Previously in Leeford Village: The coach driver insists that the lads make up the shortfall caused by the ladies before he is prepared to set off for Weston. Vera drags Frank Watson into the girls’ party at The Cross. Derek asks Agnes to go home and tell Cody about Jasmine and their desperate need for the money. After all their problems at the start of the journey, Ted reveals that he has left the crates of beer in the car park.
‘What do you mean, you left them in the car park?’
‘The crates, Sally. Four of the blighters. I should have put them in the luggage hold.’
‘Ted, simple question – why didn’t you?’
Standing behind the bar in The Cross, she taps her index finger on the countertop as the other women giggle. They know exactly what Ted has done. Or rather, what he hasn’t done.
‘I forgot. You know – we got caught up in that game you were playing. The practical joke!’
‘Well, it was quite funny, Ted, you must admit.’
‘Sally, just help me.’
His grip on the mobile phone tightens.
‘How can I help?’ she asks.
‘Could you bring them in the car? There’s no way the driver’s going to turn round. He’s a funny bloke.’
‘Okay, Ted. I do feel a bit responsible. Tell me which motorway service station you’re at and I’ll come over. I’ll get a couple of the girls to help.’
‘Service station? We’re not on the M5.’
‘What do you mean? How else are you getting to Weston?’
‘A-roads. Our driver “doesn’t do motorways”. We’re on the A38. We haven’t reached Bromsgrove yet.’
‘You’re right. He is a funny bloke. So, where are you?’
The first punch is thrown as Ted presses ‘end call’. Suptra Singh falls backwards, landing on the ample frame of butcher, Nigel Cleeve. Winded, Nigel is unable to complain, but he instinctively strikes out at the first target that presents itself. Ken Taylor. Not a good choice. He jumps onto Nigel and attempts to strangle him. Professor Brian Cox would love this. Nothing theoretical about this chaos.
‘Oi! You’re in charge, aren’t you?’ the driver shouts at Cody. ‘Stop them. They’ll damage me coach!’
Cody has never been accused of being in charge of anything other than his beloved chip shop, but he quickly learns the art of delegation and enlists a couple of lieutenants in the shape of Constable Gary Carr and Ted Coleman, both used to drunken brawls. The difference with this particular brawl is a distinct lack of sufficient source material with which the occupants of the coach could reach the state of drunkenness.
‘Stop it!’ screams Cody, as Gary and Ted separate the brawlers. As much as anything else, the sheer height of the pitch of Cody’s shriek brings the bellicose proceedings to a halt.
‘Right, Ken, sit at the back where you belong.’
‘He started it,’ grumbles the bad-tempered farmer.
‘Sorry, Ken,’ whimpers Nigel. ‘Not sure what got into me.’
Suptra, prostrate between two seats, holding his face, slowly gets to his feet.
‘Him!’ he spits, pointing at Steve Adams.
‘What do you expect after what you’ve done?’ replies the apparently wronged husband.
Ted, Gary and Cody enlist the good Dr Roberts, the Reverend Peterson and Nick Allthorpe as able deputies. Once appointed, their job is to keep the antagonists apart. For now. They all sit quietly for at least fifteen minutes, some nursing a variety of bumps and bruises, everyone aware precisely (if not condoning such action) why Steve has decided to plant his fist on Suptra’s jaw.
‘She’s here!’ shouts Ted, shattering the peace.
It takes a moment or two for the lads to realise that refreshments are at hand.
‘Funny this, eh Ken?’ says Cody, glancing to his right.
‘A natural process, but not necessarily amusing. What do you mean?’
‘Well for the first time since we boarded the coach early this morning, I’m actually pleased that the girls stayed in Leeford.’
‘Pleased? It cost us,’ snaps Ken.
‘I mean, well… at least we can have a wee in comfort.’
The look that Ken gives him as he tidies himself and moves away from the hedge cannot easily be described, but incredulity would not be far from the mark.
‘All set, lads?’ shouts Ted Coleman, trying to wrestle authority from the chip shop back to the village pub.
‘Hang on, Ted!’ bellows Ken. ‘The driver’s gone without us!’
Sure enough, the coach slowly slips away from the lay-by and smoothly cruises down the A38, closely followed by a black van.
‘How could he do this to us?’ says Nick.
‘I want my money back!’ shouts Ken.
‘Do what to who?’ says the driver, zipping up his flies. ‘What are you talking…’
Unable to complete his sentence, the driver goes into the type of shock reserved for those of us who have experienced our precious vehicle being driven away by someone else without permission.
‘Me blummin’ coach!’
‘Someone’s nicked it!’ declares Cody.
‘Full marks for stating the bleedin’ obvious,’ retorts George Owens.
‘I’ll phone Stephen,’ says Gary, grateful that the Leeford Village police station is at least one local institution that has stayed open for the ‘Weston Event’.
