Sunday, 22 April 2018

Daniel Learns The Truth About ‘Dad’

Will Howard (Dan Hebden Lloyd)

Dan, or to give him his full title, Captain Daniel Hebden-Lloyd of the Tank Regiment, (yes, he has been promoted) is a very confused young man - he cannot understand why his mother is acting the way she is, which puts him on a par with Alistair. Shula tries to explain, but Dan says that she doesn’t care who she hurts, but Shula denies this and says “I found you a good father, didn’t I?”

Dan is not impressed by this answer and wonders if his whole childhood was a lie and tells his mother ”I’m going to spend some time with the father that you very kindly found for me.” He sets off for the cricket pavilion, which is where Alistair is redecorating, chiefly to get away from Jim and Jazzer. The two talk and Alistair reassures him that he was both wanted and loved and he (Alistair) will always be Daniel’s dad. Dan says he never doubted it and the two hug.

Alistair invites Dan back to Greenacres for lunch, but he refuses. Alistair says that he can listen to Jim playing the piano, plus they are giving Jazzer a mock interview in the afternoon, by which we can only assume that he was trying to put his son off coming. For his part, Dan says that he needs to ring Dorothy and he’s going for a walk up Lakey Hill - “a good place to think.”

It seems that Daniel is seeking enlightenment from the whole Archer clan, as he has a discussion with uncle Kenton, telling him that, had the roles been reversed, Alistair would never have treated Shula the way she is treating him. Kenton realises that Dan is heaping all the blame on his mother and says that there was a time when Shula could have walked out on Alistair and nobody would have blamed her. Instead, she stayed and supported him. Dan has no idea what he is talking about and so Kenton tells him the saga of Alistair’s gambling problem and the lengths that he and Shula went to in order to clear the debt.

This gives Dan something to think about and he goes to see Elizabeth for more advice. They talk about Mark (Dan’s natural father) and Lizzie assures him that Shula never compared her two husbands and she genuinely loved Alistair once. Lizzie urges Dan to think before he does anything and he decides that he needs to go and see Dorothy - he needs to be sure that they still love each other.

At the end of the week, Dan returns to the Stables and has a heart-to-heart with his mother. He understands that she doesn’t love Alistair any more but he cannot get his head round how she is treating Alistair. She’s sorry, but she doesn’t know what else to do. Dan is taken aback. “Seriously? Aren’t you supposed to be a Christian? Doesn’t that give you a clue? You’re being cruel Mum, cruel and unfeeling - you may not still love Dad, but I do.” Shula still protests that she doesn’t know what to do and Dan tells her “If you want to put things right between us, then start treating Dad the way he deserves.”

So much for Daniel. Earlier we spoke about Jazzer preparing for an interview. This is for a job at the new pig unit at Berrow Farm and the interviewing panel consists of Justin, Neil and Adam. Justin is surprised to see Jazzer’s name on the list of candidates, but Neil points out that they are trying to keep locals onside and, if Jazzer were not included, there could be lots of grief from locals; not least from Jazzer himself.

At first sight, Adam is a strange choice for the panel, as he was vehemently opposed to the mega dairy plan at Berrow and presumably he is not a fan of intensive, indoor farming for pigs. Plus, his experience lies in arable and cattle, so what is he doing on the panel? Justin explains to Neil that Adam has great experience of employing teams of workers and he farms Estate land and grows maize that goes to feed the pigs.

And so to the interview. Jazzer is keen and arrives on a Bridge Farm quad bike, dressed in his overalls. His interview technique is, if we are being charitable, very individual and his answers to questions highly original. Examples: ‘Are you a team player?’ ‘Depends whether it’s Celtic or Rangers’ and ‘What do you consider your main weakness?’ ‘Either whisky or women.’ Justin thanks him for coming and Jazzer’s application is in the bin almost before he is through the door.

But there is method in Jazzer’s madness; the following day, Tom goes down to see Jazzer (on one of his frequent trips to tell his pigman that he is too tied up with managerial and decision-making problems to help him with the pigs - see you tomorrow with the same message) and asks how did the interview go? Jazzer tells him that Berrow Farm as good as offered him the job and he is considering it. Tom realises that, if Jazzer leaves, then the pig work will devolve upon him and begins negotiations to keep Jazzer at Bridge Farm. Jazzer manages to screw another £2 an hour out of Tom, who insists that Jazzer will have to take on more responsibility. Jazzer says ‘no thanks’ and Tom reluctantly agrees, whereupon the Scotsman says he’ll think about Tom’s offer. Tom obviously realises that he might end up with no-one to delegate to.

Next day, Jazz seeks out Neil, who is trying to think of a diplomatic way of telling him that he didn’t get the job, however, they will keep his application on file for later. Jazzer is unconcerned. “Bin it” he tells Neil, adding that he’s surprised he even got an interview and that he prefers working in the open air. “Then why did you apply?” Neil asks, mystified. “That would be telling” answers Jazzer and offers to buy Neil a pint. You Machiavellian little devil, Jazzer!

The situation at Grange Farm is getting on my nerves and last week Will had another go at Emma, suggesting that the way she told Jake off over the broken laptop (which she didn’t tell Will about) has caused Jake to want to spend more time with Dad Andrew and less with Will. To be honest, I can sympathise with Jake over this, as Will’s idea of fun seems to be visiting Nic at the burial ground practically every day and taking umbrage at everything that anybody says to him.

To be honest, I think the best thing for everybody would be if Will pitched a tent at the burial ground and lived there permanently with Mia and Poppy (presumably Jake would pass on the chance). One person who understands how Jake is feeling is Emma who, after Will had a go at her, tells Clarrie that she wishes that she had somewhere else to go other than Grange Farm.

Over at Home Farm, Kate tells Adam how thrilled she is that he is in control of the farm, as she has some radical ideas for improvements. For ‘radical’ read ‘deranged’ as she wants to get rid of the livestock - all of it. Her rationale is that lots of people are turning Vegan. Adam is both amazed and frustrated. “We’re a farm, Kate” he explains to her, adding that, as far as he’s concerned, grazing animals are a vital part of the farm “and I couldn’t possibly recommend such a drastic change.” Kate flounces off, but not before saying “What’s the point of you taking over if you’re going to do the same things as Dad?” Get back to cleansing your yurts Kate and leave farming to those who understand the commercial realities of the business.

