A group of British retirees, are meeting to discuss their first steps into communal living over a nice hot cuppa and a biscuit. But is everything as it seems with their chairman? And their tea urn?
It was a balmy summer’s evening, unusual for the north of England. The community centre at the heart of the Livemore Collective Village (LCV) whispered with a very British, perfectly contained, pre-meeting hum. An almost undetectable sound that one would have to sidle up to, in order to hear what was being said.
A large, very old looking, tea urn rumbled metallically in the corner, as the clink of china cups added all the charm of a garden wind chime. The occasional sharp rustle of a Waitrose Biscuit Selection’s wrapper, cut through the sunny, dust-beamed room. Of the sounds, only the latter made heads turn as they acknowledged the wheat tolerant amongst them.
Les entered the room to a flush of recognition. His cup of tea was ready and waiting, a single shortbread biscuit delicately balanced on its saucer. He had been elected chair of the LCV through his many years of committee leadership experience with the local golf club. He was proved a formidable fundraiser during his stint at the round table and had also thrown some great parties. None of them had been able to attend, but had heard good things from friends. He also played a very convincing Father Christmas 1992 – 1996. Furthermore his revolutionary cheese and pickle pairing events had been the talk of the village for some years.
It was Les’s idea for all of them to put their pensions together and find property that would lend itself to communal living, or an ‘Independently Run. Prestigious. Retirement Location.’ as he had put as a bullet point list, in his first investors’ presentation.
He had explained very thoroughly and directly that their village was soon to be overrun with interlopers and glue sniffers, as ‘affordable housing’ was being introduced by the government. The chance to live communally would present lots of opportunities that they had probably never even considered. They just had to think more hippies than Hush Puppies, be progressive in their outlook and open to new experiences.
When Farmer John Collins had sadly, and very unexpectedly, passed away not long after everyone had agreed to Les’s terms, he left their now 4-acre plot, including numerous out-buildings, behind. Les had led the assembled and now solvent group through the purchase step by step. With his veritable list of local tradesmen and supplier contacts he had also turned, in the last year, the land and buildings on their holding into their dream accommodation.
Really, the only downside to Les was his friend or “pain in the proverbial,” according to most of the residents, Greg. Greg was what some would call your typical silver fox. To the ladies, he initially looked “a little bit like that George Clooney.” George was their favourite actor. He had played a doctor, which could only mean that anyone who looked like George had a doctor’s credentials, or a decent bedside manner, or at the very least a good abdomen. But Greg, sadly, seemed to have none of these things.
While Les was relatable, and warm and good with words; Greg was hard to connect with and cold, and a terrible communicator. No one could remember where Greg had come from but had never thought to ask. He wasn’t part of the group until the property had been bought and then he just seemed to turn up one day, introduced as a good friend by Les.
He was into extreme sports, which to the men meant he most probably played golf wearing absolutely no plaid, not even on his sock band. He was also a scuba diver, which he mentioned regularly. Everyone understood what that was, being au fait with the documentaries of Jaques Cousteau shown on the BBC.
Greg himself was qualified as an Advanced Open Water Diver. He had been training to become a Rescue Diver but a terrible incident had stopped him from completing the course. He said he would only dive in shallow water since that fateful day.
He drove a vintage Jag, and had beautifully groomed, darkly curved eyebrows, which were waxed and dyed ‘Bat Black’ once a month by Jessica, of ‘Jessica’s Beauty Bar’. But he had very ordinary, clumpy shoes for a gentleman investing in that level of monthly upkeep, according to Mary.
His veneer had however somewhat shifted, along with his ropey old toupee, after he had been living in the community for a few weeks. His Jag was always breaking down. His dive stories, two semi-interesting ones in total, were played on a loop at every social event, and he had been caught in a number of suspicious circumstances. Not long back he had been found in one resident’s bath tub with his snorkel on, and he’d had the nerve to use the last of the Radox – ‘Relaxing Lavender’.
As Greg entered the room, the tea urn began to rattle aggressively, signalling a Mexican wave of rolled eyes, pursed lips and stifled moans. Sensing the downward turn in their notion Les called the meeting to order and they all shuffled along the rows of neatly laid out stacking chairs, to find their seats.
