The “Wicked Uncle” takes Jeremy and Jemima to an Easter Fair. What could possibly go wrong? Well almost anything.
Of course Uncle Jeff is not really that wicked – but he is both fun and irresponsible. Mum and Dad never feel comfortable when he’s around, but the children know they must expect the unexpected, and it’s probably going to be an adventure.
Jeremy and Jemima stood next to Mum and Dad holding hymn books in their hands. As the church organist began to play “All Things Bright and Beautiful” a tall man in a smart hedge coat, with a silk scarf tucked into his collar, joined the family at the end of the pew. He said “Hi kids,” a little too loudly. Mum turned her head to look at the noisy intruder. Her frown was met by the cheery grin of Jeff, whom the family normally referred to as, “The Wicked Uncle.” It was a joke of course, but like all jokes, there was a drop of truth at the bottom of it.
After the service, they stood on the steps of the church in the crisp air and mellow sunlight of a beautiful April morning. It was enough to make anyone feel springy with the joy of life. But Dad was grumpy because Jeff had put a twenty pound note in the collecting box, and he felt he had to match his generosity. Mum said to her brother-in-law:
“Jeff, you’re full of surprises. I didn’t have you down as the church-going type.”
“Oh you know, Christmas and Easter, weddings and funerals, the odd baptism, that’s me,” said Jeff.
‘Well you’d better come to Sunday lunch” said Mum, hoping that he hadn’t noticed Dad shaking his head.
An hour later, Jeff was carving the roast beef and saying how a family meal was a rare treat in his bachelor existence. He offered to take the kids to the Easter Fair in return.
“Fantastic. We’d love to go to the fair !’ exclaimed Jeremy.
But this was the last thing that mum wanted. Jeff had an uncanny knack for getting into trouble, and a fairground seemed to offer up untold opportunities for bringing the kids and calamity together. She had visions of her children flying off a Ferris wheel, or being poisoned by a hot dog. She said:
“That’s sweet of you Jeff, but er, Dad doesn’t approve of the fair, does he kids?’
“Only because it’s expensive, “ said Jeremy. “But Uncle Jeff won’t mind about that because he’s loaded.”
“Jeremy! “ exclaimed mum,”What a thing to say!” and then turning to Jeff she pleaded, “Kids ! You never know what they’ll come out with next.”
But Jeff was all smiles. “Don’t worry,” he said, “I know why my brother doesn’t like the fair. It’s because he never wins a prize.”
And the children both laughed and told their Uncle that he was spot on, while Dad smiled weakly and went to clear up the dishes in the kitchen. Mum stalled for time by telling the kids to go out to the garden and hunt for Easter eggs. She hoped that in the meantime, Dad would come up with a good excuse for not going to the fair. While the children were finding mini-eggs, Jeff went out to his Porsche to fetch a giant Easter Egg made of Swiss chocolate. Its hollow inside was filled with clockwork toys like robots and dancing fairies. Jeremy and Jemima were overjoyed when they saw it, and after that, Mum and Dad were almost glad to let Jeff take them to the fair.
“Don’t fret,” said Dad as they watched the kids squeeze into the tiny back seats of Jeff’s car. “He will spoil them rotten, make them dizzy on the rides, and stuff them full of candy floss, but nothing too terrible can happen at the Easter Fair.”
The fun fair was held every Easter on the town’s green. It was an old tradition, and in fact Dad and Uncle Jeff had both gone to it as kids. The amusements hadn’t changed that much, but the prices had doubled and doubled and doubled and – well that’s how things change. But the fair was as popular as ever, and the crowds queued for the old favorites like the dodgems, the ghost train, the roundabouts, the helter skelter and the big wheel. The cuisine still consisted of toffee apples, candy floss, hot-dogs and hamburgers with lots of smelly fried onions. The muddy ground was ankle deep in cartons and waste paper. A cacophony of conflicting disco beats and golden oldies pumped out of speakers from every stall. In short, it was heaven.
Just as Dad had predicted, Jeff indulged the kids with every dangerous-looking, dizzy-making ride that their hearts desired. But he himself took a particular interest in the side-stalls that offered prizes. The fact is, that nobody ever succeeded in throwing a hoopla ring over a triangular block to win an enormous fluffy pink bear. Nobody, that is, except Uncle Jeff, who scored a prize with all three of his hoops. Jeremy and Jemima’s arms were so full of fluffy toys that they could hardly walk, let alone lick toffee apples, so Jeff gave them back to the store holder. “The kids are too old for them, “ he said apologetically. Then he moved onto a strongman test. Jeremy lifted up the big hammer and brought it down with all his might. He sent the ringer about a third of the way up the stand towards the gong. Jeff picked up the hammer with one hand and rang the gong first time. Even the store holder was impressed as he handed over his best prize – a china statue of a Dalmatian dog.
“One more piece of kitsch for the collection,” said Jeff as he examined it. “The prizes at this fair ground were never up to much.”
But Jeremy caught sight of something interesting and said: “Except for that one!” He was pointing towards the shooting arcade over which a sign declared “ Win a £1000.”
