CHAPTER ONE - THE BIRDS
Wes Tacton was listening to the Paul Miller show on BBC Radio Kent. On 96.7 FM, he could receive a strong signal in his part of London. Paul had been discussing the launch of a new camera from Canon, sparking a great deal of interest in the world of photographers. One guest on his show was a Parson S. Green, who claimed to be most impressed with the new technological advancements, well ahead of their time. Discussing the flash, he said that "technology runs faster than Usain Bolt over a mile", ending that particular segment rather impressively.
They moved on to the sports bulletin, which focused on Gillingham's recent crushing 5-0 defeat at the Emirates Stadium in the FA Cup. "The Gunners bury their opponents with such style", thought Wes to himself. Then he was pulled up short by a report about a mysterious substance that had been found in the local water.
"Look, this substance has been in Herne Bay's water supply for years," protested a spokesman. "It's perfectly safe for humans - it only affects birds. It makes them sing in perfect harmony."
Intrigued, Wes tried experimenting on his pet canary. Water from the tap had no effect, but when he gave the canary wharf water, the bird broke into the most perfect song he'd ever heard. Wes enticed other birds to drink the water, and very soon the local morning chorus was replaced with a morning chorus of perfectly harmonious birds. This birdsong only took place during the daytimes - the long, dark nights bridged the gap between them.
This strange daytime avian choir attracted people from all over the world; they stood and watched in several bunches - ham sandwiches were provided by Patrick White, chapel caretaker, to ensure the masses were well fed. And this event proved so popular that it was repeated right across London at various local open spaces, with refreshments provided by Mr White city-wide.
Eventually Wes decided to capture the birds from London Zoo with a view to charging worldwide royalty to see them perform - a move that made many kings cross. St. Pancras was his destination, for Wes was attempting to travel to Bahrain to get his first showing. On the ticker at St. Pancras came the news that the birds had been stolen.
Desperate to get out of London before the police saw him, Wes bought a ticket for the first train to depart and boarded it. He changed trains several times, hoping to throw them off the scent, and eventually arrived in rural Oxfordshire.
Wes was enjoying the quiet life in Oxfordshire. A few weeks passed before one evening a drinking buddy forced him to the ground. "The Queen's parked up outside," he said, "You need to hide until the danger has passed".
He hid in a warehouse. It wasn't very nice; insects were abundant and he had nothing with which he could swat. For dozens of days he remained, until he found himself being hauled out of the warehouse.
“Thanks”, said Wes, “but who are you?”
“I’m Colin. Colin Dale.” Colin took Wes to the edge of the premises, but a high gate prevented further progress.
Wes and Colin continued to search for a way out. Darkness had descended, so their task was not particularly easy. Wes then heard a familiar voice calling ‘this way lads’ - the voice was that of his old buddy Stan More. At last they were able to rest for a few moments and take stock.
"Well”, said Wes bluntly, “that scheme could have worked out a little smoother.”
At New Scotland Yard, the decision had been made to give the case of the stolen birds to one man - the trio of chums were not in the clear just yet, for they had been pursued by Detective Inspector Warren Street. By piecing together information from ticket sales, Street had managed to glean some information on their whereabouts. CCTV footage had linked a man looking like Wes to the bird theft. Street drove to Oxfordshire in his infamous 1963 green Ford Anglia. Spotting the car, Wes, Colin, and Stan slipped into a pub where, by pure coincidence, several tube enthusiasts were meeting.
After introductions, one such geek remarked how strange it was that they all seemed to have tube-station-like names - a fact they had never considered. The trio then explained their plight and one man - Roy Aloak - offered to help; but it would come at a price.
Roy had lost a bet and so was trying to get his neighbour's peacock drunk; the group would have to give the peacock Foster's. Due to being completely intoxicated, he was playing javelin, with the peacock replacing the javelin. Roy, who had narrowly beaten his dog Brent, crossed over the bar to where the trio were sitting.
"If you want my advice it will cost," he told them. "I need £1,000 by the beginning of next week. Then I will be rich Monday," he laughed. Could the gang of three raise the funds that Roy demanded?
They hatched a plan that involved exporting tube maps to Saudi Arabia, where they could be sold for 1,000 Saudi riyal per ton. The only problem now was inventory, as they were now stuck in rural Oxfordshire. Walking round Oxfordshire, they came across a quiet country mansion with a Rolls Royce Phantom parked up outside. Using Colin’s screwdriver, they opened the car, hotwired the engine, drove off, and began scanning towns for tube maps.
They drove to the outskirts of Chipping Norton, whereupon they discovered a vast Tube Map emporium run by a husband and wife team ‘Beth 'n' Al Green’. Unfamiliar with the area, they asked for directions - they were told to head for where “The Doll” is. Hilly terrain was no impediment and soon they were ready to buy. Having purchased the tube maps, they set about returning to London. As they were passing through the Vale of the White Horse, their car came to a sudden halt, and they found themselves stuck in a village which appeared to be inhabited entirely by a voodoo tribe.
