Archers Parodies

Until 2013, the BBC hosted a lively messageboard for The Archers. Among other things it encouraged listeners to post Archers parodies and fantasies (ie Archer fanfic).  Here are a few that I contributed.

If I ever get time I'll try to give them a bit of context - they were mainly written in the heat of the moment, to comment on some Archers turn of events and without knowing what had just happened they may be pretty baffling. (Of course, true fans will get it...)

31/12/12: News from Lake Ambridge

Well, it's been a quiet week in Ambridge, my home town, out on the edge of the Hasset Hills. We had some of the first rain of winter. It's good to feel the rain. The English get edgy when it's not raining. Just stand out there in the fields, looking up at the sky, hands in pockets. Looking at the sky. "Going to rain" we say "sooner or later".

Down in the village shop, Susan Carter wasn't worrying about the rain. She was worrying about her no good brother, Clive. He got out of the County Jail a few months back and seems he's been around bothering folks and Susan, she just doesn't know what to do about it.

Susan would normally speak to Pastor Franks, but nobody's seen him for weeks. Winter comes, he just holes up in the shed till Spring and goes Silent. He takes a pile of frozen cream cakes and he thaws one out every day over an old spirit stove and just eats it down. He just can't stand the wrt. Comes from a drier climate. Nobody hears from him until Spring, and nobody asks where he is. One a week his wife, Usha, takes him a fresh supply of underwear and a clean dish for the cake.

Well, that's the news from Lake Ambridge, my home town, where all the men are good looking, all the women are strong and all the children are above average.

20/1/11: Mistletoe Berries

Joe opened the back door of Keeper's Cottage very, very cautiously and peered out. Nobody was in sight. He scuttled out - as much as a man in his late 80s can be said to scuttle - and made for the shed. Try as he might, he couldn't shake off the sensation of being... watched. To a man with as many past and present scams and dodges on his conscience as Joe had, this was a far from welcome feeling. (The word "conscience" should not be taken to imply any sense of guilt, rather a fervent desire Not to be Caught. Especially not by Clarrie. Or by Jim.)

Once Joe had reached the shed, he soothed his nerves with a spot of cider and tried to remember when the feeling began, but it was hopeless. Pull yourself together, Joe, he told himself. What would your Susan say if she could see you. The thought of his departed wife watching him did not bring the comfort it ought to, and he took another gulp of cider, before slipping the bottle into the poacher's pocket of his long coat and collecting up his Druid outfit. Although he had - nearly - promised Jim that his days of Druidry were over, he had one or two appointments, made beforehand, to keep, and it was only nearly a promise. A man deserved a little bit of money to spend down the Bull when it was cold and his farmer's lung (cough) was bothering him, didn't he?

Joe set out down the lane, taking the short cut through the field. He had known these fields and paths all his life. There was that sense again of watching, and waiting. His shook his head impatiently. Cut cross the back here -

Joe stopped. There was a small clump of trees in front of him which he didn't remember. Must have missed the gap in the hedge - but no, there was the Am. It was that Brian Aldridge, no doubt he'd been planting more trees to get a green subsidy or such. There'd been no green subsidies for the Grundies when they were at Grange Farm. Wasn't fair, all the money went to the Aldridges and the Archers. 

He made towards the trees. As he came closer, he saw that there were little lights among them, and he seemed to hear voices. Perhaps best leave well alone, it might be Jamie and some of his nasty mates. Joe tried to stop, it was if he had been lifted up by a host of invisible hands, carrying him closer and closer to the circle of trees, set atop a mound that definitely hadn't been in the field that morning. He seemed to hear faint hoofbeats. 

As he entered - or rather, was flung into - the ring, Joe saw, by the light of a small fire, a seated figure. It was an ancient man, dressed in a garment made all of green leaves. He had a long, white beard and wore a garland set with small, white berries. Mistletoe berries. Behind this figure, Joe though he saw little, flickering creatures that seemed to dart around like licking flames. When he looked directly at them, he saw nothing. But the sense of being watched returned tenfold.

"Joseph Grundy!" boomed the figure "

"Your honour? " replied Joe "What do you want with me? I'm only a poor farmer!"

"Joseph Grundy!" repeated the figure "You have taken the golden sickle, and sung the growing song to the trees in the midst of winter. There is a price to be paid."

" It were only a bit of fun" said Joe. "Didn't mean no harm!"

"Harm!" replied the other, rising from his throne. "You have woken the Sleepers from the Nine Mounds. The Seven Maidens have risen from the seven pools. The Three..."

"Now" said Joe "it was all a misunderstanding, that's all. But seeing as I'm here, perhaps you'd care to join me in a drop of cider, and we can talk about it." He pulled the bottle out of his pocket, and offered it. "And there's more where that come from. And why don't you just invite them Seven Maidens over an' all..." (this accompanied by a filthy wink).

Lights and music drifted through the village all that night, but nobody woke to look for the disturbance or complain about it, not even Lynda. 

And when Joe woke the next morning in his bed, he thought that he had had the strangest dream - until he saw the mistletoe berries scattered about on the floor.


18/1/11: The Next Ten Years: A Precis

As a service to those who have stopped listening, or are otherwise engaged, we present a precis of the next Ten Years. 

Some content has been lost in editing, but 95% has been preserved, though not necessarily in the right order.

Elizabeth: David, you're ruined the wedding!
David: It's all my fault!
E: Yes, that's what I just said
D: No, it's my fault Nigel's dead. He would never have been on that roof if I hadn't called him a mouse.
E: It's all your fault!
D: I'm sorry.
E: I hate you!
Lynda: Pantomime time!
Joe: Eddie, I've got a grand way to make some money, but don't tell Clarrie!
Clarrie: Come here, Eddie Grundy!
Freddy (to Pip); It's your father's fault my daddy died! I hate you!
D: I'm sorry.
E: I hate you!
Kathy: I'm so miserable.
Helen: I'm Happee!
Vicky: I'm so annoying!
Lynda: Pantomime time!
Joe: Eddie, I've got a grand way to make some money, but don't tell Clarrie!
Clarrie: Come here, Eddie Grundy!
Helen: I'm Saaaad.
D: I'm sorry.
E: I hate you!
Ruth: David's collapsed! In the yard! It's your fault Elizabeth! You never forgave him!
Pip (to Lily) it's your mother's fault my dad's dead! I hate you! 
E: It's all my fault!
Lynda: Pantomime time!


14/1/11: What Jill Read

Jill sighed. 

Elizabeth couldn't be expected to pay a great deal of attention to the cleaning, but you'd have thought Kenton would make more of an effort. Surveying his room, she shook her head. It was like having teenagers at home again. In fact, with David withdrawn and moody - rather like when he met his first girlfriend - and Shula jollying everyone along, the set was complete.

So she might as well help out and put things straight. Treading with difficulty through the heaps of clothes and books on the floor, she began to collect up dirty plates and cups, and to pile up the books and papers neatly. A copy of "Bars for Dummies" had been well thumbed, she noticed. Now the room was much tidier. Jill picked up the heap of dirty clothes, and noticed as she did a crumpled envelope tucked among them, as if it had been dropped. It was addressed to Elizabeth (actually, to "My dearest Lizzie") in Nigel's spidery handwriting. There was also a cheque, and an official looking document bearing Nigel's signature.

Before she knew what she had done, Jill had opened the envelope. She sat down on Kenton's bed, and read the letter contained inside.

"My dearest Lizzie,

By the time that you read this, I shall be no more. I know that my death will have caused a great deal of pain, and I felt that I should explain myself - not least for David's sake, because otherwise you may be tempted to blame him, and it really wasn't his fault. You must believe it, Lizzie - David is not to blame. In fact, he won't even know what is happening until just before I jump.

Yes, Lizzie, jump. 

You see, Lower Loxley is really in a bit of a hole. I went to see our account just before Christmas (at that accountancy place, just off the ring road) and he was very clear. The money is just draining away. Visitor numbers are down, costs are up, the roof needs mending, VAT is about to go up, and that's before things get really bad. I knew it made you so happy helping to run the business, but it never really made any sense, you know. We have over extended ourselves, and it's all about to come tumbling down. 

I can't let that happen - I would be failing Daddy, and Mummy, and most of all, you and the children. So this is what I have done. I have taken out masses of insurance, and once everything is cleared up, you should have enough to pay off all the debts, and live comfortably at Lower Loxley, and send Freddie and Lily to a decent school.

I set everything up through Kenton - gave him the cheque and the application form, so none of it will be traceable back to me. And I have also given him this letter, to pass on to you at the right time.

Goodbye, dear Lizzie, and do not forget me.

With love from

Your

Nigel"

"Oh dear" said Jill to herself. "Oh DEAR."


6/1/11: Hmmm…

With apologies to Sir Henry Newbolt, an iffy parody of "Drake's Drum". Got a bit stuck in the last four lines, maybe someone can do better? (And there should be a third verse but I was afraid it would just get verse and verse...)

Squire he's in his coffin but a mile or two away, 
(Nigel, art tha sleepin' there below?) 
Slung atween the worms below six foot o’ clay, 
But dreamin' arl the time o' Loxley low. 
Yarnder yawns the ha-ha, yarnder grow the trees, 
Wi' rarest breeds a-dartin’ to-an-fro, 
An' the Loxley lights a beamin’, and the bodgin’ lathe a turnin' 
He sees et arl so plainly as he saw et long ago. 

Squire was a Borset man, an' knew the Borset lees, 
(Nigel, art tha sleepin' there below?).
Rovin' tho' his death fell, he went wi' heart at ease, 
An' dreamin' arl the time o' Loxley low, 
"Take my vines and tend em’, prune ‘em good and sure
Pick ‘em when the wine is running low
If the mites come and get ’em, I'll quit the port o' Heaven,
An' clear them from the terrace as we cleared them long ago."


29/7/10: The Wrong Clippers

It was the day of the great contest. In Grundy's Field, Eddy and Joe had hung out the bunting (sourced from Fat Paul for a reasonable fee, and it wouldn't be missed form Edgeley Village Hall until the next Coronation) and erected a counter from which Clarrie could sell her cream teas. The sheep had been brought over from Brookfield, and were baaing rather sadly in their enclosure. the two Kiwi girls were tuning up their shears. David Archer, the appointed umpire, was making final checks. Only Eddie was unhappy. 

"This were supposed to be a private contest" he moaned "you can't go letting all and sundry in. Who is this chap anyway? Not from round these parts. And I don't like the look of them shears at all..."


SIX WEEKS EARLIER

All was peace and quiet in West Wallaby Terrace. Wallace leafed through the newspapers and munched contentedly on his after breakfast Wenslydale, while Gromit washed the dishes in the kitchen. (Wallace preferred to use his own Dish-O-Matic, but Gromit was tired of picking shreds of china out of the ceiling).

Wallace took a sip of tea, and his eyes alighted on a story in the Borchester Times. 

"Grand Sheep Shearing Contest" was the headline.

"Ooo" murmured Wallace. "I wonder..."

He began to sketch a design on the tablecloth...


SIX WEEKS LATER (AGAIN)

"There's nothing in the rules" said David "forbidding other entries. Mainly because there are no rules. Mr Wallace is within his rights to enter. Now, let's get started. Is everyone ready?"

Eddie nodded, gloomily. Alysha and the other one grinned. Wallace, who had just taken a mouthful of one of Clarrie's scones, spluttered crumbs over Eddie, who sighed.

"Right" said David, addressing the competitors. "You each get two sheep to shear. You'll be times, and fastest is winner - with a penalty for any injury to the sheep. Eddie." 

The four shearers stepped up to the pens in which the miserable looking sheep were housed. The girls and Eddie gripped their shears. Wallace lifted up a device like a cross between a diving helmet and a lawnmower, and placed it over his head. The sheep bleated again, sadly. Grommit shook his head and waited for the inevitable...


11/7/11: Dreams

Alone in her bed, Kathy mumbles and frowns in a dream. "No" she says, "no, don't leave me. Don't." She turns over onto her side, pulling the duvet over her face and shutting out the early morning sun.

Along the landing, the shower runs, accompanied by out of tune singing.

Across Ambridge, Jolene also sleeps, finally, a smile on her face. She is dreaming of a shower. 

The water stops. 

"Clunk" of the cubicle door. 

Footsteps along the landing. 

Now the bedroom door opens and at the same moment, two DAB timed radios wake up Jolene and Kathy. 

Jolene is puzzled, still faintly smiling. Kathy's nightmare lingers - she watches the bedroom door open and a familiar figure come in, towel in hand.

"Oh" she says", now smiling. 

"I've had such a strange dream, Sid."


25/10/09: Ghost Story

Sun, 25 Oct 2009 20:07 GMT 

Now that the clocks have gone back and the winter nights are drawing in, it may be the right time to settle down by the fireside and listen to a ghost story. This is one that Ed Grundy used to tell in the kitchen at Brookfield, with his grandchildren and great grandchildren all gathered around the fireside while old Granny Emma sat knitting in her rocking chair, a sharp ear cocked in case Ed repeated anything too frightful for young ears. If that happened she would rise from her chair and fetch a delicious cake or a batch of scones fresh baked from the oven – there always seemed to be something baking in Em’s kitchen in those days.

“When I was young” Ed would begin, and he would pause as he remembered those far off days, when life was so hard, “when I was young, we had a new parson come into the village, Reverent Franks he was called. Of course, we didn’t have a lot to do with him, because Grandad was Chapel and Reverend Franks, he was parson at the old church in the village. You can still see the walls – St Stephen’s it used to be. They closed it down after all this, said it was economic or somesuch, but Grandad always said it were because of what I’m going to tell you about.”

Ed takes a pull on his pot of ale, and continues.

“Reverent Franks was a decent enough soul, but he would never let anything alone. He came along and started changing things. ‘Mucking around', Grandad would say. He may have been Chapel, but he didn’t hold with stuff like that. ‘Mucking around like that never came to any good’, he would say.

The first thing that the Reverent tried to do was take a saw to the pews. St Stephen’s had beautiful dark oak pews – you don’t see them like that these days much – that had been there hundreds and hundreds of years. But the Reverend thought they were too dingy, and he wanted to use the church for other things – no-one ever quite knew what – so he must have them all out. Caused a proper fuss it did, but in the end, the bishop or whoever it was turned him down. You should have heard Grandad laugh! After that, the Reverent went round for weeks with a face that would sour milk. I saw him myself. We all thought that was that, and that he’d settle down, preach his sermons of a Sunday, and leave us all well alone. And so did, for a while. He got himself married and I guess that calmed him down – for a bit.”

Here he takes another long draught of ale, and exchanges glances with Granny Emma, who says nothing but continues to knit.

“But no. A year or so on, and he began to fret. One afternoon, he was poking around at the back o’ the church where there used to be a big noticeboard – what they used to use to put up messages in the days before Facebook. It were hanging away from the wall so Mr Franks he pried it and prodded till it came right down. Behind it, he could see that some of the plaster was coming away from the wall. So he poked and he pried till he’d brought more of the plaster down, and there were something else behind it.”

Another pause. Emma is listening more carefully know, and the click of her needles has slowed.

“Well, Mr Franks, he couldn’t make head or tail of what he saw. So off he went to fetch old Bert Fry, him as used to be dairyman here at this very farm – no, Alf, not when we took it over from Pip Archer, a long time before that. Anyway, Bert, we were churchwarden at St Stephen’s – last Churchwarden, an all. ‘So, Bert’ he says (I mean, the Reverend). ‘so, Bert. What , exactly is this? You know as much about this church as anyone alive, I’ll be bound. Tell me, man, what is this?’

I never saw what it was they found – it were all covered over again soon enough, after what happened – but I heard from Grandad that there were a sort of doorway behind the old board, all plastered in. And behind the plaster were an old door. And on the door were these brass plates, kind o’ diamond shaped, with writing on them, and black with dirt and age. 