Speaking of Brian, he is still being mysterious, hunched over his laptop in the pub. As Ruairi has returned to school, Jennifer is frantically trying to find things to keep him occupied. One of these is playing golf and he has a round with Justin, the day of the Berrow interviews. Brian is despondent, as Martyn Gibson has achieved his ambition to become Chair of BL, although Brian reckons he’ll be out of the job by Christmas. Actually, Brian says that he has been working on something that he would like to discuss with somebody, but he cannot trust the family. Justin offers his services as a listening ear.

We are not privy to the conversation, but Justin says that he’s sorry to hear that things have got so bad, but he thinks that Brian is taking exactly the right course of action. Brian’s response is that it won’t be popular with the family and Justin says that it’s very courageous. Brian makes him swear that he won’t tell anybody - not even Lilian. Such suspense!

Suspense is also rife over at Bridge Farm, where a nervous Helen is awaiting the arrival of Sheila Dillon, of Food Programme fame, who is coming to inspect the cheese-making operation, as it has been nominated in the national finals of the Food and Farming Awards. Surely, with Radio 4 nepotism, Helen will be a shoo-in? However, Helen is on edge (Susan tells Clarrie that she is cleaning the dairy with a toothbrush) and with good reason - she is petrified that Olwen’s big mouth will somehow queer her pitch. Helen doesn’t actually ask Pat to nail up Olwen’s door, but she does ask her to keep their (in Helen’s opinion) unwelcome guest out of the way while Sheila is around.

This works very well at first, but later, Pat and Olwen are in the shop, choosing organic ingredients for lunch, when Helen and Sheila walk in. Olwen is astonished at the high prices and, when introduced to Sheila, tells her that the Food Programme should concern itself with big issues and concentrate on the inequitable prices of organic foods, rather than the taste of cheese.

Pat drags Olwen away and the latter can obviously feel the daggers that Helen is mentally throwing her way, as she asks Pat “Did I go too far?” (Yes) and “Should I go back and apologise?” (No). Pat offers to go back and check that everything is OK - it is; Sheila has told Helen that she has heard worse - and Olwen says that “I need to go for a very long walk.”

No doubt, if she were there, Helen would add ‘Yes - off a very short pier’. When Sheila has gone, an agitated Helen tells her mum “If that woman has cost me the award…” She also adds that Olwen is impossible to live with. Pat then finds a note from Olwen - she has left, feeling that the family will feel more comfortable with her gone. Before Helen can say ‘thank Christ for that’ Pat says that she is going to find her again and “Society may have failed Olwen every step of the way, but I’m damned if we’re going to!” I was waiting for Helen to say ‘What do you mean we?’ but the episode ended.

Monday, 16 April 2018

Famous Last Words, I Reckon

Alison Steadman (Olwen Thomas)

Pat is working at the Elms hostel and she is concerned that her old activist friend has got a nasty cough. It turns out that Olwen is sleeping in her car and Pat suggests that she tries to get a room at the Elms. Olwen is having none of it - she cant be bothered with petty regulations and restrictions - and starts to leave, but collapses. Pat to the rescue! Olwen can stay at Bridge Farm and Pat phones Helen to break the news. Helen is less than thrilled and the conversation goes something like this:

Pat:            Well she cant sleep in her car
Hel:            Mum -
Pat:            She can have Toms old room
Hel:            Mum -
Pat:            Ive had a word with Tony and he wasnt keen at first
Hel:            Mum - 
Pat:            Im so pleased; I knew youd understand
Hel:            Mum - 
Pat:            Ive got to persuade Olwen now. Bye!
Hel:            Mum. Hello? Mum?

Olwen proves agreeable to the idea and is soon ensconced in Toms room. Pat sends her off for a bath and says that she will wash her clothes for her. When Olwen has left, Helen voices her misgivings to her mother - Henry and Jack need security and this is no time to be living with a stranger. Pat replies that Henry gets on well with Olwen (Pat and Henry bumped into her last week and he had a great time, playing on the slide in the park). This is news to Helen, as Pat never told her about this episode.

Pat then uses a little emotional blackmail, telling her daughter that the reason that they both volunteered to work at the Elms in the first place was a result of the women that Helen met in prison and, if it were Kaz on the street, Helen would invite her to stay like a shot. Its only for a few days until Olwen is feeling better. And then Pat pronounces the (I reckon) famous last words referred to in the title, saying: What harm could she possibly do?

I hope that Pats optimism is justified - although we learn later in the week that Tom thinks that Olwen doesnt like him very much - and that her words dont come back and bite her in the bum, but I feel that we are being prepared for a storyline which will depict Olwen as a cuckoo in the Bridge Farm nest. And as for Pats rhetorical question, I would whisper just two words to her; Rob Titchener.

Things at Grange Farm continue to spiral downwards. Emma takes Keira to Bridge Farm, where she will spend the afternoon playing with Henry. Keira is unhappy and Emma reveals that she has been very clingy recently, spending the last couple of nights in Emma and Ed’s bed. A few days later, Emma breaks down in front of Fallon, having found the source of Keira’s anxiety; it appears that Jake, annoyed by Keira being in his (and George’s) room, told her that if she wasn’t good, then Nic would come back and haunt her. Emma, who is constantly being reminded by Clarrie, Ed and Will that the children are suffering badly, feels unable to give Jake a telling off, so keeps quiet.

Speaking personally, Jake sounds to me like a nasty piece of work who deserves a good slapping, never mind a telling off, and my feeling was reinforced on Friday when Jake and George were having a fight over a borrowed laptop and the screen got broken. Ed says that they will have to replace it and this is too much for Emma, who has no doubt calculated how many extra shifts at the chicken factory this will cost. She lets fly (verbally) at Jake, who says: “You’re not my mother - I haven’t got a mother” and storms out. Ed tells Emma to leave Jake be for the moment, but you don’t have to be Sherlock Holmes to realise that ends of tethers are being rapidly reached.

PC Burns had a traumatic incident last week; a couple were involved in a car crash and the lady died. The couple weren’t married and there was some unpleasantness when the lady’s family claimed that they were her next of kin. This got PCB to thinking that, had they been married, then there would be no arguments about next of kin, inheritance, etc. This affected him deeply and he shared his thoughts with Fallon. Fallon immediately had an attack of the heebie jeebies and confided to Emma (who, as we have seen, has enough on her plate) that she is afraid that Harrison is going to propose marriage. Emma says ‘so what?’ Fallon loves him and they have a lovely house together, so what’s the problem?

