Richard BROMLEY, SOUTH London's most dedicated Boy Scout leader, was unhappy. He hadn't been able to find a replacement for Ava, his former housemaid, who had unexpectedly emigrated to America and got married. Now it was just housework round the CLOCK - HOUSEwork and more housework. And he couldn't cook anything other than CHIPS. TEA, Dinner and lunch invariably consisted of chips, and he was getting fatter and fatter.
He switched on the radio. "This is the London traffic news with Charles ColquHOUN. SLOW traffic on the A3 heading into..."
He quickly switched off again. It reminded him of the day when Ava had fallen in love with Walt, his house guest, on a long walk in the country. Suddenly there was a knock at the door. He answered it to an attractive young LADY.
"WELL I'm sorry to bother you," she said, "but I haven't seen my CAT FOR Days. Do you think he might have come here?"
"I haven't seen a cat, sorry," said Richard. "Can I ask your name please?"
"It's ALEXANDRA, PAL." A CErtain smile played around her lips. "But you can call me Alex."
"Come in if you like. You sound as though you're from up NORTH."
SHE ENtered. "Yes, I am - CHORLEY."
"WOODy Allen fan by any chance?"
"Oh, it's just a strange coincidence. We had a visitor here once who came from Chorley. He did the most uncanny impression of Woody Allen you've ever come across."
"The very same."
"He used to know mE WELL. WE STayed together in Chorley when we were younger. Is he well-known round here?"
"He's more tHAN WELL-known. He's a star now - he's been in a film."
"Absolutely true," Richard assured hER.
"I THink that's amazing. Are you looking for a housekeeper by any chance?"
"As it happens, I am. How on earth did you know?"
"It's not really hard to tell," said Alex, looking around the room. "Anyway I've got experience in that area. Fancy giving me a trial?"
Richard chose to take Alex on, of course. It had been a stroke of incredibly good luck she'd turned up then, he thought as he headed down to his local cash-and-carry. He’d noticed they had a large case of honey on offer, and now seemed exactly the right time to stock up – maybe they could have honey-glazed ham soon. He hummed as he walked down the aISLE.
"WORTH every penny I'm paying her," he said. Suddenly, he bumped into his neighbour, TED DINGTON.
"Morning, Mr BROMLEY. NORTHern girl keeping house for you now?" said Ted. (News travels fast round here, thought Richard.)
"That's right, Ted. She's an absolute ANGEL. ROADs weren't too busy this morning, so I nipped in here while she’s buying something for dinner.”
He went back to the house and immediately smELT HAM.
"Today'S TREAT: HAM," said Alex. "Is that OK for you?"
Richard was overcome by gREED. "HAM's perfect! How did you know it was my favourite food?"
"I just FELT HAM would be appropriate. Whenever I have to CATER, HAM's always popular."
"There seem to be a lot of people I know who love it. It can't be a complete coincidence, can it? Like John Collier, for instance."
"When I knew him at firST, JOHN Simply refused to eat anything else."
"No surprise there. I think he's broadened his tastes a bit since he got into films, though."
"How did that hapPEN? GEE - A STar among my old friends, and I was never tOLD."
"STREETs ahead he is now. I gather he signed up with some American impresario, but I lost touch with him after that. I did see him on some dreadful cable TV chat show - 'BoB RIX TONight'."
"Never heard of it. Most television just frazzles my bRAIN. HAM's all right for you then? How do you like it?"
"Honey glazed would be great. I’ve got some honey out in the car."
He went out to his car, which was parked across the street. He'd bought 72 jars, which came in a large container that he nicknamed the “bee chest”. Unfortunately he dropped it into the road. Passing drivers hit the brakes, but didn't manage to stop before hitting the crate.
"Oh hell, I can see the headlines in the local paper,” he said to himself. " ‘Several CARS HALT ON BEE CHESt’.”
At that moment, a delivery van approached. The driver and his colleague, Tony and Dudley, were in something of a hurry.
"Tony!” said Dudley. “Stop the van at once! Looks like honey in the road."
The van screeched to a halt.
"Honey?” said Tony. “ I just had a jar from my auntie EleaNOR. BIT ON my toast in the mornings is all right, but that muCH IS WICKed. How did it get there?"
"Dunno, Tone. More important, how are we going to get back to the depot for this urgent meeting with Ken Ewing? He sounded really angry."
"Can't think why, Dud. Were WE STEALING from the company?"
"Of course not, Tone. We were just a bit late with that vacuum cleANER - LEYburn Avenue."
"I told KEN LEYburn Avenue would be hard to find, Dud. It's out of our normal travellinG RANGE."
"PARK the van here then and let's get the train over. We daren't be late for this one."
Having made their way back by train, Tony and Dudley rushed into the depot and went straight to the office of Ken Ewing, Head of Operations.
"You wanted to see us, Ken?" said Dudley.
"Yes. We've had a complaint from a customer - a Mr George West of 7 Leyburn Avenue, South Kensington. Apparently you were supposed to deliver a Dyson vacuum cleaner to him. You arrived at the address over an hour late, apparently under the influence of alcohol. When you arrived it seems that you delivered not the model that Mr West had ordered, but an inferior model worth about forty pounds."
"You then told Mr West that you had delivered his cleaner to a neighbour of his along the street - a Mr SYD ENHAM - and you told him to go along to Mr Enham's address and swap the cleaners over. Mr West was somewhat reluctant to do so, because Mr Enham has a rather unfortunate reputation locally. But eventually he summoned up the courage."
"Yes. And when he arrived, he witnessed Mr Enham engaged in an act with his vacuum cleaner that he was unwilling to describe, shouting to Mr WEST, ' 'B' ROMP TONight!' "
"Oh my God..."
"Mr West is now in a highly nervous condition and has threatened to sue this company for several thousand pounds, not including the cost of the vacuum cleaner."
