actreeIt started with a party: a party to which I was not invited. Not that I would have wanted to be, judging by the racket emanating from Pool Cottage, just up the hill from me. I’m a person who considers Brahms a bit rowdy, and he wasn’t a man famous for his pounding bass line.

The occupants of the cottage were plainly having a Christmas knees up and had invited all of their friends, along with their friends’ friends. Or, possibly, word had simply got out that there was free food and drink to be had and every party parasite within a ten mile radius had turned up. Either which way, one side of the (fairly narrow) road into Adverse Camber, down as far as The Drovers, was completely lined with cars, and one of them was in the pull-in immediately outside my house.

I first noticed it in the half light when I went out in order to perfect the distribution of the fairy lights on the Christmas tree I was putting in the window.

It was a big, grey job and not so much parked as simply abandoned where it had stopped, about a foot out from the verge and at odd angle so that its back end stuck out into the road. I was leaning over the fence peering at in the twilight when Norman and Jazz Ruskin wandered past, plainly heading for the party.They paused to admire the tree in the window. I waited for one of them to say ‘You can come and do ours when you’ve finished’, because someone always does.

‘There’s a blank bit down at the bottom right,’ said Jazz, narrowing her eyes critically. ‘And there are too many up at the top. It looks all lopsided. Coming to the party?’

‘No-one invited me,’ I replied with as much dignity as I could muster, faintly irritated that the Vicar and his wife had received an invitation and I hadn’t. I mean, I didn’t want to go, but it would have been nice to have been given the chance to say ‘No’.

‘It’s not an invitation thing,’ said Norman, his arm around Jazz’s shoulders. ‘Everyone in the village is welcome. Come along when you’ve finished ….The food’s always excellent.’

‘Oh. Errm. No… it’s not really my thing – crowds and loud music.’ I was pretty certain the windows of my cottage were actually vibrating in time to the pulsating din.  ‘But you two have fun.’

‘We will,’ grinned Jazz. ‘ We always do.’

They wandered off up the hill, leaving me to do my grumpy old git act in the rapidly gathering gloom.

To my pleasant surprise, the music stopped fairly early on … either that, or someone decided to turn it down so as not to disgruntle the local party-poopers and thus invite a brick through the window. I was vaguely aware of the sound of car doors slamming and engines starting up somewhere around midnight – but I can’t say they really disturbed me and when I woke briefly in the wee small hours of the morning all was graveyard quiet, as usual.

I was, therefore, slightly surprised to look out of my front window in the morning and see the grey car still parked there.

I ambled out in my dressing gown and slippers, clutching a mug of coffee, to take a better look at it in daylight. It was one of those big, ostentatious jobs that take up two parking spaces in the multi-storey, with huge wheels, running boards and lots of chrome. I looked up and down the road. Here and there, a few cars were still parked along the verge, and it was obvious that, drink having been taken, the owners of the cars had prudently decided to either call a taxi, walk, or cadge a lift home with the sober and come back for their cars when their blood alcohol levels permitted.

As the day progressed, and I periodically wandered outside with a bauble in my hand to admire my handiwork on the tree, I noticed that all the other cars in the road gradually disappeared, but the one in my pull-in just sat there – solid, grey, and in the way.

The next day, it was still there … which the postman irritably pointed out as he handed over a bundle of Christmas cards. ‘Could you ask your friend to move it? It’s in the way, and my van’s blocking the road because I can’t pull in properly.’

He drove off in a flurry of  indignation before I could suggest that he might like to tell THAT to Pool Cottage.

Next was the parcel courier, who also intimated that my friend should find somewhere else to park their car, ‘If you can call that parking …’.

Then I narrowly avoided backing into it myself as I got my own car out of the garage to go and buy some more fairy lights and baubles, and perhaps just a touch more tinsel.

Around lunchtime, I was actually out at the car, peering in the windows and tugging ineffectually at the door handles, when Adam sauntered past, en route for his usual lunchtime bevy at The Drovers.

‘Do you have any idea who owns this tasteless pile of junk?’ I asked bad-temperedly, kicking its huge tyres in exasperation. ‘It’s been here since the party up at Pool Cottage.’

He tilted his head to one side to look at the number plate – and for the first time. I noticed that it was a personalized one: PH 14.

‘Phil Heggarty.’

‘Phil the Pill? I might have bloody known.’

Phil Heggarty is the owner of a big, flashy chemists in Upper Camber, along with several other ‘nice little earners’. He lives in a mock Gothic pile on the Back Road and considers himself a cut above the common herd on account of being an ‘enterpernoor’. The fact that his ego is considerably bigger than his IQ has never, annoyingly, been any kind of impediment to his upward trajectory.

‘Right. When that prat comes back to collect his wheels, Words will be Said.’

‘I wouldn’t bother. He’ll just give you a mouthful.’

‘I’ve got a bigger vocabulary than he has …. and a bigger mouth. Dumping his pile of … Oooh … Look.’ The dustbin lorry was bearing down on us. ‘The binmen cometh. If I ask them nicely, do you think they’ll accidentally stove in the side of his bourgemobile for me?’

I did ask, after handing over a tenner in a Christmas card, and although they were sorely tempted, having no love for Phil the Pill themselves, they decided that really, they should at least attempt to squeeze past without disturbing his paintwork. I stood and watched and hoped, but they missed him. Rats.

The next time I went out, trailing tinsel after me, a slight and spotty youth was climbing into the car. Heggarty had, of course, sent one of his hapless minions to collect his ride. He smiled at me cheerfully.

‘The tree’s looking smashing.’

‘Oh. Um. Thank you.’

‘Merry Christmas!’

‘And to you.’

I stood there, as deflated as an old whoopee cushion, and watched him drive off – and I was still standing there, tinsel drooping at my side and my carefully rehearsed diatribe withering unproclaimed inside me, when Jazz came past, being dragged up the road by her elderly neighbour’s two cocker spaniels. She hauled them to an abrupt halt by the gate, and looked at me and my tinsel in disbelief.

‘Are you STILL decorating that bloody tree?’




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