The Lost Traveller by John Barber

If the car hadn’t broken down where it did he might never have stayed on. That was the trouble with classic cars; they had a habit of developing faults in parts of the countryside where there was no specialist for miles around to fix the problem.
The Lost Traveller
The Lost Traveller by John Barber
Fortunately he had come to a halt in the main road which ran through a village. The car had given up the ghost outside a pub and more importantly a hundred yards or less away from what looked like a garage. Hardly any people were out walking, no other cars passed him by. It seemed like the type of English village found on the cover of a jigsaw puzzle. The houses were all built from local stone and each one had a manicured front garden and window sills awash with tumbling flowers of every colour and kind. There were a few shops but it was not until he reached the end of the main road where more houses became detached from their neighbour that he saw any sign of life at all. There was a coffee shop, a guest house and a large shed that appeared to be a working garage but for the doors being resolutely shut and padlocked. There were a few cars with repairs in progress standing like predatory insects on raised hind legs of steel; and two recently repaired older models offered for sale but no price displayed. It did not look like the kind of place able to make a quick running repair to his prized car. He turned around and headed for the pub. It had a large paved front garden with wooden tables and scattered chairs and bright coloured unfurled umbrellas with brewery logos in the alternate panels of yellow and red. The Plough looked like his kind of pub. He walked into the large bar and was met by the staggered silence that always greets strangers in places where only locals seem to gather. Small groups of lunchtime regulars watched him for a moment then returned to their private conversations. The low murmur of collective interest slowly resumed its normal confusion. Then he set eyes on the barmaid for the first time and he knew he should have walked away. But he stayed. She looked back at him with those big brown eyes and long auburn hair pushed behind her ears and falling in curls around her shoulders. “I’ve broken down I’m afraid. I was looking for a garage but it seems to be closed. I suppose I could do with somewhere to stay and a drink.” The barmaid smiled and in a voice that was almost teasing him set out the menu. “The garage is closed for lunch; I don’t do bed and breakfast but can offer you a pint of best local beer.” “In which case a pint of your finest bitter.” He studied her as one who had never seen a woman pull a pint before. Her hair almost masked her face as she leaned over the pumps and served him a pint of clear best bitter with only the merest head of froth, the way he liked to see his beer presented. He took the pint and paid with a large note. He didn’t look down again at his beer until the barmaid had rung up the sale and let her hand hover over his just a moment too long to be more than just polite, before his change was gently poured into his palm. The reason for the dilatoriness in making the sale was that the barmaid was as interested in the customer as he was in her. He could have been in his mid thirties or even almost forty. He was well dressed with clothes that were tailored for him. His skin was lightly tanned from healthy weather rather than a sun bed. They looked at each other, both afraid to let the wrong word spoil the moment. “Well, that’s one request covered. I don’t suppose you know where I can stay the night whilst I sort out my car?” “Sorry, it’s just living quarters above. There is a guest house across the road. They might have a vacancy.” “Popular is it?” “Walkers, ramblers, couples, that sort of thing. They run a good restaurant as well.” “I shall give them a call. Thank you. Er ..” “You can call me Ruth.” “Thanks Ruth.” “And what do I call you?” “My friends call me J.” “Short for?” “Short for Jonathan. I never liked Jonathan, or Jon, and Jonny is worse. Parents never get their children’s approval before they name them do they?” “Maybe because they are helpless babies when they get christened and haven’t got an opinion.” “Maybe that is why all babies cry at christenings.” “Did you like your parents?” “Oh yes, never a dull moment, plenty of love and affection, but no sense of shame where names are concerned. What time does the garage re-open?” “Soon I would think. I’ll ask.” Ruth turned away from J and looked over at a young woman in jeans and several layers of shirts sitting at a table against the back wall of the bar. “Mel, there’s a customer waiting. Is lunch over? That’s Melanie sitting down there looking idle,” she added without ever turning her gaze away from the newcomer at the bar. J should