We Farkhams are a pretty public spirited lot, so when I heard that a venue was needed for a public consultation meeting to examine plans for a new bypass, I naturally volunteered the Hall.
After all, it was all set to be a prestigious affair with the Mayor of Far Kingtown, The Rt. Hon. Roger Ingham-Daley present as well as Mr Doug Upstone, representing the County Council Highways Department.
The Hall filled up quickly on the night, with plenty of locals and a good body of people representing the local press. Dimitri and I were delighted at this opportunity for promoting Farkham Hall as the premier conference venue of the area.
Basil Potbound of Notweeds Nursery had volunteered to chair and opened the meeting, welcoming distinguished guests, friends, neighbours and colleagues. He then seamlessly handed over to Mr Upstone to outline the plans. A large map was projected onto the screen and was observed silently for some time by the assemblage.
The proposed A69 bypass is to link the towns of Noblicton to the north and Headbury to the south, missing out the current tortuous route via Farkham and the surrounding villages.
There were lots of crosses, circles, hatchings and symbols with a big red line indicating the current route. A dotted blue line indicated the proposed bypass. The red line had markers and hand-written notes indicating places of natural beauty and historic interest that were currently being damaged by the constant traffic.
After a short description of the proposed benefits, Mr Upstone asked if there were any questions. Mlle Fanny de Beurre, a local language teacher asked about the effect on local businesses if passing trade were to be lost. "I don't think you need worry about that, there will be signs to local services from the new bypass" Beamed Mr Upstone. "And what about the proposed parking restrictions in the villages?" retorted Mlle de Beurre, "As I always say, seven days wizout a Frainch Lesson makes one weak". A number of gentlemen in the Hall shuffled uncomfortably.
Basil Potbound urged Mr Upstone to reply more fully. After all, he was a local businessman himself, with a livelihood to maintain. "Well, Mr Potbound…". "Peaubune! It's French!", Basil interrupted. "My apologies, M Peaubune, I am sure that there will be no significant impact on local business as those who wish to detour may still do so and there is always your local customer base."
"And what about the effect of the proposed service area at the junction with the Farkham to Far Kingtown road?" "How is that going to help local businesses?" Mr Upstone looked a little unsettled and muttered that the service area was only a proposal at the moment, and that if it were to be built it would provide employment locally.
Ivor Parrish, the appallingvicarbastard of the Farkhams was busily weighing up the loss in casual takings in the offertary box against the increase he could levy on fees for hatches, matches and dispatches when Ken Ellman, local farmer stood up and spoke. "'Ere! Where'm arrrrl the lannn; cummin vrom vor this 'ere boiparse road then?"
The Rt. Hon. Roger Ingham-Daley stood "As part of my civic responsibilities, I have offered to make available a parcel of land from the Upham Hall estate. One has to do what one can in times of need…"
Roger Ingham-Daley had nearly got his backside in contact with the seat again when Ken Ellman followed up his question. "Oi'm zpose tharrrt'm'll be the laaaan' that Oi'm zeen aaadvertoised las' weke vor thirrtee miliun quid then, will it?"
"My, you are on the ball, aren't you?". "Yes, it was the same parcel of land, but we are considering an alternative offer from the council, which is nothing like £30M."
"No, Oi'm recknin' it ain't. Aaaaater aaaall, they'm'll 'aaaave to make zure you'm gan afford to build that tharrr zervizes airier an' aaaall, won' 'em".
The Rt. Hon. Roger Ingham-Daley was a little shaken by this bumpkin's grasp of facts that only a very limited number of people were party to. He continued "Well, for the good of the local community, I have volunteered to plough some of my own money into the development of the service area, but I am making a great personal sacrifice in giving up this parcel of land, so it is only fair recompense."
The Mayor could tell that Ken Ellman was about to speak again, so tried to divert attention. "Are there any other questions, I think we have exhausted that topic pro tem."
Only Ken Ellman spoke "An' this 'ere parzel o' laaaan'… wud thaaart be the parzel o' laaaan' that you'm been taking a grant from them EC people not to farm and you'm been deglarin' it as zet azoide laaaaan' an' gettin' three hunner' gran' a year zo you'm don't grow craaaaps on im?". "Let Oi make moizelf cleeeerrrr".
Ken Ellman cleared his throat. "You see, I don't always speak like that, it is a way of fitting in by becoming stereotypical. Before taking over the family farm, I was Dr Ken Ellman thanks to gaining a phD in Agronomics. That equipped me with the tools I need to keep an eye on corrupt little bastards like you and your cousin, Mr Upstone." All Upstone could manage was "Second cousin!".
Ken continued "My apologies, your second cousin. However, let's take a walk back in time, shall we?" "Your family was gifted Upham Hall and the surrounding land in 1452 by a king, grateful for certain discreet services in the realm. So, for the thick end of 600 years have benefitted from a free stately home and a few hundred acres of prime farm land." "A bit closer to the present day you saw the opportunity to gain a large amount of money each year in grants from the EC by not farming a part of your land, claiming setaside allowances amounting to £300K per annum."
The Rt. Hon. Roger Ingham-Daley and his second cousin Doug Upstone began to look a little pale. In the audience, the light of recognition was coming on in a number of eyes.
Ken Ellman continued. "So, now, with the prospect of all those lovely Euros evaporating, you come up with a plan to sell this useless land at an inflated price to a council who wish to mis-use public money as much as possible." "Your second cousin, no doubt has been offered a share of the proceeds and possibly a stake in the service area and other spin-off income."
"How close am I getting to the actual situation, Mr Ingham-Daley?"
"Mr Roger Ingham-Daley, I am calling upon you to publicly answer my question. As Mayor of a neighbouring town, I believe you have a civic duty to put us in possession of all the facts."
Roger Ingham-Daley had seen ugly mobs before and didn't want to face one himself. Actually, all he had seen was a painting of the riot outside Upham Hall shortly after his great grandfather had arranged the hanging of Dan Glies for sheep stealing, even though he was a well-known vegetarian. That was enough.
Making some excuse about this being at planning stage and no more could be said without a full meeting of the Highways Committee, Roger Ingham-Daley grabbed his papers and marched out, closely followed by Doug Upstone.
At that point the meeting more or less closed itself, but Basil Potbound couldn't help himself and thanked all for coming, declared the meeting over and wished all a safe journey home, avoiding any bypasses. Only he laughed.
Before he could make his exit, Ken Ellman was confronted by Marjorie Notweed. "Mr Ellman, Mr Ellman, you were magnificent there. Without you we could have had all sorts of things foisted upon us!". "Oi'm dunno wot you'm taaaalkin' about me babber!". Ken Ellman pulled his smock smooth and stomped off into the night.
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