Preston Front: s03 e07 – Jeanetta’s Mariujana


Preston

Hardly had the closing theme music, the vocal version of The Milltown Brothers’ ‘Here I Stand’ died down on the last episode than I was at my little home computer, an Apple Mac Classic II-40, typing out a letter to Tim Firth, care of the BBC, pleading with him not to let Preston Front end, keep it going somehow, if the BBC won’t renew it then write books. I was so sorry to see it go. And he was kind enough to write back, telling me it was his decision to end it where it did. It was the same old argument that’s nearly always right: it’s better to end when people still want more than to drag on until they’re telling you to go.

Re-watching the last episode, I know he was right. Stories like this never end, the people carry on, you just drift away from them. This episode constructed a natural end for the phase of life amongst the men and women of the Roker Bridge TA, removing some of them from Central Lancashire for good. Without them, it just wouldn’t be the same.

Firth chose to build the last episode around two primary matters that produced an unfortunate clash: Dawn and Eric’s wedding and Kirsty and Jeanetta’s departure for California. The one was an utter nightmare – well, both were, in their separate ways – as Dawn’s disapproving, social climbing, twats of parents took over the wedding, making a very poor best of Eric (and his mates) having to be part of it for the chance to have it covered by Lancashire Living. Oh dear God, but for anyone ordinary, and normal, it was a nightmare. All the gang in morning suits, wing-collars, striped trousers and mauve-grey cravats (Ally in a quite abbreviated skirt made up for a lot of that). Any last atom or two of sympathy we might reluctantly have retained for the Lomax parents was shredded when it came to their attitude to Eric’s Dad, the silent, shell-shocked ex-soldier: at that point you’d have held them upside down in the River Ribble at Preston for a month.

The wedding clashed with Kirsty’s departure. Hodge couldn’t be in two places at once so the farewell had to take place at Roker Bridge Garden Centre, with Hodge trying to say goodbye to the little girl that likes him almost as much as My Little Pony, who doesn’t know he’s her Dad, and to whom he’s giving a big bag of seeds, to scatter in the garden of her new home so that even in California she will have Lancashire to remember.

Except that up pops Heron Man from episode 1 of series 1, as stupid, rude and selfish as anyone possibly could be, to destroy that goodbye, forever.

Throw in such things as Spock trying to shed his reputation as Paint Drying Teacher and Ally the new mechanic at Diesel’s garage and Eric, in a bout of unwise sympathy, inviting Polson to the wedding, Polson who’s going back to Durham, re-joining the regulars but losing his stripe because they’ve only got slots for Corporals, not Sergeants, and it’s building up. To where, after the ceremony and the Lomax parents’ overbearing offensiveness getting too much, Eric directs the white Rolls’ carrying the happy couple and their mates to the airport. It’s his day and he’s going to see that his best mate gets to say goodbye to that little girl after all.

It’s a perfect, if non-combative illustration, of Eric Disley, the soldier. Because the snotty, sneery posh guests at the Reception are tittering at ‘pond-life’, at which point Polson, who’s been drinking wine in pint-glasses, gets up on the table, agrees with all and sundry that Eric is, indeed, a twat, a loser and an idiot. But he’s the son of a soldier and he is a soldier which means that no matter what shit is going on, he will without thinking see to those around him, and that makes him sio far above everybody else here that they literally cannot see him.

And Pete Polson, poison goblin of the first water, having redeemed himself in our eyes in one glorious moment, steps down from the table and marches off, singing, as Colin Disley, ex-Sergeant, rises to his feet toi follow him and, speaking for the first time in our years, shouts in disused tones, “Buy that bugger a drink!”

Meanwhile, back at the airport, Hodge does catch up with Kirsty. She, her Mum and Declan are just being arrested. Have you any hand luggage to declare? they asked. Yes, pipes up little madam, a big bag of grass… Hodge manages to convince the Police that it is, literally and no more than grass, but it still has to stay behind: America is paranoid about introducing crop diseases and they won’t let it in. At least Hodge gets his goodbye, painful as it is. Jeanetta sympathises. Once upon a time she told him that just because he has a daughter, it doesn’t make him a father. But Hodge has made himself a father, and the next time he wears posh clobber like the stuff he has on, it may very well be to give someoine away on her wedding day.

Rundle’s gone. Kirsty and Jeanetta are gone. Polson’s gone. The mix is changed and can’t be restored. The bridal party can’t be arsed facing the music today so they hold their reception at Wang’s, Wang who sings soul at the tables, who is a cult hero among the students for insulting them. And a fight starts in the street, eagerly seized on by a passing photographer, eager for something real: he’s from Lancashire Living

So it goes and so it went, with poignancy being brandished like a bayonet fixed on the end of a soldier’s rifle. And I’d still have killed for a fourth series.

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