The tears, the tantrums, the ambitions and the missions; the madness behind the methods. A malevolent wind is about to blow into the village of Middlemyte. In the thick of the fray, just who will be able to keep the rounds clean? Chimes at Middlemyte is a soap-opera brought to you by the Oxford City Branch. All of it is entirely fictional. Any correlation between it and any event that occurs in real life is purely coincidental. We therefore cannot supply the email address of any of its characters, since these do not exist outside the mind of its author.
Middlemyte All Saints 6 8-3-2 in C
Fri 7.30pm - 9.00pm  Sun 9.15am
Russell Blender, Forrest Bore, Nelson Cable, Melody Cramp, Wesley Cramp,
Matthew Drape, Miss Lyssa Dusty, Miss Nyssa Dusty, Gemma Ferley, Mrs Dolly Gaskin,
Revd Timothy Maidstone, Christopher Padget, Derek Pannier, Mrs Eunice Pannier,
Adeline Timbrel, Naomi Timbrel, Robert Timbrel, Ruthie Timbrel & Fred Tumble.
Secretary Mrs D Gaskin, Hornbeams, Phalarope Lane, Middlemyte.

The lack of a "Lower" or "Upper" Myte is evidence as to the growth of Middlemyte, although no Upper Myte ever existed as far as anyone seems to be able to recall. On the other hand, Lower Myte did indeed once figure on maps and documents of note. Although long since subsumed it still lives on informally thanks to local traditionalists, a couple of road names, and a cul-de-sac.

A stream, a bypass, a railway line and a by-way all twist their way either through or around the village like plaited ribbons. At the time of writing, most of the quintessential features and amenities expected of an English village by the visitor are present and correct.

The picturesque church of All Saints still sits very much at the heart of Middlemyte, even if not geographically central within the village, sitting as it does at the northerly edge. As well as being rich in history, the church is equally notable for its well-maintained state that makes it the obvious pictorial representative for the village in books, periodicals and magazines.

Despite a welter of modern development, a wistful rural ambience is still evident just a short walk away from the more obtrusive signs of modernity, due in the main to the preponderance of by-ways and allotments that fortuitously break up the ongoing development.

Canon Aubrey Hapless, The Essential Villages of England and Wales, 1982

Dramatis Personæ

Naomi Timbrel has fallen on her feet; influential friends, a clutch of potential suitors, an award-winning radio show in her spare time, and she's losing sleep over what else can go wrong - maybe becoming tower captain at Middlemyte can alleviate her problems?

Dominic Bowskill has the smell of the Westminster Village in his nostrils, but someone in Middlemyte village is seriously getting stuck in his throat.

Gemma Ferley's father doesn't think that she's old enough to know what love really is ... but all she can see is that he certainly doesn't have the first clue himself.

Dennis Lomas liked the radio station so much that he bought the company. He likes its youngest presenter so much that he just might have to trade the heady aroma of power for the country air of Middlemyte.

Forrest Bore's motto is: If you haven't got the cheek, then you've not got the chance. If you want it, then he'll find a way of getting it.

Christopher Padget found that coming close to death presented him with a tantalising reason to want to live, but that transparently could be the death of him.

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NAOMI TIMBREL

Born and brought up in the village of Middlemyte, Naomi Timbrel is a freelance broadcaster, most notably on radio. She is recently much noted as a presenter who keeps a weather-eye on the state of the nation in its normally lesser shown facets.

Considered by many commentators as being very much one to watch in the near future following major success at the Edinburgh Festival this summer. In the wake of a certain cult popularity on local radio, and plaudits as best newcomer at the National Radio Awards, Naomi accepted the surprise offer to play foil to acerbic young Scottish stand-up comedian Jamie Stuce.

On leaving full-time education, Naomi worked in Sales & Marketing for a company specialising in providing unique incentives for employees. That she came to the realms of broadcasting was something not far short of a mere fluke. Apart from her mother appearing on Opportunity Knocks back in the 1970's, there was little else to suggest that Naomi would want to turn her attention toward a media career.

Naomi enjoys a strong interest in local history, the arts, and admits to making serious attempts at being a keen musician. Despite making a considerable number of programmes that take in discovering the highways and byways of the land, she owns up to being more of an ambler than a rambler.

Hobbies include vegetable gardening, bell-ringing, bird-watching and participating in countryside & wildlife preservation projects.

BRK/FAST PROG 22/10/05 TIMBREL / 12 (02) R/ORD 4 / 4M PROD SHAUN C

NAOMI  In response to a slew of listener requests that the show more accurately reflect the latest social trends and talking points, then those who have been most vehement may be assuaged to hear that we have made strenuous efforts to bring you a couple of local supporters of the two remaining Conservative Party leadership hopefuls. Unfortunately that has not been possible, so as it is incumbent upon us to retain balance we did not rest over the weekend in our striving to find an objective interested party. So I'm delighted to welcome Alastair Willoughby-Kerr this morning.

W-KERR  Good morning, it's another efficacious morning this morning, wouldn't you agree?

NAOMI  Indubitably I would guess. Now you apparently have yet to make up your mind as to which candidate to throw your weight behind.

W-KERR  Indeed, I feel that we have two greatly able candidates, and that any opportunity to air what I would call a friendly contest should not be spurned. Hence to lose even a forum as modest as this one would be regrettable. Objectivity is something that we used to pride ourselves on in this country. David Cameron and David Davis both have much to recommend them. There has been much talk of blank sheets during the past few months, so I'm quite at ease with turning myself into a blank sheet for the next few weeks until we come to a resolution.

NAOMI  Now, you are an old Etonian, and a graduate of Oxford University, so what exactly could you say to make us believe that you have any common ground with David Davis?

W-KERR  There are too many assumptions being made nowadays, it is true that I have trodden a similar path to David Cameron, and I dare say that I may have a natural inclination in his direction, but then again I have had my nose broken, so I can empathise with David Davis.

NAOMI  Oh yes, so I see, was that sustained from playing rugby perhaps?

W-KERR  Oh no, nothing so vulgar, an unfortunate incident playing polo actually.

NAOMI  Was it a collision with a mallet or did you fall off your horse?

W-KERR  Do I look so clumsy? It was an elephant actually.

NAOMI  I get the distinct impression that this wasn't at Cowdray Park.

W-KERR  That is perfectly correct, Monte Carlo on this occasion. You may or may not know how it is, there are so many invites floating around, it comes across as churlish to turn down these things when such great trouble has been gone to by way of getting everything in place.

NAOMI  A once in a lifetime opportunity.

W-KERR  Well there's certainly not another one until next year in Bermuda.

NAOMI  I think we're getting a little off the beaten-track, perhaps you could interpret what exactly these much vaunted politics for the twenty-first century are likely to entail?

W-KERR  I think it is one of those intangible things, there is still this unacceptable face of capitalism that needs to be hidden... I mean banished. We need professionalism, to be media savvy, that is the bed that has been created and those who don't learn to bunk up in it are going to be fed to the wolves. Now that we have schools that do specifically teach the art of warm speaking and minimal information then this is a genie that doesn't allow us enough time to push it back into the bottle. The public have always had a love affair with those who are skilled at charming birds out of trees.

NAOMI  So you are indicating that you think you need to skip a generation?

W-KERR  Was I? Now, you obviously tricked me somewhere there. We need a fresh approach, and to get away from the old ideas was what I meant. We need to be an engine for change, to have the vision thing, maintain a firm hand on the tiller of the economy, embrace the white heat of technology, but make sure that the pound in our pockets is not diluted. We can't go on in this country having the voters thinking that we're in a bubble, out of touch and not listening.

NAOMI  So I take it that you don't like things degenerating into merely two rats in a sack politics.

W-KERR  We mustn't allow fast food to be on the menu when we can all enjoy a nutritionally balanced meal.

NAOMI  I'm not quite sure that answer correlated with my question.

W-KERR  What was the question?

NAOMI  Are you in favour of politics being conducted like two ferrets down a trouser leg?

W-KERR  Ah... I must have nodded off momentarily.

NAOMI  Now that you are down to the last two and it all seems a little bit of a foregone conclusion, haven't you been thoroughly pushed off your perch in the spotlight by the Avian Flu?

W-KERR  No no, it will make a refreshing change to have a few weeks away from the glare of the media circus at this sensitive point. But, let me say that this has been a gripping contest. I have had to be immensely careful as to what I'm holding in the last few months, tension in the hands is an experience never to be forgotten. The process had its detractors at the outset, but the whole thing has been like a kaleidoscope, just too vivid to put into words. I'm convinced that the public are looking for a man of substance.

NAOMI  As opposed to a man of substance abuse as some of the other David's supporters might say.

W-KERR  Better to have a silver spoon in the mouth rather than a foot.

NAOMI  A crafty politico for you there, just when I thought we'd rumbled who you actually support, you bring sugar into the equation.

W-KERR  What has that got to do with anything?

NAOMI  David Davis used to run Tate & Lyle.

W-KERR  Is that true? Well, we really do learn something new every day.

NAOMI  As you know, we always afford our visitors the opportunity to select a favourite record. Unfortunately those who must be obeyed upstairs have found some difficulty in allowing any of your choices on the grounds of possible bias.

W-KERR  I'm mortified, how can they be so paranoid?

NAOMI  Well, let's have a look, Let's Get It Up by AC/DC, See The Day by Dee C Lee, Unbelievable by EMF... is a pattern emerging?

W-KERR  Oh, our expert in the dark arts thought they'd be too subliminal for you.

NAOMI  Then there's this selection of songs from the West End musicals, perhaps you could correct me, but aren't all off these selections from Cameron Mackintosh productions?

W-KERR  Oh really, what sort of radio station is this that knows about music?

NAOMI  Our music librarian was able to find "The Music of the Night" by Michael Crawford, but "There's Something of the Night About a Man With a Crooked Nose" is not a recording she was able to find.

W-KERR  Damn, someone swore to me it was an Ozzy Osbourne album track. Come to think of it, perhaps it was just someone swore at me.

NAOMI  Don't blame me, I'm just the monkey for the organ-grinder, these days you just can't tell what's going to get passed and what's going to be censored. I'm doing my best, I managed to get something through the censors for you.

W-KERR  Oh, that's more what I want to hear, well done, thank you!

NAOMI  That may be a little pre-emptive when you hear what we've chosen for you. We're about to be transported back to the heady days of 1978, Argentina, the World Cup, no England, sounding familiar? Andy Cameron and the Scottish World Cup Squad, it seems we're about to be on our way with Ally's Army all over again.

W-KERR  You can't play that, how do expect me to go out on the campaign trail this afternoon?

NAOMI  They've given me a pertinent yet unbiased alternative of 2 Become 1 by the Spice Girls if that's any help.

W-KERR  Ah... that's what politics should really be about.

NAOMI  Compromise?

W-KERR  No, gripping.

NAOMI  Alastair Willoughby-Kerr, thank you.

W-KERR  Thank you.

Episode One
Published 1st November 2005
Spirits In The Personate World
For most residents of Middlemyte, that particular spring morning merely arose from its tauperic slumber with an accompaniment of sullen shades of mightily opaque-lustred and possibly rain bearing clouds. This was not at all so for Naomi Timbrel prior to the shrill ring of the front doorbell, and most assuredly not after the subsequent disclosure of her very own grande-passion that inevitably followed. A leman with whom enamour and amativeness were words of prodigious understatement in Naomi's book. A veritable "heart-throb" the like of which she had only faithfully taken to bed with her most every night in her head to anywhere within sight of the same degree during her teen idolising days. Even then the circumstances were hardly comparable as this persona grata did not need to be bolstered by an assemblage of colour posters, pullout supplements, album covers or culled ephemeris.

The minds' eye alone easily satisfied all those utopian dreams of the discrete hours, late of night and early of morning. Naomi had a full awareness of just how juvenile she was apt to become from time to time, but that was a major ingredient in the addiction of it all. That was the first time, and absence appeared to actually make the heart grow fonder in her case. Possessing a considerably close friend in a glamorous job, and in as imposing a location as Las Vegas made Naomi feel immensely special.

At the time, this particular day was primarily marked out for another resident of the greater confines of Middlemyte as being probably no more than a further false dawn amongst an ever scrolling list of little disappointments. Gemma Ferley, 16, of 23 Reremouse Road began her bell-ringing career that day, with no great expectation of it burgeoning into anything that would continue long enough so as to qualify as a career. As it turned out she possessed many a fine attribute from her years of newspaper delivering, especially the rigours of Saturday and Sunday Supplement shoulder that had given her a strong upper arm. Also of great use were her quick hands, finely honed as a result of encountering a worrying percentage of guillotine-like letter flaps. Gemma had next to no idea as to just what she was letting herself in for when she acquiesced in following her rather bumptious uncle into learning how to ring bells. Uncle Forrest may only have been something of a distant relative but his roughshod nature squeezed the last drop out of every visit to the Ferley household.

Even allowing for the assertiveness of her uncle, Gemma still set herself a general target of two weeks to determine whether it was worth pursuing ringing or not. All the set ideas went out of the window as the first week was marked by her being informed that she had this natural aptitude for the dextrous component parts, but then came the retrograde second week where it all suddenly looked more tricky than it did on week one. This left her with an awkward decision to make as to whether there would be a third week.

Well, six months later and she was glad that she had, although abashedly at the time, decided to give that third week a try. Gemma only had the tenuous link of Uncle Forrest Bore as a family background history in ringing, and he was a very irregular ringer of late. There had only been church attendance in the near family for the social requirements of weddings and funerals, and only one of those was at All Saints.

Most weekday afternoons consisted of a monotonous schedule, and Gemma could tell you virtually to within seconds what time she would arrive home, undergo a manic changeling scramble from school uniform to paper-round attire, perform her delivering tasks, and then return home more permanently. The only variance of note between these weekday afternoons was the meal that she might fix herself, the subjects of homework, and the probable presence of her appalling brother Terry.

Gemma's mother being at the beck and call of an employer who had come rely upon her as if she were a soubrette meant that that she was seldom home before early evening in even the most generous interpretation of early. At some stage during the consumption of whatever Gemma had concocted there was every chance of having an odorant jacket discarded over her head or dinner plate by her returning brother. Depending upon his afternoon intake he would either be surly, giggly, or in a disquieting combination.

Every so often Terry could be violently insistent that his sister vacate the house temporarily to allow him to do whatever he felt had to be done. Every further indignity ratcheted up Gemma's determination to find an outlet from this ghastly regime. As it was she hardly dared to think of the consequences should determination turn to desperation.

In the early days of this new dawning in lifestyle about the house Gemma would occasionally find incriminating evidence deep in the recesses of the sofa. In those days she was more vocal in her resolve to confront Terry decisively, but after all this time she had effectively given up all hope for her brother. Given that she only appeared to possess a priority in his life as a money machine then Gemma no longer had any qualms in consigning him to the ranks of no-hope cases.

There were still phantom bottles of spirit appearing around the house and garden on the odd occasion as big brother stocked-up on his part-payment toward the goods he was really after. Terry found it all very easy to convince himself that he was something of a businessman or entrepreneurial figure in his ability to sell to more than one dealer. Even more than his lethargy about the house, it was the sheer irrationality of her brother that worried and sometimes frightened Gemma.

Never had there been more choice on offer by way of activity for someone of Gemma's age, and it was not a conspicuous lack of money that stood in her way, rather the sheer weight of fashion. She was part of an annoyingly unadventurous and supine hobby class at school who had a consensus against virtually every one of her interests, and who instead adopted the most indolent pursuits on offer. A void between her and most of the rest had become patently obvious some considerable time ago as she was refused access to the nightly rituals out on the streets more than her actually declining to take part.

The only benefit of a household whose occupants had drifted into developing cultures of their own was that they managed to be almost unaware of the presence of the others for the most part. Even mother and daughter did not relate so easily as had once been the case. From Gemma's perspective, her mother seemed to be willingly accepting the extra work that was on offer to her of late primarily to give her extra time away from the strong domestic adversity. It might have been purely for the extra finance, but Gemma wasn't convinced.

Even though it was fast becoming a fading memory, the closeness of home life that used to be so prevalent still held a precious sway over Gemma, in that she could discern it as being a distinctly different form of bonding to that with her erstwhile predominantly street-roaming friends. Potential newer partners might possess tempting affiliations when the situation demanded, but she was nearly always aware of fickleness. Ostensibly, the school gang closest to Gemma's acquaintance was so low down the pecking order as to be restricted to being mere onlookers. For the most part they did not carry enough weight to muscle in on the centre stage, although with a little pep added then a modicum of disorderly conduct and petty criminality was always possible from the odd one of them.

Gemma felt infinitely more at ease in a small clique rather than the vigorous groupings of ten or a dozen. This being so then it should have come as no surprise to find that she was soon a close confidante of Naomi Timbrel's younger sister. The degree to which Gemma's head was turned by the undemonstrative celebrity of Naomi was as nought by comparison to that of Ruthie Timbrel, who would have been off the scale of excitability had her sister been of international fame. Just by Naomi having her own Website was cause enough to seal her stardom for Ruthie.

There was never anything other than pride or awe emanating from Ruthie about her "talented" and "awesome" big sister. The only down side was that Naomi had to come to the financial rescue every week as Ruthie never had anywhere near the required amount of money to buy the thumping number of celebrity-driven magazines that she so desperately craved. Despite the fact that barely half a dozen out of the many hundreds over time had contained even the merest mention of her sister, Ruthie still counted anyone who Naomi had rubbed shoulders with. It didn't stop there, as she extended this to include those who she had discovered to have been pictured with other minor celebrities, and other equally tenuous links.

Thus it should have come as no surprise to find that Gemma swiftly became infected by the same celebrity-itis. Ruthie liked to think that she was actually quite discerning about selecting worthies from wannabes, but everyone else in the family saw her very much as a S.L.E.B. in the making. The girls were hardly yet S.L.'s (Shameless and Libidinous), but Egoistic and Slaves to celebrity was becoming very much up their street. Reremouse Road, or Abi Titmuss Road, as its road-sign had been renamed with a bit of adept daubing, was hardly in line to be picked by any location directors as a prime specimen for typifying a wasteland ghetto, but equally it was not brimming with opulence.

As a flip-side to familiarity breeding contempt, the very fact that Naomi was only to be fitfully seen at ringing practices during Gemma's early learning curve merely added to the mystique. Ruthie only added to this kudos by shamelessly exaggerating and sometimes inventing the life and times of her sister so far.

There were two high profile occasions at which Naomi was in evidence, both of which managed to provide opportunity for her to make use of her organisational skills and general competence. This was in stark contrast to the notional organiser Christopher Padget, who remained almost as big a bag of nerves over timings and attendance at the start of a ringing outing in a minibus as he ever was during the coach era of days past. The tower was immensely fortunate in having the advantage of having a semi-retired coach driver in Fred Tumble amongst their number who knew how to get in and out of most any destination.

Gemma's first ringing outing had primarily been organised by Chris, with his usual adeptness for making the best of what resources were available. Every once in a while they might get the opportunity to offset some of the cost of the outings be ringing for a wedding as part of the itinery, but on this occasion they had to take their set of hand-bells with them to entertain at a fete at one of the towers they were visiting. Through the course of the day with its usual little hiccups and unforeseen hitches, it was perfectly evident that Naomi was the natural team leader. Rather like "The Laughing Cavalier" her gaze manoeuvred itself to the directions that those around her may have needed in a moment of uncertainty.

It was exactly the same at the Tri-Society Skittles Challenge around the same time. That Chris was constantly exuding traits that came from being under pressure may actually have increased the impression that Naomi was cool, calm and collected, but still she certainly seemed much more in her element than anyone else on the Middlemyte dominated team.

In spite of all these merits, it was probably the way that Naomi got off on the right foot with Gemma, after initial introductions, by making mention of her progress in so few weeks of learning to ring. Putting the various aspects together made for a massive boost to Gemma's self-esteem.

With Christmas looming and Carol Singing expected to be organised, Chris had staged something of a minor coup, in novelty value at least, by discovering that the new landlord of one of the local public houses kept a pair of reputedly amenable goats which he was confident enough in their sheer affability to allow them to be walked around the vicinity for a couple of hours in aid of charity.

The Sprat & Mackerel was still mostly unlit, locked, and slumbering prior to its evening opening. Having knocked at the front door, Chris and Gemma had to peer through several windows, some more than once, before the landlord deigned to come over to one of the dimly lit windows and give them a signal to go around the side of the building and meet up with him at the rear of the car park.

