Monday, 30 July 2012

How Wrong Can You Be?

Rachel Atkins (Vicky Tucker)

Well, I admit that the Vicky pregnancy storyline came straight out of the blue – I thought we were being softened up for news of a serious illness, what with her being so tired and banging on about The Change and suddenly, wham! – she's expecting. Perhaps Mike will throw her out, although it's presumably his fault. The thought of nine months of stories about Vicky's pregnancy fills me with gloom (I still remember Helen's pregnancy). Mind you, Helen has become a nicer person since having Henry, so perhaps Vicky will undergo an improving transformation. Keeping her gob shut would be a start.

Some stories, like the Mills of God, grind exceeding slowly, but the possibility of a romance between Harry and Fallon reared its head again when they decided to go on holiday to the Edinburgh Fringe together in Fallon's camper van. This must have been the quickest-ever-arranged holiday and it was Fallon who made all the running. Harry goes into the pub, says he could do with a holiday. "Me too" says Fallon and, next thing you know, she's practically tying him up and dragging him off to the van.

However, the grit in the Vaseline as far as this story is concerned is Harry's Scottish workmate, who suggests that the van could easily sleep three and why doesn't he go with them as their guide? Apart from the fact that I don't see Jazzer as someone who knows much about the Arts, I cannot believe that anyone – and I include Jennifer Aldridge in this – could be so crass and insensitive as to suggest such a thing. And why are Harry and Fallon being so nice? Instead of telling him to sod off and he's not wanted, three's a crowd, know what we mean Jazz, nudge, nudge? they are pinning their hopes on Mike not letting him have the time off. Let's face it – there's no point being subtle with Jazzer, as any word longer than one syllable goes straight over his head. If they bought him a punnet of gooseberries, his only thought would be "where's the custard?" I really, really hope that Jazzer isn't allowed to put the mockers on Harry/Fallon – perhaps a mutilated body might be found by the side of the A1.

While on the subject of the Arts, a pat on the back to the writer who decided that Lynda's cultural dramatic production should be called off – I know Lynda was devastated, but I can live with that.

The rift in the erstwhile Horrobin family grows ever wider, with Tracy getting heavy with Emma, telling her to go to the police and retract her story about seeing Keith on the night of the barn fire. Tracy is really quite nasty, calling Emma 'vindictive' and 'spiteful' and telling her that Keith is in bits and she's worried that he might do something silly. Surely that would just be par for the course?

Further pressure is heaped on Emma by Mum Susan, who suggests that Emma might have built up a fantasy and is she really sure it was Keith? "You can't want Keith to go to prison – you know what it did to me" says Susan and, in a moment of tactlessness that was breathtaking even by Susan's standards, she reminds Emma that she had been wrong before when she thought that Ed was George's father. Exactly what this has to do with an arson attack isn't immediately apparent and Emma is on the verge of giving in to the pressure, telling Ed later that, if she retracted her story "then my Mum would talk to me again." Sorry? Sounds like a compelling reason to stick to your guns, Emma.

Ed says that, if it were Keith that torched the barn and put George's life in danger, then he deserves to be banged up. This is something that doesn't seem to have occurred to Tracy and Susan – yes, Keith's in bits, yes he's crying and depressed, but he could still be guilty as well and being upset is hardly a defence, is it? I dare say Dr. Crippen was a tad subdued in the dock, but this didn't stop him being found guilty. On the evidence, things look bad for Keith, but apart from the identification evidence, there is another, overwhelming reason for his guilt – he's a Horrobin.

As predicted, we had a week of angst, soul-searching and the sounds of toys being thrown out of prams and noses being cut off to spite faces as Adam took as long as possible to decide whether or not he would be Brian's bitch and oversee the growing of feed crops for the mega-dairy on Home Farm land, or whether he would take his bat and ball away in a huff.

OK, Brian could have been a little – or, rather, a lot – more tactful and understanding, but on past behaviour, this was never likely and, if Adam expected anything else, then he's dumber than I thought. One of the many discussions that Adam had was with Ian, who pointed out that, were Adam to accept Brian's offer, he'd still be growing crops, so what's the difference? Adam seemed hurt that Ian cannot see that his soul would be irrevocably tarnished by such an arrangement and there's farming and then there's farming. Personally, I'm with Ian.

