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by David Tarbuck email
Stronwick (pronounced Stronk) is an ancient chartered borough set somewhere in England and close to the sea. It has walls and a guildhall, which along with its other picturesque attractions draw visitors during the summer months. Beside it flows the Stron from which it takes its name and which carries on to cross and flood an expanse of flat open land before reaching the sea a mile or two away. This area of wetlands is known as the water meadows. One dry hot summer it becomes the breeding ground for an infestation of mosquitoes. These plague the inhabitants and repel visitors who would otherwise be spending their money in the town. The result is a decision taken in council to spray the water meadows. Bella Jackson, leader of the minority group on the council and a fanatical environmentalist, is fiercely opposed to the spraying on the grounds that it will irreparably damage the wildlife of the area. She knows, however, that her small group have little or no power to influence council decisions.
The town boasts one large comprehensive school, the head teacher of which is Basil Sydney, the mayor of the town. In the sixth form are to be found Lisa Challis, the granddaughter of Bella Jackson, and Kelvin Daniels and Paul Brody, leaders of an aspiring rock ‘n’ roll band.
To the town come two strangers: the first is a vagrant hippy who takes up residence on the sandy dunes that lie between the water meadows and the sea. He spends his time playing a woodwind instrument. He plays the same tune over and over again but with endlessly different variations. When he is dressed he is oddly dressed in that his sparse denim clothing is tie-dyed, one half a faded red and the other a pale yellow. On the beach one day Lisa Challis meets him in a state of undress and is at first outraged. She cannot rid herself of his image though and is attracted by his strangeness. He seems to exert an influence upon her and draws from her uncharacteristic behaviour. As a result of which they subsequently become lovers.
The second stranger is Ken Mackintosh; not so much a stranger really as he is a one time celebrity disc jockey turned record producer and now entrepreneur of many interests. He owns the helicopters that are to do the spraying but his interest in the water meadows is wider than that. He wants to develop them.
On the eve of the spraying Bella comes across the vagrant hippy in his usual place on the dunes. Unaware that he has a relationship with her granddaughter she falls into conversation with him and explains the threat to the water meadows adjacent to where they are sitting. He already knows of this and plays to her. The result is relaxing. She falls asleep and dreams. When she awakes she finds the music has changed. It is no longer tuneful or relaxing. It is disturbing. Swallows appear as if from nowhere and are joined by more and more until the sky is black with their presence. She is aware that they are the natural predators of the mosquito but experiences their activity as warfare. Mesmerised by the whole event she watches it as the hours pass and eventually turn to night. Still she remains in place as darkness continues the fray with other shapes taking the place of the swallows. The light of morning brings with it the knowledge that the town has nothing further to fear from the pests, but this is followed by the realisation that the spraying will nevertheless still take place. When the helicopters appear in the sky above her she rushes into the water meadows hoping to deter them. They radio back to their base for police support. The message is intercepted by local radio who give it out as a newsflash, bringing hundreds of people out of town, at first as spectators but then to enter the water joining her in her protest. The demonstration of their support means that the water meadows are saved; for the time being. Later the news breaks of the plans to develop the area.
The highlight of the year in Stronwick is the Michaelmas Ball, an event held in the local high school at the beginning of October and drawing together all the distinguished and not so distinguished inhabitants of the town. In addition members of the upper school are allowed to attend, but this year is to see one or two breaks with tradition in that the rock ‘n’ roll group are to be allowed to play in another part of the school in a gig intended mainly for the pupils. Some time before the group had met up with Tom, the hippy, through his connection with Lisa. Hearing him play they had improvised a rock ‘n’ roll version of his tune, and this is to be the principle number, played in the latter part of the evening of the Michaelmas Ball. In this they are to be joined by Tom. The effect of their playing is to draw the adults away from their event in the main hall of the building to join with the younger dancers. The dancing of the adults however becomes ever more and more frenzied and erotic until clothes begin to be shed and the whole thing descends into an orgiastic happening upon which the local newspaper dare not report. Tom is blamed by Basil Sydney for the whole affair and forced to leave town. He leaves behind a broken-hearted Lisa.
The threat to the water meadows remains; Ken Mackintosh seeing it as a personal conflict with Bella Jackson, but as the months go by no work can be done in the preliminary draining operations owing to absenteeism as the workforce is beset by one epidemic after another. When spring comes around and it is scheduled for completion it hasn’t even begun. On the very day work at last begins a pair of extremely rare waders are spotted preparing to nest on the site. Such is the interest and enthusiasm nationwide generated at the appearance of these exotic creatures that the project has to be abandoned. The publicity they bring to the town enables Bella to set up a trust to administer and preserve the water meadows as a wildfowl sanctuary.
Ken Mackintosh has discovered a new interest in the town. The group, having sunk into depression following the Michaelmas Ball and the departure of Tom, are rehearsing one evening. They have not played Tom’s number since. In conversation about Tom they break into his melody. To their amazement Tom appears to be playing with them; ‘sampled and synthesized’ he has become part of the memory of the keyboard. They are able to play again as they had played at the Michaelmas Ball and during this rehearsal the door of the room opens to admit a delighted Ken Mackintosh. He witnesses their inspired performance and pursues his plan to make them recording stars.
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