One assumes that the problem is that Jolene and Wayne got married and this was not an advert for Love’s Young Dream. Emma, who really can’t be arsed with all this, tells Fallon that, if she really doesn’t want to marry PCB, she’ll have to tell him. Make no mistake - Fallon does love Harrison and likes waking up beside him - it’s just the thought of being Mrs Anybody that frightens her. Fallon becomes more and more distracted and Emma couldn’t really give a toss - no doubt she would willingly exchange he problem for Fallon’s; at least Fallon has got a house of her own.

Things come to a head on Friday, when Fallon is late back from the Tea Room and spots Kenton and Jolene leaving Honeysuckle. Harrison says that he has been thinking and there’s something he’s got to ask Fallon. Thinking that he is going to propose, she stops him in full flow and says “I can’t marry you - I just can’t. Please don’t ask me!” “I wasn’t going to” says Harrison, and explains that he has just made Fallon the sole heir in his Will and Kenton and Jolene came round to witness it. Fallon thanks him and shoots him dead - no, of course she didn’t; she poisoned him.

Sorry about that - back to reality. Alistair has only been living at Jim’s for less than a week and he’s climbing the walls. Jazzer says that it’s great that they are three bachelors living together and it’s time that Alistair got back in the dating market. Indeed, Jazz can set Alistair up with some of the women on his milk round. Alistair is horrified by the very idea (after all, how would Jazzer have found out that they were a) available and b) willing?) and says that he’s not ready to think about other women. Jazzer dismisses this, saying that it’s time Alistair had a fresh start and, showing a level of insensitivity breathtaking even for the Scottish milkman, says that Shula has given him his marching orders “so what else are you going to do?”

Actually, Alistair is undergoing a strange experience, as most of those whom he meets (Brian and Tom for two) commiserate with him and then go on to say what a good job it is that the decision to split up was a mutual one. Fed up with this, he seeks out Shula and demands to know exactly when she stopped loving him - was it because of his gambling, or when Matt came back? Shula says that she doesn’t have a specific date and Alistair becomes agitated, saying that he was always second best. Shula protests, thinking that he is referring to her first husband, Mark, but he is talking about Dr Richard Locke, who asked Shula to go away with him, but she decided to make her life with Alistair. 

Shula says the split has nothing to do with anybody - “I just don’t love you any more.” With impeccable timing, we hear another voice - it is Daniel, suddenly (and silently) returned from manoeuvres in Estonia (presumably he didn’t bring the tank home or they would probably have noticed). “So, it’s true then?” Daniel says. “You two really are splitting up?” Ever since the Shula/Alistair split story began, numerous people have wondered who would tell Daniel (and how) but it seems obvious from his comment that someone got in before his mother and stepfather. Good luck explaining it to him guys.

The ‘a mutual decision’ scenario is not the only theory flying round the village, as Brian is busy telling everyone that his decision to stand down from running Home Farm was only because he wanted to let Adam take over the reins before he grew old and grey. This is patently garbage and you can’t help thinking that Brian is up to something - he spent some time in the Home Farm office looking for a specific, but unspecified, file of papers, which he found. He then made a point of driving Ruairi over to Brookfield, where he’s staying overnight. 

While there, Brian compliments Rooooth on the appearance of her lambs and, when the talk turns to the voting of Brian off the management of Home Farm, Rooooth says that she only voted the way she did in Ruairi’s best interests. Brian magnanimously says that this is all water under the bridge and one of the advantages of his new-found retirement is that he now has lots more time to spend with Ruairi. “He has his future ahead of him; who knows what it might hold?” Brian tells Rooooth. What do you reckon? Is Brian going to change the name (his) on the deeds to the farm in favour of Ruairi? As I said in the previous paragraph, you can bet that the slippery so-and-so is up to something.

The pigs will be joining Berrow Farm next week and Jazzer has got wind that interviews are being held for workers. Having failed to negotiate a rise from Tom (who, rather patronisingly, told him that management is his business and no, he hasn’t got time to help with the pigs) Jazzer confronts Neil about why wasn’t he consulted about interviews? Neil protests that advertising etc. was handled through an agency and nothing to do with him. Upon hearing this, Jazzer says that, as Unit Manager, Neil should be able to bend the rules and hands him a sheet of grubby paper, covered in an illegible scrawl. “What’s this?” asks Neil. “My CV” replies Jazzer, leaving us to marvel that he managed to spell ‘CV’ correctly.

Finally, we have a mystery developing; Ed tells PCB that, on Wednesday night, he noticed a light on in the new women’s changing rooms at the cricket pavilion. Chris has also witnessed the same phenomenon. Does PCB know what’s going on? I must say that, for a copper, not to mention the captain of the cricket team, Harrison seems totally unconcerned. Something must be up - let’s face it; if the light had been left on at the end of last season, then surely someone would have noticed before now?


Monday, 9 April 2018

Wow! Windows And A Swivel Chair!

Brian Hewlett Neil Carter)

Never let it be said that Neil Carter never takes his wife anywhere - on Tuesday he took her to see his new office at Berrow Farm. It obviously doesn’t take much to get Susan excited, as she was breathless when she caught sight of Neil’s swivel chair and practically orgasmic that he has windows; not one window, but at least two, giving him a view of the entire operation. So impressed was she that she took a photograph of him sitting at his desk. 

“Just think,” she says, “next year you might be the Borsetshire businessman of the year.” I hate to disillusion you Susan, but I think you have to do a little more than have a swivel chair to sit on and windows to look out of. But wait - Neil also has a computer and we know this because he received an e-mail from Justin, asking him to check out the C.V.s of applicants for jobs at the pig unit. I do wonder whether Neil will take to office life, as, when he and Rex are feeding the pigs, he remarks wistfully that he is going to miss being outside with his pigs. Never mind Neil, just think of the £55k salary.

Changing the subject, how much longer will it be before Will lets slip his part in covering up Nic’s hit-and-run incident? The man would make a lousy poker player, as he goes to pieces at the slightest provocation. Consider; PC Burns turns up and mentions that he has been talking to Ed. Will immediately goes on the defensive, calling his brother ‘a fantasist’ and that PCB shouldn’t believe a word he says. A mystified PCB says that he just wanted to ask Will if he would be playing cricket any time soon. “Why are you in uniform?” Will demands. “I’m on my way to work” the copper replies.

