Sunday, 29 April 2012

Crime Wave

Nicholas Bailey (Carl)

I suppose it had to happen – everybody said what a thoroughly nice young man Carl – Amy's new boyfriend – was; how polite, considerate and what a good grandson he was, going to see his grandmother every weekend. Amy took Carl back to the vicarage to meet Dad Alan (who managed to get back after tearing himself away from listening to the bells and reminiscing with Jill – it would have been Phil's birthday).

Except of course that Carl wasn't, as Usha found out when she met Annabelle at a Chamber of Commerce function and ran into Carl, who said he was there representing his firm. It turns out that Carl is actually there with Rochelle, who is both brainy and good looking and, more importantly for Usha, is Carl's wife, as she learns from Annabelle, who says "that's her husband next to her. What a golden couple – doesn't it make you sick?" "Yes, it does," says Usha, with some feeling.

But what to do next? Alan is away on retreat and Amy tells Usha that Carl will be spending all weekend at his Grandma's. Usha says nothing, then Alan returns and, just as Usha is about to reveal all to him, the news about Adam comes in (of which more later).

Someone else interrupted when they are just about to reveal all is Alice. It wasn't a very good week for her and Chris, as he had his van broken into and his tools stolen. He and Alice are a bit fractious as he has to fill in all the paperwork but he apologises to her and they are just getting ready to kiss and make up and, incidentally, celebrate Alice passing her exams when, with the inevitability of death and taxes, Jennifer turns up, bearing a bottle of wine to celebrate Alice's news and the fact that the mega-dairy plan has been approved.

As usual, Jennifer exhibits a total lack of sensitivity, failing to notice the tongues of her daughter and son-in-law lolling out of the side of their mouths and the sound of heavy panting. Jen prattles on and says that Brian has invited her out tomorrow night to celebrate and would Alice and, as she belatedly remembers, Chris, to join them. Thinking quickly, Chris lies through his teeth and says that he has already booked somewhere as a surprise. Chris goes to work on the insurance paperwork in the bedroom when, in a delightful cameo moment, Alice tells him not to go "as Mum is just going." "Am I?" asks a puzzled Jennifer. Yes you are woman, so sod off. When she has eventually been turfed out, Alice turns to Chris, saying "We have unfinished business…" Could it be the insurance paperwork, do you reckon?

Elsewhere, Tony is trying to help by doing the paperwork at Bridge Farm and making a bit of a cock of it; rather than embrace the latest software and the new methods introduced by Tom, he prefers the high stool and goose feather quill approach. Tom would like to pension Tony off, if truth be told, and Peggy sticks her oar in, by suggesting to Pat that they are not utilising Tom's talents to best effect and, instead of sitting on a tractor, he should be planning the strategic future of the farm. Or to put it another way, you're yesterday's man Tony and here are your pipe and slippers, so back to your rocking chair.

Crime has dominated the stories in the past couple of weeks; Tom had his quad bike stolen (although the police got it back as it was being sold on E-bay – however clever these criminal masterminds are, they always end up making one mistake) and Chris had his van broken into. Everyone is on watchful alert and there are reports of a car being seen near Home Farm.

On Thursday, Adam rings David and says he saw a low loader parked near their polytunnels. David agrees to go over there but cannot see Adam. Calls to Adam's phone go straight to Voicemail and David is getting worried. He gets even more worried when he challenges two men who he sees in a van, which they drive straight at him. Fortunately, he leaps out of the way and then finds Adam unconscious, with a head wound. David calls for an ambulance and, when they turn up, they say that David's prompt action has helped Adam's chances.

Time to tell the family – Brian and Jen are enjoying a celebration meal when Brian's phone rings. He notices it is David and says "he can ring back later" but Jen suggests it might be important, so he answers it. Bet that took the edge off the celebrations.

The week ends with Adam still unconscious and Jen having an attack of the vapours because the Consultant says that they will do a CT scan and they might have to operate. "Brain surgery?" Jen asks. Yes, that's because it's his head, dear. Jen thinks that, if Debbie were there, her voice might awaken him, as they are so close. This must piss off Ian, who has been at Adam's bedside for ages, talking to him. "It's time you woke up," says Ian, as he goes off for a well-overdue nap, adding "when I get back I want to see you as grumpy as ever, do you hear?"

