This is the possible intro to a series of stories. I've always liked the slightly silly figure of Thomas and I hope I get some feedback from this, please, as the more prolific of you could give me some pairing ideas.
A CIVIC DECISION.
Thomas made himself a huge pot of coffee and caught the two slices of brown bread as they catapulted out of the toaster. It was a bitterly cold morning in December and outside the snow was falling in large soft flakes, cloaking Mineral Town in a blanket of white. Winter was well and truly here with its reluctant days and long dark nights. The thin weedy sunlight didn't appear until nearly ten and then sulked around the horizon before finally giving up the ghost around two. Most days the air was sharp with frost, at night the stars were diamond bright under the huge winter skies. Cruel storms would sweep in from the sea sealing people inside their homes. Thomas had riddled the stove and, now refreshed, the fire began to burn brightly behind the little glass doors. Settling down at the table Thomas thickly spread his toast with pale, creamy butter and muttered a tiny contented smile. He shrugged at the sight of his breakfast and smiled a rueful smile, patting his round apple stomach. He knew he shouldn't, his trousers were getting a little tight but he couldn't resist the wonderful produce from Bramble farm. A large dollop of Bramble farm jam followed the butter as Thomas ignored his inner dietician. There in front of him, laid out in a row, were three large brown boxes each with a post box slit in the lid. He picked up one and gave it an experimental shake. He could feel it was quite full, as were the other two and he hoped they could give him the answer he was looking for.
Several months before, on the eve of the firework festival, he'd been sat with some others in the inn, celebrating, when the conversation had drifted round to the forthcoming year. They all agreed that 2008 was going to be a good year. In the recent past things had gone hard for the small community of Mineral Town but this year it was almost as if a curse had been lifted from them and the towns fortune had begun to shine. When Anna came to collect her key from Basil she joined in the conversation and gave the group an interesting titbit of information. It seemed that 2008 would see the 200th anniversary of the first settlement in the Mineral town area. This created great excitement and there was a consensus of opinion that something special should be done to celebrate. Far into the night, long after Anna had left for bed, they bandied ideas and drank wine. Statues, books and festivals were all suggested and then rejected, it had to be more. Then Zac recalled something that had happened at Beach City when they had celebrated a major event; the city had become twined with Lyon in France and that first year had seen a whole range of activities between the two cities. This was just the thing they'd been looking for and ideas soon flowed thick and fast. However, the time was late and an awful lot of wine had flowed so Thomas suggested that they call it a day and put their ideas down on paper for later. With good humour the group agreed, especially as they felt it important that everyone have a say in something like this.
When the morning arrived and Thomas's hangover had subsided somewhat he sat down to work out what to do next. At first he assumed that the twining suggestion would just evaporate as most wine inspired ideas tended to but four visits by noon alone dispelled him of this hope. Obviously the whole thing had touched a chord with the group and they, in turn, had got others thinking. Reluctantly, Thomas resigned himself to having to do something about it and he phoned Gotz. The carpenter had made three posting boxes for suggestions and he and Thomas had placed them, with information and simple instructions, in the library, on the corner of the bar at the inn and in the supermarket. After that Thomas had sat back and hoped to god that at least one of those boxes would help to get him out of the hole he'd dug for himself. The truth was that although Thomas was an excellent small town mayor, popular with everyone and efficient at making life in Mineral town run smoothly, he was not a well-travelled man. Sad to say he'd rarely been out of the county let alone the country and he had no idea where to start. Now the boxes had been collected and they stood in a line waiting to be explored. Like the proverbial cat they were full of unknown potential.
Thomas crunched down that last corner of toast and wiped his hands. Then he cleared the table and, with nervous hands, lifted the lid from box one. He plunged in a hand and drew out a large bundle of forms. If the other boxes were anything like this one then everyone in Mineral Town and the surrounding hamlets must have voted three or four times. Most were written on the forms he had provided but there were suggestions on all manner of scraps of paper, even the back of old envelopes. Ad he started to read through them it became apparent that some comments appeared on several papers so Thomas got up. Retrieved a pad and pen from the bureau and began to make notes. For the next hour or so he steadily emptied the boxes, stacking forms in neat piles and jotting down ideas on his pad. It was interesting to see how he had little trouble matching suggestion to author, even if the form was not signed. To some he found himself humming along in agreement, to some he snorted in disbelief and to other he laughed out loud they were so funny. Take Popuri, for instance, it had to be her written in violet ink and liberally sprinkled with little hearts, he didn't think there was much hope of finding a village with a chicken sanctuary and he didn't think it was possible to be twined with H.M.S Archroyal. However, her idea of a beauty contest lit sparks in Thomas's imagination. The mental image of Popuri in an itsy bitsy bikini as well as that Miss Muffy from the valley was more than enough to get it into the yes pile. There were just so many interests to take into consideration. Paster Carter wanted somewhere with a healthy religious community and yet both Basil and Louis suggested links with a scientific community. Mary wanted somewhere with a book club and Duke demanded no teetotal places. The list went on and on but a few things remained constant and gradually Thomas began to draw up a profile. No one wanted a city; they all seemed to want somewhere small like Mineral town. Another important thing to the town's people was that it was somewhere with an agricultural background as well as somewhere with a strong sense of history and tradition. Gradually a clearer picture of the place he was looking for began to appear but there was one thing missing, a name. Not one person had actually made any suggestion as to where he should look, not one. Thomas gave a heartfelt groan and put his head in his hands in disbelief. Where did he go from here? Suddenly an image of one of the forms crossed his mind and he began to frantically search through the larger pile. He was almost to the bottom before he found it. Ah, yes, he hadn't imagined it. Marty, the young farmer that had come to live at Bramble farm last year and was making such a success of it, he'd posted this form at the supermarket.
