Monday, 16 July 2018

Maybe Staying In Hungary Would Have Been Less Stressful Debbie?

Tamsin Greig (Debbie Aldridge)

I’m afraid that much of this week’s blog will be taken up by events at Home Farm (aka the Allotment - see last week’s posting). Debbie flies in from Hungary in response to Brian’s pleas and he picks her up from the airport. He immediately tries to influence her opinion, but she tells him sternly that a) she is knackered by getting up at the crack of sparrow’s to catch her flight, b) she is not just there to rubber stamp Brian’s opinion and c) he has made an almighty cock-up of the entire situation and has ignored Kate’s opinions and not kept the family in the loop from day one.

Brian has already tried to stack the deck in his favour, by visiting Rooooth and telling her that her recent interventions at the last partners’ meeting were far from helpful and would she mind not raising the subject of selling the farmhouse? Plus, if Kate should broach the subject at the meeting on Friday, would Rooooth please keep her gob shut? Rooooth, who is getting increasingly fed up with the in-fighting among the Aldridges, says she will be as quiet as a mouse.

On arrival at Home Farm, Debbie says that she’d like to walk the farm and get a feel for what’s going on. Brian immediately offers to drive her, but Debbie shuns his offer and says that she will walk with Jennifer - it will give them a chance to catch up. Debbie is shocked by the scale of the clean-up operations at Low Mead and Jennifer raises the prospect of selling the farmhouse, saying that selling the house might keep the family together. Debbie replies that this is the time in Jennifer’s life when the children should be looking out for her and Brian and it is her job this week to come up with a better solution.

Good luck with that Debbie. Adam seeks out Rooooth “to find out where your head is at”. It’s that round, and some might say vacant, thing on top of her shoulders, Adam. Rooooth tells Adam about Brian’s attempt to gag her and he is apoplectic - how dare Brian tell Rooooth to keep quiet? Later, Adam tells Alice about Brian’s interference and Alice gets the wrong end of the stick, thinking that Rooooth is pro selling the farmhouse and it’s nothing to do with her. Alice (and this is without having had a drink, which is unusual for her) goes to see Rooooth and tells her to back off, to which Rooooth replies that she doesn’t have an axe to grind but, the way things are going, she’s very close to resigning as Ruairi’s attorney in the farm partnership and, to be perfectly honest, I don‘t think anyone would blame her for walking away. Whatever, none of this is making Debbie’s task any easier.

And things don’t get any better when Debbie meets with Kate to discuss possible alternatives. Kate is passionate about preserving Spiritual Home and tells Debbie that her sister just doesn’t understand what it means to her. “So tell me” says Debbie, and Kate explains that, when she found the site, it was perfect (being rent-free probably helped) and Kate cannot accept Debbie’s suggestion of moving location; even with compensation. SH is the first thing that Kate has made a success of and enabled her children to look up to her. Even Phoebe (see last week’s blog speculating on brain damage brought on by excessive studying at Oxford) has begun sticking up for her mother, which is a first.

Thus far Debbie must be wondering why she flew over from Hungary, apparently as it seems that her second in command Lazlo is a complete tosser who cannot cope if Debbie so much as has an extra half hour for lunch. In desperation, she rings up David and asks if he is available for a stiff drink. Of course; when was she thinking of? “Now would be good” she replies. Over a pint of whisky (probably not) she pours out her troubles to him and says “Whatever we decide on Friday, someone I love is going to get badly hurt.”

On Thursday, Brian is still trying to find out which way Debbie is thinking. Alice tells her father that they are sure to win, but Brian is not 100% convinced. At a family lunch (minus Kate, Adam and Alice) Jennifer forbids any talk about the forthcoming meeting. Afterwards, she asks her daughter (while looking at photo albums when Debbie was five years old) if she has come up with a solution. Debbie admits that she hasn’t and Jennifer asks if she has considered selling the farmhouse. Debbie is adamant that this is not an option - Jenny has put so much into making it a home (and Brian has put a fair few £1000s into the kitchen as well). “That’s your heart talking, darling” Jen says, “but what’s your head saying?”

It’s the morning of the partnership meeting and Brian has gone walkabout, which is annoying for Jenny, as she wants to talk to him. He eventually comes back and Jenny says that they are going into the meeting and tell everybody that the only solution is to sell the farmhouse. “We’ve tried everything else and anything other will break up the family.” Brian says surely they can find a compromise, but Jenny is adamant - they have tried and all they have done is to create a lot of bitterness.

“But if I can’t keep a roof over my family’s house, what sort of man am I?” Brian asks. Hm, how about devious, slippery, adulterous, priapic and probably at least half a dozen more adjectives that I’m sure our readers could supply with a few seconds’ thought.

Jennifer says that this is the only solution that will keep the family together. But what about Ruairi? Jen says that she had a long talk with him and he is sensitive to the toxic atmosphere at Home Farm - and that’s within the family, rather than the clean-up at Low Mead - and he would rather live in a smaller house than see the whole family fall apart. Jen tells her husband: “If you really do care for me Brian and want what’s best for all our children, we’d better go and tell everybody what we‘ve decided, hadn’t we Brian?” I just love the ’we’ and I’d like to hear Alice’s reaction.

But away from Home Farm, there is trouble with the reconditioned ’Whack A Mole’ machine. To cut a long and, it has to be said, tedious, story short, it’s not working well - indeed, it’s not working at all. It’s not the snail cams and, despite what Kenton, Jim and Justin might think, it’s not the touch sensors. No, the frame is out of true and some delicate bashing gets it back into shape, with moles popping up at random. The moles have been lovingly refurbished by Lynda, although there is a body of opinion that they look a little sinister, but when the machine has its first successful run, Monty the Doberman nips in and decapitates one.

This brings us neatly to the Pets’ Party Pieces section of the Fete. Lynda has been trying to get Monty to count to 10 (perhaps she would be better off entering him in the ‘destroying Fete equipment’ section). So far, Monty has managed to count up to - one, which is not that impressive - for God’s sake, even Jazzer can do better than that, on his day.

