Book one, 'The Snatch-Kiss Affair,' ended with the multi-billionaire Rupert Snatch-Kiss, if not losing the war then losing the battle, with the villagers. Fekit Wood had been decimated in the process but the village had managed to drive the industrialist out of Fekenham. Following the joint wedding's of Verity Lambush to Ralph Ramhard, and Cybil Lovelock to Cyril Updyke, the village celebrated with a Ceilidh. No sooner had the festivities ceased before plans were made for a community holiday in France. Here is a foretaste in the form of the first chapter from book two - 'Charabanc to Cherbourg.'
The jelly mould breasts of Ethel Blowvalve quivered into Fekenham High Street a full ten seconds before the rest of her gelatine mass. It is said that the deadliest animal found on the African continent is the Hippopotamus; a large beast that appears to be cumbersome, sluggish even until roused, then, when it is in full rage, is unbelievably fast. The self-same parallel can be drawn with Ethel Blowvalve who, this day, is late to board the charabanc that has been booked and is bound for France. Following on swiftly behind the pendulous mounds of Ethel’s massive mammaries is her equally large, wobbly stomach that bounces out a slave boat drum beat as it flops and falls in time to each footfall that sets the pavement quaking on the High Street. A syncopated movement of breast, belly and thunderous flesh that, running as she is, defies not only the laws of aesthetics but also those of physics; proving that faith can move mountains or, as in this case less faith and more fear; fear of missing out on what promised to be one hell-of-a-trip.
When Ethel was just a baby her grandmother was fond of saying that ‘horses sweat, men perspire while ladies gently glow’. If only that were true thought, Ethel, as she pounded down the street, glowing like a radioactive isotope and sweating as though she were the winner of the Grand National. A glistening string of beaded moisture clung to her upper lip and her thighs had started to squeak as she ran but she would be buggered if she would miss that ruddy bus.
She could see the charabanc parked up ahead, its chrome and steel hide reflecting the bright sun. Overhead an airship glided by like a silver, silent wraith. Ethel could see Arthur Bentwhistle, along with her dear old friend Millie Mead, standing by the bus gesticulating at her with semaphore arms. Arthur did a pantomime act of pointing at his wrist as though he were describing the watch he wore.
“I know’s I’m bloody late you silly sod, I don’t need you to be waving your arms about like a demented windmill!”
As Ethel ran so her frock began its ascent with alarming results, riding up her thighs until it hung just below her buttocks like a shrunken pelmet. Then, slowly but inexorably, inch by inch, the fabric climbed higher as though it were some perverse Sherpa determined to win its way over Ethel’s plump Himalayas. Finally, the spotted glory of Ethel’s bloomers was plain for all to see and, as she drew closer to her friends, stopping briefly to catch her breath while bending over to relieve the stitch that was stabbing at her insides, so the occupants of the bus were given the rare and questionable privileged view of Ethel’s arse.
The fact that it seemed to be the size of a small country didn’t seem to bother Wilfred Hardbottle who pursed his lips but only had time to catch the swiftest of looks before Rosie Sliteworth elbowed him in the ribs. Fortunately, Millie Mead saw the state of Ethel’s renegade dress and pulled the offending material back into place. Ethel seemed unfazed by the whole incident and just grinned, then winked at Wilfred Hardbottle.
Once Ethel had boarded the coach, finding a seat big enough to take her voluptuous bottom, Arthur Bentwhistle declared that he had an announcement to make.
“There’s been a bit o’ a cod’s up I’m afraid, as you know both Ralph and Verity have had to stay behind to smooth out some legal business about Ralph buying the Duck and Dragon. It shouldn’t take too long. They’ll follow on as soon as business is concluded. Mind you, that’s not the cod’s up. I didn’t get me numbers right when I booked this charabanc and we are three seats short. What I propose is that two of you come with me in my jag then we can take a leaf out of Ralph and Verity’s book and follow on later. Now then, who is going to volunteer?”
As most of the villagers had settled down nice and comfy like, no one showed any intention of moving or taking up Arthur’s offer. May Humshaw huffed; Rosie Sliteworth stared steadfastly at Wilfred while Violet Springhead shuffled in her seat. Arthur’s smile faded as he gazed around at the seated, non-moving folk of Fekenham before shaking his head.