The week dragged on and Adam was still doing his Hamlet impression when he had a long talk with Pawel, who seems to think that the farm should be turned into a co-operative, with a greater diversity of crops. Instead of telling the hired help to get back to picking strawberries, Adam seems to have found a soulmate and tells Brian that he wants no part of his scheme. Unfortunately, Adam neglected to keep Ian in the loop and he's not at all happy that Adam has gone ahead without telling him. Will Adam and Ian's relationship survive? Will Adam flounce off into the sunset and leave Home Farm? If so, prepare to be nagged to death by Jennifer, Brian.

Monday, 23 July 2012

Family Fortunes

Emerald O'Hanrahan (Emma Grundy)

When it comes to cementing familial ties, there were mixed results for a number of families in Ambridge last week. First of all, in the Horrobin/Carter clan, we had Emma ringing Crimestoppers and grassing up uncle Keith regarding the Brookfield barn blaze. An indignant Tracy bursts in on Emma and Susan to tell them that the police have taken Keith in for questioning. Susan is also indignant, saying that it is "just because his name is Horrobin." I must say that, if I were the police, then for any crime my default search for the criminal would start with the letter H.

Susan's attitude is interesting, as, when talking to Emma earlier, she had said "I'd lock them up and throw away the key." Anyway, Keith is released and the family start wondering who grassed him up. Later on in the week, Keith is arrested and, under intensive questioning from her mum (along the lines of 'was it you who did it?') Emma admits to being the stool pigeon. I've said it before and I'll say it again – is there no-one in Ambridge who is capable of maintaining a simple lie for longer than five minutes?

Tracy comes, bearing the news that Keith has been released again (make your minds up, lads) and there is a full and frank discussion about the rights and wrongs of informing on your family. It becomes heated and Emma orders Tracy from her house. It looks as though Tracy will never speak to Emma again, so it's not all bad news, Emma.

There was more positive news from the Archer household, when Elizabeth turns up and actually has a conversation with brother David. Even better, the words 'husband-killer", "roof" and "you've ruined our lives" do not pass her lips, neither does she say that she wishes David had been inside the barn when it was torched. Lizzie even offers to have the boys to stay at Lower Loxley but David, who was genuinely touched by the offer, declines gracefully, saying he'd like them where he can see them. OK, Elizabeth didn't throw her arms round David's neck and say how horrible she's been, but at least she spoke to him for the first time in many months.

Earlier in the week, David waxes philosophical; when talking to Adam, he says that he remembers Phil saying "It's family farms that make a nation strong". David adds: "That's worth fighting for, isn't it?"

No doubt Adam recalled those words towards the end of the week when another mega-dairy crisis reared its head. Brian has been boasting to Annabelle how he's got everything about the mega-dairy sewn up and how the BL board had better fall into line, when he learns that one of the farmers who was down to supply feed for the dairy has had to pull out of the project. This is bad news, as not only is the project under threat, but, even worse, it might make Brian look silly in the eyes of the board. It's too late to find another supplier, but Brian has the solution – use Home Farm's arable land to grow the feed. Jennifer points out that this is the total opposite to what he has already promised Adam, who will not be impressed when he finds out. Brian, however, dismisses her fears, saying: "He's family – you know families, when the chips are down, they stick together."

Jennifer is not convinced by this naïve optimism and begs Brian to take things slowly and calmly and not upset Adam. This is Brian Aldridge we're talking about here woman! Sure enough, Brian tells Adam what's going to happen and Adam goes ballistic, muttering about 'betrayal' and 'it's not going to happen'. Brian points out that Debbie agrees with him that this is the only way and it is going to happen pal, so get used to it. Strangely enough, this super-diplomatic approach does nothing to soothe Adam's feelings and I fear we are in for another week or more of sulks and self-pity.

All is not well elsewhere with the Aldridges, either, as Ruari (who at last seems to have lost most of that Irish accent) falls in love with one of Eddie Grundy's models of a dog, saying that it reminded him of Fly, his recently-deceased dog. Ruari decides he must have it, but Jennifer (who thinks it's horrible) says that he will have to earn the money, hoping he'll forget all about it. However, sister Lilian learns of this and, sensing the chance to put Jennifer's nose slightly out of joint, mischievously proceeds to pay Ruari way over the top for some gardening work.

So much does she pay that Ruari is able to buy the dog, and Lilian insists that Eddie and Joe cement it on a plinth in Jennifer's garden. Thoughtfully (or so they think), they site it where it can be easily seen from the house and Jennie is mortified – the only thing that could have upset her more is if it had been a statue of Chris and Alice copulating.