have been angry at this deception; but it wasn’t really a case of being seriously misled. He just smiled. “That’s really cheeky,” he added. “Be open in a minute or two,” said the none too friendly Melanie who had a mass of long mousey hair piled up on top of her scalp and contained with a set of large clips. She was sitting on one side of a table set for four. Opposite her sat an older man with grease stained blue overalls and a pint of beer in mid flow between table and lip. “I can wait,” replied J. “Have to,” said Melanie’s mechanic. “Where is this broken down car of yours?” “Just outside. Bit of luck really stopping just here.” The mechanic rose slowly having dismissed the half empty beer glass from his lips and walked to the large bay window that fronted the bar. “That’s yours is it? The light blue convertible?” “Yes. Almost fifty years old. Two litre model, twin carburettor sort of thing.” “I know,” said the ever more interested worker. “A Mark 2. I’m impressed. You don’t see many of these on the road any more. What’s wrong?” “I don’t know. It sort of went ‘chug-chug’, slowed down a bit then lost power completely and sort of stopped.” “Keys.” It was more of a command than a request. The car had enthralled the mechanic who took the keys from the owner and went outside. A few drinkers watched in silence as the man in overalls went about his trade. He looked back towards the pub window happily aware of his audience, smiled a wicked smile and then walked back in. “It’s your starter motor gone; most probably a crack in the distributor cap and I reckon the plugs and the rest of the electrics will need a good clean as well. Don’t you look after this beauty?” “I don’t actually drive it that much these days.” “I can see that.” “Can you fix it?” “My dad can fix anything,” said Melanie. “But not today,” continued Melanie’s dad. “No one keeps those sort of parts anymore. We’ll have to ring around. Most probably have you back on the road tomorrow.” “That’s fine,” said the traveller. “I’m in no real rush. I’ll have to make a few phone calls though.” J sat down at the table closed to the wide window through which his car could be seen. “It’s not going anywhere,” barked Melanie. “Oh, the car. Oh yes, no problems with that. I trust your boss completely.” “I’m the boss,” replied Melanie and walked out of the bar with her dad who answered to the name of Dan. “She is,” confirmed Ruth. “The boss,” she added as if it wasn’t so obvious what she was confirming. J was surprised to hear her voice. He thought she wouldn’t have noticed him watching her. “I believe you.” J smiled again in a way that said it was a pleasure just being close to her and talking to her rather than making any comment. He rang a number on his mobile. He looked over at Ruth all the time he was talking; and she back at him. “I’ve broken down. The car can be fixed but I can’t make the hotel tonight. Can you ring them and cancel the booking. Where am I staying? At a guest house. Don’t know the name or the number. I’ll ring you later. You can always get me on my mobile. Where am I? I have no idea. It’s a quite charming village called … I have no idea. Ruth, what is this place called?” “Greenwood.” “Did you hear that? A typical English village called Greenwood. Where am I? The Plough, it’s the local pub. That was the bar person.” “The landlady,” corrected Ruth. J cancelled the call and smiled warmly again. “A girl for a garage boss and a female landlady. This is not such a typical English village at all.” “We like it.” “I’m sure you do.” “Who were you calling?” “Checking in at the office. They like to keep tabs on me.” “Do you often go missing then?” “Quite often.” J finished his pint and replaced the empty glass on the bar. “See you later,” he said. “I hope so”, replied Ruth who was serving another customer. She wished she had said something, anything else than that. She barely caught his shape in the corner of her vision as he left the bar. She should have told her regulars to wait a moment. He may have left the following morning without ever coming back to the Plough. The afternoon turned to evening; regulars dropped in for a pint or two and left for dinner or an early night. There were a few strangers who stayed in the corners of the bar and remained as distant as they first arrived. It was almost closing time when J came in again. “I thought you might have decided to go on.” “To where?” “To wherever you were heading.” “As you know I have no transport and as luck would have it, there was room at the guest house you mentioned. I passed it before coming in here. There were a few vacancies apparently. I had an afternoon nap, wrote up a few notes, showered and changed for dinner. And a very pleasant dinner it was.” “Usual?” asked Ruth although she had only ever poured him one pint. J nodded and watched as one who