Sunday, 30 December 2012

Gone – And Never Said Goodbye

Bob Pullen’s Home at Manorfield Close, Ambridge

So, poor old Bob Pullen, the oldest person in Ambridge, didn't make it to Christmas, when on Wednesday Jill came into The Bull and announced Bob's demise. Kenton quickly gave her a brandy (and didn't even charge) and he, she and Jim embarked on a voyage down memory lane, telling Bob Pullen stories and toasting his memory.

All very well, but as Bob had never said a word on air in all his 97 years, these stories could have been made up for all we know. Jill was shocked at Bob's death, but should she have been? Only a few days earlier, he had given her authority to organise his funeral, which is a pretty strong hint that he wasn't feeling too good, I reckon.

I wonder too if we are witnessing a disturbing trend at the Archers – the getting rid of non-speaking characters? Consider; Bob's gone and earlier this year we lost Ivy Horrobin. What can be the motive? It's certainly not to save money – perhaps the writers have something against mutes or mime artists? Whatever the reason, I reckon Derek Fletcher and Sabrina Thwaite are looking nervously over their shoulders.

But back to speaking members of the cast. Matt and Lilian had an action-packed time in New York, marred only by the fact that she'd rather be with Paul. Paul keeps sending her texts and Matt assumes that it is Jennifer who is doing it. He goes on at Lilian to call Jenny back, but she refuses and the conversation becomes a little tetchy. I think it's not that clever of Paul to text when he knows Matt is around – all it takes is for Lilian to leave her phone lying around and an inquisitive Matt might find out the truth. Having said that, with her making calls from New York and GB to Dubai, if Matt sees her latest bill, he might be in for a bit of a shock.

We had a teasing storyline when Paul suggests to Lilian that she fly out to Dubai to be with him. Lil is tempted, but asks how she would explain it to Matt? "You'll think of something", said Paul, helpfully. Hmm – not that easy, is it? Imagine if she told Matt she's spending a few days in Cheltenham and then comes back with a tan, a shedload of duty free and new stamps in her passport. It would have to be a stupendously good story, not least to explain why you need a passport for Cheltenham.

Matt is bored, bored, bored and keeps whining at Lilian to do something, like a walk, or shopping. She, however, is busy with the Christmas extravaganza and the atmosphere between her and Matt becomes increasingly frosty. In fact, Lil is late for the final run through and, when she does turn up, Lynda dresses her down like a naughty schoolgirl. That's too much for Lilian, who blows up at Lynda and flounces out. About time someone told Lynda what a load of pretentious twaddle she spouts.

When Lilian comes back after the rehearsal, there is another row with Matt and he storms off to bed in high dudgeon. Thursday's episode ends with Lilian on the phone, saying: "I want to make a booking please…" Oh no! What about the show? After we spent a sleepless night worrying, on Friday we learned that the booking was for Peggy to go to Whitby. Phew! Why Whitby? Apparently Peggy was there in 1943 and has been longing to return ever since.

Friday is the day of the show and the dire predictions of many that it will be awful seem doomed to come true. As these doom mongers include Fallon, Kirsty and Jim – all of who are in the show – it doesn't look good. However, Kenton to the rescue! In his role as Lord of Misrule, he hijacks the show, encouraging the audience to join in and turning it more into pantomime than an artistic experience. Lynda is mortified, saying "It's not the show I planned at all", which immediately improves it 100%. She asks husband Robert what she should do and his response is "Nothing – the audience likes it." Perhaps there's a lesson to be learned here, Lynda?

In the interval, Peggy, Elizabeth and Jim congratulate Lynda on keeping a straight face in rehearsals while knowing what was going to happen on the night. Even worse, at the end of the show Kenton asks the audience to show their appreciation to actors and people behind the scenes "but most of all we have to congratulate our producer Lynda Snell for a fantastic blend of acting and comedy." This was her opportunity to admit that she knew nothing at all about it and thank Kenton for saving the evening, but instead she gave the audience Prospero's speech from The Tempest.

After Christmas, there was apparently some unpleasantness when Clive Horrobin was threatening Brenda at Tracy's and the Police were called. Before Christmas, Susan visited Keith in prison and Emma asked how he was. Susan admitted that he seemed a bit down at the prospect of spending Christmas behind bars. Emma then revealed that she must have attended the university of the bleedin' obvious, when she observed "No, I don't suppose it's much fun."

Sunday, 23 December 2012

Can Kenton Deliver?

Richard Attlee (Kenton Archer)

As we move ever closer to Ambridge's Elizabethan Christmas extravaganza, I'm a bit worried that Kenton may not be able to live up to his own high billing as the Lord of Misrule. He's certainly giving it the mother of all build-ups – on Sunday we were told of a defaced poster, on which had been written, "Anything can happen and probably will."

Later on in the week he is talking to mother Jill and hints at great things. Intrigued, Jill asks what he has in mind "If I told you, I'd have to kill you" was Kenton's response, followed by "hang on to your hat, Mum – you ain't seen nothing yet." Personally, I'm agog, although my enthusiasm was dimmed somewhat when he was looking for a substitute for a pig's bladder on a stick. Jill comes up with the idea of a balloon, only ten seconds after five million listeners. I'm a bit worried, as, following the colossal build-up, I was hoping for something more, but we'll see.

Christmas is the season of goodwill, peace on earth and love to all – unless your name is Will Grundy, that is. Last week, Will plumbed new depths with his mean-spirited moaning; something which, quite frankly, I would have thought impossible. The subject of his whinging? Brother Ed, of course. Will has given his Dad some work on the estate and Eddie makes the mistake of mentioning that he will be helping Ed, Emma and George to move into Ambridge View later in the week.