Perhaps Brian could have a word with the neuro-surgeon and, should they have to operate, get him to fix it so that, when Adam comes to, he's 100% behind the mega-dairy project. Must be possible, surely?

Sunday, 22 April 2012

Children – Who'd Have 'Em?

Graham Blockey (Robert Snell)

I bet if you took Robert Snell back in time to just before Leonie was conceived and stood there with a vasectomy knife, he'd grab your hand off to get the knots put in. The whingeing, self-centred bitch turns up unexpectedly on Sunday, with no luggage, having left James and demands a room. Unfortunately for her, all the guest rooms are taken, so she ends up on a camp bed in the study. Lynda is agog to know what actually happened, but all Leonie does is slag off James and wails "why do I end up with such losers?" Soulmates, perhaps?

As the week progresses, Leonie causes more and more trouble, being told repeatedly to turn the TV down (is she deaf as well as miserable?) and, every time that Robert tries to lay down a few ground rules (like not using the guests' bathrooms and for Christ's sake put the shower curtain inside the bath and stop dropping milk bottles on the kitchen floor) she goes all maudlin and accuses him of not wanting her there. Robert tells Lynda that Leonie said "you don't want me staying here, do you?" "Well, we don't," was Lynda's reasonable response, sadly to Robert and not Leonie.

Towards the end of the week, Leonie persuades her Dad to find a van and take her to London to pick up her stuff (which will be stored at Ambridge Hall), while Leonie goes to stay with her friend Maxine in London. Leonie would like to go the following day and, while Robert is dubious, Lynda is all for it and practically tells Robert to camp outside the van rental place.

There was a bit of friction between Lynda and Lilian about who actually left whom and who was to blame, but they both realise that the children are both complete flakes and deserve each other, really.

At Bridge Farm, Tony's recovery takes a bit of a setback when he is still in bed at 10am on Sunday and he agrees that perhaps he had tried to do too much too soon. Tom reduces the number of times that Tony will do the milking. We had more riveting radio when Peggy takes Tom a cup of tea and, in response to the question "what are you up to?" he takes her through the instruction manual for the new software. Tom, she really doesn't care that much and, in the unlikely event that she does care, I certainly don't.

Amy's plans to keep Carl under wraps go tits up when they run into Usha at a café or a shop or somewhere. Amy is mortified, but Carl is charm personified and invites Usha to join them, which she does. When questioned later by Alan, Usha tells him "Amy's found herself a good 'un."

While on the subject of children, we had Adam behaving with surprising sensitivity – when asked by Lynda if he is going to the mega-dairy planning meeting, he says "No – I've alienated half my family already." Only half?

Tuesday is the day of the Planning meeting and, as the time approaches, it is obvious that the decision is finely balanced and could go either way. The audience is made up mostly of anti-dairy people and Rooooth and Pat are delighted to meet Hatty Marshall, a fully paid-up member of the bunny-huggers club and who will speak against the project.

In the end, she goes a bit mad (in my opinion at least) by appealing to the planners to "think of the future of farming and think of the future of our planet." For God's sake woman, we're talking about a dairy project in a corner of Borsetshire, not the meltdown of a global chain of nuclear power stations – get a sense of proportion.

Hatty's impassioned plea is greeted enthusiastically by Rooooth, Pat et al, then the Chief Planning Officer puts the mockers on it by reminding everyone that his report recommends acceptance. The knife is twisted further when the Chairman sums up and says there's no valid reason to refuse planning and, if it should be rejected, BL would have ample grounds for an appeal that would, in all probability, succeed. The motion is for the decision on planning to be delegated to the Chief Planning Officer, which would effectively give the go-ahead for the mega-dairy. In the end, the motion is passed 7-6 and a confident Brian gives an interview to Radio Borsetshire, much to the disgust of Rooooth and Pat.

So is that it? No; wait a minute! The Environment Agency have still not submitted their report on the project and everything hinges on what they are going to say, assuming they bother to get their act together sometime soon. The fat lady hasn't yet sung and the man in black hasn't yet blown his whistle – Brian's smugness could yet be premature and all his ambitions thwarted by fears of a flood of slurry – or the discovery of a previously-overlooked family of newts.

Finally, Lily has returned from France, speaking the language like a native and winding up Freddie by telling him (falsely) that she ate horse in France. Sounds a neat solution to the Topper situation to me.