PPP is gripping the village - apparently Lilian has Abba blasting out all the day (no-one knows why) and Justin visits Lynda, as a representative of the Fete committee, to see if she would be interested in Berrow Farm sponsoring the first prize in the PPP competition. He also has another suggestion; how about Neil as the PPP judge? Lynda wants some second rate local journalist, but he seems incapable of returning an e-mail, so she’ll think about it. (I’d just like to say that, as a semi-retired trade journalist, I find these slurs on my profession offensive, but we all have our cross to bear).

Justin was given the idea by Susan, who used Neil’s phone, and it’s fair to say that Neil is far from thrilled at the prospect, while his wife thinks it will greatly enhance his standing in the community. No it won’t - let’s say that there are 10 entrants for PPP, then if Neil picks one, then that means he has pissed off nine pet owners, who will probably never buy Berrow Farm pork again. Susan also tells Emma that she needn’t worry about getting one of the new houses, as she has ‘a secret weapon’, by which she means Neil will have a word with Justin; something else that Neil isn’t at all happy about.

Over at the Stables, Anisha deals Alistair another hammer blow. The good news is that she’s got cover for her equine appointments; the bad news is that she’s off in a couple of weeks. Alistair protests that he can never get the financial settlement in place in this short timescale, but Anisha is leaving anyway. Rex is worried - Anisha’s employers have sorted out a flat for them and she is expecting him to move with her. Rex is concerned - can he tie up the loose ends in Ambridge? Pip says it will be great for him and he should seize the opportunity. On a slightly less cerebral note, Toby says that, if Rex isn’t interested in a relationship with Anisha, ”tell her I’m warming up on the sub’s bench.” Yuck!

And so to Brookfield, where Josh is appropriating more tarpaulins and hay bales for his temporary spray paint booth. David and Rooooth broach the subject of rent, paying thereof, but Josh makes an excuse and leaves. Later on, David tracks him down and raises the subject again. Josh has a plan - how about that they wait till the end of the financial year, then they can go through Josh’s accounts and set a fair commercial rent. After all, as he tells his dad, if he has a few lean months, he wouldn’t want his parents to feel guilty about harming his business.

David remarks that Josh is looking for nine months’ rent-free tenancy on the farm. “Gosh, is it that long?” Josh asks, in well-feigned astonishment. David confirms that, yes it is, but surprises his son by agreeing to his terms. But there is a catch - he is sure that Josh wouldn’t want to take advantage of his parents, so David thinks that, in the interim, Josh should pay a commission - say 5% or even 10% - on any machine he sells; that way, if he has a lean month or two, he won‘t be penalised. Josh isn’t happy, but realises that he has been out-thought. And serve the pretentious little twister right.

Monday, 9 July 2018

Welcome To The Allotment (Sorry, I Meant Home Farm)

Lucy Morris (Phoebe Aldridge)

Well, it’s an easy mistake to make, as if Brian keeps selling off a bit here, a few acres there, Adam’s fruit enterprise will consist of one cherry tree and God only knows what will become of the herbal leys. Still, it’s an ill wind, as he won’t then be worried about a shortage of pickers. The gigantic combine will have a new use, trimming the Home Farm handkerchief-sized lawn.

But it is with Phoebe that I want to start this week, as we had clear proof that the pressure of Oxford has obviously warped her brain. Kate has taken herself off somewhere and the only contact with her family is via a solicitor’s letter, informing Brian that, if the land near Spiritual Home is sold, then she will sue. “She’s bluffing” says Brian and runs off to instruct his own solicitor.

Things are not going according to plan as Harriet (solicitor) tells Brian that Kate has a point and it might be prudent to call off the land sale (I promise that I will get round to talking about Phoebe soon). Brian tells Adam that, to cover Kate’s share, they would have to sell even more land – the allotment of this week’s title moves a step nearer.

But never mind! Brian has a possible solution to keep Kate and everybody else happy and he runs it past Adam. Actually, he runs it intoAdam, who is appalled – the soft fruit operation would be decimated, arable would be severely curtailed and the farm would be a shadow of its former self. “No, no, no!” says Adam, adding “it’s not going to happen” which is exactly the phrase he used to Jennifer when she brought up the subject of selling the house. Brian is convinced he is right “It’s a compromise” he tells Adam. “It’s a surrender!” Adam retorts and he informs Brian that, if he tries to sell the land, then he (Adam) will take a leaf out of Kate’s book and sue for his share. The words ‘back to’, ‘square’ and ‘one’ spring to mind.

So, that’s two of the partnership implacably opposed to the two solutions put forward thus far, but they are not the only ones involved. Rooooth, in her role as Ruairi’s representative, did suggest that selling the house could be an option, but nobody is really for that idea. So far we haven’t heard from Alice or Debbie, but, in Alice’s case at least, this is swiftly remedied, as she turns up, demanding to know what the – is going on and why can’t she get in touch with Kate and where the hell is she, anyway? Jennifer is trying to keep the peace, but there are so many different factions that she is having a hard time of it. She confides in Alice that she was given a hard time earlier by Phoebe and it is here that we learn that Pheebs has lost it big time and needs to seek help, urgently.

Why do I say this? It’s because Phoebe told Jennifer that her mother has done more for the farm than any other member of the family and has built up her business from nothing, so why should she be loyal when no-one else cares about her? Is the girl insane?

Obviously all the studying (or I suppose it could be drugs) has warped Phoebe’s view of the world - and why has her outlook changed so drastically? After all, it was only a couple of weeks ago that Phoebe was helping Jenny refresh Spiritual Home (fresh buffalo dung on the outside of the yurts, I reckon) and moaning because Kate wasn’t helping them, alongside comments like they shouldn’t be surprised, given Kate’s track record.

Let’s look at Phoebe’s deluded ramblings in the cold light of day. First of all, Kate’s contribution to the farm and its running. As far as we know, she pays no rent and lives in the holiday cottage that her parents gave her a few years back, coming back to Home Farm only when she feels the need to raid Brian’s wine cellar. She doesn’t contribute to the running of the farm in any way whatsoever and the only active thing that she has done on the farm is shag Toby Fairbrother a couple of times.

As for building up a business from nothing, her business plan was laughed to scorn by Brian and Spiritual Home only saw the light of day because Debbie offered to invest in her. I believe that she was given the land for SH for free and the business operates there without paying rent. I mean, when it first started, Kate even raided the Farmhouse for the best bits of furniture and decorations for the yurts.

