Previously in Leeford Village: The ladies of Leeford gather to discuss their scheme to wind up the men who are going on the trip to Weston-Super-Mare. Frank chairs an emergency Parish Council meeting and makes a Churchillian commitment to oppose Banfield Council’s plan to build the bypass that will affect the Village. Revd. Peterson gives Jack permission to bury the infamous ‘Leeford Helmet’ in the vicarage garden, before announcing to his congregation that he is to remain as vicar of Leeford.
Jack Simmons, as well as being a walking dictionary of famous quotations (which comes in useful when he needs to extract a few pounds from the pockets of the regulars at the Cross who are foolish enough to play the Pound Challenge), is proud of his ability to think logically. When he announced his plan to bury the infamous ‘Leeford Helmet’ for the Find the Treasure Game at the upcoming fête in the garden of the vicarage, Cody Thornton scoffed at the idea.
‘It’ll be easy to find Jack. Just look for where the ground has been recently dug.’
Jack had anticipated this objection and smiled a knowing smile.
‘That’s where you’re wrong, Cody. I’m burying the treasure weeks before the fête, so that by the time the grass has grown and been mowed a few times, no one will know it has ever been disturbed.’
It was impossible to argue with this, so the conversation moved on quickly, leaving Jack with a warm glow of satisfaction, which he feels now as he walks across the Vicarage lawn to select a suitable spot in which to bury the treasure. At the bottom of the garden stands a large oak tree, a suitable reference point, thinks Jack. He looks around him and notices a rather forlorn and isolated looking rose bush to his left. In his mind, he pictures a line running from the tree and another from the bush. Where the two meet is where Jack drives his spade into the ground. Half an hour later he has successfully buried the treasure, replaced the turf almost exactly and triple-checked his position between the tree and the rose bush. Even now it is difficult to see where Jack had dug; he has scattered the ejected soil among the flower borders and stamped down the grass as any caring golfer might. Perfect, he thinks and makes his way back to the village
Jason Owens is sitting in the corner of the Cross’s lounge, nursing the pint he bought at least an hour ago, when his brother, George arrives. George buys his drink and another for Jason and sits down opposite.
‘Why so glum my dear brother?’
Jason eyes the second pint, looking much fresher than the first.
‘Oh, you know, this and that.’
George takes a sip of his beer.
‘I know neither. Give me ‘this’ first.’
Jason pushes the first pint to the end of the table and takes a long drink from the second.
‘It’s not just Vera, now.’
‘What do you mean?’
‘Going on the trip. There are seven more.’
George coughs mid-gulp.
‘Seven? How did you let this happen, Jason?’
‘I didn’t let it happen. It just, er, happened.’
George shakes his head.
‘This is not going to go down well with the lads.’
Jason takes another swig of beer.
‘They already know. Well, Ted does at least.’
George looks over to Ted, eavesdropping from the bar. Ted shrugs his shoulders.
‘Can’t they get a minibus, or something?’ offers George.
Jason shakes his head.
‘They’re adamant. They say they drink here and have a right to go on any outing.’
‘A men’s outing, Jason. Men’s.’ George is becoming increasingly agitated.
‘Come on, George. It’s not Jason’s fault,’ says Ted, sympathetically.
‘Oh, it is, Ted. He’s not tough enough. Always been his problem. Even when we were kids,’ says George, pointing his finger at Jason. ‘I bet secretly he’s loving the fact that the women are going! He’s too much of a wuss to go on a men’s outing.’
Jason rises, knocking over all three half-full glasses.
‘Woah,’ says Ted, coming from behind the bar.
‘You two have only recently made up. Don’t fall out again over this!’
Jason and George stare at each other for a while, before George shakes his head and leaves the Cross.
Ted whips a glass cloth from over his arm and wipes the table.
‘Brotherly love, eh, Jason?’
Jason grunts. ‘I’m done with him. I’d sooner Vera come on the trip than him!’
Ted laughs. ‘Do you really mean that, Jason?’