So old Bert Fry, he looked at the door and these plates, and he didn’t like what he saw. ‘Just cover ‘em up’ he said ‘just leave be. No harm done, but just cover them up again.’

But the Reverent, he just laughed. ‘Nonsense, Bert’ he said. ‘I’ve an idea about this doorway. But first, tell me what these are.’ And he reached out a finger and rubbed one of the plates to see the writing on it clearer. Grandad used to tell as how old Bert, he closed his eyes and shook his head when he told about this. ‘There weren’t no harm’ he used to say ‘no harm at all. And then he went and touched it.’ But the Reverent had asked, so Bert told him what they were. 

‘Them’s coffin plates’ he said. ‘Long time ago, when the Lawson-Hopes were squires of Ambridge, one of them, Jasper Lawson-Hope, he thought being buried in a grave in the church like his father and grandfather before him, that wasn’t good enough for the him. So he got a fancy architect up from London, and he had plans drawn up for this vault, built onto the church, with a door into it. And he planned as how all the Lawson-Hopes after him would be put in there in their coffins, to wait for the Last Trump.’ Bert shuddered. ‘There was some as said he had other reasons – like he didn’t want his bones in holy ground. There are some stories about that man and the things he did… but he had his way, like the Squire always does, and he had his vault and when the time came they put him in there, and the rest of them after him’ “

“Grandad” pipes up little Alf “Grandad, what SORT of things did Mr Lawson-Hope used to do?”

“No, Alfie” says Granny Emma, quickly, her knitting discarded, before Ed can reply. “It’s late enough as it is, too late for that old rubbish” and she gives him a sharp look. 

“Oh, you…” says Ed to Alf. “Just old stories. All rubbish, like your gran says. Anyway, ‘Bert’ says the Reverend ‘Bert, there’s no vault now. Other side of that door’s just that overgrown patch in the churchyard.’

‘No’ says old Bert ‘Exactly. They built the vault all right, but it come to no good. Started to sink, it did, soon as they put Mr Jasper in there. There was talk as how it were the Devil taking his own… anyhow, over the years, that vault pulled on the church wall and these great big cracks opened up, right up the wall. In the end the church surveyor, he said it had to go, that vault – or the whole church would fall. O’ course, there was four or five Lawson-Hopes in there, and they had to be moved and buried. No end of a fuss it caused. 

The Squire then, he was called Frederick, he said on no account must the bones of his ancestors be moved. There was letters to the Bishop about it, and faculties, and lawsuits, but in the end the vault came down. They took those old Lawson-Hopes and buried ‘em proper, and Frederick, he watched them do it and when they was putting the coffins in the ground he stopped them. ‘Remove the plates’ he told them. But there was nobody wanted to touch those things so he had to take them off himself. Then when the vault was gone, he stuck them up on the old door, that had gone into the vault, and he locked that door. 'There let them remain' he says. And so there they stayed. And later they covered them up because nobody wanted to look at ‘em or touch ‘em or clean ‘em. So I reckon best thing would be just to cover them up again and forget them.’

Of course, Parson Franks, he weren’t having that. Oh no. He’d found that door, and the patch outside in the churchyard, it weren’t nothing special, and it were on the side of the church away from the road, and he thought, that would be perfect for building a kitchen or somesuch. 

Old Bert shook his head, but the Reverend, he wouldn’t be told. ‘We’ll put it on the agenda for the next meeting’ he said. ‘I’ll speak to the architect.’ “

Ed pauses again, and looks into the fire.

“My old mum” he continues “she used to clean the church. I still remember, next days after this, she was in there and she came home in a terrible state. She’d been polishing the brasses, and she came across the old door, with all these dirty brasses she’s never seen before, of course she gave them a clean. Filthy dirty they were, but she got them clean, though her hands was filthy after. Then it was getting dark and time to go home so she put her stuff away and she’s about to lock up and she hears this sound. Tap, tap, tap it went, from inside the church. So she goes back inside, thinking maybe there’s a bird or something got stuck inside. Terribly kind hearted was my mum. Tap, tap, tap, there it is again, but she can’t see any bird. Then, she sees that the sound is coming from the door with the plates on it. Tap, tap, tap – only louder now. Well, she just turned and ran home. Dad thought she’d just flipped, told it was someone playing a joke on her, knocking on the outside of the wall.”

“Only” he adds “the outside of the wall were solid stone. And – it took the best part of a week to get that stuff off her hands.”

“That’s enough, Ed” cuts in Emma to a chorus of disappointed groans and cries of “but what happened next?.” “Bedtime now. It’s too late for this, you’ll all have bad dreams. Grandad’ll carry on another time.”

To be continued…

Next evening, the young Grundys waited impatiently for Grandad Ed to finish his supper. As soon as he pushed his plate away, they started.

“Can we have a story, Grandad?”

“Can you tell us a ghost story, Grandad?”

“Can you tell us what happened with the door in the church, Grandad?”

Ed held up hands. “Enough! Let me sit down first!”

Ed’s old bones didn’t move as fast as they used, and it took him a little time to settle in his chair. One of his granddaughters arranged his blanket on his lap, and Em fetched a pot of ale. Ed took a long draught, and continued his tale.

“Now, I told you that old vicar, Reverent Franks, found this door, right? Now, the thing about a door is, it’s meant to go somewhere, see But this one didn’t. Least, it had been all blocked up round the back, so there was nowhere for it to lead.

Well, after he found that doorway, the Reverent was right set up. He went back home to his parsonage to tell his new wife all about it, about opening up that doorway and making a new kitchen and all, but he’d forgotten that she was away visiting her family over Birmingham way. So there was nobody there. Anyway, he sat down and wrote a long email and sent it to the churchwardens, and he emailed this architect that he’d heard of to see if he could come over next day. When he’d done all that it was getting late so he took himself off to bed. Couldn’t scrub the muck off his finger where he’d rubbed the coffin plate so he just gave that up and went to bed.

But he couldn’t sleep. His mind was just buzzing with what he’d do for the church. This time he’d win and get things changed. Then, just and he dozed off, he heard this rapping sound – tap, tap, tap.” (Ed demonstrated by banging his mug on the arm of the chair, to the delight of his audience). Of course, he got up and went to open the door – he thought someone might be out there, perhaps someone in the parish who needed help. But there was nobody there, just the wind in the trees, so he took himself back to bed. It had turned very cold and it took a bit o’time to warm the bed up again – no Usha, there you see!” (One or two of the older young Grundies snigger and Emma tsks in disapproval). “And there it is again. Tap, tap, tap. So down he goes again. Nobody there. Again. By now, Reverent has an idea what’s going on. He’d had some trouble, a few cross words, with a few folk who didn’t take to him and his ways – no, Alf, I won’t tell you who it was – and he thought, here they go again. So he calls out ‘I know who you are and I know what you’re doing’ – and he’s just glad his wife isn’t there as well. Then he goes back in, back up to bed, feet as cold as the grave, gets himself warm again, drifts off to sleep.

Tap, tap, tap.

This time it’s coming from inside the house, or so he thinks, and he can tell where from – from inside the wardrobe on the landing, odd though that sounds. They can’t have got inside the house. Why, Reverent, he lies there in bed, listening. Not breathing. 

Tap, tap, tap.

And now he wants to go and take a look – only he’s too scared. 

Tap, tap, tap.

After he’s lain there for hours – as it seems – he gets up, pauses by the bedroom door, then runs past the wardrobe, down the stairs and he goes into his study, he slams the door shut and he sits down in there, and there he stays the whole night. Wouldn’t fancy it myself. You see there was this odd statue he used to keep in there, sort of Indian thing of his wife’s – no, Alf, Indian from India – creepy thing, I thought. But the Reverent he settles down and in the end he falls asleep.

He’s woken again by a knocking. But it isn’t the tap, tap, tap, it’s a proper banging on the door. Reverent looks at the clock – it’s nearly ten, and the sun’s well up. When he goes to answer the door, he sees that it’s Bert Fry, the churchwarden, and Shula Archer (as was). You’ll have heard some stories about Shula, I’m sure.” (More sniggers, and another tsk from Emma). Seems she’d heard about the door, and come round for a quiet word – and met Bert Fry on the doorstep. Bert never had a quiet word about anything in his life, that were more his wife Freda’s line. He goes in again about how the door’s better left alone, best covered up, no good will come of it. Shula says nothing, but when Bert pauses for breath, she looks at the Reverent, and smiles, and says ‘Of course, Alan, we have our disagreements’ (she glances at the statue and sniffs) but I think you should go ahead with this. And good luck to you.’ Reverent’s really encouraged by this – a good word from Shula and he’d preach a sermon standing ion his head – so he’ll hear none of Bert’s objections, he must press on and meet his architect that day, in the church. 

The architect is busy overseeing some cottages, so he can’t just drop everything and run over. He says he’ll meet the parson in the church at six. So Reverent spends the day fussing around, working out what he’ll do when he gets his fancy kitchen or whatever. When it’s getting on for six, he goes down to the church and lets himself in. He sits there in the vestry, and maybe he dozes off – he’s not had much sleep – and there it is again. Tap, tap, tap. He’s awake all at once. He gets up and, very slowly, very quietly, he goes in to the church and sees –“

The small and not so small Grundies are pressing in, urging Ed on silently

“ – he sees someone standing there, looking at the newly exposed door.

“Mr Carmichael!’ he calls out. ‘How good to see you. What do you think? Can we make something of this?’ Reverent approaches the architect, who seems to be thinking.

‘Indeed, sir, we might’ he replies – before looking into Reverent’s face. There is something odd in that gaze. ‘We might well, I think. But tell me, are you not – nervous – here in this dark place?’

Reverent smiles. To him, the building is a sacred place, the very house of God, and no ill can befall him there. This seems to amuse the other, who grins and replies ‘Well, Sir, I say that this is my house and what befalls here is for me to choose! You look surprised, Sir. Perhaps you would care to look at my dwelling more closely?’

With a sweep of his arm, he indicates the old door, by which they are standing.

It is at this moment that a bell starts to ring. Old Reverent, he’s in the dark and this bell is ringing – it takes him a bit to realise it’s his mobile and he’s sitting there in the vestry, where he fell asleep. He answers the phone, and it’s the architect – apologising for not coming. He was unavoidably detained, he says.”

Emma lays down he knitting, and claps her hands. “Enough!” she says. “Ed, you can carry on tomorrow night. It’s late.”

As soon as he got home from school next afternoon, young Alfie went to look for his great-grandfather. He found Ed in the cowshed, looking at the line of robocows with a smile on his face. The old man saw him come in. 

“This shed’s seen some changes” he said. “The state o’ things when we took it over… but you don’t want to hear about that, do you?”

Alfie shook his head.

“No, you want to know what happened to the old Reverent. Well, p’raps best we tell the rest of the story by daylight, or your mum’ll kill me… let’s go back over to the kitchen. I’m sure Em can find you a bit o’ cake or summat.”

Settled again in the kitchen, Ed continued his story, while Emma bustled around, preparing one of her renowned casseroles and Alf, a Grundy to the tips of his fingers, addressed himself to a thick slice of apple cake.

“When the Reverent finished that phone call, he only had one thought in his mind – to get out of his church and away. Never mind locking up, he ran out of the door – there was folks as saw him – and back to his parsonage. He didn’t stop to speak to anyone, not Sid Perks, old misery, not Lynda Snell, not even Shula Archer, as had been his best friend, when he passed her, right outside his front door (though he noted, sadly, that was smiling for once – though sourly). 

As to what happened then – well, later that night, he sent an email telling what had happened, so we know some of it. But no-one knows all of it…

Well. Reverent got back to his house. Two things – first, something was missing from the house, that statue you remember I told you about? Toppled over and broken. I suppose any other night he’d have been bothered by that, worried about vandals or burglars or such, but as it was – and this is the other thing - he just went round switching on every light in the place, then candles, every one he could find. He was in a right state. Wrote that he ‘would not go through the door’. Seems reasonable, it was a dark, windy night right enough – I remember it myself, we had trees and power lines down and the cows was in a right state. I wouldn’t ‘ve gone outside if I had the choice.

So, Reverent is sitting there in his kitchen. He can hear that tap-tap-tap sound again. It’s getting louder, and closer – is it coming from upstairs? Then, the lights go out, so he only has his candles. He daren’t go upstairs – not past that wardrobe – so, carrying his candle, he goes into his study, settles in his armchair where he sits when his parishioners come calling.

He hears a voice from the shadow in the other chair.

‘He thanked me’ wrote the Reverent in his email ‘thanked me for - letting him in. He said he had long been waiting outside, and knocking on the door, but none could hear. A long time, but now he was in. Again, he asked me, should I like to see his house? I said that I would not, that he could return to it and stay there for eternity. 

If I would not follow him, then perhaps, he said, he would have another guest. I said, by all means, and he departed.

I woke. I was cold with sweat. The candle was out. Then, with a blare of noise – burglar alarms, the television, the printer in the corner all cackled to life – the lights came back on, together, of course, with the telephone answering machine, flashing to show that it held a message. And of course it was from you, Usha, my love and of course, you said that you had my text and yes, you were nearly home and yes, you would go straight the church, but why on Earth? You were worried, as it was such a foul night, but you would do as I said.”

So now I know that I have no choice.’

There were some sort of rumpus that night at St Stephen’s, some stuff damaged but nothing to show he’d ever been there. When his wife got there, she found all the lights on, but not a trace of the Reverent. And nobody ever saw Alan Franks again. And that’s the story. Just one more thing – when my old mum were helping clear up the church, she said them coffin plates was all black and nasty again, like they’d never been cleaned at all. And there was one more of ‘em than before. She didn’t want to touch the nasty things, she said, or go near them. They covered them over again, Bert Fry saw to that. Much good it did though, there was never a parson here again after that.”

Ed sat in silence for a moment. Then –

Tap-tap-tap. 

Tap-tap-tap.

The kitchen door opened, and the dour face of Uncle Will appeared around the door. Old Ed smiled. Some things never changed, and his brother’s habit of coming round for a grumble and a cadge was one of them.

The End.


12/11/09: Get me to the Court…

I'm going on trial in the mornin'!
Stand there and own up to my crime.
Get me a chopper,
I’ll tell a whopper,
But get me to the court on time!

I got ta be there in the mornin',
Spruced up and lookin' in me prime.
Lil, come and kiss me;
Show how you'll miss me.
But get me to the court on time!

For I'm going on trial in the mornin'.
Cling! Clang! The cell door's thick with grime.
Here comes old Chalkie.
He’s telling porkies,
Just get me to the court, get me to court, get me to the court on time...


2/11/09: Hard Times of Old Ambridge

Come all village shopstaff that gossip so along; 
Oh, pray come and tell me where the trade is all gone. 
Long time I have waited and it has brought none, 

Oh, the hard times of Old Ambridge, 
In Old Ambridge very hard times. 

Provisions you sell at the shop, it is true, 
But, if folk have no money, there's nothing to do. 
So, what can poor Susan and family do?

Oh, the hard times of Old Ambridge, 
In Old Ambridge very hard times. 

If you go to a shop and you ask for a job, 
They will answer you there with a shake and a nod; 
It’s enough to make a Horrobin go out and rob. 

Oh, the hard times of Old Ambridge, 
In Old Ambridge very hard times. 

And now to conclude and to finish my song, 
Let us hope that these hard times they will not last long; 
I hope soon to have occasion to alter my song. 

Oh, the good times of Old Ambridge, 
In Old Ambridge very good times.