Compare and contrast this, as they used to say in examinations, with the input of the other partners. Admittedly, Debbie doesn’t contribute much, living in Hungary and Alice has her own career, but then again, the two girls aren’t threatening to throw their toys out of the pram and break up the partnership. Adam on the other hand, has threatened to do just that, but when it comes to measuring his contribution to the success of the farm compared to Kate’s efforts, there’s no contest.

Adam runs the soft fruit operation, organises the polytunnels, recruits the picker workforce and makes sure they are looked after. Adam is hands-on with the arable side of things; not only on Home Farm, but carrying out contract work for BL and Brookfield, all of which brings in money. Adam used to spend countless nights in the lambing shed, seeing to difficult births and abandoned lambs. He works all the hours God gave and, on top of all this, he looks after the deer herd and has also been instrumental in improving the quality of the soil at Home Farm immeasurably in order to ensure the farm’s sustainability in years to come. All this is Adam’s contribution. Kate on the other hand sits in a tent, plays weird music and heats up a rock every now and then.

Rooooth unwittingly complicates the Home Farm situation when she goes to see Jennifer in order to see if she made things worse when she suggested considering the sale of the farmhouse (yes Rooooth, you did). Jen asks her to be honest about selling the house; after all, she and David very nearly gave up Brookfield some time back. Rooooth makes a worse thing worser, to coin a phrase, when she says it wasn’t the house that made them stay, it was the land. I seem to remember that Justin Elliott was willing to pay £7.5 million for Brookfield, but that’s by the by.

Jennifer is coming round to the idea of selling the house, but Brian won’t hear of it and is taking refuge in whisky. Jennifer says she cannot stand the situation any longer and runs off to bed, saying that she is exhausted and shattered. Brian rings Debbie in Hungary and begs her to come home. Why? So she can talk sense into Kate, Alice and Adam, plus he fears Jenny is on the edge. “We’re at crisis point” he tells his daughter, “I can’t do this on my own. Please. I need you here – now.”

We’ve spent a lot of time on Home Farm, but what else has been happening? Fallon cannot make up her mind about bridesmaids and she still hasn’t found a wedding dress. Jazzer offers to help her look for one and the pair spend a lot of time going from shop to shop, with Jazzer knocking back the free Prosecco. Eventually they find the exact thing in a vintage clothes shop and Fallon also decides on the bridesmaid dilemma, by asking Jazzer if he would be her bridesman. He is stunned at first, but eventually agrees, saying “OK, but no taffeta.” I can hardly wait.

Alistair is on a downward spiral, as his solicitor reckons that any money that he gets from Shula will be spent in buying out Anisha. Alistair tells Jazzer to get another round in and Jazzer comments about how much Alistair is drinking, so you know that it must be a huge amount if Jazzer thinks it’s a lot. While Jazzer is at the bar, Alistair puts some money in a slot machine – the ex-gambler’s spiral just got that bit steeper.

Freddie and Lily still can’t decide whether or not to grass each other up over his drugs dealing and her affair with a tutor. Surely someone is going to notice something soon? The situation is made more complicated when Lily finds out that Freddie has been dealing to the pickers at Home Farm. That’s all the Aldridges need right now – the drug squad moving in and taking Adam’s labour force away.

Lynda has been having a frustrating time, trying to find someone to take the part of goalkeeper in a ‘beat the goalie’ competition for the fete. Eventually, Emma agrees to do it, but she hasn’t a clue what she has signed up for. I thought she was already working 24/7? Emma is not a happy camper – having been tipped off by Pat about the amazing shrinking affordable homes story, she confronts Justin, who fobs her off with the spiel about profitability. Pat seeks out Emma, who tells her that her hopes have been dashed. Pat says that, as a Parish Councillor, Emma can campaign against Justin and that she will stand shoulder to shoulder with her. Emma agrees – something needs to be done. If Justin is looking for a quiet life, I’d make sure that Emma was first on the list for a home – that is assuming that there will be any built at all, of course.

Rex is worried about the forthcoming move to Newmarket – he wants to be part of his new niece or nephew’s life. Gosh yes, it is so far away, isn’t it? Must be 35 miles if it’s an inch. Rex also wants to look after Toby, but Tobes, in a rare bit of self-awareness, says that it’s time he stood on his own two feet and Rex should follow his heart. Sound advice Tobes, so go, Rex – now.

Two other people having doubts about the future are Tom and Helen. Having taken up the mantle of running Bridge Farm, they don’t seem quite able to decide what to do with it. Eventually, they realise that their grandiose scheme for a new building as an educational establishment is not a goer and that Helen’s cheese-making courses are only ever going to attract a paltry few punters. The answer? To concentrate on their core values, for Helen to develop a new soft cheese, put the new building on hold and Tom to concentrate on developing kombucha, which is apparently a healthy alternative to fizzy drinks and, yes, I believe it isfermented. I swear, we were thatclose to being given a mission statement.

Johnny is disappointed in the plans – he feels that Bridge Farm is turning from being a farm to a food processor – it was the thin end of the wedge when they got rid of the dairy herd. To Johnny, a farm is a place with animals, crops, drones and driverless tractors, while to Tom it is a place where things go ‘gloop’ in steel vats. Sadly for Johnny, Tom’s the gaffer, but maybe Johnny’s time will come – let’s face it, even if kombucha (and no, I couldn’t be bothered to look it up) is twice as successful as kefir, it will still be a monumental waste of time. 

Monday, 2 July 2018

Another Twist Of The Knife

Anneika Rose (Anisha Jayakody)

Anisha returned home after visiting friends in Newmarket, with some news for Rex – she hadn’t just been visiting friends, but had applied for a job there and she got it. It’s a dream job for an equine vet “and they virtually offered me a partnership” she tells Rex. Well, did they or didn’t they? It’s important to clarify these things, I would suggest. She is over the moon and she wants Rex to go with her; after all, he has never settled in Ambridge, not in a professional sense. So what are all those pigs at Hollowtree? Rex gave it about three seconds’ thought and then said ‘yes’. If he goes, I hope he takes Toby with him.

