EPISODE 53 - LABOUR INTENSIVE
by Michael Braccia and Jon Markes
‘What can I do for you, Jessica?’
‘Ted – we’ve been friends for a few years, haven’t we?’
‘Of course, Jess.’
‘There’s something I need to ask you. Will you help me?’
‘It’s Peter Redman.’
‘Oh. Thought it might be. The ban thing.’
‘Yes. The ban thing. I don’t care if I never set foot in the Marina again. It’s…’
‘The principle of the thing.’
‘What do you want me to do?’
She settles down on a bar stool not intended for a woman in her condition. However, her discomfort is short-lived. She puts the plan to Ted: get her together with Peter Redman, with a witness – Ted selects Frank Watson – who will ensure that fairness prevails. If Peter won’t see sense, Jessica intends to construct a legal suit for discrimination. Frank cannot be described as a friend of Jessica’s – far from it – but he is nothing if not a gentleman. Ted is already on the phone to Frank before Jessica can ask him if he agrees with the plan.
‘He’s usually here at one. Just need to get our Mr Redman here a bit earlier – save you waiting.’
‘I won’t forget this, Ted.’
‘No problem. So, let’s get this straight. Nick is away on a course…’
‘Which he is,’ interrupts Jessica.
‘Yes, well, you can’t contact him for at least a day or two – no mobile signal in Mid-Wales – and you suddenly have severe backache, stomach pains and, er, your, you know…’
‘I will say that my waters have broken.’
‘Exactly,’ says Ted, his face colouring as if he had recently completed a session at the local tanning centre.
‘You’re a dad – you should be used to this.’
‘Our Gayle is seven – it seems a long time ago - and in my family, the men still pace up and down with a cigar in the maternity hospital waiting room.’
‘Are you allowed to smoke in those places? Shouldn’t be allowed,’ snaps Jessica.
‘I was speaking metaphorically, Jess.’
‘I’m only teasing.’
‘Anyway, Jess, is this the card you’re playing?’
‘What card, Ted?’
‘The “I’m a pregnant lady who has been banned from the club and you’re being unfair” card.’
‘No, Ted. I’m playing the “Peter is a berk and needs to learn some respect” card.’
After years of lessons from Sally, Ted knows when he’s beaten. After beckoning Roy towards the bar to take over, he tells Jessica that another barrel of Leeford Real Ale needs changing. The plan is set, his job done, the man with his name over the door leaves Jessica to wait for Frank and Peter.
Pippa Philpotts knows everything. Well, almost everything. She came through the ranks at the Post Office under the watchful eye of Mrs Throggins. No first name, apparently. Just Mrs Throggins. Pippa heard Cody Thornton mention the name only last week. He remembers Mrs Throggins from his schooldays. His dad would send him to the Post Office for a stamp, to collect a parcel or buy a postal order to send to Cousin Abel in Sydney. Cody knew nothing about Cousin Abel and doubted his existence. Dad is sending money to someone in Australia, he thought, but I won’t ask. You don’t ask Dad searching questions. Not if you want your tea and the avoidance of a slap.
Pippa’s experience of Mrs Throggins was up-front and personal. One-to-one. She was taught how to control the post. ‘The Queen’s mail is sacrosanct,’ she was told almost every day. She also learnt how to gossip, or rather, impart the local news to whomsoever took the slightest interest in such matters. Pippa also learnt her trade (the ‘news’ side of things) by observing Ethel in the café. She enjoyed listening to Ethel and found many of her stories moving. Stirring, even. ‘Simulated me emotions it did, it really did,’ she would say.
With regard to current news, Pippa has filled her boots with the Marina Folk Club affair, but today it’s all about Allen Gomez.
‘Gone missing, it seems,’ she tells Agnes, who is always willing to be the testbed for the latest gossip, er, news.
‘Missing?’ says Agnes.
‘Yes. Linda’s all of a flap. She can’t see any wrong in him.’
‘Yes. Paragraph of virtue by all accounts – according to Linda.’
‘Oh,’ says Agnes, ‘but does she have any idea where he is?’
‘Went to see that bloke in Birmingham. You know, that loan sheikh.’
Even Agnes could not suppress the twitching of her cheek muscles and a single tear forming in her eye.
