Bruce Grove was walking beneath the railway arches, hunting for his lost dog.
"Why does he find it so easy to get lost? One bridge, park empty, nobody here? Why?"
His dog was, of course, in the way lost objects are, in the next place he was searching. For dawdling in the shadow of a tree was a man we'd almost forgotten, one with a history of animal cruelty and had just captured the lost dog. A man who had tied up several turkeys, treetop high; a man who'd once been fined for intoxicating his neighbour's peacock. It is one of the men to whom we once bid adieu, stonily turning away from his imprisoned companions as he escaped jail with minimal sentence - Roy Aloak!
Roy hid behind a bush, eyeing Bruce warily. Then his brother, hitherto unseen, came and joined him. They started swapping stories of their local parish priest, Canon Bury, who preached the gospel, oak walking stick in hand, every Sunday. Despite moving from Lancashire to the south, Bury had been an excellent priest. His parishioners had well appreciated him.
Roy's brother, Ken Tony Aloak, noted that where Bury had chosen to set up, Minster Abbey, also housed another notable figure from Roy's past.
"I can tell you what he was like, but I can't remember his name off the bat. Terse. A Parka around his torso. Paid off your bet with the peacock. Wes?"
"No, not Wes Tacton. Central to that episode he was, perhaps, but it wasn't him - I think he's now Wes Tacton-Chalfont these days, after he married his parole officer. It's on the tip of my tongue, something Sicilian."
"So then, not Wes T-C, Roy."
"Yes, of course!"
Bruce overheard the sudden shout and realized that at last he knew. Crossing over towards the bush, he had a plot to hatch, ending the mystery of his dog's disappearance. The plot involved music, ale, Don, Ian Road, and barns. Bury the priest would also play a critical role.
But just then Bruce's elderly father, Theobald S. Grove, arrived on the scene. Travelling from Cambridge, he, at his son's request, had come to help look for the dog. He'd also brought in some musicians and his groundskeeper (recently fired from Ford), Harold Wood. Streets around the area were filled with the musicians, who were disembarking by the coachload - having arrived from the glen, field, town and even from the odd cross-Channel ferry.
Just at that moment, two familiar-looking delivery men passed by.
"Dudley, remember when we had to deliver that package to those shepherds? Bushes all over the place?"
"I reckon they were sheep-shaggers, Tony."
"Could have been. Do you remember what it weighed and how far up we took it, Dudley?"
"Tons, Tone - high."
"Roads up there were pretty awful. What was that big animal we nearly collided with?"
"Where are we going next, Dudley?"
"To N. Midland Road, it says here. Is that short for North Midland Road?"
Meanwhile, back at the railway arches, Bruce's plan was underway. The musicians began to clap. To Northwood they could be heard, and then they struck up a tune, written to echo Merton's latest carnival. But Tony and Dudley were oblivious to all this.
"Yes, I think it is. Do you remember that pub we went into once with the weird name that sounded like rhyming slang? Up in Finchley?"
"Road and Frog?"
"Na-la-na-la-na!" sang out the musicians. Yes, they were performing a version of the UK's 19th-placed entry at the Manchester Eurovision Song Contest, originally performed by Ken Sington, Olympian-level car park attendant. Tony wanted to jump high.
"Am sparkling with excitement!" he said, a little poetically. "I loved that song at Eurovision."
"Well you can stop sparkling. After this one we've got to get right across to South Ken, Tony."
The Aloak brothers moved from their hiding spot, leaving the dog tied up to listen to the music.
"A-na-da-wa!" Terrified wildlife fled from the spot, including Roy's turkeys, as the musicians continued to sing from the Eurovision songsheet. Street vendors were setting up stalls for food and ale as the chorus continued to clap. Ham high street stalls sell is the best food you can get in London. Someone had thrown the remnants of a sandwich down and the turkeys started to peck. Ham, rye bread and pickle were lying all over the place.
"Right, here's the plan," said Bruce to Theo. "I've codenamed that bush 'H'. I'll park myself next to it and get into a crouch."
"'H'? I'll have no trouble remembering that," said Theo.
The two delivery men chatted aimlessly as they turned into North Midland Road.
"Dudley, are you sure it wasn’t 'Frog and Road', 'toad'?"
"No, Tony, I meant 'Frog and Toad', 'road'. My mistake."