This is Will's cue to go off on one, saying that Ed has spoilt his business and it's on the road to ruin. Furthermore, if Ed had inherited the money that Will did, it would have been wasted on drugs and drink. As Eddie's own business went tits up a few years ago, he takes Will's self-righteous preaching as a personal insult and, when Will starts going on about how he's only worried about the effect on George (Susan and Neil aren't that bad, surely?), Eddie finally snaps and tells Will some long-overdue home truths, saying: "you have everything going for you – with all that, can't you spare a little compassion for your brother? If you've nothing useful to say, better say nothing." That last sentence should be cast in bronze and hung on the walls of the writers' office to ponder when writing Will's dialogue.

Mind you, Ed is in no danger of winning 'Businessman of the Year', as Neil discovers when he casts his eyes over Ed's financial records – or, to be more accurate, the gaping void where Ed's financial records should be. Neil realises that this is going to be a long, hard slog when he suggests that he looks at Ed's accounting system and is told "you've seen it." The trouble is, as Neil tells Susan later, is that, while Ed is a good stockman, he's never been trained in record keeping and things like cash flow. Why has it taken so long for someone to realise this? How come Oliver never noticed that all the paperwork from Ed was written on the back of a fag packet? Still, you can't knock Ed's determination – after a moment of self-flagellation when he asks Emma "are you thinking that your life has been a disaster since you met me?" (She says 'no', in case you were wondering) he promises her "we'll be back in our own place soon, I promise you." Emma, demonstrating once more the triumph of hope over experience, says "I know we will."

The story of the romance between Lilian and Paul continues to gather momentum – Lilian snuck off to Cheltenham to spend the day sh***ing with Paul. If you didn't think that I'm talking about 'shopping', then I'm ashamed of you. Paul buys Lilian an expensive, purple dress (I would have thought that scarlet would have been more appropriate, myself) and she buys him some cufflinks. There are signs that the situation is getting a bit complex and difficult, when Paul offers to drive Lilian to Hollerton station.

However, the best-laid plans and all that, as Matt phones Lilian and says he'll pick her up from the station. The solution? Paul will drive her to Felpersham (the stop before) and she can get on the train there. The trouble is that Vicky and Mike have also been shopping in Cheltenham and are on the train. Lilian tells them she has been to Cheltenham too, prompting Mike to wonder out loud why she got on at Felpersham. Lilian concocts some implausible story and, when they arrive at Felpersham and Matt offers Vicky and Mike a lift home, the conversation is fraught with potential pitfalls. As the poet says, Lilian, "Oh what a tangled web we weave…" Matt, who is still working on his sainthood, loves the dress and tells Lilian that he has booked a break in New York and she can wear it there.

Finally, we had a mystery solved, when Joe tells everyone in the pub who'll listen (much to Eddie's mortification) that his missing false teeth were found inside a turkey that Clarrie was plucking and drawing – I suppose it makes a change from sage and onion or sausage meat.

Sunday, 16 December 2012

Taking Care Of Business

Alison Dowling (Elizabeth Pargetter)

Elizabeth is in a dilemma – should she go with a limited refurbishment and a few rooms, or should she go with the bank's more grandiose scheme, which sounds like the conference business equivalent of the mega-dairy?

Only one thing to do in such a situation – run it past an expert in this line of business. Or then again you could do what Elizabeth actually does, which is to get in touch with brother David and ask for his views. Spot on; if I were contemplating an investment in expanding a conference facility and additional guest rooms, then I'd ask a farmer for his opinion. As it turns out, David's sage advice is to conduct some market research with a company that's done a similar thing in the past. The professorship at the Harvard Business School awaits, Dave.

If Elizabeth wants advice, then why not ask Roy? After all, she poached him from Grey Gables because of his expertise in this very sector and it could be argued that he has a vested interest in making Lower Loxley as profitable as possible, being as he works there. Mind you, Elizabeth couldn't even remember to cancel Freddie's extra-curricular maths lesson with Iftikar on the day of Freddie's (and Lily's) 13th birthday, so why should we be surprised?
Iftikar takes the wasted journey very well and asks Lizzie if he can have a look round the Deck the Halls, passing up the offer of joining the twins' party. Lizzie acts as his guide and there is much talk about the difficulty of bringing up kids on your own. In passing, we learn that Iftikar's father died when Ifty was 14.

Someone else with money troubles is Ed Grundy. David tells Rooooth that he is worried about the state of Ed's finances and that "his whole business could be at risk." David thinks that Neil should have a word with his son-in-law. At first Neil demurs, but later on in the week he suggests to Ed that they look at the books together. Ed declines (presumably wondering what the word 'books' means) but later on Ed changes his mind and accepts Neil's offer, saying "it's a bit scary". Come on Ed, it's only bits of paper, although I don't envy Neil's task.

Ed's ears must have been aflame, as seemingly everyone wants to talk about him; Oliver and Caroline discuss the imminent move to the in-laws' and Caroline says that if Ed is in trouble "we ought to know – you might be able to help him." What does she mean "if he's in trouble"? Of course he's in bloody trouble, that's why he's moving out, you stupid woman.

Kenton tells Jill that Lynda's extravaganza is on course to be a disaster and what is needed is something to make it more fun. Fun? Fun! You're not there to enjoy it, Kenton. Anyway, the Lord of Misrule is up to something and I don't think the event is going to go according to Lynda's plans. And from what we've heard so far, a damn good thing too.

Emma and Ed break the news to George that they are going to live with Susan and Neil. "It will be an adventure" says Emma, though not wholly convincingly. Of course, there is the worry that, when he learns of the new arrangement, which is bound to happen now George knows, Will will moan about it. Surely not? So Emma puts Nic in the picture. Nic is sympathetic and, when Will does kick off, Nic slaps him down, saying "I know what it's like to have money worries - why are you always looking for someone to blame?" Because he's a charmless, whining, whinging, ungracious, selfish, ill-mannered, surly, little git, Nic, that's why. And that's on one of his better days, if I'm truthful.

