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*- signify someone's thoughts
Dr. Porter whistled as he walked back from the village newsagents. Mary, his wife had passed away several years before. His two married children came as often as they could for Christmas. However he wasn't lonely. Moving away from Arlingham would be too much for him. There were too many pleasant memories there for him to leave. But the rapid mushrooming of development in the area worried him. Any memory of it would soon be reduced to picture postcards of the past.
The hurried footsteps of someone coming towards him made him turn around. They were those of the new teacher at the village school. The doctor was pleased as he was keen to inpart what he'd just read in the local paper. The doctor chose not to mention the section that worried him the most. He'd mention that on another occasion.
“Mark! Have you heard the news? “ he announced touching the folded paper tucked under his arm.
“No, no no...Can’t stop now...," He said. "I’ll be late for my meeting..... I’ll miss the bus," continued the young man as he hurried past.
The doctor knew where this newcomer was going. The GP. thought the young man was wasting his time getting involved with 'Friends of the Planet'. Their only concern was with the plight of animals kept in captivity. It was odd. Mark's interest lay elsewhere. He maintained that his desire to preserve the flora and fauna in this area was compatible with the group's aims- all were fighting to preserve the environment. Some in the group empathised with him, but their voices were always drowned out by the loud shouts of the majority. As far as the doctor was concerned, this group caused disruption. They damaged properties, even assaulted people - usually policemen. No matter how much this protest group pleaded with the authorities, they were never welcome. Feeling mildly triumphant he said,
“Mark...Stop. The plans are off... for now at least!”
Failing to hear the doctor's last words, the young man halted, and came back to him.
“You mean...What we were talking about a couple of weeks ago?"
Dr Porter nodded.
"Great! Don’t care about that meeting now.”
The village knew little about this newcomer. The children always mocked him whenever he tried to teach them something. As soon as he opened his mouth, the pupils at St. Hues School exchanged looks of incomprehension. But Dr Porter was used to his northern accent whenever they met somewhere along this path to village.
As far as the plan was concerned, the doctor was more worried than most. The site was to be turned into a bottle factory. The majority of his elderly patients would suffer the most. He was glad that his words had made the young man stop.
“Thank goodness it's not going to be a factory after all. It would have polluted the whole village," he continued.
These developers promised to control the fumes, but Dr. Porter had remained skeptical. "Instead, there's a new plan to build a block of flats with a new pipeline," he added. "I don't know what that's for. Do you?”
At first, Mark smiled and kept passing a hand through his hair.
"That's a bit better." Then he frowned. "That pipeline will run through the badger sets!"
Dr Porter kept silent. He looked away focusing on the oak trees edging the finely clipped lawn of the green close by and then turned back to him. “Soon they’ll ruin this place."
Mark slowly nodded in agreement and cast his eyes around. He took in a breath. Spreading out his arms, he said,"This is terrible."
The doctor added,
"I know. I’ve been in this village treating people for many years. Soon this place won't be the same,” and sighed.
"We must do something about it and-" but Mark was interrupted by the rustling of shopping bags being slammed down next to him. He recognised this loud, large lady who ran the village knick-knack shop.
"I...I mu...must talk... to both... of you..” gasped Liz. Once she'd caught her breath and smoothed down her embroidered leather jacket, she then placed a hand on the doctor's shoulder. "Whenever people come into my shop, I often hear them talking about this new development. Things are changing so fast!" She took in a deep breath and carried on."Maybe it's because more people want to live close to London now.”
Clearly she'd only read the first few paragraphs of the article. That dismayed the doctor. It didn't surprise him. It seemed that everyone was always in a rush and never had time for anything. Nowadays- Speed was paramount. One thing he'd noticed- those over seventy were disregarded. He was distracted when suddenly, the young man chuckled.
Abruptly, Liz turned to his companion. “Mark...It's those badger sets you're worried about, isn't it? For f. ...” she stopped herself just in time remembering the doctor was next to her. She adopted a softer tone.
''I’m sure they’ll find other quiet places to settle in.'' When she saw that Mark was no longer looking at her, she snapped. "That's your problem Mark. You never listen to anybody. Who cares about those damn creatures anyway? They're vermin. They damage the countryside...-"
“Which is rapidly disappearing," cut in Dr Porter. He knew why the group wanted to get rid of Mark. They believed that he wasn't wholly committed. But on this particular occasion, Dr Porter thought that perhaps they might change their mind and listen to him. It surprised him to discover another side to this normally docile young man. Mark was deliberately ignoring Liz, preferring to contemplate the golden leaves of an oak tree. He noticed Mark's eyes fill with joy at seeing a robin hopping from one branch to the next. Eager to get things sorted out, the doctor faced her.
“The plan now is to build flats and a shopping precinct. Like me, most of my patients don't like it. They think they’ll no longer be treated by me. You know how old people are. They don't like change.”
“I'm not surprised,” she said and with a smile added, "Don't worry. If it happens, I'm sure they’ll find another doctor for these newcomers.”