"Umm... we can eaCH AFFORD HUNDREDs, Ken, but not thousands."
"I'm not asking you for the money. Do you have any idea what you've done to this company's reputation? We can't sink any LOWER."
"SYD ENHAM already has done, I think,” quipped Tony.
"Don't be flippant. Had you been drinking?"
"Well, it was a hot day and we were knackered..."
"Stop stoneWALLING, TONy. Had you been drinking?"
At that moment, an email arrived in Ken's inbox. It read:
"Fantastic vacuum cleaner! TA. T.T. ENHAM (CORNER of Leyburn Avenue)."
Ken was puzzled. "So let's get this straight. You actually delivered the cleaner TO T.T. ENHAM?"
"HA! LEt's see if I can remember," said Dudley. "That was the name on the buzzer."
"So there are two Mr Enhams? I'm getting mightily confused here. Did you and Tony bring the van here today under the influence of alcohol?"
"We haven't got it, Ken."
"What do you mean, you haven't got it? Where is it?"
"It's stuck in some honey."
Ken buried his face in his hands.
"Look, Ken," said Dudley. "Perhaps we can talk this over somewhere else. How’d you like to come and watch a Millwall home game with me?"
"All right," said Ken. “We could go to the pie stand at the north end of the ground at half time."
"That's pretty unusual," said Dudley, "A norMAL DEN MAN ORdinarily goes to the south end pie stand - they have honey glazed ham pies you know."
"That's a blindinG IDEA. PARK yourself in the café round the corner if you like. I’ll join you in a moment."
Dudley sat down in the cafe, where he was joined by a regular customer, HAROLD WOOD.
"Please excuse me, I can't see too well," said Harold, pointing at his hat. "BRIM'S DOWN."
"No probs," Dudley responded. "I’m just waiting to meet my boss – it looks as though my mate and I might be getting the sack."
“I can sympathize entirely. I got fired fROM FORD recently. You might be able to get some work here perhaps. I’m told the CREW SHILLing is pretty good."
Richard was standing, mouth agape, looking at the carnage. Pieces of broken glass had scratched several of the cars, causing marKINGS. WOOD, lids of jars and honey was splattered everywhere. A policeman came over, notebook in hand. He looked WAN.
"DS WORTH ROADen here," he said. "Is this your honey?"
"Yes, I'm afraid so," Richard replied. "I wanted to glaze some ham, so I put this chest of honey in my boOT FOR Dinner."
"Why so many jars? I only use a TAD."
"WORTH it to buy in bulk. Anyway, I have a lot of ham. When my spirits are at their loWEST, HAM always cheers me up."
"I'm sure your spirits are never that low with your new housemaid around! Is it true she used to be an acroBAT AND BALLet dancer?"
"It is indeed. Now I must go and salvage what I can from it."
"Where's your car from, by the way? I need to make a note about the accident."
"It was made in Nova Scotia, of all places!"
Worth took out his notebook, and wrote 'Spillage of honEY, NS FORD involved. Other vehicles involved include a single decker bus (Dennis DART), FORD Transit van, and two 3-door hatCHES. HUNTed down culprit, took name and address, sent him on his way.'
Meanwhile, Richard had managed to find a substantial portion of the honey intACT, ON MAIN LINEs in the structure of the chest. Obviously the force of the impacts had been concentrated into certain areas. Worth helped him pull the unbroken jars 'aSHORE'.
"HAM will be much nicer with this honey, thanks. Would you like to come over? There's plenty to go around."
"I'd love to, but I've got to go and finish my shift. They'll be especially rowdy, it's the end of Yom KipPUR. LEYburn Avenue, do you know it?"
"I wondered why you looked thiS WAN! LEYburn Avenue must be a nightmare of a shift, what with Syd and Thomas TWICK ENHAM living there. I hear they eat roaST RAT FOR Dinner."
"It's not just them, it's old Mr. WEST. DR. AYTON says he had a nasty turn recently and needs an eye kept on him."
“DR. AYTON – GREEN Street Surgery?"
"Yes, that’s right. So what’s for dinner? When should I turn up? SEVEN?"
"OAK Smoked ham, honey glazed, steamed vegetables, and tea (herBAL). HAM goes surprisingly well with tea."
"What sort of herbs?"
"Oh, basil leaf and mulBERRY L-"
"Yes, mustard, cranberry, plum, whatever takes your fancy. Just remember, when you turn up, you have to give the doorbell a nice DUNT. ON GREEN belt houses the doorbells tend to be a bit stiff."
DS Roaden drove gloomily over to Leyburn Avenue. He dreaded having to check up on the Enhams again. There was a whole family of them. Thomas, the father, was relatively sane, but there was his domineering wife BECK ENHAM; HILLary, their impossible daughter; their elder son DAG ENHAM, DOCK-worker who rarely came to the family home; and of course his younger brother, the rat-eating SYD ENHAM. HILLary was absolutely terrifying, and DS Roaden prayed that she would be out.
He pressed the buzzer and a large, stern lady answered. "BECK ENHAM, JUNCTION spotter here," she said. "What do you want?"
"You've heard of a trainspotter, haven't you? See that pub over there - the Earl of WATFORD? JUNCTION with Hope Street?"
"Well, I spotted that. I've got them all down in my notebook, you know. Want to see it?"
"Not at the moment, thanks. May I come in?"
"Why? Do you want some roaST RAT?"
"FORD INTERNATIONAL sales are up," said a voice from inside.
"Tom! Stop reading the Financial Times and come and talk to this policeman. I'm getting a headaCHE."
"AM I really needed right now?" said Tom.
"You never cease to aMAZE. HILLary'll be back soon, and all you're interested in is the share prices!"
"But the stock market is going crazy!" said Tom. "Diamond mining is crashing - I'd have thought that would be the jEWEL LEAST likely to fall!"
Just then Hillary appeared. Her clothes were rather revEALING. BROAD, WAY too heavily made up and extremely loud, she burst past DS Roaden and into the house.
