Previously in Leeford Village: Ethel is distraught about her best friend, Clara, leaving the village. Vera plans to wind up the lads over the Weston trip. After teasing Simon, John Peterson informs him that he has decided to stay on as vicar. David Ward writes off Allen’s £20,000 debt, but he doesn’t want to be his friend. Frank prepares for the most important Parish Council meeting of his life.
‘Right girls, are we all in agreement?’
‘I’m not sure, Vera. What does it matter if the lads go on a trip together, without us?’
‘Agnes, you of all people should want to keep an eye on your bloke…’
‘What do you mean by that?’ interrupts Agnes, throwing a scowl at Vera.
‘Well, I, you know…’
Sally Coleman, hosting the meeting in the back room while her ‘better half’ is manning the bar, has had enough.
‘Why are we squabbling? We don’t want to go to Weston with the men, do we?’
‘Well…’ says Agnes.
‘I don’t!’ states Vera. ‘I just want a bit of fun winding them up. I’ve already paid my twenty quid. It’ll be worth it. They’re talking about nothing else in the bar.’
This triggers a muttering among the unofficial assembly of Leeford womenfolk. Sally takes over again.
‘I’ve spoken to everyone. I know that Vera has committed cash, but most of you want to be more cautious. I say that we tell George we will pay on the day as we board the coach. All agreed?’
There’s a grumble from Vera, but a loud assent from the others. Seven women are eventually in agreement – Vera, Sally, Agnes, Mel, Violet, Tricia and Lucy.
‘So, what happens when we board the coach?’ asks Violet Taylor.
‘Good question,’ says Sally. ‘We wait till all the men are on board. One of us could wait round the corner pretending to be late, and we say we want to get on the coach together, all of us holding our twenty-pound notes – except Vera, of course – and at the last second, we don’t get on.’
‘Is that it?’ queries Vera.
‘What do you suggest, Vera?’ says Sally. ‘We’re not at war, but I have enjoyed seeing Ted squirm when I mention what we will be getting up to when we reach Weston.’
Parish Council meetings in Leeford Village are known to be dull affairs, and no one can claim that anything important has ever been decided. Cody Thornton, local chippy provider, and Ken Taylor, local farmer, were once overheard after a particularly dreary gathering of the great and the good of the village.
‘Riveting, eh, Ken?’
‘Won’t need my doxylamine tonight…’
‘You know, Cody, them tablets that our Violet makes me take.’
‘You want to watch that, mate. Have you checked your will lately?’ sneers Cody.
‘You know what, Cody?’
‘What’s that, mate?’
‘The last two minutes with you have been more exciting than the two wasted hours we’ve just spent listening to old Watson droning on.’
‘Thanks, pal, bet you say that to all the girls.’
Dull and dreary may be the norm, but this is not the case tonight. Frank, in his inimitable way, has spent hours preparing himself for this meeting, and years preparing for the moment when he, Frank Watson Esq, fights for something real. Something important. This is Frank’s moment.
‘I call this meeting to order.’
The gavel falls onto the sound block, causing most of the attendees to jump – just a little – out of their seats; just enough for Frank to notice the impact he has on his councillors, and it is noticeable how many members resent this. In the event, no one has time to reflect on their level of irritation with the Chairman, as he launches into his speech.
‘Some of you may have heard the news. We’re not talking about Afghanistan or the storms in the States; we’re not talking about our local football teams. We’re talking about Leeford Village…’
A few gasps from Frank’s rapt audience provoke a pause from the man who is not easily interrupted when in full flow. A short pause. Just for a moment. The effect is striking. He’s learnt a bit about rhetoric from the 1980s politicians he had followed with a religious fervour.
‘Yes, our very own village is under siege. Banfield Council has received the Government funding for development they had applied for over a year ago. They haven’t revealed where and how the money will be spent. Good news, I hear you say. It could be, but wait until I tell you what they are proposing to do.’
A loud cough from Ken Taylor causes Frank to look across to the back of the room. Everyone around Ken glares at him. Frank continues, unruffled.
‘They plan to build a bypass connecting the A449 to East Banfield.’
He lets that sink in. A ‘what…’ from Cody is interrupted by the Chairman, who is now unstoppable.
