EPISODE 51 - HYSTERICAL INTEREST
by Michael Braccia and Jon Markes
‘This is better than watching a stand-up comedian.’
‘What is, Lucy?’ snaps a flustered Mel Adams.
‘Standing in this queue. All I want is a book of stamps, and I get a pantomime thrown in for free. Just listen…’
‘Oh yes,’ says Pippa, almost at a pitch that only dogs and GCHQ could hear.
‘Well, who did tell the University, then?’ asks Agnes.
Pippa’s face contorts in a manner only a mother could love. She has a reputation for what can best be described as ‘over-excitedness’. This can manifest itself in squeaks and squeals that threaten to either attract or repel the small scuttling mammals of the village - depending on the key in which the pitch is set. Too high, and any carbon-based being with a reasonable mental defence mechanism will scamper for the escape hatches. Or make for the hills. Too low, and vermin of all varieties are likely to consider Leeford Village as a viable alternative to the Weser River. No such occurrence today, but Agnes wants more information, and Pippa – regardless of the burgeoning queue that threatens to swamp the Post Office – is prepared to supply it. No charge. Lucy, unlike an impatient Mel Adams, is only too happy to stand and strain her listening organs to the limit.
‘It was Frank Watson what told them.’
‘Told them what, Pippa?’ enquires Agnes, rapt like she’s never been rapt before, with a facial expression akin to a prosecution barrister.
‘He told them that the find in Green Crescent was of hysterical interest.’
Lucy nearly swallows the chewing gum with which she has been battling since entering the – compared to the main office in Banfield – Lilliputian floor of Pippa’s domain.
‘Another thing,’ continues Pippa – now on a roll – ‘I heard Stephen Miller talking about Frank.’
‘Nothing complimentary, I bet.’
‘You’re not kidding, Agnes. Now, what was it he said? Oh yes. He said that Frank had no more than an Imodium of intelligence.’
At that, Lucy loses her place in the queue, Mel following her out amid much choking, coughing and spluttering.
‘It’s your own fault, Lucy. Pippa Philpotts will be the death of you.’
‘It’s worth it. Anyway, what’s the matter with you, Mel?’
‘Come in, Roberta. Coffee?’
‘I’m so sorry about last night, Jess.’
‘Sorry? Why should you be sorry? I’ll get you a drink and we’ll talk about what a berk Peter is. Sugar?’
‘No thanks – watching my figure.’
As she pours the drinks, Jessica realises that she once looked like Roberta: fresh-faced, pretty (she knew that at school, having been followed around the corridors between lessons by the same spotty boys for three years), slim, and somehow possessing a sparkle. That’s it, a sparkle, she thinks. Her dad once told her that. ‘You’ll break the boys’ hearts, you will, my girl.’ Roberta causes her to snap out of her mental meanderings.
‘You okay, Jess?’
‘Sorry, Roberta. My mind wanders these days. It’s my hormones. I’ve also developed a penchant for kiwi fruit and HP sauce.’
‘What, at the same time?’
‘Covered in the stuff.’
‘Oh, of course, the baby.’
‘He, or she, can’t be blamed for my odd behaviour, but the doctor says pregnancy can do funny things to you.’
‘Not sure I would cope, and I wouldn’t like to lose my figure.’
‘One look at me reminds you of that, does it?’
‘Oh, no, sorry Jess, I didn’t mean…’
‘Don’t worry. I’ll get it back. Think I’ll follow whatever diet you’re on. Now, sit down. Let’s talk “Redman”.’
‘Was he wrong to say and do that stuff last night?’
‘Wrong? You’re not kidding! And you know what? I’ve got a plan to teach him a lesson!’
‘Carry on, Mel, Ethel is busy with customers. She won’t eavesdrop.’
‘First time for everything, Lucy.’
‘She’s got more important things on her mind. I’ve heard that as soon as the sale goes through, she’s off to Devon. Only…’
‘Well, word has it that Edward hasn’t told her yet. He’s buying a bungalow on the coast and wants Ethel to go with him.’
‘I suppose that would scupper her plans about working for David and Tricia.’
‘Never mind all that, Mel. What’s going on?’
‘What’s he done now?’
Mel pauses, gently moving the strands of hair away that tend to fall over her right eye when she engages in animated conversation. She blushes, and looks towards a chipped plate on the wall near the door. Ethel, has, for some reason, kept the plate on display since she lost her husband. Sentimental reasons she thinks. She can avoid Lucy’s gaze no longer.