“A thousand pounds!” exclaimed Jemima, “That can’t be true,” but it was what the sign promised . When they got closer, they saw that to win the prize you had to shoot three plastic ducks. The only problem was that they flew across the stall at lightening speed and random intervals. It cost ten pounds just to enter, and the store holder looked like he was raking the money in, and not paying out any prizes at all. Jeff and the kids watched as three or four punters lost their money. Jeff said, “Right. I must have a crack at that.”
The gun was a fairly serious weapon – a 2.2 air rifle. A duck flashed by, and Jeff fired and missed. He had already lost the prize because you had to score three out of three shots to win. He took the two other shots just for practice, and missed both times.
“Bad luck Uncle Jeff,” said Jemima. “Shall we go home now?”
“Not yet,” said their uncle, “I need to get my eye in.” He paid up another ten pounds and shot and missed another three times.
“You’re not Dad’s brother for nothing,” said Jeremy. But Jeff wasn’t listening. He was examining the line of the gun. Then he placed it between his knees and started work at the barrel with his hands.
“What are you bending it for?” asked Jemima.
“I’m not. I’m straightening it,” said Jeff.
“Hey you can’t do that!” exclaimed the stall-holder, but Jeff already had . He handed over his money and said. “Bring ‘em on.”
This time Jeff sent the first duck flying off its hook. He swiftly reloaded and shot the next target a moment later. The third duck followed very soon after but Jeff was ready his shot was true. A crowd of onlookers applauded and Jeremy and Jemima jumped up and down shouting :
“Yeah for Uncle Jeff ! “
The store holder protested that he must have cheated, but Jeremy said rather menacingly “I wouldn’t argue with Uncle Jeff if I were you.” The man slowly pulled a cheque book from his pocket, and Uncle Jeff said.
“I’ll take cash thanks.”
When Jeff had counted the notes and checked each watermark against the light, he placed the wadge into the pocket of Jeremy’s denim jacket. “Give that to your Dad,” he said. “An Easter present from the black sheep of the family.”
“Wow ! Dad will be delighted !” said Jeremy.
But Jemima wasn’t quite so sure. Perhaps Dad might think that Jeff was showing off.
She asked where Uncle Jeff had learned to shoot so well. “Here and there,” he said allusively, and then said in a hushed voice, “I was in the forces before I went into business.”
They were all in the best of spirits as they walked toward the car park. As they passed the conveniences, Uncle Jeff said: “I’ll just pop in here if you don’t mind,”
Jeremy and Jemima waited outside for their uncle. They were kind of surprised about winning the big prize, but when Uncle Jeff was around, you had to expect to be surprised. Perhaps for that reason alone, they should have been more on their guard. A sea of people was coming and going from the fair all the time, and they were already used to being jostled a little by the crowd. They didn’t realise until too late that they had been surrounded by a gang of youths on all sides. One of them was holding a knife and said:
“Hand it over.”
Jemima gave him her iPod.
“Come on. Don’t make me use this ! “ threatened the boy with the knife, jabbing it towards her brother.
And Jeremy reached into his pocket and handed over the £1000 in notes. A few moments later the boys had melted away into the crowd.
When Uncle Jeff returned, he found Jemima in tears and Jeremy hugging his sister and trying not to tremble.
“What’s happened?” he asked. But he had already guessed. He considered calling the police, but on balance thought it was better to get the children home to the parents rather than keep them hanging around for some officers to arrive. It was two very pale and shaking kids that he buckled into the cramped back seat of his Porsche.
Soon after they had left the car park, Jeremy exclaimed : “There ! That’s them !”
“Are you sure?” asked Jeff.
“He’s right,” said Jemima. I’d know them anywhere. But Uncle Jeff please don’t ….. “ but his foot was on already on the accelerator and the engine was roaring. As he passed the gang, he flung open the door and knocked one of them over with it. He skidded to halt and leapt out of the car. The youths jumped over a fence into the park, but Jeff was over it and after them. Jeremy and Jemima looked round anxiously while cars hooted at them for blocking the traffic. They saw Jeff rugby-tackle the one of the boys and the others turned and tried to kick and punch him. By the time a police van came speeding over the grass with its blue light flashing, Jeff had felled three of the boys and held a fourth in a headlock. Ten police officers jumped out of the van and arrested the boys, and Uncle Jeff.
At about 8 pm that evening, Mum heard a car’s wheels on the gravel of the drive. She looked anxiously out of the window and was almost relieved to see a police car. A woman police officer opened the back door of the car to let out Jeremy and Jemima.
“So what happened this time?” asked Mum.
“Oh nothing much. Uncle Jeff got arrested,” said Jemima. “They let him go, but they are keeping £1000 in ten pound notes as evidence. Uncle Jeff says Dad can have it after the the trial is over.”
“Arrested? Money? Trial ? I didn’t understand a word of that,” said Mum as she hugged both her children somewhat tearfully. “But I can say that your Uncle Jeff is never taking you to the Easter Fair again.”