Frank Watson is eating his porridge the day after the Parish Council meeting. It had gone well and ended with a feeling of esprit de corps and it was clear (to Frank, anyway) that he was the de facto leader of the campaign to stop the bypass. He has allocated tasks to some of the other councillors. David Ward is organising a formal petition to be signed by everyone in the village (plus a few ‘extras’) and forwarded to the local MP, Cody Thornton is to organise a demonstration outside Banfield Council’s offices and Ken Taylor is to liaise with local media and, if necessary, national TV, about which he has some knowledge, having once been in the audience of a televised poker tournament.
The phone rings. It’s Ken Taylor.
‘What can I do for you, Ken,’ asks Frank, cheerily.
‘Newts!’ is Ken’s reply.
Frank puts down his spoon and leans back in his chair.
‘Yes, Frank. At the exact spot where the bypass is to be built, there is a family of great crested newts, the biggest and rarest in England.’
Frank stirs his porridge.
‘Talking of newts, Ken, you haven’t been drinking, have you?’
‘What do you mean? Of course not. At this time of day?’
‘Just a thought. Carry on.’
‘As I was saying, there’s a family of great crested newts that are nesting right where the bypass is planned to run.’
‘Well, they can’t build where there is a newt habitat. Several major government projects have had to be diverted in the past, I’ve seen it in the papers.’
Frank ponders this for a moment.
‘Where, exactly are these newts. Ken?’
There is silence at the other end of the line.
‘Ken? Are you still there?’
‘I’ll ask again. Where exactly are these newts?’
‘They could be anywhere.’
Frank shakes his head. Ken exasperates him at the best of times, but his exasperation has just been elevated to a new level.
‘I’m hesitant in asking this, Ken, but what do you mean by ‘anywhere’?’
‘Wherever we put them!’
‘You mean, they are not there at the moment.’
‘No, but they could be, couldn’t they. There’s a pet shop in Banfield that sells them, or at least something like them.’
Frank sighs a deep, resigned sigh.
‘Let me get this straight. We buy some newts, rehouse them in the path of the bypass and report this to the council?’
‘Exactly that, Frank. I’m glad we’re on the same wavelength!’
Frank’s next statement comes out a little more forceful than he intended.
‘We’re not on the same wavelength! Not at all! Do you really think we can go and buy a family of domesticated newts, put them in the middle of Leeford Village, then tell them this is their new home and that they must stay here until they see a yellow JCB bearing down on them, at which point they should jump up and complain that their habitat is being destroyed?’ Frank stops just before his lungs run out of air.
‘Something along those lines, yes. Great idea, isn’t it?’
‘I suggest you have a good think about this, Ken. Maybe while you’re hugging a tree.’
The call ends before Ken can say ‘tree’.
Hilda Peterson is looking out of the window of the Vicarage. While she was supportive of her husband John’s wish to resign his post as vicar, she is pleased that they are now staying in the house she has loved since the first time she set eyes on it. And, now they are staying, she has noticed that the house has become somewhat shabby and in need of repair. She looks out across the garden. Neither she nor John have had time to spend in the garden and their son, Zack, isn’t interested in anything to do with getting his hands dirty. John joins her at the window.
‘It’s lovely isn’t it,’ he says, putting his arm around Hilda’s waist. ‘Just like you!’
‘And, just like me, it could do with a bit of a facelift.’
‘Nonsense, my love! Well, in your case at any rate. I agree about the garden and it shall be my next project. I’ve a couple of days free, so I’ll start in the morning.’
Hilda bites her bottom lip in thought as she scans the lawn.
‘You can start by getting rid of that hideous rose bush.’
‘The one on the left. It’s never done any good. I don’t think anyone will miss it.’
John tries not to betray his thought that removing the bush will be one huge job involving very deep roots and prickly branches. The gap resulting from the removal of the bush will then need to be covered with turf.
‘I agree. It’ll be gone tomorrow.’
Hilda kisses him on the cheek.
‘Oh, John. I’ve been meaning to ask. What was Jack Simmons doing in the garden, earlier?’