Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Foot In Mouth

Charlotte Martin (Susan Carter)

The Carters and the Aldridges got together to celebrate the fact that Chris will be able to buy the farrier business. Brian moaned that people kept asking him about foot and mouth, following the story in The Echo and it was annoying him. Cue Susan Carter, who comes in and promptly asks him about it. Not so much foot and mouth as foot in mouth.

Susan demonstrates that she has a talent for this kind of thing when Jennifer gets all sniffy with Alice about her buying food at a low cost supermarket. Susan comes in on the end of the conversation and congratulates Jennifer on her perspicacity in shopping at a cheapie supermarket, saying "We all have to watch the pennies, don't we?" Jennifer is stuck for an answer, as she probably doesn't know what a penny is.

The woman really is a snob and moans to Brian about Alice and Chris putting up the cottage as collateral for the loan. Brian applauds the two youngsters for trying to go it alone and he tells Jennifer that he'd never let them lose the cottage if the worst happened. God knows I don't like to encourage stories about pregnancies, but I hope Alice gets pregnant soon, as Jennifer will probably die of shame. And serve her right.

Someone else who got their comeuppance was Brenda. Pip came along and gave her the benefit of her marketing knowledge and despite not very subtle hints from Brenda ("I know most of this stuff") Pip drones on. And on. Tom and Brenda have been revamping the Bridge Farm website and are feeling quite pleased with themselves. However, Pat, who has had a trying day, with the Environmental Health making a surprise visit and Susan dropping stuff all over the place, finally snaps and yells "this business is losing money and all you're doing is tinkering with the website!" before storming out. Brenda is distraught and Tom comforts her, saying "we couldn't do any of this without you". Any of what exactly? Losing money? Infecting customers?

There's good news and bad news for Bridge Farm. Good news: Environmental Health are not going to prosecute. Bad News: Underwoods are charging them £10,000 towards the cost of the product recall. "We'll find the money somehow" says Tony, in uncharacteristically optimistic mood. More bad news: the families suffering from e.coli are suing Bridge Farm.

There has also been bad news for Clarrie (and thank you to my friend Karen, who suggested the title "Dirty Clarrie" for an episode of this blog – if only it had been three weeks earlier!) when it is confirmed that she was almost definitely the source of the e.coli. The next day, Clarrie mentions to William that Pat isn't going to be prosecuted and he has obviously caught Tony's optimism bug when he says that at this rate it might not be too long before Pat gives Clarrie her job back. Not while Tom still has his strength, I suspect.

Tom is still manfully trying to drum up sales by cold calling. Brenda has recovered her confidence and tells him to "avoid discounting – it smacks of desperation." Er, hello? Bridge Farm is on its knees and the sign marked 'desperation' is quickly receding in the rear view mirror. Tom is pleased with some of the reactions he's getting until Pat tells him that a deli owner Googled Bridge farm (other search engines are available) and it came up with "e.coli kings" or "poisons customers" or similar and the man wasn't impressed that Tom 'forgot' to mention the episode. Well, these things can slip your mind, can't they? Pat is even more despairing, saying "no matter how far afield we go, it isn't going to work."

Another person worried about infection is Emma, who tells Nic not to let Mia near Keira while she (Mia) has a cold. Nic mentions it to Will while they are flying kites on Lakey Hill (sadly no electrical storms about). He's all for sorting her out but Nic says "no". She also mentions how good Clarrie is with Keira. Ha! And Emma was worried about picking up an infection from Mia!

Daniel got his GCSE results – something like three Xs and a Z. Hey, never mind; this is Ambridge and the sixth form College will still take him, even though he apparently couldn't rearrange the words "off" and "sod" if you chalked them on a blackboard for him.

I'm worried about Harry – he's exhibiting signs of becoming as laid back as the new, improved Helen. For example, after Jazzer has cooked Sunday lunch, Harry is about to get stuck into the dishes when Zofia rings. He gets ready to go. "What about the dishes?" asks Jazzer. "Just leave them – I'll do them later". What a change!

