As July moved into August 1985 the kids’ summer days began to heat up. Robbie, lacking both her family and her foster carer, moved in with the Rawnsley family. With Andy’s mum now very weak and needing a lot of hospital visits, Robbie’s extra help on the farm was very welcome. In amongst the urgent search for missing Mrs F, the gang had a number of domestic problems to deal with. Probably least perturbed was Tommy who, although he had spotted a bunch of civil engineers with theodolites in the meadow field, concentrated on his projects hidden in the back of the barn. He managed to get the old tractor unseized and near full control of the Soviet anti-grav wessel, but had to leave them both behind the hay bales when called in for supper. At supper he did notice his little brother sporting a cardboard waldo hand. He was less pleased to learn that his dad was so encouraged by last year’s football camp that he’d booked Tommy into a new summer camp run by some Welsh outfit called ‘PGL’.
Elsewhere Kin made the unsettling discovery that various intruder alerts were based around his house and might be related to someone after the missing Soviet missile they purloined. The Captain of the house, aware that something was amiss, prepared some options for her family to bug out. Pete continued to push his training regime and was very pleased with the times that he achieved, which made it all the more galling to get home and discover that his mum had replaced his scheduled Loughborough athletics meet with a local camp and the distinct implication that he should avoid becoming successful in case blood doping tests revealed something. Later that night he overheard the biggest row yet between his parents which concluded with a distinct ultimatum from his mum; “you tell him or I will!” His sister Alison intended to avoid the impending drama by going off to London for the weekend ‘for a job interview at NatWest.’
Tank meanwhile was sort of enjoying a pleasant time with Nellie, although news from his sister Susan that she and her friends were off to enjoy a Pogues with Elvis Costello concert in London stirred up some old longings about Natalie. Worse, a successful dinner with Nellie and his overly-enlightened parents resulted in an invitation to a weekend sleepover for the two youngsters, a step which Tank was decidedly not ready for. He discovered he liked the idea of being in love more than the reality. Relief came in the form of another expedition to locate Mrs F.
Once again the gang set out to question bus drivers, this time getting more successful when Andy located the right one passing her last known location at the right time. Stan confirmed that he’d had someone of Mrs F’s description climb aboard but she hadn’t stayed on his bus long; she’d got off on the outskirts of Drayton village at the stop by Gilbourn’s farm. The kids pedalled off to that location and discovered the ‘farm’ had been gentrified into a set of executive houses. Alongside the farm development was a dusty country lane which had a surprising amount of construction vans travelling up it. By luck, their classmate Blakey lived in one of the Gilbourn barn conversions and was able to clue them in that a new leisure facility was being built down the lane. They biked closer and discovered a hive of frantic activity as builders tried to complete another farm conversion on time. A huge sign outside proclaimed the place ‘PGL Milton Meadows Drayton Court’. It was due to open that very weekend.
Naturally, neither staff nor builders were tolerant of youngsters attempting to get onsite through the temporary wire fence. Naturally, this didn’t stop the gang from doing a thorough scout out. Reasoning that Mrs F. must have been hired as canteen staff the kids returned that night to break in and find her. Tank forced open a gap between the fence panels while Robbie and Pete slipped through; they evaded two night-time security guards and their dogs to slip round to PGL’s new staff HQ located in the old Brook Farmhouse. Robbie found an old kitchen window with a loose catch and slipped silently inside to listen at the interior door. Sounds of a PC keyboard and a slow modem being put to use came through from the adjacent office. At this point Pete attempted to join her but his athletic leap landed him in a heap of saucepans in the kitchen sink. Robbie dived into hiding and Pete dived straight back out again and ran for safety just ahead of the hounds. He may have achieved a personal best in the process. Robbie stealthed quietly away during the diversion.
Back home the farm kids had a short night’s rest before getting up again for morning chores. Andy and Robbie had plenty to do collecting silage and managed to harvest a barley field as well. Andy left his little sister Nikki and her friend Sally (Tommy’s sister) to deal with the sheep – they appeared to have finished the worming and shearing at last even though he hadn’t actually seen the shed in use. Things are brought to an abrupt stop by the sudden appearance of a smug Mrs Bridges and Robbie’s nosy social worker, Mrs Webb, accompanied by an especially inscrutable P.C. Draper. Mrs Bridges had spotted the kids driving large, dangerous farm machinery and notified the DSS. In the absence of Mrs Fossett, Mrs Webb had arrived to take Robbie into care. Tank came into view intending to add to the explosive situation.