31/10/09: The Visitor

Vicky gave up. It was simply no good. She could NOT sleep. If only Mike didn't have to get up so early every morning. He tried not to wake her, but, lovely man though he was, he didn't have the most delicate tread in the world. She sighed. It wasn't just that, though. She had to admit, her sleep was getting lighter and lighter. Sometimes, she would wake in the night with a nagging feeling that there was something she should be attending to, something that needed doing. Which was odd, as she wasn't one for worrying.

Well, make the best of it. As she was wide awake, there was lots she could be doing, always things on the list. Vicky was a great believer in lists. She liked to see jobs sorted, prioritised, done and ticked off. But perhaps, first, a coffee. She put on her dressing gown and went down the stairs.

What was this? At the bend of the stairs, she caught an unexpected scent. At their foot, she stopped in wonder. The room was full of flowers, red flowers. Plants, actually. Vicky stood there in wonder, taking it in. The dear, dear man! How had he done it, without her knowing? And indeed, how had he done it all?

"Vicky?"

She nearly leapt through the ceiling. What? Who? In her house? She turned, and saw the stranger standing behind her on the stairs. She must have been upstairs! A burglar!

"Stay back!" Vicky said "Stay back. My husband is just outside. He's very big!"

The strange woman smiled sadly. She didn't actually look like a burglar. Middle aged, greying hair - could do with a bit of attention, actually - slightly dumpy - no, not dangerous looking, though familiar somehow. But you never could tell these days. There were some strange people, even in Ambridge (especially, perhaps, in Ambridge).

"Vicky, I just want a word with you. Perhaps in the kitchen?"

The intruder calmly descended the remaining stairs, passed Vicky and went into the kitchen. Vicky followed, strangely unable to resist. They sat down at the table.

"Oh dear. This isn't really how I imagined it... I have been so wanting to speak to you since you arrived but you are so hard to approach..."

"I try to be neighbourly" Vicky said, with a sniff "but I must say, bursting into someone else's house at six in the morning isn't really the way."

"No, I suppose not. But it's the only way - and the only time - I have. The stranger anxiously looked at the clock. "I don't have long. It's complicated... I'm sorry, this is going to sound all wrong, and I can't tell you who I really am. Just think of me as" - she paused - "an old friend of Mike's. Who wishes you well. And him. You see dear, I think you've been getting a few things wrong - no, just listen for a few minutes. I won't be here long, and you do need to hear this..."

And she explained things to Vicky, little things, about Mike, and Brenda, about Ambridge, about life. And some bigger things. And Vicky, normally so garrulous, listened, and smiled, and frowned, and winced, and recognised herself in what the stranger said, and recognised Mike, and wondered how she hadn't seen all this, but didn't, for the moment wonder where she had learned all of this.

"I think you'll be fine" said the other woman "just stop, and think sometimes. And if you're ever lonely - and I think, Vicky, you may be very lonely sometimes, even with Mike - I suggest you take a walk up Lakey Hill: and often the right person will come by, to talk to. 

Now I must go."

"Please stay" said Vicky "Mike'll be back soon" (she had lost all suspicion now, indeed had forgotten she'd said he was close by).

"No" the other woman replied "I - I can't do that. I wish I could - but I mustn't meet him." She was - not exactly crying - but only not crying by an effort. 

"Oh! You poor thing!" Though mystified, Vicky's heart went out to the stranger and she jumped up and hugged her.

"Vicky love! I'm back!"

Vicky opened her eyes. She was in her bed, hugging a pillow.

"Oh, Mike! I've had such a dream..."

She paused, and frowned, remembering the last words the stranger had said as they hugged. A whisper, almost too quiet to hear - "Look after him for me". Then her gaze fell on the photograph by Mike's side of the bed, the photograph of him, and Brenda, and Roy - and Betty.

"Dream, love? What about?"

"Oh - I can't really remember, actually. Now, if you've finished out there, why don't you come back to bed for a bit..?"


9/4/09: A Long Expected Inheritance

In a hole in the ground there lived an Archer.

Not a horrid, nasty, wet hole, full of mud and worms, but an Archer hole. And that means comfort.

The Archer's name was Peggy. She was an elderly Archer, rather portly in build and now extremely respectable, as were many of the Archers at that time apart from the rather wild tribe of the Kentons, who were inclined to go Out There and have Adventures. The other Archers rather looked down on Adventures, being satisfied to stay in the Village or, if travelling, go no further than Borchester or, a day's ride along the dwarf road, Felpersham. 

In her younger days, Peggy had had an adventure herself (having a dash of the Kenton in her through her father's side). However, she was known to be fantastically wealthy, so nothing was ever said about the Adventure, at least in in polite company - although sitting in his place at the Bull, old Gaffer Grundy would sip his ale and draw on his pipe and tell of the day, many years before, when she had returned from Out There leading a string of ponies, laden with sacks and chests, no doubt all "full of gold and jools found in foreign parts".

When the news spread, therefore, that Mrs Peggy Woolly, of Peg End, Ambridge, in The Shire was to hold an umpteenth birthday party, her many nephews, nieces, great nephews, great nieces, cousins, second cousins and other relations became most excited, and waited each morning for the post to bring their invitations. For as is well known, Archers love a party, especially one given by such a wealthy and aged Archer as Mrs Peggy. 

Rumours of Mrs Peggy's wealth had circulated for many years, fanned not least by Gaffer Grundy. Although everything that he said was taken with a pound of salt, many of her nephews, nieces, great nephews, great nieces and so forth reasoned that there was no smoke without fire. Everybody knew that the passages and tunnels of Peg End were stuffed with chests of gold and sacks of jewels. As nobody was entirely sure how she had acquired these, it was clear that, if not actually ill gotten, they were at least mysteriously gotten and therefore (obviously) fair game for treasure seekers. 

Indeed, on a number of occasions Mrs Peggy been required to search for a visiting nephew or niece who, when found, proved to be searching for treasure in a distant corner of her hole. 

"You would think" she sometimes laughed "that they only came here to dig for gold!"

So the day of the party dawned...


27/8/08: Porridge?

The tape recorder started.

"This is Detective Chief Inspector Barnaby of Midsomer Constabulary, currently on secondment to Borchester CID. With me I have Detective Sergeant Jones - will you please state your name, sir?"

"I am DAVID ARCHER. But I really don't understand..."

"A moment, sir. And you are...?"

"Usha Gupta, Mr Archer's solicitor."

"Thank you very much. Now I am going to ask you a few questions and I would be grateful if you gave honest answers. Clear?"

David looked at Usha, who nodded. "I always advise my clients to tell the police everything, David. Except, obviously, the one fact the suppression of which will seem most incriminating when it's discovered twenty minutes before the end".

David shook his head slowly. "But I shouldn't be here. I'm an ARCHER, don't you see?"

"Well, hopefully we can clear everything and then we can all go home to dinner" Barnaby replied. "Or perhaps we might not make the actual meal, but never mind, eh?" He settled back in his chair. "We've been watching you for some time, Mr Archer - or perhaps I should say, listening. Quite a history here."

He opened the file on the table and took out a sheet of paper.

"June 1987. A Mr Jethro Larkin, working with you on your farm in" he squinted "Ambridge", died in a most unpleasant chainsaw... accident."

"Now come on" said David "that was all gone into at the time, most thoroughly".

"And we also have badger killing... a strange report about the dumping of a quantity of farmyard manure on the property of a respectable builder... and the incident last week, in which a cleargyman, a Mr Alan Franks, suffered considerable injury and inconvenience due to a defective tractor driven by you, Mr Archer. An incident which you then conspired to cover up."

"Detective Inspector." It was the solicitor. "While these incidents are clearly extremely reprehensible - especially the last, for which I can assure you my firm intends to press for exemplary damages - I can't really see why they should be of interest to you, now?"

"Ah" said Barnaby. "A very good question. How about if I say that I can see a pattern emerging - a pattern of wanton disregard for the law, a willingness, indeed, on Mr Archer's part to take the law into his own hands, and a total lack or remorse. Do you recognise this man, Mr Archer?"

He laid a photograph upon the table.
(As a quick addendum: the demolition of a burial vault because of structural problems and removal of the coffin plates to the former doorway did happen at a church I know. They are kept brightly polished and have never disturbed anyone, but I still think it's a rather grisly idea.)


8/3/08: Brenda’s Room

The sleek black Mercedes drew to a halt. The chauffeur got out and went round the car to open the door and help out a woman in an expensively tailored suit. She was talking on her mobile, and did not stop as the chauffeur retrieved her briefcase and closed the car door. 

"OK, no problemo" she said. "It'll be done right away. I just have to complete the inspection first, then I'll make the announcement". 

Brenda Tucker, Chief Public Relations Officer of MattCo PLC, raised her sunglasses and surveyed the house. It was a sorry sight. Tiles had slipped from the roof and there was grass growing in the gutters. The garden was overgrown, and an old, upended pram rested on what had been the lawn. 

"If you would, please, Archer" she said, and Tom ran ahead to knock on the door. After some delay, it creaked open and a sallow face appeared. 

"Brenda" 

"Roy" 

"How are things then?" 

"Not so good, really... you heard the hotel went bust?" 

"Yes. Bound to happen sooner or later. We looked at a buyout but... just not viable, really. Not as a standalone place. New owners didn't keep you on then?" 

"No. They said I had no qualifications. I get by... help out a bit at Jaxx Caff on the Borchester by-pass... Emma Grundy's been very good to me since she took over the chain..." 

"Fine". Brenda sniffed. "Well, you know what I'm here for. Best get it done". She stepped inside. There were patches of mould on the walls, and the carpets were worn. Roy had clearly been eating his breakfast, for the stale end of a loaf rested on the kitchen table among mismatched china and battered cutlery. Holding her breath slightly, she climbed the stairs, turned right along the landing and examined the seals on the bedroom door carefully. No apparent disturbance. Brenda took the padlock key out of the briefcase - proffered by the obsequious Archer: their relationship had changed after MattCo bought Tom out when Home Farm was sold up following the divorce - and opened the door. She stepped inside, closed her eyes, and breathed in. Yes, all as it should be. All safe, all untouched... 

"Brenda..." 

She opened her eyes. HE had stepped into the room. 

"Brenda, what you said before... actually things are quite tough. I've had an offer, but I need to raise some cash - I know Dad left you the room, and I can't sell unless you agree but..." 

"No! It's mine! My room, like it was when Mum died - you've got the house, what do I have? you just want it all, don't you? Oh Roy, how could you? Look at me - you've got the whole house, what have I got in Ambridge? Yes, I know there's Grange Spinney, and Brookfield, and The Bull, but those are businesses, Roy. you've got" - she waved an arm - "all this. And how DARE you set foot in my room. Get out, Roy! Out now!" 

Retreating before the force of her fury, Roy retreated to the kitchen while Archer helped Brenda, weeping now at the ingratitude of her brother, down the stairs and out of the house. 

As she climbed into the car again, she paused, and looked across the fields. There, on what had been Home Farm land, were the polytunnels, and she could see the distant figures of her workers. Who dared say she had no heart? There she could see Hayley - earning good money - weeding the organic strawberry crop, and further away, some of Tom's cousins - David and Ruth and Pip - good work for all of them, and a caravan to live in, following the collapse of Brookfield. Yes, they should be grateful to her, Brenda Tucker. A shame it wouldn't last... 

Brenda took out her mobile and speed dialled the MattCo press office. 

"OK" she said. "You can put out the press release now." 

The new Birmingham relief road had long been needed, but there had been fierce resistance from the green lobby, which had been surprised to find support from local landowner MattCo. However, after high level negotiations with the Department of Transport, that was about to change. A concession had been made. While the rest of Ambridge would be Tarmac'd over, the ten lane highway would divide, saving one house - or rather, one room - from destruction.... 


11/5/08: You’re fired…

Frances, they can come through now."

The three - each wearing their best business suit, hair neatly combed, nails bitten with nerves - stood up and went into the Boardroom. They sat down in order. Adam, as Project manager, in the middle. On his left, looking slightly puzzled, David. On the right, leaning forward with her hands pressed together, Debbie.

Sir Alan sat watching them for a moment. Then he pointed a stubby finger at Adam.

"So" he said "what? went wrong"

Adam flicked away that annoying lock of hair that always fell into his eyes, however savagely ge gelled or cut it.

"Well, Sir Alan" he replied. "I still think that I handled the negotiation well. I was let down by my teammates, who..."

"LIAR!" interjected Debbie. "You gave it all away!"

"I did my best" Adam replied. "Maybe if I'd had some support, but where were you both?"

"That is such rubbish!" she said. "Sir Alan, I have just put so much into this project. All the basic ideas came from me, and if I had handled the negotiations - look Adam, you alienated Matt, he wanted to come in but you told him 'no' then you went creeping back. It was obvious that we were in trouble, that we needed him - so he just walked all over you"

"Er -" piped up David "I think I ought to say..."

"You were as keen as me to keep it in the family" said Adam, hotly, ignoring David. 

"Yes" said Debbie "but I'd have been more tactful"

"But you weren't there! You just flounced off back to Transylvania to see Igor or whatever his name is..."

Sir Alan waved an arm.

"Just shut up, both of you" he said. "Debbie, ruling out an investors because they're not "family" was just b****y stupid. I would have expected better of you. Now give me one good reason why i shouldn't fire you?"

Debbie paused.

"Sir Alan, it was a good idea that was let down in the execution. I..."

Sir Alan shook his head. "You're not convincing me. If not you, who should I fire? The whole lot of you? it was your idea, tell me, who let you down."

Debbie licked her lips, looking cornered, and glanced from side to side. She leaned forward.

"I take full responsibility of course. Adam wasn't up to it, but he was Project Manager, if he insisted on running the negotiation even when he's got no training, what can I do? But I'm sure he did his best..."

"Really? That wasn't what you were saying a minute ago. Changing your story more often than you change your name. And you?"

He turned to David, who was sitting bewildered, staring, like a badger who sees the shotgun, only just too late. 

"A bit out of your league, I would have thought. Why get into something that the Government are just about to kibosh? Business is all about being ahead of the curve, not picking something up just when everyone else drops it."

He shook his head.

"I really can't decide. Frankly, you all deserve to be fired, but then there'd be a big hole in the middle of the programme. So I'm going to give you all another chance. I've got a new challenge. In the office outside are three boxes of Stirling Gold cheese. tomorrow, you're going to sell them on Borchester Market and the one who does worst gets the chop. Now get out."


2/5/08: After Hours at Lower Loxley

Nigel opened the sitting room door. Elizabeth was sitting on the sofa with her legs curled under her, toying with a glass of wine. She was watching the DVD of "Atonement" but paused it when Nigel came in, leaving Keira Knightley poised in the air just above the surface of the river.

"Are they asleep?"

"Yes. I started reading that new little Philip Pullman book, the one about the balloon, but they nodded off before -"

"Nigel, don't you think that's little old for Freddie and Lily?"

"Well, I enjoyed it!"

Rueful smile. 

Nigel sat beside his wife, taking care not to disturb her - once she was comfortable she didn't like rearranging herself to suit anyone else. It wasn't worth the icy stare and the shake of the head - at least not when he had something more important to discuss.

"Lizzie, we need to talk about this business with Kathy."

"I don't want to talk about it, Nigel. The ungrateful creature. What was she thinking of? And after all the support we gave her? All the trouble we took? Did she stop to consider what effect this would have on me? And Kenton. he knew about it, Nigel, but he didn't tell me!"

Nigel waited until the tirade subsided.

"No, Lizzie, I didn't mean about Kathy personally. I meant, what will this mean for Lower Loxley? Kathy has a key role here."

Elizabeth sniffed.

"Nigel, she's just the shop manager. Nobody is irreplaceable. We should easily find someone - perhaps we could get one of the volunteer guides to do it? That would save a bit of money as well."

Nigel shook his head.