‘Word has it he borrowed fifty thousand from David Ward and he is demanding his money back,’ follows up Pippa.
‘Didn’t know David was like that.’
‘Anyway,’ Pippa continues, ignoring anything that didn’t enhance the flow of her discourse or her dominance in the conversation, ‘he was paired up with somebody called Jimmy.’
‘What happened then?’ asks Agnes.
‘No one has heard from him since.’
‘Who told you all this,’ enquires Agnes, attempting to ascertain the veracity of such claims, convinced that she had heard Ethel mention a loan of twenty thousand.
‘Ethel, of course, she’s a close friend of Linda’s.’
Pippa goes on to explain that Allen joined Jimmy on one of his night-time excursions ‘to do whatever they do on those occasions.’
‘Up to no good, I shouldn’t wonder,’ she adds.
‘Must be a worry for young Linda, though,’ says Agnes.
Pippa, for once, realises that she has other people in the shop who need to be served. A proportion of the burgeoning queue has a passing interest in the latest local revelations, but the majority has entered the place for the offerings of Post Office Limited. They want a stamp, a postal order, to collect a parcel, send a parcel, and don’t necessarily want the life history of a man who has become involved with a loan shark (sheikh) / entrepreneur from The City. Pippa, on the other hand, thinks she is providing a valuable public service.
‘Alright, Clara. I’ll give it some thought.’
Clara does not think that telling Ethel about her conversation with Edward Palmer constitutes breaking a confidence, and she is unable to work out what Ethel really wants from the man she has lived with for almost seven years. She does know that, originally, Ethel intended to move to Benidorm but, more recently, has favoured retirement in Devon.
Ethel lifts the teapot to offer her friend one more cup and gestures towards the chocolate digestives. The doorbell rings as Clara waves her hand in refusal and pushes herself out of the chair.
‘Looks like you have another visitor.’
She kisses Ethel lightly on the cheek and takes her coat from the back of the chair.
‘Same time tomorrow.’
Ethel frowns as she recognises the shape through the glass of the front door.
Edward nods to Clara as they pass in the hallway. The look she gives Ethel as the door closes says, ‘hope you’ll be okay.’ He doesn’t wait to be invited into the sitting room. He has his own chair – the one from which he has watched many Premiership matches and episodes of Emmerdale – but he does wait for Ethel to ask him to sit down.
‘Hello, Ethel. Are you okay?’
‘Yes, thank you. What do you want, Edward?’
‘I’ll come straight to the point. I love you, Ethel, and I want to be with you, but I won’t wait. Come with me to live in the bungalow, please. I’ve decided to go to Devon as soon as the deal goes through. I’m going to ask you once. Will you marry me?’
‘Peter, Frank. Afternoon.’
Ted lines up two pints. He has no intention of openly taking sides, but his sympathies lie with Jessica. Sally and Ted are both fond of Jessica and Nick and were thrilled to hear that they were expecting a baby. Ted has, however, built up a loyal clientele at the Cross – Peter Redman and Frank Watson are very much part of that.
Jessica is waiting in the lounge – Sally keeping her company and ready to give Ted the signal. The signal he receives is not the one he is expecting.
‘Ted, we need some help in here!’
‘Okay,’ replies Ted, unable to avoid a grin breaking on his face as he proceeds to stage two.
‘Peter, didn’t you do a first aid course?’
‘We have a lady in the lounge with a problem. Can you help?’
‘Sure. Come on Frank. Give me a hand.’
As Peter pushes open the door leading to the lounge, Sally runs around to Ted’s side of the bar.
‘I think Jessica’s going into labour!’
‘I know,’ says Ted. ‘Very convincing, Sal.’
‘Never mind that, Ted. This is real. I thought the idea was stupid, to begin with, but you’ve sent Peter and Frank into a real emergency!’
Ted throws open the bar flap and runs through to the lounge, finding Frank displaying a pale face as he tries his best to look useful. Peter Redman, in contrast, is talking calmly to Jessica.
‘We’ll get you to Frank’s car - okay Frank?’ The shocked Parish Council leader nods his acceptance of the suggestion.
Peter takes Jessica’s hand.
‘Don’t worry, Jessica, everything will be fine. We’ll look after you.’