Later on, Will comes across Ed and Emma. They are talking about Brian Aldridge and Emma reckons that he is guilty of causing the contamination at Low Mead. Will immediately gets the wrong end of the stick and, when Emma goes off to do some washing, he starts moaning to Ed, saying that he (Will) was a fool for placing himself in Ed’s power and why doesn’t Ed grass him up to the police? “About what?” Ed asks and Will says “About what we talked about in the cider shed on Friday.” Ed immediately says that he was so bladdered that night that he has no recollection what they talked about - it’s a total blank. In fact, he’s forgotten all about that night and he suggests that Will does the same.

Good advice, Will. If you keep wandering about with outstretched arms, muttering ’OK, it’s a fair cop, put the ’cuffs on me’ then people will start asking awkward questions and just might begin to dig a little deeper into your weird behaviour.

Emma was in full moaning mode last week and I have to say that, for once, she had some justification. Having Will, Jake, Mia and Poppy living at Grange Farm is far from ideal. Jake and George are sharing a room and are always squabbling, while Will seems to think that the washing is done by fairies and that meals appear on the table magically. Add to this the fact that Will is her ex-husband and the situation is far from ideal. Even worse, Emma seems to be the only person to cook, wash and clean and she is annoyed because this means she cannot work at the Tea Room as often as she’d like and thus isn’t saving as much towards the new house.

Emma is also a bit miffed because she and Ed weren’t consulted about Will and family moving in. Clarrie is worried about Will and asks Emma if she minds if he and the kids stay on for a bit? Em is not at all happy, but grudgingly agrees that “another week or two won’t hurt.” Imagine then, how happy Emma was to learn that Clarrie told Will that he could stay as long as he liked.

Over at Home Farm, the palace revolution that saw Brian forced to give up day-to-day involvement with the farm has made the situation unpleasant. Brian, who is 74, going on 6, has taken his bat and ball away and is refusing to speak to most of his family and is sleeping in the spare room. Adam is struggling to understand Brian’s filing system and, when Jennifer asks Brian to help, he continues with his impression of a spoiled toddler and says huffily that it’s nothing to do with him; Adam wanted control of the farm and now he’s got it.

What makes things more complicated is that, on the Friday, the BL board is meeting to discuss the arable contract and whether Home Farm should continue to run it or not. Adam is worried, because Brian won’t reveal what he is going to say or do and, should they lose the contract, the financial repercussions would be severe. 

Before the meeting starts, Brian reveals that he has decided to retire from working on Home Farm. Not only that, but he thinks the time is right to resign as BL Chairman and he invites Annabelle, as Vice Chair, to conduct the rest of the meeting. Afterwards, we learn that the board agreed to keep the contract with Adam and slimeball Martyn Gibson tells Brian that he was most surprised about Brian’s announcement and who does he think should be the new Chairman? Brian replies that he thought Annabelle handled the meeting very well. Adam makes a short speech, praising Brian for his work in building up the business and, when the two talk privately afterwards, Adam says that he meant every word of what he said.

So, does this mean that the hatchet has been buried and everything is now OK? It would appear not, as Brian tells Adam “I only did what I did to protect the farm - don’t think for one moment that I did it to help you.” So, the toys are still being thrown out of the pram and we can assume that the spare room will remain occupied. And what of Jennifer in all this? Brian accuses her of turning against him, with Adam, and, when she protests that she cares about him very much, he sneeringly accuses her of “playing the part of the supportive wife.” Jennifer says that it is a part she has played for over 40 years but Brian is still bitter, saying “Yes, and now you’ve betrayed me. Does that not trouble your conscience even a tiny bit?” Grow up man, for God’s sake!

There were difficult times for Shula last week. Jim turned up on Easter Monday, bearing an egg from Underwoods, and was stunned when Shula said that she and Alistair were separating - he thought the row that they had last week was just a blip, or that’s what Alistair told him. Shula suggests that he should talk to Alistair to find out the situation. Jim does so and asks Alistair what did he do to drive Shula away and is Alistair having an affair? The answers to these are ‘nothing’ and ‘no’ but Jim insists that Alistair must be in some way culpable. Alistair repeats that he doesn’t understand what’s going on but he rejects Jim’s offer of a room and says that he hasn’t given up hope yet. “Good for you” says Jim, “Determination and perseverance - your marriage is worth fighting for.”

Shula also got it in the neck from Jill, who told Alan that she is convinced that Shula has made the wrong decision. Bless her, Jill seems to think that, if Shula puts her mind to it, everything will suddenly become hunky dory and she will fall back in love with Alistair. You have to admire the woman’s optimism. Shula is getting fed up of having to explain things to her mother and, as she says to sister Elizabeth, Jill hardly batted an eyelid when Kenton and his wife split up.

The difference appears to be that Jill regards Alistair like a son. For his part, Alistair wants Shula to listen to his side of the argument and he suggests counselling. She rejects this, saying that picking apart their marriage won’t rekindle her love for him and he should accept that their marriage is over. Angrily, Alistair says that, in that case, there’s no point in him hanging round The Stables and he’s off to live with Jim. As he is leaving, Jill comes round and he tells her what’s happening. Jill offers to talk to Shula and Alistair says there’s no point, as she has made up her mind.

But this is Jill and she wastes no time in confronting her daughter. Alistair is devastated (she knows) Shula has broken his heart (she knows that too). What has he done to deserve this? (Nothing). Once again Jill says that all marriages go through difficult periods but you have to work through them. Shula is starting to get fed up with all this advice and says sharply “I don’t think that details of my marriage are any of your business.” Jill then asks her if she wants to grow old alone and Shula replies that all her family are around Ambridge except Dan. Jill recalls that she couldn’t cope being alone when Phil died, to which her daughter says that she isn’t Jill and, at 59, she doesn’t feel old and she’s looking forward to new adventures. ”Now please let’s talk about something else.” Carry on in the same vein much longer, Jill and you will have one estranged daughter on your hands.

The person I feel really sorry for is Alistair. When Jim offered him the spare room, he did mention that it’s become a bit more cramped than before, as he took his music teacher’s advice and bought a piano, instead of the electronic keyboard. According to Jazzer, who also lives at Jim’s, Jim is wont to play this instrument for hours on end and it’s doing Jazzer’s head in, as he‘s not very good at it. Truly, Alistair’s cup runneth over - here he is, marriage over, sleeping on a futon in his father’s house and having to share the house with a piano-crazy, misanthropic old man and, if that weren’t enough, with Jazzer as well - it’s hard to see how it can get much worse.