"But it could have been ‘Toad and Frog’, ‘dog’. "
"Maybe. Anyway we're here now. Ring the doorbell." A man came out. "Mr Hamstow?"
"Walt Hamstow, Queen's road-mender, at your service."
"Blimey. Why does the Queen have her own road-mender then?"
"Clear as crystal. Palace staff have to get there somehow," said Walt Hamstow.
"Central to the whole Royal operation."
They dropped off Mr Hamstow’s parcel and headed on to their next job.
"Why are we off to South Ken, then, Dud?"
"Delivering some geezer's vacuum cleaner. Leyburn Avenue I think."
"I need his name. Can you lend me a pen?"
Tony made a sudden mark. "Hilly round there, is it?"
"You never been to South Ken? Tish! Town west of Knightsbridge. Very flat."
Back over at the park, Roy and Ken were spotted by the Groves.
Bruce ran for his dog, momentarily unattended, but Theo chased after them. He had been a marathon runner in his day, and would not let them get away! He chased them all the way to London. Field, stile, forest, hill and tree were no obstacle. Finally, as they approached the station, they saw a passing cab. Hopping into the hackney wicked fast, they gave the driver directions.
"King's Cross station, please!"
"That's a bit far to take you in this old hackney. Central London is effectively closed to traffic in the middle of the day - it's the 21st century! Have you seen the traffic?"
"I get that you took this hackney down south, but you must get going!"
Theo arrived outside the station to see the cab pulling away. Happily he knew how to run a marathon, or oak parked in his way would have gotten the better of him. He had never liked Surrey - quays and docks were more his thing, having been brought up in the North.
"This place has no character, everyone's just so dull! I'd have been able to round him up, were this only back In Liverpool. Streets of conformity and silence here! And how do I get to King's Cross?"
The voice came from inside the station. He headed inside, curious to see who had spoken.
"Sal Green, Parson of Oxted." said one of the speakers.
"Fred Monton, Sal's boyfriend." said the other one.
"We understand you're chasing down animal terrorists. They often head towards King's Cross."
"It's some sort of pilgrimage for owl abuse - every September 1st a bunch of them converge on the station for some reason. Anyway, we're prepared to give you directions."
"We'll give you rail tickets into London Bridge."
"You can take the Northern Line to King's Cross from there."
"I know my brother and his wife sell tube maps, but I'll give you this one for free, because charity is the way of the Lord."
"And because you have a good chance of catching them!"
The maps had, of course, come from the well-known tube map wholesalers "Beth 'n' Al Green", but Bruce and Theo never knew. Cross gatekeepers looked at them sternly as they leapt over the ticket barriers at the station. Their graceful leap elicited a praiseworthy comment from a bystanding white chap. "Elegant leaping; well done!", he said.
"So where is it we're headed?" asked Theo, as they boarded their train.
"Enfield. I think the station's called Enfield Chase."
"How appropriate. I'm sure the station is called Enfield Lock though. I went through it on the way down here."
"Nah, our mastermind friend definitely said Enfield Chase. Wait, look, the London Overground now goes to Enfield - there's a third station!"
"That's a bit far for the London Overground, surely?"
"Yes. I think that new extension's a little over the top . Have you been to Enfield?"
"Yes - did a 10K in this wood. Grange Park, the place was called."
Tony and Dudley had arrived in South Kensington, but their satnav had broken down and they were hopelessly lost. As usual Tony had half his mind on other things.
"Dud, what's that big football team in Milan called again? And I think we've come too far south."
"A.C., Tony. And I think you're right, but I can't find Leyburn Avenue on the map."
"Have you tried phoning him?"
"Road maps always confuse me anyway. Tell you what - let's toss a coin. Heads we go left, tails we go right. What is it?"
"Lane on the left it is then."
Suddenly Dudley began to clap. "Ham! Junction ahead is right by a butcher's shop. I forgot to get some for tea."
"Are you mad? I can't stop the van here for you to go shopping. We're late enough as it is."
"Dud, I've just had an idea. What was the name of that bloke we made the last delivery to? The one who mended the Queen's road?"
"Peckham? Something like that?"
"No, nothing like that. Hamstow! Why don't you phone him up and ask him to find Leyburn Avenue on the map?"
"But I hardly know him, Tone."
"So what? You've got his number and this is an emergency."
Dudley made the call. "Hello - this is Dudley Camden, road haulage operative with Harringay Greenlanes Transport. We spoke briefly earlier. Would you happen to have an A-Z available?"
