The Story So far: Daphne has offered Imelda a half share of her bingo winnings, unbeknown to Frank who has already promised the money to Carl for his 'Save The Radish' fund. Tempers are running high at number 32 after Brad reveals he cannot marry Gwen, because he is an alien from the planet Radox and he has to go back home next Tuesday to have his head replaced. There are mysterious happenings down at the youth centre and the police are called in after Margaret receives a stiff letter from the Bishop of Pontefract. Meanwhile Alec is forced to make some tough decisions about his future after an operation to remove his genital warts using high explosives goes seriously wrong.
But that's quite enough of that, time for some of this...
Faster than a speeding locomotive! Sleeker than something that's very sleek! More windswept than a chicken with a migraine! A large black truck carrying a hundred gross of Mr. Pop-Up's Liquorice Flavoured Novelty Condoms powered over the horizon, thundered up the hill, ploughed down into the valley then came to a grinding halt when all of its tyres burst simultaneously.
"Well that is ironic," said Mummy Bear as they dismounted, and a small group of people standing nearby applauded enthusiastically. "So now what?" she asked.
"We walk," said Daddy Bear with a shrug.
"Where to?" Mummy Bear asked exasperatedly. "We can't run forever, can we?"
"Well it's obvious, isn't it?" Daddy Bear replied, just a little impatient with her. "We've got to clear our names."
Mummy Bear took a long swig from a bottle of tomato ketchup that she happened to have in her pocket. "And how do we do that, mastermind?" she asked as she wiped her chin on the back of her arm.
"Well I've got an idea. It goes back to something the judge said at the trial. It means we have to go to Scotland... But look, it's getting late, we'd better move on."
And so they headed north. It was well into the evening by the time they reached the charming little village of Nether Scallop. Mummy Bear had expected a bustling, close-knit community going about its everyday rural life of sheep dipping, jumble sales and cider drinking parties, but the place was dead.
It was little more than a hamlet really: about thirty or forty crumbling cottages spaced liberally along a snaking road. There was a pub, a post office and an overgrown telephone box, but sadly no major fast food retail outlets. They stood beneath the spreading boughs of an ancient oak and listened for any sign of movement. There was only the hoarse gasping of the wind, and the soft rustling of leaves above them.
"We'll try the pub," said Daddy Bear. "That's where everyone will be."
As they approached the pub, the door was thrown open with an echoing clatter, and an old man was ejected into the road. He landed in front of them, coughed, gave a great sigh and was then sick on Daddy Bear's feet.
The landlord stood in the doorway, filling it. Two beady, black eyes stared pitilessly out over his flabby cheeks and approximately half a dozen chins. "It's typical, isn't it?" he said to Daddy Bear, and as he shifted his weight from one foot to the other his gut began to quiver. Once it had been set in motion it usually took some time for it to stop. "That's the only customer I've had all day, and I've had to throw him out."
"Throw him out?" repeated Daddy Bear. He moved his feet from beneath the old man's face and left him sniffing the pavement. "Why's that?"
"Well, he's an undesirable, isn't he," said the landlord, breathing heavily. "I can't let a drunken old man like that lower the tone of a prestige establishment such as this. We don't allow drunks in here."
"Well, I can sympathise with that," said Daddy Bear. "But isn't such a strict policy rather bad for business?" he asked.
"We do uphold certain standards." The landlord somehow managed to say this and belch at the same time. "We don't allow drunks. We don't allow bikers. We don't allow skinheads, or punk rockers or anything like that. Old ladies aren't allowed, or amateur thespians, or members of the armed forces. Policemen, we don't have none of them, and no politicians. We're very strict."
Daddy Bear peered past him into the warmly lit interior. "You don't appear to have any customers at all," he observed.
"We don't allow customers," said the landlord. "They lower the tone."
"Well, where is everybody?" Mummy Bear asked. "The village looks deserted."
"They're all at home watching telly, I should imagine," the landlord replied.
"But where are the farmers coming back from their fields?" Mummy Bear quizzed him. "Where are the woodcarvers returning home after a hard days work? Where are the mechanics, the builders, the labourers, she shopkeepers and the carpenters?"