had never seen a pint poured as she leaned slightly towards him between the gap in the other pumps. “You remembered.” Ruth said nothing but took his money and placed the pint on the beer tray in front of him. “I was going to bed and saw your lights on so I thought I’d have a quick nightcap.” “You were lucky. I was about to close.” “Am I the only customer?” “It’s been a normal sort of evening but its rare that people stay late this early in the week.” “And you work here all by yourself?” “I’ve got staff. If you’d been here earlier you would have met them. But I like to lock up unless its my night off.” “And when is your night off?” “That really depends.” “On?” “Lots of things.” “You must tell me some time.” “Maybe not tonight. I really have to close.” “Do the local police check up on you?” “No,” she laughed. “They drink here. But the pub does not get cleaned or restocked by itself, the bar is empty and a girl needs her beauty sleep.” “I’ll be going then.” “Will you be off tomorrow?” “I suppose so, providing Dan gets the parts delivered.” “Where were you heading? You’re not from round here. It’s not a local accent.” “No, I’m not. Is the accent such a giveaway? It used to be pure cockney but now its so polished that it hardly shows at all.” “You’re a Londoner?” “I’m afraid so. You?” “I was born here. Left and came back. And I’ve been her ever since.” “Never married then?” “No one ever took my fancy. I suppose I am destined to be left on the shelf.” “You’re still very young; time enough for someone to try their luck” “You have no idea how old I am.” “Oh thirty maybe. Maybe a little more. Time has treated you well.” Ruth almost felt the blushing in her cheeks but it was just her imagination. A barmaid gets used to flattery and sometimes it was hard to distinguish a bit of flirting with the real thing. So she changed the subject. So what are you doing so far from home?” “That is a long story.” “I have time.” “I thought you had to close.” “I close when the landlady says so. Do you only drink beer?” “I’ve been known to drink most things alcoholic in my time.” “Red wine?” “Non vintage?” “Certainly.” “Then I’m your man.” Ruth took a bottle of red from behind the bar, picked up two glasses and placed them on the table by the fireplace where two large chairs were always facing the large brick chimney breast, especially on dark, winter nights when the snow was falling. J poured two measures whilst Ruth closed the curtains, dimmed the lights and locked the front door. She sat down opposite him. “This is my favourite time of day,” she said taking a large sip from the glass in hand. “Why?” “Don’t get me wrong. I own the pub, I like working here. But I also like time to myself, a bit of peace and this is the best time. Everyone has gone home, the lights are low, the outside world is shut away, there’s no cars, no people wanting food and drink, no impatient drinkers shouting orders at you. It’s just me. Me, a bottle of wine and my own thoughts.” “And what are they?” “Absolutely nothing. That’s the wonderful thing. I don’t have to think for other people, carry staff who aren’t up to it on a particular day or talk to customers as if I’m their best mate. I just sort of drift away.” “If I was back in the city right now, with the traffic outside noisy and drunks singing this would be a good place for your mind drifting to. It’s my kind of country. A country full of homely pubs with good English beer and friendly barmaids.” “I told you, I’m not the barmaid.” “But you do run a friendly sort of place. This is the kind of pub I would want to come home to after a days work, sit in front of a roaring fire with a plate of cheese and pickle sandwiches and talk football or darts with my mates.” “You’ve never run a pub have you?” “No, it’s never been that high on my wish list. I’ve been in quite a few. But I wouldn’t want to work in one. Seems like hard work.” “It is. And you still haven’t told me what you are doing here.” J refilled their glasses with the deep red coloured wine. “I was just passing through and the car packed up.” “People rarely pass through here. It’s not on anyone’s usual route.” “I was on my way to town for a meeting. I had booked into a hotel there and thought I’d take the scenic route, take in the local colour and enjoy the fresh air. So I ended up outside of the Plough and here I am destined to stay for a while.” “You won’t be going tomorrow?” “Maybe not. I’m no wild eyed optimist and certainly no mechanic but I do know that even if Dan does get the parts the car is only going to be ready to drive later than sooner so I’ve booked in at the Greenwood Guest House for another night at least.” “It’s all right there. We try not to compete on the menu front.” “Do you get on?” “Like a house on fire. Like two houses on fire. Carol is my mother, well step mother from her second