"Mum!" she shouted. "You'll never guess where I've been - LOUGHBOROUGH!"
"JUNCTIONs round there interesting?" said Beck.
"Oh, don't be such a nerd, Mum. In my heart I'm a GIPSY," HILLary proclaimed. "Next week I might be off to DENMARK."
"HILLary!” said Tom. “ Who's taking you there then?"
"This utterly gorgeous bloke I met - LEWIS. HAMmered together we got. And he absolutely adorES SEX."
ROADen was embarrassed. "Excuse me madam, but do you realize that I’m a police officer?"
"Oh," said Hillary sarcastically. "Is my skirt too SHORT? LAND Someone in trouble, you will. What are the cops doing here anyway?"
"I'm enquiring about the possible theft of a Dyson vacuum cleaner."
"Don't know nuffin' about that. There's one over there though."
"That's aN ORWOOD."
"JUNCTION spotting’s my only pleasure, Hillary," said Beck. "Don’t call me a nerd."
"Shut up, Mum! Where did that vacuum cleaner come from anyway?"
"I dunno, I wasn't in. Tom?"
"Old Mr West from number 7 brought it round," said Tom. "We'd just collected the cleaner that you ordered, and then he came in with that third-rate model and tried to swap them over. Syd sent him packing."
"But I didn't order a vacuum cleaner, Tom."
"So who did then?"
"'Oo cares, Dad?" yelled Hillary. "’Ere, Lewis played me this brilliant song. Have you heard of Ken Sington? No one matCHES SINGTON - NORTH or south of here." "Wasn't he on Eurovision, Hillary?"
"Maybe. No one touCHES SINGTON - SOUTH or north of here!"
"What about the guy who won Eurovision last year - Pete WOOLWICH?"
"ARSE! NA-La-na-la-na is the best song ever written! Na-la-na-la-na, na-la-na-la-na, a-na-da-wa, a-na-da-wa, na-la-na-la-naaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah!"
DS Roaden couldn't take it any longer. His eardrums were sWELLING up.
"I'm very grateFUL. WELL, I think I'll have to finish my enquiries there. I have an appointment at SEVEN."
"SISTER!" Said Syd, who suddenly appeared. "The rat's on the table..."
Having realized that no one in the house had actually ordered the Dyson, Tom made a phone call.
"Hello, HG Transport, can I help you?"
"Yes. This is Thomas Enham of 23 Leyburn Avenue. I'd like to return a vacuum cleaner that was delivered to us in error."
"No problem - we'll pick it up from you in SoutHAMPTON. COURTesy visit."
"But I don't live in SoutHAMPTON."
"The only Leyburn Avenue on our system is in SoutHAMPTON. WICKed piece of software it is as well."
"Sorry, but I'm in London - South KENSINGTON."
"OLYMPIA anywhere near you? We've got a delivery there tomorrow - if you take it over there we can pick it up."
"I don't want to go to Olympia! Apparently it was intended for a Mr George WEST."
"SUTTON Coldfield, is that?"
"No, he's a neighbour of mine."
"So why don't you just take it along to him?"
"I don't want to go into that. I'm worried about what might hapPEN."
"That's him, yes."
"Oh, I’ve found the address now. We would have picked it up, but the van got stuck in some honey."
"I don't care if it got stuck in strawberry jam."
"I said I don't care if it got stuck in STRAWBERRY - HILLary! Go and put some clothes on."
"Perhaps we should end this call here, sir?"
"Don't worry, it's just my daughter. She's a bit of a reBEL."
"MONTh's time is the earliest we can pick it up, sir."
"Well I suppose that'll have to do. Thanks."
He put the phone down and sipped some WATER. "LOOk, Hillary, you can't behave like this when you're at home. This isn't the place for reBELLING."
"HAMster would be nice for dinner tomorrow," said Hillary. "I'm fed up with rat."
Tom despaired. She was too old for him to HIT HER.
"GREENgrocers sell healthy fruit and vegetables, and you just want to eat rodents?"
"Well they're good enough for my CAT."
"FORD BRIDGEnd engine plant to lose 200 staff," read Tom. As so often, the newspaper was his only refuge.
Several thousand miles across the Atlantic, Ava was calling her new husband for dinner.
CROSSly, Walt replied, "But I was just going out to play golf."
"You were out on the SOUTH GREEN FOR Days last time."
"It's a fantastic GREEN. WICHita is blessed with several."
"Can't you stay in for once? I've got something I want to show you." She pulled out an old photograph. "Do you see those names? SUDBURY, HILL, HARROW."
"Well I recognize you on the left of course. Who are the other two?"
"In the middle is GORDON HILL, my first boyfriend when I was at college. And on the right is Margaret Harrow, who was my best friend at the time. We were heavily into student comedy."
"Yes, we had an act called SUDBURY AND HARROW. ROADtrips to venues all over England - it was loads of fun. But then Margaret ran off with Gordon."
"How did you take that?"
"With utter disguST. MARGARET'S betrayal was the last thing I expected. The thought of Margaret HARROW ON THE HILL sofa made me insanely jealous. So I left the act and eventually went to keep house for Richard instead."
"What happened to Margaret?"
"She teamed up with another friend of hers - Bridget Wealdstone. They started touring the pubs and clubs in LONDON. BRIDGEt found it hard to HACK."
"BRIDGEt doing better now, is she?"
"I'm not sure - I lost touch with them some time ago. Do you want the TV on while we have dinner?"
She switched on to hear the host saying:
"And now, all the way from England, the comedy double-act that's taking London by storm - HARROW AND WEALDSTONE!"
Ava's jaw nearly hit the floor.
Back in England, Richard was thinking vaguely of Ava as he greeted DS Roaden at the door.
"Oh, call me Worth, please. I'm off duty now."