"There are no farmers or carpenters here," said the landlord. "Only computer programmers and estate agents. They're the only people who can afford to live in Nether Scallop. Now, if you'll excuse me I've got to lock up. I've just barred myself, so I'm going to sit out in the back garden in a tent." He disappeared inside, slamming the door in their faces.
"We don't seem to be having much luck, do we?" said Mummy Bear.
Daddy Bear took a deep breath and tried to think of something positive to say. "It could be worse," he said, not sounding even remotely convincing. "We could…" He struggled to come up with something. "...Well... We could be very nearly run over by a gold-coloured Porsche, for instance."
They suddenly heard the powerful roar of an approaching car.
"You know what this is going to be, don't you?" said Mummy Bear.
Daddy Bear tried to ascertain the direction from which the sound was coming, but the buildings threw out echoes to confuse him. "Don't be silly," he said nervously. "Just because I mention that we could very nearly be run over by a gold-coloured Porsche, it doesn't follow that it's actually going to happen."
"Doesn't it?" Mummy Bear asked. She listened. The car was steadily drawing nearer, from the south. "Have you never heard of Murphy's law? We seem to have been plagued by it just lately."
"No Glenda," said Daddy Bear. "It's just too much of a coincidence."
"Stranger things happen at sea," Mummy Bear said mysteriously.
"Such as being very nearly run over by a gold-coloured Porsche. That would be pretty odd if it happened at sea. Anyway, we're bound to be run over eventually."
"Oh?" said Daddy Bear. "And how do you work that one out?"
"Well, we're standing in the middle of the road," said Mummy Bear.
Uttering an oath, Daddy Bear dragged his wife out of the road - just as a gold-coloured Porsche screamed past, very nearly running them over. It braked sharply and a moment later a man and a woman in fancy dress got out.
"Are you all right?" asked the woman. She was dressed as a large pink pig, minus the head, which she carried under her arm.
"We're fine, thank you very much," said Mummy Bear.
"My name's Melissa," said the girl. She shook her head and swept her long, bleached hair out of her face, as if she was in a shampoo commercial. "This is my husband, Rodney," she said, gesturing to her companion who was dressed from head to toe as a squirrel. "He doesn't talk much. Please excuse him if he keeps his costume on, only he doesn't like strangers looking at him."
"Oh dear, is he shy?" Mummy Bear asked.
"No, just appallingly ugly," said Melissa. "You know it's funny, and I can't help remarking on it, but I was just saying to Rodney before we saw you that, what with the sort of day we've had, I wouldn't be surprised if we nearly ran over two people dressed as morris dancing grizzly bears. Then blow me, that's precisely what happens! Still, they say stranger things happen at sea."
"Yes," said Mummy Bear. "They do say that."
"You must be going to the same fancy dress party that we are," Melissa said. "Love the costumes, by the way. Rodney and I were going to go as pole vaulting ferrets, but the costume people let us down, so we had to make do with what we had in the wardrobe. I wish I'd have thought of morris dancing grizzly bears, that's a marvellous idea!"
Mrs. Bear waited for her husband to say something, but he declined. "Yes," she said at last. "Thank you."
"Still," Melissa said, somehow managing to breathe in between speaking. "The least we can do is give you a lift the rest of the way. Did your car break down? I imagine it did. We thought about joining the AA or something like that, didn't we Rodney? But when you've got a Porsche it's got no damn right breaking down on you."
Mummy and Daddy Bear squeezed into the car as Melissa carried on talking.
"I mean, what's the point of paying ludicrous amounts of money for something that's going to blow up as soon as you take it out for a spin? Sorry, I know I keep saying 'Porsche' but I just love that word. It sounds so rich. In fact, if you don't mind, I think I'll say it a few more times: Porsche, Porsche, Porsche, Porsche..."