' I think a small place, maybe a village, with an agricultural industry would be best. Maybe you could find somewhere that had historic links with Mineral town and a village that spoke the same language would be useful.'
Yes, that was all to the good but he was sure it was something else he'd seen. Yes, he was right.
'P.S. if you need any help let me know as I still have some contacts with my parent's home country.'
Great, a lifeline at long last he'd go to see Marty right away.
Thomas arrived at Bramble farm just in time to see Marty entering from the small rustic bridge over the goddess stream. He was bowed down with a large woven basket that was obviously very heavy. The young farmer was dirty and very tired looking but he managed a smile and a wave to Thomas when he saw him. Thomas stood waiting by the farmhouse door and watched the young man as he crunched across the crisp white snow towards him. Marty heaved the basket round and poured its contents into the wooden hopper. A stream of coloured rocks poured out, glinting in the sharp winter sunlight.
"Hi," Marty called. "Great to see you, sorry about the state I'm in but I'm just back from the mine. Come on in it's flaming freezing out here."
"Thanks," Thomas replied as Marty opened the door and welcomed him in. Inside everything was tidy and warm, the air fragrant with the smell of fresh bread. Marty showed his visitor to a comfy chair and then went to wash up. While his host brewed a pot of tea Thomas explained the reason for his visit.
"Why haven't you asked any of the others?" Marty asked, puzzled.
"I just can't," Thomas stammered. "I can't let them know how foolish I feel. Anyway most of the people here have lived here all their lives as did their parents too."
"O.K.," Marty agreed. "I think I have a couple of addresses you can try. Just let me look."
"If you could, I'd be most grateful," Thomas said, relaxing back into his chair.
Marty went over to a large chest and rummaged around for a while before coming back with a small green book and an old chocolate box. He placed the box on the table and opened it up. Inside was a pile of photographs. He spread half a dozen of them on the table for Thomas to look at. The photos were all shots of what appeared to be a charming old village, the church, country lanes, winding streams and quaint cottages. It was just the sort of place that Thomas was looking for.
"Now there's a couple of places here," Marty pointed out.
"A couple of places? " Thomas was surprised as the photos looked as if they were all of one village.
"No, there's probably three or four villages there," Marty explained. "My family came from here," he said, picking up one of the larger, more professional photographs. "And I think this is a village nearby with a similar name." He sorted out a small photo of a charming village green.
"Have you an address for someone there?" Thomas asked, hopefully.
"Not exactly," Marty sighed, "but I know the church is called St. Peter's and I suppose if you wrote to the vicar there you should get some sort of response."
"What's it like?" Thomas asked, crossing his fingers.
"I've never actually been there," Marty confessed, "but my parents told me lots of stories about the old place. Seems the village has a really grand old church, village festivals, landed gentry, you know. That sort of thing."
" That sounds ideal," Thomas agreed. He picked up a third photo of a most beautiful thatched cottage with an amazingly abundant garden. "Is this the same village?" he asked.
"No," Marty shook his head, "That's my great-aunt Jane's place. Come to think of it her village might fit the bill too."
"Are you sure?" Thomas asked. Two places to contact would be so much better.
" Yes, I went there once or twice when I was a kid," Marty explained. "Great-aunt Jane's a wonderful old woman, knits me huge sweaters every year for Christmas."
"Do you think she'd help?"
"Certain, " Marty assured him. "Look I'll give you both addresses." He opened up the small green book and began to copy them onto a sheet of writing paper for Thomas.
" Thanks Marty," Thomas said, folding the paper and putting it into his pocket. "I'll not forget this."
About two months later Thomas held a meeting in the inn to inform the villagers of the progress he'd made with the twining project. Things had gone much better than he could have wished for, it seemed as if enthusiasm for this twining idea wasn't just confined to Mineral town. He'd written off to both the villages Marty had suggested and from there things had quickly moved onward and upward. Now he had everything ready, it only needed the approval of the villagers and he could conclude matters. With Kano and Marty's help he'd managed an impressive display of photographs to sell the charms of his chosen village. For an hour or so the villagers had walked around the displays, sipping wine and discussing their impressions. All around him Thomas could hear steadily growing murmurs of approval and his chest swelled with pride. He's already given his talk and, in his opinion, things had gone well. Well, he wasn't mayor for nothing, he knew he had the gift of the gab and now, as he circulated dropping the odd word of encouragement here and there, he knew he was on to a winner. He looked across the room to Marty and gave him a huge grin and a thumbs up. The previous morning he'd been up to the farm to bring Marty up to date with everything that he'd happened. He'd explained that he'd written to Marty's great-aunt Jane and she'd written back to say that she was sorry but her village of St Mary Mead was already twined with another place, a nice little fishing village in Maine called Cabot Cove. The second place he'd suggested though had been very enthusiastic. The village was one of a cluster of villages in a valley, like Mineral town, it was an agricultural area, like Mineral town, it had an impressive array of cultural festivals, like Mineral town and it had an interesting cast of characters just like Mineral town. The head of the parish council had even proffered an invitation to Mineral town to send a team to compete in their church choir competition. They'd also expressed a wish to send a team of their own to compete in the Tomato festival. Yes, they had remembered Marty's people and Barnaby was still a famous name in the area. Thomas was confident that the villagers would not regret their vote. How exciting, Mineral town was to be twined with Midsomer Worthy, what could possibly go wrong?