"No, you're not thinking, Lizzie. Kathy is going to work at the Golf Club, which has hitherto played no discernible role in village life. But now she is there, people will bump into one another at the Club. Half the village will prove to have played golf there for years. Worst of all, whoever we recruit here will probably be a Silent. The producers will forget about the shop..."

Elizabeth gasped.

"Nigel! That's terrible! the shop will never be heard of again. Lower Loxley will lose profile, and begin to slide. We could go the way of Arkwright Hall!"

"Yes, Lizzie."

He paused.

"I can only see one way out of this. We must make sure that we appoint a Speaker to be shop manager."

"Not Lynda Snell, or that awful Carter girl!"

"No, Lizzie. The answer is closer to home, I'm afraid. You almost had it before when you suggested one of the volunteers. Lizzie, we must appoint... Bert Fry!"


18/4/08: Wind in the Willows Revisited

Mole shivered and pulled his scarf tighter. Although it was April, it was a clear night and rather chilly. He would much rather have been sitting by the fire in Ratty's parlour, with a glass of something in his paw and a dish of something else warming on the hob.

"I know, Mole" said Ratty, who had divined his thoughts. "But Toad will be so very disappointed if we don't come. And Badger may be there."

"But Ratty" said Mole "What if it's just another of his fads? Remember the motor cars. Then aeroplanes. And then..."

His voice trailed away. They had arrived at Toad Hall. The front door was wide open, yellow light spilling across the gravel. There stood Toad, adjusting a telescope. And not just a telescope. As he hastened to tell them, this was a Telescope. A Reflector. A veritable Light-Bucket. Not one of your everyday, inferior instruments, but a Telescope worthy of Toad.

"That's what he said about the last one" whispered Mole to Rat as Toad discoursed. "What became of that, I wonder?"

"Part exchanged for the new one, I believe" replied Ratty. "He's a bit low on funds, you know."

"Silence!" commanded Toad. "I shall now proceed to Observe. Silence!"

Ratty rolled his eyes. It had been just like this when Toad took up cookery. He would announce that he proposed to cook a certain meal. Servants would be dispatched up and down the Riverbank, and to all the neighbouring towns, to procure rare ingredients, which they would not be able to find. Toad would retire, in a huff, to his study and the cook would have to visit him and drop hints as to what alternatives he might use. He would then lock her out of the kitchen and produce an indescribably horrid repast that all of Riverbank would praise highly, in order not to hurt Toad's feelings. The telescope, at least, needed only be admired from a distance (indeed, Toad forbade anyone to handle his instrument).

"Ah!" cried Toad. "The Plough! Ursa Major! Orion! Behold the majesty of the Heavens - made plan by the Great Toad!"

"It is a shame" ventured Mole, to break the silence that followed "that you do not have a camera, Toad, so that you might record your observations for the benefit of us, your friends."

Toad stood rapt for a full minute.

"A camera!" he cried "photography! The medium of the age! O happy Mole! Oh, grateful Toad! What care I for telescopes - crude, material telescopes - now when all the wonders of Nature and Art cry out be reproduced in light! The true, the only occupation for a refined Toad, an artistic Toad, a perceptive Toad!"

Behind them came Badger's gruff voice.

"He's off again..."


16/3/08: Feedstock

David Archer stuffed his toast into his mouth and poured more treacly brown fluid from the cracked brown teapot. A glob of butter had smeared the plans for the anaerobic digester, which he was studying. He tried to wipe it off with the dishcloth, but only succeeded in adding ketchup to the design. Never mind - after today's inspection by the consulting engineers, the thing would be ready to go and they would be filling it for the first time in a couple of days.

The post clattered through the front door. 

"I'll get it!" called David, to save Ruth from having to pick up the small mountain of letters and packets. An Amazon parcel for Pip. Three invitations to "Ideal Farm" exhibition - one addressed to himself, one to his grandfather Dan, and one to Monty. Bills. More bills. And - a postcard, addressed to Ruth. From her old school friend, Agnes.

Agnes? Who the **** was Agnes? He looked more closely - prattle, enjoying it so much, remember when we... and an email address. "cowman57@..." The handwriting looked familiar. 

"Anything there for me?"

Ruth was standing in the door.

"Er - no, love. Actually, must dash. Got to block the lane with the trailer before Lynda gets through." 

Stuffing the postcard into his pocket, David hurried out.

In The Bull that lunchtime, he stayed away from Phil and Bert, discussing recipes for suet pudding and for dumplings, and hunched himself over one of the PCs. Pip thought he couldn't cope with all this stuff, and it was fun to keep her - and Ruth - believing that he thought a byte was half a biscuit, but it was really pretty easy. First, register a clean gmail address. Send a bland message to the address on the card - could be from anyone - just drop in a few words - cowshed, Oxford... and wait. 

David smiled as he returned to the digester plans. Marvellous things. It amused him to see it described on Lynda'smessageboard as the "poo digester". It would consume that, of course. And also the stuff that Brian was going to grow. And household rubbish, if they wanted - which they didn't. Vegetables, half eaten ready meals, iffy meat... even Helen's unsold cheese. Pretty much anything, in fact.

There was a reply! David leaned over , making sure no-one could see the screen reflection in the swing door. He smiled briefly. Just as he had thought. "have to see you... can't go on living without you... worst mistake of my life... know you must feel the same way..."

The answer almost wrote itself. "Yes... days and nights so dark without you... must get away... meet you by the polytunnels on Home Farm... make sure nobody sees you... come on foot, we can use the Brookfield Land-Rover... tell nobody... can't afford to mess this up...."

***

"David," said Ruth over tea that evening "are you alright? You seem very... quiet."

"Oh yes love" said David "absolutely. Never better. At least - look, there's just something I need to do... won't be long."

Ruth smiled as she heard the Land-Rover cough into life. It had taken so long, but at last, things were right.

She speed dialled a number on her mobile. It was answered at the first ring. "Yes" she said. "Hook, line, and sinker. He'll be up there in ten minutes. Get ready. No mistakes."

***

Or (and this time, I've left the ending open)

"George!" yelled Nic at the top of her voice. "Come here! Come here now, or when I get you, I'll..."

The fog seemed to take her words. Where was this?

"Come on Jake, Mia" she said "it's too cold and damp for you. Let's go home. George can just find his own way."

But Nic couldn't find hers. The fog was so thick now, but ten minutes ago the day had been so clear and warm. She had been taking the children along the lane, going nowhere in particular, just trying to stay out of the way of that interfering nuisance Ed. He seemed to be popping up all the time these days. Wasn't he supposed to have a job? Never mind, Will could sort him out. Drop a word here, a word there - easy.

But where were they? What that flapping thing up ahead. Kind of plastic. Sort of an archway, like a tunnel. Funny thing to put in a field but then country people were weird. 

Jake and Mia were running on ahead now, she'd better stop them or - who was that they were running after? 

"George! Stay right where you are, you little..."

He was laughing! Oh, he'd be for it now! She set off after him, across the field, but he was gone again in the mist, oh where was he. 

Looming up out the fog, a curved metal wall, and a ladder.

Ed cursed. The van just wouldn't start, and he couldn't get a signal on his mobile. He'd just have to fetch help. So got out, slammed the door, and set off up the lane. Even though he'd known these fields all his life, it was difficult, in this murk, to see where he was. But if he took the short cut behind the polytunnels, he'd be able to get back on the main road and.

A shout - where had it come from? Was that George? Over by the biodigester?

Nervously, Nic began to climb. She thought she could hear light footsteps ahead of her, but she still couldn't see anything. At the top there was a narrow metal walkway leading into the murk. Just out of reach, George, beads of damp clinging to his golden curls.

"Can't get me! Can't get me!" With a giggle, he was gone.

"George. Come here - AT ONCE. I'll teach you to run off, you mark my words".

"Oh yeah?"

Nic turned. There, climbing the ladder, was Ed...


27/2/08: Parable of the Brother and the Sister

There was a man, a seller of milk, who had two children, a brother and a sister. The son was an apprentice innkeeper and the daughter a storyteller of very slight repute.

The innkeeper's wife was great with child, and there was nowhere for them to stay because they could not afford to lodge in their own city. So the man said to his son, come, I will divide my house with you and give you half of my cattle. And his son said, oh, thanks, Dad.

But the man's daughter was wrathful, and she gnashed her teeth and turned her face from him and consorted with sausage makers. He said to her, daughter, what have I ever done that you should treat me so? And she said, to my brother you have given even half of your house and half of all your cattle. And yet to me you have given nothing - not till you kick the bucket, anyway.

So the man said, begone, for you are as a date that seems fair but is rotten within. For I had prepared a great feast for you, but now it shall be given to your brother. Leave, and inhabit the outer darkness where the ghosts howl.

And she said to him, you what?


11/2/08: Driving Lessons

Nic heard Will close the front door softly, softly so he wouldn't wake her. But she was awake, and wouldn't get back to sleep now. Might as well get up, at least she could have half an hour before Jake and Mia were all over the place. 

Sitting at the kitchen table, she reflected, over her mug of Nescafe, on how things were turning out. So Will wasn't quite... what she'd expected. But it wasn't as if she'd ever really - well, he'd just been a way out, hadn;t he? Away from the debts, and Andrew, and the flat.

So, the house was a bit dark and damp. And she never spoke to another adult from morning to night. And she didn't drive, and... things could be worse, couldn't they? Will was going to get that inheritance, and he'd get her a car, and she'd learn to drive? Then she could have a bot of freedom, a bit of independence - get out to see her Mum, take Jake and Mia to playgroup, get into Borchester, spend a morning in Underwoods.

The post clattered through the letterbox. Might as well take a look - could be something to look at, a catalogue... electricity bill (leave that for Will, she'd seen anough of those.) No stamp, "To the car owner" (Ha.)... what was this? Addressed to Will, already a bit torn, it couldn't do any harm. "Estate of the late Miss... administrative error... recent will superseding... bulk of estate... Mr Edward Grundy...?" Edward Grundy?

A couple of days later, on the village green (for hours!) with Jake, Mia and George - isn't that Will's brother, outside the shop? Give Georgie a bit of money to buy some sweets. Best brave smile, lot of ground to make up here.

"Ed? Oh, what a surprise! But I'm glad I just bumped into you... wanted a word... George - you know he misses you... no, I haven't said anything to Will... yes, if you wanted to drop by he'd love that... no, I wouldn't tell Will... there is something you could do for me though -stuck out there on my own all day, no transport, it would be good to learn and such a surprise for Will... yes, I heard you were very good... thank you..."


16/1/08: The Verdict

When the news was read out to the hushed court, Kathy gasped in horror. No longer able to control herself she stood up and ran from the courtroom, screaming.

“Silence” shouted the judge “I will have order in my court. Silence. I understand the strong feelings – but there are times and places for expressing those feelings and this is neither. Silence.”

As the hubhub died down, Elizabeth got up from her place in the public gallery and left the room. She searched the maze of anterooms and corridors, trying to find Kathy. She didn’t know what she could say, but she must say something, anything. The way that Kathy had looked at her when she gave her evidence….

Finally, she realised that she was lost. The building was much bigger than she had realised, and the corridors seemed to run for miles. Now she was just trying to find her way out. From time to time she heard footsteps, or distant voices, but they faded away as she tried to follow them. Eventually, heart pounding, she sat down on a wooded bench in a dark corridor to rest, and reached for her mobile, but either the battery was dead, or the thick stone walls allowed no signal through.

“Elizabeth?”

She started in surprise. She hadn’t seen anyone here, but with these shadows, that wasn’t surprising. Sitting at the other end of the bench was – Owen, or Taylor as she must think of him.

“Elizabeth” he said again “I wanted to talk to you. About what you said. Those bad things”

Elizabeth gasped. This couldn’t be true. He shouldn’t be here. How had he got here?

“I mean” Taylor went on “I thought you liked me. Those glances in the kitchen, the times I was in the store cupboard and you just brushed against me. I mean, you wouldn’t be the first. But those lies you told.”

Elizabeth slid along the bench as far as she could, but something was preventing her from standing up – “I never, I…”

“Oh, don’t tease me” Taylor replied, moving closer. He smiled, and reached out his hand towards her. “What you said wasn’t nice. I thought you liked me. She made you say those bad things, didn’t she? You have to make it up to me now, you have to!”

“Lizzie! Lizzie!”

It was Nigel. Suddenly able to move, Elizabeth ran towards him and wrapped her arms around him. As they walked away, she looked back. The bench was empty, and the corridor a dead end, but she heard a whisper: “you’ll have to make it up to me, you’ll have to….”

At the rear entrance to the court, the coroner’s black van stood, waiting to receive Taylor’s lifeless corpse. There would be a post-mortem and an inquest, but nobody doubted the verdict. Rather, the question to be answered was, how had Taylor managed to hang himself, so quickly, despite the precautions that the judge had ordered?


19/12/07: Jack and Peggy

Jack Woolley woke suddenly. It was dark. Why was it dark? And he was alone. Where was she? Where was she? He sat up in his bed. Oh, he had such a headache. What was happening?

After a moment, he remembered something, and felt anxiously under his pillow. There were the tablets that he hadn’t taken. A little calmer now, he got out of his bed, stood up, and made his way to the bathroom. Yes, things were coming back to him now. He remembered! But where was – who was – Peggy, yes. Peggy. Where was Peggy?

Jack found his slippers and shuffled out of the bedroom and downstairs. She must be sleeping in the spare room. She had been doing that a lot lately. She would bring him his tablets and his mug of cocoa, wait while he took them, settle him down and then leave him. But he hadn’t been taking the tablets. Oh no. He didn’t like them. They made him feel strange. He didn't want them. She couldn’t make him take them, could she? Not if she didn’t know?

It was all clear now – yes, there were the hazy months and years, but he could remember parts even of those. The papers. She had made him sign some papers, lots of papers. He didn’t want to, but it was for the best, so he had signed them. And then the medicine. He hadn’t wanted the medicine, either, it made him forget things, but Peggy said he needed it, so he had taken it. 

And then – oh dear. Jack stumbled by the front door and knocked a vase flying. It made a terrible noise, and he heard Peggy call “Jack?”. He crouched on the floor, as still as he could, hardly even breathing. She mustn’t hear him, she would be cross, and then she would - oh dear. Oh dear. Perhaps he should just go back to bed. Peggy would be very cross with him if he was naughty, and then-

No. He didn’t want to go back, and he wouldn’t. It was his house. He was Jack Woolley. He was the Boss. Nobody told him what to do. Jack stood up and opened the front door, then walked down the garden path in the moonlight.

Roy was driving home late from Grey Gables. He thought he saw a movement in the garden, and stopped the car. Yes, that was Jack. Stupid. he had warned her about this. Pulling out his mobile, he dialled Peggy’s number, and back in the cottage, the phone rang. Then he got out of the car.

Jack didn’t have a chance. Peggy behind him, Roy in front, still half asleep and confused, he was bundled back into the cottage. Peggy had found the pills hidden under the pillow. So. This time, she hissed to herself, as she prepared the syringe, there would be no mistake. Things had gone too far for Jack to spoil them now.

“It was just lucky I was passing” said Roy later "and not somebody else. What would you have done if he’d got out and found his way to someone who believed him? You’d better get new locks fitted, Mrs Woolley, or we could both be for it.”

And the very next day, she did.


14/7/07: The Changeling, Parts I - III

With apologies to my reader, I have realised that two fantasies I recently posted – Return to Home Farm and Torchwood in Ambridge – work pretty well, with a couple of tweaks, as episodes in a sequence. They were posted in reverse order, but need to be read that way anyway for suspense.

And that gives scope for a continuation – for those who appreciate Capt Jack Harkness’s qualities… and want to see what became of Agent Hathaway.

