Sunday, 29 January 2012

A Family At War

Charles Collingwood (Brian Aldridge)

First of all, a celebration – if my arithmetic is correct, then this is the 100th entry on this blog. It would have been nice to have some juicy news, such as Will and Tracy running off together, or Emma going into a convent, but there you go – we can but dream.

Brian is rapidly becoming Billy no-mates, with people hissing at him as he passes. Even his relatives are against the mega-dairy and none more so than Pat, who has a right go at him.  "What would have happened if the Echo hadn't found out?" she wondered and Brian, for whom, let's face it, tact has never been a strong suit, snapped back: "You weren't so keen on the Echo when they broke the e.coli story."

On Wednesday, Brian learns that people think he is deliberately lying low, so he resolves to get out more – and where better than the meeting in the Bull about whether or not to vaccinate badgers? Everyone is surprised to see him there and he gets a really hard time from Jim about the mega dairy – or "internment camp", as Jim refers to it. In vain does Brian point out the wonderful living conditions and high levels of care – Jim is one of those who believe that cows belong outside.

Brian buys beers for everyone, but they are too preoccupied with the decision that they made to vaccinate the badgers (and didn't Oliver go into it in tedious detail?) and leave him alone while they discuss the practicalities of the scheme.

As an aside, Jim confides to Jolene that he is worried about the general nature of the promises he is getting for the promises auction, such as an offer of four hours' gardening from Harry. Jolene says that she doesn't think that people will want him for his gardening skills and that Kirsty is saving up already. Fortunately, we were spared double entendres about "ploughing a furrow".

Brian says he's looking forward to seeing Thursday's Echo, as there shouldn't be anything about BL and the dairy in it. Wrong again Bri! There are two columns and a photo of Adam and the tenor of the article is that here we have a family divided and Adam saying that public opinion is mostly against the dairy. Brian is incensed (to be honest, I can't blame him) and asks Adam "Why couldn't you keep your stupid opinions to yourself?" Brian storms off and, when he returns after a walk, he's no happier and tells Jennifer that Adam is a loose cannon and he doesn't know how they can continue working together.

Adam pours out his troubles to Ian, who must have a shoulder the size of a grand piano, so many people confide in him. Ian suggests ringing Debbie. "Can Brian and I work together?" Adam muses – at least they've got something in common there.

When Debbie learns what Adam has done, she is less than sympathetic, saying: "How could you be so stupid? Why did you talk to them?" A miserable Adam tells her that the reporter was an old school friend and Adam thought it was all off the record. Come on Adam, surely the notebook or the recording machine might have given you a clue? Later on, Debbie rings back to apologise for being so hard on him. "I still think you're an idiot," she says, "but you are my brother." This makes Adam a little more cheerful, but he wonders if Brian will ever speak to him again. Keep your fingers crossed Adam – if you're lucky, he might not.

At Bridge Farm, we learned that it was Tony who tipped off the Echo that their vox pop was a member of Brian's family. Nice one Tony; your 30 pieces of silver are in the post. Tom is there on a flying visit to tell his dad that he won't be able to do much of the milking as he's so busy. Serves you right for being nasty to your brother-in-law, Tony – what goes around, comes around.

Over at No. 6, Tracy is filling Neil's skip with the detritus of her past life, including what seems to be a very large collection of Valentine's cards. Some might say that, in her younger days, Tracy must have walked around with a mattress strapped to her back, just in case, but I wouldn't be so cruel. Susan, on the other hand, reveals that she once wrote to the agony aunt at 'Jackie' magazine about her lack of boyfriends. I'm saying nothing.

Pip presented her ideas for marketing Hassett Hills lamb to the co-operative and they went for it, even the celebrity virtual lamb. Presumably Pip didn't tell them that her parents think the ideas are so good that they are seriously considering getting out of sheep altogether?

Susan and Clarrie talk in the shop. There is talk about the metal thieves. "I don't know how they've got the nerve" says Clarrie. That's why they're thieves and not accountants, you numptie. Susan says Keira is a problem, but Clarrie says that she is all right when she's alone with her, but Keira starts crying whenever she sees (or presumably hears) Emma. Such prescience in one so young! We know how you feel, Keira, we know how you feel.

