Warning - this starts getting sinister now. Up until this point, it's basically just been a lot of silly twatting about, but that couldn't go on forever. This is The Spoof, and they don't take too kindly to pointless twatting about on here. They want loads of explicit sex and pervy lesbian stories involving bars of soap, nuns, Shetland ponies, George Foreman Grills, and a bit of additional, doggy related bestiality tossed in. This doesn't quite reach those dizzy heights - but it does plumb a few depths...so here goes...
The conversation which Abigail had overheard had not been some sort of clandestine romantic liaison at all. It had taken place between Aunt Peg and the vicar.
The face Aunt Peg presented to the vicar bore little similarity to the one she presented to the chums, or to her public persona - although it would have been impossible for the chums to have been aware of this.
No longer was Aunt Peg the benevolent, matronly, mother hen figure so beloved by the chums. To the vicar, the picture was one of a vulnerable housewife, with all the attendant problems associated with a modern single parent family.
Aunt Peg and the vicar took tea together.
No mountain of chocolate biscuits.
No fancy cakes or pastries.
No heaps of exotically filled sandwiches.
No fish and chips.
No Headbanger beer.
All was sobriety and deadly seriousness.
"I can't cope any more vicar," Aunt Peg confessed. "Ever since my Tommy got washed overboard at sea, never to return, life's been one relentless struggle."
"Unfortunately, that's all too common a story these days," the vicar said sympathetically. "It's at times like this that your unstinting faith in the Lord will surely prove invaluable."
He sipped his tea delicately, as befitted the situation.
"My meagre benefits don't even cover the half of it, these days," Aunt Peg lamented. "I never get a real increase in my money, yet in the shops, the prices are rising all the time. I mean, it wouldn't be so bad if I lived in a city - they've got supermarkets and discount shops where you can pick stuff up for next to nothing. All we have is Hardwick's Village Shop. I know he gives credit, and I appreciate that, because sometimes I couldn't get by without it - when money's really tight, especially leading up to payday - but his prices are extortionate.
"Do you know, vicar, that he charges £1.12 for a tin of baked beans?"
"Really?" That revelation took the vicar completely by surprise. The vicar was a simple man, devoted to his ministry, but he didn't really have much of a connection with the harsh realities of modern living.
He got the distinct impression that an increasing number of his flock were becoming fatally pessimistic, convinced that they had no future to speak of. Other than one of grinding poverty. Money was tight, bills rising, debts mounting, and employment prospects virtually non-existent. The vicar didn't have any ready solutions to offer, but he could at least offer a shoulder to cry on and a sympathetic ear.
"That's as true as I be sitting here," Aunt Peg continued. "A pint of milk costs a pound, a loaf of bread almost two, a can of beer is two pound, and it's three pound for a roll of blessed loo paper! I've tried using the Daily Mail, like they used to use after the war, but it just isn't the same. And anyway, you knows how snobby the folks round here are - you'd be the talk of the village if word got out that you been wiping your arse on the letters page of the DM. You'd be ostracised."
"That really is quite disgraceful," the vicar conceded. He was acutely aware that Hardwick's contributions to church funds were negligable at best, and made a mental note to himself that it was high time that he paid the grasping grocer a visit. Nothing like pricking a person's social conscience to spur their generosity.
"Yes, I know it's disgraceful," Aunt Peg agreed. "But what can I possibly do about it? If I kick up a fuss about his profiteering, he'll only cut off my credit line. And then where will I be?"
The vicar could only shrug his shoulders. He really didn't have an answer to that one. Sometimes he found it difficult to deal with the underpriveleged. It was one of the more unpleasant aspects of an otherwise pleasant vocation.
That and the screaming babies at Christenings.
The whist drives were jolly good fun though.
"And then there's the drugs," Aunt Peg went on.
"Yes vicar. Drugs. No use pretending it doesn't go on, because it absolutely does. All the youngsters round these here parts is involved. They goes up country to the clubs in the big towns and buys their drugs an' then dances their heads off. All night nearly. Sometimes. Seen it with me own eyes I has. And them's all got their personal stashes at home."
"Really?" The vicar looked like he'd just swallowed a snooker ball and was struggling to force it down.
Drugs? Here? In Puddleby Cove? Surely Aunt Peg was exaggerating. Drugs were something that the exotic folks in the big cities like Bristol and Gloucester dabbled in. At least, that was how the Daily Mail reported it. Drugs were dealt in secretive deals on street corners by shady men in dark glasses. With big hats. All that sort of stuff belongs in those squalid urban ghettoes, not in a picturesque Cornish fishing village. Surely Aunt Peg must be mistaken. Unless she's on drugs herself and having some really spooky hallucinations...
