It is Sunday morning in Swallow Close. There have been many other Sunday mornings in the Close and there will be many more in the future; but none of them ever will be quite like this particular Sunday morning.
Swallow Close is a small quiet cul-de-sac in the suburbs. Just one of many such cul-de-sacs, nothing more and nothing less. The residents too are much as residents of other streets, and they are people of habit, and routine, particularly on a Sunday morning. Let me stop the action in the Close for a moment, like taking a snapshot, and introduce the residents to you. There are just four bungalows in this small cul-de-sac.
Mr. Robertson stands beside his car, a hose pipe in his hands, as he rinses the soap suds from the precious paint work. He is proud that he has never had an accident in his car, and there is very little in Mr Robertson's life that is closer to his heart than is his car. Not even Mrs Robertson is able to attain such an elevated status; but don't get me wrong, Mr Robertson is extremely fond of his wife. It is not for us to decide which he would favour, if he were forced to make a choice between his wife and the car. Suffice it to say, it would be very close.
Just behind these two loves of his life in Mr Robertson's list of priorities comes Rufus. Rufus is a great dane just making the transition from puppy to dog. It is a time of insecurity for Rufus and he does not like to be far from his master. This morning he is sprawled out across the pavement beside the car. His ungainly body trembles as he pants in the heat of the day.
Just emerging from the garden opposite are Mr and Mrs Jennings, a mature couple who have been residents of Swallow Close since it was built 20 years ago. The Jennings are on their way to church. They are retired and have no car, so they walk rather than rely on the occasional public transport. They call a cheery greeting to Mr Robertson as they pass. They like to think of Swallow Close as their own, and of all the other residents as being part of their family.
In the bungalow on the same side of the Close as that of the Jennings, but nearer to the main road, lives Miss Tytherington. Miss Tytherington is the only outsider in the Close; she does not really belong, her stay in this secluded community is merely temporary while she rents the bungalow from its owners who have, on behalf of Her Majesty's Government, gone to America for three years. Miss Tytherington differs in another way: She is much younger than all of the other residents. We will not enquire about a lady's age, but I think it would be fair to say that she has not yet seen 30. She certainly is young enough for Mr Robertson to have considered whether it would be worth him paying a call on her to see how the land lies, so to speak. But he decided against it.
So what is Miss Tytherington doing on this Sunday morning? She remains in the seclusion of her garden to worship the sun. After securely bolting the gate, she selects a spot where she will not be overlooked, then removes her bikini and lays down to acquire an all over tan.
The last of the four bungalows, that is the one next to Mr Robertson and opposite Miss Tytherington, belongs to the Grafton family; but they are not at home this Sunday morning. They are on holiday, walking in the Scottish Highlands. Each summer the Graftons take an active holiday in order to have a break from the peace and tranquillity of Swallow Close.
So there we are with a snapshot of our suburban cul-de-sac, on this particular Sunday morning; but before we restart the action, perhaps I should point out that there are three strangers in the Close today.
Two of the strangers are sitting in the same car which is, at this very moment, reversing into the Close. In the passenger seat is Mr Baker, who is the chief instructor for the 'Safety First Driving School'. He is pleased to tell people that none of his pupils has ever had an accident while under instruction. Mr Baker's pupil today is Mrs Winterton, an elderly widow of nervous disposition. Until he died, Mr Winterton had driven his wife everywhere. Now, she is on her own, and has reluctantly decided that she must herself sit behind the wheel. She was attracted by the name, 'Safety First Driving School' and encouraged by Mr Baker's accident free boast.
The third of the strangers in Swallow Close is Matthew Brown. Young master Brown, who lives in a nearby street, is precariously riding a skate board which he was given for his eleventh birthday only yesterday.
So now you have met all but one of the characters in this short, but dramatic story. The last is a shy, sensitive young man who does not live in the Close and does not intend to visit the Close, but by coincidence he is riding his horse, a handsome bay gelding, along the part of the main road which is adjacent to Swallow Close. We have held our snapshot too long so let us now restart the action.
Mr Robertson averts the hose pipe slightly to avoid splashing Mr and Mrs Jennings as they pass his car on their way to church. Rufus, the great dane, opens one eye momentarily and checks that his master is still close at hand.
Miss Tytherington stretches herself and smiles as she feels the sun's warmth upon her not unattractive body.