They found the local garage which also doubled as the witch doctor's surgery, where a sign read ‘Doctor is out healing the sick’. The techniques employed by the witch doctor appeared strange to the untrained eye: patients were made to snort healing oak (wood being his ingredient of choice). The witch doctor made it clear it was not for healing common people.
As Wes was on the run, he was worried about being detected. Unbeknown to the trio, however, Street had stopped the CCTV from being circulated. Whilst waiting for the doctor, an extremely paranoid Wes had been chatting to a guy from Massachusetts to try to calm himself down: "Are you a Boston man or are you from elsewhere in New England?" he asked.
Eventually the doctor set about fixing the car for Wes and his pals. Wes, Colin, and Stan went up to the counter to do business with the doctor. Wes was quaking in his boots. The doctor did not ask for any form of identification, or indeed, a name. But the doctor fixed the car and they were on their way once again.
CHAPTER TWO - THE VISITOR
Richard Bromley, leader of a boy scout brigade, had recently moved from Slough to Norbiton. He'd just been out with the scouts, but there had been a heavy storm and all his clothes had got soaked. It was his own fault for choosing to take a route through the wood, for dripping trees had only added to the problem.
A couple of the scouts came back home with him, and they were very smelly. He found the BO rough, and he secretly wished he could insist that they don BO isolating coats, if such a thing had existed. The smell was such a problem that all sorts of vermin were attracted to the house. In the end he had to call in Rentokil, burning a hole in his budget.
Just when he thought the vermin had disappeared for good, he spotted his first rat for days. Incensed, he left a phone message with the exterminators. Eventually it was listened to, and their salesman Mr Armstrong rang.
"Eh? I'll sort it out as soon as possible," he said. "Would you like to buy a cage? We can deliver one as Dennis, the delivery man, will be coming that way soon."
"Yes, that's OK," said Richard. "I'm going out soon, but there'll be someone in." Although he didn't live in a mansion, housework was something that Richard loathed and so he employed a serving-woman or housemaid. When the delivery men arrived, his maid, Ava, let them in. The boy scouts were still at his house and waiting to be picked up by their parents - Ava offered them some sweets:
"We have several jelly tots, but just one piece of licorice," she said. "Who'd like it?"
"Me!" said Philip; "I'm licorice’s greatest fan!" She watched him in amazement as he rushed to get it. "He's gone absolutely frantic, haring 'cross the room like that!" It was a race to see who could get through their sweets fastest. It was neck-and-neck between Philip the licorice eater, and Ian, one of the jelly tot fiends. In the end, who was the victor? Ian!
"That was quite an incredible contest," said Ava. "I hope rival eaters can work together though - you need to help me install the cage." So they did, and a fine cage it was too. As Ava was letting them back out afterwards, she picked up a note which had been left by Richard: ‘Ava - for dinner this evening, please use the newest ham. P.S. Tea delivery will arrive tomorrow.’
She went to get the ham, but she was in for a shock. It had been attacked by a mystery infection whose effect was to turn ham green. She quickly drove to to get some more from the local butcher, George McCann. On-street parking was available, so it was a quick and efficient visit.
She passed the local archery school. Some careless archers had shot some arrows outside of the range, and these were littered nearby. There was a very posh arrow on the hillock opposite. She thought to herself, "That very posh arrow must have come from a very posh bow" - road travel tended to make her mind wander.
When she arrived back at the house, she wondered if she was hallucinating. (It couldn't have been alcohol - born into a Methodist family, she'd been teetotal all her life). For, as she got out of the car and looked to the north, Woody Allen came running towards the house. She couldn't believe her luck, as she had a secret she'd always been scared of revealing: "Broadway Danny Rose" was her all-time favourite film.
Richard, who had finally ferried the boy scouts to their respective homes, was waiting inside.
"Where have you been?" he asked.
"To get some more ham," she said excitedly. "But I was distracted, Mr Bromley, by bows and arrows. And you won't believe this, but Woody Allen is on his way!"
"Really?" said Richard. "Woody Allen is my favourite actor! Once when I was camping with the scouts, in the south wood for days on end, we kept ourselves amused by quoting lines from his films. So much fun we had!"
There was a knock at the door, and he opened it. A familiar figure in glasses stood outside.
"Hi! My name's John, and I'm a Woody Allen impersonator," he said.
"Well you certainly fooled us," said Richard. "You must be one of the best."
"John's Woody Allen impersonation is incredibly convincing," agreed Ava.
"So, where do you come from?" asked Richard.
John replied in Lancastrian tones, "I come from Chorley. Woody Allen impersonators are very rare in my town."
"I can imagine that. But what brings you here?"
"My pot plant's wilting. Can Ada water it please?"
"Her name's Ava, not Ada."