"You must be exhausted after dealing with SID. CUP of tea? Or would you prefer coffee? We've got every brand BAR NEScafé."
"Tea would be great, thanks. There's a brand I really used to love as a KID - BROOKE Bond 'D'. Can you still get it?"
"I'm sure we can conjure that up without any magic WANDS, WORTH. TOWN busy today, was it?"
"Absolutely packed. This urBAN STEADy crawl through the traffic really grinds me down sometimes. Sometimes I wish I could just take the boat along the THAMES."
"DITTO, Now that they've got the Clipper - the high-veloCITY THAMES LINK."
"Oh, the police boats are much faster than that. The Clipper's like boating on the local POND."
"ER... SEND in some tea, please, Alex," said Richard, suddenly remembering. "Have we got Brooke Bond 'D'?"
"We might have," said Alex. "Brooke Bond what? I was going to try some of this new blend I bought from Thomas WESTHAM - PS TEA."
"THAMES LINKs in London aren't too bad in my opinion," said Alex. "Although if you want to relax on the WATER, LOOE - A STunning little place in Cornwall - can't be beaten. I went on holiday there once with John."
"You travelled SOUTH ALL the way from Chorley?"
"Oh, we were dreAMERS. HAMmocks were all we had to sLEEp on. It's a lot busier nowadays, of course - everyone's down there for Project EDEN. PARKing's a nightmare."
Somehow, thought Richard, the conversation always gets round to parking, so he thought he'd better steer it away from that subject.
"Of course personally, I like fishing when I'm in Cornwall; the sea fishing gives me a change from the freshwater variety. I always seem to catch crayfish when I go fishing in lakes. I can be catching CRAY FOR Days on end."
"As for me, in Cornwall, I like to go walking. Especially on Bodmin MOOR. GATEaux, chocolate and Kendal Mint Cake are always in my snack bag, to give me energy for the climbs."
"Oh yes, getting energy from Kendal Mint Cake is nothing NEW. CROSSing the Moor is certainly aided by this wonderful confectionery!"
"Yes, I take loads of consumables with me. PLUMS, TEA, Dates, you name it!"
Meanwhile, at the HG Transport depot, Dudley had returned from the Millwall game.
"So did you get Ken to change his mind, then?" asked Tony.
"Not a WHIT, TONy. The van’s been returned to the depot now. Basically, unless we go straight back to the Enhams, pick the vacuum cleaner up and return it to Mr West, we're out of a job."
"Oh, not that street with that nutcase and that God-awful puB. ICK! LEYburn Avenue's the last place I want to go."
"I know, but what else can we do? At least the Enhams haven't got HORNS."
EYeing Dudley quizzically, Tony was sceptical. "No, just little pointy tails."
"Ha-HA. YES, I can't face it either."
"Dud, I've just remembered - BoB OWES PARKy a few quid. What if we offer to pay Parky off and get Bob to do the job instead?"
"Don’t let on that we know. Just offer him the money direct. It’s a good idea, but what if Ken finds out?"
"KEN? THOU SEemest a little too worried, methinks. He's going to a conference in WORCESTER. PARKy told me."
"Great detective work! Has Parky been watching the Maltese FALCON?"
WOODenly, Tony replied, "I don't think he likes Humphrey Bogart. Look - here's Bob now. BoB! RENT FOR December might get paid if you do us a favour."
"What's that then, Tone?" said Bob.
"Oh it's nothing really. Just taking a vacuum cleaner from 23 Leyburn Avenue to 7 Leyburn Avenue."
"That's not very FAR."
"RING. DON't be put off by whoever answers the phone - just tell them when you're going to collect it. Come back here and you'll get a WAD."
Just tHEN, DON walked in the room, carrying a bale of HAY. DON'S ROAD navigation skills had landed him a job with HG Transport, and his first delivery was to a racing stable. Tony didn’t want to start giving him ideas.
"Hello, I’m Tony. You're new here, aren't you? What's your name?"
"RICK MANSWORTH," said Don, who as usual had joined under an alias.
"Well Rick, don’t think this job will make you RICH. MONDay to Friday you just earn a basic wage, though there’s some overtime at weekends. Last Saturday we had to deliver a consignment of sorbitol to southwest London."
"How much is sorbiTOL WORTH these days? Is it inexpensive, or can it only be afforded by KINGS, TONy?"
"Well, if you have KINGS CROSSing your palms with silver, that's great. But it's not really worth too much."
"So anyone, BAR KINGs or Queens, will be paying very little for the job?"
"Yes, we have to take whatever they givE US."
"TONy – thanks for the advice."
Meanwhile, Bob phoned the Enhams' number and was surprised to hear a young woman's voice.
"Can I speak to Mr Enham please? I'm from HG Transport, and my name's Bob aHERNE."
HILLary's mind was elsewhere, needless to say. "'Ere, you sound like that Ken Sington. Do you still support TottenhaM 'OTSPUR? PARKing job going all right? Did you used to call yourself Nington, OR PINGTON? I can never remember."
"No, I'm Bob Aherne, I’m a delivery driver, and I'm coming to pick up a vacuum cleaner. Can I speak to Mr Enham please?"
"My dad or my brother? My dad's out."
"Your brother then."
"He's out TOO."
TINGling with frustration, Bob tried again.
"Is there anyone else with you in the house?"
"There's me mum, I think. 'Ang on, I've just got a text from me uncle MITCH. 'AM JUNCTION spotting with your mum', it says. She'll be out all day then."
Bob sighed. She was clearly a loose CANNON. STREETwise she certainly wasn't.
"Has a vacuum cleaner recently been delivered to the house?"
"Yeah, there's one 'ere," said Hillary, looking at the Orwood that Mr West had left.
"Is there a box with it?"
"Dunno. Oh, there's one over there that says 'Dyson'."
"Good. Can you put it in the box please and leave it for me? I'll come round and collect it in about an hour."