marriage. Sandy is her third.” “I like him. We had a long chat after dinner. He opened up one of his favourite Island malts. He told me all about his career in antiques and turning telephone boxes into shower cubicles and Pullman carriages into mobile restaurants. And then there was the fine wines and horse syndicates. Fascinating chap.” “He’s lost more money than you and me have ever earned. It’s Carol’s money that’s bailed him out. She owns the place. He likes to play at being the cordon bleu chef.” “You can’t knock the quality of the food.” “No, no. Just make sure he doesn’t bill you for the whisky.” “Thanks for the tip. Thanks for the wine. Thanks for a lovely evening. I’d better go.” “You don’t want to finish the bottle.” “I’d better go or else the evening might get ruined and one of us may say something that could lead to one or both of us suggesting something we might regret in the morning. I’m not sure I want to spoil anything. Even if I am just passing through.” They got up and Ruth opened the door very slightly to make sure that was what he really wanted. “I really ought to be going. Too much beer, scotch and the finest house red is not always the best mix in unfamiliar surroundings. I hope to see you tomorrow.” “I’ll be here.” Like every other morning Ruth was up early. The pub’s windows offered a panorama of all the comings and goings at one end of the village. She saw J leave the guest house and decided to meet Fate head on. She met him at the garage where he had just exchanged a few words with Dan. “You’ll be leaving then?” “I don’t think so,” replied J. “They’re having problems tracking down the spare parts. Dan reckons he may have to go round to the breakers yards himself.” “He’ll charge.” “It’s worth it Ruth. How else will I get the car back on the road?” “What will you do now?” “I’ll take myself for a long walk. Is there much to see round here?” “There’s lots of fields and grass; and a few cows. If you carry on up that path you’ll find yourself on the Hunter Estate.” “Do they mind strangers?” “They have a high degree of tolerance towards walkers and hikers unless they shoot their rabbits or poach their fish. Otherwise the family are quite normal.” “I’ll try that then and leave my gun at home. And you?” “I’ve seen it all before, many times. If you get really bored you could take in the ruins of the old St Leonards Church, and the Buckfast Farm, and the cricket field, and all the rest.” “Have you got time to show a stranger around?” “I’ve got a pub to run. And we have no milk.” “No local milkman with all those handy cows?” “He’s late so I’m off to the local store.” “Which is where?” “Up that way.” “You’re facing the wrong way though.” “I was being friendly.” “Well, I’ll be on my way then. I suppose I’ll see you for lunch. Unless I get shot for rustling deer.” They turned and went their separate ways; Ruth to the Village Shop which housed the Post office and sold coffees and home made cakes, and J to the green fields. He was as good as his word. He returned to the Plough for lunch; a more tired, muddy and dishevelled man than he was before. “Where have you been?” asked Ruth. “I have been walking; through ploughed fields, wooded hills and submerged streams. It would have been quite an experience if dressed appropriately which as you can see I was not. Then I was forced to back into a field full of cow pats by a couple of men with shotguns, funny hats and strange vocabulary.” “The Bensons.” “If that’s the name they use, that’s who I saw. Who are they?” “Gamekeepers. They’re basically honest and loyal and protect the Hunters from unwanted guests.” “They don’t say much. They just waved a double barrelled shotgun at me and wanted to know what I was doing there. I said I was lost which was when they directed me to a single track path over which a herd of cattle with raging dysentery had recently passed. It brought me back to here. So I suppose their intentions were basically good. I need a pint.” Ruth laughed and pulled J a pint of best bitter refusing payment. “Are you staying for lunch?” “I think a shower, an afternoon nap and a takeaway beef and mustard sandwich from your kitchen is all I need right now.” “Sure you won’t stay a while?” “I have some work to catch up on, a few overdue business calls and to be honest, some clean clothes. But I am free later. Is tonight your day off by any chance?” “It could be.” “Then I shall pick you up at seven and buy you dinner at that place across the road.” “Is that a date?” “I thought it was.” “Then I’ll see you at seven.” J was there on the chiming of the hour; cleaned and dressed and free from mud and traces of the surrounding countryside. They didn’t stay in the Plough for a drink but went across the street to the Greenwood Guest House and was shown to their reserved table by Sandy. “Tell me,” asked J as they