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Expanding King Bobby's Sovereign Wealth Fund


SON OF GRIDKNOCKER
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Bobby's Severance & Remuneration celebration at the Plough Inn turned out to be quite a party, finishing in the early hours. Dippy, Flam, Two Wheels and Biomech all came to wish the King all the best in his well-cushioned retirement. Even Simon Brown turned up and recited all 22 verses of 'The Good Ship Venus', accompanied by Ubique on the bugle. Net receipts after exiting the Plough Lane Lubyanka were just under £165K, but after the knees-up this was reduced to circa £163K.

 

In The Barrels the next morning, we heard on Radio Hereford & Worcester that the Crown Prosecution Service's action for damage to the dance floor of the Saxon Hall had been dropped, because documents relating to the incident had been accidentally shredded by Hoople.

 

Bobby was busy studying holiday brochures. "Hey, d'you realise that with my savings me and the missus could rent a villa with a swimming pool on Gozo for three months? The fishing out there's supposed to be brilliant. You could even come and visit us if you wanted to."

 

I suddenly sounded like Vince Cable. "Don't you think you ought to be thinking about investing some of the money, Bobby?"

 

"Let's talk about in on Gozo, shall we?" he said, pouring me another Carlsberg Special Brew.

 

................................................................................................................

 

I caught up with him a few days later, fishing the Wye with Dippy Hippy below the re-branded Jesse Norman Cycle Bridge. As Dippy wryly observed: "It's like giving him the keys to the city; only trouble is this council's so broke they can't afford to have the bloody keys cut!" All around, the bank was festooned with villa brochures. Two barbel rods were tethered by the river's edge, one fitted with a state-of-the-art Shimano reel.

 

I gently steered the subject away from villa holidays towards 'fiscal prudence' (as the lugubrious Mr Cable would have put it), pulling from my coat pocket a copy of the Hereford Times. Beneath their lead story about three shale gas sites being identified in the county, there was a news item headlined: 'Council Turners to go under the hammer.'

 

"I see the council is having another of its 'fire sales'. Fancy going along? You never know, there could be one or two bargains to be picked up."

 

Bobby and I arranged to meet in the lounge of the Green Dragon an hour before the sale to go through the catalogue. Jenny, the hotel's long-serving waitress, informed us that the new management had banned the sale of Carlsberg Special Brews before 10.00am. We settled for coffee.

 

I'd marked three items for Bobby to peruse. "Lot 84: a charcoal self-portrait by Brian Hatton. Wasn't he the militant left-winger from Liverpool?"

 

"That was Derek Hatton. Brian Hatton was a Hereford war artist. Killed in the First World War."

 

"And what's this you've marked: Lot 97 - former Mayoral limousine? Where the heck am I going to park a 1954 Austin Princess? We're double-yellowed all down our street and the missus uses the garage for drying pumpkin seeds. Hey up - Lot 110 looks promising: 'The entire Left Bank complex. Guide price: £150,000.' What d'you reckon, mate? Make a tidy skittle alley. I could even fish from the car park at the back!" We agreed we would bid for Lot 110.

 

The ballroom was packed with well over 200 people. Seated at the green baize table on the stage was Crudwells' auctioneer, flanked by a rather nervous-looking Leader Councillor Johnson and Councillor Patricia Morgan, in a garish lavender and emerald green outfit. She'd even had her hair streaked purple and green. The auctioneer wore a green plaid sports jacket, a Cathedral Old Boys tie and half-moon specs. In pride of place behind them hung one of the five Turner oil paintings.

 

Things moved along rapidly, though there were precious few bargains. A copper coalscuttle from the Mayor's Parlour fetched £135 and even the Town Hall doormat went for £60. After a wooden bus shelter at Lyonshall failed to reach its reserve, I nudged Bobby. "Should be us next."

 

We held our breath. Bidding was sluggish and stuck at £78,000. "Seems like a snip, mate," I whispered and up went Bobby's hand. "Thank you, sir. £80,000 from the floor. Are we all done?" Bang went the gavel. "Sold to the gent in the black Barbour fishing hat."

 

"Now, ladies and gentlemen, we move on to one of the highlights of today's sale. Lot 110: the award-winning Left Bank complex. May I start the bidding at £100,000?"

 

An ashen-faced Bobby turned to me. "So what've I just bought?"

 

I hurriedly consulted the catalogue. "Errm...Lot 109: a redundant 4-acre smallholding near Much Marcle. Not cultivated since 1987."