“Well, don’t all rush at once, I wouldn’t want to be crushed in the stampede now would I?”
Arthur’s sarcastic wit was lost on the occupants of the bus as not a single soul made a move.
“Come on now, someone sticks their hands up. We are late setting off as it is.”
Just then, as if on cue, Elvis Linkthorpe ambled up with Brigadier Largepiece at his side. Linkthorpe was wearing a hooped T-shirt; a pair of cream linen trousers, open toed sandals, a black beret perched upon his head and a red neckerchief tied around his throat. His hair was slicked down in a style that he referred to as ‘continental’ and he was obviously a little worse for wear having just polished off half a bottle of vodka. Besides him, dapper as ever was Brigadier Largepiece; immaculately dressed in white slacks, blue blazer with brass buttons and a white shirt with a blue, spotted, silk cravat.
“I thought you two were already on the coach?” said Arthur, “Where have you been? We were just about to start off!”
Linkthorpe leaned in close to Arthur, the alcohol from his breath wafting dangerously near the publican who pulled himself back slightly.
“Just had to have a quick tipple before the long and arduous journey, sorry to have kept you.”
“Arduous journey? We are only popping over to France matey, not going to darkest Burma via the Serengeti.” quipped the fast losing patience publican.
“I served briefly in Burma y’know!” stated the military man.
“Yes, I’m sure you did but as we are running a bit late would you mind saving the story until we are underway.”
The Brigadier ignored the brusque tone. Linkthorpe went climbing aboard the charabanc but Bentwhistle pulled him back informing him of the new arrangements. The Brigadier volunteered to map read as he said his military discipline might come in handy to which Bentwhistle agreed.
“Right then,” declared the amorous pub landlord, “off you go driver, I’ll go fetch me car. See you all in an hour or three. Bon voyage!”
The charabanc departed with a toot of its horn and a low rumble of its engine. Each of the passengers carefully chose which seat to take so that they sat next to the person with whom they most desired to travel. For example, the ‘sisters’ Merryfeather, Pippa and Tilly, sat beside each other as did Rosie Sliteworth and Wilfred Hardbottle. Millie and Bert Meade sat next to each other but with Millie facing the aisle so that she and Ethel could chat while their respective partners could gaze out of the window. As Ethel didn’t have anyone she could call her partner she had chosen to sit beside, much to his surprise, Ted Sandpip This unspoken law seemed to be universally accepted by all as Herman and Destine Cole sat next to each other while Destine could turn to Petunia Gracegirdle, who sat next to hubby Horace, and gossip. Rose Buckshot and Violet Springheel also shared the aisle while their common law husbands, John Tuck, and Tom Coppernob were left to view the scenery.
The only couples who seemed a little at loose ends with each other were Neil Beefshanks who sat beside the married Ruth Crabtree. The discomfort was more one of embarrassment. Neil and Ruth knew each other well. They both played together in the local folk band. Neil had long harboured feelings for Ruth which she knew all too well. She found him attractive, in fact, more than that but wanted her marriage, with all its failings, to work. The couple smiled politely at each other.
Ernie Stallworthy was seated next to Martha Horncluff which neither minded at all and Julie Twist was beside Bertram Gringlehop.
The problem that Ernie Stallworthy always had was that he looked precisely, and in a very stereotypical way, how you would think a poacher should look like; thin and pinched of features; small sharp eyes that moved in a calculating way and a stubbly chin that was in good need of a razor blade. All in all, a weasel like visage but, as all the villagers now knew, especially in light of the way he acted during the ‘Snatch-Kiss affair, he was a man with a heart of gold with a soul that made a lie of his looks.
Ernie had been married once before, many years ago, but had divorced the girl of his dreams when he found her in the arms of the man of hers. Unfortunately, the self-same man was Ernie’s brother and he had never seen either of them since the divorce. Ernie was not Fekenham born but, in point of fact, hailed from Hackney in the East End of London. Nor was he truly a poacher. He lived in a caravan with his sister who did her level best to look after him. He looked nervously now at Martha who looked back with equal apprehension.
Julie Twist sat smiling at Bertram Gringlehop wondering if he, the Fekenham Comprehensive Math teacher was really half as bad as her son Billy made out. He looked alright; in fact, he looked better than alright, handsome in a classic way with deep brown eyes that matched his tie.