"Ooh, I dunno about that. I just cut me finger when I went for a sWIM. BLED ON and on in the water, it did."
"Just put the cleaner in the box and I'll pick it up. That's all you have to do."
"All right. Do you know what Ken Sington used to call ‘imself?"
"I’ll check it on me iPAD. DINGTON, was it?"
"Got to rush. Bye."
Why, said Bob to himself, does she have to talk in RIDDLES? DOWN to Leyburn Avenue and let's get it over with...
Jumping in the van, off Bob headed in the direction of Leyburn Avenue. However, approaching a junction a GREEN FORD Escort pulled out in front of him, and they collided. It was quite a KNOCK. HOLT was the Escort-driver's name – he was well known in the area for his careless driving.
"Oi!" said Bob. "Don't you know what the 'Give Way' sign means? CARS HALT ON the dotted white lines until it's safe to pull out! Look what you've done to my van, you BIRK!"
BECKoning Bob towards him, Mr Holt said, "What did you just call me?"
“’Birk’ is actually a Scots word for a birch tree,” said Bob. “But I can think of another four-letter word if you like…” Suddenly he noticed a NUN HEADing towards them and thought better of it. "Maybe not. You gave me a shOCK - END-ON collisions are a bit serious. Would you object to giving me your name?"
"NO - R.T. HOLT. PARK over there and we can discuss it."
"I'm sorry but I'm really pressed for time. Give me your phone number and we'll sort it out later."
It was the last thing Bob wanted, but he had to get to Leyburn Avenue fast. He was really meant to be at a job in Epping FOREST.
HILLary answered the door, talking to her elder brother on the phone. "Look Dag, I don't care. Ken Sington is miles better than Pete WOOLWICH. DOCKYARD work getting to you, is it? Anyway I've got to talk to this delivery bloke. Bye."
"Hello," said Bob. "Is this number 23? I've come for the vacuum cleaner."
"Are you BoB ARNEHURST?"
"That's near enough. It's over there, between the toy ELEPHANT AND ‘CASTLE in the Sky’ video."
"Thanks. Can't stop."
He made his way the short distance down the street to number 7.
"Hello, I'm from HG Transport. Are you Mr WEST?"
"NO, R. WOOD. Mr West's away at the moment and I'm minding the house for him."
"Can you take delivery of this vacuum cleaner please? It went to the wrong address."
"How did that happen?"
"I'm not sure. Maybe they HAD 'LEYWOOD' instead of 'Leyburn'."
"OK. Do you need a signature?"
"If you like. I'm not fusSY."
ON LANEs leading back to the depot, Bob breathed a sigh of relief. At least nothing had gone wrong, or so he thought...
Back at Richard's house, the conversation had turned to current affairs. The child abuse allegations against Sir Edward Heath were in the news, and Richard was giving Worth his opinions.
"I can’t abide this HEATH ROW. CENTRAL to.all the news bulletins at the moment, yet nothing’s been proved. What sort of effect do you think it’ll have on his reputation?"
"The HEATH ROW? TERMINAL. FOUR police forces were investigating him, the last I heard. What was he like as Prime Minister? I’m too young to remember him. Where did he represent?"
"He was the MP for Old BEXLEY. HEATH only served one term as PM and presided over two miners' strikes and rampant inflation. At the time the prospects looked BLACK." "HEATH must have done some good, surely?"
"I don't think he had any magic WANDS, WORTH. COMMON Market membership was his main achievement - he took us into what's now the European Union. And look at all the arguments that’s caused."
Alex appeared from the kitchen. "May I present tonight'S TREAT - HAM! COMMON Market discussion will have to wait for another time."
"Excellent!" said Richard. "I really don't know what I'd do without you. Before you arrived the whole place was covered with sLIME."
"HOUSEwork never was your strong point, was it?"
"Not really. Sometimes I just wanted to burN OR BURY the whole lot of it."
"Well, tuck in now. What do you fancy eating tomorrow? I'd really like to have some fish - ling maybe. I can get some from a nice little fishmonger's in HIGHBURY."
"AND IS LING TONs better than ham? I've never tried it."
Worth raised his eyebrows. "Sounds like a sUPPER WAR. LING, HAM - which is it to be?"
"I think we should try roast iBEX. LEYs provide ideal pasture for this Alpine animal, and the meat tastes great!"
"Now you're really thinking biG!"
"RAYS of sunshine on the leys so Alpine!" Richard was suddenly into a poetic trance. "Field of pEARLS, FIELD of girlS... AND..."
"ER, STEADy, ol' chap!" said Alex, trying to snap Richard back to reality. But it was too late.
"Oh, aSHEN FIELD, Oh, field of WOOD! MAN'S TERN-Excitement is so good..."
"Tern-excitement? What's that?"
"Oh, sorry", said Richard, finally back down to earth. "It's a slang term for that adrenalin rush that birdwatchers get..."
"Anyway, back to dinner - what did we decide?"
"I know what I'd like to PECK - HAM! RYE bread goes so well with it too!"
“OK, you win. Ham again tomorrow."
"I fancy going for a drink after dinner," said Worth. "Where you do recommend?" "There's a great NEW BAR - 'NETtles' in the High Street," said Alex.
"I'd rather go somewhere in the country."
"Then let's go to 'Ye Olde WHYTE LEAFE' - SOUTHwest of here, about twenty miles," said Richard. "It's got everything for both kids and adults - bouncy CASTLE, BAR, PARKland views all around. Beautiful VICTORIAn interior. You'll love it."
They finished their dinner and set out in the car. On the way, they passed a sign saying 'Potatoes 10p A LB'.
"ANY PARKing spaces near here, Richard?" asked Alex. "That's really cheap."
Richard drove towards a small GROVE, PARKed the car and got out with the others. They walked past an old ruined ABBEY, WOODland all around them. Worth was quite taken with the moment.
"Alex, I don't think I know your surname. Do you prefer the town or the country?"