‘Driver, phone your company and tell them what’s happened,’ instructs Ted. ‘You’ll have to get them to send another coach out, pronto. We’ve paid and we’re stranded.’
The new driver supplied by the coach company (together with a nice new coach) does do motorways. A loud cheer goes up when he announces, ‘the next stop will be at Michaelwood Services between junctions thirteen and fourteen.’
Never has a driver’s announcement been greeted with such effervescent enthusiasm. It is, however, ably assisted by the significant amount of lubrication that has been supplied since the arrival of the four crates. For The Cross regulars, they will forever be known as The Four Crates of Ted. Of course, the original Four Crates of Ted have been lost to the criminal fraternity in the first coach, but they soon find ample replacements – assisted by Mr Driver who is well acquainted with most of the taverns in and around the A38 / M5 area of the Midlands.
‘Are we there yet, Ted?’ quips Zack for the fifth time.
‘Say that once more and I’ll forget that (a) your dad’s here, and (b) that he’s a man of the cloth, and give you a good slap.’
‘I’m not looking, Ted, if you need to mete punishment onto the fruit of my loins,’ says the man of the cloth. ‘Ooh,’ says Jason, thinking again about some juicy lines for his novel. Loins, I like it, he thinks. I’ll make a note of that. His mind drifts to what he calls ‘quasi-homophones’. What’s my loin? says Eamonn Andrews. He is snapped out of his reverie by Nigel Cleeve.
‘I can do you a nice piece of loin for a couple of quid – mates rates – next time you’re in my shop.’
‘Thanks, Nigel, but let’s get on, eh?’ says Ted, wearily. Kids, he thinks.
They soon reach the services, and, fed and watered, they prepare to set off on the last leg of the journey.
‘Roll call!’ shouts Ted, once again grappling control from Cody. George and Jason couldn’t control this lot, he thinks.
‘Driver, give me two minutes, please.’
Receiving the nod from the driver, who, incidentally, has the surname ‘Driver’ (Ken resists calling him “Betty” or “Minnie” when he sees him rise to his full height), Ted starts the roll call.
‘George.’ The response,‘Yes, Ted.’
‘Jason.’ The same response, and he continues to run through the list, ticking them off on his hastily-constructed, makeshift clipboard (“Hello” magazine).
Everyone present, except for Steve and Suptra.
‘Good grief,’ exclaims Ted. ‘what the hell are they doing? Cody, John, Gary – with me!’
The impromptu second posse of the day leap one by one down the coach steps and run into the Welcome Break establishment, expecting to see copious amounts of blood on the floor. What they actually see is Steve and Suptra sharing a reconciliatory flat white. Steve explains.
‘Suptra’s told me everything. He and Mel had a moment, but nothing happened. I’m still hurt and angry, but who can blame the bloke – my Mel is gorgeous!’
‘Right,’ says Ted, ‘get in that bloody coach. We are going to Weston!’
Junction twenty-one takes them down the A370 to their target destination. The driver sweeps down to the south of the town, to come in on the one-way Marine Parade. Mainly lined spaces for cars, but Driver has been here before, and they are soon parked, day ticket paid, ready for action.
‘Where do we start then, lads? The beach?’ Cries of ‘Oh Ted!’ ring out. Cody and Zack have collaborated in some Google searches.
The conclusion of this research – The George and Dragon, Observatory, Landing Light, Weston Brewers Fayre, The Dolphin and The Duke of Oxford.
‘Crackin’ names for pubs,’ says Ken.
‘They do proper food as well,’ says Cody, ‘not just a crusty old pickle sandwich like some we could mention.’
‘I’ll have you know that Sally introduced her Lasagne Special last week, ’grizzles Ted.
‘I know,’ says Ken, ‘I tried it.’
‘Come on lads,’ jumps in Jason, ‘this isn’t getting any babies washed. Let’s start at the George and Dragon. We trust Zack and Cody, don’t we?’
Silence, but the coach soon empties, leaving Driver to check for damages.
‘Coming with us, er, Driver?’
‘No, it’s okay, enjoy yourselves.’
‘Ted, they won’t be open for another half an hour,’ pipes up Zack. ‘Why don’t we have a look on the pier? What do you say?’
‘Okay, lads, the pier it is!’
‘Hang on, Ted,’ says Jeremy Roberts, ‘haven’t we forgotten something?’
‘What’s that, Jeremy?’
‘Weren’t we supposed to be meeting Edward Palmer down here somewhere? Who arranged it with him?’
‘That’ll be me,’ says Suptra, meekly.
‘Where are we meeting him?’ says Steve with a barb.
‘Somewhere on the front,’ says Suptra, who seems to be shrinking into an imaginary shell.
‘Flamin’ marvellous,’ says Ken. ‘It’s a flippin’ long seafront. We’d better make a start!’