Here, then, is the story, taken forward (but not complete, yet)


The Changeling – part I

Alice clutched her bag tightly as she walked up the drive. This was going to be so hard. She rang the doorbell. After a short delay, Jennifer opened the door. 

"Alice?"

"Mum. I'm so sorry. I understand now" - she paused - "I under stand that none of this is Ro-ry's fault".

Jennifer's face brightened and she held Alice in a tight hug.

"And you've come home" she said "to your family. Brian! Look who's come to join us! Come in. Come through to the kitchen, we're just about to eat. There's soup and - "

Still feeling terrible, Alice followed her mother to the kitchen. There they sat - Adam and Debbie, Brian presiding, Jennifer bustling too and fro. And seated opposite Brian, boosted by a pile of cushions, was Ruari Himself.

After they had said Grace - "We thank Siobhan for what she has given us. None of this is Ruari's fault" and Alice had admitted her error, and been taken back into the Family, Ruari (through Brian) allowed them to eat. Later, (through Brian) he indicated his wishes. Now that the Family were together again, past grievances forgiven and forgotten, he wished to begin to understand the business. 

Debbie would take him to Hungary to inspect the Consortium's operations. Adam would show him the strawberries. Alice - well, Alice had no real place in the business, did she? Of course, her Gap year was now out of the question - there must be some consequence for rebellion, even if mild - but Jennifer clearly needed help in the kitchen and Alice would provide it. Now, she must make an early start tomorrow, so should go to bed.

Adam, Debbie and Jennifer thanked Ro-ry. Her lip trembling, Alice too bowed the knee and, when dismissed, retired to her bedroom.

Once there, however, she did not sleep but lay awake, counting the hours off by the church clock until three. Then she got up, dressed quietly, and took the items that Jack had provided. They were right. It must be somewhere in the house - Debbie had only fallen under the influence once she returned to Home Farm, and Kate was, so far, immune. Alice was therefore in great danger, but had, so far, escaped.

Trembling, Alice felt her way down the stairs to her father's office. Good, it was unlocked. Before she slipped inside, she opened the front door a crack. Always prepare your escape. And she put the light in the office. A main light switched on aroused much less suspicion than a torch beam.

Trying not to keep looking over her shoulder, she opened the first drawer. However, she had hardly started to search it when a voice from the door stopped her in her tracks.

"Hello Al-ice. Is this what you're look-ing for, Al-ice?"

It was Ro-ry Himself. He held an object above his head.

“Look at Mou-sie, Al-ice…”

The eyes glowed green

Alice screamed.

The next morning, Alice put on her oldest jeans. When Jennifer woke, she found the kitchen floor already scrubbed, and Alice at work peeling the potatoes, humming to herself. 

"Why, darling" she said. "How kind."

Alice smiled.

"It's all for Ro-ry, isn't it?" she said "None of this is His fault".

Alice loved Ro-ry.



The Changeling – part II

Two days before, Captain Jack Harkness had settled back in his chair in The Bull's beer garden and sighed.

"Alice" he said "Alice, why couldn't you just have hung on a little longer? We were so close"

"Sorry, Jack" replied Alice, fiddling with her glass "I just couldn't stick it. I know you warned me, and I thought I could cope, but when it came to it - the Changeling was just so real! It was like, I heard it wailing at night and just had to go and comfort it. It took all my willpower not to. And then I'd have been like Mum and Dad. And Adam and Debbie. I had to get out, I just did!"

Jack shook his head.

"I know", he said. "But still - all that effort getting it into the family, the cover story, Hathaway's fake death - you know she's in an institution? May never recover - she was closer to it than anyone. And now we've got no-one on the inside at all. Can't watch it, can't tell when it's going to make a move..."

"I'm sorry" Alice mumbled "I really, truly am. But look at me know - I've had to go through this running away from home thing, I'm stuck with dim Amy and dimmer Alan - what do I do next, Jack?"

Jack pondered. "You'll have to sit tight for a bit" he said, finally. "We may need to bring Kate back to resolve this. Torchwood South Africa has certain specialised resources that might be quite helpful in this - although it's hard to see what pretext we could use to reintroduce her to the reservation. But in the meantime, you sit tight and I'll try to find another operative to get close."

A smile briefly passed across his mouth. "Adam's already pretty much lost, I know" he said. "Besides, he's out of the way on the combine now most of the time. But I might pay a little visit to Ian tonight... see what I can do to persuade him that maybe the Changeling could spend a bit of time there..."

He looked at his engraved fob watch. "Anyway, enough stasis for one evening. It's nearly two minutes past seven. Time to start things up again. See you here same time tomorrow."

As Jack and Alice slipped away into the shadows, he pressed the button on the back of the watch. A moment later, Sid, Jolene, and the Bull's customers, and the other inhabitants of the Reservation, sprang into life and carried on doing whatever they had been twenty minutes before.


The Changeling – part III

Greatcoat flapping in the wind, Captain Jack Harkness ran up the path to the Vicarage and hammered on the door. “Alice!” he called. 

After some moments, a light came on upstairs, a window opened and Alan, the Vicar, leaned out, puzzled face framed in the darkness.

“Hello?” he said “anyone in trouble?”

“I’ll tell you who’s in trouble” shouted Amy, as she ran downstairs. “That murdering RAF swine out there. Alice just took a few leaflets, and there they are, bothering her at home in the middle of the night! Take that, you warmonger!”

The last as she threw the door open and swung a blow at Jack with a walking stick. He caught her wrist in his hand and held it for a moment, looking into her eyes. 

“Amy, Amy” he said “I am not from the RAF. This is just a coat. Now calm down. Alice may be in great danger. Where is she?”

Somehow, Amy was reassured, not by what he said but by his voice – and something in his eyes. She dropped the stick.

“She went back home. Said she’d had enough, she was going to find it and burn it, this whole thing was just messing up her family too much and it time to end it.”

Jack slapped his palm against his forehead. “Stupid kid” he muttered. 

Alan was now coming down the stairs into the hall, his usual expression of puzzlement on his face.

“Alan? Alan?” It was Usha’s voice, coming from upstairs. “Is something wrong?”

“No” he called out hastily. “I’ll be back in a moment.”

Just then, Jack’s headset bleeped. He listened to the report from the Cardiff control room gravely.

“Escaped, you say. How long? And do they know where she was headed?”

His expression grew more grave. He ended the call, and clapped his hands.

“Right, people, we have work to do. You, Alan, I need to borrow your bike. Amy, you’re coming for a ride with me.”

Brushing aside Alan’s feeble objections, he took the keys from the hall table, pulled Amy outside and shut the door. They mounted the bike, and sped off down the lane, ignoring the twitching curtains and open front doors.

Half a mile outside the village, Jack stopped the bike and turned to Amy. He had been thinking over how much to tell her. She deserved to know the truth but not – yet – all the truth.

“I need to explain” he said. “I don’t know how much Alice told you – not much, if she had any sense. But now you need to know. You’re in danger – the whole reserv – village – is in danger, and I need your help to fix things.”

He outlined how the temporal rift had been opened up, and told her a little about the creature – the Changeling - that had passed though. To grow, it needed to stay near the Rift, and would normally have insinuated itself into a family – either a childless couple who would easily believe it was theirs; or, if need be, as a cuckoo, displacing a child of similar age and appearance. Then, it would grow thriving on the psychic energy of the Rift, dominating those around it, until it could achieve real power for those who had sent it. At great personal cost, including, as cover, a liaison with Brian Aldridge that was most distasteful to her religious (and aesthetic) scruples, Agent Hathaway had claimed it as her infant – and so been able to carry it away from the village, away from the Rift, where it would grow up as a normal child.

But nobody had reckoned on the power of the Changeling. Even before it was removed, it had already begun to work on Brian’s mind, and, instead of forgetting it as he should, he insisted on visiting it in Germany, keeping the psychic link intact and allowing the Changeling to grow in strength, and work on both his agent Hathaway’s mind. 

Eventually, she had given way under the strain and had to be retired from the case. Officially she had died, and Brian was left with the child which was to be observed at close quarters by Alice, who had been given training and weapons to counter its insidious spell. However, Alice now seemed to have fallen.

“Why don’t you just kill it?” said Amy.

“A bit rich, coming form a vegetarian pacifist, who was calling me a murdered half an hour ago?” replied Jack.

“No, that’s not the same at all. This isn’t human, and it’s, like, evil?”

“Well, you can’t. The closer you get to it, the more hostile you feel, the stronger it works on you. That’s how it got control of the Aldridges. No, we need to break the link. It would be something close to the child, something it keeps near, then the bond will loosen. I think I know what it is. Alice was close, and her last transmission gave me a clue - But there isn’t long. Soon it will grow independently of that. You’ve got to be ready, Amy. I really need your help right now.”

They set off again, Jack driving the powerful machine and Amy holding tight to him, and soon came to Home Farm. Jack had explained his plan. He went up to the front door and knocked loudly. When a bemused Brian came to open it, Jack staggered inside and began to blurt out some story about having met Brian at a trade fair in Hamburg and he was just passing and what had happened to that lovely young woman he was wish? Jennifer stood in the hallway, hideously embarrassed, a curious Ro-ry holding her hand, while Amy slipped around the back of the house in the confusion. She efficiently levered open a window, climbed inside, and set out on her search.

To be continued…. [it never was]


14/7/07: A Borsetshire Lass (apols to AE Housman)

(III - The Recruit)

Leave your home behind, lass
And reach your friends your hand
And go, and luck go with you,
While Ambridge tower shall stand

Oh, come you home of Sunday
When Ambridge streets are still
And Ambridge bells are calling
To farm and lane and mill

Or come you home of Monday
When the village shop is full
And across the ancient village green
Drifts singing from the Bull

Come you home a hero(ine)
or come not home at all
The lads you leave will mind you
Till Ambridge tower shall fall

And you will list the bugle
That blows in lands of morn
And make the foes of England
be sorry you were born

And you till tramp of doomsday
On lands of morn may lie
And make the hearts of comrades
Be heavy where you die.

Leave your home behind you,
Your friends by field and town
Oh, town and field will mind you
Till Ambridge tower is down.


11/7/07: Torchwood in Ambridge

Captain Jack Harkness settled back in his chair in The Bull's beer garden and sighed.

"Alice", he said, "Alice, why couldn't you just have hung on a little longer? We were so close"

"Sorry, Jack" replied Alice, fiddling with her glas "I just couldn't stick it. I know you warned me, and I thought I could cope, but when it came to it - the Changeling was just so real! It was like, I heard it wailing at night and just had to go and comfort it. It took all my willpower not to. And then I'd have been like Mum and Dad. I had to get out, I just did!"

Jack shook his head.

"I know", he said. "But still - all that effort getting it into the family, the cover story, Hathaway's fake death - you know she's in an institution? May never recover - she was closer to it than anyone. And now we've got no-one on the inside at all. Can't watch it, can't tell when it's going to make a move..."

"I'm sorry" Alice mumbled "I really, truly am. But look at me know - I've had go through this running away from home thing, I'm stuck with dim Amy and dimmer Alan - what do I do next, Jack?"

Jack pondered. "You'll have to sit tight for a bit" he said, finally. "We may need to bring Kate back to resolve this. Torchwood South Africa has certain specialised resources that might be quite helpful in this - although it's hard to see what pretext we could use to reintroduce her to the reservation. But in the meatime, you sit tight and I'll try to find another opertaive to get close."

A smile briefly passed across his mouth. "Adam's already pretty much lost, I know" he said. "Besides, he's out of the way on the combine now most of the time. But I might pay a little visit to Ian tonight... see what I can do to persuade him that maybe the Changeling could spend a bit of time there..."

He looked at his engraved fob watch. "Anyway, enough statis for one evening. It's nearly two minutes past seven. Time to start things up again. See you here same time tomorrow."

As Jack and Alice slipped away into the shadows, he pressed the button on the back of the watch. A moment later, Sid, Jolene, and the Bull's customers, and the other inhabitants of the Reservation, sprang into life and carried on doing whatever they had been twenty minutes before.


23/7/07: From the Ambridge Book of Fairy tales

Once upon a time, in a far country, there lived a beautiful princess called Alice. Alice was a very happy princess, who had almost everything that she wanted (or if she didn't, she knew how to get Daddy, the King, to provide it, pretty quickly.) 

One day, when she was out riding in the palace grounds, Alicemet a strange woman who sniffed ans sneezed a lot.

"Good afternoon, aged crone" said Alice. "What brings you to my father's fair lands?"

"Less of the 'aged' if you don't mind" replied the middle-aged woman. "This is to be a non cliched fairy story. Or at least [sniff] my parts are. And I'm not on your father's land, this is common."

"Sorry" said Alice, although she was slightly upset to hear the "c" word. "Let me try again. What brings you here? And who are you?"

"I'm pretending to check that no-one has been fly tipping on the bridleway" was the reply "but really, I'm your [sniff] fairy godmother and I have come to offer you a gift for your eighteenth birthday. You may have any wish you choose. But please be quick, Robert needs me back at home by teatime to patronise the guests."

Alice was thrilled. A wish! Any wish! She thought quickly.

"I suppose that universal peace and an end to world suffering would be a bit over the top?" she suggested, hesitantly. One had to ask.

"I'm afraid so" said the Fairy. "Highly commendable of you to ask, but rules are rules. It is a personal wish, for you. Ask for something that you have always wanted."

Alice was relieved. There was one thing that she wanted above all else, and which, she knew, at their age, Daddy and Mummy couldn't provide (as they were past it and anyway, the thought was frankly gross) - a little baby brother to play with. So she asked the Fairy if she could have just that.

The Fairy's brow creased. "Are you quaite sure, Alice?" she said. "Have you thought what it might mean?"

"You said ANYTHING!" replied Alice, her lip beginning to curl. "If you say 'no' I'll never trust anyone ever again!"

"Yes, yes, of course" replied the fairy hastily. "Well, here goes then..." and she waved her wand in the air.

"There. That should do it... now I must be getting away. I have the llamas to feed, all of these birthday cards to hand deliver and a 15,000 signature petion against global warming to submit to the Parish Council, all by sunset. Goodbye!"

The Fairy hurried off, and Alice went on her way happily. It would be a bit of a surprise for Mum, she supposed, and goodness knows how Dad would manage it - but she would soon have the little brother she had always wanted.

Unfortunately, neither Alice nor the Good Fairy knew that another Fairy was abroad in the woods that afternoon. The Bad Fairy Siobhan was sitting on a tree stump nearby as they spoke, and she heard every word.

"Oh deary me" she said to herself "oh deary dear. This will never do, never." And as the sky clouded over, she waved her wand several times in the direction of the receding Alice.

"There" she said to herself. "Should make the storyline a little more interesting..."

King Brian sat in his throne room. He was bored, and tired. Prince Adam was setting out his plans - again - for how the kingdom should be run. They all seemed to involve a lot of hard work, and spending a lot of gold from the Treasury. 

"And another thing" the Prince added. "Dragons. They're getting rather scarce, you know, and there are generous grants available for providing them with appropriate habitats - trackless stretches of forest, maidens, ruined halls..."

The King grunted.

"Sire" came a quite voice. "I advise caution. You should consider other alternatives, before laying out so much gold and exhausting yourself so."

It was Deborah, the Grand Vizier, speaking from a crystal ball that stood on the table. Deborah had many commitments, and frequently had to travel. However, she was still able to keep a watch on things, although Prince Adam had never worked out how. Perhaps the crows helped her...

"Sire" came the quiet, insistent voice again. "I counsel that you consider putting the kingdom in the hands of competent sub-contractors, who will do all the boring work for you? Farming it out, as you might say."