"I don't but my wife does, I think. She's a bit busy at the moment, watching the tennis. It's from Queen's. Park up for a few moments, and I'll see if I can get her attention."
Returning to Bruce and Theo, they had reached London Bridge, but were now having trouble getting across the river as the bridge was closed.
"I'm sure there's supposed to be a cable car somewhere," said Theo. "It's marked here. Leaves from the Royal Docks."
"I'm not going to some imperial wharf to catch a cable car, I'd rather swim," said Bruce. "It's not even that much of a river, more like a ditch. Look, we'll head down that shopping avenue, or take these steps down to the shore. Ditch, high street, your choice."
Luckily, this argument was all part of the plan, and who should pull up but our old friend Don.
"Right on time," he said. "And don't call me Don. My name is now James Hartlan." Taking this on trust, they got in.
"So what made you quit the church, James?" asked Bruce.
"Load of rubbish. All prayer, no food. My stomach is hollow now! Before we get to Banbury, we'd better have some supper."
"Hollow, aye," said Theo. "Lack of food has made your face chalk-white, Hartlan."
"Exactly," replied Don. "Also, I want some sort of reward."
"Name your price."
"Firstly, I would like a tree. Next, a black horse. Roadworthiness is a must. Finally, some silver."
"Street navigation doesn't have that high a price!"
"If we don't have a deal, you can walk. It'd better be a tall tree. The tallest. James's tree. Terrific!"
They reached King's Cross shortly, and all bundled onto the next service towards Hertford North.
"Did you get food?" asked Don.
"Brought it with me from the south. Ham, PS Tea, dragged all the way here just for you," replied Bruce.
"Nice," said Don. "Never heard of PS Tea though."
"Passing tradesman gave me some, guy called Thomas Westham. PS Tea delivered here all the way from Coonoor in India."
The train rapidly filled up at Finsbury Park. There had been a late game between Arsenal and Manchester United - a team from the north. Wembley is, of course, the usual arena for important games like this, but this match was at the Emirates Stadium as due to a concert performance they couldn't use Wembley. Central England in its entirety seemed to be crowding onto the train. This was to be a long journey...
Mrs Hamstow had helpfully directed Tony and Dudley to Leyburn Avenue, but they were none the wiser when they got there.
"It's really odd here, Dud. I can't see any house numbers - just names next to the buzzers. What number are we looking for?"
"Sisters are living at the first house, I think, so that's out." They moved south, to T.T. Enham's address. "Try this one - perhaps he'll know." Dudley pressed the buzzer. "Are you Mr T.T. Enham?"
"No, I'm his son, Syd Enham."
"I don't know if you can help us. We're trying to deliver a parcel to a Mr George West."
"'B' romp tonight," said Syd.
"It's just a warm-up for the main 'A' romp next week. You're both invited, of course."
"And of course there'll be roast rat for dinner, as always."
"Blimey, Dud, he's a fruitcake! Let's scarper!" They ran out as fast as they could.
"Marvellous, Tone. This is a day I really want to bury the memory of. Normally I start the day on a high - "
"- and I sling tons of parcels through people's doors. What have we managed today? One sodding parcel. That’s never going to make us rich. "
"Monday might be better, Dud. Where's the vacuum cleaner?"
"Dunno, Tone. I'm sure we had it before we went to that nutter's house."
They looked at each other in horror.
Late in the evening, Bruce, Theo and Don finally reached Enfield. The three of them fought their way onto Windmill Hill, between hordes of fervent supporters of the Gunners.
"Bury lives on Ian Road," said Theo. The Arsenal supporters had knocked his glasses askew. "Garden solutions equipment required."
They popped into the head offices of Flymo, a lawnmower provider, and bought a lawnmower from a man called Oscar Pender.
"Sparked a long police chase, this lawnmower did," he said. "A bunch of guys with funny names tried to fool some nuns by dressing up as gardeners."
They thanked him for the lawnmower, then continued up to Ian Road.
"How did you come up with this elaborate plan anyway?" asked Bruce.
"Oh, it wasn't my idea, I'm just a front. The idea was from an old friend of mine, the one bringing the gardeners outfits - look, here he comes now! He's quite the schemer. Son - park over here," said Don, gesturing.
A minibus pulled up beside them as they wandered towards Ian Road. Out of it stepped the mastermind, and an old friend, Charles Denton.
