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  • Michael Braccia

Leeford Village - episode 93: A question of degree

Previously in Leeford Village:


Jason has it all wrong about George Dennis. Cody discovers a photo on social media proving that George was not an SS officer. Jasmine is very keen on bank manager Justin Wilkins, and, with the loan he has provided, she can live in Leeford. Edward is concerned that Revd. John Peterson won’t conduct the wedding as Edward is a divorcee.


~


A year ago, Clare’s boyfriend, Zack, was proposing to her at the fête. Today, Clare and the other successful A-level students at Spring Hill have all received letters informing them which universities have made them offers of courses. She hears the phone ring, but ignores it.

‘Aren’t you going to answer that?’

‘I know who it will be, Mom!’

Clare has been offered a place at Manchester to study music and drama. Music is her passion, but she just wants to sing, not study theory. Clare is already a member of four local folk clubs, including the one run by Peter Redman, who organised the folk festival that ran in parallel with the fête. Clare is also resident artist in two of the clubs. A Birmingham agent has already made an approach – complicated by the fact that the agent doesn’t want Zack, with whom she performs in an acoustic duo. She knows in her heart that if she accepts the place at Manchester, Zack is bound to go to the other end of the country – Southampton, Exeter or maybe London. She is unsure what Zack wants to do with his life - apart from continuing to sing with Clare – and his wide range of interests and abilities muddies the waters when it comes to choosing a degree course, and the location of the university where he would stay for at least three years.

‘It’s alright, love. It’s only Dad. He’s forgotten his order book.’

How can Zack have applied to five universities, including Birmingham and Manchester? She thinks. I know what’s going to happen. We’ll spend three years two hundred miles apart. He’ll meet someone else and it will finish us.

Her phone beeps – a text from Zack:


Meet me in the park at 11. Got something to tell u.


~


Take two characters of opposing politics, attitudes, views on life (well, opposing everything, really), add a cocktail of smelly boots, large cucumbers and pub quizzes, mix them together, adding a lift as a final ingredient and you have a recipe for trouble.


The main edifice at Banfield Council is relatively modern compared to the scattering of local authority department buildings. Modern in the sense that it has five floors, a canteen, air conditioning, Wi-Fi, and… a lift. This cable-assisted vertical transport device is known to be stable – if slow – and not known for breakdowns. Until today.




Frank Watson has made his mark on Banfield Council. In recent months, he has been offered the position of Town Clerk and a councillor’s seat within the ruling party’s elite group. This had been led by council leader, John Sotherby, until his untimely demise due to the efforts of Mr Frank Watson – with a little help and encouragement from his long-departed grandfather. His visit to Banfield today is a routine matter – business licences, bills to query (he always does) and to keep his profile in clear view of the new leadership of the council. Things change quickly in politics, and Frank likes to be ready. It’s the fifth floor for him.


Ken Taylor, the only farmer in the village, sits on the parish council with Frank Watson – possibly all they have in common. Ken likes to tease Frank, and it’s fair to say that the chair of Leeford Village Parish Council has proved to be an easy target. If the two men represented Championship football squads, Ken would be Frank’s bogey team. Today, Ken is applying for planning permission to extend his main wheat field into a wooded area he has recently purchased on the eastern border of his farm. Needless to say, Frank is opposed, and Ken will have a fight on his hands with most of the councillors to get permission to cut down fifty trees. The planning department is on the fourth floor.


Frank is waiting by the lift on the ground floor as Ken bursts through the main entrance doors, waking the security guard who has been overdue for retirement for over ten years.


‘Name and I.D. please’

‘Ken Taylor. Come on, Joe, you know me!’

‘I.D. please.’

‘Will my library ticket do?’

‘Minimum requirement is a photo driving licence or passport.’


Ken complies, and spots Frank, who is trying to avoid eye contact with his adversary. Ken smiles, struts towards the lift and offers Frank a high five.

‘Going up, Frank?’


Frank, in his usual style, ignores Ken and takes one step into the lift as the door slides open. The floor creaks and groans as Ken joins him.

‘Sportswear or haberdashery?’ quips Ken.

‘Thank goodness this is a short journey,’ says Frank. ‘I managed to avoid being trapped on a coach with you when your mob invaded Weston-Super-Mare.’

‘What do you mean?’ Ken replies with a grin.

‘Glorified pub crawl, wasn’t it?’