Monday, 23 January 2012

Community Spirit

Michael Cochrane (Oliver Sterling)

Ambridge was a village united by adversity last week; metal thieves stole 200m of phone cable, plunging the village back into the dark ages, with no Internet or land lines. Jennifer was distraught, as she might not be able to Skype Nolly on her birthday. Disaster!

Jim and Christine were more community-minded and drew up a rota to check on elderly and vulnerable residents. Chris Carter suggested getting spare mobiles and buying Sim cards so that the same people were not left without a phone. No doubt Jim would give them instructions in Latin.

It was chaos at Grey Gables, with no e-mails coming in and no method of processing credit cards until Oliver saved the day by digging out some old manual card readers. A very-stressed Caroline was pathetically grateful.

Over at Lower Loxley, the phones/Internet were still working and Elizabeth demonstrated her community spirit by offering free coffee in the Orangery for anyone who wanted to bring their laptop along. Good on yer, Lizzie – first you poach Roy from Grey Gables, now you're after their customers. You will be relieved to know that Jennifer went to Lower Loxley to Skype Nolly, so disaster was averted.

There was community spirit of another sort, with people turning up at Home Farm with pitchforks and flaming torches to protest about the mega dairy. OK, I lied about the pitchforks and flaming torches, but the issue is generating a lot of opposition and feelings are running high. Brian and Annabelle visit their PR agency, who suggest an ad in the Echo, underlining the benefits of the scheme and a grass roots PR campaign, getting out and talking to people and with Borsetshire Land possibly sponsoring local events.

Actually, when you think about it, the Echo could be on to a nice little earner here – find out something that's about to happen, run a scare story and ignore the facts, then the company/organisation involved takes advertising to put the record straight. Neat.

So, if you were looking for someone to subtly and tactfully put across your point of view, who would you choose? The correct answer is "not Brian Aldridge" but he thinks this is a job made for him and ventures forth into the village to spread the word (and BL's money). Brian's tactics are as subtle as being beaten with a baseball bat – he'd be better off saying "just say the mega dairy is a good idea and I'll give you lots of money", but he believes he is being cunning. He starts to have doubts when both Jill and Jim give him the cold shoulder.

Brian can't rely on family either; Adam is cornered by a reporter in the street, asking people for their opinions about the mega dairy and he goes off on one about what a terrible idea it is. Tony also speaks to a reporter, telling him that not even members of Brian's own family support the project. Just twist that knife a little more, Tony.

Mind you, Tony has cause to be unhappy, as Tom, the human dynamo, is all over the place, pushing the Tom Archer brand and, when he remembers, mentioning Ambridge Organics occasionally. Laudable as all this effort is, it's keeping Tom away from the farm, which in turn means that poor old Tony is having to do his milking stints as well as his own. Things come to a head on Friday, when Tom turns up too late to do anything and Tony has a go at him because Tom will be in Shrewsbury most of the next week.

Actually, with Tony constantly going on about how cold and tired he is and how all this work is getting him down, I wonder if we are being prepared for another tragedy in the Archer clan? Still, it's an ill wind – Tom would no doubt regard the wake as an opportunity to push Tom Archer sausages and other pork products. It could be a way to try out the pork ready meals en masse.

From pork to lamb and Pip has been working hard, trying to think of ways of marketing Hassett Hills lamb. She is full of ideas, including wanting to market the meat through a 'celebrity lamb', with its own blog, Facebook page and Twitter account. It's the bloody footballing pigs all over again and you can't help hoping that the phone cable thieves strike regularly.

David and Rooooth listen carefully and say how good the ideas are. Having built up Pip's hopes, they then tell her that they are considering the New Zealand system of raising cows. No, I don't know what it is either, but apparently it would involve increasing the size of the herd and getting rid of the lambs as the cows would require extra grazing. Pip is nonplussed (not to mention a tad pissed off after all her hard work) and asks incredulously: "so you're talking about expanding a loss-making sector and getting rid of one that can make a profit?" That's farming for you, Pip – I'd think about going into the scrap metal business if I were you.

Sunday, 15 January 2012

The Best-Laid Plans

Bert Horrobin (Martyn Read)

Susan is probably feeling pleased with herself, as her plan to have sister Tracy move in with Bert and Gary seems to be working. At one stroke, Susan gets rid of her annoying sister and kids, there's someone living in the house to stop idiot Gary burning the place down and Susan won't have to spend so much time running after her father.

