EPISODE 75 - THE VILLAGE NEEDS A LEADER
by Michael Braccia and Jon Markes
‘You’re not late, Frank. You’re not invited,’ says Cody.
The entire Leeford Village Parish Council, temporarily transformed into the Anti-Bypass Protest Group (Ken Taylor had suggested ‘Protest Rally About Transport Schedules’, but that idea was voted down) is agog. This includes Cody, who is the cause of whatever happens next. If twelve people can draw breath simultaneously, they are doing it now. The Parish Council consists of fifteen members, but on the agenda of the official Parish Council meeting for next week is a decision about how to replace George Dennis, and Ethel has sent her apologies to the bypass group. Frank Watson, of course, is the fifteenth member, although he would claim to be primus inter pares. Before any of the members turn blue, Frank sits down, head in hands. Sally, witness to the whole event, moves over towards Frank.
‘What’s he doing, Sal?’ asks Ted.
‘I think he’s crying, Ted.’
Cody has offended people before, and he has often taken immense pleasure (aided and abetted by our illustrious local farmer) in targeting Frank Watson, chairman and general big-head of this parish, but even he is shocked by the outcome.
‘Listen, Frank, I’m sorry, but you don’t seem to be on our side, and if you were chairing the meeting, you’d just take over and do what you want.’
‘Leave it, Cody,’ snaps Sally.
‘No need for that, Sal,’ says Ted with some venom, immediately raising his hand as some sort of withdrawal as he receives the ‘look’ from his better half.
‘It’s okay,’ says Frank. ‘Cody’s right. I do have a tendency to take over. I’ll leave you to it.’
He stands up, reaching for a handkerchief from his breast pocket. Sally places her hand on his shoulder.
‘Are you okay, Frank? There’s something wrong, isn’t there?’
He looks down at the floor, but turns to Sally
‘No one is interested in what I have to say.’
‘Frank, I am sorry,’ offers Cody, holding out his hand. ‘Come and sit with us and have a drink. Is there something you want to get off your chest?’
Her eyes flicker, not quite fully open. Agnes is not yet aware of her surroundings but tries to sit up.
‘No, Mrs Thornton, lie still,’ says the senior First Aid Officer at Leeds Station.
‘You had a little faint. Your daughter’s just outside. Have another few minutes, then we’ll prop you up and get you a drink of water. Have you eaten today?’
Agnes hears the words but doesn’t yet have the capacity to hold them long enough to elicit a response. A granddaughter, she thinks. What will Cody say? I haven’t got to know Jasmine yet. Haven’t even met her properly or worked out how to tell Cody. A voice breaks her train of thought.
‘Mom, are you okay? They said it’s alright for us to come in. Kim, come and meet your Nan.’
The little girl smiles again and takes Agnes’s hand.
‘Are you poorly? Mommy puts me to bed when I’m poorly. Are you staying with us?’
Agnes’s tears flow, and she hugs the little girl who has just burst into her life. Jasmine is also incapable of holding back her own tears, but she helps Agnes to sit up. Agnes can see a man standing in the doorway. She assumes he is another member of staff.
‘Hello, Agnes. Good to meet you.’
‘This is my husband, Derek,’ says Jasmine.
‘Oh, Jasmine, I’m so sorry to be such a trouble. What must you think of me?’
‘I’m just glad you’re here. What with the journey and meeting us for the first time. It must have been too much. Let’s get you home.’
‘Home?’ says Agnes.
‘Our house. There’s plenty of space. We’ve made a room up for you. Stay as long as you like.’
‘Hello, Peter. I’m so pleased you agreed to this.’
Peter Redman, the man who issued a life ban from his folk club to Jessica, has now agreed to be the M.C. and co-director of the folk music festival she is running.
‘Have you met Nick, my partner?’
‘Hi Nick, I hear you’re virtually in charge of this year’s fête.’
‘Well, I know all about Mr Watson’s working methods, and the reverend has had his own problems, hasn’t he?’
‘It might seem like that, Peter, but John Peterson – and Frank, of course – have their work cut out with the bypass.’
‘Oh, I’m sorry, Nick, I didn’t mean to offend you or your friends.’
‘No harm done, Peter. Anyway, tea, coffee, or maybe something stronger?’
The reason for Nick’s inclusion in the meeting soon becomes clear.