Harry, Zofia and Jazzer (three's a crowd, Jazzer, but Harry doesn't seem to mind) walk to a gig at a pub in Pennyhasset. Except it isn't a gig, but a karaoke night and Harry has put his and Jazzer's name down to do "Wannabe" by the Spice Girls. Instead of smacking him, Jazzer goes along with it, then said he's getting a taxi into Borsetshire, so perhaps there was method in Harry's madness. Certainly Zofia likes him, calling him "such a great guy". She also says "This is the most fun I've had in a long time", which presumably explains why she came to England…

Monday, 22 August 2011

Pip Makes The Grade(s)

Helen Monks (Pip Archer)

Have you noticed that Ambridge appears to be awash with marketing experts all of a sudden? Early in the week we had Tom and Helen wondering how they could revive the failing Bridge Farm brand. Tom still hasn't got over his disappointment at not being allowed to roast Clarrie over an open fire, having first of all tortured her on the Rack and cut out her heart, but he says he'll think of something.

Anyway, Tom spends the day on the tractor, baling, and, by lunchtime, he has formulated a brand new marketing strategy, which he runs past Helen. The solution? Sell the products further away, where news of the e.coli hasn't yet reached. What a master stroke! No doubt the offer of a scholarship at Harvard Business School is in the post.

Our second marketing expert is Pip, who is ecstatic at having got the B and two Cs she needed to get into Felpersham uni. One B and two Cs? I thought that in the current climate students need at least six A* grades, not to mention a personal fortune. No sooner has Pip learned that she has passed than she is on the phone to Helen, giving her the benefit of her marketing experience (ie none) of using the Internet and social networking. It's Helen's own fault for telling Pip that Adam said she had a great head for business. If that's true, why did Adam totally disagree with her proposals on how to market the lamb?

A market of a different sort proved a problem for Brian, when work on the new market project was halted after the discovery of some bones. Brian started off slightly annoyed, then was getting really worked up when no archaeologist was immediately available to come out to the site. Jennifer takes her life in her hands when she tells Brian that the remains could be Roman and "isn't it exciting?" His answer was along the lines of "no it bloody well isn't" and he became just this side of incandescent with rage when the bones turned out to be animal remains but work on the site still cannot resume as they need to be disposed of properly.

At the Board meeting, Brian lays into Annabelle, reminding her that she voted against him in accepting the early finish date and that the delays could mean they incur costly penalties. Apparently, according to Brian, this is more than just a one-off project; it's his legacy and a chance to leave something behind. Something other than children, then?

Nic took another few steps along the path to sainthood when she gives up her afternoon off to accompany Eddie and William on a leaflet drop to drum up some landscape work. Eddie is chuffed to bits when a woman asks him to cut her grass – not exactly Capability Brown, is it?

Nic and William are having some time off and we were treated to a long list of the attractions available at Lower Loxley. Why? It's not as if we can go there, so do we really need to know in such detail? Later on in the week, Nic suggests taking Clarrie with them when they go on a railway day out. Clarrie tells William that Nic is a treasure, prompting listeners to yell at the radio "So what's she doing living with him?"

Pat and Tony face an uncomfortable interview by the Environmental Health people and their woes are multiplied as more customers shun their products. Shula tells them that Mollie, the girl in hospital with e.coli, has developed a kidney problem. The way things are going, Tom's distance marketing strategy will mean shipping ice cream to Venezuela.

Good news for Chris and Alice – he can have his £40,000 loan to buy Ronnie's business as long as they put Alice's house up as security. Let's hope that all goes well, although judging from recent storylines, I wouldn't be surprised if the farrier trade was wiped out by an epidemic of equine flu, probably caused by Clarrie feeding horses Bridge Farm ice cream while feeling a bit under the weather.

Peggy learns some disturbing news when Elona tells her that she will have to leave The Laurels, as her daughters want a bedroom each and she cannot afford a bigger flat, so she'll have to move away to somewhere cheaper (like back to Eastern Europe?). Peggy confides her fears to Ted while they are making an enamelled dragonfly brooch to celebrate Pip's A-level results. This shows great faith in Pip, as it was the day before the results were released.

Peggy isn't just worried because of the great relationship that Elona has with Jack, but she (Peg) was also hoping that Elona would be able to help her out with jobs like shopping and the laundry "so that I can keep my independence". I would submit that, if you've got someone running round the shops for you and doing the washing, then you have already lost your independence, but surely we aren't seeing the last of Elona? No doubt some cunning solution will be found at the last minute, enabling jack to be looked after by his favourite carer and allowing Peggy to spend even more time in Ted's enamelling workshop.