Gemma and Chris were both of a mind that he had actually forgotten that they were coming, especially as he was barely dressed for venturing out into the fresh evening air. The fact that his shirtsleeves were dangling down unbuttoned, and about his chest region the buttoned were outnumbered by the unbuttoned gave a fair indication as to his lack of readiness. Despite this he made no mention thus, instead homed into the matter at hand, introducing his "babies" with the gusto of a ringmaster. On request of their respective names he became so effulgent in having his goats recognised that it sounded like an echo as he excitedly repeated their names with only marginally less volume on each succeeding airing of the names "Popsi" and "Jody". "Now if they takes a liking to you, then that's qualification enough... as good as anyway. You won't have to do much scooping up, they're under strict orders to hold 'emselves in for the duration." Chris had thought to bring along a bucket and shovel in any case, with instructions to all concerned to be diligent in not allowing any potential financial donators to deposit their contributions into it. The landlord appeared to be in something of a hurry so Gemma never got the opportunity to ask why a pub so far inland would come to be named such as it was.

On arriving at the local Scout HQ, the goats immediately became the centre of attention, which soon upset the elder statesman of Middlemyte ringing, Derek Pannier. "Now don't you go scaring 'em!". The first hour proved a resounding success financially and personally, with an absence of argument and dissension from the foot-soldiers who all felt like equal contributors on the evening of cold shards in the air. At about this time Pannier found his age stealthily creep up on him, although he girded himself to see this engagement through to its conclusion. This did not necessitate him to become tailed off, but a shaft of keen wind that managed to thrust its way between the ill-fitting panes of glass that surrounded the candle in a lantern provided an ideal opportunity to stop momentarily to relight the candle. Consequently, Gemma, Chris and he did get left behind all of a sudden, and were left with some catching up to do.

Naomi had reluctantly promised to spend the main part of the evening in the company of Stephen Petters as opposed to taking to the streets with the others. To be in his company was not a complete reason for her reticence, but an office Christmas rave-up with him in tow smoothly made up the rest of the percentage. She could almost smell an exotic fragrance of male contraceptive wafting up from his top pocket.

Having come to terms with the temporary embarrassment of cutting short her participation in this seasonal "rubber-chicken" event, Naomi tried to make some amends, for herself as much as anything, by driving the length and breadth of Middlemyte in the hope of being "better late than never" for the carollers. Eventually she caught a glimpse of one of the goats out of the corner of an eye on the far side of the road, and by the law of probabilities it followed that there would not be more than one group of people traipsing the local streets with goats in tow.

Naomi had crossed the road, and would have sprinted down the passageway after Chris had it not been for the twisty nature of the walkways which effectively broke up any prolonged turn of speed. Only a mere one twist into this maze and Naomi suddenly found herself yanked and swivelled into a contrary direction by a flailing pair of hands that just about managed to snake around a shoulder without any sense of coordination, but had within seconds homed in on what money she had about her person. She only caught the briefest of glimpses on the features of her attacker to measure just what she was up against, and in what capacity.

Such was her rage that it carried far enough to be heard by the lagging trio. Chris thrust the awkward lantern on to Pannier as he immediately recognised the voice behind the obscenity. The entirety of his recognition focused upon doing his best to get the attacker away from Naomi as speedily as possible, in however clumsy a way that he could manage in such unpredictable circumstances. There was no really prolonged struggle to speak of, although a further flurry of obscenities exchanged briefly between Naomi and her assailant as he and Chris reeled away from her totally out of control. Chris found himself an unwilling passenger as he was pushed some six or seven paces backwards until he collided with a bordering hedge that only took off a fraction of the ever accumulating speed.

After brushing past the hedge and out of the anonymity provided by the alleyway, the two remaining combatants stayed linked, albeit off-balance and heading downward, only to be abruptly and violently halted in their tracks by the railings than ran either side of the pedestrian crossing. All so short too were the moments that it took to physically log the shattering distortion that overcame Chris as his neck felt a jab that seemed anaesthetised from its rear entry point, but caused an unrestricted ruction on and around his throat.

Having taken the brunt of the impact, Chris would probably have slumped very near to where the impact occurred but for some semblance of consciousness which enabled him to hang on to his foe. Consequently he was flung directly around by his fright-charged contestant as he yanked himself up, the force being quite sufficient to detach Chris.

The entry to the alleyway was not particularly wide, but Chris avoided touching either side of the opening as he was propelled. His inevitable second heavy impact was only prevented in part by Naomi, who by no means stabilised, had managed to follow after the struggle and acted as a slight brake. Naomi was knocked back and virtually off her feet as Chris rebounded and landed in her midriff, but she managed to use her clash with the barrier to steady herself as the two of them ended up on the deck in what passed for a controlled fashion.

Within a couple of seconds of reaching a sitting position Naomi could sense the seriousness of Chris's condition, and she knew that the assailant was now out of reach and therefore of less import, leaving only one thing to concentrate upon. Even though she was aware of certain peripheral sounds, she did not register any impact accruing from the strident sounds of screeching tyres some distance away. Instead she put all her efforts into comforting Chris in the way that she considered best in the heat of the moment, with her rudimentary knowledge of satisfactory procedure tattered by upset and immediacy.

Naomi chastised herself throughout the efforts to prop Chris up and cradle him as she felt her every impalpable movement hurt him. She felt too scared to scream for aid as she swiftly became subsumed and overwhelmed with intent to avoid disturbing this precarious stand-off, yet deep down she desired to the contrary, wanting desperately to let loose her pent-up vitriol and frustration to the mercies of the dank night air. "Don't die." She pleaded softly in consideration of the traumatic scenario that she found herself sitting amidst. Trying her best to disguise the all too frequent trembles in her voice, Naomi inwardly buckled at the whim of a conspicuous force that was at large, with every second appearing to deliver good or bad missives as their world came down to merely this.

So very long a time seemed to go by until Derek Pannier and Gemma arrived into Naomi's vision. Even though they were unable to do more than telephone for assistance, and simply be there on hand as friendly faces in support, Naomi felt bolstered and more hopeful by their presence alone. She continued to endure a pulsating power of life ebbing and charging against her body from the waist upwards that she had never remotely approached before.

Naomi vainly tried not to dwell upon the blood that managed to coat her chin and neck in an attempt to convey an oasis of kindred serenity for as long as it should take. She could only patchily interpret what Derek Pannier was trying to convey to her, but she simply could not concentrate on all his words or answer coherently amidst this centre of battle. At this time of heightened senses of priority any unnecessary utterance would have been tantamount to a literal injurious betrayal of Chris.

The time that sadistically dragged by at least created a bond of determination between the bloodied pair that battled doggedly to prevent itself from being severed by any outside interference other than medical. Once the paramedics had arrived and prised a reluctant Naomi apart from Chris, she was hit by an urgent crowding aura that surrounded her head and upper body. This was a sudden numbing sensation of something tangibly draining away, with her helpless to intercede as an anxious weight bore down upon her.

Episode Two
Published 12th December 2005
The Lost Gardens of Hell On Earth
Virtually everything had become illogical for Naomi since the ferment of that December evening where several little worlds collapsed almost within the blink of an eye. Of the three most involved in the incident, Naomi was the only one to come away physically unscathed, but she was shackled with guilt writ in letters as large as the HOLLYWOOD sign in California.

During the period where Naomi had no one but Chris to talk to and comfort she was granted a certain respite from dwelling incessantly upon all things guilt-ridden. Then the whirlwind that is the Christmas rush alleviated some of the angst, not that Naomi was in the frame of mind to make seasonal preparations. Once the preamble was done with and the lull of the actual Christmas period upon them it came as no surprise that emotions were raised due to a surplus of thinking time.

Naomi was thoroughly resistant to being dragged along the route of sustained checking for trauma and various analysis. Nobody needed to tell her that she was under the cosh of continued angst, and this particular Christmas period quickly attained a quirk of similarity to the very first Christmas that Naomi and Chris enjoyed in the joyous knowledge of each other. That past Christmas season it seemed as if Christopher had spent every waking hour at Naomi's house playing Monopoly, Scrabble, Pictionary or even occasionally Twister. Now it was Naomi's turn to perform the visiting role, which she was grateful to do, as she battled an immense paranoia that she would be subjected to blame for this state of affairs to the same degree that she shamed herself. Despite no evidence of even the slightest animosity or blame being attached to her by anyone, Naomi was constantly swayed by a little voice telling her to look beyond what people might be saying to her face. If nothing else, she was beginning to know what it was to be scared over an extended period of time.

Of course it never was going to be a symmetrical role reversal of those bygone days given the inescapable fact that Chris was still more than somewhat incapacitated, and obviously unable to take part in anything physically or mentally intense. Christmas Eve went by in only a slightly troubled fashion as Chris was able to attend the early evening service, but having to satisfy himself with merely watching the rest of the band ringing beforehand was seriously frustrating.

In the normal course of events Chris would have dealt with the majority of seasonal decorating, but this year it had been a shared effort, with Ruthie and Gemma adding their own unique slant on what should go where, and Forrest Bore surpassed himself with his donation of a small tree. Trees had very much been Forrest Bore's business for many years, and his father before him. Morris Bore had made a killing thanks to the sad era of rampant Dutch Elm Disease, and the young entrepreneurial Forrest was weaned on enticing people to stock up on logs, firewood, kindling, etcetera. Given the arboreous contacts that the Bore's made, there were plenty of other trees that were never going to be safe from the "have tree - will chop" boys. Even though the Bore dynasty had largely diversified away from all things wood related in recent years, Forrest still kept immensely busy in a variety of fields, so he was very much an occasional ringer content to cover or treble. This meant he kept open a ready customer base for new product opportunities.

Christmas Eve ringing was populated by a more representative portion of the regular practice night band, whereas Christmas morning consisted of a not very often seen permutation of Middlemyte ringers. Russell Blender was briefly back from university, plus even the bellringers venerable benefactor and some time secretary Mrs.Dolly Gaskin came up for a quick chime.

As far as Naomi was concerned Christmas Day was much worse initially, as she replaced Chris in the quarter peal band and thus had the uncomfortable task of reporting back on it. A quarter peal of double oxford that she herself conducted despite considerable preoccupation and a paucity of ringing in recent months. Had it been anyone else then Chris would have been jealous at best, and wishing ill upon it at worst, but obviously not in this instance. The quarter peal turned out to be something of a Timbrel family affair, with Ruthie on the treble, Naomi conducting from the tenor, and their mother on the two.

Treble
2
3
Ruthie Timbrel
Della Timbrel
Melody Cramp
Russell Blender
Wesley Cramp
Naomi Timbrel
©
4
5
Tenor

Once the ringing had finished, Ruthie met up with Gemma and they pretty much had the run of the Timbrel house for several hours as Naomi spent the remainder of the morning with Chris, and parents went a visiting in-laws.

There was never a contest to be had between Chris and Naomi as to who was the best at concealment of their true feelings, but he was definitely getting more adept at it. Sure enough he was subjected to plenty of stabbing pains and the frustration of being forced into going painstakingly slow at most anything he had to attempt, but being number one on Naomi's list again rather than one of the minions was worth much greater pain than he was currently experiencing.

There was certainly no malingering around here for much of the day as Chris sought to will himself to some kind of acceptable level of fitness, at least while Naomi was present anyway. She was ideal for any light fitness regime given that the most prevalent first male reaction was to swoon at her feet.

Boxing Day was a bit freaky as a two-hour "Best of" melange had been slotted in on the radio station between 20.00 and 22.00, and as it turned out it became syndicated across several other sister stations. There had been very little input requested from Naomi during the compilation of the programme which was fine by her during such an awkward time. She generally found it acutely embarrassing listening to herself in anything other than pre-broadcast material, and it took Chris to convince her to even have the radio on at a low volume as her best bits were aired.

In respect of many issues any advice from Chris would carry no more weight with Naomi than the next-door neighbour or the milkman proffering ideas, but over these matters he only had to remind her of how they set out to treat all things beyond the mundane and day to day as something of a great adventure. Chris himself felt ill at ease about listening to everything that Naomi did by way of broadcasting, especially as he was responsible for a not insubstantial proportion of the ideas and dialogue.

Listening to a rerun of Naomi describing various interesting ways of dancing in bed whilst half asleep thus making it easy to imagine you're vertical when you're actually horizontal proved far easier for Chris than Naomi. Oh yes, that was what Boxing Night was all about, this fortuitous opportunity to be reminded of the inordinately long oo-ooh! in Starship's - We Built This City, and an unforgettable ooo-ooh! in ELO's - Don't Bring Me Down. Then there was the classic Waa-ooow! from Baby Jump by Mungo Jerry, and a warning to brace oneself for a huge Ni-ahh! and arguably the biggest Uhh! ever committed to record.

What better during the last dregs of the main festivities than to scour the deepest recesses of the kitchen drawers in order to determine that the nutcrackers were still in residence since the previous Christmas? One of these years some nuts in necessity of cracking might return to the household, so precious leisure time was ideal for such purposes additional to the norm.

After a while they were unable to resist noting where it could have been improved or how they might do it now. Such as the exceptional Number One ratio of music chart acts with Pussycat in their name, two out of two for the Pussycat Dolls in 2005, and one out of one for Pussycat with Mississippi back in the 1970's. Just how the creators of Are You Being Served? must be kicking themselves that they didn't cut a record deal for Mrs.Slocombe's much vaunted, although sometimes misunderstood pussy when it was really hot in the late 70's and early 80's.

As the hours and days of the season ticked by things noticeably got easier, but far from making resolutions for the fresh year on the horizon, Naomi headed towards January with a mist of utmost confusion as to where her life was directed.

Naomi was not in the least bit put out by any comments to her face that she was neglecting what passed for her career, and would only have been aghast if anyone intimated toward the other extreme. As far as Naomi was concerned she was keeping busy enough with her reduced hours in the proper job, and the odd interview here and there with various interested parties. Two of which could hardly have been more diffuse. The Laura Bevan Show had what Naomi's father described as all the bite of a chocolate mouse. Interviews never got more abrasive than a collision of two cotton wool balls. Apart from Laura mentioning that she was still waiting to receive an award in recognition of her broadcasting feats, unlike Naomi's early plaudit, it was nothing worse than a saunter.

Giles Pinfield at the opposite extreme had a tendency to be psychoanalytical in his approach to interviewing. Most everyone around Naomi who knew of his newspaper column cautioned her to avoid that particular offer, especially Dennis Lomas, who served as what passed as being her agent. Naomi's sister was the only one really positive about this matter, but she always wanted Naomi to say yes without much notion as to what the matter would entail. Of course, as totally unrealistic as it was, what Ruthie really hoped for was for her sister to be given the call to one of her own wish-list shows, then feign injury or illness and suggest that she go in her stead.

Celebrity Love Island, Celebrity Fame Academy and Celebrity Big Brother were top of the list. With a second tier of Who Wants to be a Millionaire?, Weakest Link, and several others, a group which would leave her knowledge open to humiliation, but still reap rewards to outweigh such a down side. Of course there were days when Ruthie would consider the most inappropriate celebrity formats so long as it meant exposure. Celebrity Detox, Botox, Mastermind, Plasteredmind, Weakest Link, Missing Link, etc, were all completely unsuitable, not that Naomi was ever likely to accept any prospective offer from ninety nine percent of them.

In fact, the most prescient reason against doing any interview was Ruthie herself, as Naomi considered her to be the one in need of protection, not that she could or would dare to let this be known her sister.

It was a decided novelty for Giles Pinfield to be intrigued enough to want to interview anyone on the basis of what he considered to be a diminutive a pretext, but there was one pre-eminent question that he unequivocally had to ask, stemming as it did from a description that he could have wished to have coined himself for her as a by-line, defining Naomi Timbrel as: "The Greta Garbo of local radio" due to her preparedness to walk away.

On first meeting Naomi, he found her seemingly adept and at ease with dispensing hospitality, somewhat counter to his preconceptions. Most definitely a first for him was being treated to a pot of tea and a delicate concoction of egg, crème fraiche, and smoked salmon on crumpet, across what he suspected to be an American-style breakfast bar that to him appeared utterly out of kilter with the rest of the interior of the house.

The building suffered the misfortune of being very much a statement of its time, complemented as it was by a particularly archetypal plot for a back garden, with the requisite shed at the end, a reasonable well-attended vegetable patch, and the aroma of a recent barbecue still hanging in the air adjacent to the kitchen door. On the day there was even an oblong tray affair conspicuous in the kitchen that he rightly imagined served as an indoor herb garden, although his knowledge of herbs didn't go beyond recognising parsley and chives amongst the viridescence.

GILES PINFIELD Meets... A young woman going places in no great hurry

At 22, the middle of three children, and hitting the interviewer straight in the eye with the eurythmic bone structure of her face, Naomi hails from the quiet backwater of Middlemyte. She would appear to be the personification of an anachronism in transgressing seemingly immutable laws that require the polish of an Oxbridge education or the school of hard knocks to play the entertainment game. All evidence would suggest that she is perfect for being the paying spectator or watching viewer from that huge sector of the community that goes about its business of work without frills, only asking for entertainment of an evening as an escape from the grinding rigours of a world gone speed-freak crazy. A generally silent band, fearful of reproach for having such an unexceptional existence in a climate riven with deference for the hysterical, camp, and overexposed.

Trying to ascertain exactly when this implausibly formidable scion placed a foot on the first rung of the ladder is not as straightforward as it might be, a trait that seems to recur with regularity that borders upon the monotonous. The first of her staccato steps into the business came about through her "proper job" for an incentivising company - Paintball, Laser, White-Water Canoeing, and general esprit de couer - where she currently continues to work on a part-time basis.

Despite the all-action image, she is more likely to be found in the more mundane areas, dealing with clients, ticketing software, and signage. The perverse logic of a few more staccato steps eventually found Naomi with a two-hour Saturday morning show that in its relatively short existence roused an estimated 10,000 + extra slumberers to the station.

The timbre of the piece inevitably did not remain so encouraging through to the end, but still ended up noticeably more sympathetic than the majority of his articles. The finished product still incensed Dennis Lomas who thought it bore out most everything he had warned of beforehand.

The spry figure and abrasive nature fashioned by nearly twenty years in the Armed Forces had alternately helped and hindered Dennis Lomas on his return to the vagaries of life as a civilian. He was ex- two indelible imperators, the Army and London, and would not have cared to be pressed into elevating one above the other in their influence upon his mid-life direction. The choices that presented themselves to him in the way of immediate employment back then were not outstandingly attractive to him, but having discovered that one did not necessarily have to belong to the Officer class to develop a taste for Grand Cru, Gran Reserva, nicely crusted port, cognac and malt whisky, he eventually decided to make best use of this knowledge.

A few short courses in viniculture training and well subsided weekends to the Loire and Rhone valleys were more than plenty bring Dennis up to speed on what he needed as a minimum to secure the job he wanted. The central location of the wine merchants that he took charge of proved ideal territory in terms of making the sort of contacts that he was really after. The steady base of well-heeled customers and generally thrusting young turks made for a good turnover of Remy Martin X.O., 10-y-o Bushmills, 20 y-o single malts (various), 1963 vintage port, magnums of Dom Perignon, and several other favourite recommendations for successful entertaining.

Those were the days of Hirondelle, Blue Nun, Armadillo sherry via a plastic flask, Double Diamond, Long Life, Orson Welles imbibing sherry on television adverts nightly, and Paul Masson carafes being the general idea of "New World" wine. Travelling out to discover the wines in Piemonte, Touraine and Mosel, and getting paid to do so was not unlike some of his Army postings, although a hundred times more sedate. As pleasant as it was to receive the opportunity to take discursions to non-wine related regions such as the Camargue, they were in truth merely trimmings.

A regularly chaotic chain of command amongst the unwieldy divisions of the retail, brewing and delivery arms of the company opened a gap in the market which Dennis swiftly seized on, and eventually acted upon once confident of having made sufficient contacts. It had not taken long for him to decide that there was another way to go other than the viniculture route once he had spotted the demand and profit margin in the courier business the company was putting the way of outside firms.

After being up against the wall through the first winter in the courier business, a fair chunk of army pension had been eaten into, but salvation came rather fittingly for Dennis in the winning of the much vaunted "blood-run" contract that entailed transporting blood up to London. From there, even if his birthdays didn't exactly all come at once, they did come along at handy little intervals, allowing the business to move onward and upwards to new premises on a rapidly expanding trading estate that was home to a diverse collection of enterprises. It was something of a moot point whether the Radio Station was officially situated on the estate or whether it merely bordered it.

Over the space of not that many months the station wobbled at management level, and Lomas bought in, then bought up, free from the set-up costs, and concentrated on a course wildly different from what even he had been expecting. He could easily have been a role-model for the many who expect the army to turn out individuals who are capable of thinking on their feet and have confidence in their ability to learn on almost any job.

There was nothing that Dennis liked more than to play possum, often allowing others to judge him on his relative lack of high-profile schooling, and then fatally overlook the possibility that he may well have indulged in ardent self-tuition for many a year since. Some many years later, the fact that Naomi had been traversing a similar course in playing catch-up obviously did her no harm in the eyes of Lomas.