The floor creaks again as the lift reaches the third floor.

‘Is it always this slow?’

Frank looks him up and down as if searching for something – possibly a semblance of intelligence.

‘I suppose if we must do the polite chat thing,’ says Frank,’ at least the speed of the council house lift is a change from your —’


The lift lurches to one side as ‘4’ displays on the control panel. Ken stumbles, and grabs Frank’s shoulders.

‘What was —’






‘Don’t worry, Ken, it happens occasionally. There’s a procedure for it.’

‘When was the last t-time?’ stutters Ken.

‘2005.’

‘Eh? So they don’t get much practice in —’

‘Saving us,’ interrupts Frank.

‘Ken, what is it?’

‘C-claustrophobia.’


Sweat is pouring down Ken’s face, his hands are shaking and he seems unable to stand.


‘Hold on, I’ll call for help.’ Frank presses the alarm button and checks his phone.

‘No signal, but they should pick up the alarm in the office. Anyone trying to get down from the top floors should notice as well.’

‘P-please hurry,’ begs Ken,

‘I’ve never seen you like this. How long have you been a sufferer?’

‘Since I was a kid. Climbed into an old trunk in the attic when I was six and got stuck when the lid shut. I was in there for three hours. Luckily there were air holes. Mom had called the police and they’d searched the garden and the local park when Dad remembered I sometimes played in the attic.’


‘And you’ve been like it ever since?’


With no warning, the lift drops six feet, the automatic brake grabs the cable and it stops dead, throwing both men into the wall. Frank is shaken now. Ken faints. Collecting his thoughts, Frank remembers he has a bottle of water in his case. He loosens Ken’s shirt collar, brings him round with a slap and offers him a drink.

‘We’ll be okay, old mate.’

‘Thanks Frank, I won’t forget this,’ he says meekly.


They sit in the same position for what seems like hours, but no more than twenty-five minutes have passed when the lift is winched another four feet and the doors open. Both men have never been so grateful to see the Banfield Fire Department in action.

‘I’ll never grumble about my council tax ever again!’ declares Frank.

Ken mumbles something incomprehensible as Frank helps him onto the landing of the second floor.

‘Do you need the lift to go up or down?’ asks one of the firefighters.

‘We’ll take the stairs, thank you,’ says Frank.


As they collect their thoughts, Frank has one question for Ken.

‘What was that smell in the lift?’

‘Oh, sorry, Frank. It’s my wellingtons. I came straight to Banfield from muck-spreading this morning. Forgot to change into clean shoes. Sorry.’

Frank cannot resist a smile, and receives one in return as he slaps Ken on the back.


~







Edward has a shaky feeling in his legs as he walks up the drive to the front door of the vicarage. A feeling he last had when he had forgotten to take his blood pressure tablets, or the time Ethel kept him waiting for over two hours when he wanted to prepare a special dinner for her. He has to eat at prescribed times or his energy levels dip. It’s not my blood pressure, he thinks. Ethel says he is a modern vicar. I’m not so sure.


‘Edward! Good morning!’

Edward takes a step back as John Peterson swings the door open.

‘Sorry, I saw you coming up the drive, so I came to meet you.’

‘Good morning, vicar.’

‘John, please. Call me John.’


He ushers Edward into his study, the location of many a deep discussion – where Simon, Zack’s friend, once pretended that he wanted to be ordained in an effort to keep John Peterson in his job. John had, for a short time, lost his faith. Today, the discussion about to take place is not deep, but nonetheless important.


‘So, you and Ethel, eh?’

‘Yes, vic, er, John. She has finally decided to make an honest man of me.’

John coughs and looks down at some papers on his desk.

‘Well, yes, you see, there is something we need to talk about.’

‘I knew it,’ says Edward.

‘Excuse me?’

Edward takes a deep breath, deciding to waste no more time.

‘John, do you have a problem marrying divorcees?’

‘I’ll answer you directly. No.’

‘So you’ll marry us?’

‘Well, as I say, I personally don’t have a problem with the fact that you have been married before.’

‘Great – Ethel will be thrilled.’

‘Hang on, Edward. I don’t have a problem, but a few months ago we received a new directive from the bishop. You and Ethel will have to apply directly to him for clearance.’

‘How long will that take?’

‘We had one case that took nearly twelve months.’

‘But that’s nearly a year…’

‘I know,’ says John.

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