Monday, 16 April 2012

Yosser Archer

Colin Skipp (Tony Archer)

Have you noticed that Tony is turning into the Yosser Hughes character from Boys from the Blackstuff? He's wandering around Bridge Farm, getting in everybody's way, pathetically muttering "Gizza job" and "I can do that" whenever anyone picks up a piece of paper, or turns on a computer.

Tom shows him the new computer system that he has installed – another great piece of radio – and Tony has the feeling that his son feels that he (Tony) doesn't know what he's doing. As the week progresses, Tony insists on helping out with some of the milking and he takes over handling the police and insurance company when the quad bike is stolen from Bridge Farm. In reality, Tom is grateful to have some of the load taken off him; it also gives him more time to spend with Brenda, but then you can't have everything.

Things look bad between James and Leonie – their squabbling over Leonie hogging the bedclothes even drove Lilian outside on Sunday before the pubs were open, where she was probably astonished to find that it was actually light at 11am. James and Leonie continue to bicker and snipe at each other. Describing James as "such a klutz", Leonie reveals that Rentaprat only wanted to take the helicopter close to the Peregrines' nest to get a close up. Lynda would have killed him, but fortunately (?) common sense prevailed.

Personally, I hope that James and Leonie do stay together, as that way they only spoil two lives, instead of four.

While we're on the subject of conflict, things are hotting up nicely on the mega-dairy front, with both sides preparing for one last push before Tuesday's Planning Meeting. Pat approaches Ed to see if he would be willing to feature in an article for the local paper, showing the alternative to large scale dairy farming and how his methods are more humane. Can't you just picture it? I bet the cows would be wearing straw hats and sucking on a piece of grass.

Anyway, we'll never know, as Ed points out that he rents much-needed grazing land from BL and if he goes out on a limb now, some people might have long memories when it's lease renewal time. Pat is disappointed, but then it wouldn't be her who had a herd of cows in her living room in a few years, as she frantically tries to find new grazing, would it?

On the other side, Brian is ecstatic about his promotional DVD, which Rufus appears to have got written, filmed and produced during his tea break. Even Jennifer is pleased, saying that the narrator has "a lovely timbre" and she "could listen to him all day." You're supposed to be listening to the message woman, not his voice. You have to hand it to Brian, as he wants as many people as possible to see and admire the DVD, so he immediately calls David and asks if he can pop round. When he arrives, Brian is disappointed to find that Rooooth isn't there. I'm sorry, Brian, but however good your DVD is, it wouldn't change Rooooth's mind if you tied her down and played it for a century.

David is non-committal, describing it as "a slick production" and warning Brian that it's not likely to influence Rooooth. Just as Brian is leaving, she returns, having learnt from Pat about Ed's decision and Brian mentions the DVD. Rooooth immediately goes off on one, accusing BL of using its financial muscle (it's called 'business' love) and generally going berserk.

What cogent arguments and cold facts does she use to promote her corner? Well, none really, as she reverts to the old "Yes I know the cows are losing us money hand over fist and driving us to bankruptcy but we just can't get rid of them" mode of thinking when she says to Brian (and I swear you could hear the multiple exclamation marks) "This idea is just plain wrong!!!!" Beautifully argued, Rooooth. Remind me never to let you defend me in court.

A scare about the calves at Brookfield, as Pip, who has been studying the disease BVD at college, notices that they are scouring, which is one of the symptoms. David points out that there are about 13,000 other reasons why they could be doing this, but still calls Alistair in to have a look. Alistair's opinion? "There are about 13,000 reasons why, etc., etc….and here's my bill." Let's hope that Pip never studies rabies, then sees her Mum having a go at Brian, as she'll probably shoot her for being rabid.

We had a new character introduced this week; the new coach of youth cricket in the village, known to all as 'Ifty', which unfortunately I keep pairing with 'shifty' in my mind. Anyway, Ifty makes a great first impression on Vicky (but then again, which male, with the probable exception of Joe Grundy – doesn't? The woman turns to jelly every time she sees a pair of trousers, it seems).

The wind of change is blowing through Ambridge, with Natalie (Jamie's girlfriend) and some of her friends wanting to take part in cricket training. Where will it all end? Next thing you know, they'll be wanting to play in matches, which will be the end of civilisation as we know it – after all, if women are playing cricket, who's going to make the sandwiches and do the washing up?

