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  • Michael Braccia

Leeford Village - Episode 121

Updated: Apr 29

Episode 121: Pippa and Harry


Previously in Leeford Village:

 

Cody congratulates Jenny Windrush on ‘becoming a grandmother’, but she doesn’t know what he’s talking about. Carlos asks Sherry if she’s more interested in going back to Rio than marrying him. Frank Watson confuses the Chair of Bordsley Village Parish Council over the issue of the census. Pippa Philpotts has a visitor at the post office – a man from her past named Harry.

 

~

 

 

‘Three minutes? After all we’ve been through?’

 

Harry Smestow moves towards Pippa and touches her left hand. She feels a shiver go through her body but recoils and retreats to the safety of her usual station – behind the counter.

 

‘Pippa, what’s wrong?’

‘What’s wrong? After all this time, you ask me that question.’

 

It had been a long time. More than twenty-five years. Pippa Philpotts was starting the third year of a degree in business management at De Montfort University. Born and raised in Leicester, she was able to commute to university every day from the house where she had lived from childhood. Achieving good grades in three A-levels at Beaumont Leys school in the north of the city, her parents and teachers had high hopes for this bubbly, intelligent, kind girl who had always been popular with the other students. Pippa was destined for a first and she was considered to be one of De Montfort’s most promising students. This all changed when she met her new accounts lecturer. The man who would change her life.

 

Harry Smestow presented as a quiet, studious young man. After graduating with a BSc (Hons) in accounting and management at Bristol, he decided to go into teaching. A brief flirtation with secondary school teaching taught him that he wasn’t cut out for controlling 12 to 16-year-old students. ‘Controlling’ was all he managed at the inner city school providing his first full-time placement. Harry always felt that he taught them nothing, apart from frequent demonstrations of his ability to shout louder than them. At twenty-nine, Harry completed an MA in Business Administration and soon found a post to suit his skills and education – lecturer in accounts at De Montfort. He spotted Pippa in the first lecture of the semester. She was tall, slim, with a good figure. Her long dark hair and glasses partially concealed a face with perfect bone structure and piercing blue eyes that sparkled when she smiled.

 

As usual, Pippa sat towards the back of the class. Harry looked up as Pippa removed her glasses to clean them, tossing her hair so it cascaded over her shoulders. That did it for Harry. She had also noticed him, and they wasted no time in ‘accidentally’ bumping into each other in the corridor at the end of the lecture. A passionate affair began, neither of them having any consideration for the university rules.

 

Pippa and Harry somehow managed to keep their affair shielded from the eyes of the university authorities. Most of Pippa’s fellow students knew, and one young man – John Strake – had a particular motivation for spoiling the illicit liaison. John had loved Pippa from afar – at least from the other end of the lecture theatre. A quiet man who had never made his feelings known. He still could not approach Pippa, but an anonymous letter sent to the head of Business Administration at De Monfort had more of a devastating effect than John had intended. Harry was called into the department head’s office at 9am the following Monday morning.

 

‘What are you playing at, Harry?’

‘I don’t know what you mean.’

‘That nice young lady in your accounts group. Pippa—'

‘Philpotts,’ jumped in Harry.

‘Well, yes. How can I put this?’ said the head of department. ‘Stop it now, and get her to transfer to another university, or you’re out!’

Harry knew that the university had a ‘no fraternisation’ policy. It had gone beyond fraternisation, but within days he made the decision to prioritise his career over his aching need for Pippa. He saw her once more, and Pippa’s life changed forever.

 

Pippa did complete her degree, ironically transferring to Bristol. Over the years, she moved from one job to another – mainly in bookkeeping – and eventually found her role in life - at Royal Mail. A series of appointments at sorting offices and large city centre post offices around the country found her taking a liking to the life of a postmistress, eventually finding her way to the border between Staffordshire and the West Midlands - Leeford Village Post Office. And Pippa had changed over the years. A kind, intelligent, quietly spoken young lady had transformed into a louder, slightly bitter, middle-aged postmistress who fed off other people’s problems. She initially used odd language and malapropisms to deflect people (mainly men) from getting close. Her character evolved into the woman she is today. Pippa Phillpotts, village gossip.

 

Harry tries to reach across the counter to touch Pippa’s arm, but once again she recoils.

 

‘Pippa, I am so sorry. I’ve thought about you every day. Did you ever marry?’

‘No,’ she says, averting her eyes. ‘I never found anyone who could make me happy.’

‘Oh, Pippa, I am truly sorry. I was a coward.’

‘What about you?’ she asks.