"That's a shame. I came here on the specific understanding that one of the occupants was called Ada. I think you'll understand why."
"Well, I'm sorry to disappoint you," said Richard. "But I was so convinced by your impression! I think it deserves wider publicity. What's your surname?"
"It's Collier," said John. "Why do you ask?"
"Well," said Richard, "once news of John Collier's Woody Allen impression gets out, you could be famous!"
"I'd like to be on Britain's Got Talent."
"Do you think you're in with a chance?"
"Rylane might be a better bet," interrupted Ava. "It's a village in Ireland, about fifteen miles west-northwest of Cork, where they hold a big talent competition every year. Last year, a guy called Ned Ebden sang elegantly, but still didn't win."
John suddenly turned to her and said, "If you don't mind my asking, I notice you've got a package from McCann's the butcher's. Who bought that ham?"
"R. Smith in the High Street is much better. You should try them one day."
"Stop changing the subject, Mr Collier. If you don't fancy Ireland, I've heard there's a similar 'battle of the talents' show in Scotland next year."
"Ah, that'll be easier for me to get to than Ireland. It sounds like the competition will be fierce. Where are they going to?"
"Competition isn't just fierce, John, it's a war! Wick! A venue has been found in the northerly Scottish town of Wick,” said Ava, quickly looking it up on the internet.
"That's a long way north, Wick. Parkhead in Glasgow is the furthest north I've ever been. How much is Wick parking these days?"
"The price is very high. Bar Nethercliffe Hotel, accommodation costs a lot too. Try the high street. Ken Sington may be able to find you somewhere. Gents park wherever he tells them to. He’s the best parking attendant I’ve ever met."
"So there's no value in trying to park down by the harbour?"
"No, the overflow goes on to the north fields or the south fields."
"Would I have to enter by the south gate?"
"Yes, it's the best gate of the lot. It’s best to park on the right, by the knotting hill. Gates are open twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, though I would stay away from the Casterbald gate. East of it live the old Scottish clan Caster. Gate is guarded very fiercely."
"I'm not sure there's a 'Casterbald Gate' in Wick, actually," said Richard. "But anyway, let's not worry too much about parking arrangements at the moment. I think we should invite John to stay for supper. In fact, I
think his clever Woody Allen impersonation deserves a clap! Ham - common or garden stuff from McCann's, I'm afraid - is on the menu tonight I think."
"Yes," said Ava, "and there's some rhubarb I can stew for later on."
"We shall have a feast! Ham goes well with fruit," said Richard.
CHAPTER THREE - ON THE RUN
On the outskirts of Oxford, Wes, Colin and Stan passed by a Big Top. Very soon they found themselves stuck in a jam in the centre of Oxford - circus people all around them had been parading through the city centre. At that moment, things took an unexpected turn for the worse. Their car was newly fixed but from out of nowhere a swan steadily attacked the car's bonnet, breaking through and once again disabling the engine.
They fled, tube maps flying everywhere, on foot. The swan belonged to Street – and was the latest police tactic to be used: their car had finally been caught, in what was becoming an ever more complex situation. Inspector Street gave chase, but after ten minutes of running, Wes, Colin, and Stan had lost both him and half of their tube maps. They could no longer sell them off to Saudi Arabia – and they could not return to the shop.
After walking for hours, they decided to go and watch a football match - it would give them ninety minutes to come up with a new plan. The match was an international friendly between Cyprus and The Netherlands. It was a very entertaining game, with Cyprus on the attack for most of the game; however Holland parked a bus on their goal line, so the game ended scoreless. This was a surprise result, as the match had been seen as a home banker.
The match did no favours for the fleeing trio however - they had failed to use the game to think of a plan B. They wanted to stay out of the way, and their chance came when they saw a red bridge in the distance. They sought shelter beneath it until they could come up with a plan. Just beyond the bridge, Colin spotted a convent, and hatched a plan.
As the chums approached the convent, the clock struck seven. Sisters gathered outside the building – this was a chance for the lads to sneak inside. The Mother Superior, Sister Mary Le Bone, was very suspicious of the newcomers. They thought they could get away with it if they disguised themselves as the gardeners. However, they couldn't decide whether to use a Flymo or park a proper mower nearby.
One evening, after a hot day of gardening, the three fake gardeners decided to invite Sister Mary out for a drink down the local. It was a cunning plan to get on her good side. As it happens, Sister Mary had a few too many. Wes couldn't believe how inebriated she was when she stood up. He'd not seen a lady that drunk since he'd seen the Queen swaying from side to side, several years previously. She wobbled home, up Minster Bridge, taking a short cut through the fair, lopping five minutes off the journey time.
This only turned out to hinder her, however, as a mugger, Charles Denton, jumped out from behind the dodgems and stole her handbag. Denton was not interested in the contents of the handbag: he was in a choir, the singers of which all liked selling fashion accessories when they weren't singing. The women of the chorus only sold handbags with nice curves, letting the male section of the chorus sell square ones. It was a monumental moment; Denton was promptly arrested for theft of the bag.
