Monday, 14 January 2019

Better Get Used To It, Lee

Ryan Early (Lee)

I fear that Lee, the karate instructor and physiotherapist is in for a confusing and disturbing time. Last time, we had Helen kissing him and he responded, saying that he’s wanted to do that for some time. ‘Good’, we thought, ‘Helen deserves some luck in love’. However, far from burning brightly, by Monday love’s flame was flickering and stuttering as Helen sought out Kirsty for a heart-to-heart, and tells her about the kiss.

Kirsty says that Lee seems nice, but Helen reveals that she is having second thoughts. The girls’ discussion is punctuated by Kirsty banging on the wall that separates her and Roy’s house from the newly-moved-in Aldridges, as the latter throw a party to jointly celebrate house warming and Jennifer’s birthday (her 64thif my arithmetic is correct) and the noise makes Kirsty increasingly annoyed. Between thumping the wall, Kirsty says that Lee should be let down gently and Helen agrees that he deserves an explanation, although she has no idea what she will tell him.

It is Wednesday before Helen confronts Lee when karate has finished and tells him that she doesn’t want to hurt him, but she got carried away last week and doesn’t feel ready for a relationship. That’s ok, says Lee - they can be friends, but Helen says no; he’s a lovely guy, but she doesn’t think it would work out between them. She tries to tell him about her previous love life, but fails, saying only: “it’s complicated, but I think it’s best if we don’t see each other again” and rushes out.

Lee must be feeling confused - he’s lovely, but she doesn’t want to see him any more - plus he could be forgiven for wondering if his deodorant is doing its job as, just before he spoke with Helen, Shula told him that she doesn’t feel that karate is her thing and she won’t be coming any more. Going back to Helen, she can be forgiven as, to be fair, her experiences with men take some explaining away. Consider; her first fiancĂ© shot himself, then the father of her first child was a sperm donor, then she had an affair with a married man who married her and then became a controlling monster who tried to crush her spirit and alienate her from family and friends, in which he was highly successful. He then raped her and she became pregnant and things came to a head when she attacked him with a knife, leaving him close to death. Subsequently, she had her baby in custody and was put on trial for attempted murder. In a dramatic outcome, she was acquitted and her husband tried to abduct their new-born child, but Helen faced him down and he fled the country for the USA, out of her life forever, hopefully.

Can’t you just imagine Helen relating all this and then asking Lee if he has any questions? My first question would be ‘where’s the exit?’ but if this relationship has any future, he is going to have to know all about Helen’s past. But hey - on Wednesday, the relationship is a non-starter, according to Helen. But that was Wednesday, and on Thursday, Helen is helping Johnny clear out a shed ahead of the arrival of the new dairy herd from France. She told him that she has to pop out for a while and goes to the Laurels, where Lee is seeing a physio patient.

Helen’s pretext is to return a book that she borrowed from him (a surprising statement, as Lee is the first to admit that the worlds of literature and drama are strangers to him - one assumes the book was about karate). The pair talk and Lee asks if she has to rush back. No is the answer and they have a coffee. Helen tells him that she wishes she was more spontaneous and Lee is confused - what is she saying? Helen says that she hasn’t dated for a long time and she was just overwhelmed when she kissed him last week. “So you’re not saying that you don’t like me?” Lee asks. “No, not at all - quite the opposite in fact.” Helen answers him.

Lee is confused, but the lad is a trier, as he rings Helen later and says that he is away on a course next week, but how about a date after he’s back? He suggests laser combat, or bullfighting, or something equally physical, while Helen says that that’s not really her scene and how about the theatre? “What, a play, you mean?” Lee asks and you know that any future relationship will definitely not be a meeting of minds. In the end, they compromise on a walk in the country, but wait! The day they decide on is when the Froggie cows are arriving and she’ll be needed on the farm. “Let’s do it” says the new, spontaneous Helen, throwing caution to the winds.

So, Lee, if you pursue this relationship, you’d better get used to Monday - it’s on; Tuesday - it’s off; Wednesday - it’s back on; Thursday - but you catch my drift. No doubt there will be times when you’ll want to bang your head against a brick wall, but hang on in there.

Changing the subject, we have often said in the past that, in Ambridge, no bad deed goes unpunished for long. I suppose that you could argue that Nic was never brought to account for running over Matt Crawford, but that was largely because she quickly died of sepsis, so you could say that she was punished - and very severely at that. However, last week we had an example of retribution arriving extremely swiftly and it was visited upon Brian Aldridge, which might please many readers.

Earlier we spoke of the simmering ill-feeling between Kirsty and Brian Aldridge, who are not-very-friendly neighbours. Kirsty complained because Brian parked his car where she normally parks hers. Not, you will notice, in her designated space (there is apparently more than ample space for a number of cars) but just where she normally leaves it. Keen to keep the peace, Jennifer goes out and moves Brian’s car.

Brian is ecstatic - it seems that BL Board member Andrew Eagleton was throwing a birthday party at the golf club and Brian and Jenny were omitted from the guest list. However, a day or so later, Brian gleefully tells Jenny that on the evening of the party there was a power cut at the golf club “and the food was cold and the band couldn’t play!” Brian tells her exultantly. Be warned Brian;Schadenfreude is not a becoming trait in a person.

He further blots his copybook when he has an argument with Kirsty over the noise of the Aldridge’s party earlier in the week - she complains and says that he’s not at Home Farm now and have some consideration. He replies that the fact that he and Jenny have had to downsize is none of Kirsty’s business and “you need to get a life, young lady - all this tree hugging and cycling around with your nose in the air.” Kirsty is indignant and says that she is just trying to make a difference, unlike Brian. But Brian has built up a head of steam and says: “these causes and campaigns - you’re just trying to fill a void; you should deal with the emptiness in your own life before you start interfering with other people’s lives.” “That’s a horrible thing to say” Kirsty replies and goes off, tearfully.