Sunday, 1 April 2018

Et Tu, Jenny?

Angela Piper and Charles Collingwood (Jennifer and Brian Aldridge)

It was a difficult week for Brian. It started badly, with Brian finding out that the BL board is debating whether or not to review the contract with Home Farm, in the light of the continuing fuss about the contamination. The threat is real - Justin says that, if it comes to a vote, Brian might well lose. Home Farm desperately needs the income from the contract; what can they do?

Jennifer says that he will have to call a Farm Partnership meeting and she feels that he should be straight with Rooooth. Reluctantly, Brian agrees that he doesn’t have much choice. And so he does so, asking her to keep it to herself. His motive, he tells her, is because he is concerned for his children’s futures, plus, Rooooth is in the partnership to represent Ruairi’s interests and how can these be best served by Brian going to jail? Is Rooooth going to report him to the EA? “No, of course not” she replies and Brian exhorts her once again to tell nobody - not even David.

The Partnership meeting takes place on Wednesday and Brian outlines the threat to the BL contract. However, he has a cunning plan; he can resign as BL chairman and they can put the contracting out to a new company, headed by Adam. That way, Home Farm is airbrushed from the scene. Rooooth is uncomfortable that the other partners are not aware of the whole story and asks to talk to Brian and Jen alone. Rooooth thinks they should be honest with the others and Jenny backs her up.

To a man (and two women) the children take it extremely badly, heaping vitriol on Brian’s head. Alice is particularly outspoken and Adam says that he needs to talk to Debbie. Brian is keen to have a strategy in place before the BL board meeting next week, but Adam won’t be rushed. “Make no mistake Brian,” says his stepson, “this changes everything.”

Thursday sees Kate “contemplating the ruin of my future” as she tells her mother. Spiritual Home has never been so quiet and Brian spent a long time trying to justify his actions. Kate also has a go at Jenny for keeping quiet and Jen retaliates by saying that Kate hasn’t always been honest with her children. Kate waves this away and says that, despite the hurt she is feeling, she is coming round to Brian’s point of view - it might be better to keep quiet and let Brian do things his way.

On Friday, Brian badgers Adam - what has Debbie said? Adam replies that he hasn’t been able to get in touch yet, but she’ll ring him later. She does so and the Aldridges meet to talk over the situation. Jen says Alice will be late, but she has changed her mind and now agrees with Brian’s cunning plans, as does Kate. Brian is triumphant. “Daddy’s girls” says Adam, scornfully. Adam says that Debbie agrees with him, as does Rooooth. Debbie agrees with Adam that Brian is the problem and his plan to resign as BL chairman doesn’t go far enough - the time has come for him to retire and give up all work on Home Farm. Brian is aghast and says they can’t get rid of him as it’s his farm, but Jenny says, technically it isn’t; it belongs to the partnership.

Brian doesn’t care - with his shares, Jenny’s, Alice’s and Kate’s, he has a majority. And then Jenny drops her bombshell; she agrees with Adam, Debbie and Rooooth and her shares give them the majority - it’s time that Brian stepped aside from the farm. He is dismayed, saying “No Jenny; you can’t do this to me - you can’t!”

More grief for the Grundys - Clarrie is called away to pick up Poppy from nursery, as Will is stuck in traffic. The trouble is that Poppy thinks that her dad has abandoned her, just like mother. Will beats himself up for letting her down and Clarrie suggests getting a carer in, but Will won’t have it - Poppy is confused enough as it is. Clarrie has another idea; Will and Poppy can come and live at Grange Farm. Jake and Mia will be back at the weekend and there will always be someone there to look after Poppy. If she’s really unlucky, it could be Joe.

In the end, Will agrees and, on Friday, he comes across Ed sitting on his own. Will is going to leave, but Ed persuades him to sit down and have a beer and the two brothers have their first real conversation for years. Will has another beer and it becomes apparent that he has a secret. That secret is that it was indeed Nic that ran Matt over - she was distracted by Poppy being sick and hit him.

When she got home, Nic was hysterical and told Will what she’d done. He went to have a look, but turned back when he saw the blue flashing lights of the police and ambulance. He examined the car and washed off the evidence of the collision. Nic was angry and wanted to phone the police, but Will wouldn’t let her. Ed is having trouble taking this in and says quietly “what if Matt had died?” “Well, he didn’t, did he?” Will points out, adding that, if anyone had been charged, Nic would have owned up. Ed doesn’t know what to say, but Will tells him that he wouldn’t have done anything differently and he doesn’t feel guilty in the slightest. The question is will Ed be able to keep this news to himself, or will Will feel the need to unburden himself to other members of the family? Best to let sleeping Nics lie is my advice Will.

Susan is feeling increasingly put upon. On top of her work in the Dairy and her responsibilities as Kefir Czar, Helen keeps roping her and Clarrie in to work at Helen’s cheese-making classes. Sterilising everything, washing up and answering a string of inane questions means that she doesn’t have a moment to herself. The icing on the cake came when Sabrina Thwaite referred to Susan as ‘cheese monitor’.

Susan has a good old moan to Neil and doesn’t care that she owes £5 to Alan’s moaning fund. Neil has an answer; he is now earning good money at Berrow, so why doesn’t Susan give up work and retire? She is horrified “What would I do all day?” she asks. Let’s see. Moan, spread rumours, run people down (verbally, not like Nic) and gossip - pretty much what she does now, in fact, although she is paid for it at the moment.

Talking of Alan’s ‘Pay if you moan’ fund, I reckon he’ll soon be able to get Westminster Abbey relocated to Ambridge - he must be awash with money. Lynda has been persuaded by Robert to add Tolkein to her reading list and, when she says that she cannot face the thought of tackling Lord of the Rings, he suggests The Silmarillion as an easier read. She attempts it, but is finding it increasingly difficult and she reckons it’s a load of badly-written garbage with no plot. Robert reminds her of the Moan fund and she puts a £20 note on the table and lets Tolkein have it with both barrels. Her rant complete, Lynda says that she feels much better now. If Robert had persuaded her to read Lord of the Rings, Alan might have been able to buy St Paul’s as well.