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

They Also Serve…


Who are we talking about? Why, Benjamin the donkey, of course. Every year Shula drags him along to St. Stephen's for the Palm Sunday service (I'm surprised that Tom doesn't insist on riding him, given his high opinion of himself) and every year he only gets a brief mention. At least this year apparently he tried to eat Pat Fletcher's hat. Ah well, Benjy – another Palm Sunday over and well done for not fouling the churchyard; see you next year.

Exciting times for Alice and Chris, with the signing over of the forge. Alice invites Amy and her boyfriend, Carl, in a thinly-disguised attempt to find out more about him. Amy declines, saying that she doesn't want to ruin things, which isn't much of a compliment to Alice, when you come to think of it.

Never mind, Alice and Chris hold their own christening party a deux.
Chris is making a model of Mjolnir (Thor's Hammer) to hang on the wall where Ronnie's lucky horseshoe used to be and is chiselling the rune for 'eternal love' into it, when Alice tells him that she likes it when he's all hot and sweaty. They are just getting prepared to christen the forge with a good, old-fashioned shagfest, when in walks Jennifer with a bottle of champagne. Unaware that the testosterone level is touching levels usually associated with rutting stags, Jen goes wittering on – and on. Eventually, she compliments Alice on how nice she looks in her blacksmith's apron, before realising that she's wearing nothing else. Well done Jennifer! Close the door quietly on your way out. Leave the champagne.

Earlier in the week, Alice has been moaning about how Jennifer always seems to be around and the reason for this is simple – Brian is whipping himself into a frenzy every time someone mentions, or prints, anything about the mega-dairy which doesn't include the words "fantastic", "best thing since sliced bread", or similar.

His latest apoplexy is brought on when he reads something negative in the Echo and storms off to ring PR guru Rufus. As this happens at supper time, no doubt Rufus will be over the moon. Brian leaves his supper, telling Jennifer "This can't wait". The next day, it seems that Rufus has earned his fee, as there will be positive (ie biased towards the mega-dairy) articles scattered throughout local media, plus Rufus has got the Echo's Editor to promise to print a rebuttal letter from Brian. Let's just hope that some bunny-hugging sub-editor doesn't get at it and it appears under the name of "Brian Aldridge, Prince of Darkness".

Despite the general feeling of antipathy towards Borsetshire Land, some are willing to court the Dark Side when necessary: at the Parish Council meeting, they discuss the "Fields in Trust" scheme, whereby a piece of land is set aside for the villagers to enjoy in perpetuity. A patch of land between the shop and the river is suggested. The only trouble is that this is owned by BL and Jill is against asking them in view of the mega-dairy controversy.

Other Councillors, however, are more pragmatic (or less principled, or more hypocritical; you make your choice) and, while nobody actually says "BL – what a fine bunch of people", the decision is made to ask BL. Adam put it nicely when, on being told by Brian that BL are thinking of donating the land, comments sourly: "So, even the Parish Council has its price."

Brian and Adam have been working together on the deer and, later on, Adam confides to Jennifer that he finds it difficult, as he cannot be himself. Furthermore, his feelings about the mega-dairy haven't changed and he can't help hoping that something will come along to derail the whole thing. And, no doubt, if he had a pram, he'd throw his toys out of it.

Meanwhile, Brian is going slowly mad. There's still two weeks before the Planning Committee meets – Brian will be worn to a frazzle by then, if he's not dead.

Tom is also worn to a frazzle and, in trying to keep his Dad from doing much, is taking on more and more. The words 'guilty' and 'conscience' spring to mind, as Tom belatedly realises just how much office work Tony did before the heart attack. Tom says he enjoys the office work (liar) but Pat tells him that Tony has spent his whole life being needed and is feeling frustrated at the inactivity. Eventually, just before he drowns under a sea of uncompleted paperwork, Tom delegates the administration of the veg boxes to his father. Of course, being Tom, he has totally updated the office software, so that should keep Tony busy for a day or two.