“Welcome,” he boomed, “to the first LCV monthly meeting.” He smiled broadly, let the room fill up with applause then lifted his hands in a wafting motion, humbly requesting a stop to their adoration. The room quietened. You could see how he had done so well at the golf club.
“So the plan for today, ladies and gents is quite a short one. We all want to be home in time for the soaps. Am I right?” Les laughed, put on his reading glasses, and then winked over them. He began to read out the listed items from a perfectly typed out agenda.
A G E N D A
Date: Thursday 16th June 2011 Time: 3pm
Attendees: Les Hafts, Greg Norseton, Mary Adams, Eileen Brown, Anne and Allan Edwin, Maureen and Derek Stack.
Apologies: Margaret Howells, Alice and Arthur Ready
- Welcome, News and Announcements (Les)
- URN (Mary)
- Car Park Progress (Greg)
- Allotment and Greenhouse Update (Maureen)
5. Next weeks social activities (Margaret)
Mary, widow and retired post mistress stood elegantly, patting the underside of her rolled hair with one hand. She was quite the sight in her multi-checked tabard, and wanted to talk about the tea urn situation.
“Put simply? It’s a death trap,” she said plainly.
The urn let out a disgruntled steamy “humph”. Everyone turned and looked at it with suspicion.
“We need a new one and they’re expensive,” continued Mary.
“Can we limp it along any, Mary?” Asked Les.
Mary frowned deeply, dropping all of her weight on to her good hip. The stance of a woman saying no.
“All in favour?” Les knew when not to push his luck.
Mary was granted her new urn. She sat down and pulled a stream of triumphant air into her nose, making her chest puff up and out.
Following Mary’s success, the next agenda items were tackled promptly by their owners. Greg gave a detailed update on the ground works for the new car park, which was due for completion by the end of the week. Maureen spoke to her successes in the communal allotment and greenhouse. “Beans, leeks, potatoes and strawberries. We even have an avocado.” Her submission was met with a chorus of ‘oohs’. “How very Bohemian of us,” they thought.
Margaret Howells, retired accountant and self-appointed social secretary, although not present herself, had sent the itinerary for the following week. “Monday, bowls, 10.00am. Tuesday, art class, 3.00pm. Wednesday, aqua aerobics in the communal pool. Greg, yes, you can bring your scuba kit. Thursday, cards as usual, and on Friday…”
Les let an expectant silence linger.
It turned out, the following Friday, Les would be hosting a spectacular event for residents and paying non-residents, alike. There would be valet parking, drinks on arrival, a fully serviced buffet, hot and cold, and an actual dessert trolley on wheels. In addition to his private swimming pool and patio, he would be installing a top of the range 12-person hot tub for the event. His home’s interior would be swathed in chiffon, with calf leather day beds. This would offer partygoers just enough privacy and a good choice of wipeable comfort respectively. A selection of toiletries would also be available.
Allan and his wife Anne looked at each other knowingly. “Sounds fancy. But count us out on the hot tub front. We’ve been married for 30-odd years and have never shared bathwater,” said Anne. “Fungal issues,” Allan mouthed silently with wildly over-exaggerated pronunciation, nodding sideways at Anne.
Anne didn’t notice. She was thinking about hot tubs. The only one Anne had ever really seen was on a holiday advert in the back of TV Quick magazine. It was some time back, and featured girls with banana clipped, tightly permed hair. They were leaning over the edge of a bubbly, steaming hot tub to reach their cocktail-brollied pineapples. Both had on neon, thonged swimwear. One pink, one yellow. “Tasteless,” she remembered. Although, she was of the opinion that a banana clip would be handy for keeping her hair tidy at the bowls club. She’d also tried a home perm on more than one occasion with some success, except for round the back.
“Well, as already agreed, we will be swinging,” chuckled Les. “You know, tossing the old car keys into the bowl. Wife Swapping. Having unbridled sexual encounters with other people, or with our partners and other people… or with other people while our partners watch. The last step we take towards reaching our full potential communally speaking”
Eileen had heard enough. “My God, Les,” she spluttered. When you said progressive, I thought you meant we would boycott the tennis club not hop on any old passer-by that pulls up. I’m presuming that’s what we’ve built the car park for… for dogging?!”