Jennifer has arrived and admonishes her husband, saying “what were you thinking of? Have you forgotten she’s just had a miscarriage?” “I didn’t mean…” Brian blusters, but Jenny tells him scathingly “Now look what you’ve done.” But now we come to the retribution, as a chastened Brian opens his mail and he learns that the court date for the prosecution by the Environment Agency has been set for February 5th. “This is it Jenny - it’s really happening” he says, in a quiet voice. ‘And serves you right’ might be the reaction of many listeners.

Just think; if Brian is found guilty, he could be the latest member of the Ambridge ‘Mailbag Club’, joining such famous names as Matt Crawford and Susan Carter, plus Susan’s numerous brothers, who have all done time for various offences. Susan would be delighted to have something in common with the Aldridges, plus there is the fact that, if Brian can get put away quickly, he might get to share a cell with Freddie before the latter is released.

While Brian hasn’t been very nice to Kirsty, she has been a bit of a miserable cow recently, suffering from New Year blues. She is fed up working at the Health Club, which only well-off people can afford to patronise, and would like to do something to make the world a better place. Take some advice, Kirsty; these well-heeled people pay your wages.

We’ve spent a lot of time on a couple of storylines, so let’s whiz through what’s been happening elsewhere. At Grange Farm, Eddie and Clarrie have their free dinner at Grey Gables, but it’s not all good news - while they are delighted that Ed and Emma will have an affordable house before long, this means that their contribution to the rent will cease. Clarrie is troubled, because they told Joe a fib that they have come to an arrangement with Oliver over the amount. Eddie is all for living for the moment and orders another bottle of wine, regardless of the fact that it is not included in the free offer.

Over at Brookfield, there is concern over rising feed costs. Josh tells his mum and dad to come and look at the silage clamp - you can see the back wall, which means that it’s nearly empty. Silage is too expensive to buy in and David says that straw is very dear as well. They desperately need some money, as their feed costs are outstripping the price they are getting for their milk. David has another idea and goes to see brother Kenton to try and get Kenton to pay back the money that David lent him and Jolene a bit earlier than agreed.

Kenton isn’t listening to his brother, as he only has eyes for his two new record decks that he has purchased to give The Bull a USP - themed vinyl nights. David tries to prise Kenton’s attention away from what he calls Kenton’s ‘record players’ (“decks, David, decks” Kenton corrects him) and David might just as well have stayed at home for all the attention that his brother pays him.

Sunday, 6 January 2019

It Might Be New Year, But Some Things Never Change

Susie Riddell (Tracy Horrobin)

When I say some things, I really meant some people, as on Thursday we had Tracy in the shop, buying cigarettes. As sister Susan reminded her, on New Years Eve, Tracy resolved to give up smoking. Tracy said that, when she made the Resolution, she meant it, but Bradley and Chelsea (her brats) are doing her head in and its either ciggies, or shell kill them. Oh yes, and give her a half bottle of vodka as well. Be fair - the Resolution lasted nearly 50 hours, which is probably the longest she has ever denied herself any of her numerous pleasures and, to be honest, were not really surprised.

Jim Lloyd comes into the shop and he has Cecil Jacksons vote for the best teller of the Canterbury Tales (the winner of the vote gets a dinner for two at Grey Gables). When Jim leaves, Tracy opens the vote and - surprise - its for Jim. Tracy suspects foul play and follows Jim. She spots him coming out of Mrs Chadwicks house, saying that if she needs anything, be sure to get in touch. 

Tracy intercepts the Prof and spots that he has another Canterbury Tales vote, and promptly accuses him of buttering up people to get them to vote for him. Jim denies the allegation and says that he is merely visiting those who have been laid low by the flu to see if they need anything, and, should they want to give him their vote to postIndignantly, Jim says If you are accusing me of an act of malfeasance, you are acting under a misapprehension.  You have to hand it to Tracy (and you wouldnt be the first) as she knows her limitations, saying: I havent got a clue what that means, but I know a cheat when I see one.She offers to take Mrs Chadwicks vote to the shop to save you the walk, but Jim points out that, as his house is adjacent to the shop, he thinks he can manage to deliver it himself.

We then have an interesting insight into the meaning of cheating, as, later on, Tracy finds out that Susan has a stash of unsold tickets (nominations have to be made on the back of a ticket from those who attended the performance) and Tracy says they can easily make sure that Susan tops the poll. Susan is scandalised at the thought and says that they cannot thwart the will of the people (even if they are wrong), which is strange, as she had just spent five minutes trying (unsuccessfully) to get Lily to vote for her as best tale teller.

Call me a tease, but I wont reveal who won the coveted prize, but I will say that neither Jim nor Susan will be dining gratis at Grey Gables. Apparently Lilian, who could probably buy Grey Gables, is also desperate to win. All will be revealed later, if I remember.

At Bridge Farm, Tom has returned after spending the Festive Season with Natasha’s family. As Jenny drives Peggy to the Laurels to see Chris, Peggy says that she thinks Tom was hiding something when he returned. “I hope she’s not pregnant” Peg remarks. Well, they have been practising. Sticking with Peggy/Chris, Peggy tries again to get Chris to come back to the Lodge, but Chris says that she feels secure at the Laurels and she has an ideal solution - why don’t she and Peggy buy an assisted flat together at the Laurels. Peggy is not keen - actually she’s appalled - and turns her friend down.