It's looking good, when Bert tells Tracy he'd love it if they moved in, but Tracy is no fool – bloody irritating, I grant you, but not stupid. She demonstrates this by suggesting to Bert that it would make her feel more secure if the house were to be in her name as well as his. We can see where Gary obviously gets his intelligence from, as Bert isn't suspicious in the slightest and agrees to the scheme. That was on Monday and, by Wednesday, Tracy has written and typed the letter to the Housing Association in Bert's name and is standing over him with a pen. "There's no need to bother Susan with this," says Tracy sweetly. I just hope that she doesn't throw Bert and Gary out and they end up at Neil and Susan's.

Speaking of airhead Gary, he managed to drive the kids to school on Wednesday, without getting lost or crashing the car. I was impressed (and surprised), but my lack of faith was restored on Friday, when he took them again but forgot to pick them up in the afternoon. Neil, who was trying to stop Tracy choosing Italian marble and presumably gold-plated fittings for Bert's pantry-cum-bathroom, had to step into the breach.

I suspect that Nic has plans to upgrade herself from doormat to dominant wife – on their return from honeymoon, Will is trying to carry her over the threshold and she tells him they should change the name of the house. Will realises that 'Casa Nueva' was Emma's choice and it also dawns on him that all the crockery he and Nic have been using were presents from his first wedding. Nic made sure that her wedding list included a dinner service and other items. Showing a lack of sensitivity that was surprising even for him, Will rings up Emma and asks her if she'd like the dinner set back. "She gave me a right earful" he said, in a mystified voice. Any more clever moves like that and we'll have to start calling him Gary.
We should also pay tribute to Will's romantic streak – on their return, Nic says "Look at the moon". "There'll be poachers about tonight" replies Ambridge's Mr Romance.

I was disturbed when Jake and Mia announced that they wanted to be called by the name "Grundy" in the future. Poor little sods! I can only presume that the surname "whinger" had already been taken? Clarrie says that they can call her "grandma". Better than "child poisoner", I suppose.

Pat's 60th party went well, to the extent that Tom was seriously hungover the next day and Lilian didn't surface till after lunch. I am getting cheesed off with Tom and Brenda's efforts to find the Holy Grail of pork-related ready meals. The chilli con carne has too much chilli and the sausage casserole was fairly ordinary. But wait! They try out pork meatballs and Eureka! They are delicious and Tom – for whom (as far as Tom Archer products are concerned) glasses are never half empty, but brimming over – says "It's just what the ready meals market has been waiting for!" No doubt the Michelin Star is already in the post.

Back in August last year, I asked "Are the cows doomed?", referring to the Brookfield dairy herd. Well, if not doomed exactly, they are highly endangered and David is seriously wondering if they should cut their losses and get out of dairy. Roooooth isn't ready to see them go just yet, but perhaps David should take her to the piggy bank and show her that it's empty. After that, he can beat her over the head with the quote for a new slurry tank (a snip at £22,000) and maybe explain that the idea is to bring in more money than you actually shell out. Make her stop paying Emma to clean the house David – if you get rid of the cows, she'll have plenty of time for housework.

It was an awkward week for Brian, when Annabelle rang him to say that the Echo has got hold of the mega-dairy story and were planning to run a hatchet job on it on Thursday. The story duly appears and it seems that they definitely pick on the worst aspects, making it sound like a cross between Drs Moreau and Frankenstein. Thursday is also the day of the Parish Council meeting and the news stirs up, shall we say, considerable emotion. Opinions are polarised, with some very anti (Ruth, Adam, Tom) and others (Shula, Chris Carter) more relaxed and wanting to know the whole story.

Jim summed it up with admirable understatement when he told Tom "I think it's fair to say that Brian will have his work cut out selling it to the village." Brian is more optimistic, telling Shula that people will realise that's it's an environmentally-friendly, work-generating project that will benefit everybody. That's as maybe Brian, but it's still a bloody great shed, and how can you explain the benefits when you have been lynched by a pack of angry villagers? That would be a good way to christen the Jubilee Oak.

