EPISODE 40 - THE BIG DAY ARRIVES
by Michael Braccia and Jon Markes
Frank Watson esq has been conspicuous by his absence. His appearance at the ‘Cucumber Prize’ stall is not exactly a surprise to the residents of the village, but a few of his closer associates have started to wonder if the metaphorical flag of residence would ever be hoisted up Frank’s flagpole again. But he’s here now, proudly displaying what he considers to be the best banner at the fête.
‘Leeford Village Prize Cucumber Competition’ it boasts. Rumour has it the owner of a small printing company in East Banfield had made a spelling mistake in his first effort. Predictive text gets everywhere these days, but Megan, Frank’s daughter, had her work cut out to pacify her father after he was presented with ‘Leeford Village Privy Cucumber Competition’.
Frank imagined the comments by the regulars of the Cross – the men he considers to be ‘friends’ (unfortunately not reciprocated) – and cringed at the very thought of facing Cody, Jack, Roy, Ted, Percy, and particularly Ken.
‘We have to keep ‘em in the loo then, Frank?’ he would say.
‘Alright if we get caught short while we’re tending to our cucumbers,’ Cody would chime in.
Frank, however, did spot the error, so all is well.
‘He’s here, Jason,’ whispers Cody.
‘Your brother. He’s coming over. I’ll make myself scarce.’
George, looking much slimmer than when Jason last saw him, stands beside him and nods.
‘George. Oh, hang on, the vicar’s about to open the fête alongside Frank.’
‘When I first came to Leeford, someone told me there had never been a village fête. Hilda and I have had great pleasure in helping to set up the stalls in our garden, and I’ve enjoyed being part of the Parish Council.’
A barely audible noise emanates from the area occupied by Nick and Jessica. A few heads turn, wondering if there would be a repeat of the ‘Harrumph’ once made famous by Anthony Buckeridge’s Mr Wilkins, that almost, but not quite, throws the Reverend John Peterson off his stride.
‘I Promised Frank that I wouldn’t preach, but I would like to read the lines of a text I discovered some forty years ago in something called “600 Magazine”, about the six most important words in our language. They are: “I admit that I made a mistake”.’
‘That’s seven,’ mutters Nick, attracting a frown from Jessica.
‘When we are dealing with people, we must also remember the five most important words: “You did a good job”.’
Frank’s expression, as he shuffles from one foot to the other, is not exactly a glare – more of a scowl – and a mind-reader would hear him say ‘is this about me, John? How dare you!’ The vicar continues:
‘The four most important words are: “what is your opinion?” The three most important are: “if you please”. The two most important: “thank you”.
Finally, the least important word is “I”. Something to think about?’
A pause from Rev. Peterson, then an intake of breath from the audience as he concludes:
‘Food for thought, but, moving on, it gives me great pleasure to open the very first Leeford Village Annual Fête. I will now hand you over to Frank who will tell you all about the stalls and various events, including music!’
Meanwhile, the entries for the Leeford Village Prize Cucumber Competition have been placed on Frank’s stall. He returns from announcing the running order for the day to find an array of what can only be described as pathetic specimens. As with all statements in the English language, it has to be said there is invariably an exception. In this case, Vera Cleeve provides the exception with a cucumber that could not possibly have been grown in the six weeks since the competition was announced in the Cross. Frank knows only too well that one needs a minimum of fifty days with plenty of water and tender loving care to achieve a specimen the length of a standard school ruler. Vera’s is twice that length.
‘But I knew that marrows wouldn’t be on the agenda after last year’s debacle. I used my brain and anticipated what you would do, Frank.’
‘Sorry, Vera, I’m afraid I have to disqualify you. Twenty-four inches is not possible in six weeks. It’s anatomic... er, horticulturally, well you know, darned impossible.’
‘I’m lodging a protest!’ she shouts.
‘Who to?’ replies Frank.
‘The Head Judge, arbiter, whoever!’
‘Well, you’ve come to the right place. That’s me!’
‘Frank Watson, you are the one who’s impossible, not my cucumber. You won’t find me entering your competition next year.’
As Vera flounced away from the stall, Ken Taylor stepped forward, smiling.
‘Ten inches, Frank. There’s nothing here to beat it, is there? The trophy’s mine!’
‘I need evidence that your entry is home grown. Anyway, what’s this next to yours?’