‘Apart from losing interest in me – nothing.’
‘Losing interest? You mean…’
‘Yes, you’ve got it, Lucy.’
‘What else is the problem then? There must be something.’
‘When I say that Steve’s done nothing, I mean it’s me who is the guilty party. Sort of.’
‘He saw me with Jeremy.’
‘No! I thought that was all over.’
‘It is, or was, but I arranged to see him to explain why I dumped him. We met at the park bandstand.’
‘Very Brief Encounter.’
‘Stop it, Lucy. It was quite innocent, but I think that Steve saw us.’
‘How do you know?’
‘It’s been ages, but the other day he said something about “kissing the doctor on the cheek”. A sort of throwaway remark.’
‘What is that supposed to mean?’ says Lucy, eyes fixed on Mel.
‘I did kiss Jeremy. Only on the cheek, and only to say goodbye, really.’
‘Oh, Mel. What are you going to do?’
‘Lucy, I’ve no idea.’
Since moving in with Ethel, Edward Palmer has been under the impression that at some point in the future she would retire, sell the business and move to Benidorm to be with her daughter and grandchildren. They visit once a year, but Ethel would love to see more of them. The concept of selling the business and continuing to work for the new owners is, he feels, relatively new. This has left Edward in a quandary. He loves Ethel and wants to spend the rest of his days with her but doesn’t want to hang around in Leeford until it’s too late.
As a successful businessman, he had a reputation for decisiveness. He has dropped enough hints about marriage and retiring to the coast, but having decided to spend some time in Devon, he finally makes up his mind. Crunch time, he thinks. The trip was a success, but Edward knows that Ethel may not agree. He has found a two-bedroomed bungalow in Ilfracombe, a favourite haunt of Ethel and her husband Billy. What is going to come as a shock to Ethel, however, is that Edward has also acted as an agent for Clara, who has kept the arrangement to herself – or so she thought.
At least, it appears that Ethel has not picked up the local gossip about her potential future in Devon with Edward. Clara has decided to move to the coast with George and likes the idea of being close to her best friend – if Ethel can be persuaded. Edward has, in fact, found two bungalows, just three streets apart, less than half a mile from Hele Bay. He has Clara’s blessing to make a tentative offer on behalf of herself and George, so he has made offers on both bungalows. He plans to tie in this stunning piece of news with an official marriage proposal.
On his way to the house, armed with fifty Sweetheart Red Roses, he almost weakens, but as he puts his key in the door, he says to himself ‘all or nothing, Palmer. You’re going to Devon. With or without the woman you love.’
‘Hi, Peter. Don’t mind if I do.’
‘Get a table and we’ll have a chat.’
David, still feeling the sense of embarrassment and awkwardness that everyone at the Marina Folk Club suffered on the night that Peter effectively banned everyone, also has sympathy for the man he had known for twenty years. Peter Redman was responsible for the creation of the folk club and had brought in many of the top folk groups in the country to perform at the Marina. Every Friday night he also gives local amateurs the chance to get up on stage - the last event was just that - the Open Mic Night that gave Roberta her chance to join Jessica on stage.
‘David, I think I need to apologise.’
‘No need, Peter, we understand.’
‘So, Tricia’s on my side as well?’
‘Hang on, we’re not taking sides. Jessica is a friend as well, but we genuinely understand your point of view. You have standards, and Jess should have thought it through, you know, Marc Bolan and all that.’
‘Glad you see it my way, David. I wanted to tell you that I’m revoking the ban on all the people who cheered and supported Jessica and Roberta the other night.’
‘So, we can come back to the Open Mic session next week?
‘Not quite. Open Mic is moving to a monthly schedule, so it will be another three weeks,’ explains Peter.
‘I’m so pleased you’re looking at it like this. You’re a good man, and after all, what was the harm in…’
‘Sorry, David, let’s be clear. You can come back, but there’ll be no pop music, chart stuff and so on. From now on, it’s traditional acoustic folk music and nothing else.’
‘I’m sure Jess will come into line. I’ll have a word if you like.’
‘Don’t bother, David.’
‘She’s still banned. In fact, I’m imposing a life ban on Jessica and Roberta.’
‘Oh,’ says David.