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

As One Rift Heals…

Tamsin Greig (Debbie Aldridge)

Another one opens – Debbie and Elizabeth hugged and made up, both bursting into tears, thus ending nine years of barely speaking to each other because Lizzie was aware of her stepfather Brian's dalliance with Siobhan and said nothing. "This rift between us has gone on far too long" said Debbie, and we wondered if the words "rift" and "brother David" were connecting in Lizzie's mind. I suppose we could forgive her for feeling emotional, as it was the anniversary of Nigel's death.

Having gained a friend, Debbie then alienated brother Adam with her single-mindedness about the mega dairy scheme. The pair aren't talking and avoiding each other, much to Jennifer's distress. In fact, Debbie seems to be getting up a lot of people's noses – having learnt that Ruth and David might contemplate giving up the dairy business she rushes round to Brookfield; not to commiserate but to see if they'd like to reconsider growing feed for the mega dairy herd.

Mind you, Debbie is in a hurry, as she was only in the UK for a few days before going back to run Hungary or whatever it is she does there. And there was still the matter of presenting the dairy plan to the BL board – a hastily cobbled together plan B, with Brian getting three farmers at the last minute to agree to supply fodder. Board member Andrew Eagleton is gunning for Brian, accusing him of mishandling the project, incompetence – you name it. Debbie soon slaps him down and informs the board that she will be running the scheme from Hungary. Just after she's fixed the Eurozone crisis, presumably.

New Year's Day saw the wedding of Nic and Will. Nic looked lovely (like a princess, Mia thinks) and the ceremony went off OK. They didn't broadcast the bit where the registrar asks if there's any reason why the couple shouldn't be married, so we never got to hear the shouts of "because he's a total tosser!" and "you're much too good for him!" The room where the ceremony was held was quickly transformed into the Reception room (they told George that elves had done it) and everyone had a good time.

Well, nearly everyone – the next day, moody cow Emma is dropping Keira off at Clarrie's and she moans that the wedding breakfast was, well, a breakfast and not all that special. Clarrie replied that she had Eggs Benedict and, call me a cynic if you will, but I'd bet a substantial sum that this is not a dish that features often at the breakfast table of Emma and Ed and thus could be described as special. I can't understand a) why Emma was invited in the first place and b) why she accepted. Baby Keira seems to have inherited her mother's bad traits, such as grizzling all the time and always wanting to be the centre of attention.

There was talk of babies elsewhere, as the family gathered for Henry's first birthday. Helen had made and iced a cake (I would have thought that Ian would have knocked one off in his tea break) and there was great delight when Henry took his first steps. Like you, I was amazed that he hadn't been walking for ages. Apparently he hasn't taken his 11 Plus yet either – come on lad, shape up!

Helen remarks how good Tom is with Henry and, in her annoyingly direct way, asks him whether he has thought of having a family. This obviously stirs something in Tom's mind – and other parts, presumably – as he tells Brenda he feels ready to be a Dad. He didn't actually say "so get your kit off and lay down" but there isn't a lot of discussion.

Fortunately, Brenda is distinctly underwhelmed by the prospect (unlike the rest of us, who are, quite frankly terrified and appalled) and is casting around for ways of heading him off. I can recommend nutcrackers or a couple of house bricks. Her chance comes when Tom returns from a meeting with a man from HEFF, fizzing with ideas for supplying pork ready meals. "This could move the Tom Archer brand into the Premiership" he crows and Brenda sees her chance, telling him that it will mean lots of hard work and thus it is probably not the best time to be thinking about starting a family. Well done Brenda! That's the next couple of years sorted, which should give you plenty of time to come up with another excuse.

Over at Brookfield, times are tough. The Environment Agency turned up to inspect the slurry lagoon and it needs to be relined, which will cost £20k. "And we haven't got it" David tells his mother. Sell one of the kids, why don't you? David tells Jill that they might have to give up dairy and what would Phil have thought? Jill takes the pragmatic view that you can't be sentimental and bankrupt the farm just because you like cows.

Finally, we have the 'will-she-won't-she' saga of Tracy and the kids moving into number six. Susan is keen as Tracy can then look after father Bert and idiot brother Gary. Gary – presumably before setting off for his full-time job as Village Idiot - managed to burn some sausages and ruin the frying pan. Susan, who has obviously been reading Machiavelli, persuades Bert to ask Tracy to move in. The week ends with Tracy giving Neil a list of jobs that would need doing but she keeps changing her mind. Just kill her Neil – no jury on earth would convict you.