drank the wine and waited for the first course, “what do you do for entertainment round here? For that matter what does everyone do?” “It’s a small, country village. We don’t have interesting lives like city folk. People either run farms or work on the bigger ones. The Hunters employ a good number of staff in various ways, especially shooting parties when they need caterers and waiting staff.” “It’s a bit feudal then?” “Of course not. It’s all very amicable. They need staff, people need work. Simple. The Plough is one of the last few pubs around here. We haven’t got that many incomers so most of the village meets there for a drink after work and at weekends. We have dances at the big barn and fetes and things. Life goes on, very slowly perhaps, but calmly as well.” By the time they had worked their way through the meal and were drinking more wine and more coffee J had found out all Ruth could tell him about life in the village. “And you, what do you do when you’re not getting lost in the countryside?” “This is my work. Getting lost is sometimes part of the job description but my main work is travelling. I’m a location manager. To put it simply I look for places and buildings that can be used in films or TV series. Mostly its all done on commission so that I know exactly what it is I’m supposed to be looking for but other times and when I have time I just like to point the car down a leafy lane and see where it leads.” “Like here?” “Especially like here. It’s a jewel, so English, almost a forgotten scene. I’m sure I’ll be able to use this place sometime if the right approach is made by the right company.” “And this meeting you were going to?” “It’s to provide a company with the results of my investigations.” “Do they want a sleepy English village?” “No, not really. I’m not always too sure what is in some TV producer’s mind. Some are quite easy to understand, some have no idea themselves but a vague whim that comes to them in the middle of the night. They wake up and ring the real professionals who have to do the artistic interpretation for them.” “It must take you away from home a lot.” “Quite a lot. But I enjoy the travel. And the expenses are good.” “And does your wife mind very much you doing all this travelling about?” “I have no wife. Fortunately. Or not, you might think for a man of my age.” “It must get very lonely. No one to talk to, no one to share the day with.” “I talk to my lap top instead. It has the advantage of never answering back or telling me that I’m wrong.” “We all need someone to put us straight sometimes. You can’t be right all the time.” “I try to be.” “Like last night when you said that if you stayed it might be a big mistake.” There was no mistake tonight. J picked up the half empty bottle of wine and the two empty glasses and Ruth followed him upstairs. The unexpected pleasures of the night were rudely shattered as he walked into the Plough just before midday. Ruth was holding the receiver of the pub’s land line and visibly seething with venom. “It’s for you. Its your wife.” She slammed the receiver down on the bar and stormed into the living quarters behind the main bar. Barry her barman said nothing; he had seen her angry many times before. J ignored the phone and tried to walk past Barry to follow Ruth but the loyal member of staff barred his way. “Let her go,” he urged. “She’ll calm down. Or maybe not, whatever it is that’s upset her.” “I just want to explain,” said J but any progress was still prevented so he decided to take the phone call although his attitude was far from friendly. “What was that about? Why ring me here? Yes, I’ll be there.” From those three sentences the small lunchtime crowd tried to piece together a story. “All I want to do is to try and explain. I won’t make her cry, or make her any more upset than she appears to be.” “Maybe you won’t but its more than my job’s worth to let you back there.” Barry had years of experience with the sometimes volatile Ruth to fall back on. “Look why don’t you take a bit of air outside. I’ll see if I can get her to speak to you.” “Thanks Barry. I’ll be outside somewhere.” A few minutes later Ruth appeared. Barry had worked his magic although her face did not betray any sign of forgiveness. “You didn’t give me a chance to explain,” began J. “That phone call needs no explanation. You tell me you have no wife, that you’re some kind of lost traveller and the next thing I find myself in your bed and throwing all caution to the four winds.” “Let’s get away from here.” By which J meant the outside drinking area. “I walked over a small stone bridge yesterday and found myself on a cricket field with wooden benches and a garden shed as a scoreboard.” “You can’t charm me with your dreams of rustic scenery and the playing fields of England.” Nevertheless they walked in silence, a few feet