Mummy Bear woke early and stretched. She had parked the car on a grass verge on the outskirts of a small village so that she could get some sleep. Daddy Bear was still asleep in the back, snoring and occasionally producing unpleasant emissions. As a result the air in the car had become fairly stifling, so the first thing Mummy Bear did was to wind down the window.
She was just taking her second deep gulp of fresh air when something was poked through the window, striking her lightly on the nose. She looked at it curiously. It was a pension book, and attached to it was a hand. There was more: attached to the hand was an arm, and this in turn was attached to a little old lady - horn-rimmed glasses, blue rinse, the whole ensemble.
"I came early," she said, "to beat the queue."
Mummy Bear nodded at her and smiled uneasily. "Oh yes?" she said, and she took the pension book off her. "I don't want to seem rude but I haven't a clue what you're talking about. What do you want me to do with this, dear?"
"I've come for my pension," the little old lady explained.
"I'm afraid there's been some misunderstanding," Mummy Bear replied. "I think what you're looking for is a post office. This isn't a post office, it's a 1975 Vauxhall Viva. I'm sorry to disappoint you, but I can see how it might be an easy mistake to make."
"Oh dear," said the little old lady sorrowfully. "Does that mean you can't give me my pension?"
"I'm afraid so," Mummy Bear apologised, and she passed the pension book back through the window.
"That's a pity," the little old lady said. She stuffed the book back into her baggy blue handbag and pulled out her purse. "Well could you give me a book of stamps then please?"
Mummy Bear shook her head. "No, listen to me dear, I'll try to explain. This is not a post office, all right? You can't get stamps here."
"A postal order then?" said the little old lady.
"No, not even a postal order."
"What about one of those Postman Pat pencil sharpeners?"
"No! No pensions, no stamps, no postal orders, no Postman Pat pencil sharpeners. Look." She tapped the side of the car. "No post office!"
"Well this is very strange," the little old lady said. "Usually I just bring my pension book to a lady sitting in a post office like this one. She takes it and drives off very fast. Then she brings it back half an hour later and gives me two pounds fifty."
"Two pounds fifty?"
"Yes, that's right," said the little old lady. "I know it's not much, but I try to live on it the best I can."
Mummy Bear paused for a moment, then spoke to her gently. "Listen love, I'm sorry to have to tell you this, but I think you're being had."
"Yes," said Mummy Bear. "Someone's conning you out of your pension money."
"Oh dear," the old lady said as her eyes became watery. "Oh dear me. Oh dear, dear me. How am I going to feed Sooty, my albino tomcat now?"
"Never mind love," Mummy Bear said. "Just make sure you take your pension book to a proper post office in future. In the meantime, here's twenty quid. Just make sure you spend it wisely." She handed her a twenty pound note. The little old lady thanked her kindly and then left.
Daddy Bear suddenly broke wind and woke himself up, just in time to see the old lady leave. "Who was that old hag?" he asked. "I hope you didn't give her any money."
"Don't speak about people like that," Mummy Bear chastised him.
"Oh don't worry about it," he replied. "She was just the standard stereotype, underpinning the popular myth that all old people are gullible and stupid."
But Daddy Bear was wrong. She was in fact Granny Malone, the infamous confidence trickster who regularly worked this patch.
Yes, Granny Malone! A name that struck terror into the hearts of many everyday, God-fearing folk. Wherever there was corruption, humiliation and excruciating physical pain, there was Granny Malone!
Granny Malone! Scream with agony as she sticks her shopping trolley on your foot in the supermarket.
Granny Malone! Groan in pain as she offers you another of her home made rock cakes.
Granny Malone! Recoil in horror as she shows you the boil just above her knee that she's going to have lanced next week.
Anyway, that's enough of Granny Malone.
"Yes, that's enough of Granny Malone," agreed Daddy Bear. He sat up in his seat. "Where are we?" he asked.
"We're just outside the village of Lower Bumble," said Mummy Bear.
"Oh," Daddy Bear said, and he nodded. "I see." A moment went by and then he added, "So where's Lower Bumble, then?"
Mummy Bear shrugged. "It's about a mile up the road," she told him. "You said we were going to Scotland, so I just pointed the car north and kept going... Look, why are we going to Scotland anyway? I know you've got some kind of plan, what I don't understand is why you have to keep me in the dark about it."
Daddy Bear rolled his eyes upwards and pressed himself back in his seat. He was too tired for lengthy explanations. "The reason I haven't told you what I'm planning," he said, "is because you'll think it's ridiculous and refuse to go along with it."