“Why on earth is he wearing a tie on a trip like this?” thought Julie. She also noted that he was wearing some very formal, conservative clothes that matched the tie perfectly: brown corduroy jacket, a pair of khaki chinos and a pair of neat brown brogues. He couldn’t be any more than thirty-three, maybe thirty-five but he dressed like Julie’s dad. He smiled back. A very winning smile thought Julie. “I wonder what he looks like in the buff?” she thought.
“You’re Billy’s Mum aren’t you? I’m Bertram Gringlehop, Fekenham Comp’s Math teacher. I expect Billy has spoken of me. He’s quite a lad is young Billy. Not all that bright at Math though as he seems to always be dreaming of football and I am sure, as you will appreciate, dreaming of football is all well and good but it won’t give Billy the necessary tools for crafting a good career for himself. Of course, I appreciate, being of mixed race must have been problematic for the boy but even so, football? Now me, I always knew what I wanted out of life, always had my head well screwed on. Mathematics and Science were my chosen specialities. I make no bones about it either. One day, when Verity Lambush retires; I will become the Headmaster of Fekenham Comprehensive. You must have a vision, one that you can work for. I try to drum that into the heads of my pupils although sometimes, as with Billy, my efforts seem to go to waste. Dreaming of football will never get him anywhere will it?”
Julie smiled and thought. “Billy was right. What a boring individual and I’m sat next to him all the way to France. And what has his colour got to do with anything?”
“Does Billy have any academic dreams, any dreams of what he might one day become?”
“A dream, yes he does,” replied Julie.
“Oh, really and what is his dream?”
“He dreams of playing professional football.”
“Oh, I see.”
A silence spread thick like marmite on toast.
Ruth Crabtree had left her husband Dafid behind having had an enormous row with him. It was the fifth such row in less than a month. In fact, of late, all they ever seemed to do was argue; mostly about such stupid things too. Who had done their fair share of housework or who had last cleaned the bathroom? Dafid had the awful habit of leaving his clothes about the bedroom and never putting them away leaving Ruth to tidy up after him. She found it as unacceptable as he equally found, what he referred to, as her moaning. She felt tears rise in her eyes at the thought of what they had said to each other. They both had such vile tempers. She regretted every word she had uttered in her anger but words can never be unsaid. Neil Beefshanks, who sat beside her, heard her sniffle.
“You OK Ruth?”
“I’m fine, just a touch of hay fever.”
“Is that the same hay fever as you had last Tuesday?”
“I expect so.”
Neil shook his head. He knew the truth. He didn’t like how it made him feel. It left him with mixed emotions. On one hand he was saddened to see Ruth so depressed but on the other he saw a faint glimmer of hope for him. He banished such thoughts and looked out the window.
Arthur Bentwhistle’s estimation of meeting up with his fellow travellers after only three hours was a bit ambitious, to say the least. It is about an hour’s drive to Poole from Fekenham allowing for good traffic conditions and no stops; bearing in mind that people from Fekenham cannot go a mile without wanting some form of refreshment. Even without these prevailing conditions, having travelled to the sea port with no breaks, boarding the ferry instantly and then crossing the Channel would take a good six hours.
Not that anyone minded the lengthy process as the coach was well packed with necessary vittles’. Necessary that is if you count ten crates of beer as of being vitally important along with several picnic hampers full of pies, sandwiches, pasties and pickled assortments. Within the hour, the holidaymakers took their first stop, oddly enough just outside the port of Poole. When the charabanc had left Fekenham it was only a little later than the schedule that Arthur Bentwhistle had been working to so, arriving at the time they did was no bad thing, getting out the provender was.
Having arrived virtually to plan meant that the revellers could enjoy a brief repose with the additional benefits of beer and food. Reg Tupperpot, Alf’s brother, the driver of the charabanc pulled the vehicle over into a well-worn lay-by that nestled behind an outcrop of trees. “This should do nicely,” he said to himself. Reg lived in Muckleford and worked for the Muckleford Carriage Company.