True to form, back at Bridge Farm, Pat tries unsubtly to find out from Tom what’s going on. Tom counters by saying how much Natasha enjoyed her Christmas present bracelet, and how much it reminded Tom of the bracelet that Helen bought Pat a year or so back. Perhaps they could compare them to see? Pat prevaricates and Tom says, meaningfully, that “maybe there are things we’d both like to keep to ourselves. But don’t worry; it’s all good.”

I know you are all agog, but I can’t keep you in too much suspense - Tom and Natasha have both had identical tattoos, so Peggy will either be relieved or disappointed. We learn this when Tom tells Hannah, who is worried that things between Tom and Natasha are going ahead at breakneck speed. Let him get on with it, Hannah, says I.

Actually, Tom was a bit of an arse this week - he visited Lexi to return Adam’s phone, which he left in the Bridge Farm shop, and we know Lexi is staying with Adam and Ian (please keep up; there may be questions later) and she asks how is Roy? Tom replies that he’s in bits and is it surprising? (Roy told him about the surrogacy). Lexi isn’t best pleased that Roy has blown the gaff, and tells Tom that it’s none of his business. Tom says that Roy is his best friend and it is his business, to which Lexi says that she’d like him to leave. The parting shot from Tom is that he’s beginning to think that Roy has had a lucky escape. When Adam calls in later, Lexi tells him what happened; she’s worried that Tom will spread the news of the surrogacy, but Adam says that he will have a word with Tom and, besides, if the third (and final) embryo transfer isn’t successful, then it will all be academic.

At Home Farm (but not the farmhouse) Brian and Jenny are coming to terms with downsizing. In fact, Jenny gets a message from the agents - she has to go and drop off keys. This is when she is driving Peggy back from the Laurels and the pair of them enter the empty house (this is the day before NYE). Jenny says that she would like one last look at the kitchen (no doubt reflecting that the cost of the kitchen would have paid for the clean-up at Low Mead). She takes a last look and reflects on her life. It was here that Brian told her about him and Siobhan but, as she tells her mother in a voice breaking with emotion, she wouldn’t have changed anything in the past.

Brian moves into Adam’s new eco-office and immediately takes possession of the prime spot near the window and about 42,000 sq. ft. of filing space. Looking out of the window, he spots a van arriving at the farmhouse; it doesn’t look like a removal van, and in fact they begin unloading crates of champagne. A second van proves to be from a catering company and it looks like there is a party in the offing. The following day, Adam and Ruairi creep around outside the house and clear up empty bottles, broken glass, spilled food, etc. It looks like the new neighbours might be a bit on the lively side.

Lots of loose ends to clear up; at Lower Loxley, Russ is getting a tad fed up with being in Ambridge and encourages Lily to get packing so that they can get back to Manchester. He tells her that Ambridge is draining her and that she needs the stimulation of a big city. He calls her ‘a saint’ for looking after her mother, but she needs to escape the bubble of Ambridge. With pretentious claptrap like that, you fear that he could be the Christmas dramatic successor to Lynda Snell (God forbid).

Anyway, Lily says goodbye to her mother, who bursts into tears, and Lily and Russ set off. They get about 100 yards down the road and Lily yells “Stop!” and rushes back to her mum, saying that she just cannot leave her, as Lizzie isn’t well enough to be left on her own. Very touching, but one cannot help wondering what Russ’s reaction was when he got Lily on her own. Mind you, he should worry - he’s getting free board and lodging, not to mention the fact that Lizzie bought him a tank full of petrol.

From the touching to the definitely not sublime - at Grange Farm, Eddie is doing something with sheep, while Joe stands by, grumbling as usual. Suddenly, there is the sound of a lorry approaching; Eddie isn’t expecting a delivery, and he isn’t getting one, as we hear Clarrie giving the driver directions and instructions. What’s going on? What’s going, more like, and the answer is the portable toilet. Clarrie explains that she said it would go in the New Year and the lorry is here to take it away to a building site. Eddie and Joe ask why? “Because it’s an eyesore and stinks to high heaven” Clarrie explains, in a reasonable voice.

Joe is genuinely heartbroken and says he feels “quite emotional” and has become quite attached to the toilet. And this is the man who, when the Grundys were due to move to a housing estate some years ago, killed his pet ferrets with a hammer, as there was no room for them in the new home.

Apparently, his affection for the toilet is that it is the only place in the house where he can get any privacy, especially when he wants to go to the toilet. An odd family, the Grundys. Clarrie relents and tells him that he can have the downstairs toilet for his own, exclusive use. Furthermore, should he need to go during Cider Club meetings, she’s sure that there will be enough people to escort him to the house (can’t you imagine the people fighting for the privilege?) and he can have his own, personal golf umbrella. Joe is overcome with emotion - perhaps they should have got him a load of toilet rolls as a Christmas present. However, there is good news, as Eddie takes a phone call from Lynda - he has won the best tale teller in the Canterbury Tales poll; a free meal for two. Joe is pleased for them and tells them to enjoy themselves as “I’m spending the evening in my new, private convenience.” 

Let’s end on a note of optimism, although the early build up wasn’t promising; Helen got glammed up for New Year’s Eve and went down to The Bull, hoping to see Lee, the karate instructor. He wasn’t there and Helen returned home about 11.30, disappointed. However, we listeners heard Lee turn up shortly after, but it was too late; Helen had left.

On Friday, the pair meet up at the Laurels - Helen is visiting Chris and Lee has a physiotherapy patient. She buys him a coffee as a reward for his efforts at Henry’s birthday party and the two of them are getting on ok. Lee then asks, tentatively, whether Henry’s dad was there on NYE and a flustered Helen says that he and Jack don’t get to see their fathers. She then gets up and leaves.