* * *
Inspector Crump and Sergeant Pinewood had chased the Bishop of Durham for nearly two miles before they finally caught up with him. He claimed diplomatic immunity, kissed them both on the cheek then flagged down a motorbike and rode off. Crump and Pinewood returned to their car in time to receive the message that a lorry full of Mr. Pop-Up's Liquorice Flavoured Novelty Condoms with two unusually hairy people at the wheel had been spotted heading north. They eventually found the lorry abandoned several miles up the road and stopped to search it for clues.
"Sir, look what I've found!" said Sergeant Pinewood excitedly.
"Put it down Pinewood, you don't know where it's been," said Crump. The Inspector reached inside the cab and picked up a pair of fluffy dice with his pencil. "I want you to send these back to the station and get the lab boys to analyse them," he said, holding them out for Pinewood.
But Pinewood wasn't listening; he was just staring straight past him. Crump turned to see a man hobbling towards them, pushing a bike with an Old English Sheepdog in the saddlebag. He was wearing dirty Wellington boots that were turned over at the top and had rhubarb growing out of holes in the toes. His clothes were dirty and tattered, his teeth broken and yellow, and it was apparent from the fumes emanating from his person that he hadn't washed for some time. In fact, Pinewood judged it to have been precisely eighteen years four months and two days.
"Good God!" said Crump as the aroma hit him.
"How do, gentlemen," said the man.
"And good day to you, dirty old tramp person," said Pinewood tactfully.
"I reckon as how you two is strangers around these parts," said the man. His face was covered in evil looking warts, and he only had one eye, which was bloodshot and glared at them malevolently. "We don't get many strangers round here."
"You surprise me," said Crump.
"It's odd," the old man continued. "You're the second lot we've had today."
"Other strangers have been here today?" Crump asked eagerly.
"They came in that there lorry what you're so interested in," said the strange man as his teeth dropped out and ran round excitedly in circles at his feet.
"This lorry?" said Crump. "Can you give me a description?"
"Ooh, let's see now," the old man said, scratching his grizzled chin. "It's big, black and it seems to be carrying one hundred gross of Mr. Pop-Up's Liquorice Flavoured Novelty Condoms."
"No, not the lorry," said Crump. "The people who were in it. Did they look like grizzly bears?"
"Well now," said the man. "I ain't saying they was, and I ain't saying they wasn't, but they was both big and hairy."
"I see," said Crump. "And which way did they go?" "Now then," said the man. "I ain't saying they went north, and I ain't saying they went south, but they went north."
He hobbled out of the scene, muttering something about not going out on the moors at night.
"North!" said Inspector Crump triumphantly. "Where can they be heading? Quick Sergeant, get the map from the back of the car..."
...In the back of Crump's car, curled up behind the driver's seat, Nigel was listening to their conversation and as Pinewood approached he panicked. There wasn't enough time to slip away quietly, so he would just have to try and bluff his way out.
Sergeant Pinewood opened the rear door and started searching about for the map. Nigel reached out and passed it to his fumbling fingers. It was an old trick, but it always seemed to work in the movies.
"What are you doing in the back of the Inspector's car?" asked Pinewood. He evidently didn't watch the same movies.
"Ah well, that's a little complicated," said Nigel. "You see, I'm not really here at all. This whole incident is a figment of your imagination."
Pinewood looked a little stunned. "What?" he said. "How do you mean?"
"Well, there's no point asking me, is there?" Nigel responded. "I'm not really here, am I? You're having a delusion."
"Oh dear," said Pinewood, looking worried. "This is serious."
"It certainly is serious," said Nigel. "What would happen if Inspector Crump knew you were imagining people?"
"I see your point," Pinewood said. "This is a matter of some considerable concern."
"Quite," said Nigel. "Look, I won't say anything about this if you don't."
"Thank you," said Pinewood. "That's very kind of you."
Pinewood took the map and left. Nigel climbed out of the car and slipped behind a nearby bush, from where he could eavesdrop on Pinewood and Crump's conversation.
"Now let's see," Crump said as he unfolded the map on the bonnet of the car. "Ah yes, north is up here, at the top of the map."
"Astounding sir," said Pinewood. "I don't know how you do it."