"Well that inspires a lot of confidence," Mummy Bear said. "What makes you think I'll go along with something that you're not prepared to tell me about?"
"Because it's the only chance we have of clearing our names," Daddy Bear replied wearily. "Trust me, we have to go to Scotland. To be specific, we have to go to Loch Ness. Now, can we get moving?"
"No," Mummy Bear said sulkily. "We're out of petrol."
"Out of petrol?" Daddy Bear repeated, and he stared at her as if it was somehow her fault. He bit his bottom lip, then said in a patronising voice, "Has it not occurred to you to get some more?"
"Fine," Mummy Bear replied in an equally condescending manner. "So I'll just sink a well here, shall I? I'm bound to strike oil sooner or later. All I'll need then is a small refinery."
"All right, all right," Daddy Bear replied. "We can do without the smart Alec comments, thank you very much. So just drop the Vaudeville routine and come back down to earth. All you had to do was walk to the nearest service station and get a can of petrol. Is it really that difficult?"
"Can't," Mummy Bear replied dissidently. "No money."
Daddy Bear leaned forward in his seat. "That's funny, you had at least twenty quid last night."
"Yes, well, I gave it to the nice old lady," Mummy Bear said quietly, and she blushed.
Daddy Bear's jaw dropped, then just flapped about uselessly. "You did what?" he asked slowly, and quite coherently considering he no longer had the use of his jaw.
"I gave it to the old lady," Mummy Bear repeated. Then, in a desperate attempt to justify her thoughtless act of charity, she added, "Well, her pussy was going to starve."
"Fine, fine," Daddy Bear said, struggling to remain calm. "It's just that if we don't get to Scotland, we're going to be eaten by a chuffing great crocodile, that's all. But it doesn't really matter, I can see how a starving kitten is much more important. Oh, you stupid woman! What the hell did you think you were playing at? I'm going to be eaten alive because of you."
Mummy Bear clenched her teeth and pulled her coat around her. She opened the door and got out. A shiver thrilled through her as the cutting wind sliced past her ears. She started to march up the road.
"Oh fair enough," Daddy Bear said. "Just ignore me." He also got out of the car, and started to follow her. "I mean, you've got to get your priorities right, haven't you? It would be pretty stupid of me to think that our lives meant more to you than the well-being of some flea-bitten moggy that wakes up one morning feeling a bit peckish. I mean, is it good sense, do you think? Is it responsible?"
Mummy Bear stopped and suddenly turned on him. "Responsible?" she snapped. "And what would you know of responsibility? Were you being responsible last night, for example? Or were you just smashed out of your head?"
"Oh, so it's my fault?" Daddy Bear replied.
"You disgust me Gordon, you really do," Mummy Bear said. "I suppose you think it's clever to get as drunk as a skunk and career around shouting your mouth off? Well you showed your true colours last night, Gordon. You're an oaf, an irresponsible pig." She turned and continued walking.
"So where do you think you're going?" Daddy Bear shouted as he tried to keep up.
"I don't care," Mummy Bear called over her shoulder as she quickened her pace. "Anywhere, as long as it's away from you."
"All right, I'm sorry," Daddy Bear said. "Can we just talk about this please?"
"I've had enough, Gordon," she shouted. "Goodbye."
"Oh come on, give me a chance!" He gave up trying to follow her and just stood in the road, shouting after her. "You haven't got a hope without me. Where will you go?"
"Scotland!" she called.
"Ha! You're going the wrong way." Daddy Bear pointed to another road that led down into the crease of a deepening valley. "That's the way to Scotland."
"If you say so!" the rapidly departing figure shouted back to him. "You take the low road, and I'll take the high road, but you can bet your arse I'll be in Scotland, before you!"
And with that she was gone.
Daddy Bear shrugged to himself, then sat down at the edge of the road, puzzling over her parting statement. Why should she want him to bet his arse? She had never been particularly fond of it before. Strange, very strange.
Mummy Bear whistled to herself as she walked. She hadn't felt this carefree since before her wedding day. Right now she couldn't have cared less about her husband, and for that matter she couldn't give a damn about Nigel either. Suddenly she was wild and young and free. She could do anything. Anything! She could tear off all her clothes and run naked through the fields if she really wanted to. She didn't want to, of course, but it was nice to have it there as an option.
She ought to have left Gordon years ago. Then again, it was all too easy to say that now. When you have a home and a family it's not so easy to just walk out on your responsibilities. The upheavals of the past few days had changed all that, and now she was tasting freedom for the first time in many, many years.