There was a nice cameo when Jamie's boasting about 'lambs to the slaughter' blew up in his face when the cricket team was thrashed by St. Mag's girls' school. Serves you right Jamie. Not so pleasant was the discussion between Vicky and Lynda about Vicky going through the Change. The talk turned to what Lynda called 'relations' and she urged Vicky not to worry, confiding: "We still have our moments, Robert and I." Aaargh! Much too much information, Lynda – I still wake up screaming a week later!

Sunday, 15 July 2012

There's No Place Like…South Africa

Lucy Morris (Phoebe Aldridge)

Bad news for Roy and Haley, but a very early Christmas present for the rest of us, when it turned out that Phoebe will be spending a further six weeks in South Africa, going away for a holiday. I had hopes that she wouldn't want to come back at all, but when Roy put the question to her, she said "don't be stupid". You can't have everything, I suppose.

Hayley is spitting feathers and starts crying, as all her plans for a family holiday have gone nads up. Over at Brookfield, Josh is disappointed that Phoebe isn't coming home and goes around saying what a miserable summer he's got to look forward to. When Hayley speaks to Jennifer, Jen says "it must have been a shock", to which Hayley replies that Abby sobbed her heart out at the news: "she's been crossing off the days on a calendar." Me too, Abby, but for different reasons.

There is one slight worry – Roy said that, when he talked to Kate (or, more accurately, listened to Kate), she sounded 'detached'. The worry (for me) is that things at home might not be going too well and that Kate may return to the UK permanently. True she has two children in South Africa, but she has got form when it comes to abandoning children and fleeing the country. Perhaps it would be better if Phoebe stayed with her? After all, Josh will get over it and five million listeners would be very happy.

Darrell seems to be suffering attacks of honesty – the latest episode comes when he confides in Matt that he has heard that Bernie (who supplies wardrobes and similar stuff) may not be quite straight. Matt, who one presumes must be struggling to keep a straight face himself, professes himself amazed. However, he soon reverts to type and spells out to Darrell in no uncertain terms that if he starts rocking boats, the work might well dry up. Matt's advice to Darrell is "count your blessings, keep your head down and get on with the job." That's you  told, Darrell!

Brian seems to have got the development bug and has been granted the first option on Valley Farm, should he want it. Wife Jennifer is worried about the swifts that live there – and so she should be, as a man who is planning to keep 1,500 cows in a shed (albeit in a state of luxury – or so he says) isn't going to be too concerned about a few migratory birds, is he?

A story that I am keeping a wary eye on is the rivalry between Lynda, with her performance art project for the fete and Kenton, with his ideas for silly games. I'm wary because I don't want to hear too much of Lynda's ideas and I'm afraid that we are going to hear the new piece of theatre in all its glory – and I couldn't stand that.

Of course, the big story of the week was the fire at the barn at Brookfield. It was the day of the Horrobin's pre-wedding drink-in and everyone is getting noisily smashed – even Eddie and Neil. I should make an apology here, as last week I said Keith was Clive's brother-in-law, whereas he is of course his brother.

Back at Brookfield, everyone is in bed, except Josh, who is out tending to a pregnant cow in the barn in the early hours. We hear the sound of a liquid (petrol) being poured, the scrape of a match and the whoosh! of flames, as Josh carries on prattling to the cow (who's name is Gina, by the way).

Emma, who is up with Keira (teething pains) notices that the dogs are barking madly and eventually sees that the barn is well alight. She wakes up Ed and rushes off to get George, but shock! horror! he's not in his bed! The episode ends with Em, Ed, Rooooth and David trying to fight the fire "We've got to stop it spreading to the chemical store!" screams David – sounds like a good idea to me, but Ed is worried about George and the episode ends with everyone calling "Josh!" or "George!" and then there's the sound of an explosion.

Next day, we learn that Josh had taken George to see Gina and had taken her down to the paddock when he realised the fire was taking hold. Josh takes Rooooth and George down to see her, as she is having trouble with her calving. Rooooth soon gets it sorted and the calf – a heifer – is born. Josh says that he'd like to call it Georgina (after George) and George says "this is the best night of my life". Surveying the ashes of her erstwhile barn, Rooooth shows commendable self restraint in not clocking him one.

The thick plottens next day, when Emma, who had caught a glimpse of the fleeing arsonist on the night of the fire, notices at the wedding that Keith is walking with a limp. Also, Keith is distraught when he hears that Emma and George were in danger from the fire and keeps saying 'sorry'. For her part, Emma becomes even more thoughtful when she learns that Keith left the pre-wedding drinks party early. Once a Horrobin…? Brother Clive would be proud of you, Keith.