Over at the Dower House, things are moving on apace – listeners had an early Christmas present when we learned that James is having the plaster off and going back to London on Thursday. James is not the only one having it off, as Lilian accompanies him back to London and immediately arranges with Paul to come over to her hotel for a spot of adultery. Last week I did suggest that Lilian was cooling on the whole Paul thing, but I was woefully wide of the mark, as the passion is still there, with her calling him 'darling' and he telling Lil that he loves her. Driving her back to Hollerton (where she picks up a cab for home) Paul asks Lil if she has any regrets. "No, it's been wonderful" the strumpet replies.

All this was made worse by the fact that Matt is still trying so very hard to put things right with Lilian, promising her shopping trips and, when she returns from London, even feeding her with quiche and salad. Just as we thought that Matt's conversion into a New Man was total, he revealed that they were bought, not made with his own fair hands. Matt is delighted that James has gone (when told early in the week that James was going home, Matt echoed the thoughts of millions when he said "if you want the honest truth, Thursday can't come soon enough") and he is full of plans for his and Lilian's future. "Tiger has missed his pusscat" he says, nauseatingly and adds that, now James has gone they can settle down and have a good Christmas – "just the two of us." Er, I'd make that three, Matt if I were you.

Sunday, 9 December 2012

Iftikar Hood

Pal Aron (Iftikar Shah)

Jim's series of articles for Borsetshire Life is a neat way of helping us to get to know more details of a character's past – take last week, for instance, when Jim interviewed Ifty. Who would have thought that Ifty had emulated Robin Hood by stealing crisps and suchlike from the family retail business and then giving them to homeless people? The main difference between Ifty and the famous outlaw was that Ifty then put the money for the purloined goods into the till.

We also learned that Ifty's mother put his profile on a website, hoping he would find a nice girl. Jim intrudes on Ifty's privacy by asking "you've not felt the urge to settle down and start a family?" Mind your own business, you nosey sod. Anyone would think Ifty is about to draw his pension. It seems that his part is growing, as Ifty talks to Rhys and suggests a double date with him and Kirsty and Rhys and Fallon

It was the week of the Christmas lights switch-on and we found Kenton suffering from pangs of self doubt. Would it all go off all right? Would people switch on in the correct order? Who cares – it's not bloody Regent Street, for heaven's sake. In case you missed it, everything did go OK, so stop fretting.

One person who won't be having a very happy Christmas is Keith Horrobin, who got sent down for four years, thus keeping up a fine Horrobin tradition. Rooooth tells David that Emma is feeling bad because she now has two jailbird uncles – what about her jailbird mother, Rooooth, or have you forgotten that Susan also did time?

The alien abduction of Matt Crawford still continues to go unnoticed – I haven't seen such a change in character and behaviour since Ebenezer Scrooge woke up to find it was Christmas Day – and Matt is all over Joyce like a cheap suit, promising her all mod cons at the new flat, including grab rails and special, non-slip flooring. The words 'horse', 'stable door' and 'bolted' spring to mind and presumably Joyce feels the same, telling Matt that all his consideration has come too late and, if he'd taken the same trouble with the house, then Arthur would still be there to enjoy it. She didn't actually say "you killed my husband", but the thought was there. Matt had the grace to feel embarrassed as he left.

His change of character is evident when he drags Lilian off for an afternoon's shopping and tries to persuade her to buy an expensive coat, but she says she is not in the mood for shopping. Even more astonishing, Matt gives James a bottle of good cognac – and it isn't even poisoned. James, along with every other listener, wonders why Matt would do such a thing and Leonie once more demonstrates her rather tenuous grasp on reality when she tells him: "It has just taken him a while to realise what a nice person you are." Pur-leese!

We had an inkling of why Ed Grundy's business may not be doing so well, when David suggests that he combine his purchases of fertiliser and concentrates with Brookfield's order, as more bulk means a lower price. Ed can't get his head round this and protests that he's not looking for charity and "I don't want to be sponging off you." With a sigh, David explains the economics once more (Ed is currently paying 20% more than Brookfield) but he'd be better off banging Ed's head on the table and forcing him to sign a business agreement. Or putting an X at the bottom, more likely.

Someone else with potential money worries is Elizabeth; while the bank thinks her plans for converting the dairy are good, they say that they are thinking too small and should go for many more rooms to take advantage of the conference overnight market. If they go ahead, it means they will be paying back around £70 k a year, which is probably what Brian Aldridge spends on wine.

Later in the week, James and Leonie go to dinner at Lynda and Robert's – I don't know who I felt sorriest for – and when they have gone back to the Dower House, Robert and Lynda talks about how nice it is to see them back together again. Robert adds: "Let's hope it lasts." "And let's hope it's far away from Ambridge!" we all added.

James thinks that Lilian is looking a bit strained. And no wonder, with Matt being mega-nice and considerate and the complication of her deepening relationship with Paul. Actually, I get the impression that the shine has gone off the relationship as far as Lilian is concerned. Paul rings her a couple of times – firstly to tell her how much he's missing her ("My love – I wish I could be with you") and secondly to tell her that he can get away any night next week and they can spend the night together. This seems to be going a bit too fast for Lilian and she prevaricates, telling him that things there are "complicated" and "difficult". Paul, however, does not seem to realise that he has been cast aside like a spent match and is insistent, saying "Lilian, Lilian – come on", which probably reminds her of the afternoon of illicit love they shared last week. I can't help but think that, should Paul suddenly turn up and protest his undying love for Lilian, that would really be a stern test of the Matt Crawford change of character.

Finally - a brief note in passing; Tom says that he has got Rich's Christmas present – what's the betting that it's a Ready Meal?

Sunday, 2 December 2012

Brotherly Love

Kim Durham (Matt Crawford)

Last week we had Rhys and Fallon making the beast with two backs and this week Lilian and Paul finally consummated their relationship. It was a short step from Lilian telling Paul that Matt doesn't understand her to her saying "let's go up to your room." These shy, retiring country maidens; so pure, so chaste - so easily caught.

