Chapter 16: Hitting the streets
Thanks to everyone’s hard work, Eleanor and the team managed to get about 50 locals to gather outside the shop on Saturday morning ready to storm the High Street.
Eleanor was busy passing out posters (hand drawn to save money) and getting the crowd to practise their chants when Jim turned up with a big grin on his face. “Good news. I’ve heard from my mate Bob at the Beeb and he’s bringing a crew to Combemouth this afternoon.”
“The BBC? Oh that’s great!” said Eleanor, clapping her hands together with glee. “They must think we’re newsworthy after all.”
Jim shrugged. “Actually, they’re coming down to film the annual regatta and duck race at Piggledown, but I promised Bob a beer if he and the boys could drop by on their way back to Bristol.”
Eleanor felt slightly deflated to be playing second fiddle to a flock of plastic ducks, but did her best not to show it. “Any publicity we get will be helpful,” she said, smiling. “Let’s spread the word.”
As news got around that a camera crew was going to be there, more people turned up at the shop in the hope of getting their faces on TV. By lunchtime there were about a hundred protestors ready for action. Eleanor had cleared it with the police for the group to march down the High Street and back past the harbour with placards saying ‘Hands off our cliffs!’ ‘No sharks in Combemouth’ and ‘Ban Busty Bertha’ to the bafflement of day-trippers.
Connie and Harold held up posters and talked to passers-by, urging them to let the council know how they felt about Bill Widget’s plans. It was warm work and quite a few of the protestors gave up after an hour or so and peeled off to the King’s Head for a cooling pint. Eleanor was getting anxious that everyone would drift away before the television people arrived when the welcome news came through that the Beeb was in town.
“There they are!” Joe had spotted the broadcaster’s white van, surrounded by two or three bored technicians who’d come along for the ride.
Jim Rowe went over and shook hands with the grey-haired, perma-tanned man everyone recognised as the presenter of the regional TV news programme who was smiling and signing autographs.
“Is that Bob Smart? He’s much older than he looks on the telly,” said Connie, thoughtfully. “And I reckon he gets his tan done at ‘Beryl’s Hair’ like me. It doesn’t half clash with his shirt.”
After a while, Bob broke away from his fans and came over to Eleanor’s group with his microphone. “Okay guys. I’ll ask you a few questions, you tell me what’s happening – try and make it sound exciting, love, if you can. We’ll film a short sequence and hopefully get it into the evening bulletin. No promises though – that’ll be down to our lady rottweiler producer,” He laughed at his witticism, oblivious to Eleanor’s irritated expression.
“Ready to roll, Phil?”
The cameraman gave him the thumbs up. “Ready when you are, boss.”
Mr Smart put on his serious, ‘I’m listening’ face and did his introduction to camera before turning to address the group. “So why are you protesting here today?”
The seas parted as everyone suddenly took a step backwards, leaving Eleanor in the limelight. “Well,” she said, feeling shy and tongue-tied as Phil zoomed in on her face. She wished she’d combed her hair and worn something less dowdy. “The thing is that Combemouth is an old-fashioned seaside town and we don’t think this is the right setting for Mr Widget’s theme park.”
Heads nodded all around her as the group moved forward again like a flock of timid but inquisitive sheep and turned serious faces towards the camera. “It’s not that we’re against progress, of course. We just feel this is the wrong place for a development of the proposed size.”
Bob Smart tilted his head to one side, trying to convey interest whilst all the time giving the impression of a man who would much rather be sitting in front of a cold pint than doing what he was doing.
Warming to her theme, Eleanor explained the problems of increased traffic, possible pollution and damage to the cliffs. “So we really hope the planning committee will see sense and throw out this proposal. Or better still, that Mr Widget will have a change of heart himself.”
Bob Smart nodded again, ready to end the interview with a final shot to camera. “So that’s the state of play here in . . .” Before he could finish his summing up of events he saw his colleague’s eyes light up as they focused on something happening behind Bob’s left shoulder.
“Mate, let’s get a shot of this,” said Phil, moving away from Eleanor and her flock. “This is more like it.”
Miffed to have been interrupted as she was getting into the flow of things, Eleanor turned and to her horror saw Connie lying in the middle of the road. Her heart lurched as she threw down her placard and ran over just in time to see her mother trying to kick a policeman on the shin.
