselling?’
‘Mandatory, Frank, after, you know…’
Frank nods to show his understanding.
‘What did you want to discuss?’ enquires Stephen.
‘Sit down, you’re not going to believe what I heard at the Banfield Council Meeting on Tuesday.’
‘Yes, we could have music again. Hopefully, not a re-run of Jolene, though.’
As he speaks, John Peterson realises what he is doing. Planning. Nick Allthorpe, Community Centre Manager, looks at him, waiting for more detail.
‘You alright, John? I lost you there for a minute.’
‘I’m fine. Things on my mind, you know.’
In the absence of their beloved Chairman and Leader of the Leeford Parish Council, John and Nick manage to sketch out a rough plan for the next Leeford fête. It is, in fact, the Second Leeford Village Fête, as last year’s was the first, and didn’t Frank Watson make a song and dance about that? It also lived up to its billing.
Agnes, believing that Meredith Park was pursuing Cody in the search for love, gave a fabulous rendition of the Dolly Parton classic, Jolene, and rendered it with great feeling. So much rendering that the majority of the attendees (fêtegoers? – as in festivalgoers?) believed every word. The word embarrassed didn’t come close to describing how Cody Thornton felt. Other events at the fête fared better, but the Leeford’s Best Cucumber competition had its moments of controversy.
All these thoughts whiz through the current vicar’s mind, and he is fully aware that he is the current vicar and soon won’t be. However, he has told no one (not even Hilda) that the bishop has given him another six weeks to think about it (in other words, ‘please don’t leave us, John’), during which time he can withdraw his letter of notice. Several things are making him think very hard, including the conversation he had with Simon Brown. What was it he said? John thinks. ‘You are the friendliest, most honest and caring person I have ever met. You help so many people… everybody loves you.’ What am I doing? Even the bishop has privately admitted to me he has had lapses of faith, saying things like ‘where is God just when you need him’ when a disaster hits somewhere in the world, or a terrorist has struck again. The bishop battles through it and carries on.
Nick brings him back again.
‘You’re not with us today, are you, John?’
‘Could we leave the preparation for today, Nick? It’s months away, and there are one or two things I need to sort out. People to see.’
‘Of course, John, of course.’
‘Peter. It’s Jessica. Could we meet for a chat?’
‘Sure. The Community Centre? What about today at two?’
‘Suits me. See you then.’
Jessica Townley and Peter Redman have had a difficult relationship. Never seeing eye-to-eye at the Marina Folk Club culminated in the infamous “Cosmic Dancer” incident. Folk music, or not folk music? That is the question. Jessica doesn’t attend “Singers’ Nights” so often now (mainly because of her responsibilities as a mom), although her club membership has been restored by reluctant Chairman / Club Secretary / M.C. who goes by the name of P. Redman Esq.
A plan hatched by Jessica and Ted had spectacularly backfired, but in the long run, it helped. For Jessica and Nick, baby Thomas is a joy, and the experience that Peter went through in the car – initially on the way to Birmingham but diverted to Banfield General – made him realise the importance of interpersonal relationships. Maybe it gave him an excuse to back down. Whatever his reasons, Jessica and Roberta (and the entire audience who had supported the girls) were reinstated after being banned, and Jessica made the magnanimous gesture of offering to play contemporary / indie folk, country, with the odd blues and acoustic number thrown in, with an unwritten rule that states, no out-and-out ‘pop’, rap, grunge or heavy rock.
‘Hi, Jess – how’s Thomas?’
‘Lovely – he’s just through here with his dad. Learning the ropes, I shouldn’t wonder.’
‘Listen, Jess, we’re okay, aren’t we?’
‘Water under the bridge. We all learnt a lesson, and I’m sorry for what I put you through, although you, Ted and Frank were brilliant. I’ll always be grateful.’
‘Thanks. That means a lot. Anyway, what is it you want to discuss?’
‘I want to organise a folk festival for the summer. John Peterson has already offered the use of the vicarage garden. Arjun Bandra has offered to fund it - equipment hire, staging, the lot.’
‘Sounds great. I would offer the club facilities, but as you know we’re closed through the summer. Having the roof done, anyway. That will take a month at least. And the heating system needs an upgrade.’
‘I’d heard about that, but I’d like you to be involved. Would you be M.C.?’
‘Well, what did you hear at the Council meeting?’
‘Stephen, we need to call an emergency Parish Council meeting. Banfield Council has received Government funding for road building, part of their Let’s Level out the Country election pledge.’
‘What’s this got to do with us?’
‘Prepare yourself for this. Banfield is planning a bypass that would connect the A449 through to Central and East Banfield.’
‘Yes, Stephen, something’s got to go; there will be a significant widening of the road.’
‘Have you seen the draft plans?’
‘I have. Luckily for us, my house, opposite the market, the Cross pub and this station are all saved, although we will have at least nine months of disruption. The estate agents, the new opticians, Billy’s Café and most of the market area will go, as would the Oxfam shop and Community Centre.’
For once, Frank, I agree with you. We have to do something – maybe a petition. I’ll round up the councillors for an emergency meeting.’