‘God, not another missed opportunity’ we all scream, but fortunately Lee runs after her and says that he’s sorry; it was none of his business and he was just making sure that there was no-one else in her life. Helen calls him a very nice man and kisses him. She is embarrassed and says that, since her ex, she couldn’t believe that… Lee is delighted, saying that he has wanted to do that since the first time he set eyes on Helen and the couple kiss again as the week ends. I wish them both well - Helen deserves some grown up love and affection, so let’s hope it develops positively.

Wednesday, 2 January 2019

An Offer That Can Only Too Easily Be Refused

Carole Boyd (Lynda Snell)

The mystery of the missing bum continues to haunt the production of the Canterbury Tales and Lynda calls on PC Burns, demanding to know why he hasn’t widened the scope of the search and where are the police car patrols, not to mention the helicopters? Actually, you do wonder if Harrison is putting his heart and soul into the search, as later in the week, Fallon finds the fake bum in Brookfield’s yard, which isn‘t that far from the barn/theatre. Sadly, it is mutilated beyond repair, so what do they do now?

Lynda wants PCB to bare his bum on stage, but he isn’t having any of it. Perhaps someone could knock up a substitute before the weekend, but who has the time? Lynda hands the cast an ultimatum - if they cannot come up with a solution, then she will have to accept Nathan Booth’s offer; he has offered to be a body double and to expose his rear end on stage. This is greeted with gasps of revulsion from all the cast, but Lynda is adamant. 

Cometh the hour, cometh the man and David tries to persuade son Ben to save the day and come up with a papier mache bottom, moulded round two balloons. Ben makes his father beg and then demands £50 as his fee to save the production. David offers £30 tops, which still isn’t a bad sum for doing, frankly, not very much - I’d remember this incident when you next update your Will, David.

Actually, Ben gets his comeuppance a few days later, as he and Ruairi are helping David move some heifers. David shouts a warning about an open gate - presumably left open by ramblers - but it is too late, and a number of the cows make a break for freedom. Ben and Ruairi corner them in a field but one, for reasons best known to itself, jumps into a waterlogged ditch and cannot get out. Ben jumps in to help the struggling bovine and, in addition to the freezing water, he gashes his arm. David, who could perhaps be forgiven for thinking ‘Yes, there isa God’ arrives to help Ben and the heifer out.

He tells Ben to go back to Brookfield and get a hot bath. On his arrival, Rooooth has an attack of the vapours and is all for dragging him to A&E, but all Ben wants is a slug (or two) of brandy. Rooooth hurries him inside and Ben asks “What about your rehearsal?” “Sod the rehearsal” his mother replies, thus articulating what many of us have been thinking for weeks. She eventually goes off 30 minutes late and, presumably, is given lines, or made to sit on the naughty step for a while. Back at Brookfield, Ruairi congratulates Ben on a superb performance and Ben tells him to get the brandy bottle out from where Rooooth has hidden it.

We learn later that Ben did go to hospital and had a tetanus jab, which surprised me, as you’d think that, being a farmer, he’d be well up to date with injections. Not only that, but I thought that, if you’ve had three of these jabs, then you were protected for life? At least, that’s what my doctor told me, although come to think of it, I don’t think he’s ever really liked me that much.

Towards the end of the week, we learn from Eddie that Joe is “heartbroken”. Why so? Has Bartleby been called to that great paddock in the sky? Has Adele the ferret been mugged by vicious, feral rabbits? The actual answer is rather more prosaic than that - after the portable toilet-emptying debacle, Clarrie has decreed that she wants to see the toilet got rid of early in the New Year. Honestly, some women are so fussy - just because her daughter-in-law was sprayed with excrement and more was spread over the garden, Clarrie has put her foot down and denied Joe one of the few pleasures that he has in his life, which tells you a lot about the quality of his day-to-day existence.

Of course, last week was Christmas week, which is usually a time for Jennifer to shine and show off her culinary prowess. Not this year, however, as everything is being packed up, ready for the moving out of the farmhouse. Jennifer says that it won’t be much fun, just her Brian and Ruairi, to which Brian says make that just you and I, as he has told Ruairi that he can go to Brookfield for Christmas dinner. Jennifer is delighted that Ruairi will be having a festive celebration, and she is even more pleased when Brian reveals that he has booked them in for Christmas lunch at a smart restaurant.

The meal is delicious and Brian and Jennifer talk about such happy things as whether Lexi will get pregnant this time and Brian’s forthcoming prosecution by the Environment Agency. They propose a toast “here’s to living in a shoebox” and it’s lucky that they are on the dessert course, so that there are no sharp pieces of cutlery around with which to slit their wrists. Brian is still very anti, as far as the buyers of the farmhouse are concerned and you feel that he’d prise up the floorboards and remove the nails, if he only had more time.

For her part, as she tells Lilian later, Jenny was going to have the place professionally cleaned, but has decided that the buyers can do it themselves. Thinking about it, I suppose the buyers are lucky that she didn’t get Eddie to come and spread some of the contents of the portable toilet around the house and garden - that would have been a truly novel ’welcome to your new home’ gift. 

Christmas dinner at Brookfield was a standing room only job, with David telling Emma that there will be 13 for lunch - something that does not bode well. The main point of interest is the first official outing of Russ as Lily’s boyfriend (or ‘life partner’ as he later tells Jill he prefers to be known). Josh is helping his grandmother by preparing sprouts in the kitchen - he has taken Ben’s place (this was another reward for Ben making the fake bum) and Josh is moaning and grumbling about it incessantly.