Martha Horncluff had been enjoying the company of Ernie Stalworthy; who had been a pleasure to sit beside offering intelligent conversation with a dry wit and droll humour that she had enjoyed. His accent, that flat cockney dialect, destroyed vowels and trampled over grammar. He had been nothing like the poacher she thought he might be and, contrary to the rumours she had heard, he didn’t break the wind once. That, of course, was before the beer or the pickles. With Ernie, there is a case to be made of pre-pickles against post-pickles. As much as she had been enjoying his company, the warm waft of stale pickle fallout was hugely unpleasant, much like the sordid smell of pig compost. All Ernie could do was grin with muted embarrassment and mutter a mumbled, “Sorry, ruddy pickles.”
Terry Humshaw had been as good as gold sitting dutifully by his wife May, staring out of the window with blank interest at the passing countryside. Being born in Wessex, and having seen most of it in his fifty-odd years, it no longer held the same awe-inspiring vision that it once had. It was not that he didn’t appreciate the locality he lived in but he no longer found it as breathtaking as in days gone by. May had been enjoying chatting to Ruth Crabtree who had appeared, at first, a little melancholic but had soon cheered up, or so it seemed, as soon as the two of them had started discussing May’s favourite topics which were current soap operas and the merits of reading Camilla Drew’s latest novella.
“I think she is a marvel, I do. Each of her books is so full of intrigue and mystery it’s a wonder where she gets so many ideas from. Her latest, have you read her latest? You haven’t? You should! It’s called “Murder in Merthyr Tydfil”. It’s about a town in Wales that has a series of murders committed against a bunch ‘o women, all of ‘em prostitutes or members of the Women’s Institute. It’s really amazing the way she ties the two together and it features her greatest creation, Lorna Lustkitten - Forensic Detective. I have read everyone from the first to the last. She has written twenty-four if you include the latest. My favourite was “Murder on the Train to Torquay”. Full of romance and blood in guts. Tel says they are daft stories with no real grit but what would he know? Give ‘im a pint and a pie and he is as happy as a pig in muck. Do you read much Ruth?”
Ruth said that she didn’t, but that she would love to find the time, to which May volunteered to lend her the very first book that Camilla Drew had published: “Death by Stitches”. Ruth smiled and thanked her, saying that would be nice.
Pippa and Tilly were engaged in conversation with Julie Twist who, in desperation, had turned to the ladies to escape the boring diatribe she was receiving from Bertram Gringlehop whose only interest in life seemed to be himself. He spoke at great length about not only his ability as a teacher but also about his enormous ambitions. Julie found him a tedious man and she was glad to be able to speak to the charming Merryfeather's.
When the couple spoke as was as if each knew what the other was about to say. This meant that they often interjected mid-sentence or one would finish off the others words.
“Of course my dear, you know very little of us do you? We aren’t really sisters at all but I suspect you have already guessed that. Back in the sixties both Tilly and I were Private Investigators who worked in the capital. My real name is Philipa Tipping and Tilly is really Matilda Velvet. In the sixties being lesbian was frowned upon, not so much as being homosexual but still not approved of. Funny thing is that everyone thinks the sixties were this liberal free-for-all when in point of fact it was during that period that so many challenges were made on the old established ways. We had our offices in Marylebone, near Baker Street station, which seemed not only very trendy for the times but also somehow appropriate as we thought of ourselves as following in the footsteps of the famous old sleuth, Sherlock Holmes. Of course, we were nothing like that venerable gentleman as we were simply two young people who were part of London’s hip scene; members of the ‘in-crowd’
“It was nineteen sixty-five, some forty years ago. We were only young then: Tilly was twenty-one and I a year younger. We wore the obligatory mini’s courtesy of Mary Quant and thought ourselves the height of sixties chic. It was, after all, swinging London, then the pop capital of the world. Becoming Private Investigators wasn’t a decision that we made with any great thought but rather something that happened by chance, a random act as it were. You see, it was during the summer of sixty-five when the pair of us attended a party thrown by Ray Davies of The Kinks that we met Dominic Talmy, who we both thought was related to the record producer but was in fact no relation at all. Dominic was such an impressive, charismatic man, full of easy sixties cool charm. He offered us drugs but we declined, not because we thought then that they were wrong but because, not that we would have admitted to it, we were both a little afraid. Just because everyone was dabbling with some form of drug or other didn’t mean that we didn’t have reservations.