How was it for Lilian? "Oh Paul, that was wonderful," she said, adding that she'd like to see him again soon, and for longer. Sadly, it is soon time for her to go and, when Paul asks whether she really has to, Lilian said "Well, I don't suppose another half hour will make much difference" and gave her particularly dirty-sounding laugh. Whatever happened to remorse and pangs of conscience?

Eventually Lilian left Paul and went back home to Matt, Paul's brother. A little belatedly, perhaps, Matt seems to have realised that his behaviour has not been of the best recently and he is gamely trying to make amends, cooking a meal and opening a bottle of claret. "Things are going to be different now," he says, "Shall we drink to the future of the team?" Fortunately, he is unaware that half of the team has been playing away and there is a comic moment when he says to Lilian: "Sit down – you've had an exhausting day." I should say so!

Fallon seems surprised when Neil knows about her and Rhys – Susan spotted her leaving his flat early in the morning. "I might as well put my diary on the Ambridge village website," says Fallon. Good job she doesn't know about the webcam in Rhys's bedroom. Honestly, what does she expect? This is Ambridge and the only way she could keep it a secret is to black her face over, wear a full Burka and sneak out at 4am, brushing away her footprints as she goes. As it is, if Susan knows, then everybody will know within seconds.

There was a solution of sorts to the on-going story of Ed and Emma's poverty when Susan invites Emma and the family to come and live with her and Neil at Ambridge View. Ed is reluctant, telling Emma that it feels like he is a failure and cannot provide for his family. Emma tells Susan that Ed "wants us to get through this on our own" but if you ask me, Ed just doesn't want to live in the same house as Susan – and I cannot find it in my heart to blame him, to be honest.

However, when your luck is out, it's really out and Ed eventually has to bite the bullet and agree to move in with the in-laws. Ed and Emma hand in their notice to landlord David and there are noises of regret all round. Ed tells Emma "we will get our own place again." Does renting count as 'your own place'? David said "You've been great neighbours". Too right – not many tenants would be willing to fight a fire in a blazing barn in the early hours of the morning; where does it mention that in the tenancy agreement?

As so often happens in Ambridge, person A finds out something that has happened because person B tells them, thinking that they already know. This week Eddie was person A, David person B and the fact was that Ed and Emma are moving into Ambridge View. Eddie immediately goes round to Rickyard and says "what's this I hear about you not being able to afford the rent?" Well done Eddie – you get there in the end. Eddie also says (to Emma) "Why didn't you say something to me and Clarrie?" and "Are things really that bad?" Of course they are, you fool – why do you think they are dressed in rags and thinking of eating George?

Eddie also tells Emma to tell Ed that "we're here for both of you and if there's anything we can do to help, you know where we are." While sounding very noble, this has to be one of the most useless offers of help ever made – I put it to you that, if Ed says to Eddie "can you lend us five grand, Dad?" the answer will be disappointing. Five pence, yes and there's the possibility Eddie could maybe rustle up a fiver, if pushed, but I suspect that any support provided will be of the moral sort, rather than practical or financial.

David and Rooooth's Hereford Wiggo came second to a superb Angus beast at the stock show. However, David isn't too despondent, as he got a good price for Wiggo at auction, although it seems a tad harsh on Wiggo – just because you don't win, you get sent for auction and, presumably, slaughter. Unless Wiggo was bought by Vicky, of course.

Finally this week, we had Jazzer drinking in the Bull, where Mr. Sensitivity Bert Fry remarks that Rhys doesn't appear to be working tonight. Jazzer sends him off to get some pork scratchings (this man is never very far away from some part of a pig) and Hayley turns up. Jazzer looks so morose that she asks what's up? With a sigh of which Jamie would have been proud, he tells Hayley that he's upset about Rhys and Fallon, adding: "He'd better treat her right, that's all, or he'll be answerable to me." Now, that would be an interesting episode – with Rhys's Welsh accent and Jazzer's virtually incomprehensible Glasgow patois, I suggest that at least one translator would be required if the lads were to communicate effectively.

Monday, 26 November 2012

About Bloody Time!

Joanna van Kampen (Fallon Rogers)

Before beginning this week, I have a confession to make – I will miss the Friday episode and will be away next week, so fingers crossed that nothing significant happens on Friday!

The about time of the title refers of course to Fallon and Rhys finally getting their acts (and bodies) together. It's amazing the aphrodisiac effect that a lousy film can have – they were having a drink after the pictures, then Rhys drove Fallon home. There was some awkward conversation, then Rhys grabbed her in a passionate (and very sloppy, from the sound of it) kiss, asking "Do you want to come back to mine?" Fallon obviously hasn't heard about how to behave on a first date and replied "yes I do – very much." Well, that was a waste of petrol, wasn't it?

When we tune in the next morning, we learn that the couple didn't get much sleep (bloody noisy in the country) and, from the sound of it, both enjoyed the experience. Fallon asks if Rhys has a spare toothbrush and he says no, but I'll get one from the shop and you can leave it here. "Oh, we're going to make a habit of this, are we?" Fallon teases him. It would appear so, as they have an extra hour's lie-in. Good for them, I say.

If Rhys and Fallon are ecstatically happy, the same cannot be said for Lilian and Matt. Lilian finds out, almost in passing, that Arthur has died and Joyce can't bear to live in the house on her own, so she's moved out. An incandescent Lilian asks Matt what the hell he thinks he's playing at by not telling her about Arthur. Matt makes things worse when he says that he's sure he must have mentioned it to her and it must be the strain and worry about James that drove it from her mind.

Lilian points out, not unreasonably, that learning that someone has died isn't something that you tend to forget about and she calls Matt "a smug bastard", adding: "That man's death should be on your conscience!" Matt wanders off, presumably to look up the word 'conscience' in the dictionary. Before she learned of Arthur's demise, Lilian visited the church where Darrell is working and – knock me down with a feather – Paul is there and there is much 'fancy meeting you again' before they sneak off for a pub lunch. If Matt keeps killing off tenants, I fear Lilian will get a tad fed up.