apart but held together by a strange bond. They sat down on the white painted bench on the cricket field boundary where old men applauded a well hit four or a fine catch. The seat was not too wide but there was still a distance between them. “I’m not married,” began J. “I was. I’m divorced. She was my wife but now we’re just business partners and she likes to call herself my wife at times because it’s guaranteed to get my attention. Or someone else’s. Usually if I’ve been ignoring her. Or not so much her, as work. I’m due at a meeting first thing tomorrow.” “Say I don’t believe you. Say I think all that over the last few days was just a very good ploy to get me into bed.” “Well if it was, it worked. But it wasn’t,” added J very quickly correcting himself. “It was all the truth. You can ring her back. She’ll admit it all and laugh as well.” “I think I believe you,” said Ruth and they were suddenly close again. “But why would you want to go into business with your ex-wife?” “She wasn’t my wife when we started the business. Then she became my wife and then we got divorced and now we work together almost as we always have done. Simple really. Why don’t I explain it all over dinner?” “But not across the road. There’s something not quite right about staying overnight as a non-paying guest at my own father-in-law’s guest house. It’s not good to have to creep about in the early hours to get back home. Someone might have seen me. No, I’ll cook and we can have dinner at my place.” “Won’t it be just as odd for me to have to slip out in the early hours back to my own lodgings?” “Who said anything about you staying?” As ever he was neither too early nor too late; actually prompt at eight. “Do you enjoy this life, moving around from place to place?” “You make me sound like a Romany traveller. I do have a home. It’s just that my work means that I have to travel quite a bit. I enjoy it. I see a lot of this country. I happen to like England very much; as well as the villages and village pubs.” “And the landladies of village pubs.” “Oh them, especially.” “You know many do you?” “I’ve met with so many. Mostly landlords actually and none as pretty as the one sitting opposite.” “I’m quite open to flattery as it happens. But what about your wife?” “Ex-wife, what about her?” “Why did you split up?” “You don’t want to hear about her.” “I just wondered how someone like you could marry and then let it all fall apart.” “We met when we both worked for a TV company. We both saw the opportunity to go freelance as it were. She was the brains; she had the accountancy degree and the administrative nous. I was the creative one.” “We ran a database of towns and locations that we had used before and offered our search services to the industry. Yes, it was successful. The industry seemed to prefer freelancers who they could hire and fire at a whim, rather than set up their own location company.” “Then one day we had a brainwave. We turned the company on its head and instead of seeking out new situations for existing TV shows we invented our own. We became a production company doing documentaries which we sold on to the big boys as a pilot.” “So why the break up?” “I spent more time on the road and she spent more time on the creative side of things. She loved it, she was good. I really do prefer to wander around the countryside.” “You know how it is. We just drifted apart personally and creatively. The more she got involved the more she wanted to control the output. I suppose I was against the changes she wanted to bring in. In the end it was us who had changed. So much that we just separated. But the company was our joint brainwave. It was silly to break up a successful business so we are still joint partners. We just don’t work so closely any more.” “So why does she call herself your wife?” “Old habits. She still likes to look out for me. Make sure I’m not falling into the clutches of the first woman who pours drink down me to get their wicked way.” “So, what exactly are you working on now? She seemed quite annoyed that she couldn’t get hold of you. Is this meeting very important?” “To answer the last question first; yes, it’s a big client meeting. We’ve grown over the years so instead of just producing our own pilots we promote them to TV companies with the aim of making a series.” “So this meeting …?” “It’s to decide, to make up our minds if you like, who to go with.” “You’ll have to explain.” “I haven’t been exactly honest with you. I was, when it all started. I did just drift into this village. I had time to kill and it wouldn’t be very professional not to miss an opportunity. Then by accident or a gift from the gods I broke down at this place and it seemed just right.” “What for?” “To feature in our projected ‘fly on the wall’ series about life in an English village. That’s why I’ve been walking