Monday, 9 July 2012

A Lather Of Indecision

Cian Cheesbrough and Thomas Lester (Josh and Ben Archer)

There's a lot of changing of minds going on in Ambridge at the moment. Rooooth has shipped the boys off to Heather to keep them safe and Emma tells Ed that she is taking her kids to stay at her mother's while Ed is away. "Sounds like rats deserting a sinking ship" Rooooth remarks.

Excuse me, King (or Queen) Rat – who was it who hot-footed it off to Northumberland, dragging Josh and Ben behind her at the first hint of trouble? Not only that, but Rooooth is obviously losing her memory, as she says of the boys "They feel a long way away." That will be because you left them in the frozen North, I reckon.

However, Josh and Ben aren't destined to stay long in the North, as David gets an anonymous phone call from the criminals, saying "Quiet without the kids, isn't it? We know where they are". Instead of agreeing and saying "Yes, it makes a nice change", David yells "You bastard!" and tells Rooooth to call Heather. Rooooth can be depended on in a crisis – depended upon to go totally to pieces, that is and she yells "We need to get the kids back now!" Make your bloody mind up woman!

She's all for driving up there straight away, but Jill calms her down and arranges for Kenton to drive up with her first thing in the morning. I hope Josh and Ben haven't bothered to unpack – they must feel like human yo-yos.

Elsewhere, Adam is worried that, if David gives evidence at the trial and something happens to one of the kids, he'd never forgive himself, so he tells David that he would understand if David pulled out now. David is grateful and, when Rooooth returns with the boys (presumably only for a couple of days before she whisks them off to another part of the UK) he tells her that he is not going to testify. "You're doing this for me, aren't you?" she asks. "And the kids" he adds. She then tells him that she has changed her mind and now wants him to give evidence and have the crooks put away. For God's sake! Is it any wonder that David feels as though he's going mad, with this deranged female changing her mind about everything every 10 seconds or so? This time it was Kenton, telling her about Kathy's ordeal (but not naming her) that caused the change of mind. Until the next time, that is.

Someone who hasn't changed her mind is Elizabeth – you might have thought that David's predicament might have led her to bury the hatchet, but far from it, as she thinks he's raving mad, because he should be thinking of his family. Obviously not going in for the 'Responsible citizen of the year award', then Lizzie? In fact, she's more likely to tell the criminals where they can lay their hands on the Brookfield back door key.

Away from things criminal, we had Judgement Day for Britain in Bloom with two judges visiting Ambridge. Joe Grundy got in on the act and pressed some home-made cider on them. "He's a real sweetie" says judge Marcia of Joe, making us wonder whether she's really fit to be a judge. Lynda obviously thinks so too, as despite her attempts to keep the judges away from the heretical garden in Glebelands, where they ignored the red, white and blue planting diktat, Jim takes them there and Marcia goes into raptures. Now we have a period of suspense until the results are in. Sadly, this now gives Lynda more time to come up with some other half-baked scheme. In fact, her 'performance arts' plans for the fete sound like the sort of thing to keep people away in droves.

As if Adam didn't have enough on his mind, he's fretting because a day out for the pickers has fallen through and he cannot think of what to do to instead. One of the pickers – Pawel – suggests 'taking us down the pub' (and buying the first round). This proves to be a roaring success and Ian, who Adam has dragged along for moral support, is soon getting outside a large number of drinks and seems to be flirting mildly with Pawel. Well, they are both smokers, so are universally despised by all and sundry. Actually, there's a lesson here for Adam – instead of arranging fantastic outings, such as hang gliding on a panda, just give them plenty of booze. You could even pay them a decent wage, perhaps.

Jamie is getting worried, as an under-nineteen, mixed cricket match has been arranged against St. Margaret's school. St Mag's sounds a formidable challenge and Jamie is getting worried, especially as Alistair is encouraging people to turn up and watch. So concerned is Jamie that Kenton finds him out running to get in shape. Shouldn't he be doing that anyway if he's part of the village cricket team?

Finally, over at Susan's, Tracy is fantasising about being whisked off by Ifti (how soon are you allowed up after a lobotomy?) and is generally getting in the way, as her sister becomes ever more stressed, with the kids playing with family heirlooms (yeah, right). The occasion is a run-through of the wedding and Keith goes down the pub, where he talks to Joe. Joe tells him Eddie is struggling for cash – don't you love the way people in Ambridge broadcast your private lives? – and Keith says "Join the club – this wedding is costing me an arm and several legs. To be honest, I don't know how I'm going to do it." Simple Keith – forget the 'to be honest' bit and take some tips from brother-in-law Clive.