‘You may well ask. There will be a significant widening of the road…’
‘Hang on, Frank,’ states David Ward, not known for speaking on these occasions. ‘Isn’t the definition of a bypass something that goes round a town?’
‘Of course, David,’ he replies, ‘and this bypass won’t touch Central Banfield – the town centre – but it just demonstrates how low we are on their list of priorities. To them, we are nothing. Dispensable, brushed aside. That’s what we are.’
‘As the road is widened, all the units from Billy’s Café to the road will go, and the Community Centre on the East Banfield Road will be no more. Into Market Street, the Oxfam shop will disappear.’
‘What are we going to do, Frank?’ asks Cody.
‘We will fight them.’
‘What with?’ shouts Ken.
‘With our history, our people, our strengths as villagers.’
Frank takes a deep breath, preparing himself for his conclusion. This is not the time for details – that’s for another day. This is the stuff of headlines.
‘We will fight them in the market; we will fight them on the East Banfield Road; we will fight them in the Community Centre car park. We will never surrender.’
‘Jack, it’s my garden, or rather it’s owned by the church. Why can’t you show me where you’re going to bury it?’
The Revd John Peterson searches Jack’s face for clues. Anything that would reveal his intentions, his inner thoughts, but Jack has never been considered an open book. Jack Simmons, best known for the pub’s Pound Challenge, has volunteered to set up one of the activities for the village fête. His brief – to create a treasure hunt the like of which no one has witnessed before. Calling in a favour from a friend who works at Birmingham University, he has managed to obtain an extended loan of the artefact originally found buried in a garden in Green Crescent – the infamous helmet.
‘How will it work, Jack?’
‘Simple, Vicar. I will bury the helmet in the vicarage garden, then I’ll place forty of these little numbered flags…’
‘Forty?’ interrupts a flustered John.
‘Do you think we need more?’
‘No!’ shouts the vicar.
‘Sorry, Reverend, have I upset you?’
‘No, no, sorry Jack, but why so many?’
‘As I was trying to say, I will place the forty numbered flags in your garden, with only one of them denoting the location of the artefact.’
‘Precisely, Vicar. Everyone will pay £5 per go, with the flags being numbered 1 to 40.’
‘And they win a prize if the helmet is buried under their flag,’ says John.
‘You’re catching on. They will sell easily, and all we need is a kind benefactor to donate a prize.’
‘So they won’t win the helmet?’
‘Good God, no … sorry Vicar … no, the helmet’s got to go back to the university. It’s going on display for the local history students to study.’
‘I see,’ says the vicar.
‘So we can dig up your garden, then?’
‘I suppose so. Now, Jack, I must get over to the church.’
‘I understand, Vicar – a working day for you, isn’t it? I’ll start digging once you’ve gone. I’d rather you didn’t see where it’s buried. We don’t want people crying “cheat,” do we?’
‘I will conclude my sermon today with two points. One, a thought to take away with you, and the other, an announcement.’
Even the sleepiest members of the congregation look up at the Revd. John Peterson in anticipation. Got them, he thinks.
‘The announcement first, perhaps. You will have heard rumours, and, I fear, most of them are true. Yes, I did hand in my notice to the bishop, but I have decided that I cannot possibly leave this wonderful community. I’m afraid you’re stuck with me, and I am very much looking forward to spending time with you at this year’s fête.’
A spontaneous round of applause almost knocks John off his feet. Unexpected, but nonetheless very welcome. As the congregation settles, he returns to his theme for today – love, in difficult circumstances.
‘Some of you have experienced difficulties in your relationships; some close to divorce. I say this to you. Dig in, forgive them, try again, and remember why you first fell in love with your partner.’
A few rumblings and mutterings from the back of the church.
‘And now, hymn number 363 – Back to the cold world I will not go.’
As the organ fires into life, Agnes turns to Ethel.
‘Wonder what he means by “cold world”?’
Ethel nudges Agnes’ arm, her eyes pointing to Mel and Steve, two rows in front.
‘Dig in and forgive them?’ Ethel whispers.
‘When did she first fall in love with the doctor?’ replies Agnes, in a similar whispered tone.