Wes, Colin and Stan really felt they needed to get away from it all. But where to go? Several places were suggested - Harrogate, Lulworth Cove in Dorset, even a distant country like Uruguay. In the end, they settled on a place.
"Where to?" said the taxi driver.
"Take us to Norwich!" the group responded. So off they went. The taxi driver, a large chap called Wayne, thought it would be wise if they stopped for lunch en route (well, it was a long way). He was on a diet, but chose a greasy spoon café anyway. The trouble was, with the plentiful ham, broad Wayne got even broader. He'd already gorged himself in Burger King on Chicken Flamers - ham just added to the problem.
When they reached Norwich, they continued north to the wonderful National Trust gardens nearby at Felbrigg Hall. But then they thought that Lulworth Cove may have been a better option. Unlike Lulworth Cove, N.T. gardens charged for entry, although even at Lulworth Cove charges for deckchairs were on the up. Minsters, abbeys, museums, and wildlife centres in Dorset were charging too.
But it was too late now for Colin, he was out of money (the money he'd spent at the Greasy Spoon had left the poor lad broke). Grovelling to the others, he asked if they could lend him a few bob.
"Not after we've come this far. Ring Don," they said, "he might be able to help". It's true, Don was a champ. Steadily, Colin recounted the story from the start. Don had just finished playing a game with his children, and had put the equipment away. "After we finished playing hoopla, I stowed the equipment in the shed immediately”, said Don over the phone, “so I can come right away!"
Don was rich, very rich. When he came, he had not only the entrance fee money, but he had enough to pay off Wes, Colin, and Stan’s debts to Roy, as well as enough money for Don to drive them back to Oxford or London. As Wayne’s services were no longer required, Don drove them to a pub for lunch, and invited Roy up to Norwich to pay off the debts.
CHAPTER FOUR - THE CAPTURE
The five of them sat down to a traditional meal invented by the Swiss: cottage cheese with a glass of freshly pressed apple juice. Handily, an apple tree was growing right beside them. On the highest stem, plenty of apples were available. Upon this tree stood, a little to the west, Hamlet, a small finch. He was a true lover of standing in trees. His favourite tree was the larch. The joy of standing in a larch way surpassed the thrill that came from any other piece of vegetation.
But, as Don stepped out beneath the cold street lamps, he saw a rather suspicious-looking chap, who was listening to “And You Tell Me”, a lesser known song by Scandinavian group A-Ha, in 'A'. Ultimately, he was getting ready for a verbal hammering, but he wasn't quite expecting to hear this:
"Good afternoon, sir. I am Detective Inspector Street of New Scotland Yard, and I understand that you may be connected with the recent disappearance of birds from London Zoo. Can you confirm or deny this?"
Don looked round for the others, but they had all vanished. He protested his innocence, but it was no use.
He was eventually sentenced to prison after a lengthy courts procedure. Prison was full of pretty dim criminals - especially during Monopoly:
"£200 for passing Go. Right, your turn, Pike."
"No, Pike, read out the first word first."
"Park! Got it! Park Lane!"
His criminal associates were still at large, and he saw them bank mental amounts of money during his sentence. He spent the majority of his time writing letters to his associates. He gave a plan, to attack Will Esden, green light to go. The plan had three stages: assemble seven in the morning, Ton Crescent; meet Will Esden, junction of Dagenham Heath Way and Ton Crescent; attack.
But the police had plenty of information to act on. Town hall staff had intercepted the letters and passed them on, commenting: "There isn't a road called ‘Ton Crescent’ in Dagenham. East London has several strange road names, but none as strange as that!"
Then Don, central to proceedings, had a sudden brainwave. It was quite chilling – Don had a habit of coming up with ideas exactly when they were needed. He described himself as a criminal guru: “I slipped up once, just once, and got arrested”.
The plan was organized on quite an extraordinary scale. Don, Ian (road crew) and many of the other prisoners were involved. But despite his precautions, Don had still let one of them (who was, of course, on a drugs high) bury Andi Slington beside the Stam Ford, Brooklyn. They were going for several crimes - probably ten in a row; a crime 'decathlon'. Don bridged any gaps in communication in an interesting way.
Equipped with a wimble, Don had a secret plan to escape. This wasn't just any ordinary wimble. Don parked himself by the prison wall, and put his secret plan to work. Boring out from the south, ‘Wimble Don’ (as he was known by a few trusted associates) managed to penetrate the walls of the prison.
Outside the prison, he got into the getaway car, driven by Ken, an accomplice of Don's.
"So," said Ken, "where are we going, guru?"
"Islip. Gardens are nice in Oxfordshire at this time of year."
He tried getting romantic with him.