Into this scene of festive cheer and goodwill to all march Elizabeth, Lily and Russ. Russ is introduced to Jill and Josh says “hello Mr. Jones.” “Please, call me Russ - we’re not at college now” says Russ, to which Josh replies that he prefers ‘Mr. Jones’, as it’s a bit weird, calling teachers by their Christian names. We have been told that Russ and Josh have a bit of history, as Russ once had to discipline the stroppy young so-and-so and the atmosphere between the two soon becomes a bit more fraught when Josh starts needling Mr. Jones about his art, and what does he think about sculpture, particularly young nude ladies? It’s a pity that Russ didn’t remember that they weren’t at college, as he could have smacked Josh in the mouth. Instead, as Russ, Lily and Elizabeth are leaving, David apologises for Josh’s behaviour. “It’s OK, I’ve got a thick skin” Russ answers. Lucky for him - he’ll need it if he sticks around Ambridge for any length of time.

While all this is going on, Jill is ever so slightly flummoxed - first of all, she thought Lily was romantically involved with a girl called Meredith and secondly, nobody told her that Russ was so old, nor that he was a tutor at Lily’s college. “He didn’t teach me” Lily tells her Gran. So that’s all right then.

I don’t know if anyone else noticed, but all through the pre-, during- and post-dinner conversations, the voice of Rooooth was nowhere to be heard. Considering that she was, nominally at least, the hostess of the event, she didn’t utter a dicky bird throughout the entire meal, nor was Russ introduced to her, as far as we heard. Perhaps she had got fed up with Josh’s whining and retired to bed with a bottle or two of brandy.

One person who did notice the atmosphere was Lily, as she told Pip the following day when Pip visited Lower Loxley and began apologising for Josh’s behaviour. Pip also told Lily that she understands how her cousin feels, as she (Pip) once had an older boyfriend - Jude - and everyone was against him. Quite right, and those of us who remember Jude can understand this attitude perfectly, as he was a waste of space. And how long ago that was!

Lily protests that her relationship with Russ is not just a teenage crush, but the real thing, and there is the beginning of a tense atmosphere between the two girls. The situation is saved when Lily apologises, saying that things have been very difficult over the past few weeks, plus she is very worried about Freddie, who rang Elizabeth and said that he had had a pretty awful Christmas. “Never mind; you’ll soon be back at Uni in Manchester” Pip replies. Personally, I wouldn’t be so sure about that, as Elizabeth is still a long, long way of taking over responsibility for the smooth running of Lower Loxley, as Lily keeps telling Russ.

Having had Christmas off, the day after Boxing Day was eventful for Rooooth; not only was this the day that Ben rescued the heifer from the ditch, but Rooooth is facing a crisis of confidence and competence. It was the day of the Dress Rehearsal for Canterbury Tales and, if the old adage that ‘a bad dress rehearsal means a great first night’ carries any truth, then Canterbury Tales will be taking Broadway by storm before long. Words like ‘dire’, ‘appalling’ and ‘fiasco’ sum it up nicely. Rooooth cannot remember her lines and tearfully reminds David that she (along with the vast majority of the cast) never wanted to be in the production in the first place. Never mind, Rooooth has the solution - she will only appear on stage with a script in her hand “and if Lynda doesn’t like it, then I won’t do it at all.”

Brave words, but I fear Rooooth is wildly optimistic and is risking the wrath of Lynda and at least a flaying alive, if she’s lucky. David appears to realise this too and, probably worried that an annoyed Lynda could torch his barn in a fit of pique, tries to persuade his wife to abandon the script idea. He tells her that, when she spoke her lines to him, she was word perfect. Rooooth retorts that it was easy speaking at the kitchen table, but standing in front of a crowd is a different matter altogether. David says that he will be standing offstage, where Rooooth can see him and she should speak her lines to him alone and ignore the audience.

Friday is the opening night and Rooooth (who is playing the part of - among others - Chaucer) is the first to speak. She walks out on to the stage to be greeted by a huge roar of applause (which must have been difficult to ignore) and begins to speak. Of course, it all goes perfectly, as you always knew it would, and the barn remains unscathed. Another Snell triumph (and hopefully the last).

So, we say ‘goodbye’ to 2018 and welcome in the New Year. Neil and Peter wish you all a happy, peaceful and prosperous 2019 and thank you for your good wishes and comments over the past year.

Monday, 24 December 2018

Justin Refuses To Take The P***

Trevor Harrison (Eddie Grundy)

You have to hand it to Eddie Grundy - give him an inch and hell ask for a mile. On Tuesday he bumps into Justin in the shop and asks him if hes received Eddies messages, and when can he (Justin) let them have the number for the servicing of the Cider Clubs portable toilet? Eddie adds that it hasnt been emptied since Justin donated it, to which Justin replies that its nothing to do with him and leaves.

Later on, Eddie drops in at the Dower House, delivering logs, and he brings up the subject again, suggesting that Justin could swap the toilet with one on a building site and get it emptied. Once again, Justin points out that he only donated the toilet and its up to Eddie to look after it. But how are we supposed to empty it?Eddie asks. Youll think of somethingJustin tells him, helpfully.

And indeed he does; Thursday sees Eddie and son Ed at Grange Farm, with a borrowed slurry spreader. Ed is worried; surely it takes specialist expertise to operate one of these? Eddie is confident, saying that two talented farmers can cope with this problem. Oh, if only they had two talented farmers! The idea is to empty the toilet and pump the contents into the septic tank, so Eddie manoeuvres the tractor towards the latter and tells his son to get a strong grasp on the pipe, as he is going to start pumping. Ed yells out that the pipe needs to be nearer the tank, but Eddie presses on regardless. Emma is running towards them, excitedly, and Ed says that he needs more slack on the pipe and he cannot hold it.