Monday, 15 August 2011

A Bit of a Damp Squib

Jasmine Hyde (Leonie Snell)

Sunday arrived and we all held our breath – what would be James and Leonie's big announcement? Lilian had brought along a couple of bottles of bubbly in anticipation and had also dragged along an exceedingly reluctant Matt, who could no doubt think of many better things to do on his birthday.

The announcement was to be made at the Snells' party to celebrate 25 years in Ambridge and, when it came, everybody was stunned. Not by the enormity of it, but by the sheer banality. While Lilian, Lynda et al were expecting news of babies and weddings, James and Leonie revealed that they were going to write a book, along the lines of 'Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady', about a year in the life of a country village. The rather twee (to the point of sick-making) title is to be "A Little Bit of Heaven".

Apparently this is a real money maker of an idea and James and Leonie pointed out that the added advantage would be that they would be around Ambridge so much more often. Sorry? Advantage, did you say? This bombshell (not) news was greeted with the sound of one hand clapping and Leonie was distraught at the general show of indifference.

To save the day, Lynda suggested that they all meet the next day to talk over the idea. James explained that it was a wonderful investment opportunity and, of course, they would need a top of the range digital SLR camera for the photos (and no doubt a suite of offices in Dubai). Robert asked whether they had considered getting permission from those whose homes they would be photographing. "Details, details" said Leonie dismissively – more like "lawsuits, lawsuits". "I'll tell Matt" said Lilian (like he's going to be interested) and she stalled by saying she'll make a modest investment further down the line. "Not too modest, Ma and not too far down the line!" says a jovial James. Honestly, don't you just want to kick him! And Leonie, thinking about it.

Will tracks down the crayfish poacher, who turns out to be Josh, and who was on a nice little earner, selling them to Kenton for £5 a lb. Will puts on his stern voice and says didn't Josh know that he needed the landowner's permission (no) or that he needed a licence? (no). Give the kid a break, Will, you miserable sod – you could take a cut and give the money to Clarrie, who needs it. Instead he tells Josh to clear off and don't do it again.

Clarrie is still moping around and really needs a job now she has resigned from the dairy. Pat tells Tom that she'd take Clarrie back tomorrow if there was the work, but Tom is still in vindictive mood and, if he had his way, Clarrie would be featuring in the next batch of Tom Archer sausages. Pat reminds him that Clarrie must have picked up the infection from somewhere – I really, really hope that it turns out to be from one of Tom's burgers or hot dogs; please God.

Will gives Clarrie some money to be going on with and says that Brian has said that he can offer Eddie some casual work on the estate. Not only that, but Joe has had an idea – if Clarrie helps out at the car boot sales, that will free up Eddie to do more gardening work or sell more flatulent gnomes. "That's so thoughtful of Joe" says Clarrie. No it isn't – thoughtful would be if he topped himself so that they can inherit, although on second thoughts, Joe's estate isn't likely to run to more than enough to buy a tub of Bridge Farm ice cream.

And there's plenty of ice cream to buy (oh, these seamless links!) as nobody is taking a chance and it's sitting on the shelves in the shop and Ambridge Organics. Pat and Tony's cup of woe overflows still further when The Echo learns that a couple of e.coli victims are going to sue and the Buyer at Underwoods is quoted as saying that the public has lost faith in the Bridge Farm brand. Why not call it something else? "Not e.coli" sounds like a winner. The final straw comes when the Environmental Health say that they might be starting proceedings against Bridge Farm. Pat and Tony will know on Tuesday, when the EH has summoned them for an interview.

Pip is getting more and more nervous as results day approaches. She eventually gets to talk to Adam about her ideas to market Hasset Hills lamb and is upset when he says that he agrees with David that staying in the co-operative is a good idea. However, he suggests that some things need changing and why doesn't Pip work from inside the co-op to change it? The idea of being a fifth-column mole appeals to Pip and she cheers up.

Jim is getting his feet worryingly close to being under Christine's table as he helps her replace a fence panel (persuading her to buy half the Garden Centre in the process). Christine invites him to tea. Thin end of the wedge, I reckon.