‘Peter, there’s been a slight change of plan,’ says Jessica.
‘What’s that? Is the folk festival being scrapped?’
‘No, nothing like that. You tell him, Nick.’
‘I’ve had this sanctioned by John. We’re going to combine the folk festival with the fête. Same type of music, whatever acts you want, and we can use the vicar’s garden all day.’
‘Bit small for a festival, Nick, don’t you think?’
‘It’s twice the size of your club, and the fête events don’t take up too much room.’
‘There’s just the “Find the Helmet” competition to contend with,’ says Jessica.
‘Yes, well, less said about that the better,’ replies Nick. ‘Anyway, Peter, can you come back to us with the list of acts? I take it that Jessica has delegated that honour to you?’
‘No problem. We’d like Jessica to play, of course. Could you open and close the show?’
‘It will be a pleasure,’ she replies.
‘No, I cried off. Don’t feel like meetings at the moment,’ says Ethel.
‘Know what you mean,’ says Mel. ‘I’m not on the committee (only for the main householders) – or the bypass group – and I wouldn’t want to be there at the same time as Steve.’
‘Oh, God, Mel, will Steve be there?’
‘Suptra’s going,’ says Ethel.
‘I’ll try not to think about it. Hopefully, they can both act like adults.’
‘There’s always a first time, Mel. Anyway, how are you getting on with Cody, you know, with Agnes away?’
‘Don’t get another rumour going, Ethel, but he is funny. I don’t think he intended to go to the meeting at the pub, but you know they only have one bathroom?’
‘Yes, but what’s that got to do with it?’
‘I was in the shower…’
‘Really?’ interrupts Ethel, with a smile.
‘Nothing like that. He tapped on the door, asking me how long I’d be.’
‘What did you say?’
‘With a face covered in suds – probably incoherent – I think I said, “in the shower – ten minutes”.’
‘He must have been desperate for the loo. He’d got a video and four cans of lager lined up in the living room, but he suddenly shouted, “leave you to it, I’m off to the pub”.’
‘Poor lad,’ says Ethel, ‘so he goes to the pub to use the facilities and ends up in the meeting, I suppose. Perhaps he’ll help to keep Suptra and Steve apart.’
‘Don’t start, Ethel, don’t start. Anyway, tell me all about Doctor Palmer.’
Frank sits down and dabs his face with his handkerchief.
‘Do you really want to know?’ he says.
Sally sits on the chair next to Frank and touches his hand.
‘Of course we do, Frank. What’s happened?’
He takes a deep breath, and this time looks up, scanning the room.
‘I know what you all think of me, and some of it is deserved. I’m not the easiest person to get on with, but I genuinely love this village and want the best for everyone in Leeford. Do you accept that?’
A few mumbles and nods from the majority of the committee. Stephen speaks for the first time.
‘I respect what you do Frank, but you don’t help yourself. Saying that, it’s different this time, isn’t it?’
‘You’re right, Stephen, and I hope things can change. I’ll tell you what has happened.’
Silence hits the room like a light switch being turned off. Even Ken Taylor and Cody Thornton wait patiently for Frank’s next words. Instinct tells them that the next few minutes will change everything.
‘You’ve heard of Councillor John Sotherby?’
‘Yes, Frank,’ pipes up Ted, ‘the Banfield Council leader?’
‘That’s him,’ says Frank. ‘I’ll come straight to the point. Sotherby tried to bribe me.’
‘What?’ exclaims Cody.
Frank continues, as if the silence hadn’t been broken.
‘At first, he offered me a shoe-in as a candidate for next year’s council elections. I turned him down, and how he’s come back to offer me the position of Town Clerk.’
‘So you’ve accepted it then, eh, Frank?’ says Ken.
‘No, Ken, you’re wrong. As usual, you’ve misjudged me. I’ve told him to stick it.’
Again, silence falls in the room. Everyone is staring at Frank. He coughs, and then stands up.
‘Reject me if you like. I’ll leave the village if you don’t want me, but believe this, as you obviously don’t know – I have told Banfield Council from the start that I will fight their bypass plans to the death. You have already hatched some plans for protests and letters to the council. This needs to be coordinated.’
He once again pauses, then issues his final plea.
‘I am on your side, and always have been. If you don’t want me, I’ll go. Sell up. If you want me to defend the village and all it stands for, let me lead you. What do you say?’