It was therefore a great pity that she wasn't able to enjoy her liberty for a little longer, for just moments later she found herself caught up in the trailing ropes of a hot air balloon. Kicking and screaming she was carried up into the sky.
Putting all thoughts of his wife from his mind, Daddy Bear took the low road, walking most of the day without seeing a soul. The morning blossomed into a beautiful afternoon, then the afternoon starting slipping towards eventide, and Daddy Bear sat down to rest on the grass verge, mopping his brow. It was one of those final days before winter, when the sun tries to catch you out with a final blaze before becoming enshrouded in frost. Up ahead the road wobbled unsteadily between two hedgerows. Daddy Bear had been on the move all day, but he didn't seem to be getting anywhere. The scenery was constant, flat, featureless, and in all this time he hadn't been passed by a single vehicle.
Suddenly he heard a sound and stood up. Then he saw it! It was a car, steadily approaching in the distance. Daddy Bear stepped into the middle of the road, and stood blinking like a startled rabbit as the car slowed down. It stopped just a few feet in front of him and the driver leaned over and pushed open the passenger door.
He was a strange little man with a round face and a pudding-bowl haircut. He seemed almost conical in shape, as if most of his body had sunk below his waist.
"Can I offer you a lift?" he asked.
Daddy Bear nodded eagerly. He climbed into the passenger seat and the car pulled away.
"My name's Barbara Pott," said the man. "I sell double glazing."
"Barbara?" Daddy Bear queried. "That's a bit of a strange name, isn't it?"
"Is it?" the man replied. "It seems a pretty normal sort of name to me. There are, ooh, loads of people are called Barbara, aren't there? There's Barbara Streisand, for example, and there's Barbara Cartland."
"Yes, but they're women," said Daddy Bear. "Barbara is a woman's name."
"Is that a fact?" said the double glazing salesman thoughtfully. "You know, I think you might be right. Now I come to think of it, my name isn't Barbara at all. No, that would be silly. My name is Mary." He smiled, and seemed quite content to let the subject rest at that. Daddy Bear certainly had no inclination to pursue the matter.
"I sell double glazing, you know," said Mary.
"I believe you did mention it," said Daddy Bear as he adjusted his sticky collar. Mary had got the heating in the car turned up to the maximum and it was really quite unbearable. "It's really quite warm in here, isn't it Mr. Pott?" he ventured.
"Oh, call me Mary."
"I'd rather not," said Daddy Bear. "In fact it's rather stifling. I was wondering if it might be possible to turn the heater down a notch or two?"
"Oh, I don't think so," said Mary
"Ah," said Daddy Bear, and since he didn't want to abuse Mr. Pott's hospitality, he left it at that.
"Many people," Mary continued, "assume that a career in double glazing must be pretty boring and unfulfilling."
Daddy Bear nodded slowly. "And I suppose you're going to tell me that it's really quite fascinating and worthwhile?"
"No, I agree with the people who think it's boring and unfulfilling," said Mary. "Do you know we've bought out a new PVCu frame that can withstand temperatures in excess of four thousand degrees centigrade? They say that if your house burns down, at least your window frames remain intact. Fat lot of good that is, eh? And we actually have to tell people this. And the really astonishing thing is that most people are genuinely impressed by this insane technobabble."
"Dreadful," said Daddy Bear, although he wasn't really interested.
"Oh, it's so disheartening," Mary whined. "We turn up on someone's doorstep, purely on the off chance that they've got eight thousand quid burning a hole in their pocket and they'd like some new windows. I've never worked it out, but I imagine that the odds against us closing a sale must be pretty phenomenal. It's a bit like a surgeon coming round to your house with his scalpel, just on the off chance that you need your tonsils whipping out."
"Well I don't know," said Daddy Bear. "I suppose there's always some idiot willing to part with his money on the strength of a glossy brochure and some vacuous sales talk."
"You reckon?" said Mary in a jaded voice.
"It's just a question of the salesman's skill, isn't it?" said Daddy Bear. "I imagine it's all down to subtle persuasion."
"Fair enough," Mary said. "Tell you what, when we get to the next town you can come with me. If you manage to sell anything I'll give you half my commission."
Daddy Bear's first instinct was to decline the offer, but then he thought better of it. Here he was with no money, no transport and no lodgings. His chance encounter with this tubby and unnervingly peculiar double glazing salesman could well turn out to be the stroke of good fortune he so desperately needed. He agreed.
