Previously in Leeford Village: Jack Simmons buries the ‘Leeford Helmet’ near the rose bush and doesn’t realise that Hilda wants John to tidy-up the garden. Jason and George fall out over the ladies infiltrating the Weston trip. David Ward is organising a petition to stop the bypass, Ken is using his ‘experience’ to deal with the media, Cody is planning a demonstration, and Ken wants to use newts to stop the diggers.
‘What, now?’ grunts Frank.
It isn’t often that anyone dares to phone Frank Watson before 9.00 a.m. ‘Grumpy’ doesn’t come close to the many descriptions of Leeford’s illustrious leader when any brave individuals have stepped over that particular line. No, people generally wait until 9.05 a.m., in the knowledge that Frank will have completed his daily routine of a three-mile constitutional, half an hour with the Daily Telegraph (that he has collected en route), breakfast, followed by coffee and biscuits at 8.45 a.m. So, it would surprise many villagers if they could hear the phone with its special ring – only ever heard at Watson H.Q., as Ken Taylor likes to describe Frank’s home. The sound of the Glasgow Massed Piped Band bellows from the speaker. Not so much the sound of the Glasgow Massed Piped Band that would surprise the villagers, more the reaction of the recipient of the telephone call once he realised who dares to dial his number at such an ungodly hour.
‘8.10 a.m.,’ sneers Frank, as if stating the time would make a difference when the telephone blares out for the third time. ‘Who on earth phones at 8.10 a.m.?’ he mutters to himself as he places the receiver to his right ear.
‘Frank? John Sotherby here.’
Any residual arrogance, irritation or anything else that Frank would usually display drains away as he hears those words.
John Sotherby, leader of Banfield Council, is held in the highest esteem by the Watson household, although the other resident, Frank’s daughter, has no idea who he is – she never listens to her father when he drones on about local politics. Frank, however, knows him well, and one would require the minimum of a step-ladder to reach the pedestal on which he holds John Sotherby M.B.E., who is aware how he is revered by the local village leader. Councillor Sotherby comes straight to the point.
‘Stop this stupid protest, Frank, and I will reward you with a position on Banfield Council. Half a dozen councillors retire next year, and I think we can find a way of getting support for your candidacy.’
‘He’s told me to pack my bags.’
‘Oh, Mel, I’m so sorry. Didn’t know Steve was like that.’
Agnes knows only too well how a straying spouse can cause an array of emotions – a desire for revenge, grief, anxiety and a feeling of being unloved. In her case, she knows that Cody has never stopped loving her, but a roving eye is a roving eye, and Cody – in Agnes’s mind – developed one when he hit his own mid-life crisis head-on.
‘You can stay with us for a few weeks if you like. Just till you’ve got yourself sorted.’
‘Have you got room?’
‘Adam’s living over at Meredith’s at the moment. I’ll ask him if we can clear some stuff out of his room. I’m sure he won’t mind. Steve is serious, is he?’
‘Deadly. And he wants to sort him out.’
‘Well, you haven’t denied going with him, have you?’
‘No, it was a sudden thing, but we just seemed to get on so well. Amazing, really. I didn’t think we had that much in common.’
‘Well…’ Agnes pauses for effect, ‘you have been his patient for years.’
Mel stares at Agnes for what seems like a whole minute, unsettling her friend.
‘Agnes, you don’t understand. The thing with Jeremy was over ages ago.’
‘It’s not the doctor?’
‘No, Steve understood that, and forgave me. Sort of.’
‘So, who is it then?’
‘It came out of the blue when I did some voluntary work at the Community Centre.’
‘Not Nick Allthorpe?’
‘Oh, no, he’s still madly in love with Jessica, and of course, they’ve got the baby.’
There is a pause as this new development sinks in. Agnes’s mind is in overdrive and, for once, she is unable to speak. This leaves space in the exchange for Mel to explain.
‘We sort of clicked when we worked together in the Community Centre kitchen…’
Partially recovered, Agnes struggles to find anything helpful or supportive to say.