Roy has placed his effort next to Ken’s potential champion. Everyone takes a step forward - Cody, Percy, George, Clara, Edward and Suptra. Frank’s eyes appear to glaze over.
‘It’s my cucumber, Frank,’ says Roy.
Ted and Percy look at each other.
‘Sorry Roy,’ says Percy, ‘that ain’t no cucumber, old pal.’
‘What is it, then?’
Frank, with more important matters to deal with, does what he is good at. He makes a decision. Dispensing with the formalities of documentary evidence to prove Ken’s worthiness as Prize Cucumber Champion, he announces that Ken Taylor, farmer of this parish, is indeed the new King of the Cucumbers.
‘To the victor the spoils!’ Ken declares.
‘Drinks on me at Ted’s Soft Drinks and Nibbles Stall.’
Trophy awarded, handshake speedily given, Frank shuts the stall and makes a beeline for the main stage. He’s got something to say, and he needs a microphone.
‘Nigel. Have you got it?’
‘No idea what you’re talking about, Greg.’
‘Thirty grand. We had a deal.’
‘I didn’t agree to anything. I heard what you said, but as far as I’m concerned, you can get stuffed. That’s Mandy’s money. We’re partners in the business. Do what you have to do, Withall.’
Greg takes a step forward, pushing Nigel into the tent that has been constructed to protect their supply of pies and pasties. As Nigel falls to the ground, Greg kicks out, catching his victim behind the left knee. The music blaring out across the vicar’s garden masks the cry of pain emanating from Nigel’s lips. He feels that a knife has seared through the tendons and he instinctively rolls into the foetal position while Withall aims a second slug to his lower back. As Withall attempts to grab Nigel by the arms to haul him to his feet, Jason Owens appears to his left.
‘Leave him, Withall.’
George, his brother, is standing by his side.
‘I can take you both on. You look like you couldn’t go three rounds with a ten-year-old and you’re only just out of hospital. Anyway, I thought you were sworn enemies!’
‘Never mind that, Withall,’ spits George.
‘I will stand by my brother whatever the circumstances. Take him on and you’ll have me to deal with.’
A shrug of the shoulders from Greg, and as he moves towards George, a voice calls out:
Cody enters the tent, followed by Ted, Jack, Adam and Nick.
‘Want to take us all on, you slimy toad?’ roars Ted.
‘Tell you what’s going to happen. You’re going to forget your thirty grand, get out of Leeford and never come back.’
Everyone knows that when Ted says something, he means it.
‘You can’t speak to me like that. I’m breaking no laws. It’s my money.’
‘Couldn’t give a monkey’s,’ says Sergeant Stephen Miller as his joins his friends in what is now a very cramped space.
‘You can do what you like, Withall, and you can report me to my superiors if you want, but if you so much as breathe on any Leeford resident from this moment, I’ll break your legs. Don’t worry, we all know what you’re trying to do. Nigel and Mandy are our friends. Threaten all you like. You’re finished here. Now, get out!’
As he brushes past Stephen, Nigel lunges at him, swings his right fist and connects with the back of Greg’s shaven head.
‘Leave my family alone!’
Withall thinks better of retaliating, and slinks away to leave the fête, battered and defeated.
‘If I could have your attention. You will be aware that, based on false information from, er, a certain party, the first Leeford Day celebrations were curtailed.’
A few sniggers and coughs cause Frank to pause.
‘I have carried out extensive research into this matter and was inspired to take this further after finding an old briefcase in my loft. The case belonged to Benjamin Watson, my grandfather. He held documents in the case that bear out some of the things that Howard Smithson told the care home manager.’
‘What’s that then, Frank?’ enquires Cody.
‘Exactly two hundred years ago today, the River Lee ran behind the ‘Crux Inn’, crossing what is now East Banfield Road. People called it the ‘Lee Ford’. I delved into the archives and found something truly amazing. In a letter from the Earl of Banfield, he invited King George IV to visit the town.’
‘Did he come here?’ asks Nick.
‘Actually, no, but instead he declared that the parks of Banfield were to be used by the King’s swans, making particular reference to the park near the Lee Ford, declaring the area as a village in its own right. The village of Leeford. I am proud to announce that today, the day of the first Leeford Village fête, is officially Leeford Day!’
The garden is filled with applause and the cheers of an appreciative audience. Frank Watson, for once, has got it right.