With only a single glance passing between them, Andy and his mum moved in to calm things down. Andy intercepted Tank and Robbie while Mrs Rawnsley smoothly explained that of course Robbie was staying there with permission while Mrs F went on her annual and well-established visit to her sister. Young Roberta was to enjoy countryside fresh air and planned enrichment activities at an imminent activity camp at PGL Drayton Court with all its modern facilities and educational staff. P.C. Draper inspected the proffered PGL leaflet and blandly enquired what the summer programme might be for the kids in Nazareth House instead. Mrs Webb admitted there wasn’t one and from that point lost the high ground and subsequent argument, at least for the time being. No doubt she will be back. Once the intruders had gone a series of rapid phone calls between parents made sure that all the kids were indeed enrolled on that weekend’s opening PGL activity camp. Tank was just relieved that his sleepover was cancelled.
On Sunday morning the potholed lane in front of PGL Drayton Court was quickly filled up with badly parked cars, frazzled parents, nervous kids, and scattered suitcases. A loud whistle cut through the commotion and shortly thereafter camp leader Peter Lawrence appeared, stepping up to the front in an immaculate red tracksuit. His three assistants settled themselves among the kids in the gravel yard. Each kid was assigned to a 4 bed tent and team colour, and Tank was disconcerted to find Nellie attending too and sharing a tent with Robbie. Kin was pleased to become ‘Red One’. There was a proper canteen in the converted barn, flushing toilets and showers in other outbuildings, as well as frame beds in the tents. Luxury. Routines and timetables were read out and the gang were surprised to learn that breakfast was at 8am and activities started at 9am — a late start for most of them. They decided to conduct their investigations early morning rather than late at night since dawn started at around 4.30am at this time of the year.
After kids had settled into their tents they were rounded up for a hike around the sunbaked fields to admire all those impressive activity sites, then into team circles for get-to-know-each-other sessions. Teatime was a brief stop at the disorganised canteen to collect sandwiches and squash, during which the gang discovered that it’s laid out exactly like Mrs F set out their school canteen. A loud remark by Robbie that “Mrs Fossett wouldn’t put up with this mess” earned her an irate glare from a nearby dinner lady. Once fed, all kids were herded down to the riverside for a huge campfire, a singalong and some improvised skits. Tank and Andy begged a ladder to perform their well-honed Chuckle Hounds routine — it went down a storm — but more importantly they saw inside the kit store and workshop. Robbie and Nellie rehearsed their team in a lively rendition of Starlight Express which went over well. Kin and Pete’s rendition of Monty Python’s Peasants sketch fell absolutely flat, especially after they began to get the words wrong and heckling ensued. After that, Ash and Tommy borrowed the ladder, bonfire and cocoa powder to demonstrate powder flammability and produced an epic fireball, much to the delight of the kids but appalling all adults present. The campfire was brought to an abrupt end with cake and hot chocolate served back at the tents at 9pm.
At crack of dawn Pete was first up and away for a run around the campsite perimeter. By the time he returned the whole gang were up and ready for mischief. Their first target was the canteen and kitchen where they found yet more evidence of Mrs Fossett’s planning and menus. Andy found a discarded duty roster which included her name as well as the four names on the pinned up roster. They headed next into the old farmhouse where PGL based their permanent staff and offices. Pete was forbidden from entering. Everyone else made safe the window, sink and passageway to the office before Tommy was allowed to stumble in. Once at the computer however, Tommy was in his element. Cautiously disconnecting the modem in case of noise, he inspected the floppy disks and booted it up. Some nice, neat folders appeared onscreen with ‘HR’ looking likely and ‘Fossett, A.’ quickly confirming that Mrs F. had been employed there the previous week as canteen supervisor but had failed to turn up for work after a few days so her employment was terminated. There’s a note that she might have been a ringer employed by a rival company. Invoices found elsewhere confirm that she did an efficient and honest job of setting up the canteen supplies. The gang sneak out and back to their tents.
The first full PGL day starts with herding their teams through the wash blocks followed by a full fried breakfast at 8am, and getting youngsters all out to the official Meeting Place for the start of a hot, sunny, and very busy day. Red team are off to do climbing and abseiling, Blues are on archery and trampolining, Greens have ball games and the big zipline, while Golds get to try the crate stack challenge and high ropes course. By the end of the scorching day all the kids were tired and thirsty but mostly happy. Miss Pippa came out of the First Aid station to check that no-one had heatstroke, and everyone headed into the canteen for cold drinks and a big meal. Team games were scheduled for later but the staff decided to wait until the temperatures drop later in the evening. Robbie offered to take the garbage out while Tommy and Andy investigated the kitchen yard. Robbie learned from staff gossip that Mrs F had been a bit distant from the other dinnerladies and was prone to head out for long hikes. Neither of these things sounds remotely like Mrs F.