There is one small problem, in that Anisha already has a partnership with Alistair; he will have to be told. The opportunity arrives the same day, when the two vets are tending to a horse that had a difficult foaling. Things look OK, but then the foal starts to fit and only emergency action by Anisha saves its life. Alistair bangs on about what a great equine vet she is and what a good partnership they make and Anisha tells him about the Newmarket job. Unsurprisingly, Alistair is unhappy and accuses her of stabbing him in the back and “I’ve been covering for you so you can go for an interview?”

Anisha protests that it wasn’t like that, but Alistair points out that they bought in a load of new equipment for horses and the debt on these still has to be serviced. To be fair to Alistair, he does have a point, as they spent around £250 k, from memory and Anisha is a much better equine vet than Alistair – he probably doesn’t know what half the stuff is for. Alistair accuses her of planning to run out on him, like Shula “and they say lightning doesn’t strike in the same place twice.” He adds that, between Anisha and Shula, they have finished him, whether they meant to or not.

So, I think it’s fair to say that Alistair has had better days and he is in a foul mood, as we learn the next day, when Lynda tells Lilian that she phoned Alistair to see if he would be the vet in residence for the ‘Pets’ Party Pieces’ at the fete – apparently this is proving a huge success and, so many animals have been entered that Lynda decided a vet was needed to look after them on the day. Alistair told her “to find some other mug” and put the phone down. Lynda was affronted, but we learn later that Alistair rang her to apologise and of course he would be delighted to look after the animals. Sounds to me like he realised that, with Anisha gone, he will need all the work he can get and insulting the good people of Ambridge really isn’t the best way to go about achieving this. 

It was a fairly dramatic week for a lot of people in Ambridge; take Freddie and Lily, for example. They are partying to celebrate the end of exams and Lily has a run-in with Ellis. She tells him that he will get his come-uppance one day, but the good thing is that, after today, Freddie need never set eyes on him again. Ellis is amused and says that Freddie never stopped dealing drugs and the two of them are really going to clean up; how else is Freddie going to pay for all his planned travelling? “Face it – you don’t know Freddie at all”, Ellis taunts her.

Lily promptly confronts Freddie and tells him that she is really frightened for him, so much so that she is going to tell Elizabeth about the drugs. Freddie counters this by saying that, in that case, he will tell his mother about Lily’s affair with Deputy Principal Russ. Lily doesn’t care and Freddie raises the stakes by saying that he won’t just tell Elizabeth, but everybody; the college, the press and Russ’s wife. Lily walks off, so we don’t know how the matter was resolved, if it ever was.

There was a surprise in store for Emma as Susan told her that she and Neil want to contribute towards the cost of their deposit on one of the new houses. Emma wasn’t the only one surprised, as this was the first that Neil had heard of it and the shock caused him to cut himself on the knife he was using to prepare the vegetables. Susan says how lovely it is that they can afford to help Emma and Neil points out that it is hardly fair on Christopher. Wrong answer Neil! Susan promptly says that they can give him the same amount of money as well. If I were you, Neil, I’d start looking for some overtime, the way Susan is spending your wages.

Actually, there is a chance that there may not be many of the affordable houses on the market. At the start of the week, Pat meets Lilian and the discussion turns to progress on the development site. Lilian is a touch cagey and reveals that there has been “a little hiccup” on the affordable houses front – there will still be some, just not as many as was first mooted. Pat is furious; partly with Justin and partly with herself for being taken in – this is exactly what everybody said would happen and what a fool she has been.

This being Pat, she cannot let it rest (just think of the £900k in the bank, Pat) and goes round to see Justin to give him a piece of her mind. Justin says that nothing has been set in stone yet, but Pat won’t be fobbed off. Justin says that the development has to be profitable and profits have already been pared to the bone. “Perhaps you’d like me to abandon it altogether?” Justin asks. “Is that a threat?” demands Pat, to which Justin replies that his hands are tied. “Well, mine aren’t” Pat tells him. If I were you Emma, I’d get your name down on the list pretty sharpish.

At Brookfield, Josh continues to run his reconditioned farm machinery business. David is getting annoyed, as things seem to be slipping out of his control. For example, Josh goes to a sale and tells David that he bought “one or two” machines. When they turn up, there are seven of them and Josh parks them in a barn that David wanted to use for something else. Not only that, but Josh reveals his plan to convert part of the barn into a temporary paint shop, using bales of hay to block the area off. David tells his son that, if he was storing the machines anywhere else, he would have to pay rent, plus he couldn’t just annex a barn or two whenever he wanted. Josh cannot see this and says to David that the machines will only be around for a month or two.

David runs the rent idea past Adam, who agrees that it might make Josh appreciate what things are like in the real world. David also tells Josh that, while he (David) admires Josh’s determination to grow his business, he cannot expect to keep doing it for free. I think that young Josh is in for a rude awakening before long.

Things are hotting up at Home Farm over the proposed sale of land near Spiritual Home. Jen and Phoebe (whose 20thbirthday it was on Thursday) are getting stuck in on giving SH a makeover. Unfortunately, Kate is not helping them and keeps going off to no-one knows where, pursuing some business of her own.

Brian is digging his heels in – the sale of the land is the only possible answer to how to pay for the clean-up and he won’t hear otherwise. Kate keeps trying to ring him, but he blanks her. She wants to call an emergency meeting of the farm partnership but Adam is too busy. Brian eventually tells Kate that they cannot spare any time for yet another meeting, but Kate goes behind his back. While Brian is visiting Brookfield on some errand, Rooooth casually tells him that she has set time aside for the emergency meeting that Kate has called for the following day. Brian is thunderstruck – this is the first he has heard of it “There isn’t going to be any meeting” he tells Rooooth.

Wrong again, Bri! We learn that Kate has been talking to Debbie, who is all for the meeting, as is Alice, who has juggled her work schedule to make time for it. Phoebe tells her granddad that Adam is coming too and Alice tells him to face facts – he has been out-manoeuvred and the meeting is going to happen. Would he like a drink to celebrate Phoebe’s birthday? Brian says that he might just bring a bottle to the meeting.