“Mum, are you all right?”
Connie ignored her and began to sing ‘We shall not, we shall not be moved’ as the young PC stood over her with his arms crossed.
Eleanor’s son was standing on the sidelines looking embarrassed. “Joe, what the heck’s going on?”
“I think Gran thought she could get herself arrested by sitting down in the road.”
Some of the more agile protestors had decided to follow her lead and Connie was now surrounded by a motley collection of laughing teenagers and earnest pensioners.
The policeman tried to get her to move. “Madam, will you please get up and go home?”
“This is great,” said Bob to his cameraman. “Keep rolling.” He patted down his already sleek hair and fixed the camera with an earnest look. “Tensions are running high here in Combemouth as a controversial development by ageing rock star Bill ‘Fingers’ Widget threatens the tranquillity of this spot. Even pensioners have felt moved to gather here today to make their feelings felt.”
As the camera panned from Bob’s serious face back to the small crowd, Connie swooned dramatically. “Arrest me, I don’t care!” she said, offering the policeman her wrists.
“There’s really no need for that,” he said, looking aggrieved.
“I’m prepared to give up my liberty to save our town.”
“I think you’ve made your point, Madam. Now be sensible and go home.”
“Well really,” said Connie, furious that the PC refused to put her in handcuffs and take her to the station. “Is this what we pay our taxes for?”
Pushing past the policeman, Eleanor knelt down by her mother. “What are you doing?” she hissed under her breath, aware of Bob Smart and Phil who were still filming the event. “I’m so sorry, officer.” Smiling ingratiatingly, she grabbed Connie by one arm while Joe took the other. “Come along now, it’s time for your tablets.”
Connie tried to fight back. “Put me down.”
“She can be a little vague sometimes,” said Eleanor, between gritted teeth.
“Officer, make these people put me down.”
The PC had pulled out his notepad and pen and looked like he meant business. “I suggest that you go with your daughter. Otherwise I’ll have to book you for obstructing the public highway.”
Eleanor laughed, slightly hysterically. “Mother, get up and stop being silly.”
“My democratic rights to protest against this development are being hampered.”
“I thought you folk were all on the same side,” said the PC wearily.
“We are,” said Joe. “Gran just gets a bit carried away sometimes.” And with a final heave, he and Eleanor managed to get Connie onto the pavement and into the bookshop where Harold and Erika were watching events from a safe distance.
Inside, Connie shook off her minders and brushed herself down.
“Did they get it?”
“Did who get what?” asked her infuriated daughter.
“Did the Devon telly people film the struggle?”
“Unfortunately I think they got the whole darned thing,” said Eleanor. “The last thing we need is for the public to see us manhandling a demented OAP into the shop.” She sank down onto the sofa next to her son, both of them panting from their exertions. “What on earth came over you?”
Connie looked hurt. “I was simply trying to liven things up a bit. Erika says that sex and violence always sell.”
“In books yes, but not in real life.” Eleanor hid her head in her hands. “It was very inventive of you, but we don’t want to distract attention from the development.”
“I’m not sure about that,” said Erika, who had been quiet until then. “The media always like grannies behaving badly.”
“Perhaps I should have lain down in front of the police van,” added Connie. “That might have shown them how strongly we all feel about this threat to our coast.”
“I think you were magnificent, love,” said Harold, beaming at her. “I’d have been on the ground with you, you know, if it wasn’t for my hips.”
“I give up.” Eleanor was looking at the elderly pair in disbelief. “Will someone keep an eye on Emmeline Pankhurst here? I need to get back to the march and see if I can catch Mr Smart.”
“I’ll come too,” said Joe, getting to his feet. “This is wicked!”
“I think that ‘barmy’ might be a better word for it.”
Erika was standing by the door, where a queue of shoppers had formed, all eager for tea, books and a glimpse of Connie. “There’s no such thing as bad publicity, remember that. Can I let them in now?”
“Sure,” said Eleanor. “But don’t let our local freedom fighter start signing autographs.”
“As if I would,” said Connie with a grin.
“I suggest that we all meet up again in a day or two for a debriefing, so we can assess the situation. What do you think?”
“I think that’s a very sensible suggestion, Erika. Come on Joe, let’s see where the rest of the march has got to.”