"Oh yes," Aunt Peg reiterated. "You only have to take a stroll along the beach to see all the drug paraphernalia they leave lying about..."
"Paraphernalia?" The vicar was agog.
"Oh yes vicar. Hypodermic needles, home made crack pipes, roaches, scorched spoons, blackened tinfoil - it isn't a figment of my imagination, you know. The evidence is there for all to see - and where there's drug abuse, there's inevitably criminal activity. The two go hand in hand, you know."
"I'm not so sure I'm with you..." The vicar clearly wasn't with her. This entire conversation was taking on a nightmarish hue. It had come as a real jolt to the vicar to realise that basically he didn't have the foggiest idea of what was going on under his very nose. In his own back yard.
"Well," Aunt Peg elaborated. "Kids start off with, say, sniffing glue, or butane gas, or some sort of solvent because it's relatively cheap and easy to get hold of. Then they move on to smoking weed, then E's, acid, the clubby drugs. From there it's not such a great leap forward to smack, coke, crack, or crystal meth.
"They get addicted, and it's an expensive habit to support. Addicts aren't usually capable of holding a job down, so they steal to fund their habit. Car theft, street robbery and burglary - it all just escalates, and then the gangs get involved, fighting for control of what's become an extremely lucrative business.
"At the end of it all, you find yourself living in a kind of inner city urban hell. It gets so you're too scared to venture outdoors. Life becomes an ongoing nightmare.
"And all the while this is going on, the poor people - like me - just get poorer and poorer. And ripe for exploitation. Life becomes a daily living hell on earth."
Blimey! The vicar was mortified. Drugs? Crime? Gangsters? And all this going on in Puddleby Cove?
It was all too much.
The worst part of it all was that the vicar couldn't think of a single thing he could possibly say or do to make things better. He felt like he was walking in a minefield. His head reeled. He felt suddenly dizzy and nauseous. It was as if a whole new world had opened up before him, a world which he'd had no idea even existed, and one which slapped him good and hard about the face.
He gulped down what remained of his cup of tea, made his excuses, and left in something of a hurry. He certainly didn't want to hear any more of this. It left him with way too much to contemplate - such as:
What will be the effect of urban style degeneration on the Thursday evening whist drives....
With the vicar gone, Aunt Peg sat at the kitchen table with a fresh cup of tea, and fretted a great deal. It was splendid that she was taking care of the children during the hols, but by the same token, it placed a terrible strain on very limited resources. If the truth be told, Aunt Peg wasn't at all sure that she'd be able to stand the financial hit. The chums had such huge appetites, and a seemingly limitless capacity for alcohol; yet neither they, nor their families had ever offered so much as a single penny towards their holiday upkeep.
The burden was just too great.
Of course, she blamed herself to some extent for her current predicament.
She had achieved what many young girls would have interpreted as the perfect state of wedded bliss. Her husband, Tommy, had been dashingly handsome, an honourable cavalier, the ultimate gentleman, and perhaps more pertinently, the son of a multimillionaire.
Sadly, he was also a bit of an idealist.
Tommy didn't want anything to do with his family, much less the family fortune. On more than one occasion, he'd told his father to stick his family fortune up his arse, preferring to get a proper job, and earn his own fortune, off his own bat. There were some horrendous family arguments at the time. Tommy's parents despaired. Why should Tommy - they reasoned - forego the family fortune and a life of ease, for the cut-throat world of independence? What possible use was there for idealism, when there were people out there (just like themselves) in the world who were only too happy to exploit and rip off those who existed for the sole purpose of being exploited?
There was no sense to it.
Tommy however regarded things from a different perspective. He didn't consider it morally justifiable that he should take advantage of his family's wealth and influence in order to pursue a career option which would undoubtedly have been denied him, were it not for his birth status.
Of course, with such conflicting points of view, there could only ever have been one outcome.
The family disowned him.
And so it came to pass that Tommy got a 'proper' job, as a trawlerman, was looked down on as a stupid upper class twat by his shipmates, got washed overboard in the teeth of an Atlantic gale and drowned.
And that was that.
The silly sod didn't even have life insurance.
From that point onwards, Aunt Peg's life became one of perpetual struggle. Not that it had been bad all the time; for sure, she'd enjoyed a few good times since Tommy's unscheduled dip in the briny, but in general, things had been pretty tough. Though having said that, Aunt Peg never condemned her dear departed husband for the harsh, way her life had panned out, and she hadn't regretted marrying him for an instant. The money she could have inherited would have been nice, but it was all purely academic. She'd fallen madly in love with Tommy, and he'd left her with some precious memories.
Much of that was down to Tommy's idealistic streak. He'd been a proud man, an independent man, and had he been any other way, it is highly doubtful that Aunt Peg would ever have married him. It was as simple as that.