Just touching on Phoebe’s birthday for a while, Kate’s present to her daughter was an open air ticket to South Africa for whenever she likes. Where does Kate get the money from? I thought SH was on its uppers? Mind you, if Phoebe were to take Kate with her to South Africa, I might pay for the ticket myself.

And so to the meeting. Brian is in prickly mood “Let’s get this over with” is how he greets the others. Kate says she has taken legal advice and it appears that her share of any land sale cannot be used to fund the clean-up without her specific permission. Furthermore, if the rest of the family forces through the sale of the land, she will sue for her share. This goes down like a lead balloon and the members of the family say that surely she wouldn’t contemplate taking such action?

Kate responds by saying that she’s only talking about the land near SH – if they decide to sell any other land, she would gladly let her share go towards the clean-up.  Brian protests that the sale of land near SH is the only viable alternative but Kate says that they haven’t explored every possibility and drops her bombshell – have they considered selling the farmhouse – it should easily fetch £1 million? Actually, that’s what Jennifer spent on the kitchen, I reckon.

The other family members are stunned, with Jennifer saying “but it’s our home Kate” and Brian asking “You’d turn your mother and me out of our own house just to save Spiritual Home?” Got it in one, Brian! If I were him, I’d repossess Kate’s holiday cottage and turn her out on to the street. To say that Kate’s idea is unpopular is a gross understatement, but amid all the insults and anger, there is one dissenting voice, as Rooooth says “Kate has got a point – it is something we haven’t considered and Kate’s right; the house is a major asset. At the very least it’s worth discussing, isn’t it?” Rooooth my love, I doubt if you have ever been so close to death as you were then. 

Tuesday, 26 June 2018

A Bit Of A Let-Down

Sunday was the night of Rooooth's 50th birthday party (it was also Usha's birthday, but nobody seemed to care much about that). Everybody agreed that Jennifer had done a wonderful job of organising the event, with the floral columns and a jazz quintet playing in the background. Personally, I thought that the Red Arrows' fly-past, the marching band of the Grenadier Guards and personal appearances from Prince Harry and Meghan were a bit over the top, but what do I know?


Something that everyone agreed was a big hit was Kenton's surprise to liven things up. What was it? A bouncy castle for grown-ups, which was enthusiastically tried out by David and Kate, amongst others. In fact, as we shall see later, Kate gave it a really thorough test.


Kenton was a tad annoyed, as it turned out that someone had made a hole in the castle, which it will cost him to put right. Never mind; Monday night is England's first game in the World Cup and Kenton has a packed bar, all waiting for the match to be screened. Except the big TV refuses to work and nobody can put it right. PCB suggests that they all come over to his (I bet Fallon was thrilled) and the bar empties, leaving a disconsolate Kenton alone, muttering "This day is going from bad to worse." Cheer up Kenton – at least England won.


On the night of the party, Toby has volunteered to drive Jill home, but he has disappeared. On Wednesday, Rex finds him on the phone, apologising to Pip for forgetting. He also says that he is too busy to see her right now. Rex asks why is he avoiding Pip and Toby is evasive. Rex, who obviously knows his brother very well, says "OK, what have you done?" Toby says he will tell him, but he must promise to keep shtum. Annoyingly, the action switches to somewhere else and we don't learn the secret.


At least, not until later, when there is a crowd of people in the pub. They are discussing Eddie's idea of holding a sweepstake to guess the name of Pip and Toby's baby and Kate is there, telling everyone how important it is to choose the right name and explaining the significance of Phoebe's Christian names (I thought she said the middle names were Moondancer Fairydust, but I admit my attention was wandering). Anyway, Kate also tells everybody that keeping secrets is poisonousand that is why she'd like it to be known that she and Toby had sex together the night of the party and, in addition, it was they who caused the deflation of the bouncy castle. Kate airily explains that it meant nothing ("Thanks" Toby mutters) and she hopes Pip doesn't mind. Pip says that Toby is a free agent. "Good" says Kate and goes off to tell Kenton about the bouncy castle.


Pip then demonstrates that, despite what she said, she does mind. "How dare you?" she yells at Toby. He says he's sorry; it was stupid and selfish but he's put all that behind him and now he is a changed man. Pip is all set to give him a piece of her mind, but she is interrupted by Kate returning, at a loss to understand why Kenton is so livid about her confession about damaging the castle (Kate had been wearing killer heels the night of the party). Light dawns on Pip: "Is that when you…? How is that even possible…?" Kate begins to tell her, but Pip says "No – I don't want to know!"


I'm sorry, but I cannot believe that someone of the age of forty could be so insensitive to other people's feelings; not even Kate. She leaves the pub and returns to Home Farm, where she has a moan to Alice about how her business at Spiritual Home has been decimated and Alice tells her that Brian has intimated that there could be a job for Alice at Home Farm in the future (assuming there's anything left of it by then). This is exactly what Kate doesn't want to hear – "no-one has offered me a job" (are you surprised?) and "once again I've been left out – nobody takes me seriously." It's all that shagging on a large inflatable, wearing six-inch heels, I reckon. If Kate is expecting sympathy, she is disappointed, as Alice becomes the latest to have a go at her, suggesting that Kate takes a long, hard look at herself. "You need to grow up," Alice tells her sister, adding: "otherwise you are going to find yourself very sad and very alone."


Someone who does seem to care about Kate is Phoebe, who, when her mother pours out her woes to her, saying that her business is dying and there's nothing she can do, tries to be positive, saying that Kate has so many good ideas and has so much to offer (I'll say – just ask Toby). Phoebe tells her mother to "stop sulking and start fighting".


Later on, Phoebe confides in Jennifer how worried she is about Kate – she seems so unhappy. Jenny is more worried about the effect all this is having on Phoebe, but her granddaughter says that Jenny ought to be concerned about Kate, not her. Eventually, Jenny says that it would be a pity if Spiritual Home folded, as it's one of Kate's major achievements. Sorry? 'One of?' Go on, name me another that isn't Phoebe. Jennifer is now completely onside with operation cheer-Kate-up, saying "It won't be easy, but if anyone can pull Kate out of this spiral, it's got to be us."