"Ah well, Sergeant Pinewood," Crump said modestly, "when you've been involved in police work for as long as I have, you get to know these little things. You see, what we have to do now is second-guess them. If we can figure out where they're heading we can get there before them."
"A most astute plan of action, if I may say so sir," Pinewood said.
"Thank-you, Sergeant Pinewood," said Crump. "So they're heading for the top of the map - and what is at the top of the map?"
"Your thumb, sir," Pinewood answered.
"No, I meant what is at the top of the country, Pinewood?"
"Alaska?" Pinewood ventured.
"No, this country," said Crump. "Not yours. Scotland, Pinewood. Scotland is at the top of the map. I have a hunch."
"I'm sorry to hear that," said Pinewood. "Perhaps you can get some ointment for it."
Crump wasn't listening. He was trying to look butch and heroic like Clint Eastwood: chin jutting forward, that faraway look in his eyes. He nodded slowly and ponderously. "Do you know, Pinewood, I think I know what they're up to. If I'm right then I think the Bears are heading into Scotland. More specifically, I think they're making for Inverness."
"Golly," said Pinewood, dumbstruck.
The two of them got back in the car and sped off, and moments later Nigel emerged from the bushes. He watched with renewed purpose as the car disappeared over the brow of the hill, knowing now that whatever happened he had to find his parents before Crump did.
* * *
Mr. and Mrs. Bear's fortunes seemed to have improved considerably. Half an hour ago they had been faced with the prospect of a long walk and spending another night sleeping rough. Now here they were being driven to some posh bash at a country manor house, in a gold Porsche, no less. There would be food and drink - champagne even! If they were very crafty they might even be able to get a bed for the night.
By cleverly not interrupting the garrulous Melissa as she continued to talk at them, they learned that the party was being held by Prunella Farley-Socket - daughter of Sir Reginald Farley-Socket, who had been awarded his title in recognition of his family's remarkable contribution to inbreeding. He was also quite disgustingly rich, and as far as Mummy Bear could gather there was no particular reason for this celebration, other than to spend the vast quantities of money that were lying around the house in great wads.
When they reached the manor, standing regally amongst tall firs, the party was already well underway. The long driveway was choked with cars: Aston Martins, BMWs and long, black limousines the size of buses which were normally used to ferry fat, balding women from one side of the street to the other. There was also, looking rather conspicuous, a battered Vauxhall Viva that most probably belonged to some eccentric baronet.
The four of them were shown to a large room full of people dressed in animal costumes: everything from aardvarks to zebras, though disappointingly no one had come dressed as anything beginning with the letter `Q'. They were approached by a large, fluffy white rabbit that wiggled when it walked, and ultimately turned out to be the hostess herself.
"Melissa!" Prunella Farley-Socket cried. "It is Melissa, isn't it?"
"Yes it's me," Melissa said from beneath her costume. "You're looking wonderful, Prunella, such a lovely costume. I must say I think the animal theme makes for an awfully good fancy dress party. It's much better than the last one where we all had to come dressed as kitchen appliances."
"Oh you're so right, Melissa," Prunella agreed. "That was an absolute disaster. I spent most of the evening in the kitchen with the dishwasher, thinking it was Lady Sybil Crotchet. And poor David still hasn't managed to remove that blender attachment from up his backside." She nodded at Melissa's husband, her rabbit ears flapping furiously. "Is that Rodney, or have you swapped him for something better?" She laughed energetically, sounding not unlike a donkey with whooping cough.
"No, it's Rodney," Melissa said regretfully. "He's still not talking yet, I'm afraid."
"Oh dear," Prunella said to Rodney in her most patronising voice. "Are you still ugly? I must give you the address of that plastic surgeon in Zurich. He did my aunt, you know. He took her bottom lip, stretched it right over the top of her head and stapled it to the back of her neck. Now she looks twenty years younger. She's still hideous, of course, but you can't have everything can you?"
Melissa nodded in sombre agreement.