They arrived in a small market town, barely more than a pinprick on Mary's road atlas, and they parked the car on the corner of a long street of smoky terraced houses. Mary reached over onto the back seat and picked up a folder bulging with brochures.
"Down the left hand side of the street, then back up the other side," he said with a sigh. "I doubt whether we'll get our feet in any doors, so it shouldn't take long."
The first house was a bit of a mess. The windows were all broken, the paintwork was peeling and the facade had large chunks of masonry missing from it.
Mary knocked vigorously. A moment later the door was opened by a small boy, no higher than Daddy Bear's waist. His teeth were all broken, his skin was peeling and his face had large chunks missing from it.
"Hello little boy," said Daddy Bear softly. "Can you go and fetch your mummy for us?"
"Me mum's dead," said the boy. "But me dad's inside, watchin' the racin'."
"Oh I'm sorry," said Daddy Bear.
"`S'all right," said the boy. "He likes watchin' the racin'."
"No, I meant... Look, can you go and tell your daddy that there are two gentlemen here who'd like a word with him?"
"All right then," the boy said dutifully, and he turned back into the dark hole from which he had emerged. A minute or so later he returned.
"Me dad wants to know what y'want?" he asked.
"We wondered if your daddy might be interested in double glazing?" Daddy Bear said.
"Weather resistant PVCu - guaranteed for a lifetime," Mary added.
"I'll go and tell him." Once again the boy disappeared back into the house. This time he was quicker to return.
"Me dad says you've got to fuck off," he said. The boy then looked at Daddy Bear curiously, and wrinkled up his nose. "Why are you dressed as a morris dancer?" he asked. "Me dad says all morris dancers are poofs."
Mary edged forward. "Just tell your dad that he's missing an excellent opportunity to purchase, at relatively low cost, a remarkably durable range of PVCu windows and doors."
The boy nodded and made to go, then checked himself. "What was that long word you used?" he asked.
"Which long word?" asked Mary.
"All of 'em."
"Just tell him we're not leaving till he's heard us out," Daddy Bear said.
The boy went to tell his father. Daddy Bear and Mary waited patiently. They heard raised voices, then the noise of something heavy being thrown across the room. The boy reappeared. His hair was ruffled, his face was bruised and there was a coal scuttle jammed on his head.
"Me dad says you've got to fuck off right now or he'll stick a pick axe through both your heads."
"Well, that's good enough for me," said Daddy Bear. "Thank you very much," he added as he dragged Mary away.
The next house had been badly pebble-dashed, probably by particularly vicious vandals. "This looks more promising," Daddy Bear said.
"Wanna bet?" said Mary miserably. He pressed the doorbell, which made a noise like someone playing the first four bars of Bolero on a paper and comb. They heard a series of bolts being drawn back, then the door opened slightly and two bloodshot eyes peered out.
"Hello, Mrs...?" Mary said.
The woman opened the door fully. She was a large pink lady who had somehow managed to stuff her body into a purple trouser suit. "Mrs. Lumps," she answered suspiciously. "Can I help you at all?"
"Well Mrs. Lumps," Mary began, "I represent a firm that specialises in the thermal sealing of all portals by means of the latest draught excluding laminates, utilising either PVCu or natural wood, finished by hand and guaranteed against rot for ten years."
The woman stood up straight and stared back at him, slightly cross-eyed. "I beg your pardon?"
"I sell double glazing," said Mary.
"Oh I see," said Mrs. Lumps. "Most delighted to meet you." There was a faint whiff of liquor on her breath as she reached out and shook Mary's hand. "Well don't just stand there, come in and we'll have a chat about it."
Taken aback by this unexpected welcome, Daddy Bear and Mary exchanged glances of surprise, then followed Mr. Lumps down the narrow entrance hall.
"My husband's rich, you know," she said matter-of-factly as she showed them into the sitting room.
"Oh, that's nice," said Mary.
Mrs. Lumps indicated that Mary should sit down on an expensive, but torturously uncomfortable sofa. Then she put some newspaper on the floor for Daddy Bear to sit on.
"Tea or coffee?" she asked.
"Oh, tea please," said Mary.
"Right, coffee it is then," she said, and she floated into the kitchen.
"I reckon we're onto a winner here," said Mary excitedly. "This one's taken the bait."
"Well, I reckon we're onto a nutter here," Daddy Bear said more realistically.