However, help is at hand – Usha has been given a voucher for hot stones treatment at Spiritual Home and turns up on Friday. Kate launches into a monologue about how everyone is against her and how they want to destroy her business, to the extent that she forgets what she is doing and is interrupted by Usha's cries of pain because the stones are way too hot or when Kate absent-mindedly knots Usha's legs behind her head. Kate apologises and offers Usha a complimentary head massage. Usha decides to risk it and, halfway through she tells Kate that she may have a point; it's not Usha's area of expertise, but the family partnership sounds odd to her and she suggests that Kate has a word with one of her colleagues. The thought that she might have a legal case puts new life into Kate and she is elated. "I'm damned if I'm giving up Spiritual Home without a fight – the family have been banking on it, but there's no way I'm going to let them destroy me!" Upon which, she triumphantly rips Usha's remaining hair from her head.


But enough about Kate. The 'pets talent contest' theme of the Fete is getting on my nerves already, with Lynda telling Lilian that she is going to teach Monty to count up to ten. Lynda is disparaging about Ruby's lack of talent, to the extent that Lilian is stung into saying that she will enter Ruby – it's just a question of which of her many talents to showcase. I suggest reading Proust in the original French. We learn that others are going to enter too – Nathan Booth is having a ventriloquism act with his bearded dragon, while Joe is having a hard time doing something – thankfully unspecified – with Daphne the ferret. Don't tell anyone, but I am entering my pet as an impressionist – Twiggy the stick insect does a blinding impression of a bit of wood.


Over at St Stephen's, Neil is worried. Apparently there is a nationwide bell ringing extravaganza planned for Armistice Day to mark the 100thanniversary of the end of World War I and Neil is short of ringers. He butters up son Chris (who is a ringer too) to try and get some young blood on to the team and Chris muses about how is he supposed to make bell ringing sound cool or sexy? Well, I've been looking at a glossary of ringing terms (the things I do for you and this blog) and I came across 'Handstroke – a cycle of movement that's started by pulling on the sally' and the 'tail end, which is pulled at the backstroke.' Surely any red-blooded youngster would find these intriguing enough to investigate further?


Chris is approached by PCB, who wants to make sure that he can stay at Chris's on the eve of the wedding. Chris says 'of course' and PCB asks what can he do to thank him? Funny you should ask, Harrison, as Chris ropes him in for bell ringing. "How hard can it be?" asks PCB. The answer to this is 'bloody hard' as Neil lets it be known that there will be no larking about in his tower and Harrison had better listen to what he's told and concentrate on what he's doing and not to touch anything without permission. Neil's still telling PCB what to do when the ringers go to the pub afterwards to celebrate Chris's 30th birthday, preparatory to hitting the clubs of Felpersham (isn't 30 a bit old to go clubbing?). Harrison takes Chris to one side and tells him that he has been racking his brains over his choice of Best Man "and all this time, the answer's been staring me in the face." Chris proves that he's not the quickest on the uptake when he says "your brother?" upon which PCB gets down on one knee and asks Chris to be his Best Man. The penny drops and Chris agrees. Good lad.


Will is being driven mad by Martyn Gibson's micro-managing of him, wanting to know how everything is done and in the minutest detail. Will is still pursuing his claim for custody of the children and has an appointment with a solicitor. Disaster! Jenny rings up – a number of birds have got loose and are wandering around the lanes. Will has to go and catch them and, as a result, he misses the solicitor's appointment (don't worry Will, they'll probably still charge you for it). Eddie is secretly pleased, as he thinks that the custody claim will just result in bad blood between Will and Andrew. Hopefully this will give Will time to come to his senses. Want to bet?


Let's end this week with Rex. Anisha has been away and, at Rooooth's party, there was a girl (called Xanthi, which made me wonder if she had been named by Kate. However, I reckon she was conceived in northern Greece. Either that or her parents were big fans of the enzyme xanthine oxidoreductase) who was all over Rex like a rash. Josh teases Rex about it and tells him that Pip thinks Xanthi is in love with him and has he told Anisha about what happened? Rex says that nothing happened – he told Xanthi he was spoken for. As it happens, he hasn't told Nish, but he will, later. In passing, Josh says that he thought Rex had a thing about Pip. This touches a nerve and Rex quickly says that they are just mates.


True to his word, Rex mentions the Xanthi incident (or, rather, the lack of it) to Anisha and she is completely unfazed. In fact, she couldn't really give a toss, but she can understand it, as Rex isn't bad looking. You might think that this would be a weight off Rex's mind and he should be flattered that Anisha trusts him so completely, but perverse are the ways of men – he keeps asking her if she's sure she's OK with it and, when Anisha replies that she cannot take it seriously, Rex seems disappointed that she isn't even the tiniest bit jealous. Count your blessings, Rex and don't do anything stupid – you're not Toby, after all.


Sunday, 17 June 2018

Should’ve Read The Small Print, Kate

Perdita Avery (Kate Madikane)

The week started - saints be praised - with Kate definitely awol after flouncing out (Adam’s description, not mine, but I’m with him 100%) after learning that the latest Home Farm Land Fire Sale will mean lorries passing very close to Spiritual Home and, quite frankly, buggering up the Chakra or something equally mystical.

Jennifer is distraught - where can her daughter be? Brian doesn’t give a toss and Adam made the ‘flouncing out’ comment. Jennifer points out that Kate knows the history of the contamination and, if she were to blab, it could be embarrassing, to say the least. Also, Phoebe is coming home this weekend and how will she feel if her mother isn’t there? Far be it for me to second guess Phoebe’s feelings, but I reckon she would be doing handsprings and running around doing fist pumps and shouting “Yes, Yes! Yes!!”

However, we will never know, as Kate returns at the end of the week (do you think that the scriptwriters deliberately try to mess up our weekends?) to be met by Brian saying “So, you’re back” in a bored voice. But wait! Kate has momentous news - she is going to sell her share in the family partnership and move away to the Kent coast to set up a new Spiritual Home. Way to go! Thank you God!

Hardly had I poured the champagne when Brian peed in it (metaphorically) by saying that it’s not as simple as selling her share for cash. Firstly, the other partners have to agree (Kate assumed they would buy her out) and, secondly, any payment would be made over ten years at a very low rate of interest. Oh yes; Kate would also be giving up income from the farm in the interim. Kate doesn’t understand (surely not?) and Brian twists the knife a little by saying that the idea of setting up somewhere else is laughable. 

