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.