Henry had never seen such a crowd at the dining table. There weren’t enough chairs for the eight of them, so he and Mr Patel, as the only gentlemen, perched slightly lower on stools. Mr Patel, being the guest, had the cushioned version from Tilly’s vanity table, leaving Henry the cork-topped talc-dusted bathroom stool.
Ursula Marshall called them to order. “I’m delighted to welcome you to the inaugural meeting of the Sheepwash Lane Residents Opposition Committee. Any items for the agenda?”
Henry snaffled a digestive. Generous of Mr Patel to bring biscuits, albeit past their sell-by date. “Shouldn’t we draw up a constitution?”
Jacqueline Ferriss – her name a perfect match for her ferret face – seemed to startle herself when she spoke. “Let’s not jump the gun. We ought to agree the name first.”
“We’ve got a name,” said Zoe Johnson, fluttering eyelashes so clogged with mascara she should have had a crane to lift them. “Sheepwash Residents Opposition Committee.”
“Yes,” said Jacqueline, “but where’s it come from?”
“It hasn’t come from anywhere,” said Ursula. “It’s simply a statement of intent.”
“I’m sorry,” said Jacqueline, “but at the book group we put it to the vote.”
“This isn’t your book group,” grumbled Zoe. “If you want to vote on every dot and comma, we’ll be here all night. Some of us have babysitters and it’s double ackers after ten.”
Henry took another biscuit. He’d bargained on them being gone by nine.
“Jacqueline’s got a point.” Susanna Nixon palmed her hair, coiled in a doughnut on her crown. “Sheepwash Residents Opposition sounds like opposing ourselves, not the patients. Makes us out to be as daft as them.”
Ursula grimaced. “What do you suggest instead?”
Henry squirmed. “Shouldn’t we settle tonight’s agenda?”
“We can’t have an agenda until we have a name,” said Jacqueline.
“We’d address that through the constitution,” mumbled Henry.
“How about Sheepwash Residents against Psychiatric Invasion?” Susanna offered.
Zoe nodded. “SRAPI for short.”
“Oh, yes,” said Ursula, “what’s it called when the initials form a word? Like NATO?”
“An anachronism,” said Susanna.
“An acronym,” said Henry, but nobody heard.
“We can’t have Sheepwash Residents anything if we want a snappy abbreviation,” said Jacqueline. “I prefer SLAPI – Sheepwash Lane against Psychiatric Invasion.”
“Pardon me, ladies,” said Mr Patel. “What’s this psychiatric invasion?”
“I suppose it is a little Aliens Have Landed,” said Zoe. “What about Sheepwash Lane against Psychiatric Patients in Our Midst.”
“SLAPPIOM?” said Jacqueline.
“Doesn’t the Neighbourhood Watch discuss crime prevention?” said Mr Patel. “I had two break-ins last year.”
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