With such a track record of changing tack yet still proving pundits wrong, it hardly came as a surprise that Dennis eventually relinquished the pressures of CEO for what had swollen to a clutch of stations, so that he could make best use of his many contacts as an agent, of whom Naomi was his favourite, yet least thirsting for work.

Whenever things were looking disappointing or bleak for a young Naomi her grandmother regularly used to quote from her favourite Dickens novel by way of soothing balm - that something would turn up. In those days Naomi used to be rather dismissive of such clutching at straws for rectifying miserable periods, but as she had got older there had been decided incidences of such bolts from the blue. Unfortunately there were plenty of instances of something turning down as much as up, and even the "princess of wariness" did not rumble the next shock around the corner.

Episode Three
Published 15th January 2006
Digging For Victory
Despite their generational differences and a gulf in recognised education, Dennis always relished having his nephew Dominic stay with him from time to time as work allowed. The verbal feuding they would indulge in over politics, economics and law enforcement was enormously invigorating for starters, which was hardly good news for Dominic considering that he had his sights almost exclusively set on a career in politics. Trying to conduct an earnest conversation generally proved beyond Dominic as his uncle vehemently defended boiling certain criminals down to make glue and gleefully bypassed even a dash of erudition.

Dominic Sharwood Bowskill was the result of Dennis' elder sister Marianne marrying into new-money after an arduous search down the years to find the right man. As usual, Dennis was given very short notice of the imminent arrival of his nephew, but this time he decided that it would look just too obvious to Dominic that he might have been manipulating things on all the previous occasions if he came up with yet another excuse that prevented a meeting with Naomi. Every time Dominic rolled into town he would badger his uncle to try and arrange a seamless introduction, but unforeseen circumstances constantly got in the way, at least as far as Dominic was aware. Given that Naomi had been a relatively late and reluctant convert to mobile telephony and lived in a house with its unpredictable chain of message retention it was not such a stretch of the imagination that she might not be available on a clutch of previous visits. Such disappointments merely lent to the intrigue and cachet surrounding Naomi from Dominic's perspective.

For two people who regarded each other as the very epitome of unadulterated bumptiousness it was fortunate indeed that the hidden agendas of both uncle and nephew conspired to initiate these meetings and also prevent any unpleasantness beyond bouts of verbal sparring. Naomi was a sublime catalyst for both protagonists as she appeared to engender an inconsistency in them both that neither of them accepted they could ever suffer from.

"I think she's what your lords and masters up in the Westminster village would call off-message. Of course on that basis you shouldn't be in the least bit attracted to Naomi... unless you believe in opposites attracting which I didn't think you did." Dennis jibed to his nephew for not the first time. Dominic didn't find it hard to counter given the clear weak spot that his uncle had where Naomi was concerned. "I can understand you empathising with someone who hasn't necessarily got qualifications coming out of their ears, but beyond that everything becomes illogical, and illogicality is something that I thought was as verboten in your sphere of influence as in Mr Spock's."

Dennis had long since fancied himself as being a capable actor, but he was rather more tasked than he had bargained for as Naomi was not readily available on this occasion when he wanted her to be on hand. Dennis as well as anyone knew that Naomi was apt to eschew her mobile phone whenever possible, so he really shouldn't have been surprised to discover that the nearest he could manage by way of making progress was to leave a message with her mother.

Talking to Naomi's mother could sometimes be as obtuse as the intransigently confusing Ruthie. Whereas daughter would confuse with garbled information, mother could be hard to discern due to her great brevity. Pat-dogs, nursing homes and allotments made little sense to Dennis when reeled off really quickly with little frame of reference. What it actually meant was that Naomi had dropped off Ruthie and Gemma at the Sylvan Residential Home along with family pet Kalinka, a wonderfully amenable cross-breed ideal for spreading tranquillity amongst those in need of a friend to stroke. Dennis had never thought to extend the training of any of his dogs beyond fetching newspapers and slippers, not that there had been much success in either of those departments in all truth. Whilst the girls shared a contented dog around a select group of the elderly, Naomi availed herself of the opportunity to make best use of valuable time by nipping back to Derek Pannier's house to see if she could sort out his travails.

Naomi could not claim ignorance of what she acquiesced to in calling round at the home of Derek and Eunice Pannier in response to the urgent telephone call from the feverishly industrious septuagenarians. There was nothing aberrant to find the front-door opened by Eunice thus to be re-routed to the garage, potting shed, greenhouse, loft, ladder or on a handyman's errand next door. It was seldom that he was to be found in the softly furnished parts of the house. He still kept himself busily in trim to leave it not beyond the realms of expectation that some days he might still be found up a tree or down a hole.

As Naomi set out on her short expedition to find him she was well aware that when she did track him to his lair there would be every chance of her interrupting him in the middle of some operation or mandate that was at a critical stage. Then she would be loathe to disrupt his concentration and hold herself back until a natural pause in endeavour presented itself, consequently losing precious time. Derek was the embodiment of the retired grouping who found themselves busier of many a day than they had been during their years of paid employment. Add to that he carried over his habit for meticulousness, and he could easily eke out a relatively straightforward task, thus he could make it last long enough until another project came along.

The noises emanating from within the confines of the garage led Naomi to know that she had pinpointed him, but then followed the trepidation of finding the best moment to tap on the door, and exactly how hard to rap. With all that overcome she stood well back as he upturned the garage door from the inside. Derek instantly put on that face which conveyed an elation in seeing someone overdue to be seen rather than only a few hours arranged.

For such a meticulous and punctilious person the garage was more than a little cluttered with an enormous collection of paraphernalia stored from floor to ceiling, or on tables and work-benches that ran the length of the three walls. "I take it that you're not going to get a car again?" Naomi mentioned by way of conversation as Derek carefully cleared a work-bench of some of the items that he would be using for a slide-show he was preparing for the Pensioners Club in his own deliberate fashion. "No, not now, that time has been and gone. It's uncanny, I used to wonder how on earth we could ever manage without a car, yet now I don't know how I managed to store all this gubbins when we had one." Naomi decided that this was an apposite moment to prompt Derek to get onto the supposedly so important matters that he had called her over to discuss. Unfortunately his mind wandered just at the moment he was about to expound and he threw in a: "by the way, did I mention...?"

Naomi couldn't be altogether sure whether the breaking news that he had been made a Parish Constable was actually the matter of great import that she had been summoned here to learn as Derek expounded on his junior status as the oldest of the new recruits to crime-fighting on the neighbourhood front-line. Of course the brilliant ideas that he hoped would make their mark and be implemented by those in positions of power directly above him took up a fair bit longer in time. Not without foundation Derek had acquired a reputation as a veritable buffer, a bit of a bluff old cove, a fully subscribed t.o.g., but when he did cut to the point it was quite obvious that he had done so. "Allotments!"

Suddenly it all made sense, the parish meeting for the month was due to be held the following evening, not something that normally set the pulses racing or would encourage the good citizens of Middlemyte to throng the back room of the village hall, but the imminent threat to sell off the allotments to make way for a housing estate had roused dormant emotions beyond merely the holders of plots. The majority of villagers weren't aware that they were entitled to attend meetings other than the public meeting every April, and thus an information campaign had been launched by a makeshift action committee to publicise this fact. At this stage nobody could accurately gauge whether there would be a meaningful show of dissent come the night.

There were actually two allotments to service the greater Myte area, but the one earmarked for continuance was the considerably smaller of the two situated none too conveniently at the sparsely populated end of the village. It had been less than a year since one of the village pubs had closed for business and the cul-de-sac that had replaced it was just nearing completion. To accommodate so many relatively upmarket new properties meant something having to give, namely the size of garden allotted, a pocket-handkerchief width strip of soil along the frontage having to suffice. With this in mind it provided a solid argument for the pro-allotment camp to intimate that the shortfall in plot-holders would soon be more than made up with so many prospective new applicants. "I've always subscribed to the view that if you wanted to get something done in this village then your family was the one to seek out." Derek lauded Naomi with the utmost alacrity.

Once on to the subject at hand Derek was reasonably pliant with getting to a resolution of sorts so long as one led the conversation for him, thus encouraging him to listen intently and nod furiously in agreement. Derek was made immensely confident about the chances saving the allotments as Naomi brought good ideas to the table that combined with his potentially important information culled from the archives. Naomi was expected back at Sylvan House so had to move the conversation on at a fair lick, so when this little cabal was interrupted by local bigwig Blair Pelfrey the timbre of the conversation was hardly conspiratorial any more.

Few people in Middlemyte did not know of the semi-retired surveyor turned consultant, although this did not mean that it followed that this multitude actually cared for him, especially as the reputation that preceded him was as being a busy-body. That he regularly took a constitutional around and about the burgh at this time of late afternoon / early evening could not be in dispute, but seeing Naomi's car outside of the Pannier house was all too much for his curiosity. As it happened, the car that Naomi had been making use of for a while now had been Christopher's, who preferred it not going to waste in dormancy when Naomi could make best use of it in his enforced absence.

Given how close Blair Pelfrey kept either ear to the ground it was probably a surprise that he hadn't already discovered this. So due to this misconception he came to the conclusion that it was Christopher who was in cahoots with the Panniers over the battle for the allotments which he was in favour of concreting over. It immediately struck him that perhaps Chris was not as impaired as had been touted and despite not agreeing on much it was not unusual for Blair to stop off from his walk and chew the fat with Derek at this time of day. In the summer it was quite common as Derek was likely to be tending some bloom or other in the front garden at around this time.

The light in the garage was a give away as to where Derek was bound to be, and he clearly had company, but he had already made his presence known in his usual presumptuous way before he realised that Naomi was not Chris. He contented himself that he was half right in that this was a bit of a bell-ringers coven, an activity that he was often critical of whenever it took his fancy. "I take it you're in the opposing camp as well." "The majority camp I'd call it." Naomi was assertive. "Well, yes, I guess we can agree on that, it never means that you must be in the right by merely following the herd. Should I take it that the bell-ringers have allied themselves with the allotment holders?"

Naomi admitted that she had no idea of how many of their band would attend the forthcoming meeting. Pelfrey openly conjectured that Forrest Bore would probably keep a low profile as there were only a smattering of trees involved that were subject to felling. In fact it was lucky for the allotment brigade that there was no coppice or thicket involved or else he would positively have been in the pro-housing camp given his proclivity for making money out of anything in the lumber line. "There's a dual carriageway running right past the land, would you want to eat vegetables grown so near?" Pelfrey sniped. "I assume then that if you get these houses built then they won't have any gardens and they'll never have need to open the doors and windows." "From the revenue coming in there'll be funds to diffuse any potential pollutants." "That's nice, infect us with a flu bug, but give us a lifetime supply of tissues in return."

Pelfrey would have launched into a full blown argument had Chris have been standing where Naomi was, but he regarded himself as being far too urbane to like arguing with the ladies, so he made his polite excuses and left them to their devices. Derek soon launched into a bout of bravado once Blair Pelfrey was definitely out of earshot. "You probably won't remember because you were only so high, but when your granny and I were on the parish council we used to dole out the bus tokens and you diligently sorted out the bags into twos and fours better than a lot of adults would manage. I reckon she'd have given Mr Pelfrey one of her worn out thimbles to bail out his leaky boat. We'll show 'em a clean pair of heels on the night." Derek was confident for now, but there was only a receptive audience tonight, but tomorrow would be one of his different kettles of fish.

It was barely half past six, a fully thirty minutes before the big face-off, and already the turnout at the village hall was approaching the three figure mark with extra chairs desperately being sought out from every nook and cranny. Cabals were beginning to form, some tense and others remarkable relaxed given the battle ahead. For all the crush of people outside and around the back and sides of the hall the front two rows were contrarily lacking in occupation, the majority favouring the relative anonymity of the later rows or standing positions on the fringes, even perching youngsters on the kitchen serving hatch and a couple of waste bins affixed to the wall about the outer reaches. Blair Pelfrey was partially right concerning Forrest Bore, who was in attendance, but steering well clear of the front, and popping in and out of the hall as if he wanted to be there but unfortunately suffered from an allergic reaction to the floor polish.

Derek needn't have worried as to the bell-ringing representation on the big night, even if the likes of the Wesley and Melody Cramp and the Dusty sisters were very much to the rear of the hall. The vicar gravitated toward the middle rows along with Mr and Mrs Timbrel. Even Gemma's mother had buckled under the resolute prompting of her newly enthused daughter and made time to accompany her on this occasion. Naomi could nearly always rely upon her sister Ruthie for support in some form, even if it was not solidarity in the more obvious form. True to form an excitable Ruthie made sure that her i-pod was at full volume relaying The Kaiser Chiefs - I Predict a Riot, appropriate she thought for the battle to come, although she had little intention of making any other contribution to the debate outside of adding to any jeering or heckling.

The audience sounded as if they were fairly riled even before Smithers, the chairman, decided to take the plunge in opening proceedings. He could see that he was unlikely to gain much attention from anyone, save for his colleagues, so he thought that he might as well get this uncomfortable experience started and over with as soon as practicably possible. "I am led to understand that some of you may wish to voice opinions on the said matter..." "Some?" Reverberated loudly around the hall, as the same word came to the lips of many of the assembled at various rates of delay. This brought about the second set of bangs of the gavel from the nonplussed chairman who had swiftly lost all hope of disguising his anxiety at the size and slant of the turnout. "A modicum of order, please! I'm sure you will have noted that I was not so ill-prepared as to have forgotten to bring a gavel with me, and I am prepared to use it until it breaks if necessary." Smithers tried to lean over surreptitiously toward the Parish clerk in making a point of how farsighted he had been in electing to bring his gavel out of storage for this night. "I told you that I was going to need it." The clerk put the supposed foresight in a decidedly lower perspective. "If you'd brought a bloody big stick with you it might have qualified for being called foresight."

The multitude afore them continued to murmur amongst themselves as the chairman set out the order of business. "I think it only right and proper that I remind everyone here present that this is not a public meeting it is a parish meeting which on this occasion just happens to have a hundred more people in attendance than usual..." Several from the massed ranks corrected him. "200!" "Now, now, you must display forbearance or nobody will get their voice heard above the din. The minutes of out previous meeting must be read and ratified before we can move on to what most of you have seemingly come here for this evening."

As the preliminaries were ground out painfully, the unmistakable sound of chair legs randomly grinding against the floor provided a regular background noise to the talking. Dozens of restless and shifting posteriors set the chairs moving as the assembled tried to find their own ways of passing the time, torn as they were between twiddling thumbs, sitting on hands, doodling, letting out surreptitious yawns and incessantly clicking pens. The divergence in patience was made clear by the speed and irrationality of the clicking as things droned on merely stoking up the coals of discontent. The monotony was briefly broken up by a scream from the equally crowded kitchen due to one of the ladies being spooked by catching a glimpse of a pair of eerily peering eyes from the other side of the kitchen window as Forrest Bore had gone for another wander in search of a low profile.

When the top table did eventually finish with the lengthy preamble Derek Pannier was not as impassioned in his speech as he had been telling Naomi that he would be without fear of a doubt. Supposedly it was going to be all about taking the fight to the enemy, but in reality he was shrouded by nerves and regularly had to resort to reading from his notes in an obviously stiff manner. "I have a photocopy of legislation that dates back to the sixteenth century, around the time of the Spanish Armada in fact, and it states that it is unlawful to enclose or take in any part of the common or waste grounds, situate, lying or being within four miles of the said parish boundaries. Nor must there be severance or division by any hedge, ditch, pale or other wise of any of said fields, lying within the afore said four miles, to the let or hindrance of walking, recreation, comfort and health of Her Majesties people... er... so in effect... um... that means..." Derek's hesitation found him being swamped by others who were confused as to which side he was supporting or felt that a more forthright approach was required to avoid wasting this platform for protest. The crestfallen look on his face at having his key speech trampled underfoot was clear for all those close to him to view. "Don't fret." Naomi consoled a distraught Derek. "There's another couple of hundred people here to reinforce your point for you."

Such was the crush of interested parties by this stage that a certain amount of activity at the front entrance to the hall had a huge ripple effect akin to a shallow Mexican wave, cutting a swathe of turning heads of those already gathered as they were intrigued by an alternative attraction. Characteristically ignoring a goodly number of angry glances Dennis muscled his way to the fringes of the front row with Dominic trailing abashedly in his wake. Even after a number of implorations from the chairman to encourage a fully seated front two rows there was still the odd vacant seat, thus Dennis was able to position himself within earshot of Naomi and Derek. By allowing himself to merely be a follower resulted in Dominic having to settle for a seat on the periphery. "Spoken yet?" Dennis whispered to Naomi. "Not as yet." "Well, better out than in." Knowing Dennis as she did Naomi wouldn't have been surprised to find him trying to surreptitiously lift her arm in the air, so she decided to get it over with on his and Derek's behalf. It was impeccably good timing really as the arch-enemy Blair Pelfrey had begun setting out his contentious argument in favour of expunging the allotments, so if ever Naomi was going to try and pick her moment then this would have been it.

Pelfrey was just one of those people who she just could not take to no matter how much effort she might put in, as she took a certain exception to the way that he flaunted the distribution of his expertise. He had a verbal way about him that gave the impression of his talking down to underlings in his presence. He might not have done it purposely yet it still counted against him with Naomi, which made it possible for her to be at ease with combating him. The architect was just about the only proponent of the plans to give off the impression that he was not imminently about to fall apart at the seams and end up cowering in a corner amidst this rough-house atmosphere. "As you will probably be aware, the majority of our esteemed councillors are in favour of selling this land for residential housing... yes, you may jeer, but you have elected them to be your representatives, and as much as there has been an increased demand for plots in some areas, the plots we are talking about here are nowhere near proper utilisation. This was a point of discussion prior to the last round of elections, but it's only now that there is all this bellicose indignation. Now I know the ramblers amongst us are worried about losing a right of way, but the path that runs through the allotments is not a designated part of the bridleway, it's a short cut that has been given an unofficial upgrade."

A few more bangs of the gavel had to boom out as the massed ranks at the rear of the hall took great issue with the vested interest building consultant. "I'm only interested in shedding a modicum of light amidst the heat. You may or may not, probably not, be aware that the footpath system is an amalgam of inherited popular routes to churches and public houses that came about initially as a convenience for the staff of wealthy landowners. Many of these back lanes serve little purpose nowadays as most people I know would be too scared to walk along them even if they did so desire. I'd suggest that some of the noisier elements here should be honest with themselves."

The chairman pointed his nervously waggling gavel in Naomi's direction. "Indeed Mr Pelfrey, I believe we are all well aware that most of our councillors are mad keen to steam-roller through this sell off of the allotments which they may wish to reflect upon concerning their judgement and accountability. They are either woefully out of touch or they possess very thick hides in not minding all this speculation about the reasoning behind some of the recent decisions. I'm surprised given the age and experience of our parish representatives that they should be so dismissive of the benefits from growing ones own food."

Naomi was interrupted by Pelfrey, who had temporarily put his urbanity aside, due to her lack of having a plot on the allotments. She was fully aware of this discrepancy but sought to remind the assembled that she had long since grown and tended lots of vegetables in her own portion of garden at home, otherwise she would have taken up a plot. "And just how much do you call a lot?" "Ninety percent is turned over to vegetables in my part. I can understand the temptation for a professional person like Mr Pelfrey to disregard what for him would be minuscule financial rewards considering all the effort that goes into tending these plots of land, but as we're getting used to utilising our food as part of a calorie controlled diet then perhaps we could all try getting used to growing our food as part of a currency controlled diet."

For the first time in some while the vast majority of those gathered were silent, as the bigger argument was played out amidst the confines of one on one rancour. "Young lady, you've made my point for me, the economics of the allotments just don't add up, unless you know something that I don't." "It might interest you to learn that Midsomer Murders have enquired about filming scenes on the allotments later this year." "I think I'm safe in saying that this is the first any of us have heard of this." Smithers glanced round at his colleagues. "How can we not have been informed of this first? Is there any corroboration of this news?" The secretary of the allotments committee confirmed that approaches had been made to him, but that certain committee members were resistant to the offer as the bad taste synopsis of victims having a variety of vegetables such as shallots and Brussels sprouts wedged in their mouths was not a general concept of gardeners behaviour that they wished to foster. "So even if you do come to us with this proposal, a one-off murder is surely going to be no more than a short term thing." Smithers surmised. "I think you'll find there's always more than one murder per episode Mr Chairman." Naomi helpfully interjected. "I think we may be getting a little sidetracked from the central matter, before we know it we'll be finding ourselves discussing episodes where they kill off the councillors and stick their heads on poles, and that wouldn't be getting us anywhere, would it?" An uneasy silence followed as the chairman began to take in what he had just said unthinkingly. "Well, let me just say that we should try and finish at a civilised hour. I think we've explored most of the relevant arguments on either side. Ourselves and those at a higher level will have been given much food for thought. I can't see any point in shouting ourselves hoarse, unless anyone seriously thinks that they can significantly add to the debate..."