around, getting a feel for the place.” “So we’re all going to be featured on TV?” “That’s the decision that has to be made. I thought we had it nailed. Well, we had two or three on a short list and a few others to make up the numbers. We were meeting to make a final choice so that the background episode could go out next week before we start the real filming.” “And you like Greenwood?” “I like everything about it. It’s just perfect.” “So if it gets your approval that’s it?” “Not quite, but if I back a project it usually means that it will go my way.” “What do we have to do?” “Nothing. Be yourselves. I’ve arranged for a crew to come down here over the weekend. I’ve told them what I want filmed.” “Will you be here?” “No, its one editorial meeting after another. I’ll try and get down before the screening.” “You’re definitely leaving then?” “Yes, the car’s ready. I’ve paid the bill, I’ve settled up with Sandy and I’ll be one my way first thing tomorrow.” “How early?” “That depends.” It was actually in the very early hour just after the sun had begun to rise that he took his leave and left Greenwood. Once news was out door brasses were polished, windows washed until they gleamed, weeds uprooted and privet hedges cut back. Ruth explained that they were to act normally but they attacked their work as if preparing for the Best Kept Village Award. As J had promised the film crew arrived and went quickly about their task as if having been briefed to the last frame of film, which in fact they had been. The village was confident of a prime time slot. J was true to his word. Ruth did not see him before the screening of the preview show where the village was to be unveiled as the subject for a three month ‘fly on the wall’ documentary. The bar of the Plough usually just slowly bubbling most evenings with a few regulars was soon full. It had become a community event in which everyone had an interest. Expectation ran high owing to the involvement of the programme’s Executive Producer. But they were disappointed. Greenwood was discarded almost as soon as a few exterior shots of the milestone on the entrance to the village and the pub sign had been shown. It appeared that Greenwood had never even been considered and as more than one sullen drinker said as they left it was just a last minute addition to make the show seem more credible. The winner was given nearly all the viewing time and there were plenty of previews of the first week’s screening to back their case. “He just used you,” said Melanie in a none too conciliatory tone. It was of no comfort to Ruth. “I know now, but he seemed genuine.” “They always do.” “But he did stop here. His car was definitely broken. It did happen.” “He just took advantage of the situation. We have an attractive village and it made the show seem as if they had scoured the countryside. He used you,” repeated Melanie. “I told him everything he needed to know. Saved him time, told him where to go. None of it came on screen. None of it. There was only a quick shot of the pub and no one outside.” “It’s a good job he was just a stranger passing through.” “I wish he was. He wasn’t though was he? I fell for him.” “You didn’t?” “I did. He got his cake and ate it. The village, the pub and me. He made me feel loved Mel. That’s the hard part to accept. I really thought he wanted me and not just for the information he could have got from anyone else who lived here.” “I always thought he was just a little bit too good,” insisted Melanie making Ruth feel even less happy about herself. “I mean, who turns up in a classic car which breaks down very conveniently outside a pub where a skilled mechanic is drinking and a single, attractive landlady is serving behind the bar.” Ruth finished her drink and looked across at Melanie; a look that said she could only but agree with every word the other had said. “It would have been good for the village I suppose. All those tourists, all that extra cash. Are you staying open?” “Not much longer. There’s no one left here. They’ve all gone home. They all had such high hopes. I’ll have an early night.” Mel drained her glass and left Ruth in the half darkness of the deserted bar to collect the few remaining glasses and lock the door. She was about to drop the latch when a superior force outside pushed the door open. It was J. She wasn’t going to let him in but he had the element of surprise and they stood inside with the outside world closed to them. “I guess from that face that you watched it.” “Of course I watched it. All the village watched it. Most of them were in here. Can you see anybody left? Course you can’t. You led us up the garden path with your talk of being the main man.” “It’s not what it seems.” “It seems to me that you promised us prime time TV and then made us look very stupid by not even giving us the same amount