 

"A smallholding? What do I want with a bloody smallholding?" he wailed. I looked at my shoes and wished a hole would appear in the ballroom floor to swallow me up. As we slunk out, Cllr Morgan gave Bobby a big grin.

 

"So that's what's known as fiscal prudence, is it?" asked Bobby as we cracked open our first Special Brews of the day in the Queens Arms. "With buyer's commission and the poxy VAT, I'm now £121,000 worse off than when I got up this morning for my first ciggie! There's barely £40K left in the bloody kitty, and the missus has gone down to Cardiff to buy her outfits for Gozo!"

 

After another brace of Carlsbergs we decided we'd better go and take a look at the smallholding. The Tom Tom on Bobby's car was on the blink and we tried to locate the site via the map in the auction catalogue. An evil freezing mist was coming down and we got hopelessly lost outside Ledbury. We stopped to ask directions from an old boy sitting smoking outside a pub. "Straight on towards Rudhall til you gits to the brook. Then look for a rusty fingerpost pointing to Blackshaw's Bottom. It's up there."

 

We drove on, silently wondering whether this was an unfortunate portent.

 

Marked by a Crudwells signboard (the number 109 would forever be my nemesis), we found Bobby's plot tucked away in a fetid hollow. 'Not cultivated since 1987' was a wild understatement: you couldn't see the soil for brambles and ground elder. He'd also inherited three matresses, five fridges and a washing machine. "I've bought a bloody tip! The missus is not going to be at all happy," he muttered, kicking a rusty oil drum.

 

Just then we heard the sound of a vehicle coming along the track. It was a gigantic black Quasimodo 4x4 with smoked glass windows, and a dazzling array of spotlights across its roof like one of Eddie Stobart's lorries.

 

Two oriental gents climbed out. They were wearing identical Mao jackets, blue denim slacks, rimless glasses and yellow hard hats. They bowed in unison. "We are from Shang Shen Surveying. Who is the owner of this land please?"

 

"I am," said Bobby suspiciously.

 

"We miss auction at Gleen Dragon due to satnav malfrunction. It take us to Hertford instead of Hereford. We had intended to bid for this site."

 

A little bell rang in my brain, sending me a text message which read: 'Hey up, we might just be onto a winner her.' To his great credit, Bobby spotted the same 'window' and started playing hard-to-get.

 

"'Fraid its not for sale, mate. Me and the missus is planning to cultivate...err...pumpkins here. It's always been her dream. In fact she's down in Cardiff Market right now buying pumpkin seeds." He looked at me for confirmation and I nodded sagely.

 

"Our seismorrogists say epicentre of shale gas reserves is HERE!" He pointed dramatically at a clump of ground elder. "You not heard of fracking?"

 

Bobby shook his head slowly. "The missus ain't going to be happy. She's set her heart on a pumpkin farm."

 

"What is pumpkin, please?"

 

"Deep-fried battered pumpkin and chips, covered with nettle and pig's trotter marmalade. Old Herefordshire delicay. Not 'eard of it?"

 

"We are offrised by board of directors of Xiang Zao Fracking to make you a gerrous offer for the re-sale of your land. What you say to £150,000?"

 

"'Fraid you'll need to do better than that, mate," said Bobby with commendable sangfroid.

 

One of the surveyors pulled a mobile phone from his pocket, tapped in a number, then walked down the track, waving the other arm and screaming in Chinese. He suddenly wheeled round and strode back up to Bobby.

 

"175,000?"

 

Bobby screwed up his face and shook his head. "Nah, sorry mate."

 

"£200,000! Final offer!"

 

"Done!" shouted Bobby, shaking the man's hand vigourously and desptaching his i-phone irretrievably into the brambles.

 

.............................................................................................................

 

Two days later Bobby and I walked out of my solicitors in Bridge Street and headed for the Black Lion. He'd signed a 50-year lease with the Chinese, with the land reverting to his grandchildren. After the Saxon Hall debacle and our expulsion from Plough Lane, his finances were now in the black once more to the tune of £240K. Even George Osborne would have admired our entrepreneurial skills.

 

As we stepped into the saloon bar, ready to celebrate with a couple of Special Brews, a motley group of bobble-hatted marchers came across the Old Bridge. Their banner read: 'MUCH MARCLE SHALE GAS: NO FRACKING WAY!'

 

 

The author wishes to make it clear that this is a work of fiction.

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