The Shula and Alistair story trundles on. Jill is convinced that Shula is avoiding her and asks Alan if he has seen her at the Palm Sunday service. Let’s think for a moment - every Palm Sunday, Shula brings Benjamin the donkey along to the church for the service (he performed impeccably this year, you’ll be pleased to know). I know that Jill had her cataracts done a while ago, so surely she must be able to see this woman holding a donkey in church? It shouldn’t be too hard to join the dots.

The latest person to get an earful (actually two earfuls) is Philip Moss. He turns up at The Stables, looking for Shula, as there is work needing doing. She’s not there, but Alistair is and tells Philip all about what’s going on. Philip suggests a pint in The Bull later and Alistair agrees. Philip has been through a divorce and he tells Alistair that he really should tell Jim what’s happening. Alistair keeps going over recent events - he never realised something was wrong and Shula’s actions were a shock. How can he deal with life without her?

Philip’s second earful happens later in the week while working at The Stables and Shula invites him in for lunch. Philip is up front about his drink with Alistair and he must be considering a change of career as an Agony Aunt when Shula starts bending his ear. She confides that she is worried about Daniel’s reaction, but Philip says that his son took the news of his parents’ divorce much better that he expected. Philip has been there, done that.

Shula is pleased that Alistair confided in Philip; here she is, with relatives around every corner, while Alistair only has Jim - a thought that probably has Alistair sobbing into his pillow and wondering if it’s worthwhile going on… Shula is pleased that Philip seems to understand and she tells him that she just can’t keep on pretending any longer. Truly there is no such thing as a free lunch, Philip.

What else has happened? We had Jenny talking about Lexi’s menstrual cycle at the breakfast table and Lexi got a job at the chicken factory, not that these two items are connected. Lexi went round the village looking for a job, because she’s always worked and is getting bored. Roy and Lynda are horrified when she tells them, but she says a job is a job.

Neil thinks that Rex has the makings of a decent pig man - he’s intelligent and doesn’t have to be told things twice. Neil is looking forward to seeing the pigs back at Hollowtree, as that was where Neil began his farming career, as Phil Archer’s pig man.

Finally, when Helen and Pat were having a catch up near the beginning of the week (always a good ploy so that we are brought up to date with current stories) we learn that the Kirsty/Philip relationship is still going strong and Pat muses that she wishes Tom could find somebody. We are also told that Tom is perfectly OK with the Kirsty/Phil situation, to which I would point out that it is really sod all to do with him and they certainly don’t need his permission, nor his approval.


Sunday, 25 March 2018

Alice In Blunderland

Hollie Chapman (Alice Carter)

The main event of last week was Nic’s funeral. All her family were there, except for one brother who lives abroad. Of course Will said the previous week that he and Poppy won’t be going, but on Sunday he is nobbled by Shula, who tells him that that was how she felt when Mark died. In the end she was glad that she went – and also to Caroline’s funeral, which showed how loved Caroline was by so many people. Shula tells Will that he has to make the decision himself but, whatever he decides, she hopes he finds peace.

Will thinks it over and, much to the joy of Clarrie, he says that he and Poppy will indeed be at the church. On the day of the funeral, he is late arriving at Grange Farm and the way he is feeling is evident from his comment to the family: “Let’s get this over and done with.” He then breaks down in tears as they enter the churchyard. From all accounts, it was a moving service, with the music that Will and Nic danced to at their wedding and a touching eulogy from Emma. Emma did very well to hold it together, but she dissolved in tears at the end.

Then there’s the Wake, with Emma remarking to Ed that Alice never made it to the service, although Chris did. Ed is having trouble with Joe, who can’t get Nic’s last words out of his head. “I thought we’d sorted all that” says an exasperated Ed, adding that that should be an end to it. Joe agrees, but still says that it should have been him that died, not Nic, as she had so much to look forward to. “I’d swap places with her in a heartbeat” Joe tells his grandson.

Although Alice never made it to the service (pressure of work) she did make the Wake and wastes no time in getting stuck into the booze. She wants to go and speak to Will, but Emma says best not at the moment, as he’s taking it badly. Eddie distracts Alice with a glass of red (“Make it a large one” – Alice) but she spots Will and moves in on him. “You must be devastated” she slurs and then bangs on about how, when Chris got kicked by a horse, she thought he was a gonner. Will wasn’t as lucky as she was, as Chris recovered.

Alice then tells Will that he’s not to blame himself because he didn’t notice that Nic was dying. This infuriates Clarrie, who comes over and says “I think you’ve said enough.” Alice protests that she didn’t mean to offend anyone and she notices Beverley looking at her. “What are you staring at?” Alice asks, belligerently, then “Who are you, anyway?” Eddie says “That’s Nic’s mother, Beverley” and leads Alice towards the door. Clarrie tells an apologetic Alice to leave – now. “We don’t want you here – get out” she spits, then, when Alice has been helped out by Eddie, Clarrie says “How dare she do that to Will? She’s ruined an already impossible day. Where does this leave Will now?”

The following day, Alice is mortified when she realises what she has done and asks Chris to go with her when she apologises. He says that she should go by herself and suggests that, in the future, she might think of moderating her alcohol intake. Alice goes off to Grange Farm and, as she tells Chris later, Clarrie all but slammed the door in her face.

Clarrie isn’t the only one upset with Alice; Jennifer tells her that she’s ashamed of her and even Brian, who usually has nothing but admiration for his daughter, says that she behaved badly. When Alice moans about her job, he changes tack and says “we all make mistakes.” He adds that there might be a job for her at Home Farm in the future. I’d get a better lock on the wine cellar first, Brian.

Over at Bridge Farm, the atmosphere in the dairy between Susan and Clarrie is a bit strained. In fact, Clarrie is despondent and, when the talk turns to Rex working with Neil’s pigs, Clarrie remarks that, with Neil as unit manager at Berrow, he and Susan “will be rolling in it.” Susan says it won’t be that much, but Clarrie says, self-pityingly, “Funny how things never work out for us as they do for other people.” Susan remarks that she knows how hard it has been for the Grundys recently and Clarrie replies that it doesn’t help, people making ignorant remarks. “I don’t know what got into her” says Susan, which makes Clarrie laugh hollowly. “Oh, I think I do” she says. We do too – about a bottle and a half of Shiraz is my guess.

I sincerely hope that Alice is not expecting an Easter card from Clarrie, who describes her as “a very selfish young woman” and adds that she doesn’t think she’ll ever be able to forgive her.