And 'fed up' describes Ed to a T. Not only is he getting decent meals now that Susan and Neil are chipping in with some money and/or food parcels, but he gets fed up in the other sense when he has mega problems with the milk bail and, despite trying to fix it himself, he has to call out an engineer. The good news is that the engineer gets it working in time for afternoon milking, the bad news is that the repairs and necessary upgrade to the electricity supply are going to cost Ed £4,000. It was quite touching on Thursday when he broke down in tears, beating himself up and saying "why did I ever think I could be a farmer?" and "What type of man can't support his family?" I think the answer to that last question is "any Grundy with the initial E", as, let's face it, Eddie doesn't keep Clarrie in the lap of luxury either, does he?

Emma shows that she is a caring wife, albeit one with absolutely no knowledge of economics nor any grasp on reality, when she says "It'll be all right – we'll sort it out. Somehow." Why not sell George to his father Will, or at least rent him out by the hour? Or get his maintenance increased by telling Will that George wants gold-plated trainers? No, on second thoughts, not that, as the Muppet is quite capable of going out and buying him a pair. Oliver didn't help when he said to Ed "chin up" – the way things are going, it will be 'chin up and stick your head in this noose'. I do feel sorry for them – I hope something good happens on Friday.

Another person with worries is Hayley – the long-awaited consultant's report is in and it recommends increased adult learning activities. Hayley, who deals with kids, is afraid that she might get the chop and Roy offers to mention it subtly to Elizabeth. The trouble is that, whenever he tries, something always happens to interrupt – usually a visit from Kenton.

Celebrations at Brookfield as not only do they get the go-ahead to rebuild the barn, but the new paddock system is set to come on stream. Rooooth is really excited about this (honestly, it doesn't take much, does it?) but David says it had better work, as the whole future of the farm is at stake. No pressure then, cows.

We had a lot of talk about Tree Dressing Day, which is apparently now going to be an event that attracts sponsorship. Just as well really, as Oliver was going to put his hand in his pocket and Jim has a 648-page list of requirements. And what the hell is Tree Dressing Day? Where do they get these obscure rural customs from and how come we've never heard of them before? I'm sure they're making them up. While they're at it, they could invent some really popular old customs such as 'Flog a Cripple' day (yes James, I am thinking of you) or 'Shoot a Gamekeeper Sunday' or even, as the Christmas spectacular draws ever closer, 'Lynch a Lynda'.

Sunday, 18 November 2012

Misery? I should say so

Jasmine Hyde (Leonie Snell)

It gets worse – not only is Leonie still in Ambridge, but it doesn't look like she's going back to London any time soon. Lynda asks her, rather pointedly, what about work and aren't they missing her? Leonie plunges a dagger into our hearts when she replies that she is taking unpaid leave. "Don't worry," she says, "I'll be around for a while yet." She also mentions that her company said "take as long as you want" – I bet they are secretly planning to move offices while she is away and that profits have soared.

At Peggy's 88th birthday party, Tom and Brenda take the mickey out of Leonie, comparing her to the nurse in the film 'Misery'. Sadly she hasn't seen it, but James has and he's not best pleased with Tom and Brenda's sniggering. "I don't get the joke" says a mystified Leonie. "That's because there isn't one, sweetie" replies James, tartly. Honestly – "sweetie" – I ask you!

Lynda still tries to find out how long will Leonie be in Ambridge. "How long do broken bones take to heal?" she answers. 20 minutes. Get your bag packed Leonie – get off those crutches and get on the train, James. Bye! Don't forget to write.

Ed and Emma's financial plight gets even worse when she visits the supermarket and finds out that there is no money in the bank account. She asks the food bank for a food box, but apparently it is not enough just to be destitute; you have to be poorer than that. However, they do give her a hot meal. As she is eating it, mother Susan comes in, bringing donations and the whole story comes out. Had Susan known, she could have cut out the middleman and dropped the food off at Rickyard Cottage.

Actually, I have a plan to solve Ed and Emma's problem; we know that customers have been deserting the milk round (Mike has reduced what he pays Ed, which is half the trouble) so presumably the volume of milk needed has gone down. If you don't need so much milk, it follows that you don't need so many cows, so the answer is to slaughter one of the cows, butcher it and eat it. With luck it should last for months. Not only that, but Emma can show her versatility and good husbandry by turning the hide into shoes for Keira. The horns could be turned into Christmas presents and the hooves into ashtrays – get that gun out now, lad.

The prize for the most unconvincing about-face this week goes to Freddie. He came home from school full of gloom because that night his extra-curricular maths lessons with Iftikar were due to start. "I thought you liked Iftikar?" asks Elizabeth. "But I don't like maths" came the sullen reply. Ifti turned up and correctly divined the situation, telling Freddie to get his coat on as they would be working outside. We were treated to the description of an obtuse isosceles triangle etched on a pediment, with Ifti telling Freddie that "everything comes down to maths."

I suppose it helps if you live in a stately home – it provides more opportunities for mathematical study. You could calculate the volume of water in the moat, or divide the number of rooms by the number of servants, or work out the square root of the number of acres in the deer park. You could even go up on the roof and work out the velocity of a falling object – a father, say.

But back to the unconvincing about-face. Elizabeth comes out to see how they are getting on (can't she trust anyone to do their job properly) and, when she speaks to Freddie, he is positively orgasmic over mathematics and practically booking his university course in pure and applied maths. I'm sorry, but nobody is that good a teacher.

Lilian sloped off to meet Paul in a pub on Sunday lunchtime and he proved that he cannot know her very well by asking whether it was gin and tonic that she liked? Let's face it – if he really knew her, he would have had eight or nine of them lined up – and outside in the smoking area at that. The meeting lasted just long enough for Lilian to down one G&T (about three nano-seconds) and they both say how much they enjoyed it. The only unhappy person was the barman who, having been tipped off that Lilian Bellamy was coming, had chartered a fleet of Beefeater tankers and cornered the entire Portuguese lemon crop, only to have her leave early.