"Well why don't you two go and mingle?" Prunella suggested, then she turned her attention to the Bears who had been waiting a little nervously by the door. "Sorry, I'm ignoring you, aren't I?" she apologised. "You must think me a terrible hostess. Thing is, I haven't seen dear old Melissa since, ooh, last Tuesday. Now don't say a thing, I'm going to try and guess who you are."
The Bears didn't say a thing. They just shuffled their feet a little anxiously.
"Those are very good costumes," Prunella said thoughtfully. "Morris dancing grizzly bears, very ingenious. They even smell authentic. Got it! You must be Clive and Wendy."
"No, we're here!" said a stoat and a tiger standing by the fireplace.
"Then you must be Derek and James?" Prunella ventured.
"Wrong again!" said a pantomime horse that had been fitted with a trunk, but wasn't fooling anyone.
Prunella shook her head. "All right, I give up," she conceded. "Who are you?"
Daddy Bear looked at Mummy Bear. Mummy Bear looked at Prunella. "Well," she said, her voice shaking. "We're Gordon and Glenda."
"Gordon and Glenda?"
"Yes," Mummy Bear said, and by way of an explanation she merely repeated herself. "We're Gordon and Glenda."
"Oh, you must be friends of my parents!" Prunella said.
"Yes," breathed Mummy Bear.
"That's exactly what I was about to say," Daddy Bear joined in.
"Well mother and father are around here somewhere," Prunella told them. "They're both dressed as chameleons, so they may be a little difficult to find. Please help yourself to drinks and nibbles."
"Well thank you very much," said Daddy Bear. "I don't mind if I do." He found himself talking to thin air, as Prunella had already swept away and started 'mingling' on the other side of the room.
"Why do you always leave it to me to do the talking?" hissed Mummy Bear.
"You've had more practise at it than me," Daddy Bear muttered from the corner of his mouth.
"And just what do you mean by that?" Mummy Bear wanted to know.
"Nothing," Daddy Bear replied diplomatically.
Mummy Bear sighed. "Come on," she said. "Let's get out of here."
"Leave?" Daddy Bear replied. "You must be joking!"
"I don't like it here, Gordon!" she insisted. "I don't like these people. They're weird."
"Not weird, just eccentric," Daddy Bear corrected her. "The gentry are allowed to be a little unusual. It's part of their charm, their mystique."
"I still don't like it," Mummy Bear said. "They frighten me."
"Oh that's ridiculous!" said Daddy Bear. "Why on earth should they frighten you? They're very hospitable people. You're not averse to drinking their champagne, are you? Come on, let's have a bit of a mingle. We're going to draw attention to ourselves if we just stand here."
Some peculiar sixth sense drew Daddy Bear irresistibly to the table where the drinks were being served. Mummy Bear followed reluctantly behind. "They're only hospitable," she hissed over her husband's shoulder, "because they think we're friends of Sir Reginald."
"Then we'll just have to make sure they don't find out that we're not," Daddy Bear said. He accepted a glass of champagne from the butler, downed it in one gulp, then acquired another.
They were interrupted by a woman dressed as a leopard, who claimed to be something big in the city. She sidled up to them and nudged Mummy Bear's elbow. "Hello there," she said. "I'm Lucinda and I'm really into crystal power, seafood and yellow." She held a glass of champagne in one hand, and while she was spilling this onto the carpet her other hand was busily trying to shove great wedges of cake through the snout of her costume.
"I'm pleased for you," Mummy Bear replied. "Your mother must be very proud." She turned and tugged at her husband's arm, causing him to spill his fifth glass of bubbly. "Please!" she implored. "These people are warped."
"They are not warped!" Daddy Bear said angrily as he proffered his glass to the butler for a refill. "Your problem is that you have no understanding of the higher classes. You're out of your depth, admit it. These people appreciate art and culture, and fine living - all these things are a closed book to you."
"Oh, but not to you, of course?" Mummy Bear replied sarcastically.
"One only has to have an open mind," Daddy Bear said. "Oh yes, in many ways I think I was born for this sort of a life. I could have been a nob, you know?"
"I don't doubt it," Mummy Bear muttered.