Someone else whose week was spoiled was Jill, when Shula told her (in church on Sunday) about her leaving Alistair. Jill asks if she has really tried to save her marriage and, when her daughter says that the marriage has been going downhill for some time, Jill responds by telling her that she and Phil used to row occasionally and Shula mustn’t throw it all away. “I don’t love him anymore” Shula says and reveals that she has been staying at The Bull (“running away” Jill calls it). However, they want the room to put up Nic’s family, so Shula will be returning to The Stables. Jill, who is definitely a glass-half-full person, is pleased – perhaps this will be their chance to get back together? Shula must be feeling like banging her mother’s head against the pew (or did they change the pews for chairs?) and she says, slowly and clearly “I know it’s not what you want to hear, but Alistair and I are over – for good.” Even then, Jill urges her not to tell anyone else about the split in case things change. “They won’t” Shula replies, no doubt wondering whether or not she should bang her head against the pew. Jill gets a bit nasty, when she asks “Didn’t your marriage vows mean anything?” “That’s unfair – of course they did” a hurt Shula answers.

You have to hand it to Jill – she’s not one to give up easily. On Friday she learns that Alistair is coming to Brookfield to look at a cow, so she waylays him. Alistair doesn’t really want to talk about his private life, but he breaks down when she says that she has always thought of him as her son. “It’s been a complete nightmare” he admits. He had no idea that Shula was so unhappy and he wants her back, but is it even worthwhile trying? Jill urges him not to give up hope and once again demonstrates her (seemingly illogical) super optimism when she tells her son-in-law, whatever Shula says, Jill is sure that this isn’t the end. We’ll see.

It was a mixed week for Brian. There is a significant meeting of the BL board about what should be done about developing the old cattle market. Justin’s proposal is for a mixed retail development, but Martyn Gibson favours a mega agri store as a better option for the community. Justin makes it clear to Brian that he expects his support and, while he doesn’t actually say ‘you owe me, pal,’ Brian is aware that he is under an obligation, given Justin’s recent support of him.

Martyn Gibson makes his point, but Justin says that his proposal has greater potential and calls on Brian for support. Gibson puts it to the vote and Justin is victorious. Afterwards, Brian tells Gibson not to be a sore loser. Gibson expresses surprise that Brian didn’t stand up for the farming community; “Justin’s pockets must be bigger than I thought” he says, nastily. “That’s an outrageous slur” Brian retorts and the argument starts to heat up until Justin comes to break it up. An annoyed Martyn leaves and Justin suggests that he and Brian celebrate. “You know Brian, this could be the moment when your fortunes start changing.” Justin says. “That can’t happen soon enough” is Brian’s heartfelt response.

It turns out that Rooooth is another person surprised at BL’s choice, as she thinks the agri store would have been better for the community. Brian explains that it is all down to footfall and BL needs to make a profit, not run a community centre. “I suppose it comes down to which one you think will make the most money.” Rooooth says brightly. Give this woman a degree in business studies! Of course it does, you numptie.

Actually, if I were Rooooth, I’d be wary of antagonising Brian. She asks him if she can be present when Brian explains to Ruairi what has been going on at Home Farm while he has been walled up in boarding school. Specifically, what is Brian going to tell him about the contamination at Low Mead? Brian says it’s none of her business and all Ruairi has to know is that it is being dealt with and hopefully the end is in sight.

Brian tries to change the subject, but Rooooth reveals that Bert told her that, back in the 70s, a couple of brothers visited a number of farmers, offering them money if they allowed the brothers to bury waste on their land. He particularly remembers because they approached Phil Archer, who quickly sent them packing. Rooooth muses that it might be worth Brian’s while to carry out an investigation into the brothers online – he may be able to find out something useful. Brian is a bit short and says a curt ‘no’. “I was only trying to help” says a bemused Rooooth. “Well, we don’t need you to, thank you all the same” Brian tells her and Rooooth departs.

Perhaps Justin was right when he spoke about Brian’s fortunes changing, but they might be changing for the worse.  Maybe Brian can feel the net tightening, as he is clearly rattled by what Rooooth said. Later, he tells Jenny that Rooooth could be on to something – what if she decides to investigate herself? Brian describes her as “like a dog with a bone.” “If Rooooth works out what’s been going on, we really could lose everything” he tells his wife. Watch your back Rooooth; if you start getting too close to the truth, Brian might be tempted to do a Nic Grundy on you.


Sunday, 18 March 2018

What Happened To ‘Till Death Us Do Part?’

Judy Bennett (Shula Hebden Lloyd)

For a long time, we have suggested that all was not well between Shula and Alistair, but I must admit that I was anticipating some sort of intrigue with her ex-flame Richard Locke. What I wasn’t expecting was that Shula would just get bored with her husband of 20-odd years and walk out.

The week began with Oliver traipsing round the village, bestowing largesse (in the shape of Caroline‘s bequests) on Shula, Will and heaven knows who else. Shula tells Alistair that wouldn’t it be great to go abroad for a couple of months and use the money to provide equine therapy for underprivileged children? Alistair points out (reasonably, in my opinion) that he cannot really desert his business for eight weeks. Shula says that surely Anisha owes him something for covering for her when her mother died? I thought that the death of a close relative was somewhat different than swanning off for what would essentially be a holiday, and Alistair thinks the same.

However, Alistair says that, if Shula wants to go, it’s OK with him. The following day, he accepts that he got the wrong end of the stick and he realises that she wants to do something together, so can she finish work by six o’clock? Shula gets dressed up and, when six o’clock comes, Alistair reveals his big surprise - he has been to Felpersham and bought all the authentic ingredients so they can make the Goan curry that they both like so much.

Shula is underwhelmed, but bites her tongue and gets the pestle and mortar, ignoring Alistair’s comments about how he accepts that they both need extra spice in their lives. He’s right, but she means excitement and he means turmeric.

It all comes to a head on Wednesday morning, when Alistair remarks that Shula had a restless night. She then spoils his breakfast by saying “I don’t think I can go on much longer. Sorry, but I really think it’s all over.” Alistair says “what’s all over?” and Shula replies “our marriage.” Alistair is gobsmacked and says that she cannot just say something like that out of the blue - is there anybody else? “I just don’t love you any more” Shula replies. He reaches for her and she says “Please don’t touch me” and starts crying and runs out of the door. Anyway Alistair, have a good day at work and we’ll catch you later. Shula has a talk with her twin and he invites her to stay at The Bull for a few days and he’ll go to the Stables and get her stuff. “There’s no passion left” Shula tells Kenton. We all know that Shula is a bit of a God-botherer and I accept that she hasn’t mentioned divorce, but what happened to ‘Till Death Us Do Part?’