Tuesday, 3 January 2012

Another Gob, Another Foot

Susie Riddell (Tracy Horrobin)

The Horrobins were easily the most annoying family in 2011, although there was a late burst from the Pargetters. Apart from nasty Clive and would-be social climber Susan, Ivy's demise introduced us to Tracy and her brats Chelsea and Brad.

I thought Vicky was the leading exponent of the foot-in-gob moment, but Tracy is up there with her. At Susan's Christmas get together, Tracy didn't exactly use the phrase "your husband's bastard love child" when talking to Jennifer about Ruairi, but it was a damned close-run thing. As it was, Ruairi saved the situation by throwing up, leading Ambridge's Mrs Tact Tracy to cast aspersions on Susan's canap├ęs.

Later on in the week, Neil comes within an ace of killing Tracy and her kids when they let the piglets out and chase them round the garden. He tells them that it isn't a petting zoo, but his livelihood and is what puts food on the table. Pork, mostly. Neil is about to tell Tracy to clear out, but Susan intervenes, saying that if they can get dad to invite her to stay with him, she'll be more likely to leave. The sooner the better, as far as I'm concerned.

The list of candidates for the 'most annoying character' award continues to grow, with young Freddie Pargetter coming up fast on the rails on his damn pony, Caspar – and wasn't it a pity that Caspar didn't throw him off during the Boxing Day Hunt? – but, for sheer truculence and because he's got that nasal, perpetually whining voice, the winner has to be Will Grundy. Mind you, he'll have to be on his toes in 2012, as he is facing strong competition from the likes of James and Leonie, not to mention the always-annoying-even-though-her-heart's-in-the-right-place Lynda Snell.

Lynda's Christmas extravaganza was a hit, if not a triumph, with Jazzer singing 'Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas' and Jim wowing them with his translation of Cicero, or some other dead Roman. Not very likely, is it?

The 'character I'd most like to slap' (as opposed to being permanently annoying) changes practically week by week, but the current front runner has to be Pat Archer and the interminable storyline about Rich. On Christmas Day, Helen and Tom learned that Pat and Tony had seen Rich, despite the whole family coming to a decision earlier not to take it any further.

A blazing row ensues, with the two children feeling betrayed and angry and Tony reproaches them for being selfish and what about Pat, who is upstairs, sobbing her heart out? Sod her, what about if young Rich turns up in a few years, demanding part of the farm as his inheritance? In the end, Helen (who is a shoo-in for 'the most reformed character' award) comes round a bit more to her mother's point of view. Tom ('most pig-headed and smug' award winner) cannot get his head round this at all; most probably because it doesn't say 'Tom Archer Brand' in flashing neon lights.

The 'most doomed animals' award is a toss-up between the Brookfield badgers and the dairy herd. David, Ruth, Pip and Josh have a family conference to talk over future options and the deep, wide ranging discussions go something like this:

Pip: We could always come out of dairy and concentrate on sheep and beef.
Ruth: Noooooooooooo!
Josh: No way!

There's nothing like exploring all the options and the pros and cons, is there?

A three-way tie for the 'we don't care that you're not appearing in current storylines and please don't hurry back on my account' award, between Wayne (who has been mysteriously – though mercifully – absent for months), Kate and Phoebe. If I were forced to choose a winner, it would be Wayne. Or Kate.

Finally, we come to the 'nicest person in Ambridge' award and the clear winner is Ian, just shading out Harry. Ian's so damn helpful and cheerful with it. Consider, when Helen wasn't coping with Henry, who came to the rescue? Right. Who charmed the Duchess of Cornwall when she visited Grey Gables? Correct. Who makes stews and casseroles for poor, lonely Adam, stuck in the lambing sheds? And who, despite this being a busy time of year, almost single-handedly rescued the culinary portion of Lynda's cabaret/food night? Got it in one.

Unbelievably, at the end of the week, Ian raised the bar even higher when Caroline slipped on the wet floor, demolishing the top tier of Will and Nic's wedding cake. Not only did Ian take the blame, because he was the one who mopped the floor over, but blithely announced that he would make a new top tier and ice it. As he is only human, he cannot do a fruit cake in a day, so it will have to be sponge. However, Caroline is worried that Will and Nic might want to keep it as a Christening Cake. Aargh! Not half as bloody worried as I am!