“I’m so honoured to be invited onto the team, chaps” enthused Melba. He was one of the county’s younger telehistorians but once we’d beaten the jocular side out of him with an archival boot camp that would turn any happy go lucky scamp into a man capable of cross referencing for England he became someone it was occasionally tolerable to have around. He hadn’t yet contributed to any of the major journals but he’d had an encouraging letter from the editor in chief of Acetate Quarterly and been told to try again in five years by the editor of 16mm Odyssey so he was well on the way to eventual acceptance. But I still felt Francois Devine had made an error in enlisting him and wasn’t about to let that be in any doubt.

“What do you bring to the table, Melba? We are in a hurry to raise some money for whatever it is we’re raising money for. Well? Snap to it.” The tone of my voice reminded him on a subconscious level of that boot camp and he stood rigidly to attention, barked out the first ten sub-categories of the BBC’s two-inch cassette tape library and told me he had a brilliant plan.

“Have you ever thought about submerging yourself in a bath of beans?” he proposed. I looked at Francois Devine and he looked at me. We tried to contain ourselves for dignity’s sake but we simply couldn’t keep it in. We roared with laughter at this pathetically stupid suggestion.

“That is a cliché in anyone’s book” I said through gulps of pure laughter. “One step more predictable even than washing cars or getting a bob for giving a job.”

“Besides, you simply cannot buy a bath of beans – believe me, I’ve tried” added Francois Devine. “Heinz said they might be able to supply a bucket of beans if I could guarantee five hundred orders per week for 172 weeks minimum but they simply wouldn’t go larger than that. A whole bath is science fiction and we have no time for such fanciful rubbish.”

We stopped to ponder the irony of that remark before moving on.

“You’ve misunderstood me I think” said Melba, apparently under the impression he could chip in whenever he wanted, “The Bendaton Leisure and Sports Aquatic Fitness Experience Plus is having…”

“The where?” I asked, fogged that a facility existed in the village that I wasn’t aware of.

“The municipal swimming baths” he explained. I nodded and let him continue.

“As part of their month long tribute to Philip Stiffit they’ve agreed to fill the swimming pool with baked beans and people are being sponsored to go swimming in them. It’s a step up from the clichéd old bathtub of beans” he snorted.

“Which, as I have previously explained, is not simply a cliché – it is an impossibility unless you are prepared to do more manual labour than I feel comfortable with” added Francois Devine.

“Are you seriously suggesting that I – Dennis Brent – go swimming in baked beans?” I scoffed.

“Abso-bally-lutely” he said with a gormless look on his gormless face. You could sponsor Melba to produce one single solitary gorm from anywhere on his head and you’d keep your money.

“I refuse” I told him.

“Think of The Memo” whispered Francois Devine.

“Hmm” I mused.

And that was how I found myself by the side of Bendaton swimming pool, where I learned to swim at the age of 11 at special evening classes arranged by my father which were conducted in near total darkness and with the fire doors open. It normally involved my being pushed in before I could change into my knitted swimming costume and struggling to the side. Occasionally I’d swallow so much water or be so weighed down by stones that somehow became tangled in my pockets without my realising it that the big hook would have to be lowered in to drag me out eventually. I learned a lot in that pool – character, holding my breath and even a bit of doggy paddle that has served me well when my plane tickets have been misread and I’ve been let off the plane early. The memories flooded back – which isn’t witty despite appearing to be since I came close to death most weeks – as I watched the pathetic fools attempting to do widths through the slimy mass of solid beans.

“I refuse” I told him bluntly.

“Mee-mo” muttered Francois Devine. We were keeping The Memo from Melba at the moment just in case he would want his share of the secret at the end of the contest. A contest we’d lose so it didn’t really matter but on the off chance Saragh-Jayne fell under a bus or became susceptible to bribery we had to cover both wickets (the correct English version of that bases expression that came over from America without the correct paperwork).

“Well I might” I began.

“Top draw” cried Melba and before I knew where I was or what was happening I felt two hands on my shoulders, then some firm pressure, then a feeling of weightlessness mixed with gravity and finally the sloppy smack of tweed against beans. The damned fool had pushed me in.

“Dennis Brent is swimming in beans” shouted Melba “And it’s all for a good cause.”

A crowd of people came over to watch me struggle and splash against the force of the beans. Thanks to the acoustics in the bath hall I could hear Francois Devine ask Melba whether he oughtn’t to have secured some sponsorship moneys before pushing me in.

“That would’ve been a good plan” conceded Melba. “Yes – I’ll definitely do that next time.”

I felt myself sink under the beans for the first time.

“There may not be a next time – I fear Dennis Brent is drowning” said Francois Devine.

“I’ll sponsor you to drown, Dennis Brent” joked one prole inappropriately. The other proles showed their disapproval by crowding round Melba and signing a petition condemning the first man’s insensitivity.

“I’ve secured over fifty pounds” shouted Melba. I didn’t hear him properly as I had beans in both ears. I sank under for a second time.

No one seemed to be doing much towards actually helping me escape. While it was nice that they implicitly trusted me to sort out my own mess, something most people are incapable of doing these days as even a simple glance through the Daily Mail will prove, it would’ve also been nice if someone had tossed me a ring or used the familiar, if slightly rustier, hook to drag me to safety. I tried to cry for help but got a mouth full of beans. I felt myself going under for the third and, according to tradition, final time.