At this point Dennis slowly raised an arm. Asking permission to speak was not something that he was in practice at having to do, certainly not for many years since. Smithers reluctantly accepted this request as it probably meant that the meeting would trail on once the flame was reignited. "From what I can see, decisions made here, or whatever you knock up after here, will impact on generations to come so it'd only be fair to ask some of the youngest people here tonight what their view is. What they think ought to weight heavy on your minds whenever you ultimately arbitrate on this farrago." The clearly depressed chairman acquiesced with an air of detachment. Gemma was the youngest ,and nearest the front, and with her hand up. "Go ahead." Smithers waved a tired Roman empirical hand in her general direction. "I know I'm supposed to only think about my exams and McFly or Westlife, but I'm sure there's millions of other teenagers besides me who are concerned about the world we are going to grow up into. We're going to need somewhere to live as well, but we'd like to have somewhere that is actually liveable." Carol's head swivelled around like a hyperactive owl as pockets of applause broke out across the breadth of the hall in response to her daughter's contribution to the debate. She pulled a face that suggested that she was surprised to find herself impressed by her girl.

The much distressed chairman had originally intended that they move on to any other Any Other Business, but any such thoughts had long since evaporated as nothing was of sufficient consequence that it couldn't be held over to the next meeting. This was not the most satisfactory conclusion to proceedings, but it was glaringly manifest the way that the chairman sought to leave the angry ninety nine percent not only assuaged, but confident that the committee had undergone a change of heart and were likely to recommend kicking the issue into the long grass for some time.

Once the meeting had officially broken up, Derek suggested that they ring a quarter peal to mark this victory on the night, although he couldn't rightly think of any really appropriate method with a vegetable slant. Even after intense thought the best he could suggest was St.Clements, not that any oranges or lemons were likely to be harvested hereabouts. At this moment no one else was really ready or energised enough to sanction such a tribute as various groupings formed and educed a variety of loud murmuring from their impression of what had just gone before. Rivulets of people heading for the exits threatened to detach the outer members of any clique such was the overload in numbers for the hall.

There was much congratulating, thanking and plotting going on in little hotspots as the few people prepared to stack away the chairs fought a difficult and lonely battle amidst the confusion. Unlike Derek, who was now back in fighting fettle, Naomi chose to at least stack and return the seats around about her to where they were stored on the stage. Gemma's mother had barely uttered a dozen words in expressing to Naomi how impressed she was by the show of local resistance before Derek edged into the picture with his new found ebullience. "You're daughter is making very good progress with her ringing." So, finally Dominic got his chance to ingratiate himself with Naomi. "This is the young man who harbours delusions of surviving the firmament and being Premier of this benighted land one day by generally keeping out of controversy." Dennis captiously introduced. "I was watching and observing, that's not a treasonable offence." "I seem to recall a local saying that you told me about roosters doing the crowing but it being the hens that deliver the goods." Dennis complimented Naomi. "That was from a poster advertising eggs." Naomi corrected him. "She's always better at remembering one of my sayings that vice versa. Anyway, this is my nephew Dominic, and obviously this is Naomi." "Naomi, beautiful biblical name, Book of Ruth, am I right?" "Yes, one of the shorter books." "You were very impressive in speaking, you make me feel horribly inadequate, how come you've not done any telly?" "My hair is too dark, apparently I've got a dead crow laying on my head." "Well, I'm sure we can get that nonsensical situation rectified."

Dennis afforded himself the luxury of a barely audible whistle at the hole that his nephew was seemingly going the right way about digging for himself by fawning over Naomi. So long as he wasn't in imminent danger of being sullied by Dominic's naivety then it would be a fun ride, although probably very brief.

Episode Four
Published 2nd March 2006
England's Media Made Me
The first inklings of spring often seemed to coincide with a sudden burst of enthusiasm amongst the ringers of Middlemyte. Certain members of the band were apt to make resolutions that concerned them knuckling down and learning a new method around this time of year, but these good intentions rarely lasted until Easter, no matter how early it might fall in any given year. At the time of the tower AGM, and her confirmation as Captain, Naomi had her working-wise commitments at a distinct minimum, but within a week of the meeting an offer came along that she couldn't refuse, so had to make a compromise about.

Once again Naomi was given to thinking back to her grandmother's fondness for paraphrasing her favourite Dickens novel whenever times were maudlin for an easily despondent pre-teen Naomi. Indeed something had turned up again, on this occasion more than one thing, leaving her mightily embarrassed by this quandary. Being approached by Naomi for advice was something reserved for the very few, and taken as a privilege akin to being on the Ultra-List, as Naomi knew her own mind really, even if she did have to spend tracts of time disseminating around her head these days. Chris knew full well what Naomi wanted to hear, so it was just a matter of getting the phrasing right. Most times over the years it was assured that whatever best suited Naomi was most most likely to distance her from Chris, but still he knew that the human urge was to be continually working toward something in life, no matter how intangible, and that was what he would be doing anyway.

Naomi had been guiltier than most in neglecting her contribution to the ringing in Middlemyte for extended periods of time, but this was probably as good a time as any to find herself daunted by the various assignments stacking up concurrently, and this time she was determined to do her share no matter what else came her way. The annual quandary over getting a replacement storage cupboard had resurfaced courtesy of Forrest Bore offering the ringers a cupboard (wooden of course) that had come his way, at what he described as a nominal price. Naomi's extended periods of absence during the past couple of years had shielded her from the greater vicissitudes of the cupboard saga, which was as well given that Naomi couldn't abide wordy asides that made one hark as to how short life really is. Fortunately the Middlemyte band possessed the resources and calibre of personality to maintain a sub-committee to keep on top of this project, thus a delegation led by Wesley Cramp and Nelson Cable was despatched to view this supposedly "nearly new" cupboard before making a commitment. On closer inspection it was plainly evident that this alternative cupboard was in a more distressed state than the one they were looking to replace, which came as no surprise to anyone who was aware of Forrest Bore's track record.

Forrest was actually diversifying his sphere of influence by moving into cooking oil which was the new wood for its possibilities of being picked up second-hand for nothing or next to nothing. He didn't possess a vehicle that ran on such recyclable resources himself, but he was picking up grateful customers who did all the time, so long as they weren't picky over whether their exhaust emitted Chinese, Indian, French or Italian inferences.

By this stage Chris had persuaded the other ringers to let him make some tentative steps back into ringing a bell by singling out the treble that was so positioned as to allow him to lean against the wall and so disperse much of the strain on this neck. He knew that when Naomi stated in front of the others that he probably shouldn't risk himself so soon she was being sincere, but still there was no getting away from the fact that she needed him to fend for himself right now. So long as he felt that his efforts were being transferred into Naomi's good books then he would take risks tenfold to this mere bagatelle by comparison.

In the wake of Naomi receiving a goodly number of plaudits for her supporting act to the often foul-mouthed and nearly always acerbic Scottish stand-up Jamie Stuce in Edinburgh the previous summer it seemed almost inevitable at the time that he would stand by his initial declaration that he would be seeking a reunion at some later date, even if he did find it difficult to conceal all of his vexation at the critical acclaim not fully taking into account just how uncompromising his characterisation really was. Obviously his occasional snide references to the inequality in praise were all part of his nature as the impending Brighton Festival of Comedy seemed to be the ideal opportunity to bring the clash of morals to an audience at the other end of the British Isles.

Jamie and Naomi were a good representation of complete opposites on most matters, which was exactly what he was looking for, namely ease of friction and combustibility. Naomi was equally flattered or embarrassed to be recognised by members of the public unknown to her, whereas Jamie regarded the oddity of people desperately wanting to meet him as if they only liked meeting ducks because they enjoyed eating pate. In many aspects Jamie Stuce was quite like a young unshaven Scottish version of Dennis Lomas in his bravado and forthright manner of speaking, and in making money out of so doing.

Jamie wanted a weekend of brain-storming with Naomi to hone the by-play for a new audience, but any weekend he could have chosen would probably have clashed with something that Naomi had planned in advance. As Naomi was known for her ornithological interests it was barely surprising that she had religiously participated in the big bird-watch for several years now, and it was this weekend that Jamie wanted. Even with the sop of him travelling to her it was still inconvenient for counting birdlife as Naomi wasn't going to see many blue tits or robins after dark. Ruthie promised no more than that she might keep count at some point during one day or the other, but since Naomi had somewhat reluctantly helped sate some of Ruthie's appetite for the celeb arena by putting in a good word for her to get in as one of the unpaid teenage gofers at the local radio station it had actually left Ruthie less time to devote to more mundane matters. For reliable results on the bird counting then Chris was the obvious choice, given that he was always more likely to conduct such tasks for Naomi with a far greater thoroughness than he would for himself.

The first assignment for Naomi on her return to the airwaves found her setting out on a seemingly less ambitious option than the majority of proposed alternatives, probably as befitted someone who was in a position not dissimilar to that of a probationer. Exceedingly early starts - 3.00am in this instance - were not unknown to Naomi given her interest in birdlife, something which often necessitated either an early night or no sleep at all in order to catch the dawn chorus. The initial fervour that Ruthie displayed for wanting Naomi to find an excuse for her to tag along in some capacity soon palled once she discovered the unsociable hours and dry subject matter. This was fortunate considering that it would not have been within Naomi's gift to allow her to tag along anyway. 6.00am at a fruit and veg wholesalers in Hertfordshire did not fall into the brief of the showbiz world that Ruthie actually had in mind, although the time was the biggest determining factor.

The prevailing climate in wholesaling having been chilly to say the least for many years since, thus it made for a determinedly downbeat piece for the most part. The one bright spot was long standing breakfast provider Ivy who turned out to know more about the history of the place than any of the current stall-holders. Ivy considered herself a bit of a fruitaholic, if such a condition existed, and had plenty to say about how things had changed over the years, especially the arguable false dawn of the so-called banana years which saw some people getting overexcited over the saviour potential of the previously underexposed banana. At the time many saw the banana as the fruit that was going to get the job done, but in truth it really only masked an almost identical decline in the other familiar favourites such as oranges and apples especially. "People still like their fruit, but the supermarkets have been sucking the life out of this place for years. I love my fruit, but my young helper Mariah here would rather take vitamin tablets to make up for getting a real meal inside her, isn't that right Mariah?" "At least I know they've not been sprayed with a load of chemicals." Mariah argued vehemently. "What's that one you've got in your hand now ? That is a load of chemicals." "No it's not, it's fructose." "My sentiments entirely love." Ivy misinterpreted her young aide. "I mean it's fruit based." Mariah explained. "You know they mess about with all the genetic this and that, but if they could develop apples and oranges that peeled so neatly it might help more. Apropos of nothing as they say, have you seen that film about the penguins on the march?" "As in The March of the Penguins?" Naomi surmised. "Well, once I'd seen that film, could I get to sleep that night?" "What, no?" "No, I did, but only eventually, almost as soon as I closed my eyes there were columns of penguins in my mind, stretching right across my eye-line. My late husband had just the same thing happen to him." "Was he at London Zoo or actually in the Antarctic?" "Oh no, he worked here, it was bananas with him, we went through a period when the banana boom was in its first flush where he'd wake me up in the middle of the night after a dream of massed ranks of bananas trooping the colour or his beloved West Ham football team kitted out as bananas playing Norwich City in their canary outfits and not knowing who had got the ball in the net half the time."

The syndicated inserts that Naomi was charged with doing on how life continues out of season at certain seaside towns struck Ruthie as being much more interesting, as seaside resorts to her equated to lots of nightlife, hopefully a few hunky surfers and crazy golf. She rather unrealistically expected that if Naomi was going to stay overnight in some of the more far flung places that she would be able to tag along as it was half-term. Ruthie had it all worked out in a flash, if Naomi really wanted to be a good girl and keep a clear head for the morning there were plenty of places to go ringing at during the evening, whilst she soaked up the local colour as she euphemistically put it. She was hoping for the destinations that promised at least one of the first two ideals, such as Bournemouth or Newquay or Brighton or Torquay, but it was never to be. Had Naomi been in a position of having her own production company and been able to suit herself how recording was scheduled then she would happily have let Ruthie come along, providing that she settled for soaking up the ambience of the day-life as opposed to the more raucous nightlife. As it was, the Best Rest B+B was hardly the kind of salubrious five star residence that Ruthie had in her plans.

As it was, Naomi discovered that strange things happening at sea didn't mean having to sail miles out from shore, as she could take her pick from the assorted characters on and around the pier, they would be quite sufficient. Britain's "Whelk Personality of the Year" continued in business through the quiet out-of-season months, entertaining the populace of Weston-Super-Mare with her unchallenged ability to balance four whelks on her nose or juggles two crabs and a lobster, but not at the same time though. As much as Naomi considered the latter slippery trait to be somewhat unpalatable, the despondent fishermen at the other extreme of the pier were really only able to contribute doom and gloom mixed in with a little of the inside track on mackerel, squid and lugworms with added temptation, which was hardly likely to grab the attention of the grazing listener.

The expectations that Naomi had entertained of finding the more unusual and cosmopolitan elements of seaside life along the promenade represented by a street musician or mime artist were replaced in reality by a most soberly dressed bloke reposing in a deckchair surrounded by a gallimaufry of squashes and pumpkins waiting for a customer. She thought it rather out of season for such produce, but luckily decided that she was possibly not well enough versed on this particular niche to make mention aloud, which was just as well when a tourist in front of her had the self same question answered by the fact that they were made of wax. Just why someone resolved that there must be a market for facsimile pumpkins was another and safer question altogether.

On returning to the pier Naomi finally discovered the trump in the resort's pack of cards with a dapper old guy by the name of Audric Yelper in company with his diminutive cat precariously perched on his right shoulder. Considering the post looked rather perilous the cat appeared surprisingly contented. From his forward manner of introducing himself, Naomi concluded that this eccentric had evidently given interviews before at some level besides simply accosting the passing holidaymakers. "Catman" as he had been nicknamed was very coy over revealing the name of his cat. The feline appeared to be minus a tail from what Naomi could discern, but she wasn't convinced that it was a true Manx cat. According to the cat's mouthpiece there was definitely Manx in the breeding, so Naomi naturally enquired if its name was Kelly.

"Catman" didn't seem to be aware of the Kelly name connection to The Isle of Man so Naomi was momentarily left a little beached for where to go next with her questioning. "Kelly's an Irish name, if I was going to call him anything it would more likely to be TT Racer or... er... um..." "Douglas?" "No, it was thought about, but he told me they decided against it." "He speaks?" "Don't be so absurd, he writes down what he wants to communicate." "Oh, how remiss of me, would he care to use my pen, or does he have his own special one?" "He can only manage a crayon as yet." The answers sounded as if they were meant in all seriousness, so Naomi decided to follow the example. "I don't see why that should be held against him." "Exactly what I've long since said. Now, are you right or left handed?" "Predominantly right." Naomi admitted perplexedly. "Ah, well now, you see I'm afraid that he's left-pawed and is disinclined to perform for those of the alternate persuasion." Naomi had expected as much. "Sinistre pussy huh?" "That's the absorbing thing about black cats, they do often give out the most ominous vibes." "What if I happened to be ambidextrous?" "Now you can't expect him to be understanding great long words like that." "He's not a young cat is he?" "No, but he's a late developer, night school and all that sort of thing." "So, if I was to find a leftie then your cat would perform?" "Well now, he's somewhat sore-pawed at the moment." "From signing too many autographs I suppose."

The owner insisted that Naomi should not be fooled by the quiet demeanour as this cat could be a bit of a lad should he get the urge to go out on the tiles after playing too much football. Catman liked to think that some of him rubbed off on the cat, to which end Naomi suggested that it might be prudent to get a lawyer in first before going into further detail. Naomi was then informed that the cat had a brother at home. "If they'd looked more alike they could have been twins." "So, is this home-bird moggie a right-hander?" "That is staggeringly perceptive of you, indeed he is, but nowhere near as advanced. Hardly surprising considering that you are looking at a living miracle."

Naomi was definitely aware of being in the presence of a living something. The pre-programmed manner of answers for everything gave Naomi the notion that Audric Yelper may have worked in the political waters of the civil service at some point during years gone by. "I trust that if some young hoodlum attempted to molest us my partner here would spring into devastating action, isn't that right?" The cat appeared to nod, but this may have been a trick on the eye brought about by the movement of the host's head and shoulder. "Do you carry covert protection young lady?" "Some people have advised that I carry mace, yes." "Wouldn't that be rather cumbersome? You might as well lug a pikestaff around with you or don the whole suit of armour." "No, this is mace as in that pepper-spray stuff."

The cat never did actually utter even a mew let alone a word whilst Naomi was present, but she decided that the bizarre lopsided double act had been very much value for money, and she didn't realistically expect to unearth anyone else quite so seriously off the centre than this as even a fair sized resort as Weston would scarcely have been likely to play host to anything else quite so bizarre along its frontage.

Amidst this flurry of paying activity there was an invitation to a Mozartian celebration down in Sussex. As the initial invitation for Naomi extended to as many friends and family as she liked within reason, there seemed every probability that she might be taking a carload with her to the downs from the first reactions of those in the know. Naomi discovered some unexpected classical enthusiasts such as Gemma's mother who found out about it by way of Ruthie babbling long and loud as usual to Gemma concerning this cultural event that somehow managed to garner a roster of possible celebrities that might turn up thanks entirely to Ruthie's fertile imagination.

Eventually Ruthie cooled on the enterprise once she had finally taken in the true nature of the musical entertainment, and that Il Divo nor Myleene Klass were going to be there. Even their father had tethered his tentative interest to some notion of one of the sexy "opera-babe" type groups possibly making an appearance, thus it was clear where Ruthie took her cue from even though she was the adopted one of the three children. Then Mrs.Ferley found an alternative engagement that meant she was unavailable, so only Gemma was left to accompany Naomi which was a combination that left the entire excursion in doubt, but Carol Ferley was insistent that her daughter go as she seemed so eager.

It was an anxious day and a half of waiting for Gemma, hoping for confirmation, and hoping against hope that it would not be a cancellation. As soon as there was a choice on offer Gemma unreservedly opted for outgrowing the frippery of childhood emancipation. Being paired with Ruthie felt like a partnership of equals, but moments with Naomi being as scant as they were took on a perception of awe. Amidst the bouts of trepidation and veneration that overcame her, Gemma managed to collect herself sufficiently to dissemble all the things that she knew concerning Naomi's likes and dislikes. Had Naomi seen the look of trepidation followed by unbridled celebratory countenance that overtook Gemma when the call came that the trip was still on then she might well have reversed her decision at the very last moment, but as she had resisted equipping herself with a cutting edge mobile phone she was left in the dark as to the significance of this coupling.

The venerable woman who had requested Naomi to visit was one Brenda Putt, who had for some years served as a senior adjudicator on a national "Good Citizens Award" committee, an organisation that had seen better and more publicised days, now handing out awards with about as much fanfare of publicity as a local bring and buy sale. The fact that Naomi had accepted the initial invitation the year before was a bit of a coup as many recipients of these particular awards politely declined to travel in order to accept personally. Being seen in such obsolete circles could be bad for the health in career of maybe half of those awarded honours, but the observer in Naomi's make-up led to her treating herself to a day out with the wrinklies. The citation stemmed from what was one of her very first forays into radio, as unplanned as the event was, during a bout of severe weather that kept those already ensconced at the station in and those due to replace them firmly out.

Naomi being one of those in situ had soon found herself elevated to unexpected and undreamt heights of responsibility, finally eventuating in her making use of culinary knowledge passed down through the family on how to make snow pancakes, a delicacy that was concocted very much as its name suggested. Several outlying villages had been hit hard by the sub-zero snap, with chaos such as frozen water pipes, loss of electrical supply and vehicles stranded in uneasy places commonplace. Naomi gamely agreed to accompany the best driver present at the radio station in the most serviceable 4WD radio-car on a mission of mercy, or mission of getting a story, depending on ones viewpoint.

Even though Naomi had only merited a Highly Commended citation for this demonstration of public service she so impressed Miss Putt in particular that she had insisted on keeping in touch, perhaps sensing a kindred spirit in wanting to preserve traditional local crafts and ways of life. Naomi forewarned Gemma that a straight face would probably be in need of being kept as Miss Putt was what some might consider to be a little cranky, thus any giggling and sniggering as she served herb cake for tea would not be advisable. The name of Miss Putt's home village Oddly Fremley gave something of a clue as to what she might be like.