When Kenton goes to the Stables, Alistair is bereft and bewildered. Kenton says that Shula just needs some time to herself and he has a list of what to pick up and Alistair berates him for not folding her clothes properly. Alistair is particularly affected when he gives Kenton a book to pack that Shula has been reading, entitled ‘How to grow old together.’ Kenton says, yes, it is hard “But sometimes these things just run their course.”

Shula and Alistair run into each other later in the week at the Stables and there is seemingly no prospect of a reconciliation. Jim comes in mid-discussion and hopes he’s not intruding, but doesn’t Daniel have a TV in his bedroom that Jim could borrow (he and Jazzer are having a disagreement over TV watching and Jim’s keyboard practising)? Shula starts to raise objections but she realises that she doesn’t care and suggests that Jim sorts it out with Alistair, as “we’re not together any more.” Jim is perplexed, but Alistair assures him that it is a temporary blip “and you’re not to breathe a word to anybody.”

While we are celebrating our powers of prediction, we must turn to the ‘did she or didn’t she?’ question of whether Nic ran over Matt Crawford. Joe continues his investigation into what happened and is appalled to find out that, on the night in question, Nic was working at The Bull but she left early, as Poppy was unwell. Joe is shaken and, on his return to Grange Farm, Ed notices that something is amiss and Joe tells him of his suspicions - after all Nic wasn’t a liar and why should she tell lies on her deathbed?

Joe swears Ed to secrecy, but Ed cannot believe that Nic could do such a thing and drive off. Later in the week, he proposes a theory to Joe - maybe Nic hit a badger, or a fox, or similar and assumed that it was Matt. Joe is cheered by this and seems to accept it, but I have my doubts - if she had hit an animal, presumably its lifeless body would have been found in the ditch. Nobody mentioned such an occurrence, but the indisputable fact is that a slightly-mangled Matt Crawford was found in a ditch - I leave you to draw your own conclusions.

On to a less serious matter - Toby continued to push the pigs at Hollowtree idea to Rex. Rex talked to Jazzer about what it’s like looking after pigs. Jazzer said that it’s an awful ordeal in the winter and Rex was disillusioned, until Jazz said that pigs are wonderful animals; intelligent and amusing. Whether he cries when they are sent to slaughter, we weren’t told. Rex tells Toby later that he is leaning towards looking after the pigs, but the real reason is that his dad had lined up a job for him in the back office of a wine importer, or similar. Rex cannot bear the thought of his dad trying to organise his life, so is inclined to accept the pig job. I wonder whether he might have other thoughts about being in an office when he’s out in a snowy field, up to his welly tops in mud - and that’s if he’s lucky - breaking the ice on water troughs.

Things at Home Farm continue to go from bad to worse. The only person who doesn’t seem to be directly affected is Debbie, who is presumably in blissful ignorance in Hungary. As for her siblings, Kate is almost in despair because Spiritual Home bookings are zero. She has had to accept a booking from a youth group from Birmingham, at a hefty discount, and isn’t happy about it. Brian asks if it would help if he had the place ‘spiritually cleansed’ but Kate says it’s gone beyond that. She is even more unhappy when the leader of the youth group comes to do a recce and is freaked out when she sees the clean-up operation being carried out next door and cancels the booking. Kate tells Brian that some screening of the clear-up site is needed for her clients - not that she’s got any.

Adam is chuffed to have been invited to join the council of the soil association by Michael Parker. Parker rings Adam later in the week - can they meet up? Adam is all for it, but is dismayed when Michael tells him that his members have decided that the contamination at Home Farm could attract adverse publicity for the group and they’d rather that Adam had no high profile post. Adam is bitterly disappointed and tells Michael to stuff his soil group.

He tells his mother about this and she tells Brian. Brian is trying to make up for his behaviour forty years ago by doing what he can for his children - he has already agreed to fund Kate’s wall, or screen, or whatever, and he seeks out Adam - in the Autumn, the herbal leys are due to be returned to wheat production; how would it be if they put a similar acreage to new herbal leys? Adam cannot believe it and tells Jennifer that it seems that Brian has really grasped what Adam has been banging on about over recent years. She taxes Brian about this later and he says “I want to do everything I can to protect our children.” “Do you?” she replies, “I don’t know how you can live with yourself.” Not convinced, then Jen?

No matter - Jennifer is busy and it will come as no surprise that this involves cooking. Adam notices a pie and asks if that’s what they’ve got for lunch? No chance - the pie is destined for Will, who she has heard isn’t handling things very well. She delivers the pie later in the day and Will isn’t really interested when she tells him that he can eat it or freeze it. Emma is at Will’s cottage - she has thrown herself into arranging the Order of Service for Nic’s funeral and is walking on eggshells, although Will couldn’t really care.

In fact, he goes out, saying that he has firewood to get in and Emma apologises to Jennifer, who, for once, takes the hint and goes home. Emma finds Will chopping logs and she tells him that they need to get the Order of Service finalised. What does he think about ’All things bright and beautiful’ for the intro hymn? ‘Whatever’ sums up his response. Emma would like to give a eulogy, if Will doesn’t mind. She explains what ’eulogy’ means and he says “if you like”. Emma isn’t getting a lot of co-operation from Will and she asks whether he’d like to say something at the service? The immediate “No!” is the most positive Will has been about the whole business.

However, things are not yet finished - Emma says that she has had an offer (I think it was Pat, but I’m not sure) to look after Poppy for the day of the funeral. Will says that won’t be necessary, as he’ll look after Poppy. Emma is surprised, but Will explains “She’s not going to the funeral and neither am I.” He goes on to say that he doesn’t want to sit there and be told that Nic has gone to a better place and that they will be reunited later. “She’s gone and nothing’s gonna bring her back. You can do what you like - I won’t stop you, but I won’t be there.”

The unsympathetic amongst us might say that this will ensure that the service is not as miserable as it could have been, but we are left with the question - if Will doesn’t go to the service, nor, presumably to the Wake afterwards, then can Kenton be sure of getting paid?