The upshot is that Emma is covered with - well, is covered - from your belly button to your toesas Eddie describes it, with more than a note of amusement. Had I been Emma I would have been tempted to stuff the pipe down his throat, but she has some great news - she and Ed have got one of the affordable houses at the Beechwood development. Cue wild laughter and whoops of delight and Ed gives his wife a big hug, which must have been a lot of fun. We never did find out what happened to the toilet contents.

There was a moment that I felt a twinge of sympathy for Eddie as (pre-Emmas dousing) he remarked that he asked a few others to come and help, but they cried off. This is despite there being a massive work party the day before to try and get the barn fixed before the play. Indeed, Eddie and Ed spent a lot of time fixing the roof and he laments that, when Lynda Snell wants something, people turn up in their droves, but when the Grundys ask for help, suddenly everybody is elsewhere. And Im not surprised, if hes going to spray them with human waste - no doubt they all realised that, this being a Grundy plan, something bad was sure to happen. 

In answer to your questions, yes the roof was fixed and, yes, the million and one Health and Safety concerns were addressed and dealt with successfully and David announced that the barn was suitable to stage the Canterbury Tales. Lynda is super happy, except for the fact that she has realised that Nathan Booth is unsuitable for the role of narrator (well, hes never said anything) and who can she get to replace him? David wants to give his opinion and begins Well, I - and is interrupted by Lynda saying Well done David!and telling all present that David has volunteered to step up to the plate. There is wild cheering and a bemused David asks himself How the hell did that happen?Its because you opened your mouth David - wont you ever learn?

However, there is one major fly in the ointment of Lyndas delight; when she is congratulating Roy and Kirsty on their sorting out of the props cupboard, she notices one glaring omission - the fake bottom has disappeared. Yes folks, someone has pinched the bum! (And my thanks to the Radio 4 continuity announcer who originally coined that phrase after the Sunday Omnibus).

Christmas is a time of peace and goodwill to all men, unless you are Brian Aldridge, that is. Mind you, he could be forgiven for harbouring murderous thoughts as, a couple of days before contracts are due to be exchanged on the farmhouse, he learns from the Estate Agent that the buyers have read the survey and want £50k knocked off the asking price. A fuming Brian (he says there is nothing in the report to justify such a reduction) is all for telling them to stuff it, but Jenny is more pragmatic, saying that they could be waiting months to get another offer and their best bet is to ask the agent if the buyers could reduce their demand. It turns out that they are willing to drop by £10k and it is agreed to exchange at the end of the week. Brian vows to remove everything he legally can from the house, including the door handles, if he can get them off.

But look on the bright side, Brian - he learns that Roys neighbours, the Kemps, are looking for short-term tenants for Willow Cottage and he asks Roy if he can put in a good word for him and Jenny. However, Tom also learns of the upcoming vacancy and he wants to make a bid for it. Roy mentions this to Kirsty and she is less than thrilled at the prospect. Roy says that he thought all was OK between Kirsty and Tom, to which she replies Yes, but I wouldnt want him as a neighbour.Both Brian and Tom have meetings with the Kemps, who promise to decide on who will be their new tenants on Friday.

Friday arrives (this is the day of Lynda visiting the barn) and Roy, Tom and Kirsty are among those helping out. Roys phone rings and, because his hands are covered in oil, he asks Tom to answer it for him. Its Brian - hes just heard from the Kemps that he and Jenny will be the new tenants and would Tom thank Roy for the tips he gave Brian - they worked a treat and he owes him a drink.

Tom is less than pleased and Roy defends himself, saying that Brian kept asking him questions and he couldnt refuse to answer. Kirsty also isnt happy and, when Roy says that she said that she didnt want Tom as a next-door neighbour, she replies Yes, but now Ive got Mrs Snooty Jennifer Aldridge instead.Id just hibernate if I were you, Roy - like so much else in your life, you just cant win.

Brian tells Jenny that they have somewhere to live and its a pity that its only two bedrooms; one for them and one for Ruairi. But what about Kate?asks Jenny, alarmed. Brians reply to this could be summed up as stuff Kateas he points out that she has gone off to South Africa, just when they could have done with her help. Furthermore, shes forty years old and is big enough to sort out her own living accommodation. Failing that, she can stay in one of her precious yurtsher unsympathetic step-father concludes.

Over at Bridge Farm, Pat is getting into a state when Tom tells her that Natasha has brought over her presents for the family. Pat is taken aback by the use of the plural and it turns out that there are individual presents for everybody, including Johnny, Henry and Jack, as well as the adults. Tom asks his mother if she has Natashas present yet and, on receiving an affirmative reply, he says good; you can give it to her later today.

Helen returns home to find her mother standing in a sea of wrapping paper - Pat has undone all Natashas presents and is appalled at what she has spent - it must be at least £100. What can we say to her?Pat asks, wildly. Er - thank you?Helen suggests and asks what has Pat got for Natasha? The answer is an organic bath bomb, which cost £7.99 and is from all the family. Pat begins searching through her jewellery and comes across a bracelet, which she thinks will be suitable. Helen is mildly outraged - she bought the bracelet for her mother and it took a long time to find the charm attached to it; surely Pat cant give it away? Just watch her Helen - Pat is delighted to have found something and begins re-wrapping the presents (lets hope she gets the right presents with the correct labels). Natasha will love itsays Pat.Shed better, Helen mutters. I just hope to God that it hasnt got to the best Mum in the worldinscribed upon it somewhere.