Lilian returns home, where Matt orders her to get him a sandwich and tells her that, when he met Brenda outside her house, she had invited him in (he wanted to talk over some business) and he had been confronted by Tom, singing "I love you baby", with the curtains drawn and candles and Love Hearts all over the place, in order to cheer Brenda up as she has been stressed. We weren't told, thank God, but I reckon Tom might have been in his underpants, which is an image that I'm having trouble getting out of my head. Back at the Dower House, Matt moans "I can't move for couples drooling all over each other." "It's called romance, Matt" replies Lilian. Tell you what Matt, with Paul back on the scene, I'd try a little drooling if I were you.

Sunday, 11 November 2012

Give Us A Ring

Michael Fenton Stevens (Paul Morgan)

Have you noticed how many Archers stories are featuring phone calls nowadays? We have had the long-running Paul and Lilian saga, which is still on-going, but perhaps it moved up a gear last week when Lilian decided to meet Paul for coffee, or whatever (talking on the phone, of course) – we await developments with interest.

We also had Nic ringing Emma and offering to help by having George for an extra day a week, Fallon ringing Rhys to offer him a job at Jaxx's and Tom proving that he doesn't understand what "I'm too busy to talk to you Tom" means, whether he's talking to Brenda on her mobile or the AmSide landline. But more of these later - whatever did the scriptwriters do before mobiles?

I am convinced that the scriptwriters have got it in for me personally, producing storylines that make me alternately weep and bang my head against a brick wall. Consider the evidence: James and Leonie split up (cue fireworks and popping of champagne corks), then the writers cruelly brought him back to Ambridge and – almost unbelievably – the story showed him in an even more irritating light than before, which is no mean feat, believe me. Could it get worse? You bet, and this week it did just that, when there was a knock on the door of the Dower House and there stood Leonie, asking after James.

The reconciliation between the pair was truly nauseating to listen to – she referred to him as "you poor lamb" and he called her "my silly sausage." Matt spoke for all of us when he told Leonie "You're welcome to take him away with you." No such luck! And even worse, Leonie announced that she would get compassionate leave from work and stay in Ambridge. Truly our cup runneth over and things took an even more sick-making turn when Lilian surprised Leonie giving James a bath. Please, please scriptwriters – return the pair to London asap. Better still, I hear that there are still attractive opportunities available in Australia. Or Neptune.

Poor Emma and Ed are getting dragged deeper into the mire, although they now have a new, old car. Ed assured Emma that it will be all right when he gets himself an additional job, thus conveniently ignoring the fact that a) in the current economic climate, there are no jobs and b) there are only 24 hours in a day. The only good point of this storyline is that Nic tears Will off a strip, pointing out reasonably enough that Ed wouldn't deliberately take George for a ride in a death trap and that Ed and Emma are struggling because they are poor. Will is all for grinding Ed's face into the dust, while he pockets the bonus from Brian for organising a good shoot, but Nic manages to smooth the situation over and even Ed comes to appreciate that letting Will have George for an extra day would help their budget.

Have you noticed that Kirsty's part seems to have expanded recently? Not only is she going out with Iftikar, but she let slip to Fallon that she (Kirsty) might have mentioned to Don and Jim, when they were choosing the replacement for Kenton, that the staff were really hacked off when Naomi was temporarily in charge and to promote her would be a mistake. Naomi's non-speaking part ends when she walks out on the job, to Fallon's and Kirsty's delight.

But this leaves them a person short. Who to approach? Millions of listeners shout "Rhys!" and Fallon rings him. At last, it seems that she and he might be getting it together, but no, as he tells her that he's happy at The Bull and doesn't want to move. Kirsty teases her, saying that she secretly wanted Rhys to come to Jaxx's for reasons other than filling a staff shortage. Fallon protests, but her denials ring hollow.

The Christmas extravaganza stumbles forward – every time Lynda is on the verge of despair, bloody Robert comes up with an idea to save the situation. The latest is to have a Lord of Misrule to compere the show and link the various strands – who else but Kenton?

A confusing storyline is that of the changing relationship between Kathy and son Jamie. Jamie went for an interview with Isaac, who offered him a job with his tree surgery operation. It's the first time Jamie has shown any enthusiasm for anything (apart from burning down bird hides) and he tells his Mum that he could even have his own business in a few years.

I mentally prepared myself for Kathy's "you mustn't throw your life away – go back to college and spend three years doing something you don't like to prepare yourself for adult life" speech and – it didn't happen! Not only did Kathy agree that he could leave college, but she said that she would give him the money he spent on the chainsaw course recently and, furthermore, she would pay for his driving lessons. There was I, expecting a marathon of whining, sighing and cajoling and they were throwing their arms round each other and saying nice things. This about turn in character portrayal is unnerving – what are we to expect next? Brian to become a monk? Tony to buy a round? I don't think I could stand it if, say, Jazzer went to university to read philosophy.

Sunday, 4 November 2012

Good On Yer, Brenda!

Amy Shindler (Brenda Tucker)

I've never really had a lot of time for Brenda – I've got nothing against her as a person, but she does live with Tom after all, so something's obviously wrong with her. But no matter! After Tuesday's episode, I could have even forgiven her if she'd run off with Will.

But let's go back to Sunday – Matt couldn't stand being in James's presence and went down the pub. Paul rang Lilian to ask after James and suggests that James should have a bell so he can ring it when he wants something. Lilian thinks this is a great idea and rings The Bull to tell Matt to bring the bar bell back with him. And so on to Tuesday:

Lilian had taken Peggy out for the day, leaving Matt to look after James (as if). Matt promptly summoned Brenda to the kitchen and told her to take James's soup up to him. This show's Matt's sensitive, caring side, as James dumped Brenda some years ago and, understandably, she wasn't best pleased to be running errands for Lilian's spoilt son. As it happens, Tom was in James's room, boring the pants off him (and us) by talking about devils on horseback and sausages.