Finally, an 'if only' moment: Shula goes to see Pat to proffer sympathy and Pat makes her a cuppa, saying: "help yourself to milk". I would have given a large sum to hear Shula reply "Er, I'd rather not, if you don't mind, Auntie Pat…"

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Are The Cows Doomed?

Dairy Cows (Daisy & Buttercup)

I fear for the future of Brookfield's bovines – not only has Josh suddenly turned from stay-abed teenager to keen young stockman, getting up early to help mum with the milking, but we had Ruth banging on about how much she loves the cows (don't go there) and how there has always been a dairy herd at Brookfield.

As well as Ruth waxing nostalgic about her days as a student at Brookfield, Josh asks David "we won't ever have to get rid of the cows, will we?" David reassures him, then starts to worry because both Pip and now Josh have taken an interest in farming "and how will the farm support three families?" he asks Ruth. Talk about planning ahead! Cheer up David – Josh is still at school and you might be dead by the time he finishes his education.

With all this love for the cows flying about, I am afraid that we are being softened up for another tragedy at Brookfield and the cows will soon be toast – or rather burgers. Remember, if it happens, you read it here first.

The question is how will it happen? Foot and mouth? A deranged gunman with a phobia of cattle? Jude returns and wreaks a terrible revenge? Alternatively, perhaps Clarrie will come round and give the cows a big, sloppy kiss.

Let's face it, Clarrie will have plenty of time on her hands now that she has done the decent thing and fallen on her sword (no doubt carefully placed there by Tom). Poor Clarrie sounds so miserable – moping about the poor kiddies in hospital. Eddie tries not to bang her head on the table when she tells him she's resigned and instead tells her (rather unconvincingly) "We've been through hard times before; we'll just have to work that bit harder. We'll survive somehow." I suspect we will see a fresh wave of farting gnomes being offered for sale.

Amid the doom, gloom and despondency, there is a happy note, as Ronnie accepts Chris's offer to rent rather than buy his premises. Chris is delighted – he had anticipated being a farrier working from a van. Alice helps him celebrate.

Celebrations too at Rhys's party (what, you mean you didn't go? Everyone else did). Harry, however can think of better things to do than playing First Jack Up (or maybe the name of the drinking game gave him ideas) as he whisks Zofia back to the flat for a party of their own. It's all too much for Jazzer, who tells Fallon that he had to go to sleep wearing his earphones the other night (yet another thing that Harry is good at, obviously) and he asks Rhys if he can kip on his couch. Jazzer is totally pissed (I suspect he kept palming the fourth Jack) but he still notices Fallon's pained expression when he speaks of Harry's sexual athleticism and she admits she is carrying a torch for him, but says it's too late. Don't you believe it Fallon – when Harry has worn Zofia out, he'll be looking for a replacement.

Much speculation in the Lilian/Tiger household when James and Leone hint that there will be a major announcement at Lynda's party. James puts pressure on Ma (and don't you hate it when he calls her that?) to ditch the BBQ that Matt wants to go to in favour of the Snells' do. What will the announcement be? A baby? A marriage? Lilian is all a-flutter and tells Matt that they are going and that's that. No doubt Matt is thinking fondly of his days in chokey.

Pat has had a bad week – as well as losing customers hand over fist, she went on the radio and came across as a bit cold hearted (due in no small measure to skilful editing). Can the Bridge Farm brand survive? Lynda does her bit by ordering the cream for her party from Pat. Wouldn't it be great if everyone at the party went down with e.coli? Then it really would be 'goodnight Bridge Farm'.

A new mystery is hatching, as Will, Nic and family are picnicking by the Am and the children are playing in the river. Suddenly, an ear-piercing scheme rends the air – has Jake fallen over a weir? Has George been eaten by a crocodile? No – Mia found a crayfish in a pot.

This brings out the gamekeeper in Will, as he describes the pot as amateurish and gives Nic a lecture on how it's illegal to trap and sell crayfish (he suspects that he has tracked down the source of Kenton's crayfish dishes on the Bull menu). "It's not a native one" he says, by which he presumably means it comes from Felpersham. This puts him in a dilemma – you shouldn't put them back if they are an alien species. What to do? Eat the bloody thing man! If Nic can't cook it, give it to Kenton.

We end by quoting Will. He was speaking about events at the dairy, but it could have been a summing up of his life when he tells Nic "I haven't got a clue what's going on." How very, very true.