Helen is slowly moving closer to Lee, who tells her that he missed his daughter’s Nativity play because his ex gave him the wrong date. “I love my kids, but I so had kids with the wrong person.” No doubt Helen is thinking ‘join the club’. He asks her what she is doing New Year’s Eve and she says she’s going to the party in The Bull. Lee says nothing, but what’s the betting he’ll be there?

Christmas is a stressful time at Lower Loxley and Lily is running herself ragged, juggling Deck the Halls and a full-blown conference. She is also chasing Glen, who isn’t a patch on Geraldine when it comes to administration and management. However, he is better than Elizabeth who, frankly, is about as much use as an ashtray on a motorbike. Russ also is a waste of space - he seeks out Lily to show her some sketches he has made of the falcons. Her response is to ask if there’s anything useful he can do - for example, helping in the Orangery kitchen. He is appalled - doesn’t she realise he’s an artist?

However, he does take Lizzie Christmas shopping, not to Borchester, but to much bigger and busier Felpersham. He wants to put petrol in the car and Lizzie’s offer to pay is accepted at a speed close to that of light. Lily rings her mother, who says that she is in a store and there are so many people that she cannot breathe. Lily realises that she is having a panic attack and rings Russ to get him to help.

He finds Lizzie and talks her down calmly, saying that he has faced this situation a number of times before, with students before (and during) exams. He’s very good at it. Later, back at Lower Loxley, Lily tries to thank Russ, but he’s sarcastic, saying that he’s glad he’s finally found something that he’s ‘useful’ at. He had already moaned at Lily because “I tore my life apart so that we can be together.” Bless! Is this the beginning of the end for Russ and Lily, or will they come together when Deck the Halls is all over? Will Lily ever go back to Uni? Who will buy petrol for Russ in the future? These are just a few of the questions that should be answered next year.

In the meantime, Neil and Peter wish all our loyal readers a peaceful, happy and healthy Christmas and all the best for 2019.
We hope you are still enjoying the blog and that you will continue to do so throughout the coming year. Tell your friends!

Merry Christmas!

Monday, 17 December 2018

Guess Who’s Coming To (Christmas) Dinner?

Andonis James Anthony (Russ Jones)

I won’t keep you in suspense - the answer to the question posed in the title is Russ, who turned up unexpectedly at Lower Loxley on Lily’s birthday, having once again been disappointed when Lily said that she’d definitely be in Manchester on Wednesday, only to decide that she couldn’t possibly leave Elizabeth to look after the stately pile just yet.

Russ turned up at the door (or one of them) of Lower Loxley, bearing a bottle of wine, only to be confronted by Elizabeth, who tells him that Lily is away visiting Freddie (it’s the day of the twins’ birthday) and he’d better come in. When Lily does return, she is happy to see Russ, but bursts into tears, telling him that the visit was awful - Freddie was totally blank.

You may wonder why Elizabeth didn’t go to see her son on his birthday - Russ did. Lily tells him (and, later Jill) that there was an unexpected crisis in the office, but this was a porkie, as the truth was that Lizzie just couldn’t face seeing Freddie - she would find it too upsetting and fears that she would not be able to hold it all together. Johnny accompanied Lily on the visit.

Lily gives Russ the guided tour and he is impressed by the scale and variety of Deck the Halls. Lily takes him ice skating, and afterwards they discuss what they are doing for the Festive Season. Russ wants to return to Manchester, but Lily feels that Elizabeth still cannot be left alone and asks Russ how he feels about spending Christmas at Ambridge? “The whole family will be there” she tells him, brightly. “Will they want me?” Russ asks, to which Lily replies “Of course.” She didn’t add that most of them will probably think that Russ is Elizabeth’s boyfriend rather than Lily‘s, due to the age difference.

Later on, Lily runs into Jill at Deck the Halls and asks her if she can bring her boyfriend to the Christmas meal (it is being held at Brookfield). Jill is surprised at the mention of a boyfriend - she thinks that Lily is a lesbian, due to the rumour put around by Freddie a few months ago, but says “That would be wonderful.” Lily thanks her, but I can’t help thinking that Russ will be the star player in a game of ‘Elephant in the Room’ come Christmas Day.

Actually, perhaps they should ask themselves if they really want to eat Jill’s cooking, as she was involved in an incident involving Ben’s sheepdog Bess and a tray of Jill’s cooking. What happened was that Jill was aware of Bess hanging around the back door and, in spite of Ben’s strict instructions to the contrary, she lets the dog into the kitchen. 

Shula turns up to go to a concert with her mother and the pair go off. When they return later, they encounter an obviously-distressed Bess and a missing plate of mince pies. Jill is distraught - she forgot all about Bess - and Shula says that they need to get the stricken pooch to the vet quickly.

The vet in question is Alistair and he gives Bess something to make her sick, then activated charcoal, and suggests that she is kept at the surgery overnight. To save you suffering from anxiety, Bess makes a full recovery and Jill is full of gratitude to Alistair - so much so that she drops in on him with a gift and, wait for it, the gift is a plate of home-cooked mince pies. I hoped she’d say ‘I think Bess only licked a couple’ but she didn’t. Alistair tastes one, which, bearing in mind the effect they had on Bess, is something of a leap of faith, and declares them excellent. Jill gives him a generous sponsorship amount for his forthcoming half marathon.

The pair discuss Christmas arrangements and Alistair says that he will be spending Christmas Day with dad Jim, plus Daniel and Jazzer. For her part, Jill rhapsodises about how the whole family is coming to Brookfield and how wonderful it will be to have them all together for Rosie’s first Christmas. Belatedly, she realises that this is a tad tactless, as Alistair and Shula are separated, but Alistair says that it doesn’t matter. At least Alistair didn’t throw up.