It was a tempting prospect, but there were clearly many considerations. "We will think on it" Brian replied, grandly. Clapping his hands to signal the end of the audience, he stood. Prince Adam fell to his knees, and waddled backwards out of the room. The light in Deborah's crystal ball faded.

"We shall walk beside our fishing lake" said Brian, to nobody in particular, and left the room.

To be continued...


14/6/07: A Glimpse Ahead

Due to a minor accident involving the Penny Hassett subfault of the temporal rift, we are able to bring you a preview of the Monday 3 March 2008 episode of The Archers.

Continuity announcer: It is Monday evening, and all is not well at Home Farm

“Barwick Green”

Fades

Brian: …so I told Nigel I was very sorry about what had happened to Bert, but there was really nothing that I could do about it. And they can do wonderful things with plastic surgery these days, I’m sorry, I’ll have to go. There’s someone knocking on the study door. Goodbye.

Ruairi: Hello-Daddy-can-you-read-me-my-story-now?

Brian: Jenny! Jenny! Can you… oh, I forgot. It’s only been eight months… look Ruari, Daddy’s very busy just now. I can fit you in at (consults watch) nine twenty five. Until then, here’s my computer – I’ll put it on the Cbeebies website and you can play that game you like with Bill and Ben and the drainpipes.

Bill: Flobbadobba… flobbaboble

Ben: Brianabboble badabble… daddable…

Weed: Twitter, twitter, twitter

Ruari: Alright-daddy-I-will

Doorbell rings 

Brian: I’ll just go and get that, Ruari. You stay here, 



Lower Loxley. In the background, sirens can be heard. The sound of a helicopter beats the air.

Elizabeth: So, Inspector – Lewis is it? That’s strange, we once had someone of that name here, I think he went up to the attic and never came back – well, we’ve never had this happen with one of our tourguides before. Just lost it completely. Control, I mean. By the time we got to him, it was too late… all those poor people…

Nigel: Lizzie, I think you should…

Lizzie: Quiet, Nigel, haven’t I told you not to interrupt me when I’m speaking?

Lewis (yes, that one) I’m sorry, Miss, but we’ve been looking into it and there have been… reports… before. Of strange incidents, that is. Damage to property. Tour parties driven over the edge (looks apprehensively at the Ha-ha, close to which they are standing). I mean, there was that group who gnawed their arms off… and now this… people are bound to draw conclusions, Miss.

Nigel: Look, Inspector, my wife can be a bit… intense… but I’m a good, down-to-earth chap – a little dim, but always friendly. I’m sure that we can sort this out so that after a few days of fuss, nothing more is ever heard of it. Why don’t I distract you by talking about my Great Uncle Rupert? After that, you won’t ever want to set foot here again.

Lewis: (Hastily) That really won’t be necessary, Sir. I’ll just go around and ask a few obvious questions, then you can call Miss Gupta – I think she’s free next Thursday after she finishes that case before the European Court of Human Rights – and nothing more will be heard about it, ever.

Lizzie: Oh, Nigel!


Home Farm, later that evening. Brian is holding forth. 

Brian: So I thought that we really had to get a grip of the business, introduce some modern methods, make the assets work for us, do you understand? Where was I?

Brenda (for it is she): Around 1974, Mr Aldridge

Brian: Call me Brian

Brenda: Yes, Mr – er – BRIAN (she giggles) Now, what exactly were you wanting me for, at this time in the evening, with the house empty, apart from your poor wee boy?

Brian: Does Tom know you’re here, Brenda?

Brenda: Tom? But don’t you remember? You sent Tom to check the pigs – on your new farm in Somerset. He grumbled, but when you pointed out that you could have him evicted by sunset he did it anyway. 

Brian: Of course I did. How forgetful of me. But what did you think I called you here for?

Brenda: Well, my in-depth grasp of modern marketing methods, I suppose? 

Brian: Hardly, Brenda. No, I have quite different plans…

Cue nearly-doom music…


7/6/07: Cracking Cheese (unfinished)

A small street of terraced cottages, at night. By the lights of a passing van, we can read the name, West Muntjac Street. All is apparently peaceful. We hear the van halt, and doors slam. There is a mutter of low voices.

In a cosy bedroom, with floral wallpaper, BERT lies sleeping in bed. As he snores, the bedcovers rhythmically rise and fall. Sitting awake in bed next to him and knitting is FREDA, a nondescript dog. With each snore, she frowns. A discarded newspaper lies on the bed and we can read the headline “CHEESE RUSTLERS STRIKE AGAIN”. The photograph underneath shows a man in hunting costume holding a large – and empty – cheese board towards the camera.

Back in West Muntjac Street, we see a grotesque shadow, all arms and legs - and there seem to be too many of them – fall across the streetsign. A moment later, we hear smashing glass, and a loud klaxon begins to sound.

The bedroom. BERT sits bolt upright and his eyes open wide. FREDA sighs and pulls a lever beside the bed. BERT’S side of the bed lifts up, tipping him down a chute. Over the next few moments we follow his progress down the chute as, at various stages, mechanical arms and hands dress him (accompanied by cries of “steady on, there!” and “oooh, mind me braces”. He is finally deposited, wearing a green gilet and swimming goggles, upon a tandem in the hallway. FREDA comes down the stairs more sedately and mounts the back seat. 

BERT: “Right then, Freda, let’s be after the cheese stealing beggars. Chocks away!”

BERT presses a button beside the front door, which lowers, in the style of a drawbridge. A large spring twangs, propelling the bicycle at speed through the doorway, down the path, and into the street. Small animals scatter in dismay as BERT and FREDA speed down the street, narrowly avoiding collisions with lamp posts, llamas and other obstacles. All the time, BERT wrestles with the handlebars and FREDA pedals, eyes tight shut.

BERT eventually loses control of the machine as they reach the village green. It collides with a wooden bench bearing a small plaque upon which the words “Lawson-Hope memorial bench” can be seen. BERT and FREDA are catapulted off the tandem, which lands, upside down, in the duckpond, the back wheel spinning. FREDA is propelled to the top of a telegraph pole, where she stays, for the time being, holding on tightly, and BERT lands on his hands and knees in front of a small shop. 

In the window we can see a neatly typed notice saying “No children” to which has been added, in childish block letters and in several stages, “OR DOGS. OR GRUNNDYS. OR OTHER COMON PEPLE.” As BERT looks up, he sees the face of the Shop Lady. She has a long nose and small eyes and a permanent disapproving expression. 

SUSAN (for it is she) “What do you mean by it, landing on the pavement and bothering folk? We’ll have no disturbances here. This is a posh shop for posh people. Away with you!” She waves her broom at him.

BERT picks himself up, backs away, muttering apologies, and trips over FREDA who has climbed down the telegraph pole.

SUSAN tuts disapprovingly. 

BERT blushes furiously. It is all he can do to stammer.

BERT: Er – nice morning – er nice – er – Miss…?

SUSAN: Carter. Susan Carter. Of the Ambridge Carters.

She bends over him and smiles thinly.

SUSAN: Sorry about that, thought you were one of them cheese rustlers. Oh, you poor thing. Taken a tumble, have we? Never mind, a cup of tea works wonders, I always say.

SUSAN bundles BERT – none too unwillingly – into the shop, slams the door and puts up the “CLOSED” sign. FREDA is left outside, peering worriedly though the window.


5/6/07: Leaving on a Dublin Plane (Brian’s Song)

All my bags are packed I'm ready to go
I'm standin' here outside your door
I hate to wake you up to say goodbye
But the dawn is breakin' it's early morn
The Jag is waitin' its engine's warm
Already I'm so lonesome I could die

So kiss me and smile for me
Tell me that you'll wait for me
Hold me like you'll never let me go
Cause I'm leavin' on a Dublin plane
Don't know when I'll be back again
Oh Jen, I hate to go

There's so many times I've let you down
So many times I've played around
I wonder now that you could never see
Every place I go, I'll think of you
Every song I sing, I'll sing for you
When I come back, I'll bring Ruari with me

So kiss me and smile for me
Tell me that you'll wait for me
Hold me like you'll never let me go
Cause I'm leavin' on a Dublin plane
Don't know when I'll be back again
Oh Jen, I hate to go

Now the time has come to leave you
One more time let me kiss you
Close your eyes I'll be on my way
Dream about the days to come
When you'll never be alone
About the times, I won't have to say

So kiss me and smile for me
Tell me that you'll wait for me
Hold me like you'll never let me go
Cause I'm leavin' on a Dublin plane
Don't know when I'll be back again
Oh Jen, I hate to go

Cause I'm leavin' on a Dublin plane
Don't know when I'll be back again
Oh babe, I hate to go


31/5/07: Rickyard

Emma Grundy paused, the mop in her hand. .This wasn’t getting the money in, she should crack on – but the work made her so weary, and she wasn’t sleeping well. She wished she had told that stuck up Ruth Archer where to stick her cleaning job. Cleaning! If only! Once the childminding and cooking were done, and her four hours gone, there was still the cleaning to get down to. And then the blasted holiday cottage on top. Ruth had warned her that it would be a mess – “Sam left in rather a hurry” – but she hadn’t conveyed the half of it. Before he had gone, Sam Batton had apparently turned over every room, emptied every drawer, thrown clothes on the floor and food from cupboards. Then he had just walked out.

Only the bathroom was immaculately clean and neat. She should be thankful for that at least, she supposed. And the cellar, of course – David had explained how the damp had come in last winter and he’d had to dig out the floor and put down new concrete. “I thought you were working on that old tractor” she’d said.

William would be coming soon to collect little Georgie back soon and she had to get away. The rest would have to wait until the morning.

Emma wrung out the mop and took the bucket into the kitchen. She lifted it and emptied the grey water into the kitchen sink, taking care that none of it flowed over onto the worktop. This was one of the rooms that she had done first – “tidy kitchen, tidy house” was what her mum always said and Em took notice of her mum, these days.

She put down the bucket, and paused. Lying on the table was the small, leather bound notebook she had found earlier. It was none of her business, but she couldn’t take her eyes off it. A little peek wouldn’t hurt, surely?

As she reached out her hand, the clock in the hall chimed four. Time to be gone. She grabbed the book, stuffed it into her bag and slammed the door as she ran out into the yard.

The next morning, Emma was late for work. David peered at her in puzzlement as she yawned her apologies. She had been so tired lately…

“Don’t worry about it” he said “fancy some tea? Ruth made it before she went out. Should be nicely stewed by now.”

Emma just shook her head. “I’d best get started” she said “such a lot to do.”

Such a lot to do. As she opened the door of Rickyard, she saw how much there was to do. She sat down at the bottom of the stairs, and clutched the little notebook to her. So much to do…

Last night, despite being tired, she had felt strangely excited as she hurried home. As though she had something to look forward to. She did, of course – there was the night out clubbing with her mates, which Fallon had organised. But that wasn’t it, and the others could see, all evening, how hard it was for her to pretend to be enjoying herself. Eventually, she made her excuses. She was tired and must go home. No, she would just slip into the house – better not bring the others in with her, it would only wake up her parents, who would have been in bed by ten. (Every evening, while Susan warmed the milk, Neil would wind up the clock in the hall, check that the doors were locked, and fill the hot-water bottles.)

Sitting down at the kitchen table, her coat still on, she opened the book, and read. Funny. The title was clear enough, but the rest of the words were in some funny language, like the old inscription on the wall in St Stephen’s that she used to look at when she was a girl and her mother took her to a wedding or a christening. She couldn’t understand it. But she read it, all the same, mouthing the words softly as the clock ticked out the minutes and the hours.

Next morning, still at the table, she woke in a start. Her mother was standing over her, looking worried.

“Are you all right, Em? Didn’t hear you come in. Haven’t you been to bed at all?”

“Er – no mum, I must have fallen asleep here….” She hid the notebook under her hands until Susan turned away to make the toast, and then pushed it into a coat pocket. The opening words on the first page, still ran though her mind, and the pictures they made…

“Sorry?” Mum had been speaking. Something about Mr Aldridge. She sounded quite excited, but Emma didn’t know what she’d said. “Yeah, Mum. Look, I got to go – didn’t finish last night, there’s still a lot to do.”

“But Emma” said Susan, in dismay “Your breakfast. And you’re still in your party clothes…”

“Oh” said Emma “yes. I’ll go up and get changed.” Quickly, leaving her stuff scattered across the floor, and then ran – almost – back down the stairs and out of the house. Such a lot to do. The words ran though her mind. She remembered them when David answered the door, toast in hand. Ruth? Where was Ruth? When would she come back?

“She’s gone to the cowshed to check up on Eddie Grundy” said David. “She’ll be back soon, why don’t you hang on and have that tea? You look absolutely knackered.”

But Emma had shaken her head. The cowshed. Of course. Asking David to tell Ruth to step over to Rickyard, she turned, the book now warm in her hands. Odd, that, how it always seemed warm. But then it would be…

In Rickyard cottage, Emma sat on the stairs and moaned. So… tired. So… slow. Suddenly giving in, she got up and climbed the stairs. She opened the first door on the right. Inside was a disordered bed. The covers seemed to have been pulled half onto the floor, and the bedside lamp was overturned.

Emma flung herself down upon the bed, and slept, the notebook held to her cheek.

“Emma? Emma? Where are you? David said you wanted to see me?”

Emma woke all at once. She had come!

“Up here. In the bedroom.”

She listened to Ruth’s feet coming up the stairs, hesitant. Of course. The last time she came up here was…

“Emma? Where are you?”

Ruth opened the door – reluctantly, it seemed. “Emma? It’s dark in here. Is that you”

“It’s me, Ruth.”

“Emma?”

“Do you remember last time you came up here? Silly of me, of course you do.”

“Emma!”

“I remember, Ruth. I remember that look in your eyes, as though you were saying, it’s not my fault. That’s when I knew, even before I heard the other footsteps behind yours.”

Ruth stood, silent. After a moment she seemed to gather her thoughts. “Emma. I don’t know what you’re playing at but it’s NOT funny. Now get up out of that bed and get back to work.”

“Emma’s not here, Ruth”

The voice was now unmistakeably deeper. Ruth turned to flee, but a powerful hand gripped her shoulder.

“Why are you running away, Ruth? Now we can be together. But I need you to give me your telephone… give me the phone, Ruth.”

When Emma woke, in the darkness of the cellar, she remembered nothing of how she came to be there, or the two lifeless forms on the floor, or where the axe came from, or how her hands came to be so wet and sticky.


23/5/07: The passing of Brian (deep apologies to WB Yeats)

A man came speeding in a white van
To Peggy’s daughter, Jenny, by the Am,
And found her making soup with subtle care
And said, casting aside his draggled hair
“I am Sam, the cowherd, whom you told 
To watch for traffic on the Loxley road
But now my days of watching are no more.”
Then Jenny cast her spoon upon the floor, 
And stretching out her arms, tomato’d red
Fixed him with eyes wild from her staring head.

Looking on her, Sam, the cowherd said:
“Not any farmer alive, nor mould’ring dead,
Has slain so many hedges, grown such grain
Nor won the crop that now great Brian brings.”

“Why do you tremble thus and make a frown?”

Sam, the cowherd, shuffled, and cast eyes down
Upon the soup stained floor, and thus he said:
“he brings a son, from mistress dead.”

“Who bade you tell this thing?” and then she cried
To those about, “Feed him with mankwold sore
And sick’ning drive him from the door.” And thus it was;
And where her son, Adam, in the gentle ma(i)ze
Did sport with Ian, came she with swift feet,
And called out to him “Son it is not meet
That you stay idling here with chefs and herds.”

“I have long waited, mother, for those words;
But wherefore now?”
“There is a man to undo;
You have the cunning to make it so.”

My father dwells upon the great Hungarian plain,
And shapes there farming for his private gain.”

“Nay, you are wilier than Brian, son.”