Tuesday, 2 August 2011

Tom Shows His Caring Side (Not)

Tom Graham (Tom Archer)

The scarecrow competition reached its unbearable climax on Sunday when Lewis judged the entries. The tension between the Grundy brothers was at fever pitch when Lewis – nailing his colours firmly to the fence – announced a dead heat between Ed's and Will's Billy Goats Gruff entries.

Actually, it was a neat solution, as George won both prizes (although there were chocolates for Jake and Mia as well), and it prevented further internecine strife between the Grundy siblings. In fact, everyone agreed that it was a good solution and both sides had their photo taken together. "I can't remember the last time William and Edward appeared in the same photograph" said Eddie to Neil, later on.

Meanwhile, the enterprise that was Bridge Farm appears to be going to hell in a handcart. E-coli was the main topic of conversation at the fete, with people shunning Tom's burgers and hot dogs, much to his disgust. Clarrie tells Eddie that she has to give two consecutive clear samples (and that's an image that I'm finding hard to shift from my brain) before she can think of going back to work.

But will she have a job to go back to? Susan, who has been packing veg boxes and helping out at Ambridge Organics, tells Neil that there were hardly any customers. Pat, meanwhile, is throwing wobblies because she can't get the dairy steam cleaned for a week or so and alternating between anger and sympathy for the stricken children still in hospital. Her mood is not improved when she visits Underwoods, to find their shelves stocked with a rival's product.

The local Press are laying siege to Bridge Farm and driving Tony mad (how about cleaning the yard with a high pressure hose, Tony?). Still, he should be grateful it's only The Echo and not the Nationals. David, wearing his NFU hat, suggests that Tony rings the union press office and think about issuing a statement. He's not convinced, but drafts one and the family agrees to release it.

We had a horticultural interlude on Wednesday, with Lynda admiring Jill's garden and both saying how much they learned from the recent GQT visit. The boredom was relieved by the news that Flat Leaf Parsley won't be able to make the Snell's upcoming party, as her hubby has just taken a job in The Netherlands. Yes, Holland is rather the other side of the world, isn't it? At least we will be spared Lynda going all gooey over Oscar.

Chris and Alice have been married a year! Can it really be 12 months since Jennifer's nose was so spectacularly put out of joint? Anyway, Chris has to present his business plan to the bank – he's torn between the Bob Geldof approach ("Give us yer f***ing money!") and that of Bonnie and Clyde ("This is a shotgun, please place the money in the bag") and is not confident of securing a loan. Never mind, Alice has a bottle of champagne ready to toast their anniversary and no doubt will offer other consolations. As it turned out, Chris didn't do too badly and the bank suggested a revised scheme for half the money whereby he rents Ronnie's premises, rather than buy them outright.

At Casa Nueva, Nic says how much she loves being in the country and hopes the kids will feel the same. Will is delighted and invites them all to accompany him in the evening, when he's going to shoot a fox. The family that slays together stays together, obviously.

And so we return to Bridge Farm, where Tony has managed to find a company that will come and steam clean the dairy within a few days. Pat can't get the girl in hospital out of her mind and reckons there's a good chance that they could be sued. But wait! Tom has an idea and runs it past Brenda in the pub. She agrees and Tom persuades Helen to back him up when talking to Pat and Tony.

The idea? Simple – Clarrie has to be fired and her name dragged through the papers. Better still, if she could carry a bell and walk the streets of Ambridge (preferably in rags and chains) yelling "unclean!" that would be even better. Then, after she has done penance at the church and birched herself for 20 minutes, she will be taken to the village green, where she will be put inside this giant wicker figure (made out of the scarecrow entries, presumably) and ceremonially burnt, while screaming "it's the least I deserve!". "This will show we're taking it seriously" says Tom. After all, what are friends for if not to be sacrificed?

Pat and Tony however decide that they do not want to be village outcasts by hanging their friend (who's been working in the dairy for 16 years) out to dry. In the middle of the argument, Clarrie rings up to say that she is at last clear of e-coli and asks about her job. Pat is non-committal, saying that the dairy has yet to get the all-clear from Environmental Health and she will let Clarrie know.

Clarrie is disappointed, but not as much as if she could hear Tom's latest plans, which involve pins, fingernails and being broken on the wheel. Do you know, I think I liked him better when he wasn't speaking.