"Will you marry me?"
"Yeah, but there are problems..."
"Be specific, Ken."
"Hamilton. I'm in love with Hamilton."
"Well, that's a surprise, Ken. Sal Green says she's in love with you."
"No, Hamilton calls himself Sal Green."
Don didn't realize, but this accomplice was none other than Ken Sington, the car parking organizer for the talent contest that was soon to take place in Wick. "We can't stay in Islip," said Ken, "will you come with me to Wick?" Don reluctantly agreed.
After they'd been there a few days, he complained: "Why did we come all the way up to the north of Scotland? I was happier in the south, Ken. Tons happier."
"But I've got a job here," said Ken Sington. "Olympian levels of competition are starting pretty soon."
"All right,” said Don, "I won't go south, Ken. Sing tonight at the competition and I'll give you my undying support."
"But I'm not competing - I'm just in charge of the car park. Royalty will be attending this event you know."
"My spirits have sunk to their lowest, Ken. Sing tonight for me please. Just find a way."
CHAPTER FIVE - THE CONTEST
So impressive was Ken's performance at the competition that he was asked to represent Britain at the Eurovision Song Contest in Manchester. By a remarkable twist of fate, John Collier was asked to represent Ireland, even though he wasn't Irish and couldn't sing - having been almost bankrupted by hosting the contest three times in succession, the Irish broadcaster RTE had contrived to deliberately lose the contest that year.
The Azerbaijani performers were a mysterious quartet calling themselves "Glorious Hags", dressed entirely in burqas. But, fresh off the train at Manchester Piccadilly, circus performers representing Armenia looked to win the contest.
After the previous year, when a contestant fell off the stage during second rehearsal (which the juries voted on), efforts were made to ensure that the juries and public voted, for the first time in Eurovision history, on the same performance. Over in the auditorium, the event organizer was showing the representatives of the various juries to their seats. It was all very high-tech - the seats had electronic voting terminals built into them.
The event organiser showed them to where the juries would be on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday: "This is where you'll be sitting for Tuesday's heat. 'H' row, terminals 1, 2, 3 are for the heads of the Latvian, Portuguese, and Croatian juries respectively..."
"I'm a bit concerned about vote-rigging," interrupted the head of the Dutch jury. "Is the voting system secure?"
"Absolutely - there's no way that anyone can cheat. 'H' row terminal 4 is for the head of the Maltese jury..."
"And the head of the British jury? What position is he at?"
" 'H' row terminal 5. May I continue please?"
Tuesday’s first semi-final was a fairly non-descript affair, with the most exciting part being the results. To John’s disbelief, Ireland were through – as were Armenia, Georgia, Sweden, Albania, Belarus, Turkey, Estonia, Cyprus, and Greece. The Russian delegation, whose country had not qualified for the first time ever, was furious:
"We had to schlepp ingloriously over here and didn't make it through. We are furious. We need HS2 now." On Thursday, Azerbaijan would perform. Could they join John in the final on Saturday?
On Wednesday, Ken tried to sing along with the newly reinstated orchestra in his first rehearsal, but there were problems.
"What key do you want to sing in, Ken? Is this one any good? G?"
Streetwise musicians tried to keep up with him, but it proved a very hard task. They were trying to rehearse "Na-La-Na-La-Na", the UK's ambitious entry for that year's contest. (Having unexpectedly won the previous year, the BBC had belatedly realised that their best hope lay in a song consisting of meaningless gibberish.) The trumpet player, enthusiastically tooting, beckoned to Ken.
"Try singing it like this."
He started tooting "Broadway Baby" from "Follies", getting a huge laugh from the orchestra.
This made Ken a little bit frustrated. He needed to relax, so he closed his eyes, and thought of recent events. Then a startling revelation came to him: Don - the guru - Islip - man or woman? Suddenly he realised why Don might have these feelings for him.
The Germans’ first rehearsal was a complete catastrophe. Disease was rampant!
"Hil, least of our problems now. Alan Rickman's
worthless fan base is trying to get rid of us!" The Germans, of course, had never quite lived down the slightly disturbing 1998 performance of Guildo Horn. Churchill would have declared World War II all over again if he'd heard it.
Realising that the second semi-final needed beefing up in terms of entertainment, the BBC quickly rang up several artists to do an opening act. As a result, for the opening act on Thursday, the audience was treated to a performance by the reformed Denver-based alternative rock band, Vaux. Halloween costumes weren't their normal outfit, but at the Eurovision Song Contest, let's face it, anything goes.
It was now time for the Azerbaijani entry, performed by the mysterious veiled "Glorious Hags". But as they prepared to go on stage, they were unexpectedly ushered off. "Sorry, the stage is out of bounds. Green room is where you're staying."
"Who do you think you are?"
"I am Inspector Street of New Scotland Yard, and you're all under arrest."