As we approach Easter, we can be happy that Jim will soon stop having to be nice to people and we await the James and Leonie fly-past. Jolene has had the great idea of getting the drinkers at the Bull to stand outside and form a pair of Bull's horns when the helicopter approaches. Personally, I think it would have been better to have two fingers waving, or a giant phallus – now that might even have made the book worth buying…

Monday, 2 April 2012

Family Meetings

Luke Hudson (Rich (John) Philips)

Sunday was the big day – Eamonn brought Rich down to Bridge Farm to meet his grandparents, uncle and aunt. The poor little sod was bombarded with offers of food and drink but he handled it well, asking to see photos of his dad and, worryingly, saying he'd like to see the pigs.

Even more worryingly, he seemed to get on well with Tom and asked him if he could help get a pig into a trailer? Tom says he'd get his jacket dirty, which is unusually considerate of him. Rich learns that his dad was not only into pigs, but ran a mobile disco to boot. "He sounds like a real cool guy" was Rich's verdict. Not like you then, Tom.

All too soon (for Pat and Tony, at least, if not for us) it's time to go. Rich asks if he can have a picture of John and Eamonn tells him to give his grandmother a hug. Off they go, leaving Pat and Tony in a warm glow, but slightly sad that Rich has gone.

A few days later, Rich sends Pat and Tony an e-mail, thanking them and saying he'd be happy to come back. Tony wonders whether or not they should tell the rest of the family – Peggy, Lilian and Jennifer – about Rich. "After all, he's part of their family too" he says. They ask Tom, who has no objections (apparently Helen's views don't matter) so they call a family meeting for a couple of days hence.

This causes a certain amount of worry in the Archer clan, as Peggy and Lilian put two and two together and come up with the totally erroneous conclusion that Tony's recovery isn't going according to plan and he has bad news to tell them. As it turns out, everyone is delighted to hear about Rich and Jennifer says "it's wonderful news". Mind you, Peggy wasn't exactly doing handsprings, but that could just be old age, or disapproval of John's morals.

When the rest of the family have left, Pat and Tony go outside and turn the cows out onto the grass. Tony was touched by Jennifer's reaction and everything seems to be going swimmingly – the bank has extended the mortgage holiday, Tom has his loan for the polytunnels and Rich has met his grandparents. As Pat and Tony survey the farm, one of them says that "this place has got a future and, on a night like this, it's great to be alive." This sounds suspiciously like tempting fate to me and I wonder if we are in for a tragedy of some sort?

Just when you thought that we had heard the last of James and Leonie, it turns out that they will be coming to Ambridge by helicopter next week and will be taking photographs of the village for an "Ambridge from the air" part of their book. Lynda and Robert wonder what they can do to make it more interesting for the diabolic duo – a cricket match is one suggestion, but it's too early and would have to be faked and no-one really cares that much.

Robert wonders if James and Leonie will need to get permission from those they photograph, but Lynda dismisses this. Later on in the week, we learn that Derek Fletcher is incandescent at the thought of the spies in the sky – we can only hope that Derek is stocking up on surface to air missiles. In passing, we learn that the first green burial has taken place and that Robert and Lynda have booked their plots. Don't let them go to waste Mr & Mrs Snell – use them quickly!

Brian is having a hard time. Annabelle doesn't like the pig option and Brian agrees, feeling that abandoning the mega dairy looks like backing down. He admits that he might be struggling at Thursday's BL board meeting and needs to do some serious lobbying. It doesn't start well, as Brian asks Martin for half an hour of his time. "There's no point" was Martin's discouraging response and he suggests dropping the idea altogether. "If I've lost the confidence of the board what's the point of going on?" Brian asks. Good question.

At the board meeting, Brian fights his corner well, saying "if we give up now, we'll be known as the company that buckles at the first sign of opposition" and "it's about the company's philosophy – are we quitters or fighters?" In the end, he manages to get quitter Martin on side and Barbara too and the decision is made to take the mega-dairy plans to the Council. Mind you, Brian's not out of the woods yet – as he says; "I'm so identified with this project that if anything goes wrong, my neck is right on the chopping block." I'm sharpening my axe, just in case.

Finally, we have a complete change of character, as Jamie rings up Lynda (who is sending Robert up ladders to clear out the gutters and remove moss from the roof, ready for the helicopter fly-past) to tell her that he thinks the Peregrines have laid two eggs. She joins him at the church, making a mental note that James and Leonie will have to keep the helicopter away from the church. The change of character is that of Jamie – now he appears to be a keen and committed ornithologist, but it wasn't so long ago that he was trashing the bird hide and trying to set it alight.