“He is the cleverest at agriculture, mum.”

“Nay, he is old and sad with many winters,
And weary of the lambs and sick of getting splinters.”

“I only ask what way I should go,
You can’t possibly expect that I should know.”

“Borchester Land a luxury time-share keep,
Where the sun falls into the Western deep,
Go there, and watch for a trashy girl called Jade
Make sure her credit cards are duly paid.
So then compelled, do bid them send you one
Who perform’d like service, and had some fun.”

Between a lavish hottub made of wood
And the blue sea, the B. Land multitude
Were meeting, and with them crafty Brian dwelt,
While his young dear one close beside him knelt
And gazed upon his father’s aging eyes,
More mournful than the depth of piggy sties
And wondered at the greyness of his hair
While resting head on comfy chair
And Matt, the B. Land chief of chiefs
Busied himself with profitable spreadsheets.

At last Brian spake, “A young man strays
Driving the deer along the woody ways.
I often hear him grumb’ling up and down
I often see the crumple of his frown.
Seek out what man he is.”

One went to look.
“He said to let you know he’d only talk
To one who at Jade’s Gold Card did not baulk.

“I only of the B land crew gathered here”
Brian cried, “can say I’ve paid that price so dear”.

After long argument in the leafy shade
He said to the young man, “Is there no maid
Who loves you, no white arms to wrap you round, 
Or do you long for the meeting’s son’rous sound
That you come here to meet my business pride?”

“Rather, I bat for the Darrington side.”

“Your gait a while seemed like a woman’s walk
That I loved once.”
Again the business talk,
But now the craftiness in old Brian woke,
And through the other’s presentation his logic broke,
And ruined him.
“Speak, before your plane is come.”
“I am Adam, mighty Brian’s son.”

“I’ll pay your hotel bill. Fair is fair.”

While day its burden on to evening bore,
With head bowed on his knees Brian stayed
Then Matt sent that sweet-throated Jade, 
and she, to win him, his grey hair caressed:
In vain her arms, in vain her soft white vest.
Then Matt, the subtlest of all men,
Ranking his PAs ten by ten,
Spake thus, “Brian will stay there and brood,
For three days more in dreadful mood,
And then arise, and raving ruin us all
With misplaced plans.
Go cast on him confusions managerial
That he may take plane to Hungary
And ten by ten through emails dire
The PAs contrived, keyboards in their hands
To exile mighty Brian from the land.

In three days’ time, Brian with a moan
Stood up, and came to the airport alone
Four hours warred he with the check in tide
And the airline took him, and he cried.


19/5/07: Time for Action, Part 2

The story so far: while guarding the secret Government establishment known only as Arkwright Hall, the Ambridge platoon, Home Guard, under their indefatigable leader, Capt. Linda Snell, are called to investigate a strange light. They discover Professor Helen Archer working alone in her rooftop laboratory. Acting for sinister foreign agent Herr Sterling, she has created a lethal, cheese-borne contagion. Unfortunately, in her haste to escape, Helen exposes her brother, TOM ARCHER, to the deadly spores. Now read on….

"No, men - don't touch him" called Captain Snell. "We must get out. You too, young woman" she said, leveling her revolver at Helen, who still clasped in her arms the barely recognisable figure of TOM. The waxy coating had now spread over his whole body, and blue veins were beginning to appear on his face. Weeping, Helen stood and they hurried down the spiral staircase.

Outside, Snell gave brisk orders that the Hall should be surrounded. "Nobody is to enter or leave", she insisted. 

"Hang on, Napoleon" came the familiar voice of Officer Perks, the Air-raid Warden, who was elbowing his way through the crowd. “Just a minute. You can't do that. Who do you think you are?"

"I - am the law”, replied Snell, tapping her revolver in its holster. “Yes. In fact, I am placing the entire village under martial law as of this moment. Everyone is to stay indoors. Those in the streets without lawful authority will be detained and investigated.” She motioned to privates Macy and Craig, who had been talking quietly together, to restrain the now near apoplectic Perks.

While Perks spluttered with fury, Snell turned to Pte Tucker who stood nearby, his mouth open and gawping. "Run back down to the Village Hall and call Colonel Kerry at HQ. Inform him that we have discovered a case of sabotage, and require urgent assistance." 

Tucker looked slightly puzzled. "Alright, Captain Snell Ma'am" he said. "But am I going to be much longer? My Hayley said that I had to be back early tonight. Something about checking her calendar. She's always very cross if I'm late, she is."

"Stupid boy" said Snell. "Run along. Now, Corporal Fry. I want you to take personal charge of the guard here while I go and write my report. Remember, there is a dangerous substance, some kind of poison, in the Hall. And potentially enemy agents. Nobody - and nothing - is to go in or out."

“FIX BAYONETS!” yelled Fry, stamping away to organize the men. “Anything comes out of that house – give it a dose of cold steel! They don’t like it up them, they don’t!” he shouted, to nobody in particular.

In all the hubbub, nobody noticed that Helen Archer had slipped away into the darkness. How had it gone wrong, she asked herself? With the cheese spores, she had been on the threshold of power, real power. She would have shown them. Sterling had explained it all to her, and told how much he longed to be rid of the Pemberton woman. Together, they would run Ambridge. Nobody would need to be hurt. And now, look what had happened - again, it was her brother who was suffering. But it was too late to do anything for him now. The plans must be brought forward, before the fools who ran this place could act. As she lifted the perfectly balanced stone slab in the yard behind The Bull, she smiled grimly to herself. Did they imagine that Arkwright Hall was the only entrance? Did they never wonder how one could disappear from, say, Home Farm and be at Brookfield in seconds?

"Halt!" called Pte Crawford as a tall shiny black car of unfamiliar make approached. The window opened and the officer inside, dressed in an RAF uniform and greatcoat, spoke with an American accent

"Are you going to ask to see my identification?" he asked

"Yes" said Crawford "but first, I wondered whether there might be anything you wanted?" He winked. "Know what I mean? Watches? Whisky? Saucy postcards? Share in a dodgy Hungarian consortium that only exists on paper?"

"Not today, please " came the reply "but I do need to speak to your Captain, and FAST." With that, the driver jumped out of the car and pushed past Crawford to where Snell stood.

"Captain Jack Harkness, Torchwood Institute" he said. "I gather you have a situation here?"

Quickly, Snell explained what had happened. "And the boy is still in there" she concluded. "We don't know what has happened to him." Harkness looked around. "Where is his sister?" he asked.

Snell looked sheepish. "There is a little difficulty about her. She would appear to have - er - escaped."

"You seem to have something of a reputation for losing prisoners" Harkness replied. "Still, never mind. I think I' know where she'll be. Now, I am going to go inside, but I need you to made certain preparations. I expect to be joined by one of my local operatives, who will need something to work with.”

Pulling out a notebook, he scribbled down a list of items and gave it to a puzzled Snell, who read it with then sighed. She sent two of her men – taciturn characters, who had never been heard to speak a word – down to the Village Shop. "Aisle 56 should have it" she said, "voltage regulators, wireless valves and high tension equipment. And you may also have to visit aisle 95 – chemical reagents, gutta percha and laboratory equipment".

With a final warning to Snell to shoot at anything - ANYTHING - that emerged from the house, Harkness strode towards the entrance. As he did so, a slim figure detached itself from the bushes and hurried towards him. “Ah” he said. “I was wondering when you’d show up. Make it though OK? Got all the stuff?”

“Perfectly” replied the other. “Are you going to fill me in?”

“No time” said Jack. “But there’s something I need you to do. Got your laptop? Then here it is….” And he explained briefly what he needed her to do, before disappearing into the building.

The newcomer sighed. Not for the first time recently, she had the feeling that people were not telling her everything. It was so annoying, but she had long ago concluded that the best thing to do was just to keep her head down and get the work done. She made her way over to where a succession of Snell’s men, panting with exhaustion, were depositing apparatus and supplies. She surveyed a fast growing pile and nodded. Yes, she had what she needed, but it would be crude. And there wasn’t much time. She set to work.

Jack had been afraid that it would be dark inside, but once he had pushed aside the thick, dusty folds of the blackout curtain that hung across the door, he realised that the interior of the Hall was well lit, albeit by a strange, green glow. Grimly he stride into the building and towards the cellar steps, from where the glow seemed to come. Silently, he climbed through the small door and peered inside.

With all his experience, he was still astonished by what he saw. Instead of a dusty wine cellar he was looking into a vast cave, lit by the eerie green light. In the centre lay a number of greeny yellow pods, human sized and possessing waxy but recognisably human heads, vestigial antennae showing through the hair.

A white coated figure emerged from a small doorway at the far end of the room and bent over one of the things with a syringe. Then she moved onto the next, and the next. At that moment the first creature began to twitch and stir. Then, it sat up and began to claw at its face. As Jack watched, horrified, he saw the talons scrape away the waxy coating to reveal a white, expressionless, faces, veined with blue lines.

“Cheese zombies” murmured Jack to himself. Shaking off the horror, he turned and ran out of the building, just remembering in time to identify himself to Fry, who might have caused him a nasty injury if he had been holding his rifle the proper way round.

Jack rejoined his assistant, who was frowning with concentration as she rigged a thick power cable to the input of a piece of rickety apparatus which now dominated the garden of Arkwright Hall. 

“How are we doing?” he asked

“I am doing very well” she replied, with a chill in her voice. “It’s everyone else around here who’s behaving oddly. Now all I have to do is to reverse the polarity of the neutron generator and…”

They were interrupted by a cry from one of Snell’s men. The zombies were now coming out of the door, one after another, silent, implacable. 

“Fire at will” ordered Snell, and her platoon began shooting at the lurching forms. But bullets seemed to have no effect on them. Still they advanced, silent, implacable. Snell’s men fell back, dismayed. The zombies loomed closer.

“We’re all doomed!” called Pte Grundy, from the back. “Doomed I tell ye!”

“Let me at them!” shouted Fry, who had his rifle and bayonet tangled with his legs. “Cold Steel! Cold steel!”

“NOW!” shouted Jack, as he held together two bare wires. There was a massive crackling discharge of energy. Briefly, the whole scene was lit up like day. The zombies paused, unsure. Then – one by one – they seemed to melt away, leaving behind nothing but a stale smell.

Silence, broken only by the sound of an approaching car. When she saw the flag on the bonnet, Cpt Snell jumped forward to open the door herself. 

“Now, Snell” came the familiar, laconic voice of Col Kerry, overall commander of the district. “Got yourself into more problems, have you? What is it this time? B&B plans gone awry? Village pantomine out of control? Llama trouble?”

Snell sniffed. “ We had a bit of a problem, Sir, but everything is fine now, thanks to…”

She turned to indicate Captain Jack and the young woman, but of them, there was no sign. 

In the car, the young woman sighed. “I know some of those people” she said to Jack. “Poor Auntie Christine – and oh, that woman who used to keep dogs, I can’t remember her name – and Mr Higgs – and Mr Grundy’s son, Alf – and my cousin TOM ARCHER! What happened to them? Are they gone for good?”

Jack shook his head. “I don’t know” he said. “I don’t know. They may – come back. We’ll just have to see. Now I want you to go home and file your report, OK? Don’t blow your cover, just keep watching. There’s a lot happening that you don’t know about, but it’ll all become clear in time. Just keep working on the nanotechnology – it’s important, very important. And I’ll be in touch.”

Alice Aldridge climbed out of the black 4x4 that looked so out of place in the 1940s, took two steps forward, and disappeared into the shimmering folds of the temporal rift, back to the 21st century, where everything will change.

12/5/07: Time for Action: further adventures of the Ambridge Home Guard

A barely furnished VILLAGE HALL, somewhere in England. Union flags hang above the small stage. On one wall is a picture of the King; opposite are posters with slogans – “Dig for Victory”. “Hitler will send no warning.” “Eat TOM ARCHER utility sausages”.

Gathered in front of the stage is a small group of mostly middle aged men, in ill fitting khaki uniforms, some of them a little portly, holding ancient rifles.

A door at the end of the hall opens. CAPTAIN SNELL and SARGEANT PARGETER of the Ambridge Platoon, Home Guard, enter, from a SMALL OFFICE beyond. SNELL is short and sharp nosed. She has a habit of sniffing at the end of every sentence. PARGETER is tall and thin, handsome in a shabby way, and softly spoken.

CPT SNELL: “Bring the men to order, Sergeant.”

SGT PARGETER attempts to bring the platoon to order.
SGT PARGETTER “I say, would you be so good as to – no – awfully kind – no, please would you…. no….”

He is cut short by the sound of a telephone bell from the OFFICE.

CPT SNELL “That’ll be for me.”

Both PARGETER and SNELL attempt to go through the door to answer the telephone, and end up blocking the doorway – and each other. After a moment, PARGETER gives way and SNELL goes into the office. We hear her voice, but not that of the person she is talking to. Meanwhile PARGETER continues, ineffectually, to try to form the men up.

CPT SNELL: “. Captain Snell, Ambridge Platoon, Home Guard”

CPT SNELL: “Good evening, Colonel. Yes, Sir, it was most unfortunate.”

CPT SNELL: “No, we have not yet recaptured the prisoner. My men have been searching night and day, and I anticipate developments at any moment.”

CPT SNELL: “Are you sure, Sir? When? Tonight? I can assure you, Sir, that we shall do our duty. Good evening, sir”

CPT SNELL returns to the hall. PARGETER has now succeeded in lining them up in two ranks.

CPT SNELL: At ease, men. Now, I have just received important instructions from Colonel Kerry at GHQ. (Stop that, Tucker). He has entrusted us with a most important duty. I hardly need tell you the significance of this – as you know, the Darrington platoon have recently distinguished themselves in field manoeuvres, and this is our chance to show what we’re made of. ”

PTE PULLEN: “Oh dear, and it’s my bath night. Might I be excused? My sister will already have put the water on and it would be shame to waste it.”

CPT SNELL: “Of course not, private Pullen. Pull yourself together man. Now be quiet, all of you. We have a vital task to perform. We are to guard an important installation. You know Arkwright Hall?”

PTE FRY “.

SGT PARGETTER: “Arkwright Hall? Yes – very hush-hush, isn’t it? No-one knows quite what happens up there. It’s been a closed area since the start of the War”.

CPT SNELL: “Exactly, Sargeant. Well, now it seems that we are to guard it. Vital war work is under way there, and we have intelligence that an enemy agent has been sent to sabotage it. We have work to do.”

PTE FRY (Coming smartly to attention): “Permission to speak. Just let me at them! Cold steel! Always works the trick, that do! They don’t like it up them. They do not like it up them at all”

PTE GRUNDY (in and aside to Pte Tucker): “Arkwright Hall! They do say as how the ghost of a headless cowman do haunt the ha-ha. If we has to spend a night up there we’ll all be doomed, doomed, I tell you!”

PTE TUCKER: “Ooooh Captain Snell! I don’t want to be chased by no headless ghost”

CPT SNELL: “Stupid boy. Now fall in men. To the van.”

SGT P. “Yes, well, come along now, all into the van! At the double – oh, excuse me, yes, you too, private Crawford kind. Come along, come along!”

They march out of the HALL.

The front door of Arkwright Hall, a substantial country house fortified by barbed wire and sandbags. PTEs TUCKER and SGT PARGETTER stand with their rifles, CPT SNELL with her revolver. Somewhere, an owl hoots.

PTE TUCKER: “Oooh, Uncle Nigel, I’m scared.”

SGT PARGETTER: “How many times have I told you not to call me that? Your mother…”

From the LEFT enters an AIR RAID WARDEN – dark blue uniform, white helmet. It is Officer PERKS.

PERKS: “What’s all this then? I was on my patrol and I saw your van. You can’t come up here, Napoleon, you know you can’t. Very hush-hush it is.”