Their disguise had been rumbled. Beneath the veils were none other than the fugitives Wes, Colin, Stan and Roy, who had secretly made their way to Manchester from Norwich and kidnapped the actual Azerbaijani contestants.
The arrest of the 'Azerbaijani' band left an unfortunate gap in the performance which needed filling. So at short notice, Heinrich Vall, the German band leader, suggested they could sing one of their own song as a filler: “Erhöhen Die Mächtige Stange“(which roughly translated, is “Raise the mighty rod”), in G. Vall eyed up the criminals as they were led away.
On Saturday, Richard sat down to watch the grand final on television as Ava cooked the dinner. As she walked in, he spoke to her absent-mindedly. The audience started to clap.
"Southern fried chicken, actually. You finished all of the ham yesterday, remember?" He was so absorbed in the contest he couldn't remember a thing. She could have served up pieces of burnt oak and he wouldn't have noticed.
It was finally time for the British entry. Taking his cue from David Walliams, Ken had decided to change a single letter of his surname for his stage name, and was introduced as "Ken Nington". Watching at home, Richard was cynical:
"Nington indeed. That's plain old Ken Sington, parking attendant. Why are they letting him sing? He's got a voice like an elephant. And Castle Donington is supposed to be hiring him to sort out the car parking this week!"
After a spectacular interval act, the juries and voters had voted. The first votes came from Albania. One to Ireland. Two to Sweden. Three to United Kingdom. Four to France. Five to Spain. Six to Georgia. Seven to Germany. Eight to Bulgaria. Ten to F.Y.R. Macedonia. Twelve to... Greece! Bad start for Ken, but still 38 votes to come.
"John's not doing too well," said Richard. "What did you think of that song of his - 'Roundwood Lane' or whatever it was called?"
"Well,” said Ava, "it might have gone down better if it hadn't been recited nervously in a New York Jewish accent."
"Do you know why Ireland selected a Woody Allen impressionist to represent them at Eurovision?"
"I haven't a clue. The selection panel must have been barking."
Side by side, they sat watching in increasing amazement.
At last all the votes were in, and the winners, with an unprecedented 398 points, were Turkey. The leader of the Turkish group, ney player Demir Osman, was delighted. Ken had managed to struggle up to 19th out of 26 with 23 points, and John was last with his single point from Albania.
CHAPTER SIX - THE NEW VISITOR
Just when the credits were rolling and Turkey were performing the reprise of “And You”, the doorbell rang at Richard and Ava's once more. It was a Mr Miller, grandson of the famous Walt Disney, and he'd stayed there many years ago with Ralph Lauren, the fashion designer.
"I'm just passing through and I thought I'd say hi."
Richard was surprised, but proceeded to invite him to tea. Walt began to take out his money.
"Put the money away - you don't pay here. What would you like, Walt? Ham? Stow cent! Ralph Lauren was never so eager to pay. I hope it wasn't too much trouble to get here?"
"I had some trouble with a police officer on the train, Mr Ying Wei Sou, thru Islip. He yelled with so much anger, Lanes round the station sent in complaints."
But up in Manchester, it was a different story. The four suspects had been taken to the local police station and were currently under interrogation.
"Good evening, gentlemen. As you may know by now, I am Inspector Street, currently under secondment to Greater Manchester Police, and these are my colleagues Constables Chalfont and Latimer. Wesley Tacton, you have been arrested on suspicion of a number of offences, including theft of a number of birds from London parks, theft of a car, illegal entry to a convent, and kidnap of an Azerbaijani singing group. Is Tacton your real name?"
"People know me as Tacton, but my name's actually Wes Tharrow."
"Tharrow sounds even less likely than Tacton."
"Well at least it's not Wes Truislip."
"Don't try to be funny."
"This is pretty serious," added Latimer. "Road traffic offences are usually the worst we get to deal with here."
As for Ken, his brief singing career was over and he was back in his old job sorting out parking spaces. He was now hired by a company whose three directors insisted on being treated in strict order of seniority; first James's parking space had to be allocated, then Peter's, and last Paul's. There were also complicated arrangements for the staff; those with surnames up to 'N' parked on the town side, the rest on the country side. The first customer had a strong Irish accent.
"What's the first letter of your name, please?" asked Ken.
" 'Tis 'H'."
"Town side, please. And your name, sir?"
"Park on that side, please. You wouldn't happen to be the famous left-arm spinner of that name, would you?"
"That's right. Do you get many cricketers parking in here?"
"No, but quite a few footballers. We've had people who've played at Wembley parking here. And jockeys - we've had people who've ridden at Newbury parking here."
But what about John? Despite his abysmal performance at the contest, he had had an amazing stroke of luck. He had been talent-spotted by an American impresario, Ed G. Ware, who was attending and happened to be a huge Woody Allen fan. Immediately after the contest he was whisked down to Ed's London office. Surrounding the door was a huge marble arch with the inscription: ‘Ed G. Ware: Road to Fortune. Ed G. Ware: Road to Fame’.