As much as it ran contrary to the predominant way that Gemma felt about her friendship with Naomi, she was very soon nervous and struggling to find any opportunity to engage in a conversation that she had any confidence of being of interest to Naomi, and that she had a reasonable expectation of sustaining for more than a few seconds. In the conversations that ran through her mind Gemma was nothing like as stilted, holding her own on many a subject, but when it came to enunciating little or nothing came forth. "You must be doing a lot of travelling at the moment." Gemma enquired by way of contributing to a passable conversation. "Do you like driving?" "The more miles I have to do the less I like driving."

This rather negative answer didn't bode well for a long conversation. After an uneasy pause that seemed to last a fair proportion of a lifetime as far as Gemma was concerned, Naomi followed up her peremptory reply with a little flesh on the bones of driving vehicles "This car feels like an F1 machine compared to my first car, which was more the sort of vehicle you sit on as much as sit in. If it hadn't been a hand me down from my brother I would have suspected that it was a stolen dodgem car with a roof tacked on. I suppose it's churlish not to recognise that it did have a passing resemblance to a proper car in most of the basic departments, but it was one of those cars that if you see it advertised as having low mileage it's because it hardly ever starts, yet you build up a certain affection for your first car, they do that to you somehow, don't ask me how." "But you prefer this car?" "Definitely! I'd say it comes under the category of what used to quaintly be described as being jolly grateful, that is to Chris for loaning it to me for so long. It's light years ahead of anything I've ever owned."

From the moment when a pre-school Naomi had been given a Christmas present of a pedal-car, by the same magniloquent godfather who would later take her on as an employee, she displayed a marked lack of ability with vehicles, mixed with equal measures of disinterest in how they should ideally function. As much as she was welcomed as a god child, Naomi had not always been capable of adapting to the mainly male-oriented presents that had come her way. With the pedal-car she spent more time walking it around the garden than she did pedalling it.

Dennis Lomas was always good for a quote if Naomi was running dry on other radio related reminiscences, as although she was very poor at remembering other quotations and quodlibets she surprisingly had little difficulty in retaining the wit and wisdom of Dennis, as salty as some of it may have been. Given that Naomi was on his elite list of those eligible for one of his anti-nuclear radiation suits and might even get sneaked into one of the bunkers around Chepstow she was obviously privy to a wealth of information. His "hands off cocks, on with socks" attitude from so many years in the armed services was clearly never going to wear off completely.

An hour into the drive, somewhere between Basingstoke and Farnham the conversation had become rather more equalised between the two girls in as much as Gemma was now on her best form for engaging Naomi's interest which meant that Naomi was doing the lion's share of the talking but Gemma was prompting the directions. The loquacity of Naomi was music to Gemma's ears as she explained how it was something of a blessed relief to talk with a sensible person such as Gemma after the enforced heightened sensibilities accruing from material accumulating time spent with Jamie Stuce. As she explained, he probably had the better of the deal as he had free licence to use any language he liked in order to get his point across, and be as contentious as he wanted by way of expurging his system, whereas much of the act revolved around her resolutely avoiding responding in unexpurgated kind. In all truth, substituting mild expletives like frigging and spigging sounded even more unrealistic than calling him a twit or an idiot.

She and Jamie were very polarised, and Gemma might have been surprised at how just how even the support split between them amongst an audience, such was the distaste for reserve and modesty. Having concocted material with Chris for a number of years she now had an extremely wide perspective of the creative process. Chris had what would be most accurately described as a dry, sometimes even childish, sense of humour, something which Naomi found it easy to align herself with. Chris was a conduit for a very different brand of observational humour than that dispensed by Jamie Stuce. Where Jamie would concentrate on a verbal diet of football, drink, drugs and four-lettered disappointment in any current government administration for a good hour's set, Chris was more at home with minutiae such as noting how supposedly mixed fruit salad packets of Chewits seemed to have developed a trend for having the same flavours all at one end of the tube or the other rather than coming at regular intervals any more. The first couple of strawberry ones were all very fine, but after the fourth in a row you begin to wonder if there had been a technical difficulty at the manufacturers end, and it all made for very dangerous driving as it always seemed to happen when one was driving, and the natural human urge was to investigate whether there were actually any other flavours in the packet, something which was all very distracting and likely to get you an unwanted invite on to Police, Camera, Action.

Chris perhaps best described himself as a human incarnation of Winnie the Pooh, not because he was corpulent or liked devouring honey, but due to him being a bear of little brain in many of the ways of the world. Depending on where her life was situated, Naomi could find this immensely disarming. Where Chris would observe foibles, Jamie would see perversions or hang-ups, and Naomi liked a bit of both but couldn't make a firm decision one way or the other.

Naomi had been given a lengthy appraisal before of the chocolate box quality of her thatched cottage, a house that had possibly graced more than a few 500 or 1000 piece jigsaws, or selection boxes down the years. Luckily for the sweet-toothed brigade and those with the time to spare for piecing together jigsaws, neither could convey the very strong aural drawback of being roughly under the flight-path from the might Gatwick Airport, only a mere handful of miles to the north. Brenda was chatting with a near neighbour over her front gate at the time when Naomi and Gemma arrived at her abode with its trellising surrounding almost every exterior entrance of any account that awaited their annual transformation by hundreds of roses. This was a garden that acted as a favourite stopping off point for an abundance of insect life with its selection of wispy and straggly wild flowers that kept some contrast of colour for the garden all year round, even in the absence at this time of year of the award-winning hollyhocks that stopped many a visitor in their tracks.

Once inside the house one of the first things to strike Gemma as well as Naomi was the sheer quantity of little objects and delicate frissons residing on, or clinging to nooks and crannies. The living-room was a paean to pastel, but moreover it resembled a china and crystal encrusted minefield that never seemed more than a couple of inches away from some suddenly nervy part of the body. Quite simple, there was something fragile at virtually every turn, along with a fair sprinkling of clearly antique furniture.

The tray adorning the table by the piano laden with its crown of sandwiches and the other trays decorated with the most delicate of pear charlottes, noisettes, tartlets butter brioche and clafoutis could have been props from a period costume drama, but Miss Putt didn't furnish her home to completely match the age of the property. She liked nice comfy sofas and chairs that the unsuspecting would sink so deeply into that they had to be warned not to have any form of drink to hand for fear of the staining consequences, but at least the armchairs really did possess comfortingly wide arms that could be used for small plate resting purposes.

Brenda introduced the girls to her friend Abigail who was snoozing on a well upholstered chair in one corner of the room. Abigail was a few years senior to Brenda, and certainly not sprightly, which appeared to add a few more years between their ages at first glance. Brenda merely introduced her as Abigail, which left the girls to draw their own conclusions. After revealing how pleased she was to make their acquaintance, Abigail apologised for not having got up to greet them at the front door, but she was partially housebound these days.

The image of quiet segnitude was broken soon after Brenda had sat down in her favourite chair, when the pet of the house, a mischievous budgie, took what looked like well rehearsed action by way of swooping across the room toward a favoured vantage point from where it proceeded to edge its way on to Abigail's shoulder and then on down until it nestled in her cleavage. From the lack of adverse reaction the ladies showed towards this behaviour suggested that this was not an isolated occurrence. Abigail blithely announced how they had first met at a Vivaldi festival in Venice back in the early 1970's, where she had converted Brenda to the delights of cappuccino coffee. Brenda inserted that she was still a tea aficionado even though Abigail had wooed her with coffee. "I would say they make the best coffee in the world in Venice." Abigail noted. Brenda concurred, but it was also by far the most expensive. Gemma didn't know much about coffee, but Naomi reckoned that there was a place she'd encountered in Dorchester on Thames that could push it close for expense at least, especially as she'd seen thimbles nearly as big as the cups.

As a precursor to the feast of Mozart that was to come, Brenda provided a little recital of her own on the piano, treating her exclusive audience to the great man's second piano concerto. When asked if she played the piano herself, Naomi thought she was safe in stating that she didn't really do so properly, but only succeeded in convincing the hosts that this meant she did. She felt embarrassment was guaranteed whichever way she jumped, but to avoid further badgering she agreed to perform. Had she really been the renaissance woman that many thought she was then Naomi would have played some Mozart, but only dared risk trying to recall a small excerpt of a Chopin Piano Concerto that she had been able to learn because it had an ideal slow movement ideal for her injudicious fingers. "I would be doing a great disservice to Chopin to declare which one of his concertos this is meant to be." "Second Concerto." Abigail surmised correctly once Naomi had come to the end of what she had memorised. Both hosts were very complimentary about her efforts, which Naomi knew paled by comparison to that which had gone before, and which she deflected by recalling that Chopin would have played it better when he was four given that he was composing such music by the age of eight.

After the delicately formal selection from a well-laden platter of precisely quartered sandwiches and a further short period of small-talk, Brenda, Naomi and Gemma briefly decamped to the back garden and its regular background music schedule of bird-song and jet aircraft from Gatwick. as much as the weather was reasonably mild for the time of year, it still wouldn't have been comfortable to spend extended time luxuriating in the verdant surroundings with its meadowish overtones. "You must come back in the summer to see this at its best, dragonflies and damsel-flies are still reasonably plentiful around Oddly Fremley, and they make such an addition to the ambience When we've got the French marigolds, nasturtiums and sweet-peas exuberant in their finest livery the subtle scents that you get are almost what you might describe as intoxicating."

It was only a fifteen minute drive to the setting for the undoubted highlight of Mozart's big day around this area, that being a slightly uncertain fifteen minutes in Brenda's Morris Minor. Between them Brenda and Abigail owned a diverse collection of cars, if three cars could be classed as a collection. Most people would probably have used the Aston Martin or the Saab, but as out of context as it all was, Brenda decided that the oldest of their cars would be most appropriate to the surroundings. On the way, Brenda's instincts as an author came to the fore as she made her young guests smile inwardly with her comments concerning the demise of local characters around the place.

Earlsleigh Manor would fit neatly, for the majority of those happening upon it, for their idea of an early Georgian manor house, blithely picturesque with its Thomas Archer frontage. This was another location that clearly display a riot of colour for the greater part of the year, garlanded by opulent lashings of dahlias, petunias, roses and clematis all vying for supremacy as the signature planting of the main garden. Brenda was awash with effulgence for the preparedness of the girls to accept this dose of divertissement from yesteryear. She was a great espouser of the need to treasure and cultivate enough of the younger generation to appreciate her take on culture. She had long since given up on expecting this refined recreation to have a mass-market appeal, and merely avoiding complete indifference would be a measure of success. Her guests were grateful that there was no requirement to don period costume, as that would have been a step too far.

Brenda was gratified that not one yawn was elicited from either of the girls during the recital which lasted just over an hour all told with a short interval for nibbling on canapés added. After the event Gemma waited to see how Naomi described the occasion before taking on any such endeavour herself, but was perfectly willing to borrow one of Naomi's alternatives as she hadn't got beyond thinking how ordinary the canapés were by comparison to Brenda's offerings. It was as well too considering that the hostess of this gathering, one Mrs. Flora Street-Harper, was known to be prepared to sacrifice one of her watercolours in progress over the head of a critic. Mrs S-H was convinced of her youngest guests appreciation as soon as she heard the way that Naomi used the word purity to encapsulate what had been placed before them. Gemma barely had to utter anything more than a basic string of complimentary words to bask in the glow. There was little time for more than a brief return to Oddly Fremley, and as they parted Brenda was as genuine in her invitation for the girls to return when much would be in blossom as she had been earlier in the day. "I like a good excuse to dust off our croquet set."

The drive home soon evidenced itself that it would take longer than the outward half, with a noticeably higher propensity of traffic not far from Oddly Fremley, so after a surfeit of the classics for the better part of the day, Naomi thought it only fair to regale Gemma with something more in the crossover vein, so suggested that her passenger had a rummage around the central storage compartment for one of the CD's that she travelled with in case of boredom subsumation. Most of the bits and bobs that Chris usually cluttered his car with had been temporarily removed, but the odd bit or bob slipped through the net, and one of his CD's had remained anonymous in a seat tidy and then been mixed with her own batch by a hurried Naomi at some point, leading to her forgetting to hand it back to him or stick it in the glove compartment. Now it was going to come back to bite her, as Naomi only ventured the briefest of glances in that general direction as Gemma took pot luck, a glance that failed to register anything more than that Gemma had successfully performed the task. Only when the first track broadcast forth did Naomi realise that it was not one of her collection. Immediately she remembered that it must be that stray CD, and the first urge was to reach out and hit the exit button, but she didn't want to embarrass herself in front of Gemma so refrained, even if the car did judder with a physical notice of how she had been caught in two minds as to what action to take.

Naomi thought that she had the capability to ride out the song, but if this was a Chris CD then there would be another ten heart rending songs in the same vein to come for certain. She was making a fist of trying to let it wash over her, but then Gemma enquired as to the artists on the record, as she'd heard the song on the radio many a time, but it not being of her era she was lacking in details that Naomi would surely be able to fill in. "It's The Cars - Drive." Naomi informed with a reticence to end all reticence. "It's so affecting." Gemma mooned. "You seem to know all the words."

Naomi's brain had been trying so hard not to concentrate that her mouth had been left to go it alone as a free spirit and mouth in sync with every lyric. There had been a time when Naomi adjudged records merely by their dance ability or catchy hook, but Chris had been the one who had encouraged her to take the time to listen to the words. In retrospect he had done her an enormous favour given that she ended up spinning discs, or at least performing the tasks that had replaced vinyl. "It's sort of an Our Tune."

Despite much resistance, Naomi finally lost her battle to keep anything tearful at bay. Gemma was torn as to what to say, if say anything at all. "Do you want me to turn it off?" "No." Naomi replied in the most monotone of voices. "I think it said that there's supposed to be some parking in a quarter of a mile... if you want to stop." Naomi knew instinctively that it would be best to take advantage of this chance to pause as the last thing she needed right now was to risk an accident with Gemma in her care. "I don't have an Our Tune, but it's a sort of one, it's what you could call unofficial I suppose." Naomi's thoughts then overtook her and prevented her from adding anything further aloud. She knew that even as this one heart-breaker ended another one would be sure to follow if Chris was involved in the compilation. Sure enough, REO Speedwagon imparted - I Just Can't Fight This Feeling. In one of the few moments of clarity here and now Naomi was able to take it into her mind that Gemma was bound to realise that Chris was the other half of these pertinent songs.

Unless one knew the story behind the headline then being reminded of the time when she kept a pet rabbit hardly squared with an Our Tune that made her blub so readily. Many other potential suitors may have offered or given her items of greater financial value, and at the current pace would probably continue to up the ante, but Chris was the only one to have carried a bale of straw for her rabbit, and taken off certain amounts of his clothing to keep it dry so that her pet could eventually soil it. Even that in itself was hardly full reason for such waterworks. Gemma innocently imagined that Naomi must have really cared for her rabbit, so it was understandable, but Naomi was in a somewhat parlous state and in need of blurting out the truth. Yes, she did remember her rabbit fondly, it was her first ever pet, and she could vividly recall what a distressed state that she got in when it first seemed to be off its food, and when he eventually left her. That was sadness, but not the reason for such full on tearfulness, as guilt was the driving force behind that.

At the time when the rabbit was first off-colour, as it turned out not seriously, her mind found out what it was like to be preoccupied to a degree that she had rarely come across to that point. That showery day when Chris took the initiative in sacrificing more of his clothing to save Naomi's propriety in order to keep the straw dry turned out to be a microcosm of what was to follow. It was a long story, and it was still a long drive back to Middlemyte this evening. In those days Naomi could be impossibly headstrong and despite being warned of how awkward it might be to carry back from the Bore family farm she insisted on doing so as it saved money for herself. Even a mere decade ago Middlemyte was unmistakably smaller and more obviously rural than it was now, and the two respective families of Naomi and Chris knew each other, if only slightly. Thus Chris happening upon Naomi struggling badly and with inclement weather stacking up to the west was not a cause for concern for her, but a lifeline that even she wasn't going to turn her nose up at. Two pairs of hands on the twine was guaranteed to get her home that much quicker, then he did his version of the Walter Raleigh act, requiring Naomi only to disrobe her coat as they tried to run for home as best they could, stopping only to make brief use of sheltered spots on the way. For an hour or so he was very much the hero, treated to a front row seat with Naomi in front of the fire whilst her mother took charge of drying out the clothes. It was only when they were dry that Naomi came to notice that her coat was missing, and must have slipped off the bale unnoticed somewhere along the tortuous way.

Everything was relatively dry by now and Chris insisted on going back and retracing their steps to retrieve her coat even if it did mean getting caught out in a shower again. Just over half an hour later he returned with the coat, but minus several weeks accumulated pocket-money and the small fluffy lucky koala bear that her godparents had brought back for her from Waratah Park in Oz. Initially Naomi was grateful, but once she found the coat stripped of its contents she became distinctly cool with Chris. She didn't have to say anything straightforwardly out loud to convey the message that she thought Chris may have taken the money given that not much time had elapsed between the coat and she being separated. Della Timbrel wasn't sure of what to believe as Chris gave the impression of being a very nice boy, helpful and courteous to a fault, in fact rather more naïve than Naomi in most respects. He wasn't so callow as to not notice the change in temperature and he only returned home to go straight back out again, armed with the nearest implement he could find to a scythe which was a hoe, intent on tackling all the tangled brambles and spiky undergrowth along the route in order to find the koala at least.

There was little daylight left to work with and he was more determined than disheartened when he went to bed that night. Having a night to think on matters, as he managed little sleep, gave him time to realise that merely using his own money to pretend that he had miraculously found Naomi's money the day after the event would not be a good idea as he didn't know exactly how much she had lost and in what denominations. That he had factored out probably the worst move that he could have made cheered him for the search ahead. In the morning he would be much more analytical about this search rather than just thrashing around scarring much innocent hedgerow. There were three probable routes between where he found the coat and where it logically must have slid to the ground, and therein lay the task.

One path was particularly nasty as it was bordered by practically all the thorniest hedgerow, most attitudinal nettles and thistles, a brook, and remnants of barbed wire here and there. Chris left this worst case scenario till last, but its turn came, and by then he was desperate, and the intention not to flail had unravelled, though the density of obstacles here required some brute force in all truth. His perseverance was eventually rewarded as a damp koala lay in a muddy patch between barbed wire and brook. The koala was more manky than muddy, and it was a much scratched and scarred Chris who returned the tossed aside supposed toy to Naomi with just a modicum of cleaning off with a hankie on the way over. He was so elated at finding her mascot that he failed to register that it actually doubled as a money holder and had been where Naomi's money had been kept. He was not of any great expectation standing before the front door waiting for someone to answer the bell. In a way he was relieved for it not to be Naomi standing before him, instead it was her grandmother who gracefully accepted the koala, and duteously promised to return it to Naomi when she came back home.

Not only did gran know how to sniff out these underlying problems, but also how to get to the heart of the matter. At grandmother level both families knew each other very well, and even from a cursory glance granny Timbrel could see that Chris would have to be some masochist to go through such trial by thorns. The money never did turn up, but Naomi did inadvertently find out that their two grandmothers had colluded to keep an eye on the situation for some time after the initial incident. They were practised at finding out whether Chris had the money or not without causing a big fuss and palaver. "If it had been when I was seven or eight I would probably have forgotten how bloody horrible I was, but thirteen, fourteen is like yesterday. You see, Chris did me a huge favour in getting me to take in lyrics, but there's always a price to pay. It's the lyrics that can really rip you apart." Naomi allowed herself an apposite little laugh as she recovered some composure just as - I Drove All Night came up as the next track.

It was a close run thing as to which Naomi felt most prevalently, embarrassed or ridiculous, making a spectacle of herself with a fistful of tissues passed to her by Gemma mopping her now reddened face. As Naomi's right hand applied liberal dabs of tissue to dry the moistened areas about her face, her left hand rested uneasily atop the steering wheel. Gemma was a total novice at coping with a situation such as this and she reached out with a nervy right arm and a hand more tentative and shaky than the hand she was attempting to comfort. As a Hollywood producer might put it - that was a moment! Life defining, altering, changing, affirming, any one of those, all four even, certainly something.

Before today Gemma assumed that Naomi possessed the deductive powers of Sherlock Holmes amongst her many talents, and feared the consequences if she even dared hint at how she felt. That a changed perspective of her idol should result in the self same situation was something that even someone of many greater years than her may well not have envisaged until after the event. She felt on the verge of stepping from the role of victim to villain. It would only take a matter of a mere few seconds to stigmatise herself, and all the years of uneventful behaviour to be taken into consideration would count against her defence, making the misdemeanour all the more heinous and shocking. If ever she had experienced a rollercoaster of emotions determining whether she look to unburden herself like Naomi had then today had been the day, but still she couldn't say anything for fear of destroying the greater part of her insecure and vulnerable world. There was no escape even by suspending the CD and opting for the radio as the first record encountered was Sophie Ellis-Bextor's - It's A Mixed Up World, and now Gemma was attuned to lyrics she could empathise.