The doctor lowered his head. He knew the majority of his patients would resist any change, but of course this new development meant something else for her. He mumbled,
"It'll be alright for you, Liz. You'll have more customers for your knick-knacks and-" He stopped when he saw that she kept looking away and after a while back at him. Finally she said,
“I can't make up my mind. It's true, it means new customers for me, but I'm worried about the competition from the new shops in the shopping precinct."
Mark let out another snigger. Dr Porter quickly cleared his throat and suggested,
“Let's find others to discuss the matter further. With a sizeable protest, the council will pay more attention to us....But where can we have our first meeting?”
Liz put a hand on the doctor’s shoulder again.
“That's not a problem. My friend, Darren, will offer his pub as a venue for this. He wants to be part of the community.”
The doctor knew Darren and Liz were childhood friends. After a while he nodded in appreciation.
“I guess we have to start small. From there the numbers should grow. But how about Brian? After all, these developers want to use his field. How do we get hold of him?”
“I can take care of that too," Liz announced.“Brian comes into The White Eagle and has a drink at Darren's pub every Friday night.” Liz started to bend down to pick up her shopping bags, and then quickly redressed herself."What time do you want to start and when?”
Rubbing his hands together, Dr Porter said, “How about tomorrow. Shall we say... six in the evening? It’s a Sunday,” and quickly turned to Mark. "Is that OK for you?" The young teacher smiled back.
"We can’t start too late," continued the doctor,"... I know we're all working people."
Mark turned and made for the bus stop."At the meeting, I'll mention what we intend to do here, and I'll see what they think."
Dr Porter raised his hand, saying as he walked away. ”See you all there.” On his way home, he wondered whether he'd reveal all he knew to them?
The doctor kept looking through the criss-cross panes of the pub window. Had Darren and Brian forgotten about this meeting? He didn't know how they'd feel about the plan, but he was confident that he and Mark were on the same side. The young school teacher had never stopped complaining to him about the potential disruption to the badger sets. But that was not all. This young man was worried that the brown and golden tiger spotted ‘Queen of Spain Fritillary’ butterflies which settled in that field every summer would vanish from there forever. Liz was a different matter. As far as Dr Porter could make out, she was undecided. As for himself, he was still not sure if he could cope with the influx of more patients despite Liz's assurances. These matters weren't as straightforward as she thought. He started shaking his head, as he considered her ambivalence.
He kept his eyes on the outside whenever he heard an engine roar, in the vain hope that it was Darren's old Jaguar, but it was always someone else pulling into the parking space at the side of the pub.
But then Darren's car finally appeared, and he could see Brian was with him.
The old wooden pub door squeaked open as the two friends came in. Darren ducked beneath the low beam to walk through. Darren moved towards them and a grinning Brian bounced in after him. This rotund man halted and eyed the crisps and snacks for sale at the counter, but he turned away when Darren called out to him.“Come on, Fatty...Come over here! We’re here to talk about important village bussiness, not to stuff our faces, “he said in jest.
Dr Porter gave a wry smile, but almost immediately, his expression grew serious again.
Coming close to the gathering, Brian bent down and whispered loudly to Liz. “Can’t even look at food, and I’m attacked!”
Darren found a sturdy stool and pulled it next to his own seat. Looking at the others, he rose and suggested, “I see you three have drinks already...”and twisted round to Brian, “I guess you'd like a pint of Guinness like me and....a pork scratchgs!"
When he returned with his and Brian’s drinks, he'd also brought a variety of crisps as well as his friend’s treat. Brian looked pleased.
After tapping the table with his pen, the doctor suggested impatiently, "Well, now we can start." He kept fingering an empty notebook. "I’m unhappy about this sudden invasion of people and this proposed shopping precinct...On top of it, these developers want to put in another pipeline...that's disgraceful.”
“I think it’s great,” announced Brian. The doctor flinched, but let him carry on."... It’s going to go through most of the badger sets. Let’s get rid of those pests!”
"But these badgers are lovely creatures!” whimpered Mark. Not looking at anyone or anything else but his shoes, he then said in a small voice,“I know they infect your cows with-"
Brian slapped a hand down on the table making everyone jump. "I knew it!! What are you saying about 'my cows', you fool?" His blue eyes grew darker."What the hell are you talking about? My cattle is perfectly healthy and don't have TB. You and your stupid protest group know nothing. Liz has been telling us all about them. They're either making it all up or are picking up false information from somewhere. I bet they got it from the Internet. Often the information is not always correct. I know thee are lots of infected cattle due to due to badgers settling nearby in fields but that's in other parts of the country. Not here. NOT MY CATTLE. It's just a vicious rumor." He searched for a handkerchief in his pocket to wipe away the sweat accumulating on his round face.
Dr. Porter could sense his young companion's irritation rising, but could not stop him reacting. "It's not a rumor," insisted Mark. "There's scientific proof that this is the case. Why don’t you grow crops instead? This pipeline is going to destroy the badgers' sets...They’ve been here for many years...I can tell. And there's another thing-”
The doctor took in a breath but decided to let them continue discussing. After all, this was the reason for calling the meeting. However he hoped it would not degenerate into physical abuse.