She missed him terribly.
Aunt Peg's melancholia was rudely interrupted by a sharp, insistent rapping on the front door.
"Now, who might that be?" she wondered aloud. She rose from the table and was walking to the door when the knocking sounded again. "My, my - such an impatient fellow...Whoever he is," she noted.
The knocking rverberated down the hallway yet again.
Aunt Peg fumbled with the locks, opened the door, and there standing directly in front of her was a rather creepy looking little man. He was short and squat, bald headed save for a couple of tufts of 'mad professor' grey frizz about the ears. The little man wore jam jar bottomed spectacles with the thinnest of wire frames; he had a flat nose, and tight bloodless lips which seemed to be oozing spittle at the corners. He'd obviously shaved earlier in the day, but his beard was shadowing through again in uneven splodges of dark and grey. His suit was a crumpled cream linen two-piece, his shoes were a pair of scuffed and down at heel brogues, his shirt was of dirty grey nylon, and his tie appeared to be some sort of shiny synthetic thing of indeterminate colour.
He looked like a bum.
"Mister Hardwick," Aunt Peg said, without rancour. "Pray, what brings you all the way out here at this late hour?"
"May I come in, Peg?" His voice brought to mind a reptile with a dry, cracked mouth. It slithered into the ear of the listener like a dead leaf being gusted across the surface of a rough, dry, stone.
"Please do," Aunt Peg said. She stood respectfully aside so as to let him pass. "Would you care for a nice cup of tea?"
"That would be lovely."
She showed him through to the kitchen and seated him at the table, then she poured the tea.
Hardwick took four sugars...
"So," Aunt Peg began. "To what do I owe the unexpected pleasure of your company?"
"It's a rather - ahem - delicate matter," Hardwick said. He loosened his tie and unbuttoned the collar of his shirt, as if it had become suddenly too tight.
"Nothing so delicate that it can't be shared between old friends, I trust..." Aunt Peg attempted to tactfully steer the conversation around to the real purpose behind the visit.
"Heavens no, of course not." Hardwick stared at his hands on the table top, so intently that Aunt Peg almost expected them to take on an independent life of their own. "It's - ahem - how can I best put this? - It concerns your credit standing at the shop..."
"Is there a problem?" Aunt Peg felt that she knew in advance where this conversation was going, and she'd have much preferred Hardwick to get to the point, rather than beating about in the bushes.
"I need to call all debts in," Hardwick said, flatly.
I'll bet you do, Aunt Peg thought. This came as no surprise. Hardwick was always after something or other. Essentially, he was a ruthless bastard with a heart of flint, who got whatever he wanted, whenever he wanted it, and if he had some kind of hold over you - no matter how tenuous - he wouldn't hesitate to tighten the screw.
"It's all very regrettable."
I bet it is, Aunt Peg thought.
"But something's come up."
I bet it has, Aunt Peg thought.
"And I shall require payment in full of any outstanding monies within the next forty eight hours."
Aunt Peg considered this for a moment.
"How much do I owe you?" she asked.
Hardwick produced a small hide-bound notebook from his inside jacket pocket and riffled through the pages.
"Ah, here we are," he said. "Aunt Peg - according to my accounts book here, you currently have an outstanding balance of forty eight pound, thirty nine pee. With interest accumulated, that figure rounds up to....one hundred and twenty two pound and fourpence. Just to show willing, I'll settle for an even hundred and twenty five pound - with no further credit line until the balance is cleared in full."
So, that was it. The bastard had Aunt Peg over a barrel and he knew it. She sighed resignedly. "You know I don't have a cat in hell's chance of raising that sort of money in forty eight hours."
"In that case," Hardwick said tightly, the glint in his eye increasing in intensity. "May I suggest that we revisit the original terms and conditions of our agreement?"
Aunt Peg pondered that one.
"I think it's worth a couple of hours of my valuable time," she said presently.
"Make a noise like four, and maybe we can do business my dear," Hardwick countered. "After all, we're talking a hundred and twenty five smackers here - and that's not to be sniffed at."
"Three, " Aunt Peg snapped. "You're getting a bloody good deal with three, and you know it. There's lots of ground can be covered in three hours...if you get my meanin'..."
Hardwick was becoming restless, almost drooling. He could barely suppress a huge self-congratulatory grin.
"Done," he snapped. "It's allus a pleasure doing business with you, Aunt Peg."
Aunt Peg flashed him a big cheesy grin. "When would you care to get crackin' then?"
"There's noooo time like the present! Providing of course...that it's convenient..."
They went upstairs together, with Aunt Peg leading him by the hand.
Hardwick had quite suddenly and inexplicably developed a pronounced limp...
This depravity knows no bounds. Don't miss it.