“But that’s not fair” Kate protests, to which Brian says “Not fair? This isn’t nursery darling; haven’t you understood any of this? I thought you were a businesswoman.” Kate replies that there was so much small print, she couldn’t understand it all and her father doesn’t make it any easier when he tells her “That’s what you signed, I’m afraid. I can only suggest that you read contracts more carefully before you make any more ludicrous plans. We all have to make sacrifices in this life Kate, and I’m afraid this is yours.”

While we applaud Brian for stitching up his daughter tighter than a mailbag and seemingly enjoying it as much as I did, there is a downside. Let’s assume that she had sold her share and moved to Kent (or, preferably, Kathmandu) then she would have been gone. Now, however, she will be hanging around, more miserable and chip-on-the-shoulder than ever, plus Jenny was quite right - when it comes to the contamination, she knows where the blame lies. Wouldn’t it have been better to slip her a few quid and a one-way ticket to the Kent coast? If not for Home Farm’s sake, then for the sake of millions of listeners.

But let’s move on to happier topics. Ed is entering his Texel ram into a show on Friday and he is concerned that the name of the beast - Peppa Pig (courtesy of Poppy) will make him a laughing stock. Indeed, this is the case and he is very miserable on the day, telling Emma that the other farmers laughed at the name “and even the officials were grinning.” He vows never to enter the lamb again, but is cheered when he speaks to a Texel breeder afterwards (Peppa Pig came a creditable fourth - he is really a few months too young for this type of contest) and the breeder offers Ed £4,000. Ed didn’t accept, but it definitely bodes well for the future and stuff the stupid name.

Emma has other things to worry about; she and Kirsty have been picked to act as Fallon’s bridesmaids and what should she wear. My experience of being a bridesmaid is minimal - nay, non-existent - but I always thought that the bride decided what colours would be worn by her attendants. 

Meanwhile, Fallon is preoccupied with details of the 100% natural, no-plastic-whatsoever wedding (that’s knackered the party poppers for a start) and she runs into Lynda, who is trying valiantly - but unsuccessfully - to control Monty. Fallon says that she has important things on her mind and Lynda agrees - she must be thinking about the fete? There should be an over-arching, unifying theme; this is what sets Ambridge fetes apart from those of other villages (apart from the fact that the other villages enjoy their fetes, I would suggest). This discussion takes place after an encounter between Fallon and Lynda/Monty and Lilian/Ruby, with much barking and snarling. And the dogs weren’t much better behaved either.

Fallon eventually reveals that she has a great idea for the fete - a dog show. Lynda is ecstatic, and even more so when Fallon goes further - not just a dog show, but a talent show for pets - Lynda says that some dog owners get very competitive (“Not me of course”) and we sit back and wait for the probable chaos that will ensue. How many dogs are there in Ambridge?

I return to a wearingly familiar theme throughout the eight years (what? Can it really be that long?) of this blog and that is the inability of anyone in Ambridge to keep their gob shut and not give away a secret. Lizzie is convinced that daughter Lily is involved in a lesbian relationship with the non-existent Meredith and, as far as Liz is concerned she is cool with this - after all, she is Lily’s mother and should support her, whatever her decision. “That’s what mothers are for” Lizzie tells her mother Jill, on a rare visit. Jill has teased (or, some might say, battered) the reason out of her daughter. Lizzie first of all implied that there was some mystery concerning Lily, but she couldn’t possibly say what. Jill then proceeded to beat her over the head until she spilled the beans and it was then that Liz uttered the news that Lily is gay and the ‘that’s what mothers are for’ sentence.

Let’s park that for a moment and examine the relationship between Alistair and Shula. It is their first mediation meeting (Lance is the mediator) and Shula is surprised when Philip turns up to take him to the meeting. She had assumed that they would go together, but Alistair said that he thought it better that they kept these things separate. He didn‘t actually say ‘Don’t you agree, Mrs Hebden-Lloyd?’ but that was the tone.

Alistair seems to have got over the impending divorce better than his wife, but he also seems to have a unique perception of the term ‘mediation’. While Shula bangs on about emotions and feelings and suchlike, Alistair has folders full of financial affairs and how the marriage should be split up, financially. Afterwards, Shula says that you can’t just dismantle a marriage in a few hours, to which Alistair replies “Why not? You ended it in five minutes.” Match point to Mr Lloyd (or is it Hebden Lloyd?) I think.

Jill, prompted no doubt by Elizabeth’s comments about what a mother is for, goes to see Shula and says that she has neglected her. Shula breaks down in tears and tells her how clinical Alistair was at mediation. Alistair, incidentally, has his eye on an executive apartment in Felpersham, so he is taking it all rather well. Jill tells Shula that she will always be her mother and will always support her and the two hug and Shula bursts into tears again.

Let’s tie up a few loose ends; Rooooth’s 50thbirthday is imminent (sorry, it will be over by the time you read this) and David has - rather unwisely - left the organisation in the hands of Jennifer. Delighted to have something other than the contamination to exercise her mind, Jennifer hasn’t held back. While Rooooth would have preferred the disco that someone had at a recent party, Jen has booked a string quintet and, as she tells David, the chandeliers and flower pedestals will be supplied at cost price. Be honest, Rooooth would prefer a packet of crisps and an early night.

Another loose end; has Christine got dementia or not? Peggy feels that she couldn’t cope with that again, after what she suffered with Jack. But hey! Good news! Chris is just suffering with a urinary tract infection, which can be treated, although Chris isn’t too thrilled with the diagnosis. Still, better that than dementia.

Finally, Freddie is delighted as he faces his final exam - history. After this morning he will never have to face another exam, ever. He travels into college with Johnny (being driven by David) and David is the first to notice the police cars outside the college and a sniffer dog. Freddie is loath to enter the building - especially when he sees Ellis being questioned by a couple of PCs (“Serves the scumbag right” says Johnny, still mindful of the brick through the window incident) but it takes a long time before Freddie goes into the building.