CPT SNELL (sniffing): “This is a restricted area. I could have you arrested.”

PERKS: “Oh yes, you’d enjoy that, wouldn’t you, Napoleon. Gone to your head it has.”

SGT PARGETTER (wearily): “Now then, my good fellow, you really shouldn’t be here-“

PERKS: “Don’t you ‘good fellow’ me. I’ve as much right to be here as you have, and more. I was called to issue a warning about an exposed light.”

He points upward to where a light shows in a high tower window.

PERKS: “I was called to investigate, and investigate I will.”

CPT SNELL: “Quite impossible. This is a restricted area, and I have authority here.”

PERKS: “What authority?”

CPT SNELL (raising her revolver and pointing at PERKS’S ample stomach): “This authority.”

He turns to the Sergeant.

CPT SNELL: “Arrest him, Pargetter.”

PERKS (almost apoplectic with rage, as he is bundled away: “Madman! You can’t do this! I’ll complain to the scriptwriters! I’ll expose you on the messageboards…”

CPT SNELL: “Now, Tucker, we had better investigate this strange light. After me.”

PTE TUCKER: “But I’m not on the rota for tonight!”

CPT SNELL: “I changed it, don’t you remember? Now come along, do.”

Pte Tucker visibly trembling, they enter the front door of ARKWRIGHT HALL.


A narrow, spiral staircase. CPT SNELL, revolver in hand, and PTE TUCKER, still visibly trembling. They stand outside an Olde Oak Door.

CPT SNELL: “Open the door, Tucker.”

PTE TUCKER: “Ooh, Captain Snell, whatever would my Mum say?”

CPT SNELL: “Just open the door!”

Reluctantly, and slowly, Tucker pushed open the door, to reveal…

… a white coated figure, face lit only by the moonlight pouring in through the window (yes, I know about the blazing light, that was only a device to get them up here) and holding aloft a flask containing a repulsive looking substance.

WHITE COATED FIGURE: “At last! I have the formula! No longer will they despise me. No longer will they call me horrid names! No longer will I be patronised by my brother and dumped by unconvincing journalists! With this formulation, I will receive the respect I deserve! Spread across the country in so-called “tasting” sessions, this cheese will paralyse all who touch it – and only I, Helen Archer, have the antidote!

CPT SNELL (stepping forward, revolver levelled): “Not so fast, Helen”

HELEN ARCHER turns, her face a mask of fury

HELEN: “You fool! You would stop me! Nobody can stop me!”

A NEWCOMER, also in Home Guard uniform, arrives behind SNELL

HELEN flings the flask at SNELL, who ducks, so that the liquid instead hits the NEWCOMER squarely in the face. With a gasp of horror, he falls to the ground, clutching at his throat and moaning.

HELEN runs across the room to make her escape. As she passes the newcomer, she stops.

HELEN: “Tom! Oh, why you! It should have been me!”

CPT SNELL: “The antidote! The antidote!”

HELEN: “No use. This is the concentrated form that I prepared for Mr Stirling. He particularly requested it – said something about the Felpersham Resevoir. The antidote will only work on the weakened form… the transformation will be irreversible…”

She cradles him in her arms.

To be continued...
3/2/07: Rural Engines
There was trouble in the Shed at the junction with the Branch Line.

David, the usually dependable and Really Useful tank engine, was in a sulk. He refused to speak to Ruth the Railcar at all, and huffed off every night to shunt trucks instead, and to talk to his friend Bert the Tractor.

“Oh no” signed Ruth to herself “whatever shall I do?”

Just then, Brian, the Big Blue Engine, steamed by on his way back to the Big Station. He was Very Cross Indeed because Adam, who should have been fetching his coaches for him, had gone off instead for a tour of the Other Railway with Ian the Irish Engine. 

“It’s all too-much. It’s all too-much.” Brian rattled to himself as he puffed by, banging the coaches irritably.

Brian’s coaches, Jennifer (at the back), Caroline, and Siobhan, squeaked and grumbled to Brian. “Be careful there. Be careful there” they said and “it’s all a mistake. It’ll come to go good” as they slowed down and came to a halt at the platform. 

Jennifer caught sight of Ruth, sulking in the sidings. 

“Cooooeeee” she called, shrill-ly. Unfortunately, Brian thought that the shriek was the Guard’s whistle, and he started up, impatient to get home. Brian’s driver and fireman had got out of the cab to exchange a word with the Signalman, so there was nobody to apply his brake.

It did not take Brian long to realise that there was nobody in the cab. At first he was alarmed, but then began to get excited at the thought that there was nobody to slow him down. “Come along! Come along!” he called to the coaches, who were twittering worse than ever now. 

“He’s going too fast! He’s going too fast” called Siobhan.

“He always does! He always does!” added Caroline.

“He’s MUCH better stop. He’s much better STOP!” said Jennifer, grimly. She was at the back of the train because she had the Guard’s compartment, and although the Guard had been knocked off his feet when Brian started to move, he was still on the train and applying Jennifer’s brake hard. Despite Brian’s best efforts, the train was now slowing. All would have been well, but Siobhan’s couplings were rather rusty, and as they bumped their way over the points outside the Big Station, she and Brian broke away from the other coaches. Freed of the pull of Jennifer’s brakes, Brian and Siobhan hurtled away over the bridge to the Other Railway, and disappeared into the distance.

“Well, well” an oily voice cut in “what a shame. Looks like there’s no one to pull you along, Jennifer. Luckily, the Fat Controller has told me that I can run things here for a but – until Brian comes back, you understand”.

It was Matt the Diesel, who had been lurking behind the Shed and had seen everything.

When Brian finally ran out of steam, Matt went to fetch him back from the Other Railway. Brian was shunted to the back of the Shed, where nothing was heard from him for a very long time.


18/10/06: A Rough Landing for Biggles

Somewhere in England, c. 1940. 

Three Spitfires descend from the clear air of a hot summer’s day, to land on a rough grass airstrip….

Squadron Leader James Bigglesworth – “Biggles” to his friends – vaulted from the cockpit of his Spitfire almost before it had come to a halt, and strode over to his friend and second-in-command, “Algy” Lacey, who had landed immediately before him. They were making their way to the Mess when a familiar figure greeted them - Air Commodore Raymond of Air Intelligence. Immediately, they followed him to his office.

The Air Commodore, standing over the map table, called for coffee. 

“Bit of trouble” he said. “We’ve been losing too many planes, and we don’t know why.”

Biggles and Algy exchanged a glance.

“I can agree that we’ve losing too many” opined Biggles “isn’t it because the enemy keeps shooting them down?”

“Not here” replied the Air Commodore, stabbing at the map with the stem of his pipe. “Not over Borsetshire.”

“Borsetshire?” questioned Algy. “That’s not a front line area. Barely operational.”

“We test-fly planes over Borsetshire after repair” explained the Air Commodore. “It’s not a well known area – there isn’t actually an Ordnance Survey map of it, to be honest; don’t know why: had to take our map here from an old encyclopedia – and we thought it a good plan. Low key and all that. But it’s backfired now. Something’s up - we’re losing planes over there as fast as we fix them. Problem is, nobody knows the area; we don’t know where to begin looking for the cause.” 

“I understand that, sir” said Biggles. “What would you like us to do?”

“Fly up there” replied the Air Commodore “take a nose around, look out for anything out of kilter, and report back. No heroics. I want to make that absolutely clear. This is a funny business all round, and I need you for other work afterwards. Got that?”

Biggles and Algy set out as soon as they could. There was a general shortage of decent aircraft, so they were only able to take an elderly two seater trainer, affectionately referred to by all in the Mess as “Susan”; a rather heavy machine that made a good deal of noise and was somewhat fussy to fly. 

The flight was without event – apart from a low grumbling from Susan – until they approached Borchester itself. They swooped low over the Am where it widened out into the great loop of the watermeadows opposite the cathedral, and turned towards Lower Loxley. Soon they were flying over the thick woods that grew on the lower slopes of the Hassett Hills.

Suddenly, there was a blinding flash of light from among the trees, and a harsh, acrid electrical smell. Without warning, the engine cut out. Biggles gave a cry. All of the instruments had gone wild, swinging in every direction. Desperately, Biggles tried to restart the engine, but to no avail. He wrestled with the controls, seeking to bring the machine down in one of the few small fields that lay among the trees. 

With a crash, they ploughed through a hedge, demolished a gatepost with one wing, turned around and came to rest in a patch of brambles.

All was silent for a time. Biggles freed himself from his harness and helped Algy out of the wreckage. They surveyed the ruined plane. 

“Bit of bad luck, Biggles” said Algy.

“That wasn’t luck” replied Biggles “something brought us down. And I’m going to find out what.” He turned to face the woods. “It was over there” he said, pointing. “Come on, Algy”. Pistols in hand, the two airmen set out across the field. They had barely reached the shelter of the trees when they heard voices. Biggles motioned to Algy, and both of them took cover in a patch of bracken.

The group of figures that approached was led by a woman, who looked strangely familiar to Biggles. She spoke to the men who followed her in a language unfamiliar to Algy, but Biggles recognised the voice and stiffened. Surely not! Not here in Borsetshire! But as the group came closer, his eyes confirmed what he already knew. It was his old foe, his Nemesis, Deborah von Aldritch.

Biggles and Algy observed von Aldritch and her henchmen examine the wrecked plane, and then return into the woods. Keeping a safe distance, they followed. “What is that language they’re speaking?” whispered Algy. “Hungarian” replied Biggles. “We knew that after that last show in France, von Aldritch disappeared for a while, but she always pops up again - and recently we learned that she had been sent to Hungary. Nobody could understand what she was up to, but now it looks as if we shall find out.”

They had reached a clearing in the woods. Along one side stood a row of drab coloured caravans, to which the Hungarians retired. In the centre was a large yellow vehicle, vaguely resembling a piece of agricultural equipment, but of vast size.

“We need help”, said Biggles. “Go and see if you can find anyone, and get word back to Air Commodore Raymond.”

“But what about you, Biggles?” queried Algy. 

“I need to get closer and have a look” said Biggles “and besides, I have unfinished business with von Aldritch.”

Algy slipped away into the gathering darkness, and Biggles waited. Once it was fully dark, he made his way, as quietly as he could, to the large machine. There seemed to be some kind of metal dish attached to the top. He was trying to examine the contraption when he heard a soft click and felt the barrel of a pistol in the small of his back.

“So” the familiar voice said “we meet again, Squadron Leader Bigglesworth. But this time, I have you at an advantage, no?”

***************************************************************

Algy crashed through the bushes, completely lost in the darkness. At all costs he must not circle back to the clearing. He must fetch help.

Eventually, he stumbled out of the woods onto a road. 

Dim headlamps, shaded for the blackout, approached. Desperately, he stood in the middle of the road, waving his arms. The vehicle stopped. It proved to be a small van, painted green. Upon the sides, in white letters, stood the words

TOM ARCHER SAUSAGES

***************************************************************

Bright lights came on all around the clearing. Biggles turned around slowly, hands held in the air, and saw von Aldritch, an expression of triumph on her face.

“So” repeated von Aldritch. “I see that you are impressed by my technology? Perhaps you are wondering what it is? I shall arrange a small demonstration.” She called to one of her acolytes, who disappeared into the trees and returned pushing a small handcart upon which reposed a pile of cages. Within them, Biggles could dimly discern the forms of a number of agitated pheasants.

“We found these here when we moved into the clearing” said von Aldritch. “Now, observe”.

The dish on top of the hellish device was now rotating, turning towards the handcart. All of the Hungarians had taken cover on the opposite side of the clearing. There was a flash, and a smell like that which Biggles and Algy had experienced in their plane. The pheasants were dead, roasted whole.

“We call this the Script-Ray” said von Aldritch, smiling evilly “with it, we can reduce plausible human beings to helpless puppets; destroy vehicles, animals, things of any kind – even, as you saw, bring down aeroplanes. We can also mass produce a range of nutritious, organic pheasant based snacks for sale at the farm gate. We have been introducing these devices under the pretence that they represent improved agricultural machinery – for the war effort, you know!” She laughed evilly. “And now – we are almost ready! At a signal, every plane will be shot from the sky! Every tank – stopped in its tracks (if you will pardon the pun)! And victory will be ours!”

“You swine” said Biggles. And “Not so fast, von Aldritch!” came a piercing voice from the shadows. Before she could respond, von Aldritch was surrounded by men carrying rifles and wearing the uniform of the Home Guard. 

The owner of the voice stepped forward. “Captain Snell, Ambridge-on-Am Home Guard” she said “and these are my men. Trained killers, every one of them. (Stop that, Private Tucker. Stupid boy.) Now, men, we will take the prisoner back to my Headquarters in the Village Hall, and interrogate her. ”

“You’ll get nothing out of me, Snell” said von Aldritch. 

“Captain Snell, Captain Snell! Sir” came a rather frantic voice. “Permission to speak, Sir. Let me try sir, let me! I’ll get her to talk. Cold steel sir, cold steel. They Do Not Like It, they don’t. They Do Not Like It At All.” 

“Quiet, Corporal Fry” said the captain. “Put that bayonet away before you do yourself an injury. To the van, men.” She turned to Biggles. “You must be the famous Squadron Leader Bigglesworth.” She sniffed. “Personally, I have little time for acrobatics – this war will be won on the ground, mark my words, not in the air. Still, each to his own. You can be glad your friend here – she waved at Algy – found us as we were returning home from night manoeuvres.”

“Er – I say”. A diffident, yet well bred voice, which proved to belong to Sargeant Pargetter. Captain Snell seemed somewhat annoyed to be interrupted, yet gave way and allowed him to speak. “Er – don’t you think that the prisoner ought to be restrained in some way? Possibly” 

Captain Snell sniffed again. “Restrained?” She queried. “Barbaric. I’ll have nothing like that in my platoon.” She instead ordered Private Pullen, who arrived carrying the First Aid box, to guard the prisoner.

Led by the Captain they made their way through the wood. Biggles and Algy fell slightly behind the others and ended up walking alongside Private Crawford. After some time, Crawford stopped, glanced around shiftily, and drew a tightly rolled bundle out of one of his ammunition pouches. “Anything I can get you, gents? “ he asked. “Watches, nylons? Brandy? Ticket for a show? Reasonably priced semi on the Loxley Barratt road? Pre-owned racehorse?”

Biggles and Algy demurred.

By this time, the others had reached the road. Biggles, Algy and Crawford caught up with them standing beside a green van, painted with the legend “TOM ARCHER SAUSAGES”. But where was the prisoner?

At that precise moment, there came a shout from behind them. Private Pullen came running out of the wood, somewhat out of breath. 

“I’m terribly sorry, Captain Snell” said the latter “but I seem to have lost the prisoner.”

“LOST her?” replied the Captain, aghast. “LOST her?”

“Yes” said the disconsolate Pullen. “You see, I had to stop to answer a call of Nature, and her being a woman – well, I didn’t like to – so I asked her to stay where she was while I stepped off the path. And when I came back, she was gone.”

“Prisoner escaped!” shouted Corporal Fry. “Prisoner escaped! Don’t panic! Don’t panic!” He began running up and down the road, continuing to shout “Don’t panic! Don’t panic!” until his voice was drowned out by the roar of powerful aero engines. Everyone fell flat on their faces as a twin engined aircraft swooped low, passing over them twice before ascending into the sky and receding into the night.

“Dash it, she’s escaped!” lamented Captain Snell. “Where can she have gone?”

“Back to Hungary, I should imagine” said Biggles.

“She’ll never make it” said the Captain “All the way to Hungary? Alone? In that small plane?”

“Oh, I think she will” said Biggles, a far-away look in his eyes. “But she’ll be back, I’m sure of it.”



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