As June and early July progressed it became apparent to the kids that their last adventure had stumbled upon the early, secret preparation for Live Aid ’85. Kin got an invitation backstage as thanks for helping out, Ash got an invitation by way of apology, and Sean got an invitation since his weird houseguest turned out to be one of the music directors rather than anything to do with evangelists. And, of course, Robbie turned up anyway. The unfortunate break in transmission in the middle of The Who’s performance may or may not have had something to do with the gang being present.
The rest of our young heroes gathered together at the start of the long summer holidays and the weeks stretched out in front of them unsullied by any school routine. Nellie and Tank went out for long pony rides along the Downs but his tentative attempt to interest her in AD&DTM failed dismally. Their paths occasionally ran alongside Pete who was revelling in the best season yet of his long-distance training, and occasionally with Tommy’s Russian military drone as he got to grips with steering it. The budding romance is helped along by a shared love of music but hindered by lots of unhelpful advice from Tank’s mates. A mixed group trip to the cinema enjoyed ‘A View to a Kill’ with Grace Jones’ demolition of 007. Discreet handholding ensued.
Pete carefully scheduled his time away from a house often empty since his mum had returned to work. D&D, cinema, TV and a flexibly ill-defined training schedule helped a lot. During one necessary calorie refill at home he had tea with Dad and discovered an unexpected ally. While still ‘grounded’ for poor school reports his dad had signed him up to a set of summer events for his final year in the Under-15s, including the Oxon County championships at Iffley road where Steve Duval was current champion. Either his Dad had great faith in Pete’s scholastic potential, or he did not agree with the academic goals set by Pete’s Mum. Motivated, Pete cheerfully neglected to tell his coaches about the championships and outright lied that his sponsor Laura Ashley needed him on Saturday.
At Andy’s farm it was all hands required to get the harvest in, complicated by his mum’s many medical appointments and toddler Nate’s rapid mobility. Andy is plenty old enough to drive tractors at 14 and leave sheep wrangling to his little sister. Friday afternoon was reserved for a prolonged D&D session in the hideout and the lads were slightly concerned to find no-one had fed the Cretaceous ‘chickens’. Andy completed DMing the TSR module and tried to goad Tommy into correcting his pronunciation, but Titch refused to admit to knowing any welsh at all. They left a note for Robbie in case she turned up there.
On Saturday they took the train to Oxford and ambled over to Iffley Road sports grounds where they met up with Pete and his Dad. After registering and collecting his competitor number Pete had a bit of time to kill before his 5000m race. Andy gave a surprisingly good pep talk to Pete and then it was time to line up. From the start Steve & Pete lead the pack of runners around the track. On lap 2 Pete impatiently pulled ahead but Steve cannily stayed just ahead of pack and reserved his move. On lap 3 Steve made his expected kick away from the pack and accelerated ahead to take the lead but, to the amazement of everyone, Pete also kicked away and managed to stay just in front. In lap 4 Pete started to tire and Steve Duval finally took the lead. The crowd cheered. In the final lap 5 Steve appeared to be all set for a win but in the final straight Pete pushed himself to exhaustion and sprinted to victory before collapsing on the track. The crowd went wild: Oxfordshire had a new Junior long-distance Oxon champion! Medals, prize giving and interviews with local journalists ensued alongside a very proud Dad.
Arriving back at Dedcot station the gang were startled to notice a column of smoke rising from the town centre. A police cordon was set up around Dentons toy shop and a chat with PC Draper revealed that someone had set fire to the store room through the back letterbox. The gang found their way around to the back alley where the fire service were shovelling out the store room contents to cool down. There were some bits of plastic but the bulk of it was foam and wool and fabric of cabbage patch dolls. The gang reckoned either Russia, the Mafia or the Tuckers might be manipulating the doll market prices. Titch confirmed that the fire started just inside the door and noticed the fire officer removing remains of a Molotov cocktail.
During this distraction Pete snuck off to return home without their ‘help’. When called in for beans on toast, Mum naturally enquired about the medal and learned that he was registered for this by his dad. A prolonged silence ensued but Pete himself does not get interrogated further. He dozed in front of the TV most of the evening but went to bed before his dad got home. Alison got back even later.