"Say there!" interrupted a large, loud, bearded man as strolled over and tugged at the fur on Daddy Bear's arm. "Marvellous costume!" he said with much admiration. "Reminds me of when I was in the States a couple of years back."
"Oh really," Daddy Bear said, cocking his head attentively.
"We went on a bear hunt," the loud man continued. "Ever been on a bear hunt? You should, great fun. I remember we hadn't seen hide nor hair of the filthy beasts, but on the third day we finally cornered one."
"That's nice," Daddy Bear replied uncertainly.
"Yeah, we tracked it back to its cave and smoked it out. Then we got a long sharpened pole and we rammed..."
The unnecessarily graphic description that followed made Daddy Bear feel quite ill, and he had to have another couple of drinks to calm his nerves. The strange man limped away to sicken someone else with his grizzly tale. Daddy Bear turned to his wife, obviously shaken.
"You were right," he conceded. "These people are weird. Let's go. You nip outside and hot-wire one of the cars in the driveway, and I'll join you in a few minutes."
"Okay," Mummy Bear said happily. "What are you going to do?"
Daddy Bear took another glass from the butler. "I'm going to stay here a little while longer to keep an eye on this champagne."
By the time Daddy Bear had finally managed to get through the front door he had already cracked his head on the frame three times. Suffering from the slight effects of minor concussion, and the rather more serious consequences of extensive alcohol abuse, he wobbled outside where the fresh air made him feel even worse.
He turned round, rather too quickly, and felt the world spinning about him. Nevertheless, thanks to a combination of what remained of his powers of judgement and a northwesterly wind, he managed to maintain his balance. The butler and the doorman were both watching him from the doorway, giggling to themselves. Daddy Bear wheeled around and stuck up two fingers.
"I hope you fall into a large vat of buffalo puke!" Daddy Bear shouted.
"Oh go stuff yourself, bum face!" the butler shouted back, and he slammed the door.
Daddy Bear was shocked. That wasn't the sort of thing he expected from the serving classes. He looked around for his wife. "Where is the silly cow?" he mumbled.
"Gordon!" she called. "Gordon, I'm over here!"
"Keep the noise down, you stupid woman!" Daddy Bear shouted at the top of his voice. "We don't want everyone to know we're nicking one of their cars, do we? Now, where the hell are you?"
"I'm over here!" she called back angrily, through gritted teeth.
Daddy Bear followed the sound of her voice and saw two of her. He quite fancied the one on the left, but to be on the safe side he decided to head for a point between them, then get his bearings from there. Once he was within a few feet of her, Mummy Bear lunged forward and steered him towards the car.
"All right, all right, you mad bint! I'm not an imbecile, let me go."
"And why not?" Daddy Bear snapped.
"Because you're as sloshed as a fart and you'll fall over, that's why," Mummy Bear said hatefully as she tried to push him into the passenger seat.
"Hang on a minute. Is this the best you can manage?" Daddy Bear protested, finding himself being forcibly squeezed into the battered Vauxhall Viva that they had noticed earlier. "From a driveway packed with some of the most desirable and expensive cars on the planet, you pick this one. What kind of a getaway are we going to make in this?"
"It was the only one that didn't have an alarm," Mummy Bear hissed. "And besides, it's inconspicuous. Now are you getting in or what?"
"All right, all right!" Daddy Bear said. "But I'm doing the driving." He heaved himself over onto the driver's side and started it up. Great clouds of black smoke began to billow out from underneath. Mummy Bear coughed, and quickly got in and closed the door. The silencer was shot to pieces and the noise of the engine was enough to wake the dead. Luckily the car's rightful owner was lying smashed out of his head beneath a table, otherwise he would have been very easily alerted.
"Hold on tight!" Daddy Bear shouted. The wheels span on the loose gravel and they roared off, the tail pipe sending up a great shower of sparks as it dragged along on the ground behind them.
By the time they had reached the bottom of the drive, Daddy Bear was fast asleep over the wheel and the car had come gently to a halt. Mummy Bear put him in the back seat, got behind the wheel herself and followed the road north.