On the surface it appeared that only Jimbo continued to have a nervous twitch about that silent Titus Bellamy. Everyone else thought it had died a natural death, before it ever got started. It nagged Jimbo now and again, but in the end, racking his brain to puzzle out the real significance of the man’s visit became futile.
It wasn’t that he came and then went - lots of people did that, tourists and the like - it was, as Dottie said, the fact that he asked questions, visited Jeremy at the Big House, leaned over the gate to Rector’s Meadow with our Barry, talked to Zack in the church, and sat quietly listening in the bar. A genteel man he was, unusual to look at, but nevertheless acceptable and well spoken - when and if he did choose to speak.
‘No, there was definitely something very mysterious about him,’ said Greta to Sheila, as Sheila selected a tin of lentil soup for the new fad diet she’d imposed on her Ron. ‘Very definitely.’
Willie, seated at his usual table in the bar, muttered into his homebrew, ‘Lovely man, they all say, but what was he doing? That was the question. Was it really about starting a market?’
Jimmy the taxi said philosophically, ‘It’ll all come out in the wash.’
Willie found his acceptance of the situation irritating. ‘Do you know something I don’t? If so, out with it.’
Indignantly Jimmy said he knew nothing, that he’d better things to do than gossip. He got to his feet and departed from the bar, leaving Willie to his own thoughts.
The man certainly wasn’t from the planning department, he wasn’t that kind. Ordnance Survey? Drains? Street lighting? Street signs? No, they’d seen the lighting committee off before now; after the last episode they wouldn’t be trying that on again. Willie downed the last of his homebrew and wandered home, hoping his Sylvia’s spate of spring-cleaning would have worn itself out and he’d be able to sit in his favourite chair in peace and nod off for an hour.
It was Tom who was the first to find out what Titus Bellamy really was up to, because he caught sight of the headline on the front page of the
as he was hauling the bundles of newspapers into the shop first thing one Thursday morning. Bold as brass it was, in large capital letters.
‘Oh, my God!’ shouted Tom. ‘I don’t believe this.’ His disbelieving eyes scanned the headline and then he read out loud: ‘THURSDAY MARKET FOR TURNHAM MALPAS.’
So here it was in black and white, cutting a swathe through all the speculation, all the planning, that had gone on ever since Titus Bellamy had first visited the village. He speed-read the piece beneath the heading and dwelt for a long minute on the effects it would have on the village, and on Jimbo and the Store in particular. He couldn’t decide whether or not it was a plus or a minus. After all, it was only one morning a week, but it could cause sizeable damage to Thursday’s trading. It might not be groceries, though it did say organic a couple of times, which was significant. So Grandmama was right, after all. It
a market. Having read it through twice, he decided to ring Jimbo, but, realizing it was not yet seven o’clock, he delayed his call until he’d set up the Store for the day’s trading.
As he switched on the coffee machine something else hit him right out of the blue. Here was Jimbo facing lots of expense setting up the old barn as his major bakery and as a venue for events, and now this threat was hanging over him. No warning. No nothing. He could delay no longer and dialled his number immediately, dreading Jimbo’s response.
There was silence on Jimbo’s end of the phone as Tom read out snippets from the
. Tom had expected a tirade, but Jimbo didn’t explode. He simply said, ‘Thank you for letting me know.’
His response made Tom realize that the news had devastated him far more than he had imagined it would.
Jimbo sat on the bed with the receiver in his hand, head bent, thinking.
Harriet came in from the bathroom. ‘Who was that at this time in the morning? Some minor catastrophe that could well have waited until nine o’clock?’
Jimbo didn’t appear to have heard her.
‘Darling! What’s the matter?’ She touched his shoulder and lowered her head to see his face.
‘Over my dead body.’
‘A market on the green.’
Harriet, struggling to get into her too-tight jeans, thought she’d misheard him. ‘What on earth are you talking about?’
‘That snooping man, Titus Bellamy, claims he’s holding a country market on our village green each Thursday morning, starting next week.’
‘Believe it or believe it not, Rector’s Meadow will be the car park. That was why he was leaning on the gate looking at it, and Old Fitch is charging car parking fees - with a man on the gate. And we’ve just pledged ourselves to vast and possibly damaging expense to expand our business, plus the capital it took to re-open the Store. Hell’s bells! So while Old Fitch and I were negotiating about the barn he was also talking to this Titus fellow. Talk about stabbing us in the back, and then some.’
‘Darling, it’s only one morning a week. Surely it can’t hurt us that much? It’ll be a load of old tat and it will die a natural death, believe me. It’ll be like a car boot sale, most of it rubbish, apart from two matching Georgian wine glasses or something or other which someone has the luck to find. Honestly! Country market indeed. Huh!’ But at heart Harriet felt sick.
‘I shall ring the council. This minute.’
‘Too early. Have your breakfast first, and ring them when your brain has cleared.’
‘He can’t have had permission, can he? Have you ever heard of a market on the green?’
Harriet shrugged her shoulders. ‘No, but then we haven’t lived here five . . . six hundred years. There might have been at one point.’
‘I don’t believe it. I do
believe it. I
not believe it.’ Jimbo stomped off into the bathroom, muttering to himself.