Mary was already on her feet and headed directly for the sherry cabinet.
Les laughed. “Now calm down,” he crooned. “There’s nothing wrong in exercising our right to free love, and it would keep us fit. And what’s more we could charge non-residents a sizeable entry fee.”
Mary looked giddy and put her hand to her forehead to steady herself. “You mean selling ourselves, sexually!? I’d rather have taken my chances with the glue sniffers!” She drank her sherry straight back from the bottle and passed it to Eileen who took a strong gulp.
Maureen and Derek weren’t waiting to hear any more. They were busy texting. [Margaret. As social secretary, is it your understanding that Des wants us to duck foggers at his house on Friday?]. “Bloody autocorrect!” shouted Derek. What the hell is duck fogging and who the duck is Des?” As he spoke he turned unusually shrill in high-pitched irritation.
It would seem that Les had reached an impasse with the sensibilities of the room and their buttoned up buttons were unbuttoning. So too was the unnoticed old urn, that had been sat in the corner slowly boiling dry. Suddenly, it spat out a hot bolt from its side gauge at high speed. It shot a pinging hole into the newly fresh plaster of the community centre’s wall, just missing a small gold-framed portrait of the Queen.
Les tried to take control with his double hand waft. No takers. A wink over the glasses? No, his presenting repertoire was exhausted. He had clearly mistaken the mild-mannered LCV as pushovers, and was looking grey and gridlocked. The only person seemingly on his side was Greg who looked at him sympathetically and then put two fingers in his mouth to whistle three trilling notes.
“Ladies and gentleman, please,” he said. “I need to say something.” Mary hiccuped, sherry bottle still in hand. “Now is not the time for one of your two dive stories, Greg,” she said with a firm slur. She waved the bottle so that its sticky sweet contents sloshed from its neck.
Unfazed, Greg continued. “Mr Lesley Simon Hafts, you are under arrest. You do not have to say anything. But it may harm your defence if you do not mention when questioned something which you later rely on in court. Mr Hafts, we have reason to believe that you are responsible for the murder of Farmer John Collins. And that you are also plotting to embezzle this property from these upstanding residents over time by much the same means. We now also know, by your own admission, that you were planning to open yet another illegal swinging operation next week on this very land.”
During the course of Greg’s revelation, all of the the residents had seemingly imploded into a shocked state of suspension. Every mouth in the room hung open, as Greg deftly and somewhat dramatically separated his now half-cocked wig from the glue left on his balding head. He then pulled a police badge from his top pocket. “DCI Greg Brown, North Yorkshire Constabulary. I’ve been working undercover on this one for some time now. Ladies and gents, please remain calm.”
An obviously guilty, Les took his chance and ran for the exit.
He pushed past a now inebriated Mary and the others, knocking the perfectly placed stacking chairs skating across the floor. As he ran through the main doors, he felt the rush of escape and afforded himself a smile. “These old folk don’t know who they are up against,” he sneered. “I’ve already skimmed enough money off the top of this build to get me to Aruba.”
But as Les reached his car, with Greg now close at his heels, inside, the urn had had enough. With the last precious pressure in its chamber, it blew its top. The lid smashed through the window and out it flew, skimming the air like a Frisbee. It found the back of Les’s head with one last moonlit crack.
Two police cars and an ambulance arrived just as Greg was handcuffing a dazed Les. The whole community was bathed in blue light, even Mary’s tabard, which had taken on an almost etherial glow. They’d all grouped together after the urn had had its last hurrah, and were looking wide eyed out of the now smashed window. Allan switched the urn off at the wall. “Probably should have done that sooner,” he said.
“That was one hell of a cover story,” said Maureen. “from both of them.” Added Mary.
“I bet Les doesn’t even like pickle, and Greg’s no Hans Hass is he?” said Allan.
“So what was he doing practising his snorkelling skills in my bathtub?” asked Derek naively. Maureen bit her bottom lip.
“Still we know one thing for sure,” said Eileen. “we need that new bloody urn.”