In the driving school car, Mrs Winterton cautiously proceeds backwards into the Close, while beside her Mr Baker checks in his mirror to ensure that her way is clear. He sees that Mr Robertson's vehicle is too far back to constitute a problem.
In the main road, the young man on his horse leans down to adjust a stirrup. The only fly in the ointment, as it were, upon this idyllic scene is Matthew Brown learning to ride his skate board. He wobbles dangerously as he passes the driving school car, and looks up to see if the occupants are watching him. Mrs Winterton concentrates so hard on reversing the car that she does not even know the boy is there. Her instructor glances at Matthew Brown on the skate board with no more that casual interest; but the boy has lost the little amount of control that he had, and he hurtles toward the end of the cul-de-sac.
In the 24 hours in which he has owned the skate board, he has not yet learned how to stop. He struggles to keep his balance, and suddenly realises that the sleeping dog is in his path. There is no way to stop now, and at the last moment he swerves to avoid the great dane. Alas, his success is limited. Certainly he does not collide with the animal, but unfortunately for the boy, the dog and everyone else in Swallow Close, the skate board runs over the dog's tail.
In that half second Rufus changes from a slumbering giant to a startled and enraged demon, leaping to his feet he lets out a howl that would have sent a shiver up and down the spines of the Baskerville family. Then the howl gives way to angry barking at being so painfully and violently disturbed. The unexpected activity of his dog and the boy, now lying on the path with the skate board on top of him, causes Mr Robertson to jerk around and look at what is happening. His sudden movement brings the jet of water in a graceful arc above the car until it, with violent impact, drenches Mrs Jennings. Her favourite church going hat is swept from her head by its force. She utters a scream so loud and piercing, the windows of all the bungalows vibrate.
Mrs Winterton in the driving school car, has previously studied the Highway Code and several books on the art of driving. None of the publications, however, have given her any hint on how to cope with the unholy noise created by Rufus and Mrs. Jennings. Her reaction is to panic. Involuntarily her foot stamps down on the accelerator pedal and the car speeds backwards at a rapidly increasing rate. Her hysterical screams are joined by those of Mrs Jennings. Mr Baker, the instructor, has seen many emergencies before, and is a competent user of the car's dual controls. He puts his foot firmly down on what he thinks is the brake pedal. Regrettably, in turning around to observe what is happening behind him, he has altered the angle of his body and thus he depresses the wrong pedal. The vehicle now is totally out of control and heading directly toward Mr Robertson's beloved car. Mr Baker starts shouting at Mrs Winterton to remove her foot from the accelerator, and M. Robertson yells a warning to the learner driver. If volume of sound could do such a thing the car would stop, but alas it cannot.
The experienced instructor, Mr Baker, soon recovers from his error and jams on the brakes, the wheels strain to get a grip on the road made wet by the soapy water from the washed car, and the rubber screams as it slides along the surface of the tarmac. The speed is diminished, but not sufficiently, and with a noise that dwarfs the women's screams, the collision occurs.
All of this excitement takes place within a few seconds, and to the casual observer it would appear to be instantaneous. The peace of Miss Tytherington's sunbathing is destroyed by the sudden rise in the decibel level of Swallow Close. She sits up, somewhat startled. Temporarily forgetting her nakedness she begins to stand up, and is in an undignified squatting position, when she receives an unexpected visitor.
The young man on his horse has one foot in a stirrup and one out as he leans forward to adjust the straps. The horse is not temperamentally able to cope with the cacophony erupting from the Close. The shouts, barks and screams mingled with the noise of the crashing cars upset the sensitive animal, so that he desires nothing more than to leave this place of commotion. He rears and bucks, then charges off along the main road. The insecurity of the young man's hold upon his horse causes him to leave the animal rather more quickly than he would have expected. Indeed the final buck projects him from the saddle over a nearby fence into the very garden in which Miss Tytherington has been soaking up the sun. As he picks himself up, his surprise at being confronted by an agitated, unclothed female is matched by Miss Tytherington's shock and fright at seeing the sudden appearance of such a dishevelled member of the opposite sex. Still forgetting her lack of cover, she rushes to the gate, unbolts it and runs out into the cul-de-sac. Her naked appearance brings an end to the shouting and screaming, and she is caught in the dilemma of either staying in the Close with everyone staring at her, or returning to the garden in which the young man remains.
It is Sunday morning in Swallow Close. There have been many other Sunday mornings in the Close, and there will be many more in the future; but none of them ever will be quite like this particular Sunday morning.