Going back to the title of this week’s episode, it could equally be asked of Natasha’s parents. At Bridge Farm, everybody is working hard, trying to plant what appears to be a prodigious number of trees. I know you are not going to believe this, but Tony is having a moan because Natasha is there and he fears that he will be lectured about trees and agro-farming. As it happens, Natasha gets stuck in and works as hard as, and quicker than, anyone else. Not only that, but she has got Johnny and Jazzer working flat out by promising them that if they get the job finished, she’ll buy the drinks. 

Not only that, but Natasha presents Pat and Tony with an expensive hamper as a ‘thank you’ (for what, for heaven’s sake?) and a celebration of the beginning of the new agro-forestry venture. Pat praises Natasha to Tony and he says “what’s that look for?” Pat’s reply is that it looks like Natasha is going to be around for a while.

When the planting is over, Tom thanks Natasha for her efforts, only to be told “Stop talking and kiss me”, which he does, thus prompting Pat’s remark about her being around. Natasha then asks Tom if he fancies joining her at her parents’ place in Wales over the Christmas period? Tom is undecided - can he spare the time away from the farm? The following day, Tom runs into Kirsty in The Bull and he tells her about Natasha’s invitation. Kirsty asks if it‘s serious (refraining to say ‘serious enough to leave her waiting at the altar‘) and, when Tom admits that he likes Natasha, she says “Dragging your feet won’t do any good” and urges him to accept the offer. Of course, this could be a cunning ploy to rid Ambridge of Tom for a week or two. Whatever, Tom asks Natasha if the offer is still open and, if so, he’d be delighted to accept. I wonder what Natasha’s parents will make of their unexpected guest?

The reason Kirsty was in the pub was that she was waiting for Roy to join her. This goes to show what a nice person Kirsty must be, as Roy is the red-hot favourite to walk off with this year’s ‘Tony Archer trophy for Ambridge’s most miserable git’. Still, as it’s Christmas, let’s be charitable and concede that at least he has something to be miserable about, given the situation with Lexi. Tom has obviously caught the charitable bug, as, on his way out of the pub to tell Natasha the good news, he invites Roy for a drink at the pub during the week. Roy will also join Kirsty for Christmas lunch at the pub. 

Keeping to our theme about Christmas dinners, we should mention Chris, who has turned down invitations from Jill and from Pat for a meal on Christmas Day. Peggy goes to see Chris at the Laurels and demands to know what’s going on. Chris says that she wants to stay at the Laurels and doesn’t want to return to the Lodge, not ever (and who can blame her, with Hilda Ogden still roaming free?). In fact, Chris is on the edge of signing up for an assisted living flat at The Laurels.

You could excuse Peggy for being a tad annoyed at this, having made extensive alterations to the Lodge in anticipation of Chris’s return, but instead, she is concerned that Chris is losing her independence and suggests that Chris signs nothing until the new year.

Over at Home Farm, Jennifer is going slowly demented, trying to get everything packed up, ready for a move-out before the new year. She is also trying to find somewhere for the family to live. Meanwhile, Brian is helping by wandering around, asking Jennifer if she has seen his reading glasses? When she blows up at him, saying how much work she has got on, he says that don’t worry - he will take over the job of finding accommodation. He tells her not to fret; he is on it now, and furthermore, he will enlist help in his search. You will be delighted to know that Jen found his glasses. “Where were they?” he asks. “On the bedside table, where you left them” his wife replies. “Well, they weren’t there earlier.” Brian says.

At the end of the week, Jenny is still at it and Brian tells her to stop and take a break - he has made some tea. Not only that, but he will order a takeaway so she doesn’t have to cook - he’s got a heart as big as the great outdoors. How’s the house-hunting going? Apparently there are no three-bedroom properties to rent in the area and this is confirmed by Lilian, when she turns up - yes, she was the person who Brian roped in to help in his quest. It seems to me that this frantic search is unnecessary - both Peggy and Lilian have offered to put the family up, and been turned down. I accept that this is not an ideal scenario, but surely it couldn’t hurt for a few weeks, could it?

At the end of last week’s blog, we learned that the Brookfield barn’s roof is leaking, putting the staging of the Canterbury Tales in jeopardy. David tells Lynda that the leak is the last straw, as there are about a dozen Health and Safety issues that have been flagged up by the Council. Lynda protests that the barn is the perfect setting for the production and is he sure that it isn’t possible to use the barn? David replies that ambience isn’t a good enough reason to take the risk. Lynda accepts this, adding that, nevertheless, it is a crushing disappointment.

Lynda passes on this viewpoint to Ben and Lilian, despite having asked David to keep the news to himself, and they both begin bending David’s ear. He points out that the Council are not responding to his e-mails or calls and, should they go ahead and use the barn and something goes wrong, then it would be his goolies in the mangle, as the owner.

Lilian sweeps his objections aside and says that he should concentrate on getting the Council onside, then, once they know what needs to be done, they can organise a task force to carry out the work - she throws out at least half a dozen names, without having consulted anyone; doesn’t she realise that these people either have jobs to go to, or if not, they might be a little busy, getting ready for Christmas?

David gets through to the Council (the previous lack of response was due to a communications cock-up) and they give him a list of things that would have to be done to make the barn fit for purpose. He has it in his hands to say ‘sorry; it can’t be done’ but instead of which, the Muppet says that, if they set aside one day next week, it could be done. That’s right Dave, never mind the work on the farm - the show must go on. Lilian is ecstatic and says “If you can pull this off, you’ll just about make Lynda’s year.” Yes, and ruin it for the other five million of us, David…