When Brenda turns up, James is his usual, arrogant self and rude as only he knows how, to the extent that Tom and Brenda walk out on him, taking the bell with them so that he can't annoy them. "I'll tell Ma!" wails James. Grow up you pussy! Well done Brenda – and the icing on the cake came later, when Brenda confessed to Tom that she had deliberately served James with lukewarm soup. As Tom said, truly revenge is best served cold. Some might say pity it wasn't strychnine, but there you go.

Things are going from bad to worse for Ed and Emma, as they try to make ends meet. Brenda is making a Halloween costume for George from an old sheet when Will brings him home and casually announces that he's bought George a lovely wizard's costume "and it was only £6.99". £6.99! That's Emma's food budget for a fortnight! In despair, Emma throws her costume away, saying: "It's rubbish – I'm rubbish".

Maybe, but not as rubbishy as the car. Emma drives George home from an afternoon scavenging in charity shops, when white smoke starts pouring from the engine and Emma has a hard time getting the car over to the hard shoulder. George is terrified as they sit on the embankment, but luckily Eddie and Fat Paul turned up and drove them home.

Back at home, Ed and Emma have a blazing row (Ed told George not to tell Will the story of the breakdown) when Ed says that they need a car. Emma is incredulous, then angry when Ed suggests a loan. Ed then comes within a heartbeat of death when he says to Emma "If you were better at managing…" Not your best-ever move, Edward.

Of course, Will finds out about the car and determines to have George over to stay with him and Nic more often. Over Ed's dead body! The atmosphere between the siblings sinks to a new depth and Ed tells Will that he hope the Shoot collapses and he loses his job. So much for brotherly love.

Emma and Ed make up and Emma says that she won't go to Josie's wedding and they can use the £150 to tax the car. They'll need a working car first. Ed promises to seriously look for a second job (Em has already talked him out of applying fro a night job at a supermarket) and he seems to forget that there's only 24 hours in a day. Ed even asks Mike if he could do Harry's milk round, but Mike says "sorry, I can't afford to replace him".

Lilian and Paul appear to be conducting an affair over the telephone – I'd hate to have their mobile bills. Lilian even asked Paul to describe his B&B room "so I can imagine you in it." I thought "If she asks him what he's wearing, I'm switching off."
It occurred to me that we haven't heard much from Helen lately – she was mentioned in one of last week's episodes, but didn't get to say anything. Wherever she's gone, it seems she's taken young Henry with her. Ian and Adam are conspicuous by their absences, too.

Jim tells Chris that Fallon's handling of Halloween night at Jaxx's was superb and that she'll be a shoo-in for manager when her trial period is up. Jazzer's influence seems to be still having an effect, as Chris points out that Jim has glitter on his forehead. "That's from my Halloween costume" says Jim. Halloween costume – what has come over the man?

Jim also stands on the threshold of a budding journalistic career – Borsetshire Life liked Jim's article on Mike and now want five more articles. That's going to be a bit of a problem, as he's got to find five further interesting people to write about. No, I can't think of five likely candidates either.

Sunday, 28 October 2012

Unlucky Break

Roger May (James Bellamy)

The break I refer to is that of James Bellamy's leg – the unlucky bit is that it wasn't his neck. Honestly, I never thought that I would ever see a character replace Will Grundy as the character I'd most like to slap repeatedly, but James is right up there with the whiny gamekeeper. It's not just that James calls Lilian 'Ma', annoying as that is, but he hasn't got one redeeming feature that I can think of.

The really depressing thing is that he is now ensconced in the Dower House and looks set to stay there until he is better. How long does a broken leg take to heal? Can nothing be done to speed the process? How about if we amputated it – would that heal quicker? Brenda spoke on behalf of five million listeners when she spoke of James being in Ambridge as being "total misery".

Matt went up in my estimation when he reminded James that neither he nor Lilian are James's servant. He could have saved his breath, though, as James has Lilian running round, making coffee, charging his phone and sundry other errands. This is of course after he sent her to London to pick up some stuff from his flat. A tired Lilian is cheered when Paul rings her to enquire after James's health – expressing such concern makes me think that obviously he has never met James.

There was a tedious storyline when Tom and Brenda were trying to come up with a novelty food item for the Christmas season. As it turned out, it was Peggy who came up with the idea. And what was it? Ready Meals. Now I know you're thinking "but Tom's already producing Ready Meals" but Peggy's plan is to market them to busy housewives as a guilt-free, wholesome meal in the busy days before Christmas. From Tom's reaction, this is an intellectual achievement on a par with the Theory of Relativity.

Later on in the week, the all-conquering progress of the Ready Meals towards global domination took a bit of a knock-back when Tom and Brenda sampled the first, professionally-cooked meals. The casserole is fantastic, but the meatballs were a disaster, with way too much salt. "You can't afford to take your eye off the ball for a minute" says Tom, the philosopher. No doubt that was what he said to the footballing pigs. Does this mean that Tom will be standing over the chef when he prepares the next batch?

Ed and Emma continue to roam the streets and lanes of Ambridge, presumably clothed in rags, visibly losing weight, rummaging through waste bins and begging anyone who passes for work. I hope they make good soon, as I am starting to feel sorry for them and I never thought I'd feel that about Emma. The horror in Ed's voice was apparent when Tom told him of the Ready Meals debacle and mentioned that he had dumped the lot. You could almost hear Ed thinking "that would have fed us for weeks – I quite like salt."

What else has been happening? Elizabeth contacts Iftikar to see if he is willing to give Freddie some extra-curricular coaching in maths, which is reminiscent of the days when Nigel used to keep his children chained to desks, going through old exam papers. Ifti is willing, although one assumes that Freddie is not over the moon at the prospect. In passing, we learned that Daniel is either a crawler trying to ingratiate himself with the man who picks the cricket team, or that he doesn't have many friends, as Ifti says that he has been invited to Daniel's 18th birthday party. The birthday is 14th November, in case you want to send a card.