"It's COULSDON. TOWN life has become rather dull recently."
Richard did a double-take. He was sure he'd heard this conversation before, between Walt and Ava. He felt he had to speak up.
"Come on, Alex COULSDON. SOUTH London has a lot to offer, don't you think?"
"Maybe. I'd still rather live somewhere more rural, like NORTHUMBERLAND. PARKin is eaten all over the north of England, but do you ever see it down here?"
"Don't think so. Let's get the potatoes."
They drove on to Ye Olde WHYTE LEAFE, but Richard was strangely silent. Was he about to lose another housekeeper? His general mood began to stifFEN. CHURCH STREET was just around the corner; that was where the pub was. His thinking was all asKEW. "BRIDGE!" he said, spotting the railway passing overhead. He felt the need to say something, but just wasn't in the mood for conversation.
"Isn't the scenery lovely in South London?" he continued. "This looks a bit KENTISH. TOWNs aren't too far from lovely countryside, you know! Which do you prefer? London's greenery, or LIVERPOOL'S? TREETops are just as beautiful down here, you know!"
But Alex kept quiet. Had she had already made her mind up?
They reached the pub, but Richard was shaking so much, his arm wasn't aDEPT FOR Drinking. The weight of the situation began to overwhELM. "ER, SEND me a postcard from up north, won't you? Think of all these beautiful places like EPSOM, DOWN South."
Was Alex just teasing? Maybe, but sometimeS, THE LIE Rocks one's emotions in a big way...
Bob rushed back into the depot.
"Sorry I'm a bit late, Tone," he said. "I forgot we had to come in through the NEW SOUTH GATE now. Mission accomplished."
"Brilliant! Did you phone the Enhams first?"
"Yes, I gave that bitCH A RING. CROSS as hell with her, I was."
"You spoke to a woman, Bob? Who was it?"
"No idea, Tone. She kept rabbiting on about how she'd gone for a sWIM, BLED ON, CHASEd about trying to find out some singer's name and God knows what. Did my head in."
"But you picked up the cleaner OK? Did you take it along to Mr WEST?" ("RUISLIP Gardens with this one!" shouted a voice in the background.)
"No, he wasn't in. I left it with some other bloke who was minding the house for him."
Tony started to get worried. Had Bob earned his rent money?
"What was his name, BoB? RENT..."
"WOOD, I think."
That was all right. But who was this mysterious woman Bob had spoken to? There was only one way to find out.
"Excuse me for a minute. I've got to make a phone call." He phoned the Enhams' number.
"I'm phoning from HG Transport. My name's Tony TULSE."
HILLary sighed. "Oh, not another delivery bloke. Do you want this other vacuum cleaner?"
"What other vacuum cleaner?"
"This one 'ere marked 'Dyson'."
Tony broke off the call. He suddenly guessed what had happened.
"Dud, we've got to get down to Leyburn Avenue fast. No time to explain."
"What about my money?" asked BoB.
"ROCK LEYburn Avenue to its foundations again, Tone?" said Dudley, sarcastically. "If you like, Dud. Sorry Bob – I’ll sort it out later. Gotta dash!"
So off they headed, leaving Bob on his own. Dudley drove, with Tony beside him.
“We’ve not eaten for a while,” said Tony. “Fancy a mint IMPERIAL?”
“WHARF Road – that’s the one before Leyburn Avenue isn’t it? Er, yes, thanks; I’ll have the mint imperial. Just place it in my PALM.”
“ER, S.GREEN – who’s that? Sorry, I’m just looking down our list of recent clients.”
“A Parson, I think. We delivered a NEW CROSS, GATE-post, and a large grave STONE.”
“GREEN-fingered gentleman, does some work for the Parson, if my memory serves me beST.”
“Ah, yes, we delivered to her a rare specimen of moth – a tusSUR. BIT ON the side for Mr. Hatherslade, I seem to remember she was…”
“Oh, and what was the name of that candle-maker we delivered to? Always insisted on using the neWEST WICK – HAMworth, was that his name? Can’t find him listed here…”
“No – Hamworth’s delivery was a chiSEL. HURST was the candle man. Keen football supporter, I seem to remember. Supported Tottenham HotsPUR.”
“FLEETing visit we made to him, with … oops – sorry, pull UP. MINSTER Road was back there; we should’ve turned into Leyburn Avenue before it…”
At that moment, Mr West was walking up to his house. He was spotted by his next-door neighbour, Mr ELMSTEAD.
"WOOD'S just left," said Mr Elmstead. "Did you have a good holiday, Mr WEST?"
"CROYDON's hardly what I'd call a holiday, but yes thanks. I was recuperating there with my sister - I had a nasty shock recently."
"At lEAST CROYDON's not too far away - only a few miles SOUTH."
"CROYDON's not a patch on South Ken, though. Glad to be home." Mr West opened the door. "Oh look - my vacuum cleaner's finally arrived. What a relief!"
Just down the road, Tony and Dudley had nearly arrived at the Enhams' house.
"Thank God this is the last job today, Dud."
"It isn't, you know. After this we've got to deliver that WINCH."
HILLary saw them coming and opened the door, in floods of tears.
"Are you that Tony Whatsit? That bastard Lewis has just phoned me. He's not taking me to Denmark - he's taking some girl called Rachel. RaCHEL'S FIELDing a lot of flak at the moment."
"Er, yes, I am. Have you got the vacuum cleaner?"
"It's over there."
"Is there a box?"
"The other driver took it."
"We'll just have to take it without the box, Dud. Give me a hand."
They took it and sprinted down to number 7.
"At least Mr West never kNEW. ELTHAM's where we're going with the winch, is it?"
They pressed the buzzer. Mr West appeared.
"Hello, we're from HG Transport."
"I know you are. Why have you sent me this again?"
"We've got the Dyson here, Mr West."
"You can keep the bloody Dyson. I'm going to sue your company for every penny it's got."