Epsiode Five
Published 13th June 2006
Fell Me Something I Don't Know
Dominic Bowskill may still have been more of a lowly flunkey than a functionary amidst the Westminster community, but one thing he had in common with his uncle was his almost perpetual disdain for those with more influence than himself. There was little that he found more annoying than being bossed around by those who didn't possess as clear a vision of how the country should be governed as he himself enjoyed. From what Dennis knew of his nephew he could only place Dominic slightly above being as unfocused and gormless as many of his superiors in the past, he only had to think back to the part of his Army time served in Northern Ireland, especially some of the undercover reconnoitring in the Bogside. Often when Dennis looked at his nephew he could believe that he was looking at one of his past army lieutenant's who was supposed to be acting undercover with him and blithely ordered a Bacardi and coke in a Republican bar that didn't have much call for such drinks. Even all these years later he could still hear the whirr of the Black and Decker power-drills revving up under the tables ready for a knee drilling session on hearing such obvious errors in judgement.

Dennis believed in running his business affairs as a meritocracy, with the odd exception, and he was not likely to spare his nephew from the painful truth as to his shortcomings at pressing the flesh with all kinds of interest groups and individuals. His puns were puny, his wheedles weedy, his polemics pathetic and witticisms wholly whimpish. "I've seen plenty of people who thought they were entertainers, but it hardly counts to be an inadvertent comedian; neither you nor I inhabit areas that look tolerantly upon figures of fun. John Prescott, does that ring any bells, eh?"

As one of the diminishing band of acolytes of the New Labour project, Dominic was conditioned to bristle with agitation on hearing any attack on almost any part of the New Labour Project edifice. "This is something, coming as it does from an alumnus of the Genghis Khan School of Diplomacy." "And your rhetoric is recycled as well. It's all old declamation you keep coming out with, skating on the verge of plagiarism isn't going to get you where you want to get, you've got learn to ad-lib. One of these days you'll wake up to the fact that I've got your best interests at heart."

Dominic still thought that his uncle had more of an affinity with the sheep he used to encounter during his Army days up several mountain ranges around the world rather than celebrities and politicians. Thus he left himself open to the assertion that many celebs and politicos were below the brain-power of many a sheep in this world that Dennis had encountered during his various postings. "At least you can make a decent pillow out of a mountain sheep when you really need it." "It's not possible, what sort of sheep is that docile?" Dominic insisted. "A dead one, there's a ready supply of expired sheep up the Pyrenees. Like many things, it's the first time that's the worst, the expellations of air from one end or the other come at unexpected intervals. Your boys haven't known much by way of deprivation" "Despite not having spoken to him personally about it, I can't imagine Tony Blair having needed to go through the same experience to make it to Number 10, although Gordon Brown does sometimes look as if he's not exactly had his head resting on the softest pillow of a night, and your old friend Maggie of course, with an entire pillowcase on her head."

Even though Dennis admitted that his nephew was obviously capable of being a bit sparky if roused, such personal comments were only likely to consign him to the ranks of the back benches, the usual suspects, and the nay-sayers who rarely make it past Sky News or News 24 for their exposure. As far as Dennis could see, Dominic had got himself so far down the line with his chosen colour of politics that he was beyond the point of no return by way of switching allegiances, at least without a ruinous loss of credibility further down the line. "I'm useless at remembering quotations, but I seem to recall someone saying that politics is ninety nine percent about believing that you can push water uphill. We can all think you're a bit of a dreamer to imagine that you're going to make it to the top in Westminster, but you've obviously got more guts than everybody has given you credit for to persevere with Naomi when you've got all the political bite of the proverbial chocolate mouse." "If ever I heard the sound of faint praise being heaped then I'm pretty confident of hearing it now. The last couple of years of this administration have been all about countless weeks of pushing policy initiatives only to find the polling numbers unchanged, or worsened, so don't say I've got no idea of the possible life sentence of frustration that politics can end up as in the worst scenario."

During the relative lull in London based work during the Parliamentary recess, then it made obvious sense that this simply had to be the time for Dominic to unleash his innate personality upon Naomi. If he wanted to impress her then there was only one thing to do, no options, no equivocation, just straightforward steeling of the sinews. Dominic was spoilt for choice of which tack to go with by way of getting close to Naomi, and with Dennis as his uncle he could find out necessary information almost at will. Since recently interviewing a group of guerrilla gardeners during their night-time beautifying of a traffic island in Guildford, Naomi had signed up to assist a local gardening faction aiming to revivify a roundabout near Middlemyte. Dominic could just about see himself doing a modicum of digging and weeding, but the supreme inconvenience of the times when all this action took place was a distinct turn-off.

Sport was also pretty much out of the question given that he'd discovered that Naomi was considerably more than competent at most of the one on one games such as badminton, tennis, golf, pool, snooker, darts, beer-mat flipping, chess, draughts, noughts and crosses, and the list went on a fair bit after that in all honesty. Given that Dominic was less than competent at most sporting activities then that was a definite non-starter.

Naomi was also a bit of a bird-watching expert, twitcher if you will, but if anything that was even worse than the gardening, as it was one thing trying to stay awake, but having to get up in the middle of the night to catch the dawn chorus seemed untenable at first consideration. Dominic had just about convinced himself that this could be possible when he suffered a bad dream that stayed in his consciousness after being abruptly woken by it at some unearthly hour. According the nightmare, he had been accompanying Naomi on the trail of some special rare bird in a wooded area and only succeeded in making a series of gaffes as to the names of the birds. In his waking sweat he only managed to recall a couple of the incorrect names, such as the hokey-cokey bird and the greater spotted fly-oak warbler, but he surely remembered the chastisement he received. Besides anything else there was the not inconsiderable fact that Naomi was eminently wary of politicians, and first thing in the morning on a country lane with him might be more unnerving than illuminating.

On balance it seemed that the best option would actually be to plump for one of Naomi's strongest suits which he would not be able to match her, but ought to be able to manage something creditable coming from a standing start. From what he'd seen of bell-ringing it looked fairly uncomplicated, and something that he could concoct some cock and bull reason to explain away his sudden and unexpected interest. Also reports coming back to him tended to suggest that Naomi was currently taking charge of teaching learners, which should preclude the danger of turning up on the day and finding someone else prompting him. A benefit that even he couldn't deny accruing from having Dennis as an uncle was that he generally knew where Naomi was to be found work-wise. Monday morning was reserved for a photo-shoot, something which Naomi studiously avoided whenever or wherever possible. Being the politico that he was, Dominic needed no more help than that as he was perfectly capable of concocting some spurious pretext and spin to wangle his way into being in the general area at the time in question.

Whether anything positive accrued from beyond the point of no return on the morn was something even Dominic hadn't the confidence to predict, as the photographer might have something to say about matters. Professional photographers were not exactly a specialist subject that Dominic much concerned himself with other than a working knowledge of some paparazzi. The only images that he could conceive were of some bearded middle-aged bloke in a check-shirt or a young stud fresh out of art college. Of course, he was hoping it would be the former of his two visions as that shouldn't be competition.

On the day it transpired that the latter was probably nearer the actuality in terms of the age of the photographer, but by all accounts he was something of a techno-geek, constantly burbling on about the intangibles of mood and emotion in creating sensuality. Dominic was fortunate in arriving at an opportune period in between set-up and first shoot, thus he was able to snatch a few words with a surprised Naomi. After making his convenient pitch for help in how to spend his short period of recess, Dominic had to endure Naomi's mild iridescence at being subjected to all this photographic fiddling about. "Well, I've learned that this is apparently harder than shooting pots and pans, but easier than shooting food. I don't know that I wouldn't rather be dressed up as an omelette or a Christmas pudding, it might take as long, but I might get some anonymity."

There was never any way that Naomi was going to allow herself to be finagled into suggestively spread-eagling herself on a flower-bed as if in some homage to the prostrate posing associated with the movie American Beauty, no matter what her sister might counsel. Such advice that usually only had her own shot at stardom in mind. The prospective poses up to now might have satisfied Naomi's criteria of what was decent for her, but some of them she considered to be in need of hiring a stunt double to achieve for more than a couple of seconds. Not only that, she didn't do sensuous, smouldering or wistful to order. Naomi had unsurprisingly suggested this could easily have been done in the surrounds of her back garden as at least one, if not both, of the robins in residence would probably have been undaunted enough so as to flit on and off the handle of her spade. The photographer caught the last part of Naomi's ambiguity. "If you could have guaranteed a couple of non-camera shy tits then we might have considered it, my darling." He chipped in facetiously.

It soon became clear that Dominic's window of opportunity was about to close, but by the time he was out of their hair he had at least managed to lay some groundwork with Naomi as to putting himself in her hands to be taught how to ring a bell. From his rudimentary knowledge of such, the best conjecture that he could make about ringing was that it was a bit like swinging a lump-hammer over and over. Armed with this self-diagnosis he soon discovered himself to be horribly uncoordinated when later in the week it came time for him to take the plunge. The first lesson went better than might have been expected, but the one to one tuition that Dominic had experienced on the initial evening only transpired for a very brief few minutes on the second night, before the greater bulk of the Middlemyte band began to spasmodically drift into the room. Practice Night soon made the entire exercise take on an uncomfortable air for Dominic as he hadn't counted on being encumbered by an audience. This was all very galling as he felt as if he was just getting into the swing of things when this unwelcome intrusion transpired. He had quickly discovered that this was very much the antithesis of being taught the finer points of honing a golf swing, as this provided a frontal view of your tutor rather than close tutelage from the rear, and the view was undeniably a welcome fringe benefit that had come about.

Being the prospective Parliamentarian that he was, Dominic knew a bit about putting on an acting front, as right from the off he knew that Naomi would probably have her suspicions aroused given that he was not domiciled in Middlemyte, or even close, thus any accrued learning would go out of the area. He had been warned many a time by Dennis in his own rather inappropriate comparative way that if they were dogs then Naomi might have the looks and poise of a Crufts Best in Show, but that she still retained the sharp intuitive nose of a working dog to sniff out when she was being surreptitiously sniffed at during the season.

Dominic's mind wandered relentlessly during the monotony of only having one stroke to concentrate on, which seemed all rather mundane in the face of all other distractions. Doing what he was told was barely enough to conceal the cracks in his cover story. He could hardly gaze at Naomi incessantly without it being obvious, so he began to notice the minutiae of the surroundings such as the old blackboard which appeared to have lopsided widths to its wooden surround, although he wasn't to know that this was due to Forrest Bore having surreptitiously shaved some off when in need of a strip of wood that fitted that bill for size. As much of the shelving had been provided by Forrest Bore then no one had the audacity to confront him about this disappearance, and as he had recently moved into other business interests they felt marginally more safe that bits wouldn't suddenly vanish from chairs or shelves.

Once the initial pre-practice learning time ran out, Dominic had to face a large proportion of the regular Middlemyte ringers as they arrived spasmodically. There had been no other rank beginners of late, although they had a new recruit who had recently moved into the area. Bruce Lyddiacoat had done a modicum of ringing some many years past, but now on having moved into semi-retirement he had decided to reacquaint himself with the hobby. "They say that coming back to ringing is akin to riding a bike in that you never forget how to do it. The basic tenets are somewhat the same."

Dominic soon found himself on the receiving end of much unwanted small talk from this new found friend of his during their gaps between seeing action on the ropes. "Did I tell you that I've just retired?" "Indeed you did, at about seven-forty and again at just after eight." "Oh, well I don't think I've shown you this retirement card they gave me." "No, you haven't shown me a card... until now." "Can you make any sense of it?" Bruce enquired in all seriousness.

Dominic shrugged his shoulders as he struggled to feign interest in the card more than any complexity that the wording might contain. On receiving it back, Bruce stared at the oversized card with its cartoon figures printed on its front as if for the first time. "Can you make head or tail of this? We took a survey, and 95% of your colleagues were devastated to learn that you were retiring, 3% were off sick, and 2% had never heard of you." "Is that unusual?" Dominic asked with a large dose of disdain. "I only had fifteen other work colleagues, so the percentages can't tally properly." "Had you considered that it might be tongue in cheek?" "No, but you might be right come to think on it. I wouldn't have minded being gifted with the subtleties of a political mind, as I always remember that saying about needing to be cagier than a budgie farmer to be a successful politician."

Dominic's newly found friend had not taken the idea of irony into consideration, but pondering on this fresh information at least proved enough of a distraction to provide Dominic with the opportunity to make his escape to another corner of the gallery, but the attempt for some inveigling with Naomi merely brought him into the quadrant dominated by a newly invigorated Derek Pannier, who was still basking in the attention brought about by his highly onerous duties in keeping a close eye on matters of law and order in his capacity as a Parish Constable. "Only this afternoon I was called into action."

It required something of a leap of the imagination to envisage just what heavy crime-fighting action Derek could have participated in at his rather venerable age. As it turned out, what he had classed as falling within his field of operation on this day was not exactly the sort of action that was likely to be guessed correctly within the first few hours. Appositely, it took what seemed like an interminable length of time for Derek to relate just how he had come to the rescue of a bus driver who discovered that he had left the window of his cab open too wide in the windy conditions of this afternoon once his route card had been picked up by a through draught as the vehicle was stationary and he was concentrating on taking a couple of fares. The action of the driver leaping around on all sides of the road, verges and pavement like he had hot coals in his shoes took place some hundred yards behind the bus stop from where it had been lifted by the wind.

Ever the master of making newcomers feel at home and at their ease, Derek decided to take Dominic under his wing with a few choice words as to what to expect in the wide world of ringing. "You'll find this ringing lark is all go, one is constantly up and down like a lavatory seat. What do you think of our church, be it ever so humble?"

Dominic managed to mumble a complimentary remark of a monosyllabic nature, which he hoped would be sufficient to satisfy Derek, but obviously he really didn't know the fine-spun nature of the man who known by some as being "Mr.Middlemyte". "This is one of the best kept towers you know." Derek thought worth passing on to Dominic, who in turn rather ungraciously suggested that the ringing-room might well benefit from a touch of feng shui. "I don't really know much about it." Derek admitted. "Although my wife says feng shui was invented to cater for those with more disposable income than they know what to do with."

Dominic was determined not to allow Derek to have the definitive say on this issue, and felt confident in pointing out what he saw as the poor qualitative value of the adjacent table. On learning that it was a papier-mâché construction made him even more dismissive of it. "Are you sure that it's safe putting so many things on it?" "It's survived since 1890 so it's been quite reliable all things considered."

Dominic was not of a sagacious enough mould so as to be capable of sweeping this reversal under the carpet, but was saved somewhat by the late arrival of the other strong candidate for legate to posterity about Middlemyte, or at least in his own mind. The "Man of Wood" himself, Forrest Bore was not in the least bit embarrassed about introducing himself as the primary sponsor of much of the decor in the ringing room, which rather gave the game away as to the extent of wood within eye-shot. As becomes the British way, if there was a doubt as to what to make conversation about, then the weather would always suffice. "Blimey, it's suddenly got wet out there tonight!" Forrest boomed at the first person he encountered on the gallery, which happened to be Dominic, who took the brunt as Forrest carelessly shook the water from his overcoat in random directions. "Saturated!" Dominic inadvertently agreed. "Ah, you're that prospective politician I've been hearing about." The woodsman surmised. "How do you know that?" An unnerved Dominic wanted resolved. "You're already using words that don't make sense to the man in the street, saying that it's saturated gets people imagining that it's raining cholesterol or chucking down beef dripping." "I take it that you haven't got a lot of time for politics." "Now that's where you'd be wrong, I like my politics now and then; they're nearly all a bunch of crooks, but all the more reason to keep your eye on them. Which lot are you with then, the Tories?"

Dominic managed to remain outwardly composed despite beginning to seethe inside. "No, I'm with the present incumbents." "Well, give your lot their due; I got my first leg up in business during dear old Harold Wilson's time or darling Harold as Alf Garnett used to call him. You wouldn't be old enough to remember Dutch elm disease and Till Death Us Do Part, but that was bloody good business for us, so I've got a soft spot for Labour." "You obviously aren't very well briefed on politics, as that shambles of a party was a totally different animal." Dominic insisted. "You're telling me, they might have been a bunch of donkeys, but it's this lot now that are taking us for a ride." Forrest was quick to notice Naomi's beckoning in their general direction. "Ay aye, it looks like it might be your turn on the oche again."

Dominic felt it a great relief to take hold of a rope, even though this was no more than a convenient pretext now than it had been earlier in the week, but at least he was spared time in the verbal company of what he considered a collection of the most boorish bunch of rusticated village idiots that could still exist in the country today.

Naomi might as well have been talking in some foreign language when she called the bells round into jacks, jokers, see-saw and tittums. "What the hell does all this jargon mean?" Dominic questioned in a tone approaching that of a whine. "Tittum tittum tittum. Can you not hear it? Derek Pannier chipped in much to the disconcertion of an already baffled Dominic.

After being assailed by all and sundry in the down-time between rings the last time, Dominic made a spurious excuse about exploring the finer architectural details of the church's interior, something he imagined to guarantee a break from having to endure unwanted subjects of discourse. Peace was short lived with the arrival of the self-styled Mrs.Balloon, which was almost certainly not her real name, who came staggering into the church with a couple of kit-bags full of paraphernalia pertaining to the temporary embellishment of the relevant aisles in preparation for a wedding the next day. Dominic hardly felt inclined to lend a hand as she struggled with having overloaded herself; instead he tried to ignore her presence by staring intently at some fine chancel work. Her green apparel rather announced Mrs.Balloon and her general brief, although she clearly had expertise with floral decorations as well as inflatable material from her current trappings. "Mrs.Balloon & Your Wedding - A Marriage Made in Heaven" announced the slogan in bulbous lettering across her chest.

Mrs.B swiftly set about titivating the hotspots with a myriad array of flowers, bows, ribbon, et al, thus bringing her within range of Dominic, who had left himself with little or no room to edge away further without having to make some verbal acknowledgement. She let out an obvious affectation of oral frustration at having been let down by her supposed help that had not shown up for this important job. "Biggest job of the week, and I get let down by my help again." She lamented to Dominic.

Dominic was not keen to incite a conversation, but thought he had better make some obvious comment that would be merely sufficient to help him get back past her and away to safety. "Wedding?" "Absolutely, but you wouldn't think it was anything of importance if you were to go by my supposed help, I tell you, the only contribution she seems to make is coming up with our logos, like this." She pointed to her present apparel. "We don't blow things out of proportion and catchy things like that."

Mrs.Balloon handed Dominic one of her business cards despite his mild protestations that he was not in imminent danger of availing himself of her services. "I can't think of any circumstance offhand that might require me to call in a professional inflator." "You never know when such a day might come, we cater for most inflatable work, and it's a much wider brief than many people are aware of it being."

Dominic was not inclined to delve any further into the variety of inflatable products that Mrs.B may stock as politicians and items of that nature had not been happily matched down the years. "Have I seen you on the television?" She enquired having caught a longer glimpse of his face. Dominic had indeed made a couple of fleeting politically based appearances at off-peak hours which the egotist in him couldn't deny. "Would I have heard of you?"

Dominic thought it highly unlikely that she would have heard of him, but after she started to trill that she was becoming convinced that he was a weatherman, against his better nature he decided to divulge his name to her in order to shut her up. His surname of Bowskill gave her new ideas as to where she might have seen him. "Are you from a family of archers?"

Dominic finally snapped. "Yes, I'm one of the Archers, and I come from Ambrose, and I have to put ooh-ah into all my sentences, satisfied?" "Charming, and it's Ambridge, not Ambrose." "Do I look as if I really care?" "No, you don't care, we can all see that." Mrs.B was getting as aerated as one of her balloons.

By the time that nine o'clock had crept up on proceedings it had become obvious to Dominic that this was surely not the way to go about getting close to Naomi, and with the guarantee of sharing a table with her for Sunday lunch then having to endure all these assorted yokels had served what purpose it ever could. Such a diversion in the pleasant surrounds of the conservatory at Dennis and Shirley's house should have made for a sure-fire change of scene, atmosphere and peripheral company. The only drawback was that Dominic considered that his uncle had the capability to portray the hideous traits of the crowd he had suffered with on the Friday evening all rolled into one.

