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Home > Places

Community Service

...an absolutely true story (apart from the bit about the blind shepherd).

For a crime they committed which left a shepherd blind, Peter Holmes and Charlie Skelton sentenced themselves to 1000 hours community service. Determined to repay their debt to society, they tour the country in a hired Vauxhall Vectra, generating happiness in recompense for the old man's eyes.

Their story begins in Reading City Centre.

27 December 2003

The Mayor of Reading shakes us warmly by the hand. "Thanks lads", he says, gesturing towards the new bridge. "I'd never have believed it, but you two have really come through with this new bridge".

We finish our soup, wave to the crowd, and put the Vectra into reverse. "Where next?" asks Charlie, opening the roadmap. "I hear Holyhead's got a problem," says Peter, slipping the silver saloon into first. When we arrive in Holyhead, Charlie turns to Peter and nods firmly. "Yes my friend, it does have a problem. It's a shithole."

Life is hard in Holyhead. It's always raining, everyone is pregnant, and the place is full of Americans trying to find Ireland. We take a loop of the town, and smile as a young girl wriggling on top of the bus shelter gives us two fingers. Round the corner, four native children are skidding up and down the library steps on bendy planks. They spot us, and jump over a wall. On a bench near Woolworths, a local simpleton sits in his vest in the rain. His cigarette has gone out and his pie is wet. He doesn't seem to mind. It pays to have a brain problem in this godforsaken town.

Later, in a pub, we talk. "I tell you this, Peter - in all the time we've been doing this work (in memory of Gregory's blinding) we've never come to a town that so demands our help." But Peter is only half listening. He's been distracted by a filthy mother at the bar. She holds her ugly daughter's hand and laughs, as her buttock is rubbed by a retired Irish sailor. "Something has to be done," mutters Peter, and puts on his gloves. "A nature walk?" blurts Charlie, reading the familiar signs. "Or a disco?" Their eyes lock in a moment of perfect understanding, and their voices chime in unison above the sound of the sailor sniffing his thumb: "a Welsh Love Disco!"

We race from the pub in search of a venue. We ask in a knit shop and the woman points up the hill. The converted convent chapel at the top seems ideal, and the manager, Michael Gould, is helpful. "I can offer you the main hall, or the restaurant area," he says. We take the latter, and race back down to the pub, giddy with success.

Jenny, a tart from the Midlands, offers to hand out flyers. We accept her offer, but stress that this doesn't oblige us to have sex with her. Jenny leaves and we hone our plan. Our plan is simple: we're going to give Holyhead the event it's crying out for: a lunchtime disco and quiz in the restaurant area of a converted convent chapel run by Michael Gould.

We fill the Vectra's boot with prizes from Woolworths and the shop that sells hats and knives. Back at the cottage, we set about crafting our disco tape, devise a quiz, and put a tray of potato croquettes in the oven for supper. Six hours later, we're still trying to decide whether to begin the tape with a Donald Bird track or the recording, left in the cottage by the previous tenants, of a young boy singing Wild Wild West to himself in the bath. We opt for some white reggae, and tuck into our croquettes. They are perfectly foul.

...

It's amazing how quickly a chapel restaurant can be converted into a discotheque. Simply hide the crisps, shift the tables, and set up a 'DJ area' by putting a Sanyo tape- deck and an old brass bell on a table near the cakes. Half an hour into the 'Welsh Love Disco', the first person arrives. It's Michael Gould with a couple of local brochures. He thinks they might help us pass the time. We give him a cup of Lilt, and it turns out that he used to do the radar for the RAF.

Michael Gould can't stay. He's got to keep an eye on a roomful of painted carnival heads. But it doesn't matter, because no sooner is he gone than Nikki and Josie arrive. They are bored, and aged 12. Peter rings the brass bell with innocent delight, and Charlie cues up the disco. Josie is so terrified that she sits on a chair by the door ready to run. Nikki asks us to help her with her homework. We say we will if she'll dance. Ten minutes later, she's got a sketch of a World War One trench in her book, and we're watching a 12 year old move to ATB's 9am Til I Come.

Josie learns to trust us when we reveal that there's a litre of leek soup under her chair. It's her prize for sitting in the 'soup seat'. She plays double or nothing, and forfeits it during the observation round. She guesses that Red-Haired Tony is six foot tall. He is, in fact, five foot eleven. She must have been misled by the sign saying '6ft' sellotaped to Charlie's belly.

It doesn't look like anyone else is coming, so we start the quiz. Question three proves tricky. When asked to identify the Hollywood actor talking on tape about his lead role in Ben Hur and his presidency of the National Rifle Association, they plump for Courtney Cox. We haven't the heart to tell them they're wrong, and award Josie a book on Malcolm X signed by Keanu Reeves, and Nikki a VHS copy of US Marshalls.

The quiz ends, and Charlie hands everyone a Cornetto. "I don't wish to be rude," says Nikki, peeling the icy treat, "but are you two gay?" Before our answer is finished, Jenny walks in. She was hoping for a lift to Birmingham, but she's just found out that she's got a couple of day's work in Holyhead, cash in hand. We don't really know what to say, so we give her a book on Puddings signed by Ant and Dec.

We have a quick dance, then let Jenny do the quiz. Josie and Nikki decide to go home. We check Jenny's answers. She may only be 22 but she has the mind of a clever dog. We give her some soup and a biography of Beethoven signed by Jimmy White. She seems happy enough.

We thank Michael Gould, tuck his brochures into our waistbands, and slip the Vectra into reverse. With Hollyhead disappearing in the rear view mirror, Peter heaves a satisfied sigh: "That certainly went well. Where to next?" Charlie reaches for the roadmap. "Leicester. They've got trouble with their swans."

The Vectra lurches forward, and somewhere in Leicester a swan shivers.



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