Suddenly Mr West collapsed on the floor.
Back at the pub, Richard had gained his composure, Alex had popped to the bar to order another round, and Worth picked up a newspaper that was lying by. The sports section particularly interested him.
“I see Celtic gave Rangers a pasting at the iBROX. BOURNEmouth, on the other hand were beaten by Norwich.”
“That’s a shame,”said Richard. “I remember when they went up into the Premiership after that marvellous win over the Cottagers.”
“Who are the Cottagers?” asked Alex, returning from the bar.
“Fulham – so named because they play at Craven Cottage”.
“Ah, I see. Perhaps instead, they should have been called the cRAVENS…”
“BOURNEmouth,” continued Richard, not quite sure what to make of Alex’s strange comment, “are going from strength to strength. I’m going to see them play soon at WEMBLEY. CENTRAL to their further success will be winning that match.”
“But”, said Worth, “it’s harder for them when they’re not playing at their home ground.”
“Yes,” said Richard, “but Dean Court’s pitch is less smooth than WEMBLEY’S. TA, DI!”
“UM, my name’s Diane, actually!” said the lady who delivered the drinks.
“Oh, sorry Diane,” said Richard. “Thank you anyway.”
Finishing with the sports section, Worth looked at the half-finished crossword.
“Okay, four down: Village five miles west of Oxford. E-blank-blank-blank-H-blank-M. Any ideas?"
“Ah yes,” said Richard. “In the third space, PUT ‘N’. EYnsham is the answer.”
“Thank you. Six across: French for ‘horses’?”
“HALLelujah!” said Worth. “We may be able to finish this thing!”
“Can I help?” asked a stranger at the next table.. It was FrED MONTON-GREEN, who’d just returned from honeymoon. But they were too far gone to notice him.
Meanwhile, back at the Enhams' house, Beck had returned.
"Hi Mum!" said Hillary. "Where've you been?"
"In CLAPHAM, JUNCTION spotting," said Beck. "It was brilliant. I rate CLAPHAM HIGH - STREET layouts there are really fascinating. Your uncle Mitch left after a while though and headed off to Essex."
"Oh yeah - I got another text from uncle MITCH. 'AM EAST, FIELD Spotting.' I wondered what he meant. Where are you going next time? Somewhere up NORTH?"
"Is that out WEST?"
"DULWICH, I said."
"So you're going out EAST?"
"DULWICH! Look it up on a map. Honestly, your geography's atrocious. God knows how you'll ever get to Denmark."
"I'm not going. I got dumped. I think I'll go out with bEN FIELD. CHASEd him away before, but he's not that bad really."
"Personally I'd like to see bEN FIELD LOCKed up, but it's your choice. What's happened to those two vacuum cleaners?"
"Oh, some bloke called Bob came and took one and then some other bloke called Tony took the other one. Glad to see the back of them. What's for dinner?"
"Oh, I forgot to say. We've got The Mother Superior from All Saints joining us tonight - Sister MARY LE BONE. We can’t let her know we eat rodents. I’ve got a treat for her."
"So what's thiS TREAT?"
HILLary was disgusted. "Ugh, Mum, how can you make anyone eat that? It comes from a pig!"
“It's already in the microwave. And she's bringing a couple of friars from the adjoining monastery. They’ll only drink Earl Grey tea - flavoured with the best bergaMOT." (TING!) "HAM's ready - judging by that noise from the microwave, anyway. Let's have a look. Oh no! It's burnt BLACK!"
"FRIARS from the monastery?" said Hillary, seemingly unconcerned that dinner had been burnt to a cinder. "What are their names?"
"Er, CHALFONT AND LATIMER. They used to be police constables, I think. Now, what am I going to do about this ham? It's really been cHARRING."
"A Yucky mess indeed. Let me cook instead. Now, where can I get hold of a red squirrel...?"
A few doors along the road, things were more serious.
"What are we going to do, Dud?"
"It's all right, he's still breathing. I'll phone for an ambulance. Meanwhile, swap those cleaners over. Hopefully he'll have forgotten all about this when he comes round. We haven't a moment to lose."
As Dudley was on the phone, DR AYTON PARKed his car outside Mr West's house and came to the door.
"Hello? I was just popping round to see if Mr West's all right - he's had a nasty turn recently."
"Oh thank God you're here, doctor," said Tony, who'd just finished repacking the Dyson. "Mr West's collapsed."
Dr Ayton examined him. "I think it's heatstroke. Has he been out in the SUN? DR IDGE-PARKer at the hospital will be able to deal with that."
"We don't know him, doctor. We're delivery men. My colleague's calling an ambulance."
"It's OK, I'll stay with him until the ambulance arrives. Thanks for doing that - you can go on your way now."
They took the Orwood and got back in the van.
"Dud, if we lose our jobs over this, who else can we work for? ELSTREE AND BOREHAM?"
"WOODy in accounts told me they've just shed a lot of staff. What about HAYES AND HARLING, TONe?"
"I don't think they're recruiting either. What about BARNES, BRIDGEman and CROFTON? PARKy used to work there."
"Maybe, though it's a bit far SOUTH. RUISLIP and OAKLEIGH? PARKy used to work there as well."
"Or MORDEN, SOUTHwell and FINSBURY. PARKy worked there once."
"Or another one down SOUTH - BERMONDSEY and RAYNES. PARKy's never worked there to my knowledge."
"Maybe that's because it's in BATTERSEA. PARKy hates that area."
"Could be. What about PETTS, WOOD and SOUTHMER, TONe?"
"Possibly. I kNEW MALDEN and HACKNEY DOWN Shoreditch way had a couple of vacancies recently."
"And then there's that one in ST PANCRAS - INTERNATIONAL freight company. What are they called?"
"QUEENSTOWN ROAD Haulage, I think. Although I think I'd prefer working for Lord VoldeMORT."