‘I suppose it’s natural to bond over the washing and wiping up.’
After leaving Mel to consider taking up temporary residence in the flat above Leeford Plaice, Agnes moves onto the post office, cheerfully greeted by postmistress Pippa Philpotts. Agnes hands Pippa a ten-pound note to cover the cost of a book of second class stamps which she places in her bag, noticing her phone vibrating and flashing.
‘What is it, Cody?’
‘Where are you, love?’
Agnes, mid-gossip with Pippa – who has forgotten to give Agnes her change – transmits more than a little irritation with her husband via her pay-as-you-go phone.
‘When are you coming home?’ says Cody, adding a bite to his voice.
‘When I’ve finished at the post office. What can be so important?’
‘Not on the phone, Agnes. Just get home as soon as you can.’
After Ted’s run-in with local radio DJ Casper Connington, he worked with Frank during every training session in an attempt to get the best out of a team 15th in their league. With only fifteen teams in that league, they were ten points behind the Wolves 7th team, which finished a disappointing 14th place at the end of the season. Neither team, however, had to worry about relegation as they were in Division Eight of the Banfield and District Football League, affiliated to the Football Association - something Ted never fails to remind people of, as they stand in his bar at the Cross. To be clear, Ted reminds them that the team is affiliated to the F.A. and the clientele remind him that they are bottom of the lowest division available. Ted, a lifelong Wolves fan, has no sympathy for the Wolves 7th team. His team, Leeford Village, have their own problems.
‘What happens next, Ted?’ asks a worried Frank Reed, manager of a team in the eleven-a-side League Division Eight. They have only managed to actually field eleven players on two occasions, and that was when Ted joined as right wing-back, lasting only twenty minutes before wheezing off the field, telling Frank he needed a lie-down.
‘I’ve sorted it, Frank. After the debacle of being a six-a-side walking football team in a real eleven-a-side football league, I have finally managed to switch our registration in time for next season.’
‘Thank God for that.’
‘Just thank me, Frank. I did all the work.’
As Frank opens his mouth to speak, Ted jumps in.
‘I know, I know, it was my fault in the first place.’
‘Anyway, Ted, what is this I hear about the fête?’
‘Trust me to get it right this time, Frank. I’m planning a football skills demonstration for the fête.’
‘Football skills? Us?’ exclaims Frank.
‘You know – dribbling round those cones that George nicked from the roadworks, juggling, taking penalties. I think the lads are keen.’
‘They might be keen, Ted, but I wouldn’t have described them as skilful.’
Cody feels the atmosphere change as the key turns in the lock. Like an icy Siberian wind, the arrival of Agnes after being summoned via mobile phone notches the temperature down. Just a bit.
‘What is so urgent that it can’t wait till later?’
‘Well, love, it is important. Anyway, we’re opening in two hours. People won’t wait for their battered cod and large portion of chips.’
‘I’ll give you a large portion in a minute!’
Ignoring Agnes’s last comment, not risking a cheeky retort, in the full knowledge it would make her mood even worse, he forced himself to come straight to the point. Well, almost.
‘It’s like this. Oh, sit down, please, Agnes. Try and concentrate.’
‘I’ve got things to do. The shopping won’t put itself away, there’s the bank account to reconcile, forms to fill in for the Council. You don’t like doing that and always blame it on me when it’s wrong or late!’
‘I know, Agnes, but just this once, come and sit down.’
She eventually concedes and settles herself into her favourite armchair.
‘On the sofa, next to me,’ he tells her.
She stifles what sounds like a developing grrumph and sits to his left. He takes her hands, proposal-style, and coughs.
‘Right. What it is, and I’ve been bursting to tell you this all day. I’ve had a big win on the Premium Bonds!’
‘Is that it?’
‘What do you mean?’ he says, looking hurt.
‘Remember the last time? Fifty pounds, wasn’t it? You managed to wheedle your way back into the flat.’
‘Well, we’re together, aren’t we?
‘Cody, how much?
He takes a deep breath.