Freddie emerges from the exam, all ready to party after his final, ever, exam. Then his phone rings - it’s Adam; can Freddie start work in the poly tunnels tomorrow? Freddie says that he expects to be fairly wrecked in the morning after a night’s celebrations, but he’ll be there when he can. Unexpectedly, Ellis turns up and Freddie expresses surprise that the coppers let him go. Ellis says that the sniffer dog went mad, but Ellis isn’t so stupid as to carry drugs with him, so they had to let him go. He tells Freddie that there are lots of new markets that they can corner, “We’re gonna have the best summer ever. How about it Fred - you’re not gonna let me down, are you?” I am very afraid that Freddie will forget his promise to Noluthando not to deal drugs and, what with that, and Lily’s phantom lesbian affair with the non-existent Meredith, and real affair with Vice Principal Russ, it could prove to be an exceptionally interesting summer for the twins’ mother Elizabeth.

Monday, 11 June 2018

Ich Bin Nicht Lesbisch

Alison Dowling (Elizabeth Pargetter)

Elizabeth’s driving Freddie in to school for his geography exam and she’s giving him the third degree about whether he’s revised enough, slept enough, and whether his sister’s done the same. Freddie sticks up for Lily and goes along with her cover story of revising with someone called Meredith, and not bonking the deputy principle. He phones Lily to warn her but she doesn’t sound concerned, but it doesn’t take Elizabeth long to jump to the conclusion that the reason her daughter wants to spend so much time with Meredith is that they’re in a relationship, which Freddie finds hilarious. She later quizzes Jennifer about how she found out about Adam’s sexuality – was it a surprise when he come out or had she already guessed? Jennifer doesn’t ask why she wants to know and doesn’t seem to twig that she might be wondering about one of her children.

After his exam Freddie ‘helps’ Lily with her German revision by testing her vocabulary, and chucks in the phrase ‘eine lesba’. She’s horrified that her mother thinks that she’s a lesbian, but Freddie jokes that it’s the perfect cover as Elizabeth won’t want to intrude. However, no-one Elizabeth knows has heard of Meredith, and Christine and Jim saw Lily with Russ at an art exhibition when she should have been revising. Lily tries to convince her ‘Auntie Chris’ that it wasn’t her and then Christine reasons that it wasn’t as it looked more like a Father and Daughter together! Lily gets embarrassed and makes her excuses when Elizabeth starts talking about how friendships can develop into something more. Later on in the Bull they’re celebrating what would have been Nigel’s birthday, and Freddie keeps the torment going when they reminisce about the gay couple that often used to stay at Lower Loxley. Elizabeth says the business has always been inclusive of the LGBTQ community (the Q standing for Questioning) and Freddie goes on to talk about different kinds of relationships. It’s too much for Lily who shouts loudly for the bill.

Back at the house Elizabeth has a quiet word with her daughter about relationships and how she would support her whatever path she decided to take. Lily finds it excruciating of course, with Freddie giggling behind the door, and Elizabeth tells Lily that her ‘relationship’ with Meredith is fine. She also unwittingly warns her about the perils of getting involved with older men when she talks about her own past relationships. For her part, Lily is happy to let her mother believe that her and Meredith are an item.

Christine’s main storyline is does she or does she not have dementia. She pops over to the stables to collect some old paperwork and Harrison happens to be passing so gives her a lift home, which gives him a chance to make sure she’s alright after last week’s tea-room incident. Later on he confides in Peggy that she seems a bit confused lately, which gives Peggy food for thought, literally, when they’re sharing one of Christine’s quiches. I was expecting her to have left out the eggs, or the pastry, but no, Peggy is complimentary but asks her unsubtle questions about whether she can remember recent events. Chris catches on straight away and is greatly put out that people are openly questioning whether she’s ‘gaga’ or not.

Someone else who has been upset about people’s speculation about them is Alistair, who actually seems to be having a civilised evening with Shula. By coincidence they were both planning to have lasagne and garlic bread for dinner, so Shula offers to cook for them both. They’re having a nice evening, laughing about goat yoga and sharing a bottle of wine, before Shula goes and spoils it by implying she’s having second thoughts about seeking a divorce. Alistair checks, and no, she still doesn’t love him, which causes him to storm out.

Over to the organised chaos that living in Greenwood Cottage is at the moment, and Mia’s suddenly lost interest in playing football. She’s also started to struggle at school and one explanation could be that Poppy’s been sneaking into Mia’s room at night and keeping her awake so is tired all the time, but both Will and Emma have tried talking to her but are getting nowhere. She says she hates football (me too) but can it be that straightforward? Emma and Kirsty think the kid’s got too much on her plate and might be trying to take Nic’s place. I hope the village rota that’s supporting the Grundy’s holds up – that family need a break and I’d hate for any more misfortune to head their way.

Someone I’m happy to see misfortune make a beeline for is Brian Aldridge, and over at Home Farm they’re meeting about the Environment Agency’s latest bombshell. As we predicted last week they’re talking about selling more land, another 300 acres, but this time it will be ‘family’ land, not the recent acquisitions. They identify a parcel of 200 acres and another of 70, but need another 30 acres. The only practical solution won’t be a popular one, as it’s right next to Spiritual Home – and as usual Brian’s putting off delivering the bad news – this time to Kate. She’s been in Arizona learning about the aforementioned goat yoga and also something called ‘healing haircuts’, and Jenny explains about the contaminated groundwater on the way back from picking her up at the airport, but nothing more. Kate still thinks her biggest problem is the drop in business caused by the association with Home Farm’s contaminated land. 

That is until she takes Adam’s flask up to him in the polytunnels and they start talking about the sell off – and the small parcel of 30 acres in particular. Kate’s furious, to put it mildly, that it’s the fields that surround her yurts and goes straight to Brian, only to find out that he’s already shaken on the deal. Brian thinks that she’ll come round to the idea, but I suspect from the tone in Kate’s voice that the contamination will be a distant memory before that happens. And there’s another problemette waiting in the wings – access. Whoever’s going to farm the land will need to get their tractors to it and that would mean crossing Home Farm land. What’s the betting that Spiritual Home itself will be sacrificed and we’ll find Kate chained to a yurt as a bulldozer looms over her?