“Bloody Hell." Brian interrupted. "So have my cows! You c-" he started to say but Darren quickly put a hand on Brian's mouth and turned to the others and then to Mark.
"I think my friend meant to say that you were a curious chap that's all."
Liz giggled, and Brian pushed his friend's hand away from his mouth to continue. More beads of sweat had appeared on his neck now."You've not listened to a word I've been saying, have you?” he exploded, but then controlled himself remembering the doctor's presence. "We've had this breed of cattle for generations. That’s how I make my living. Anyway, those fields are not suitable for growing crops. That's why they're used for cattle. In any case I've come to an arrangement with the developers. In any case, that's between them and me."
Dr Porter raised his eyebrows, but Mark disregarding those last few words. "I'm sure that with all these new chemicals they're inventing or keep discovering, you'll be able to treat your fields and convert them so you can grow corn or whatever you want,” the young teacherd added, “Also I think the wood lark will vanish along with some of the other lovely butterflies.”
Dr. Porter winced internally. He could guess the reaction.
Brian's eyes grew even larger and then he gasped." I can't stand this! This is getting ridiculous, you idiot! Where the ..." Darren nudged him, but he carried on. "Where the bloody hell am I going to get the money to do all that?"
Seeing the rotund man’s face growing redder than before, and fearing the discussion was turning abusive, the doctor cleared his throat. Also, he knew that Brian and Darren didn't care about the wildlife, and certainly were indifferent about the butterflies in the field. Before things got any worse, Dr Porter said, “What worries me the most is that we’re rapidly losing our countryside. Also I’m not sure that I’ll be able to care for all those extra people." He turned to Liz. "I know you tried to reassure me earlier on telling me that these new arrivals would be allocated to different doctors, but I think you'll find I'll get some anyway. I told you before, most of my patients are old and they're used to their routine. Change could spell doom for most of them!”
It was as if the doctor had been talking to the pub wall. Eventually Liz looked at him. She at least had been listening. “Actually, I don’t think it’s such a bad idea having those extra people coming...Of course it means more customers for me...But I’m a bit worried about the competition,”
Hiding his disappointment, Dr Porter smiled at her and watched her looking round at the others for support. None was forthcoming at first but then Darren said, “Don’t fret, Liz...That’s easy. You’ll just have to sell things the other shops don’t advertise.”
Pleased, she cast her eyes at her friend.
It dismayed the doctor that she could be so fickle. Now his only ally was Mark. He made up his mind to stand up for the other elderly residents. Somehow he felt responsible for them. He was soon brought to the present when Mark cupped a hand over his ear and whispered, “It looks like we’re the only two left on the same side here! What are we going to do?”
The doctor cleared his throat again, and smoothed his tweed jacket. The others turned.“I see now that I only have Mark as an ally. Regardless of what you think-" pointing to the other three staring at him," I feel I owe it to do something for the other well-established residents who think the same way as I do. I’m going to approach other important people in the various government departments if I can, and we’ll see what happens.”
As they rose from their seats Darren said, "Suit yourself, and good luck with that," pushing Brian’s bent figure through the doorway.
Looking through the criss-crossed window again, Dr Porter saw them both making their way back to the old Jaguar. After bidding goodbye to Liz, he glanced at Mark. “Do you feel like walking back with me...we’re both going in the same direction.” The young man agreed.
They both started walking back.
Several months later the doctor and the young teacher met again somewhere along the path. Thankfully the original plan to develop the site had been shelved but now there were suggesting another project. Dr. Porter's mournful look made the young man curious.
"Why are you so glum?" ventured Mark.
Dr. Porter attempted to smile at him, but failed. "Remember our small meeting we had at the pub about developing that field? I' hoped that Liz would be on our side. I reckon they'll all agree to the alternative," he said as they went across the pedestrian crossing.
“What? What is this new proposal? I didn't realise there was an another one. Why do you say that?” Mark asked interested.
The doctor looked down at a weed in the pavement and after a deep breath said, "They’re now suggesting to use the field to build an abattoir.”
"What?!?" The young man halted and put his hands on his hips. “I can't believe it! Don't they.... "
"I know...I know..." cut in the doctor. "Developers just think about making money, that's all. Sometimes they try to be reasonable but usually people just have to follow whatever is put before them. This is very difficult for old people like me."
Mark stayed silent, but the doctor had never seen the young teacher so agitated. Then Dr Porter shook his head and said, "I'm as distraught as you are about it, but there's little we can do about it...They won't listen to old people."
Mark flung his arms up in the air. "We'll have to do something about this. That's why protest groups are so important."
As he walked away, Dr. Porter continued down the pavement alone. He knew that 'money talks'. No doubt, this calm, historic village untouched by violence would soon become the site for activists. How time has changed.
Tanya Church © 2012