There was a clatter of china as Mrs. Lumps entered with a silver tray. She set it down on the coffee table, then thrust a cup and saucer at Mary. The liquid lapped over the brim and scalded his fingers as he took hold of it.
"Milk or lemon?" she asked.
"Lemon please," said Mary.
Mrs. Lumps dropped a whole lemon into his cup and stirred it vigorously, but it wouldn't dissolve.
"No, that's fine thank you," said Mary. He was about to take a sip when the grandfather clock in the corner suddenly chimed the hour. He jumped up and threw the contents of the cup down the front of his shirt. "Very nice," he said as he placed the empty cup down on the coffee table.
Mrs. Lumps returned to the tray for a bowl of water, which she placed in front of Daddy Bear. Then she made a grand display of sitting down in a big armchair.
"Well then," said Mary, as he mopped his shirt with a handkerchief and wrung it into his saucer. "I'm sure you're eager to hear how my company can benefit you, Mrs. Lumps. Have you any thoughts as to the sort of thing you're looking for? You may be interested to know that we're currently offering a very attractive package in simulated walnut."
"What's that you're talking about dear?" Mrs. Lumps said as she slurped her coffee through her teeth.
"Double glazing," Mary reminded her. "Remember?"
"Double glazing?" Mrs. Lumps replied in clipped tones. "Oh no, I don't want none of that."
Mary was thrown by this comment. "But I thought that's what you asked us in here for," he said. "I'm sorry, but it seems that we're wasting your time." He started the get up, but Mrs. Lumps laid a restraining hand on his arm.
"Oh, you don't have to go just yet, do you," she said gently. "I get so few visitors these days. It's nice to have a chat now and then, don't you think?"
"Well, yes," Mary replied uneasily. "I suppose it is."
"Tell me," said Mrs. Lumps, "what are your views on the necessity for trade limitations within the EEC?"
"Well I..." Mary began, and he adopted a frown. "Look, is this relevant to anything in particular?"
"Just making conversation," Mrs. Lumps replied. "I know, let's play a game. How about Battleships?"
"Battleships!" said Mary.
"No, you're right, that's a stupid idea," said Mrs. Lumps. "All right, something else. Cowboys and Indians!"
"That's it," said Mary. "I'm leaving."
"Cops and robbers!" said Mrs. Lumps. "Hey yes, that'll be good. My husband runs a betting shop, you know. Why don't you two boys pretend to beat me up, then take me round there and threaten to do terrible things to me if they don't hand over all the money?"
"Hang on, hang on!" Daddy Bear interjected. "Are you seriously suggesting we should take you round to your husband's shop and threaten to beat you up?"
"That's it exactly," Mrs. Lumps replied. "It'll be a bit of a giggle, won't it? Right, I'll go into the kitchen and make a start on the washing up, then you two can pounce on me when I'm not expecting it."
She picked up the tea tray and took it through to the kitchen.
"That woman is stark staring mad," said Daddy Bear as he jumped to his feet. "Come on, let's get out of here."
"No hang on a minute," Mary said. "There could be something in this."
"What?" Daddy Bear replied incredulously. "You're not seriously considering going along with this, are you? That loopy old bint's as mad as fish. She's spent twenty years sitting at home with nothing to do but watch daytime TV, and it must have addled her brain."
"This is the chance of a lifetime?" said Mary. "All right, so she may be a total fruitcake, but I don't believe in looking a gift horse in the mouth."
"I think you must be as barking as she is," Daddy Bear pointed out. "We're talking about robbery and extortion."
"Ah yes," Mary said. "But as we're acting with the full consent of Mrs. Lumps, it means the whole thing is perfectly legal."
"I don't think the police are going to see it like that," Daddy Bear said. "They're more likely to see it as a diabolical scheme to take advantage of the insane rantings of that dribbling lunatic in the kitchen. Come on, let's try the next house and see if we have any more luck there."
"No!" Mary said firmly as he struck a heroic pose. "I'm sick of being an ordinary, everyday double-glazing salesman. I want to be dangerous and sexy! This is my chance to really be somebody for a change."
"Yoo-hoo!" Mrs. Lumps called from the kitchen. "I'm ready!"
"Right, I've decided," Mary said. "No more Mr. Nice Guy Travelling Salesperson Man. From now on it's goodbye to Mary Pott, boring double glazing salesman with a silly girl's name, and hello Mary Vicious Bastard, the hardened criminal."
He picked up his folder and threw it into the air, and as a cascade of glossy brochures rained down around him he stomped through into the kitchen. Daddy Bear gave a worried sigh and followed him.