The charabanc trundles on at a steady 25mph, heading for home, with two stops remaining; the St Oddswell Coach Park for a lavatory break, and The Blue Lagoon Tea Rooms at Little Trevor for light refreshments.
"You do realise," the Major says. "That by the time you add up the cost of this trip, coupled with all the add ons, bloody gratuities etcetera, we'd have spent less on a sodding three day city break to Barcelona."
But Mrs Percy hears nothing. She is lightly sleeping. She has been up since four o'clock in the morning, ironing, cooking, feeding the dog, packing essential supplies, preparing a picnic...To cut a long story short, she is absolutely knackered, to the point where she could almost literally have fallen asleep on a clothes line.
She dreams of sweet things, like sheepdogs bounding through meadows replete with buttercups, dolphins swimming among coral reefs, and bumping against clouds in a hot air balloon...anything in fact, other than stroppy men in black suits and sunglasses, Ottoman burger van cooks, cheap hustlers bearing a vague resemblance to a Monty Python star, and historians named Alan in brown suits and sandals.
The day has been a nightmare in every respect for Mrs Percy. She only wants to go home and sink into her nice warm bed with the posture sprung mattress between crisp crimson cotton sheets. But until they get home, she's going to have to make do with the charabanc.
"Cost a ruddy fortune, this has," the Major grumbles, even though he knows nobody can hear him. "And for what? To look at a scabby old cave, a Lovers Leap which was little more than a ditch, a bloody raised flowerbed, and a waterfall. Mind you, the waterfall was outstandingly beautiful, but the gangsters who ran the place were a bloody disgrace..."
"Nnnng...fly like a bird..." Mrs Percy mutters in her sleep.
"All right mate?" the cheery charabanc driver calls across the aisle. "Your missus got bored with you and nodded off has she?"
"Keep your eyes on the road, you blithering idiot!" the Major snarls.
The Major is getting stressed. He remembers feeling in a similarly tight mood one day back in his Army service, when a particularly stroppy rating named Buffty Ginslinger had called his musical taste into question. For an instant, he wonders whatever happened to Buffty Ginslinger, then with equal velocity, he dismisses the thought.
On the whole, he's had a terrible day. All he needs now is for the chavs on the back of the charabanc to start singing 'Roll Out The Barrel' or 'Knees Up Mother Brown' or even (God forbid) 'Ten Green Bottles.'
It turns out that the two chaps from the Lowfield Estate start to sing 'Here We Go Here We Go Here We Go!'
They seem to be a tad tipsy, although the Major isn't quite sure how they've reached such a level of intoxication.
Some of the other passengers half heartedly join in. They seem nervous.
Thankfully, the charabanc pulls off the road into a wide parking area.
"Ladies and Gentlemen," the charabanc driver announces over the tannoy. "This is a scheduled rest stop. Please do not purchase food or drinks here, there will be time for that in approximately fifteen minutes. But if anyone needs to respond to the call of nature right now, feel free to do so, but do return immediately to the charabanc. This is a toilet stop only. There will be one more opportunity to purchase refreshments before you are dropped off at your respective pick up points. By way of a warning - if anybody abuses this opportunity, I will leave you behind without hesitation."
A handful of people scurry off the charabanc and head for the service area, among them, the two couples from the Lowfield Estate. They don't look too steady on their feet as they weave across the parking area.
"They look pissed!" mutters the Major.
Mrs Percy does not stir. By the way she sleeps, it seems that she's away with the Chippendales.
"Missus lady the wife!" the Major hisses. "Do you need to go to the toilet?"
"Sod off!" Mrs Percy groans in her sleep.
Charming, thinks the Major.
Presently, the toileteers return, and the charabanc once again gets in motion. Much to the Major's consternation, the crowd at the back start out with a rousing rendition of Rick Astley's 80's Rickrolling classic, 'Never Gonna Give You Up.'
Somehow, nobody ever seems to be able to completely shrug that one off.
Thankfully, within approximately 25 minutes, the charabanc pulls into the car park of The Blue Lagoon Tea Rooms, and Mrs Percy awakens from her slumbers. The Major wastes no time in exhorting Mrs Percy to become fully aroused, because his tummy is rumbling and he needs sustenance urgently.
It quickly becomes apparent that the Blue Lagoon Tea Rooms aren't really tea rooms at all, but a public house, masquerading as a tea room.
"We can get a half of lager each and a bar snack," The Major urges as his tummy rumbles.
"All right then," Mrs Percy concedes tiredly. "Anything for a quiet life..."
Upon entry, our intrepid explorers realise that this is not only not a tea room, nor even a pub, but a particularly grotty pub, the kind of pub where blowflies re-enact the Battle Of Britain as they swoop and dive in the glare of the pool table lights.
A man appears behind the bar.
"Good evening peeps!" he announces with some exuberance. "Welcome to The Blue Lagoon Tea Rooms. Is not really tea rooms at all innit. Is pub. But I am Ali Bullo and I bid you welcome! We have beers, wines, spirits, burgers, kebabs, fries, chicken, pizza, chips, salad, chilli and garlic sauce innit. Order at counter mate!"
"Isn't he...?" the Major says, before it fades out.
"He's a ruddy Ottoman," Mrs Percy snaps. "I'm hungry, thirsty, and very tired. The remaining sandwiches are bloody ruined, so I suggest you just order, and pay the man."
"What would you like, darling the wife?" the Major enquires.
"I shall have a half pint of lager and a small meaty feast pizza," Mrs Percy snaps. "And you're ruddy well paying this time!"
"Your wish is my command," the Major says with no small degree of irony, as he approaches the bar, orders the drinks and two pizzas.
"That'll be forty six pound innit sir," says Ali Bullo, as he writes the order down.
"How much! Forty six pounds for two meaty feast pizzas and two halves of lager! That's bloody daylight robbery!"
"No sir. Is twilight robbery. Take it or leave it matey. You wanna argue with me, I call the doorman...otherwise, you piss off and have a nice day. Innit."
Resigned to his predicament, the Major hands over the cash.
"Tell me," he says. "Have I seen you before? Running a burger van somewhere?"
"I dunno," Ali Bullo shrugs. "All us Ottomans look the same innit."
"Bastard!" the Major hisses.
He takes the two halves of lager back to the table, where Mrs Percy is looking distinctly heavy lidded.
"Something's afoot here, the wife," he says.
"Wha...?" mutters Mrs Percy.
"Something's afoot here, and I shan't stand for it," the Major says as he sits down. "I shall get to the bottom of it if it kills me..."
To be continued....