"LAKEr and WESTCOMBE - PARKy worked there too. He's had a lot of different jobs, hasn't he?"
"I think it's because of his girlfriend – what’s her name, HONOR OAK? PARKy tends to go wherever she does. We could try PURLEY, OAKS and CHARL..."
"TONe, I really don't want to think about this any more."
"Sorry, Dud. We've had a lot of fun in this job, though, haven't we? Remember the one with the SHEPHERDS - BUSHes all over the place?"
"Sure do, Tone. And the bloke who mended the QUEEN'S ROAD - PECKHAM."
"Hamstow, Dud. His name was Hamstow."
"If you say so. Let's put the radio on."
A sombre voice came on. "Here are the news headlines with Paul THORNTON. HEATH involved in serious child abuse allegations..."
"Oh hell, not the HEATH ROW. TERMINAL. FIVE police forces are involved now, they’re saying. Switch it off again, Dud."
"All right. Let's get this last delivery out of the way and go and await our fate."
Back at the pub, ‘Copacabana’ was playing in the background. Alex was just having an orange juice. But Worth and Richard were getting a little tipsy.
“Listen to that curious singing!” said Alex. “What’s the name of that GUY?”
“BARRY Manilow,” said Worth. “Quite an interesting voice, isn’t it?” “I prefer something from my own generation,” said Alex. “I’m a ‘Take That’ fan. Gary’s good, Jason’s wonderful. And as for ROBBIE – My favourite by far!”
“Well nothing accounts for taste!” said Richard, quickly turning towards Alex, and carelessly knocking over THE ORANGE. “ONE beer too many, It seems!” said Alex, mopping up the spillage.
“Er, that wasn’t just an ordinary beer,” said Richard. “It had SangrIA IN!”
“Well, there’s no way I’m going to let you drive us home! We’ll have to get a taxi.”
Then a certain gentleman walked towards them. “May I drive you home?” asked Fred.
Once they’d managed to stagger to Fred’s car, off they went. Worth was definitely the worse for wear, and he snuggled up to Alex on the back seat.
“You know, Alex”, he said. “I never wanted to be a policeman anyway. Oh, no! I wanted to be…”
“No, a song-writer for musicals! Leonard Bernstein is my hero; I love ‘West Side Story’. Listen to me singing! ‘I like to be in A-me-ri-ca, okay by me in A-me-ri-ca…’
Worth’s tunefulness was somewhat questionable…
“So,” interrupted Alex. “Can you actually write songs?”
“I can!” said Worth. “It’s easy! Just gotta make rhymes, really. For example. What rhymes with ‘MILL’? ‘HILL’! BROADWAY, here I come! Skyscrapers boom in A-me-ri-ca, Cadillacs zoom in A-me-ri-ca…”
Alex, very wisely, asked no more questions.
“I’m a bit confused where we’re going,” said Fred. “Do we turn right here?”
“No, don’t go that way!” said Richard. “That’ll take us to SUTTON!”
“COMMON mistake to make,” said Fred. “Sorry. “After all, no-one wants to go to SUT…”
“TONight, tonight, won’t be just any night!” continued Worth in less-than-tuneful tones, which would make Bernstein turn in his grave.
Tony and Dudley arrived back at the depot, absolutely shattered.
"We're not going to get away with this, Dud. We're going to have to reBEL. VEDERE?"
"It's Italian. It means 'see'. Do you see what I mean?"
"Not really, Tone."
"How muCH IS LEHURST paid, do you think?"
"Who’s Lehurst? Sounds like that comedian who used to be on ‘They Think It’s All Over’."
"Yeah, I meant him. Why can't we do his job?"
"Because we're not particularly funny, Tone."
"You should listen to my mates. You've met EriC, RICK, LEW. OODles of them think we’re really funny."
"After a few pints of Guinness, maybe. On the stage at Square World might be a different matter."
Just then, Ken Ewing popped his head round the door.
"Dudley? Tony? Can I have a word please?"
"Ken? We thought you were in Worcester."
"The conference was cancelled. This won’t take long."
They went in with extreme trepidation.
"I've just had a call from a Dr. Ayton, speaking on behalf of Mr George West, who's now in hospital recovering from heatstroke. He wants you to know that Mr West is happy with his new Dyson and passes on his thanks."
"Really, Ken?" said Tony.
"Yes. He says Mr West was a little confused at first because he couldn't remember which model had been delivered, but that's all been cleared up now."
"So we're keeping our jobs?" said Dudley.
"Of course. You may go now."
"I knew it all along, Tone. Come on, let's get down the pub."
"Not so fast - here's Bob. He'll still be wanting his money. What are we going to say?" whispered Tony to Dudley. “We can’t pay him if he didn’t pick up the Dyson."
"Don't worry, Tone. I'll handle this."
"Bob," said Dudley, "we'd like to offer you a little token of our esteem. We can't pay you in cash you understand, but would you accept a payment in kind? It's a rare item - I bought it recently from a good friend of mine."
"Of course, Dud," said Bob. "What is it?"
"We'd like to present you with one genuine Orwood vacuum cleaner. Never been used..."
Richard woke up the next morning with an appalling hangover. He had no idea what had happened the night before.
He wandered down into the kitchen. It was in a terrible mess, with remnants of ham all over the place - not like the tidy kitchen he'd been used to seeing recently. Alex was nowhere to be seen. Had it all been a dream?
He thought about Ava, now settled over in America with Walt. She'd told him about all the hours he spent out on the golf course, seemingly unconcerned about her. "Being a domestic servant is one thing when you're paid for it, quite another when you're just taken for granted," she'd said. But there was no chance of her coming back to England now.
He'd just resigned himself to cooking a portion of chips, when there was an unexpected knock at the door. Outside stood a rather striking young woman.
"Hi!” she said. My name's CRYSTAL, PAL. A CErtain young lady told me you might be looking for a housekeeper..."