"Can I pour you a drink?" asked Ed.
"Thanks!" said John. "This is great port."
"Land streets ahead of the other acts when you sign with me," said Ed. "You'll be performing in front of kings. Bury your misgivings - your act is like gold."
"Er... S. Green has also offered to take me on."
It was a bluff. Stepney Green was Ed's great rival.
"So what's the deal with Green?"
Parking himself upright in his seat, John looked Ed in the eye and said "He'll take twenty per cent."
"I'll take ten."
"Do we have a deal?"
"My word is my bond. Streets ahead you'll be, like I said. You'll appear in front of queens - bury your misgivings! Tell you what - I'll take you out to dinner at my favourite restaurant."
He ordered a bottle of Bordeaux, bridge rolls and some butter, and seemed quite familiar with Ethel, the waitress. "I'm not too keen on the lamb, Eth, nor the pork, so I'll go for the beef," said Ed. "What do you want, John?"
John was so happy he wanted to clap. "Ham.” Northerners like him were used to plain food.
Meanwhile, Richard and Ava had decided to take their new guest Walt for a drive in the country. On the radio, they listened to the London traffic news from aristocratic reporter Charles Colquhoun.
"Slow westbound traffic on the A13 heading into London, “said Colquhoun, "Slow eastbound traffic on the A4 heading into London."
"Aren't you pleased to be out of all of that?" said Richard. "Just listen to Charlie Colquhoun: 'slow'. Central London is grinding to a halt."
They drove into a hollow, a 'Y' road junction ahead of them. They found a spot by the woodside, parking the car underneath a tall elm. Parked safely, they walked into the wood. Green fields were everywhere and they saw a figure in the hillside carved out of chalk. Farmers were busy laying snares. Brooks babbled around them and in the distance they saw shepherds. Bushes surrounded them on all sides, and a black horse, roadworthy as any car, cantered down the path alongside them.
"That's a big ants’ hill," said Walt.
"Indeed," said Richard. "Ants tend to gather around this area - this is where those having picnics tend to hang around, and the ants are attracted to the crumbs. Look at that discarded roll - perhaps it wasn't tasty enough. I blame it on the bakers."
Tree trunks of fallen elms were all over the place, but they carried on regardless.
CHAPTER SEVEN - THE MONASTERY
Don was now a broken man. He had escaped from prison to be with his beloved Ken, who had abandoned him in Scotland to pursue his singing ambition in Manchester. He had found his experiences in the north harrowing, to say the least. Coterie who'd previously surrounded him in the criminal world had abandoned him as well. He headed for Leicester, squarely determined to put the past behind him. On his way through Yorkshire he crossed a lonely moor, gated from the rest of the world, occupied by a monastic order. Things looked black. Friar Stephen, head of the order, suddenly accosted him.
"Who are you and what are you doing here?" asked the friar.
"Ray Nerslane," said Don, uttering the first name that came into his head. "I'm heading south - war knows no friends."
"You're in the military then?"
"Yes," lied Don. "I'm embarking on a secret mission. You see that tower?"
"Hillside one, you mean?"
"I'm stationed there. Can't tell you why."
Back in Manchester, suddenly a message came over the two-way radio: ‘M61 towards Preston - road traffic accident. Constable Chalfont please report for duty’.
PC Chalfont was replaced by PC Finchley, road accidents not normally being amongst his responsibilities. Although the newest, Finchley was clearly the sharpest of the interrogators. At least Finchley looked a little less intimidating.
"Police here in the north act on evidence, not hearsay," said Finchley. "Central to our case is the fact that you were seen impersonating a London park-keeper, trying to capture the ravens from London Zoo. Is this right?"
"Ravens court park-keepers," said Wes.
"But you avoided the puffins, though."
"Yes. I've heard that puffins bury park-keepers sometimes."
"You even captured a rare gold hawk - "
"Road traffic accident more serious than believed," came the disembodied voice. "Multiple vehicles involved. All officers report for duty."
Over at the car park, Ken had another interesting customer, who arrived in an Austin Metro. "Your name, please?"
"I'm Doctor Foster." (Leyland cars don't turn up often, thought Ken.)
"Not the Doctor Foster who went to Gloucester?"
"Roadworks on the M5 stopped that.” (He’d heard the quip so many times he had a ready answer for it.) "But do you know where I can buy a dress for my wife Annabel?"
"Size? Park over there, sir, and I'll think about it."
"OK. By the way, what team do you support?"
"Ha! Let's see if we manage to overtake you this season." He thrust a piece of paper into Ken's hand and drove off. It said "I support West Brom. P.T.O."
Nervously, Ken turned the paper over, but before he could read the other side, he was distracted by a driver smashing his car with a hammer. Smithereens were flying all over the place.
"What are you doing?" asked Ken.