After a bit of discussion the staff decided to change evening activities for the teams from tag rugby to more sedentary story-telling, although a few livelier youngsters look longingly towards the brook for a dip. The gang decide to encourage suggestions of hot chocolate and an early night. Tommy’s kind offer to start another campfire was firmly declined. Nellie confessed to Robbie that she had been hoping for some quiet, romantic time with Tank but he kept disappearing; Robbie promised to see what she could arrange. Tank, meanwhile, had entirely forgotten about her. With the summer sky still light outside their green canvas tents all the kids fell into a deep, exhausted sleep.
During the night Ash had a particularly disturbing nightmare. She was immobilised on a cold steel bench in a dark room. A very bright light shone directly into her eyes and something electrical stirred and crackled behind her head. Her hair felt hot and she had a pounding headache. Sounds of Madonna’s hit ‘Into the Groove’ echoed around the chamber. The warmth increased and speakers crackled as the music distorted into another song with the repeated refrain “catch us if you can…”, and the light flashed. She tried to raise her head to look around. The room was made of grey concrete and in front of her was a large mirror covering one wall. The mirror showed several unknown children tied down, all still except for one. That reflection’s movements matched her own but she was not Ash. A burst of static overwhelmed the music and a sudden flash from the light whited everything out. She was very relieved to wake up in the morning under the cream canvas tent and in her own bedroll. No, wait, that wasn’t right….
Ash had woken up in an entirely different body whose name, she had a vague feeling, was Annie. The tent was a traditional Icelandic and inside three other girls were waking up in old fashioned bedrolls with 1960s Girl Guide blue dresses laid out nearby ready to wear. She recognised the faces from her nightmare and cautiously introduced her ‘real’ self. The other three girls turned out to be Andy inside Patrol Leader Maggie, Pete inside the blonde bombshell Debbie, and Tank inside gawky Susan. As reveille sounded out on a bugle outside there was an awkward scramble to get dressed and presentable inside the girls’ tent. Elsewhere across the campsite an equally confused but oddly silent Boy Scout patrol tent found Kin inside the body of birdspotter and bookworm Terry, Tommy inside the body of thrill-seeker Tim, and Robbie inside the body of young scamp Colin. All had to move sharpish to assemble around the flagpole for morning inspection and exercises.
They emerged from their tents into a very traditional Scout & Guide camp – boys and girls strictly in different areas. The tents were arranged in clusters round a central firepit with a nearby flagpole flying the Union Jack. The smell of frying eggs and bacon came from a huge old army mess tent. More ragged canvas screens way off in the other direction marked the latrine pits. Mill brook was still nearby but now to the north of the camp. The open grass areas were surrounded by a lot more trees, mostly elms, and over the tops of the woodlands to the east they could see construction work finishing off the third Dedcot cooling tower of the Loop. During ablutions and morning cleaning duties the two sides of camp were kept strictly apart by their Leaders, but things relaxed a little in the mess tent when both groups mingled for breakfast. Ash was able to spot the remaining faces from her bunker nightmare and regrouped the gang. Cautious enquiry established that they were in 1965, in two troops camping at the county site of Milton Woodlands.
During the official notices of duty reminders and activities the girls discovered that they are Bluebell patrol in 12th Abingdon Guides, with Tulip and Daffodil patrols nearby, and are due to do pioneering and shelters today out in the woods. The lads discovered that they are Fox patrol in 1st Carleon (Newport) Scouts, with Badger, Lynx and Falcon patrols also present, and that they are scheduled for First Aid and Observation today. Boys have an added complication in that their Patrol leader Alan is not from 1985. Other troops are also camping onsite. There are no fixed camp facilities other than mains water taps; everything is brought in and taken away again at the end of camp. During morning activities the gang slipped away into the woods to contemplate their unsettling situation.
Episode 1: Life on Mars Bars
Episode 2: Twix a Rock and a Hard Place
Episode 3: SCreme Egg Scramble
Episode 4: Time for a Picnic
Episode 5: Marathon Man
Episode 6: Careless Wispas
Episode 7: Bar Noir
Episode 8: It Takes Allsorts
Episode 9: Jolly Tots and Candy Bots
Episode 10: Double Deckers and the Trusty Tube
Episode 11: Bounty Hunters