"Glad you invited me along," he said. "I need to get hold of Roy. He owes me a lot of money, ever since he fobbed me off with a crate of tea during that episode with the swans. Tea d-"
"Park the sins of the past to the side for the moment," said Don. "We're here. Now remember, approach quietly -"
"Why did we decide on this elaborate plan of attack?" asked Bruce. "The man who stole my dog is right there!"
And before Don or Charles could answer Bruce opened the garden gate, strode up the path and knocked on the door. Don, Theo and Charles followed him up the path, and half a minute later, an old man answered the door.
"Good evening," said the old man. "What brings four young men to my house at this time of night? You certainly aren't gardeners."
"We're looking for two men," said Don smoothly, before Bruce could mess things up. "They have wronged my friend."
"I believe I know the men," answered the man. "I have offered them sanctuary."
"He stole my dog," interjected Bruce. "He had several turkeys tied up - he's an animal abuser of the lowest order."
"Surely it cannot be so bad," said the priest - for of course, this was Bury, the old canon. "Perhaps you should talk things through - there may be a misunderstanding."
"I heard tell from an old friend that he was playing javelin, with the peacock replacing the javelin," added Don. "I'm unsure of the details, but the friend in question was one Colin Dale. Perhaps you know of him?"
"This is a very different matter entirely," replied Bury. The old priest now looked very serious. "Follow me."
Bury led the four fake gardeners through the house into the living room, where Roy and Ken sat. Roy attempted to escape, but he and his brother were quickly restrained by the four. They all bundled into the minibus, where Bruce explained the plan (with the barns).
"Out of curiosity, why did you decide to help us?" asked Theo. "I wouldn't have thought animal abuse was particularly high on the Church agenda."
"It's surprisingly high these days - especially due to the work of my colleague, Reverend Green, who ministers in Oxted. As human beings, we have a responsibility to care for the entirety of creation. If a man inflicts pain on either humans or animals, we must be responsible for teaching them the ways of love and compassion again."
"But how did you know we were telling the truth?" asked Don.
"I was already aware of it," said Bury. "You are not the only one who speaks with Colin, Don. Might I suggest, though, that we simply leave them some time to think it over?"
"Would it do them any good?" asked Bruce.
"You would be surprised at man's capacity for remorse, Mr. Grove."
"Perhaps we should leave a tip-off for the police," suggested Don. "I know DI Warren Street was particularly annoyed he couldn't get him over that swan."
DS Worth Roaden and DI Warren Street were perplexed, but very happy to find Roy and Ken the next day. After a thoroughly unpleasant night in the barn, Roy spilled the beans, and he and his brother were quickly sentenced to nine years in prison.
"Why, hello Roy!" said a familiar voice, as the prison guard locked the cell door. Roy looked around the cell. "Don't you remember me? It's Wes! What happened?"
"They got me," replied Roy. "They finally got me. It was Don, you know. He was working with Denton. You should never trust champs."
"He, at half past one in the morning, locked me up in a barn! No, fobbing him off with tea didn't work on him. He told me so himself," interrupted Roy.
"Never mind. We've got nine more years of this prison sentence. Colin and Stan are just down the corridor from here - perhaps we can reminisce on the past together," replied Wes.
"Hang on, didn't you get married? To that constable?"
"Yep. She's my lawfully wedded wife. She won't let me out though."
"That was stupid," said Roy, and Wes laughed. "Her brother was absolutely furious when he found out."
The next nine years were clearly going to fly by.
Tony and Dudley had just set off again, but Tony suddenly changed his mind.
"Let's go to the pub. Rock Leyburn Avenue to its foundations." He put his foot on the brake pedal.
"Stonking! Slanderous comments about drink-driving will not pass my lips."
They went into a dingy place called the 'Earl of Watford'. High street bars seemed a world away. As they entered, the manager was on the phone.
"That's right. Earl of Watford, junction of Leyburn Avenue and Hope Street. Starts at 8.30. See you then." He put the phone down. "What can I get you, gentlemen?"
"Two pints of Guinness, please," said Dudley. "What's on tonight then?"
"We've got a pair of up-and-coming young comedians - Harrow and Wealdstone. Ever seen them?"
"I have!" said Tony. "Place was called 'Square World'. They were brilliant. Shared the bill with some bloke doing Woody Allen impressions."