Fallon got the manager's job at Jaxx's, much to everybody's relief and she and Rhys are rehearsing their lines for the Shakespearian Christmas Extravaganza and Rhys muses how the play (Much Ado – you can't have forgotten, surely?) is about two people who don't realise how much they have in common. "Just get together!" we all yelled at the radio.

Sunday was Apple Day, with the likes of Eddie Grundy telling an enthralled audience "this is an apple" and introducing Joe to talk about cider making. Joe is still having troubles with his false teeth and he takes them out. Unfortunately, no-one can understand what he's saying sans teeth and Eddie tells him to put them back in. Disaster! He cannot find them and there is a suspicion that they have fallen into the apple scratter and have been pulverised. No more cider for me, please.

Whatever the fate of his dentures, Joe becomes a talking point in the village when he appears with his second-best set. Apparently these are a tad noticeable and David and Neil have a good laugh at Joe's expense in The Bull. Phrases such as "big bad wolf" and "practically fluorescent" are bandied about but David and Neil aren't laughing when Joe lets slip that they might have been pulverised in the apple scratter – let's hope that they manage to forget before the next batch of cider is ready for drinking.

Monday, 22 October 2012


Emerald O'Hanrahan (Emma Grundy)

Things looked bad for poor Emma early in the week when she received an invitation to her friend Jodie's wedding. Normally a cause for rejoicing, but when Emma added up the potential costs (travel to London, present, new dress) she decided that she couldn't afford it. This in turn made Ed feel bad – he had noticed the invitation when wrestling with a mouse for the piece of cheese in the mousetrap – and he tells Dad Eddie about their plight. Eddie can't lend them the money (no surprise there) and it looks bleak for Emma.

But hey! Take heart Cinderemma – you shall go to the wedding! In steps not one, but two Fairy Godmothers, in the unlikely forms of Susan and Neil. They tell Emma that they are proud of the job she is doing in bringing up her children (although if things get much tighter, they may have to eat Keira) and she deserves a treat, so here's £150. At first Emma is reluctant to accept, but they convince her and, when Ed comes home he is genuinely pleased for her, even though he is probably working out how many pizzas you can get for £150.

Meanwhile, at the Bull, Kenton cannot understand why it is taking Fallon so long to make up her mind about taking over at Jaxx's. Perhaps it is because he hasn't been quite straight with her about the possible consequences. For example, she finds out that she will be in competition for the job with Kirsty (her best friend) and some other non-speaking female.

As it turns out, Kirsty isn't interested in the job, so that's one rival out of the way. Fallon asks if, should she not get the job at Jaxx's, would she still have a job at the Bull? Kenton tells her it's a family business (too right – and not his family either) and she'll always have a job there. And what about Rhys? Kenton becomes evasive on this point and Fallon realises she has a lot to think about.

Rhys is delighted for Fallon at the opportunity ahead of her, but not everybody is happy; Jazzer calls Jim a 'traitor' for poaching Fallon (she hasn't even got the job yet) and that he will have to spend more in taxi fares if he starts drinking at Jaxx's. This would seem to indicate that Jaxx's has no minimum entry standards or dress code. Lynda does nothing for Rhys's feelings when she says to him "The Bull won't be the same without Fallon – you'll miss her, I'm sure." Glumly, Rhys agrees. Guys, guys, Fallon will be working in Borchester – a short taxi ride away. It's not bloody Australia or Outer Mongolia for God's sake.

Jazzer continues to acquire a veneer of civilisation, laying a table place for Jim at dinner and helping Jim to resize and send photos by e-mail. Mind you, Jazzer's rehabilitation is not quite complete, as Jim has to bribe him with a flagon of cider to help, plus dinner tonight is last night's refried leftovers. I bet Jim is smacking his lips.

Thursday was a bittersweet day, as we were expecting the return of James Bellamy to Ambridge, hopefully only for a flying visit. But he never arrived – or rather he did, but only to the hospital in Felpersham, after crashing his car. The car was written off, but James only had a leg injury. There's no head injury, which begs the question how could they tell? Lilian is frantic with worry and rings Matt, whose phone goes to voicemail, then Jennifer (ditto). In desperation, she rings Paul, who immediately drops everything and goes to the hospital. Instead of doing us all a favour and putting the pillow over James's face, he comforts Lilian.

Matt eventually does ring back (he's at some do or other) and he shows the same level of caring about James as the rest of us when he says "There's nothing I can do there – I'm not a doctor." No, but you could help Paul with the pillow, Matt. Lilian is not impressed with Tiger's attitude and Paul earns more brownie points when he offers to drive Lil back to Ambridge and he'll get a taxi back. Lilian suggests that he gets out before they get home (Matt will be there) and she tells him how wonderful he's been and "I don't know what I'd have done without you." Was that a kiss I heard?

Lilian is now off my Christmas card list for telling James that he doesn't have to go back to London and can stay with her – Matt will be pleased. James meanwhile shows that he is even more annoying when ill as he bleats about being in pain and moaning because he will have to be in plaster for three months. I'd give him pain – I'd also plaster over his gob while I was at it.

Finally, the mega-dairy project is well under way, with Rooooth and David having a moan about the noise and lorries – no-one has yet invented a quiet method of digging foundations, unfortunately – and BL interviewing for the Herd Manager's job. One candidate – Rob – stands out and Brian is ecstatic when he receives a text from Rob (this is during dinner out with Jennifer, who must be well impressed that her husband can't take his eyes off his phone) accepting the job. For £60k a year, I'd accept the job – I know nothing about cows, but I could afford to slip Ed £10k to do the work; God knows he needs the money and it might prevent him from eating the guinea pig.