‘What? Marry? Yes, I’ve got a son, James. He’s just started his A-levels.’

 

Pippa softens slightly, but is still grateful for the security of the counter screen.

 

‘Are you happy?’ she asks.

‘Not really. I’m divorced now. I see my son once a month.’

‘I’m sorry, Harry.’

 

He takes a deep breath and leans on the counter.

 

‘You didn’t reply to any of my letters. When you moved to Bristol, I would have kept in touch.’

‘You hurt me, Harry, although I knew it wasn’t all your fault. I needed to make a fresh start.’

‘I’ve always loved you, Pippa. The university took you away from me. I should have fought back, but I put my career first. Will you ever forgive me?’

 

 

~

 

Jenny Windrush is not, by default, a suspicious woman. As headteacher at Spring Hill School, she has had her moments when being suspicious of the behaviour of students should be the default position. However, the strange utterances of the owner of Leeford Plaice have left her thinking. Firstly, what on earth is he talking about? Secondly, I wonder if Daniel has any ideas?

 

Jenny would not have long to wait in order to seek answers to her questions. Unusually for her, she left school at the same time as the children so she could be at home waiting for her husband. It is Wednesday, and Daniel always manages to leave by 4.30 on Wednesdays.

 

‘Hi, Love. You’re early! Can’t remember the last time you beat me home.’

 

Following his usual routine, Daniel removes his wallet, keys and mobile from his jacket, places the items on the coffee table then tosses his jacket over the back of a chair.

 

‘Must you do that?’ Jenny snaps.

‘Do what?’

‘Throw your jacket down like a sack of spuds!’

‘Sack of spuds? I thought you’d studied English at university, Jen. Anyway, what’s up with you?’

‘Nothing’s up with me, Daniel, but I’ve smelt a rat, and that rat is Cody Thornton!’

 

Daniel hesitates before passing comment.

 

‘Oh.’

‘Oh, indeed. You know what I’m talking about, then.’

 

Daniel settles down into his favourite armchair and reaches for the remote. Perhaps for the safety of Escape to the Country or repeats of Countdown.

 

‘Leave that, Daniel. I want to know what’s going on, and I suspect that you have some information to impart. You’ve never been able to keep anything from me.’

‘What did Cody say to you?’

‘He was quite incoherent, but the gist was “congratulations on becoming a grandmother”.’

 

Daniel sinks lower into the chair, but attempts a response.

 

‘Well, I was talking to Adam at the shop.’

‘Yes…’ she says, trying to help him along.

‘We were joking about families and stuff, and he asked me about my family.’

‘What did you say?’

‘Something like “I’d love to be a grandfather”.’

 

Jenny’s eyes fill with tears.

 

‘We both know that’s impossible, don’t we? It’s far too late now. I would have loved grandchildren as well.’

‘Oh, I’m so sorry, Jen, dragging up those old memories. Please forgive me. It was just banter at the shop.’

 

She sits down in her own armchair and turns to Daniel.

 

‘Fair enough, but where does Cody come into this?’

‘He came into Burry’s for some plasters and heard me say something about grandchildren to Adam.’

‘And he got the wrong end of the—’

‘Stick. Precisely.’

 

At that, Jenny smiles. Normality resumed, she asks, ‘what do you want for your tea?’

 

~

 

 

Frank Watson does what he does best – organise a parish council meeting. His usual sceptical audience is in attendance - sceptical because they rarely see the point of his blustering and speech-making. Churchill he isn’t, although Winston and also Frank’s grandfather, are his inspiration. He puffs out his chest, slams down the gavel he has inexplicably brought along to the meeting, and begins.

 

‘Good evening, everyone!’

 

A few mutterings from the assembled throng.

 

‘Good evening, Frank.’

‘Here we are again, doing battle with the upper echelons,’ Frank states, in a manner befitting a more prestigious event.

 

‘“Upper echelon” - Isn’t that you, Frank?’ shouts Ken Taylor, causing the gavel to crash down once again on the desk.

 

‘As I say, we are once again at odds with the Banfield local authority. The census must start next week. I want to fight it, but I have checked and they have the legal right to do this. Any questions?’

 

One hand shoots into the air.

 

‘Yes, Ken.’

 

‘I’m not giving you any personal information, Watson. The council can stick it—’

‘Stopping you there, Ken. You have a legal obligation to complete the form. I don’t like it any more than you, but I strongly advise you to cooperate.’

 

More mumblings from the attendees, and Ken says, ‘alright, alright.’ After the debacle of his outbuildings, even Ken Taylor doesn’t want any more trouble from the council.

 

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