"It's an insurance scam. Dent own vehicle, then claim the other driver did it."
On their walk in the country, Walt and Ava were starting to get a little more familiar. "Whereabouts are we now?" asked Walt.
"This is the north wood. Hills obscure the view, but the south wood is over there," said Ava. "Do you go out walking much in the States?"
"No, but I play golf on the north green, Wichita."
Suddenly they were distracted by two men with a large package to deliver. Pools, tree trunks and other obstacles were getting in the way.
"How much does this package weigh, Dudley?"
"But it's all padding - tons of it."
"I know it's all padding, Tony. Where are we taking it?"
"Up to those shepherds - bush!"
"Market day today, is it?" asked Dudley, narrowly avoiding the bush that Tony had helpfully pointed out. His footing went slightly askew.
"Garden supplies, I think."
Meanwhile, Ed had got John his first booking - a spot on the cable TV chat show "Bob Rix Tonight". He'd never actually heard of the host, Bob Rix, but he was pleased to see that one of the other guests was the former boxer Ricky Hatton. Crossing his fingers for good luck, he listened for his cue. "And now let's welcome John Collier!"
After enthusiastic applause, the host continued, "John, first question - what is the English letter corresponding to the Greek letter chi?"
"Well, no. If you can correctly tell me the capital of Norway, you can have another guess."
"It's Oslo. An E?"
Square dealing was what John was used to, and this certainly wasn't it. He inwardly cursed Ed - what sort of humiliation was this meant to be? Con! Tree-like, he stood there baffled. Clearly he had a lot to learn. O? S?
"Grovelling apologies," said the producer, who suddenly appeared. We thought you were John Hollier, a contestant on our new quiz show. Bob Rix is in the next studio."
CHAPTER EIGHT - THE OUTCOME
But in Yorkshire things still looked bleak. "So what's the name of this monastery, and how did you come to run it?" asked Don, his spirits still at their lowest.
"Minster Abbey," said the friar. "I used to live in Neyland in west Wales, a lot further south. Harrowing experiences meant I had to leave, but I could at least put Neyland behind me and start a new life here."
"I'll come clean," said Don. "I'm not a soldier - I'm an escaped criminal. Can you give me sanctuary here?"
Meanwhile in Manchester, with all the police out on road accident duty, the four suspects had been locked together in a cell.
“Well that's a fine mess you've got us into, Wes,” said Colin.
“I've never been in a police station before,” said Stan.
"Nor me," said Roy. “I've only seen those American cop shows where they say things like 'Earl - scour the building'.”
“Well, let's have a bar on 'scour the building', please,” said Wes. "This isn't America, and we're not on TV."
At the car park, Ken had more difficult customers to deal with.
"Name, please?" This customer was one of the slowest.
"Park over there please."
"I don't understand this alphabetical system. Where would someone called Hyde park?"
"Corner of the yard."
Finally Ken had a chance to look at the other side of the note left by Dr Foster after he'd put in his two penn'orth.
"Wembley tickets available," it said. "Phone 020 7946 0128."
Ken had always dreamed of playing at Wembley - central defence was his position. To get a seat there would be a dream come true. He didn't care that someone was trying to make a fast buck - Hurst, Hill and other great football personalities of the past were his heroes. And what if it was an appearance by his beloved Tottenham? Court Road in Eltham, where he grew up, would be proud of him. But back to the job.
"Park there, please..."
On the country walk, Walt had a few questions for Ava. "I don't think I know your surname, Ava. Do you prefer the town or the country?"
"It's Sudbury. Town life has become rather dull recently."
"So, Ava Sudbury, hill walking appeals to you more? When are you going on holiday?"
"Seychelles are nice at that time of year," interrupted Walt, before Ava could finish saying "Monday".
John had a booking at a top comedy club in Euston, "Square World", named after the classic Michael Bentine show. He was between two up-and-coming new double acts, "Harrow and Wealdstone" and "Totteridge and Whetstone". (The names sounded oddly familiar to him, but he couldn't work out why.) Also on the bill was someone calling himself "Professor C.R. Oxley", who gave spoof historical lectures, and another comic from the north, Ol Thompson, who said he was going to put Neybridge on the map. (Neybridge didn't exist - it was a fictional version of the town where he grew up.) John put on his trademark glasses, walked out on stage and hoped for the best...
Don decided to put his criminal past behind him and become a monk. Wes was sentenced to five years for theft of birds from Her Majesty's parks, with Colin and Stan getting lesser sentences. Roy was acquitted as there was no case against him, although he was given a fine for animal cruelty. Ken got tickets for the FA Cup Final at Wembley where Tottenham beat West Brom 3 - 0. After a whirlwind romance, Walt took Ava back to America and married her. Richard went back to his Boy Scouts, and John was booked to play the part of Woody Allen in a forthcoming biopic, "I Don't Want to Be There When it Happens".