Shirley felt as if she had warned Dennis nearer one hundred times than ten times to avoided bringing politics into the conversation over lunch for fear of making a ghastly spectacle in front of their guest. She may only have witnessed a couple out of several dozen serious verbal sparring bouts between uncle and nephew, but that was plenty to convince her that this was neither the time nor the place for such mud-slinging. Unfortunately, having a wannabe Prime Minister for a nephew meant that temptation was all too great for either protagonist. Virtually any subject though was readily convertible into the metaphorical political football to be kicked around, and once Dennis started comparing Dominic to one of George Galloway's lickspittles, and Dominic compared his uncle to the little Bohemian corporal. To make matters worse, uncle and nephew both had it imprinted in their minds as to Naomi's underlying political leaning to the left and the right, thus they were susceptible to random canvassing of her opinion, with Dennis winning the battle for the loudest display of throwing weight around verbally. "This government runs the country like it's in opposition, flagging up initiatives that never get initiated, all there is shameless window-dressing." "People like you don't appreciate the years of plush living you've enjoyed on the back of the labours of Tony and Gordon." Dominic evangelised. "Some people might think it's all very highbrow to be discussing politics around the dinner-table, but I think most people are of the opinion that it is barely above the level of some bacchanalian orgy for bad manners when you have guests." Shirley snapped. Dennis knew that tone of voice required an immediate cessation of the emetic and the requisite dose of something emollient, like praising the lunch that was primarily down to his wife. "As the saying goes, a good meal doesn't repeat itself." "I think we've got three different greens here, we've got one Bethnal Green, one village green and one College Green." Dominic sneered, embarrassed as he was by what he saw as a very crude use of the language to praise a meal.

This comment actually elicited a perceptible giggle from Naomi, much to Dominic's surprise, although it flew straight over the head of Dennis as the College Green reference didn't mean anything to him on first hearing, although it did briefly start him off on reminiscing about the days of making do with meals derived from a tu'penny ha'penny hambone back in his youth in Hackney, as he so eloquently put it. The fact that Naomi voiced her opinion on the three greens illuminated Dennis enough to embolden him to have his say on what he thought of the ruling elite by the Thames. "Bloody metropolitan chattering classes crap is all you find on the grass at Westminster." Dennis blazed. "There croaks the last gasp of the working class one-track mind Tory." Dominic countered. "I'm so sorry about this." Shirley apologised profusely to Naomi, who in turn insisted that she was not perturbed by the bickering as she had been getting paid to listen to a series of rants on stage with the Scottish comedian as she called him as if he was as accursed as the Scottish play. "It's to be expected with the frustrations of politics, as if you happen to be a back-bencher in the House of Commons you only get a maximum seven minutes to have your say in front of one man and a dog, not necessarily David Blunkett, that was metaphorically speaking, whereas you can embark on a lecture tour and reach tens of thousands of people."

As the weather discernibly perked up, it was suggested by Shirley that they all decamp to the garden by way of unwinding from a variegated lunch. This slight change in perspective engendered a change in the subject matter for conversation. Given the level of intensive gardening that appeared to take place in Naomi's garden then Dennis could well understand how her back-garden came to be a squabbling battleground for several prospective pairs of robins who regularly spied loads of potential nourishment amidst the oft disturbed soil, but given that her plot was like a pocket-handkerchief in size compared to his acreage he would have expected things to at least even themselves out. "We seem to have the singular most boring collection of birds going around here." "Come on Dennis, it's not that bad, we see the occasional tit." Shirley chipped in. "Yes, but that's only because we've got me nuts out there... I mean nut-feeders, hanging up all over the garden. The odd tit here and there hardly makes for a summer. We don't get visited by any goldfinches or goldencrests, or whatever they are? There's lots of those tiddly greyish brown birds, what you call 'em, dunnies?" "Dunnocks." Naomi helpfully corrected him. "I think dunnies might be an Australasian relative." She added thoughtfully. "I'm damned sure they must be brown if they do exist." Dennis concluded, having been visited by a brainwave as to the ignorance he had displayed. "You're always in with a chance of seeing an odd number of them because I seem to recall that both sexes often have more than one partner so it doesn't really need any extra information." Naomi so impressed them with her snippet of trivia concerning the sexual proclivities of the dunnock that she was entreated to divulge more secrets of our feathered friends.

By the end of the afternoon Dennis and Dominic were still consumed by their battle to win the vote from this single person constituency that was Naomi and both clung to the belief that they were victorious and that the other was merely clutching at straws. Rather like an underground fire, pockets of flaming argument kept flaring up time and again no matter how hard Shirley tried to damp down them down. The battleground had moved on to modern art when Naomi finally broke cover as to where she really stood on an issue, rather than sticking to keeping both sides happy for the sake of expedience. Naomi's take on what constituted a good painting was based upon whether she felt capable of ever emulating it. Dominic was shocked, as he really thought that she would be far more open-minded. Naomi was surprised herself as she was under the impression that he had been to at least one of her arts-venue performances alongside Jamie Stuce where she fought the same verbal battle with him. "Obviously you overestimate my talents to think that I can do acting of different characters with a host of peccadilloes and accents from all around the world, I would have thought you would have noticed something as transparent as that. So with that in mind, would I be right in assuming that I was classed as the village green earlier on?" Naomi asked pointedly of Dominic. "Well, yes." He somewhat burbled in reply "From what I hear you perceive rural types to be made up of in-breeders who spend most weekends either cheese rolling down hillsides, shin-kicking or bog-snorkelling. Then you say that you like classical music; would Holst and Elgar count?" "Obviously." "Then how the hell do you think they got the inspiration for most of their music? And composers like Percy Grainger, Delius, they used to go out into the countryside and listen to the locals and yokels singing and the prevailing dialects."

So that effectively was the end of that as far as Dominic and Naomi were concerned, not that there was ever much of a that as far as she had been concerned, not that Dennis was at all upset about this situation, for several reasons. As it was she was due much more welcome male attention from several thousand miles away.

The first time someone complimented Naomi on being her mother's daughter she was unaware of the saying and took it in a totally literal sense as stating the obvious, and as something approaching sarcasm, but by the most recent instance she took it with the regard that it was meant; although it crossed her mind that it might be a more accurate description to compare her with her grandmother. This was never more applicable than now when news came through to Naomi that the adorable man who was primarily responsible for giving her the chance to escape from a lifetime of conventionality was heading back to the country for a brief working -holiday. If there was one thing that Naomi recalled of her grandmother it was the cheering up that she used to perform for this often sulky and heart-rendered child, and her regular quotations of Mr.Micawber, especially that something serendipitous would turn up. Little, if anything, could compete with the wondrous Mark Clancy.

Naomi wanted to get an early night if at all possible as she rightly anticipated that sleep would not be easily achieved amidst so much expectation of what was ahead and contemplation of what had been previously. She wasn't unduly worried about oversleeping, rather that she have a little time early after dawn for basking in that drowsy period just before rousing herself. Mornings such as this that dawned awash with a potent and tingling mixture capable of playing havoc with the stomach muscles were few and far between, but all things considered were well worth the risk.

The doorbell rang, and Naomi knew that it simply must be mark, but Ruthie suspected as much also, and she was equally infatuated by him if primarily for his star-making potential. Ruthie had still not grown out of being infatuated by dreams of stardom, fame and fortune. The sisters were roughly equidistant from the front door, if from differing areas of the house, but Naomi concluded that Ruthie must have slid down the banister to get to the door at the speed she did. Naomi had started for the door at something more than the normal pace initially, but on hearing that her sister had got there first, she slowed to almost a standstill, rocking back and forth as if dithering as to whether she could go through with this immensity.

Once Mark had got past the human equivalent of an over-excited puppy in the shape of Ruthie, it was Naomi's turn. Other than a slightly deeper tan, a change of clothing and subtle trimming of hairstyle, Mark looked exactly the same as when Naomi last saw him. Obviously there should be little reason to expect a great facial disparity within a year or so, but to Naomi it seemed of substantial interest. Tall, rangy and effortlessly Canadian, despite many years away from home for the most part, Mark had never been late were Naomi was concerned, or anything less than immaculate. "Hi, Charlie!" Came the salutation. Should anyone else greet her with such an unfeminine nickname then Naomi would have felt distinctly less than flattered, but Mark was totally absolved from any annoyance after likening her to Charlie Chaplin some years ago. There was no physical resemblance, but it had been the relentless thirst for self-improvement in the years directly after her official education had ended which had caught his eye as resembling the new word a day learning that Charlie Chaplin devoted himself to in order to compensate for the missed years in his education. Having gone slightly AWOL at a crucial stage of her schooldays, Naomi had been at an early stage in her quest to rectify mistakes that she had made with her education when their paths first crossed, thus the die was cast for this highly personalised nickname.

Though he had recently joined the thirty-something ranks, Mark retained all the expedition and sharp-suited vigour of ten years earlier, with the added bonus of exuding an air of knowing authority. There was plenty of scope for Naomi to admire his various physical assets as he was attired in something much more casual than what had been the norm in the past. Once again it soon became apparent that she was not going to be disappointed by Mark, who immediately made Naomi feel extraordinarily special that he could spend the last couple of years living in hotels in Las Vegas that took nearly half an hour to walk the length of that were furnished to the hilt, and awash with hot females, yet here he was readily eschewing all such temptations. The special bond that they had was so uncomplicated, something which suited them both. Other than being born and raised continents apart and living with an ocean and three-quarters of the breadth of the United States in-between they were incredibly compatible and comfortable in each other's company.

From the first moment of laying eyes on Mark once more a window conveniently appeared for time to fly out of as it became of little or no consequence, although it was of consequence to the taxi driver who had delivered Mark here, and still had his meter running in the expectation of picking up an extra passenger. The plan for the better part of the day was for Mark to take Naomi punting, and what time remained after that was open to a capricious wind. Having had so long to wait for this reuniting in the flesh, both Naomi and Mark were of the nature that allowed them to hold on a mere half an hour longer before throwing off the shackles of coyness, thus they contented themselves with mundane conversation in front of (well behind really) the taxi-driver. "So, is there anything in the provincial news that I might want to be brought up to speed on?"

Knowing of Mark's acute interest in sport, Naomi decided to start with a brief recap on what she considered the most salient news that may not have made any waves on the other side of the Atlantic. Snippets such as the Champions League, FA Cup, Premiership, transfers, and the new England football coach. Soccer not being a hot topic across the pond, very little of this news had filtered through to Mark. "Last I heard over Stateside you were getting that Brazilian guy from the Portuguese national team. They said he won the last World Cup, but the name's gone, all I can recall is the nickname, Deep Fill, or something like that."

Naomi corrected him that she thought he was actually known as "Big Phil" Scolari. This seemed to tally with what was lurking in the deeper recesses of his short-term memory. "I don't suppose you would have wanted an England coach named after a pizza anyway."

With news on the eastern side of the pond concluded, Mark filled Naomi in on some news from the rest of the world that he thought might not have made these shores, such as the inside gossip on Brad and Angelina's baby, Shiloh Nouvel, whose name sounded like toilet paper for a cowboy to Naomi, but in all honesty, the desire to discover just how much each other was prepared to uncover to read between the lines of by way of divulging all meaningful attachments was the greatest. Mark had rarely if ever been short of being brilliant at massaging Naomi's sensibilities, and he knew it to be safer talking about Naomi's interests, thus he was all ears to learn about the now woebegone Dominic, who even his uncle had rather disowned, as unaware as Naomi was about this not being a great hardship in the eyes of Dennis. There were plenty of things that Naomi could disparage about Dominic that she was thoroughly spoilt for choice. On learning Dominic's full name, Mark declared it to be immensely pompous from his point of view. "I stopped belittling other people's names since I was enlightened on the origins of my surname." Naomi admitted. "What's wrong with that? Timbrel is a fantastically aesthetic name... it's sort of a tambourine as I recall." "Yes, well, I used to think it was something to do with timber, but then I discovered that Timbrel is supposedly derived from a cart for transporting dung around in, so it ill behoves one as the saying goes." Even though, relatively speaking, Naomi was by far the more local of the two, Mark undoubtedly knew the twists and turns of the river around here far better than she did, having spent time on this stretch of water during his University days, thus she could relax in his sure-footedness or sure-puntedness if such a description existed. So it came as no surprise that he recalled a good short-term mooring place along the way. During this centric interlude, as they lay on the grass under the shelter of a tree, the world and its parochial contents could pass by them at a leisurely pace. With the mammalian and wildfowl wildlife drifting across the verdant backdrop Naomi was now in her element, and when someone like she voiced her observations on frogspawn, bumble bees and peacock butterflies, it was like a sexual aphrodisiac for the ears, but Mark was a million times more subtle than someone like Mark at responding, even though he hardly needed to be.

It may have been the isolated thistle that a languidly roaming arm of Mark's came into contact with that shunted the conversation toward the recent fruition of her Brighton re-teaming, by popular demand, with Jamie Stuce after the success of their previous run at theEdinburgh Festival. If most people striving to be in the public eye were desperate for the oxygen of publicity then Naomi could have easily beaten David Blaine for holding her breath for wanting recognition.

Mark had many influential people on side who considered him to be as much of a spotter of potential as he did himself, but he never claimed to know anything intrinsic about how comedy was put together. What he thought he did know was that Jamie Stuce had the sound of someone self-absorbed and lacking a generous spirit. To hear that Naomi generally agreed was pure music to Mark's ears as from what he'd gleaned about this so-called cult comedian was that he took pedantry to extremes. Mark had what he considered a proud history of making a point of avoiding dictation to Naomi as to what career moves he thought she should or shouldn't make, instead he merely passed on his own observations in the briefest terms, even though he had become noticeably more conservative in his outlook since he turned thirty. Off the top of her head the only thing she could of think of that Jamie and she agreed on was the inarguable fact that people were prepared to pay money to see them on stage, and that she did get paid satisfactorily. On everything else it was hardly surprising that the paying public were fully of the belief that anything explosive could happen, with Jamie often starting a ruckus with the audience, so much so that Naomi feared one day there might be a public order issue to be considered.

As tempting as it was to hark on about the demerits of someone such as Jamie who seemed to have no compunction in violently hating most all of society, Mark refrained from making any further comment on points of view that would only serve to cloud the important issue of how proud he was of Naomi and the way she conducted herself, especially if she possessed the forbearance to work with people who were so diametrically opposed to her in so many aspects. He liked to think that he knew enough about comedy to know that tension often worked as well as timing. There were no such worries with this coupling, no bitter discord over European amalgamation, surreal or structured art, legalisation of or education about narcotics and republican versus monarchical. As Naomi so eloquently put it: "I might be of the American Pie generation, but I prefer the old 1940's movie The Man Who Came to Dinner rather than The Man Who Came Over the Dinner."

The weather had done them proud, and consequently they could feel the warmth of their skin through such thin material, and this coupled with more than a hint of sexual longing increasing their body temperatures, enabled Mark to resume his fondling in the higher reaches, this time confident of not being faced with a rebuttal during the obligatory exploration of Naomi's upper body with his hands and mouth. The entwining continued with a comfortable intensity for several minutes, mixed with some excitable tugging of light clothing, as both succumbed to losing their usually reserved demeanours, leading to some hefty gasps for air from Naomi which betrayed her comparative lack of practice at this sort of thing. "Now, aren't you glad that we have the punt and not the pedalo?" Mark enquired, in light of the accessible leg and arm room that would not have been available had they chosen the latter option. As he teasingly ran his lips and tongue over the nape of Naomi's neck and breast-bone, Mark swiftly picked up on a moment of dubiety from her body, and broke off from his closest attention. "Are you worried about the spontaneity of it all?"

Naomi lifted herself up slightly from her prone position and for someone feeling generally so warm and content she was becoming wet enough for Mark to palpably notice. "I can hardly lie to you?" "I would hope not."

Naomi remembered her grandmother telling her of the profusion of hay lofts around here that her rather scandalous sister used to make best advantage of with Italian POW farm labourers back in the 1940's, but she considered herself more of a soft lights and cosily furnished bedroom type. No further words were needed to state that the day was long and ripe for its acme later.

Naomi was nervous about taking Mark back home to see out the remainder of his time in town, despite all the positives of his previous visits, her parents liking him and his being something of a catch of catches for those in her coterie for whom such details mattered significantly. Naomi's mother had never forgotten how she was initially taken by the way Mark would drape his jacket over one or other shoulder, to be sure, it was nothing new, but he seemed to exactly complement that style, and it must have run in the family to find that so immensely sexy. It was all very formal that first time around, a time that seemed something like twice as long ago as it actually was, but now she was no longer a teenager, and felt terribly awkward about the possible view of her as being a home-bird. In normal times she wouldn't display any flinching about still living within the only family unit she had ever known, especially as she had a major influence on the character and direction of the home and unit, but having someone special like Mark seeing her still in this domain made her uneasy as to what impression he might well form.

Even her diligently compiled collection of wines from most continents which resided in a rack in the kitchen suddenly seemed parsimonious when compared to the extensive choice which Mark almost certainly had access to as the norm. What she normally considered as a rather exclusive collection became merely modest at best right this minute. The exclusivity was more based on the unheralded locations from which the wines came rather than the price tag, and as such their primary role was for show. Naomi was mightily relieved once Mark, who was much more the connoisseur than she, started perusing the bottles and commenting favourably, especially as he had still to reach the Canadian white that was naturally the star of the show. "I would say that you're scoring highly on the discerning scale here, Australia and New Zealand of course, ooh, Argentina and Portugal, that's very forward thinking of you. Hey, you have sniffed out some excellent white wines here, even a decent Brazilian... ah, I'm not surprised about this, and I remember you liking the Alsace wines... and a couple of pleasant English numbers, sensible as it's roughly the same grape."

Naomi immediately knew when his vision had alighted on the Canadian bottle amidst her personal stock. "Would that one be appropriate?" She asked with the accent on innocence.

Whichever comparison one cared to go after a frantic eleventh hour purging of anything not considered up to specification to pass the Mark test, Naomi's bedroom still didn't fill her with much above the level of dread. As Naomi scrabbled around to find something meaningful to put into the CD player and play at a sensually low volume, Mark wandered over to the other window and enquired as to whether she wanted those curtains drawn as well, thus he gained a prime view of the back garden, dominated as it was by her vegetable plot. "Are all those rows of potatoes your handiwork?"

She was very matter of fact about her confirmation of her current crop of potatoes, spring onions and runner beans, although she actually felt flattered in the extreme that Mark seemed genuinely impressed by so mundane a part of her life as potatoes. This helped Naomi overcome her inhibitions as to letting him perceive her regular lifestyle, and virtually all that her life and possessions boiled down to when all was considered. If her potatoes and onions hadn't scared him off, then little else in her back catalogue was likely to deter him. "If only you could get the height of your bed lifted, then you and a friend of your choosing could lay on it and be able to look out on your crop." Mark envisioned. "I might be a bit straight-laced by today's standards, but I do know how a bed and a friend of my choosing are most harmoniously utilised." Naomi let it be known in a soft sibilant tone as if slightly embarrassed about being overheard by anyone else in the house.

Before they'd climbed the stairs, even reached the house, they both knew it was pretty much inevitable that there would be a denouement to all this. Whilst they lay there side by side, momentarily contemplating harvest time for the vegetables, making such a conscious decision did not readily come to their minds. They didn't even need to be transfixed by gazing at one another, as eye contact only needed to be minuscule to allow their mutual feelings to filter into a whole. Mark kissed Naomi's left ear lobe, moved down to her throat, and as he leant further over to sensuously caress her right shoulder she responded positively in kind. A reddish evening sunlight streamed into half the room and hit the back of the guitar-shaped clock that had been purposely turned to face the wall so as there could be no chance of them catching a glimpse of the time out of the corner of an eye. Their watches, which they had only recently put back on, found themselves deposited in the handiest receptacle, which happened to be amidst the bananas and nectarines in a modestly sized fruit bowl.

The assuaging music emanating from the CD had for some time been all rather superfluous as low level background music, but as dusk became apparent the passion soon became markedly more intense than earlier in the day, and if Naomi normally felt as if she was expected to act in character, well she had no such qualms this evening. At this languorous moment of satisfaction the lyrics of the Abba song quietly issuing from the CD player suddenly reached Naomi's hearing with crystal clarity, and they seemed so deliciously apposite. "Don't go sharing your emotions... don't go wasting your devotions... lay all your love on me." "We've killed off one of the precious few jokes I've ever managed to think of on my own."

On this rarest of occasions Mark was obviously perplexed. "In what way... I mean, how?" "I don't know if you're a great reader of surveys."

Mark willingly confessed that it had been known of him over the years for varying reasons. "We all have to spend some time in the dentist's waiting room." "Then you'll know that there's always these surveys about us spending so many years of our lives stuck in traffic jams, and so many weeks waiting for the gasman to turn up to read the meter." "Yes." "Well there was the study that implied we spend an average of eleven months of our lives making love, I never imagined that anyone wanting to take that much time off work to see if they could fit most of it in all at once, but I can see the temptation now."

It was a fittingly beautiful sky that evening as the taxi engine ticked over, whilst Naomi and Mark said their farewells in an understated way, with just a big hug and a fairly brief, yet to them, lingering kiss. There was no doubt in her mind that he would be back, and it would be a much shorter gap this time, thus she felt quietly assured that there was no need to treat this as a goodbye when it was so obviously no more than a classic au revoir. There was one more thing to be done before this day ended for Naomi, and that was to take the risk of turning on the radio to see what pot luck would serve up as "their song" for this day. Fate was smiling down upon her once again as she received something perfect for the occasion in - Keep This Fire Burning by Beverley Knight.