Sunday morning was the time for a show of Rawnsley unity as their enemy, Mrs Bridges, considers herself a pillar of the village and the church. Andy was intent on social engineering the village feud and easily managed to get most of Tank’s family along to sit on their side of the pews. Surprisingly atheist Tommy also cycled up to Hendreds church to support Andy and everyone is startled to discover that Tommy has a very good singing voice.
Pete had a difficult start to the day after a disturbed night and his slow times led to an uncomfortable talk with Coach Grundy who nonetheless became increasingly pleased and impressed as he gets more information from other athletes about how the race unfolded. They had a long chat about what distances Pete is best suited for, and the youngster was clearly lying through his teeth about something in his family, but it resulted in a light training day for Pete. Coach resolved to ensure better liaison with the family and sponsors, and Pete still hasn’t encountered a problem he can’t run away from. Once back home Pete gets blamed by Alison for upsetting Mum. She shows him the incriminating sports report in the Dedcot Herald, but he’s delighted. Alison stomps off and Pete finally realised that at his age she was forced to give up gymnastics, not because her ability declined but because of some external reason. He might possibly have been a tad tactless.
Back at the church the whispering campaign against the plague family has reached new depths. Mrs Bridges and her cohort are deeply offended by the good number of parishioners who choose to sit on the Rawnsley side of the aisle. Andy is too busy looking after his Mum to deploy his usual charm offensive, but his mates try to ferret out what the old biddies are whispering about. Apparently the AIDs plague is just retribution from the Almighty for deviant practices and certain events in the 1960s and other misdemeanours of the Rawnsley family going back even further. The kids have no context for this but Tank doesn’t want to know anything about the swinging sixties. He has suspicions about his own parents.
On Sunday afternoon the gang had another go at locating Robbie, but Mrs F’s house appeared to be locked up and tidied away. They decided not to break in with so many adults around nearby but to come back later. Andy went home to babysit Nate and Tank slipped quietly away to spend a pleasant afternoon with Nellie chatting about music.
Tommy’s second attempt to construct a parabolic antenna failed dismally. While clearing the disaster away he observed his Aunt P. heading out towards the large meadow where, on this occasion, she was moving along the stream poking at and apparently collecting something. But when he attempted to sneak up to watch more closely, she disappeared entirely. Now this is a stream which Tommy knows well so he took a long, hard look and concluded that she was collecting soil and clay samples along the north side of the stream. He decided to peer into the window of the dairy cottage, the annex in which she had taken up residence, and discovered that it was packed with unlabelled bottles, pots, jars, yarns, knick knacks, shells, stones, dried herbs and other preserved items of local flora and fauna. It had, in fact, become the lair of an archetypal Welsh witch.
On Monday morning Pete came in for breakfast to find his Mum heading out to work and a terse letter waiting for him from Laura Ashley Ltd. He is requested and required to attend a presentation event at the Culham HQ at 7pm that same day. They wish to award him with a certificate and a momento to celebrate his Oxon Championship which they only found out about via the local paper. There will be press present and he should bring his medal to display. Tommy headed into town and had a long overdue chat with Miss Green at the library. He persuaded her to order in a glossy Iwasaka book on the history, design philosophy and aspirations of the supercorporation. Tommy also had a chat about the constitution of their school PTA, Miss Green undertook to find out for Tommy exactly what Mrs Bridge’s role might be.
After lunch the gang met up at Mrs F’s to put into action their Cunning Plan to locate Robbie. They had buckets, sponges, a ladder and neckerchiefs from their previous membership of the Hendred’s Scout troop (1st Cwichhelmsley) and cheeky willingness to use the ‘Bob A Job’ ruse. This started well with the first house on the terrace getting squeakingly clean windows. Their second attempt turned into a farce of incoordination worthy of the Chuckle Brothers. The third house was Mrs F’s and they got a good look in through the windows and concluded that both she and Robbie must have been away for a few days. The next house they tried to do but had forgotten that Mr Tucker worked nights: they were chased away by loud invectives and empty beer can missiles. They did the final house on the terrace for completeness but, as they hadn’t changed the water, only succeeded in smearing more dirt onto the windows. The exasperated householder eventually paid them to go away. They came away with a modest amount of donations which they decided to pass on to their old Scoutmaster.