Monday, 2 July 2012

Standing Up For Truth And Justice - Or Maybe Not

Felicity Finch (Ruth Archer)

If you had to pick one person in the world to keep a piece of information quiet and not tell anyone anything, then it's a fair bet that Rooooth Archer would be well down the list. When it comes to resisting searching questions, the woman caves in faster than an igloo in a blast furnace. All Jill had to do was say "it's a nice day" and Rooooth was spilling the beans about the threat to the family.

Later on in the week, Adam says "hello" and Rooooth promptly breaks down and blows the gaff. Why not just take a full page ad in the Echo – or, if you really want the news to get around, tell Susan and Vicky? Amazingly, Rooooth then asks Adam if he will help her talk David out of testifying, which seems a bit rich to me. "Adam, you know those men that attacked you and left you to die? Well would you mind terribly asking my husband not to go to court so that they can get away with it? Thanks awfully."

Adam, nice person that he is, agonises to Ian, saying that if anything happened to one of the kids, he'd never forgive himself. Ian, who usually sees the best in everybody, is dead set against telling David to pull out, saying that the time when Adam was in a coma was the worst time of his life and "if these scumbags go free, they'll do it to someone else."

In the end, Jill persuades David to send the kids away to stay at Heather's and Rooooth takes them, reminding David to make sure he eats properly. Actually, she only takes Josh and Ben, as Pip is staying at Spencer's father's farm, thereby putting another family in jeopardy, not to mention Heather.

One of the few people who doesn't know what's going on is Eddie and, when he doesn't turn up for milking one day (he's out pricing a gardening job) David goes berserk and threatens that he'll never work at Brookfield again if he doesn't get there pretty damn quick. A bemused Eddie asks David why he can't cut him some slack? Just find Rooooth, Eddie and ask her what day it is – you'll have the whole story inside 10 seconds.

It seems that people are either convinced that something awful will happen, or they dismiss it all as idle threats – while we have Rooooth and kids fleeing for their lives, Ed tells Emma that he is going to have to go away, but don't worry – she and Keira will be fine, on their own in the cottage, in the yard at Brookfield and not to worry that the gang have already shot out the security lights once before. What can possibly go wrong? Emma is not convinced and wants to move out. I certainly hope this trial comes quickly, or else there won't be anyone left in Ambridge.

Over at Roy and Hayley's, we had an unsettling reminder of what to expect in coming weeks, when they are getting all excited about Phoebe's imminent homecoming and decide to decorate her room for her. Why bother? Whatever they do it's bound to be wrong and Phoebe will be moaning that she never had to do this, or put up with that when she was in South Africa. Even more depressing, one presumes that Kate will be returning too. Truly our cup runneth over.

I did have one glimmer of hope – as Hayley was talking about some deranged plan to put fairy lights round the headboard of Phoebe's bed, she said: "I can't wait to see her little face light up." "Oh good," I thought, "they're going to plug her into the mains." No such luck, but the glimmer remained when they all Skyped Phoebe on her birthday and, afterwards, Hayley said "Is it me or did Phoebes seem underwhelmed about coming home?" Good for you Phoebe – dig your heels in girl – they can't force you to come home. You and Kate stay in South Africa we're right behind you on this.

Vicky is going through one of her extra-annoying phases. As well as threatening to buy Phoebe a sofa decorated with hearts and teddies, she blithely informs Brenda that she has put her name forward to help with marketing the Fete/Olympics. Brenda's observation that she's rather busy and it would have been nice to have been asked is swept aside. Vicky also upsets most of the family when, while talking to Phoebe on Skype, Roy mentions a family holiday and Vicky immediately invites herself and Mike.

In recent weeks, Natalie's part seems to have been growing and she spends most of the time bemoaning the fact that there is no team of women for the ladies of Ambridge to play cricket against and how can they get a game against somebody? These questions are directed to Jamie, who has his own ideas about what sort of game he and Natalie should be playing, and it isn't cricket. Jamie comes up with a couple of good ideas (yes, I too was surprised) but, instead of leaping on him and showing how grateful she is, Natalie rushes off to try and organise something. You want to be careful Natalie, as Rosa (who Natalie described to Jamie as "your groupie") is attending the cricket matches and, if you don't pay Jamie the attention he wants, then I reckon Rosa will be only too willing to let Jamie introduce her to his googlies as he deals with her bouncers.