Episode Six
Published 3rd December 2006
I Hear What You Say, But... The Girls and Boys of Summer
It had been a busy summer for the various Middlemyte ringers, buoyed as they were by a renewed sense of optimism that things were generally on the up. Nearly everyone had made a success of something, whether ringing related or not. Naomi had discovered for herself that the contention of there being no such thing as bad publicity even worked for her, which in actuality didn't please her greatly, given that she generally despised what she considered to be something approaching moral bankruptcy. That the initial censure came about from her conducting the sort of interviews that she enjoyed most was galling to say the least. Naomi had been conducting a series of interviews with people whose employment was primarily governed by the presence of holidaymakers on and around the coastal areas when she unusually was caught off her guard.

Reacquainting herself with the Pumpkin man of Weston super Mare was one thing as things had moved on in the pumpkin world with the navigable pumpkins and their outboard motors a new aspect. The Pumpkin man of W-S-M was conversant of all things in this field, but his large frame made it too much of a squash for him to fit into even the largest squash as he so eloquently put it. People like Pumpkin-Man and Cat-Man were always reliable for surreal but relatively safe conversation, and Naomi was ever keen to be lucid and improvisational without the need for Chris as her safety-net. Finding folk who were more than at ease with discussing having a tyrannosaurus rex as a pet and the size of pooper scooper needed when talking them for a walk was not an easy assignment.

Back inland, Thrubwell Nympnet was a village probably only noted to those without as being a place often misnamed by those worse for drink as Throbwell Nymphet, so perhaps it was kismet that Naomi should become vulnerable to a couple of double entendres that she missed. It had all been going so well that day on the Devon and Dorset borders, with all the odd-bods and local-yokels coming up to scratch, but then came Debbie von Hovell and her fifteen minute aerobics for time-poor tourists. So long as Naomi was posing the questions it was all fine, if a little stilted, but then Ms.van Hovell decided that the best way to publicise her business was to ask the pertinent questions herself.

"What's the length of you passage?", Debbie enquired of Naomi in all sincerity. "I beg your pardon?" "Have you never measured your passage?" "Not knowingly... I take it that this is a service that you perform?" "That's what is in my job description. So, you wouldn't want to hazard a guess as to how long yours is? I'd have to say that you look as if you're one of those who've got your attributes in the right places to get a pleasant surprise from underestimating your passage. Just give me a ballpark figure, eight... ten... twelve?" "What's this, centimetres or inches?" "No, minutes, perhaps I should have said passage time, this is a problem I have, and there are several ways of articulating the passage arena." It was not Naomi's idea to follow that particular interview with the Fatboy Slim remix of Groove Armada's I See You Baby, complete with its unmistakable repetition of "I see you baby shaking that ass... shaking that ass... shaking that ass."

In such a situation it was hard for someone even with the phlegmatic capabilities of Naomi to not feel aggrieved that certain other presenters had escaped unscathed after far worse stupefaction, especially as being a more than capable ringer she was used to long lengths being part of the terminology. She herself remembered playing one of her favourite singles - Wishing (I Had a Photograph of You) by A Flock of Seagulls and they being one of her personal retro predilections she had inadvertently referred to them with the utmost familiarly as the Great Flockers, and that had passed by with barely a flicker. Even airing a discussion on a prurient younger listener's misconception as to the exact location of the button in the Sugababes "Push the Button", and his consequent soreness, had slipped through the censorious net previously. This despite it having led to comparisons with past undesirable incidents in public accruing from previous chart smashes such as Booty Call, Hang the DJ, There Ain't Nothing Like Shaggin' and Show Your Hot Stuff in Front of a Traffic Warden, all of which had caused outbreaks of public indecency in various parts of the country. Then of course there was the story she'd related on air of the somewhat illiterate and intoxicated tattooist who had a customer come back to complain he'd miss-spelt the name of a tattoo displaying the name of rapper 50 Cent. The spelling was humiliating enough without being increased to the number fifty. On being informed by the tattooist that this was the second time he had made this spelling error, the customer was expecting substantial recompense, but as there was now two of them with the same tattoo the tattooist thought the customer should be grateful as he was now In Da Club.

By way of contrast, Forrest Bore's summer had been fairly uneventful by his standards, but having been put in charge of doing a bit of house clearance he decided to offload the residue at his first car boot sale appearance for ages, the wake of this inadvertently improved Naomi's mood when he came to recount his nightmarish morning in the midst of a car-laden field to her on practice night. Not that Naomi was going to tell him, but Forrest's misfortune made for good potential stand-up material that she had learnt was best to hoard for herself for future reference. The only problem with purloining anything spoken by Forrest Bore was that he was exactly the sort who would actively come looking for an exorbitant percentage from any subsequent public broadcast, and it was very difficult to go off at much of a tangent as it would often arrive in pretty near final draft quality.

"Have you ever done car-booting my duck?" Forrest enquired of Naomi in a manner of rural familiarity approaching that of his father. "I thought you knew that I've done most things once. That is to say I can hardly have done most things in the world, but done most of the things that I've done I've only done once." "I used to do them regular once, but by the second half of the morning there's usually a more dogs there than people, so that was it, I wasn't going to drive miles out my way to have hundreds of buggers staring at me like I'd got the plague because I'd got half my furniture coated in dog piss. I knew it was asking for trouble taking that good ice bucket to sell." "Oh dear, I've noticed that those extendable leads aren't really appropriate for such busy events." "No, it wasn't a dog this time, it was a kid using it as a potty, and you get no apology from the parents of course, of course it's my fault for having it displayed so low according to them, bloody hell I was only just setting up. Don't get me wrong, I've got many a bargain first up or last in myself over the years, but I've never let my brood go dumping on the items and then excuse it all because I spent twenty pence on a tatty old toolbox. It's coming to something when you have to bring a pooper scooper and disinfectant to cater for dogs, kids and pigeons who can't hold themselves in check downstairs. As my dad used to say, you shouldn't have to march to the front and trust your luck when you're only out to make an honest bob."

As surprised as she was at Forrest's literary recall, Naomi decided to think the best of him and his knowledge of Rudyard Kipling. "He was a reader of Kipling then." "What? Our mum used to make the cakes in our house; we didn't have any of that shop-bought stuff." "I meant he lifted it." "Hey, he may have been a bit rough round the edges, so I hope you're not casting aspersions that he was a tea-leaf?" Naomi assured him that she wasn't. "All this mixing with the movers and shakers has made you all very erudite; too clever for the likes of us." "I can't comprehend why people seem to get the impression that I'm some sort of illuminati considering that the most memorable moment of my schooldays was being being given a homework paper - Einstein admitted that he would rather have been a clockmaker than a nuclear physicist... Discuss what he meant. - And I put down that it was probably because he had trouble keeping track of time and it might have saved him from getting so many parking fines."

Never one to be outdone, Forrest gave it his best shot in trying to let it be known that he was better at being unintellectual than Naomi by relating that he mistook a Jam Night at the pub for an ideal opportunity to recover some ground with his better half, having once again let a wedding anniversary creep up on him without due care and attention. "Knowing that my lass is partial to her mango chutney I thought it was worth a punt to have a look in at the Jam Night." "Mango chutney isn't exactly jam." "Well no, but it's the sort of thing you often get on the same stall as not everybody wants jam. I thought it was a bit odd with all the electrical equipment they were taking in; as you know it's not a big pub, I wondered even then how they were going to have room for any trestle-tables for the marmalade and preserves. By the time I got home I was even deeper in the mire."

Just as Naomi had had her mind taken off the less successful moments of the summer she fell foul of Forrest Bore's proclivity for changing the subject of conversation at an unexpected whim. With no word of warning he decided to go beyond merely asking about her summer travails and make voluble and pointed mention of her on-air indiscretion over the dimensions of her aerobic passage in front of those assembled this particular evening. As far as Naomi was concerned she was only in the mood to cast her mind back to her most recent assignment, which had seen her return to Sussex by way of getting paid for what she enjoyed most, namely travelling around chatting to people who actually interested her. That Naomi had been knocked off her usual equilibrium by her passage faux pas was all too evident in her completely overlooking the bald significant fact that her most recent radio work had been to cover a ladies stool-ball tournament.

Derek Pannier remembered playing the game himself some many years ago when his parents regularly transported the entire family to Bexhill on Sea for the works' holiday. He was hardly in the best of moods either as the grey-power citizen's policing group, and thus his position, had been rather usurped and possibly superseded for the present by the local authorities trialling stilt-walkers for their height advantage at spotting criminal activity amongst larger gatherings. As far as Derek was concerned this was the thin end of the wedge, or at least the tall end of the pole as far as it impinged on his role in the community. He was quick to tell everyone assembled that even a geriatric such as he would only have to kick one stilt away for the fittest patrolman to be struggling to keep pace with him. This new initiative had quickly wiped away the pleasant memories Derek had brought back with him from the most ambitious and far-flung summer holiday he and his wife had ever experienced. Travelling anywhere further west than Torquay was something normally considered as being on the extravagant side, so spending a fortnight with their daughter and son-in-law out in America was a huge leap. Derek couldn't for the life of him comprehend why it elicited such a welter of sniggering amongst his fellow ringers when he merely made mention of the pure fact that he and his wife had been residing in the exotically named town of French Lick, Indiana. "I was expecting it to be like a French quarter of New Orleans or wherever, so first evening there Eunice and I made a point of trying out a French restaurant so we could have a stab at ordering escargot."

Not surprisingly several of the ringers, especially Naomi as it took the unwanted attention away from her, wanted to know if he and his good lady wife had actually taken the plunge and savoured a snail. "What did they taste like?" "I only had one, and there wasn't that much taste, so I put some salt on them and then they promptly disappeared, so I've only got the one mouthful to go on by way of memory. As it happens I've got a choice selection from my photographic record of French Lick's beauty spots in my wallet."

In order to find his wallet Derek proceeded to frisk his jacket so furiously that all the other coats or apparel hung up on the same rail were either disrupted or dislodged unceremoniously. He was well into the process of releasing his photographs from their pouch when he dropped the wallet as if it had transmogrified itself into a hot coal. If this wasn't distracting enough, the wallet took it upon itself to then begin emanating an erratic whistling sound.

"I forgot about that, I must have left the alarm on by accident. This is another little thing that happened to come back with me from America. Here, have a feel!" Derek implored of all and sundry. "I didn't buy it obviously, a present from my son in law, vibrating wallets and purses are all the rage over there apparently. They're going to be the big thing this Christmas so I'm told."

Naomi was by now well practiced in discerning how best to humour Derek. "Come on, this is a once in a lifetime chance for a long lingering feel of Mr.Pannier's vibrating wallet!"

As for Gemma, the summer months had seen her keep a very low profile from the other ringers, with a surplus of bubble-wrap in the house using up the vacant hours as a replacement for Naomi. There was still intermittent contact with Ruthie, but it was all a bit haphazard compared to before, especially after she took umbrage in the wake of announcing that she had sponsored an Adelie penguin at the zoo, only for Ruthie to suggest that it might have been cheaper to sponsor a monthly penguin instead. During those languorous and exanimated summer months even Ruthie had begun to harbour serious doubts about what she had long seen as prima facie that a career in the celebrity spotlight would seamlessly follow from merely being Naomi's sister. If Naomi continued to be so stubborn in maintaining her selectivity as to what avenues she explored by way of making a living then the big breakthrough was less likely to present itself to her younger sister. With Naomi so wholeheartedly buying into the dictum that working in radio naturally kept one grounded as opposed to the enticement towards swollen-headedness accruing from almost any television exposure, then it was hardly good news for the relentlessly ambitious and piggy-backing Ruthie. As concocting a show-reel was all the rage if one seriously intended to embark down the televisual route these days it would have been exceptionally difficult for Naomi to compile a video CV without her sister either muscling in on the act or more likely being frustrated at not being featured, and no matter what Ruthie would allow herself to partake in it didn't mean that Naomi was prepared to distribute herself as sexy wallpaper on a million desk-tops across the entire globe.

It was fortunate for Ruthie that she had garnered herself a new best friend ringer in Chelsey Tractor, whose real surname was Trantor but very few people either believed or wanted to believe so as Tractor was so much more interesting. Whatever the truth it was hardly the most bodacious move in naming her Chelsey. They shared something of an addiction to checking out most every new music bulletin on My Space and ringing very much played second fiddle if there was an Underage Club gig and its countless Avril Lavigne look-alikes within their compass. Between the girls there was little by way of integral up to the minute celebrity information that got by their combined radar. If you wanted to know the latest Brad Pitt / Angelina Jolie news or Ashton Kucher / Demi Moore briefings or Jude Law and any woman he could get his hands on situation then they were constantly on hand to illuminate those around them. As much as they would have preferred to be out at a Scissor Sisters concert rather than ringing this evening, then they wouldn't have been given this excellent opportunity to field questions about who exactly was gigging where this very night.

"Pink is playing Newcastle, McFly are playing Birmingham..." "Girls Aloud are playing Manchester." Chelsey interjected. "Lemar's playing Leeds." Ruthie insisted on staying ahead on points. "The Sugababes are playing Liverpool and The Killers are playing Cardiff."

This neoteric knowledge may have impressed the younger ringers, but Derek and Forrest only recognised the venues and got the idea that the girls were talking about the Premiership or the Carling Cup. "Who are Chelsea and Arsenal playing then?" A thoroughly muddled Derek enquired. "What are you talking about?" Ruthie snapped at him. "The White Stripes are playing Alexandra Palace." Chelsey decided to forge further ahead of Ruthie for knowledge of gigs, although Ruthie was clearly more exercised by Derek constantly listening in on matters that she wanted people to hear, but which were of least interest to him of all those here assembled. "Honestly, you're the only one who listens to what we're talking about half the time, and you're the only one who doesn't have a clue what we're talking about." Ruthie bemoaned. "You're one of the people who talks loud enough around here, even I can't help but overhear you. It's time you put that cadence to good use in doing some conducting."

The threat of conducting was usually enough to make Ruthie scuttle off from an argument as she was more than happy to leave that to her sister. Instead she discussing induction of Prince into the U.K. Hall of Fame, show off knowledge full name Prince Nelson, clearly listening in as warned her that not old enough to be drinking in the pub and corrected her that it was actually the Lord Nelson.

During those dilatory months the fifty percent of sound advice that Chris had taken on board concerning the amount of ringing that he should undertake took a noticeably steep downturn. With everyone else flitting to and fro during the late summer he simply couldn't resist temporarily taking on the mantle of responsibility with the ringing and so the relatively steady graph of working his way back to competency rapidly shot off the scale. That he was edging back toward his old self was clear when he heard about the feasibility of arranging for a Red Arrows flypast as a sure-fire fund-raiser for the church repair fund. Such a high-profile and momentous event had always seemed something merely for the realms of fantasy, but he discovered that if a charity event happened to be taking place on a route they were using to reach their primary destination then one could enter into a yearly ballot to be chosen from. The Middlemyte Parish Fete and Restoration Fund could benefit from thirty seconds of formation flypast, and it could hardly fail to elicit a degree of curiosity from the good burghers of the parish who were notorious for what it took to rouse them. With a bit of diligent research Chris had gleaned that Middlemyte had the good fortune to lie on an oft used route.

As much as Chris was ever keen to do whatever he could to put the church and Middlemyte ringers into the limelight he was still more driven by the irresistible coveting for Naomi, and such coups could only show him in a positive light to her. Every practice night with her in attendance was a golden opportunity to impress even though it was a delicate balancing act. Supplying Naomi with new dialogue material was not the difficulty, but given that she was ever more insistent upon standing on her own two feet it had become much more of a balancing act to avoid being labelled as patronising. This being the case he was forced into running some of his prospective lines by others, and as Forrest Bore was rather a burly bloke it generally left Derek Pannier as the unwitting stooge. He only had to purposely let it slip that he and Naomi were thinking of going for a gambol in Middlemyte Copse to have Derek concerned about their having a betting addiction that could be in need of some therapy group to cure.

"Of course there's internet connection in all sorts of places these days." Chris further took him down the wrong road. "Oh no, not that online betting I'm always hearing about? You don't want to be getting into bad company, all that dog racing and hare coursing and stuff." "We were actually talking of gambolling as in spring lambs, cheep, that sort of thing." "Oh yes, I've seen that Sheep Grand National they do down in Devon, they have little knitted jockeys attached on their backs."

Naomi had barely turned her self-maligned mobile phone back on before it summoned her with it ring-tone that elicited an ambiguous countenance on receiving the breaking news. "Good news?" Derek speered. "I've got an invite to the Undercover Policeman's Private Parts."

From Naomi's unchanged demeanour Derek was none the wiser, although Ruthie suddenly came over all of a distinct fervour. "So, is that good or bad news?" "You're right out the system!" Ruthie noisily disparaged his lack of up to date knowledge. "Haven't you even heard of the Secret Policeman's Ball?" "I've heard a policeman's lot is not a happy one." Derek conceded meekly. "It is to perform, not just in the audience?" Ruthie entreated of her sister, having been suddenly shot through with doubts that this was all too good to be true. "Yes, I missed which one of the West End theatres." Naomi confirmed as if it was of no more importance than a booking to interview a clutch of the driest talking civil servants. "Chances?" Ruthie was desperate to find an answer for from her sister. "How many people I can get VIP passes for is not the first, second or third question one is expected to ask when it's for charity?" "I still don't know what we're talking about?" Derek griped. "We're talking; you're out of the picture!" Ruthie asserted so rudely that Naomi felt obliged to outline to Derek just what she was engaged to do by way of apologising for her sister. "Do you watch Deal or No Deal?" Naomi enquired. "Occasionally, but it overlaps with Ready Steady Cook so it depends on whether the ingredients they're using catch the interest of my wife, and I like the quickie bag if its a sweet as I've got to admit that I'm partial to a pudding." "Well, we're supposed to be doing a Victorian skit called Meal or No Meal where you can win up to 250 loaves of bread or as little as one bowl of gruel from the 22 sealed food parcels." "And are you going to have to dress up as a red tomato or a green pepper?"

Naomi then had to explain to him that it was Deal or No Deal that they were spoofing not Ready, Steady, Cook. "It's a Victorian pastiche." "You'd better hope that there's nobody from Cornwall in the audience then, because I know from personal experience that they don't like outsiders taking the Mickey out of their food." Derek warned.

Naomi had quite frankly given up on noticeably or notably illuminating Derek, but Ruthie took this as her cue to pipe up again with information so spurious that it would wrong-foot almost anyone. "No, my sister's with that Scottish stand-up comedian that she can't stand and he's pretending to be Noel Edmonds and she's going to be Ainsley Harriott." "It has to be for a charitable cause to make me suffer sharing any number of hours with someone so loathsome." "Oh, it's for charity, why didn't you say? It all makes sense now; it's the sort of off the wall thing that people do. My grandfather organised the largest snail marathon race ever seen in London back in Victorian times, and that was for charity. By the time they finished the money it raised, nine shillings three farthings didn't go far, and when my father went to pay it into the bank he'd forgotten the currency had been decimalised, and that they'd withdrawn the old white five pound notes the size of a napkin."

Of course Derek Pannier being the man he was could not let Naomi go home until she had succumbed to his implorations that she expound a preview snippet of what sort of act she would be performing. The night air was distinctly autumnal even in the church porch and everyone else but Derek had pressing things to do or so it seemed. Even Ruthie let him know that she was eager to get home to try out the chocolate fountain that she had come into possession of as a result of her birthday. With the popularity of cascading chocolate gadgets their mother had seized upon the opportunity to bring the family fondue set out of what had long seemed a terminal retirement, although Ruthie refused to see any similarity between the two appliances. Such opportunities to relive the guilty pleasures of her youth came along very seldom, with the popularity of the Mamma Mia musical being the last great excuse to go to town on shamelessly living out nostalgia, allowing Della the expedience to give herself an extreme Anni-frid hairstyle and semi-platform shoes that she hadn't gone public with for well over two decades. Being a brunette Della naturally moored her affinities to Frida even though her voluminous bottom had more in common with Agnetha at the time, but in those more naïve times it was her head that most boys were most likely to be properly acquainted with.

In an effort to sate the appetite of someone like Derek who could listen for extended periods of time, Naomi felt that she was left with no choice other than to give him an off-the-cuff stream of consciousness which would likely as not be an unexpurgated potted version that would disrupt his soft sensibilities.

"If it's one of these type of charity gigs then all you've got to do is to say [Expletive Deleted] at the right moments and it breaks down the barriers of resistance and the audience doesn't seem to care whether you're actually being funny." Naomi explained. "If all we're going to do is resort to the coarse language we have to suffer on the telly these days I think we'd better not keep your sister from her chocolate mountain."