"Was he any good?"
"No, he was rubbish."
They took their drinks and sat down.
"We've got to pick up another vacuum cleaner somehow, Dud. Can any of the lads at the depot bring one over? Bob? Ron? Des?"
"Bury that idea, Tone. There's no time for that. We'll have to buy one. I know a bloke who runs an electrical shop round here - Will Esden. Junction boxes and that sort of thing. He'll let us have one cheap."
"We can't afford a vacuum cleaner, Dud. Why can't we ask Bob? Ron? Des?"
"Bury - park that idea! Bob reports to Ken Ewing, Tony. Ken's head of operations and he'll never let Bob go. Nor the others."
They drove over to Will's shop and went in.
"Dudley! Great to see you. What can I do for you?"
"Hi Will! We're looking for a vacuum cleaner."
"Well I've got that one over there – an Orwood. Junction boxes interest you at all?"
"Not at the moment, Will. Don’t Orwood make adjustable beds?"
"It’s a discontinued line. "
"All right, we'll take it. Here's twenty quid."
"Actually, Dud - " But they were out of the shop with it already.
They raced back to Leyburn Avenue and found number seven.
"Mr West? Sorry for the delay in delivering your vacuum cleaner."
"But I ordered a Dyson. I’ve never heard of an Orwood."
"Oh, there’s been a mix-up. We must have delivered your cleaner to the Enhams along the road, and theirs to you. Just swap them over."
"I'm not going there! I’ve heard they eat rats for dinner."
"Don't believe the rumours. Sorry, can't stop - got another delivery for a Mrs Tamford. Hill-walking equipment."
"To N. Junction Street next, Tone," said Dudley, ignoring Mr West. "Is that short for North Junction Street?"
With the whole debacle over the dog done and dusted, Bruce and Theo returned to Oxted to find Sal and Fred waiting for them, beaming. They clearly weren't expecting Don (or, for that matter, Charles), though.
"Congratulations! I hear you caught them," said Fred, but Sal was staring at Don. "Hello, Hamilton," said Don. "What happened about Ken?"
Sal, risen to her feet in exasperation, explained.
"We just didn't seem to be getting anywhere," she said. "He was clearly more interested in Tottenham and cars, which was fine because I had always found interest in photography and religion. But when he went on Eurovision without telling me, we broke up."
"So you don't love him, then?" asked Don.
"I'm long over him, you can pursue him if you want. I love Fred, anyway," Sal replied.
"Does he know you used to be a man?" pressed Don.
"Of course I do!" answered Fred indignantly. "It makes absolutely no difference, I love you Sal. In fact, will you make me the happiest man in the world and marry me?"
"Yes, of course!" said Sal, kissing him. "Though I do need to keep my surname for parish business."
"Hate to break this up," said Bruce, "but you can't be the Green-Montons. That sounds like a band. You'll have to be the Monton-Greens, I suppose."
"Sal and Fred Monton-Green it shall be," said Sal. "We'd better get planning for this wedding!"
"One question, though," said Fred. "How do they know you used to be Hamilton?"
"It's a long story," she said.
They worked on preparations at top speed, and after just two weeks they were being married in none other than Minster Abbey, by Friar Stephen and Bury the priest. Nobody was quite sure how Don managed to weasel his way back into the church's graces, but he had performed spectacularly. He was, after all, a champ. In attendance were many of their friends, like Bruce, Theo, Charles, Ken and Don. Fred had also gone written to his schoolfriends, and they'd written back. Ilburn High, roads and fields away in Hampshire, had arrived en masse to see him finally tie the knot.
They'd left the reception down to Ken to organise, as he had had a brief foray into the entertainment business. In hindsight, this would turn out to be a bad idea, as he hadn't exactly got a band in. What he had done, was get in touch with fellow Eurovision contestant John Collier, who'd pulled a lot of strings and got hold of the double act Totteridge and Whetstone, some circus performers from Armenia and, most impressively of all, a copy of Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens (it seemed Walt and Ava Miller still had some sway in the Walt Disney Company).
For music though, Ken had only managed to get hold of an organist and a road enthusiast singing their latest song.
"Amersham and Chorleywood and Rickmansworth and Northwood Hills..."
As the music began, Sal sighed in exasperation. Honestly, what could you expect from the man who sang "Na-La-Na-La-Na"? Although to be fair, she thought, it was actually pretty good.