“Dominic, however, was both a user and a peddler. He became very unpleasant after ‘snowballing’ and we then saw a side of him we rather wished we hadn’t. We had all gone to a room together where he took his fix; then he pulled out a gun, it was unloaded but we didn’t know that then and started waving it around in front of us, telling us that he was the man, the man to fix the whole world and not even Big G would fool around with him. We had no idea what he was on about or who indeed this Big G was but lots of people back then had really daft names that seemed so cool at the time. After the party finished we made our way home without really thinking much about the incident apart from how crazy Dominic had been. The next morning Dominic was found dead in his flat from an overdose, a heroin overdose.
“Apparently he had taken three times the normal amount. That struck us as odd as, whether we liked Dom or not was beside the point, he knew, as much as drug user can, what he was doing. We thought it sounded highly suspicious and became determined to find out more. Anyway, enough of that for now, it looks like Reg is trying to say something to us.”
Reg was indeed trying to say something as he had shuffled out of his seat and was waggling his arms about desperate to get his passenger’ attention. The act of waggling took a while longer than he had first anticipated but eventually, one after the other, the villagers quietened down to listen to what their driver had to say.
“Sorry to interrupt but I thought you all might likes to know that we have, due to all your merry-making, missed the perishing ferry and will have to wait some hours afore the next one comes along.”
If Reg had thought that this news might bring a degree of consternation or distress he was very much mistaken as the villagers, with one voice, let out an almighty cheer.
“Hooray! More time for vittles’!” shouted a squiffy Rosie Sliteworth.
Beside her, Wilfred said nothing but snored loudly as his dentures slipped onto his chin and then fell onto his lap with a slap and a dribble of saliva.
“Yeah!” bellowed John Tuck whose intake of alcohol was famed from Devon to Dorset.
“All right, all right,” stammered Reg. “Keep yer vest on. What I propose is this that I takes you all to the nearest ale house so’s you’s all can stretch yer legs afore we catch the next ferry to this here Chairberg place.”
“Cherbourg!” shouted back the collective.
“That’s what I said, Chairberg!” replied Reg.
Unknown to Reg, or any of the other passengers was the fact that Arthur, along with Elvis Linkthorpe and Brigadier Largepiece had overtaken the charabanc whilst it was parked in the lay-by and were now aboard the previous ferry and were well and truly on their to way Cherbourg.
Alf turned the coach around so that it was now facing away from the port and drove it to a local public house that he knew of, The Royal Oak, much bigger and far grander than The Frog and Radiator but with a less worthy ale.
One ale was called Pride of Poole which tasted a lot better than the other choice, Ferry Wash which tasted exactly as it sounded, weak and watery with too much froth on it.
The collection of Fekenhamites remained at the Royal Oak for a couple of hours, much to the landlord’s pleasure as he could never recall, in living memory, anyone, be it group or individual, imbibing so much ale before or eating so much of his wife’s food. Still, they had and thank the gods for that.
By the time the charabanc returned to the ferry, the occupants, feeling a little weary, with Wilfred still asleep and still snoring on the coach whilst his fellows enjoyed the Poole beer, were all looking forward to some rest aboard the boat. They had agreed to refill their depleted stocks for the rest of the journey but as they had a trip of some four to five hours ahead of them they all decided to have a short rest before stocking up.
After they had queued up then driven onto the ferry and filed up the stairs into one of two lounge areas, they settled back to continue conversations put on hold. May Humshaw caught up with Ruth Crabtree and passed her a book; it was by Camilla Drew and was May’s favourite novel published by the famed author, “Murder on the train to Torquay”
“I’d forgotten I brought this with me but good job I did. Here you are, ‘ave a read of it ‘n let me know what you think.”
Ruth accepted, as graciously as she could, the proffered book. “Thank you,” said Ruth, “how kind.”
And while her comrades slept, chatted or, in the case of John Tuck and Tom Coppernob drank, even more, liquor; Ruth opened the cover of Camilla Drew’s book. It held little appeal to Ruth who preferred to read Henry Coarsewit or Joseph O‘Flattery, something with a little grit to it, but rather than be rude to May she felt she should at least scan through the novel so as to be able to converse with her without making any serious mistakes should May quiz her later. Inside her head Ruth grimaced but still turned the pages of Camilla Drew’s famed novel: “Murder on the Train to Torquay.”
Russell Cuts the Corn From The Brewers Whiskers.