At breakfast, Fran, munching her muesli, said, not very helpfully, ‘There could have been a charter for the market, but for some reason it fizzled out. That was how it used to be; the local land-owner got a charter from the king for a market. In St Alban’s, in Hertfordshire, they’ve had an outdoor market for over a thousand years in the same place and it’s still going strong. Every Saturday, I think it is, or is it Wednesday? Or Wednesday
Harriet, desperate for Jimbo not to get too worked up, gave Fran a slight shake of her head, hoping she’d shut up. But she didn’t.
‘It could bring business to the village, you know, Dad. To the Royal Oak, the church, and why not our Store? Could be a godsend. ’
Jimbo, trying hard to be rational about it, felt close to throttling her. He tightened his grip on the butter knife, pressed too hard, and the dish skittered across the breakfast table, before being brilliantly fielded by Harriet, who reminded Fran that the clock was ticking and the school coach would be leaving shortly. ‘I’ve put the envelope with the permission for you to go to that French day at Lady Wortley’s on top of your school bag.’
‘Huh! French day! I think I’ll throw a sicky.’ She dashed away to clean her teeth.
‘You won’t, young lady,’ Jimbo shouted after her. For a brief moment he dwelt on the talent Fran had developed for languages, and then returned immediately to the market problem. ‘Once it gets established it will be all too late to protest. I’ll ring our Kev straight up on nine, to find out about permission.’
The clock on his desk was old and decrepit, but well loved by him, and when it chimed nine, Jimbo was dialling. By some underhand means he’d ferreted out Kevin’s direct line.
‘Good morning, Kevin. Brilliant day, isn’t it? Jimbo Charter-Plackett speaking, from Turnham Malpas. Have you time for a word?’
Kevin may not have risen very far in the echelons of the council hierarchy, but his knowledge of the goings-on in the council, legitimate or otherwise, was unparalleled.
‘Right, I won’t beat about the bush. This business of a market on the village green every Thursday. Just how legit is it?’
‘Very. Titus Bellamy’s found an old charter in the archives from the early fourteenth century signed by a Templeton, giving permission for it. There’s nothing that can be done. Health and Safety’s noses are considerably out of joint, but as yet they haven’t come up with any concrete objections to it. Even the car parking’s been solved by Mr Fitch; he’s opening up a field for it.’
‘So you’re saying it’s all signed and sealed?’
‘Oh, yes. Could hit your Thursday trade, I expect?’ Kevin sniggered.
‘Exactly.’ Jimbo could have knifed him straight through his heart for that snigger.
‘Some of these old agreements in rural areas cause an awful lot of problems. Health and Safety are always gnashing their teeth about something or another, but often their hands are tied.’
‘Keep me informed, mmm? I wonder, would you be able to make use of a couple of tickets for the British Grand Prix? Been stuck with a couple and I can’t use them. How about it?’
‘Certainly, I could. Thanks, much appreciated. Glad to take them off your hands. You know the chap who’s running it has four other markets doing really well. The stalls are mostly organic - meat, dairy, bakery, fish . . . Let me see,’ Jimbo could hear a rustling of papers, then Kevin continued, ‘Organic greengrocery, collectables, jewellery, an artist, a potter, you name it.’
So much for Harriet’s ‘load of old tat’, thought Jimbo.
‘Well, that just about covers everything I sell, but there you are. Nice to talk to you. I won’t forget about the tickets.’
Jimbo banged down the receiver and cursed the world in general, and himself in particular, for lining the pocket of a slimy little sneak. Well, at least now he knew what he was up against, and it was no good anyone saying, ‘It won’t affect your trade.’
Now he’d have to set to and bribe someone to get the Grand Prix tickets for our Kev. But he had an idea about that, and when Liz Neal came in that morning he beckoned her into his office, placed his boater on the top of a carton of Brazil nuts and, as he always did, gave her a huge welcoming kiss.
‘Liz, have you lost weight?’
‘Maybe. You want to tell me something? If it’s about the market I’m sick of hearing about it. Everyone I meet has an opinion on it.’
‘Are they keen?’
Liz smiled. ‘Keen? I’m afraid they are. In fact, some of them are thinking of having stalls.’
Had Jimbo had hair in any quantities on his head it would have stood vertical with shock. ‘
, you mean?’
Jimbo groped blindly for a seat. ‘Traitors, the lot of ’em. Traitors!’
‘They’ve a right—’
‘What about my rights? Mmm? I, who serve them every single week, not some fly-by-night here one morning and then gone the next. I’m deeply grieved by their lack of loyalty to me.’
Liz studied his face and saw his wrath was genuine. ‘I’m sorry, Jimbo, very sorry.’
‘Change of subject. Neville goes to the Grand Prix, doesn’t he? Could he get me two tickets, do you think? I don’t expect them for free.’
‘Oh! Are you going? That would be lovely. I’d be delighted for some sympathetic company, instead of all those stuffed shirts Neville invites.’
‘Er! They’re not for Harriet and me; it’s a sweetener for that Kevin in planning. He’s given me the latest on the market so I had to reciprocate, though I hate myself for it. Apparently this chap, Titus Bellamy, has got four other markets in full swing. Wait till I see him; he’ll wish he hadn’t been born.’
Liz looked at Jimbo and felt she needed to bring some sanity into their conversation. ‘He’s a businessman like you, Jimbo, earning his crust, doing his best. You should cooperate with him, welcome him. See how you could use his market to your advantage as well as his.’ Liz kissed his cheek and handed him back his boater.