of time as anyone else. What were we, an afterthought? Something to do in your spare time. Like me? Charm the local publican and get her into bed. A splendid return on a good couple of days work I think.” “Will you try and let me explain?” “You don’t have to explain to me. I understand it all very well. I was the fool that believed all your fine talk and ended up slipping you out of my bed in the early hours. You can explain it all to Sandy who thought that a little bit of TV time would help attract a few more guests; Melanie might get a few extra bits of work as would everyone else in the village. We don’t live on fresh air and charity. Not in villages like this. We have to work hard and a little bit of extra publicity on national TV would help us all out of this sorry state the country finds itself in. Me included.” “I understand where you are all coming from. Look I can’t stay long. I have to get back to London. Meetings.” “That’s all you know.” “That’s how I have to earn my keep. It’s not all beer and sandwiches. Look I’ll not stay anymore. Just take this. Please. Get a bottle of a decent red and watch it. Then decide what you want to do.” He pulled a DVD cover out of his jacket pocket and would not leave until she had taken it. “I’ll see you then,” she managed to say and let him out with no sign of care. “I hope so,” replied J and was swallowed up by the night. “I don’t think so,” said Ruth from behind the closed door. This time she never wished to see him again. In a few days he had all but been forgotten by the village. The residents had experienced their brush with fame and it had left them largely unmoved. Apart from Ruth who shot a glance at the door every time it opened to let a new customer in. Then as the sun bounced in through the open door one quiet afternoon a stranger appeared. He seemed lost and confused and uncertain of his words. “My car’s broke down. I was looking for a garage but the one at the end of the road seems closed.” “Keys,” barked a voice from a table close to the bar. The stranger smiled and handed over the keys to the grease stained mechanic. “I think I’ve run out of petrol.” The mechanic grunted and walked out. “Drink?” asked Ruth. “A pint of your best bitter please.” Ruth pulled a pint from the pump but her eyes never left those of the newcomer. He returned her gaze and no further words were spoken. “You saw it then?” he finally said. “Oh yes, I watched it over and over. I think I understand now.” “I should hope so,” replied J. “What would I have done if you just threw it away.” “You’d never be welcomed back here, that’s for sure,” said Ruth. J left the pint untouched. He held her hand and guided her out of the bar as if she had never done such a thing before. A few minutes later they were standing alone on the stone bridge that carried people over the river that ran along the side of the High Street. “Why didn’t you tell me all this before?” “Because I couldn’t be sure. That DVD I gave you as I left was the original pilot episode we made to pitch for the series. Oh yes, this place was all we could ever want for a reality TV show. A sexy landlady, two mad brothers who work as gamekeepers, a reclusive pop star and his harem, a City financier turned Lord of the Manor, an eccentric collector of red telephone boxes and well, I could go on.” “Could I do that to you; turn you all into figures of fun for TV audiences to laugh at over the stale pizza?” “Would you?” “When I first came here by accident I thanked the gods for the car breaking down where it did. I thought this is it. This is the place that will make the series, full of interesting, local characters who would jump at their fifteen minutes of fame. But then I got to know you all. In such a small space of time.” “I fell in love with the place; this bridge, the cricket field, the woods and the quaint high street. This is where I started out, filming places like this. This is where my heart was. Then somewhere along the way I got lost“ “That’s when my wife, my ex-wife started to take over. She knew how to sell an idea and her idea was to make money out of people’s vanity and greed. Everyone wants to be on TV so she gave them their opportunity and made fun of them. That’s what was on that DVD. That’s why I had to show you. It wasn’t me.” “This is me, this place. I had to get out before I was sucked in too deep. It was a case of me staying firm and eventually she gave in. But that was the end and there was a price to pay. We split amicably; basically she bought me out for a fair price. Now I have no company, no career and my town house is on the market.” “There’s a welcome pub in a small village quite close by.” “We’ll have a drink and discuss it then. A man could live here quite comfortably with a woman who owns a pub.”


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