Monday, 29 December 2014

Kenton Is Overlooked

Patricia Greene (Jill Archer)

We begin with what was potentially the last-ever Archer family Christmas lunch at Brookfield. Jill has cooked for David, Rooooth and children, Elizabeth, Shula, Alistair and Dan and the atmosphere is emotional, with the children reminiscing about Christmases past and remembering those who are no longer with us, such as Nigel and Phil. Jill says how lucky she is to have all her family round the table, seemingly forgetting that she actually has another son, working at The Bull. If I were you Kenton, I’d check that I am still mentioned in the Will.

In what was surely a surprise to nobody, Jill had a change of mind and told David that she cannot join him and Rooooth in the frozen north and her heart belongs in Ambridge; besides, she wants to stay close to Phil “And as long as he’s buried here, it’s where I want to be”. “That’s OK, we can dig him up and take him with us” David replies. Sorry, I made that last bit up, but it might have been a solution, surely?

The Christmas spirit was much in evidence last week, although there was a, frankly, unbelievable bit of dialogue when Lilian was delivering cards and Helen asked her if she’d like a drink? “No thank you” Lilian said. I ask you – how likely is that? That would be top of my ‘Things that the characters would never say’ list, along with “This round’s on me” (Joe) and “I’m so lucky to have a brother like you” (Will). No doubt you can think up your own.

We also had the unlikely story of Emma (and later on, Fallon) not recognising P C Burns as the jolly Santa. I mean, come on – it would have to be one hell of a good disguise, wouldn’t it? As it is, he took off his helmet, donned a false white beard and a red coat and suddenly nobody seems to know who he is. Fallon seemed disappointed when PCB told her he was spending Christmas Day at The Elms refuge, but she cheered up when he told her that he and Justine weren’t together any longer and that he would be attending the opening night of Blithe Spirit, in which Fallon was appearing.

At the opening night, it resembles a farce rather than Blithe Spirit, as Susan’s dress splits and she goes into a minor meltdown, forgetting all Lynda’s stage directions and running about the stage in a tizzy. The audience, however, loved it and there is much laughter and applause and numerous curtain calls. Lynda is a bit miffed (“I feel that some of my subtle motifs weren’t appreciated” - pretentious cow) but the punters enjoyed it. And no-one more so than PCB, who had sent Fallon flowers for good luck and who came on to the stage afterwards to offer congratulations. Fallon takes him outside for some fresh air and he tells her that she was amazing and he couldn’t take his eyes off her.

Fallon says that she has missed seeing him and, by a happy coincidence, PCB has brought along some mistletoe and they kiss. Well done Harrison! I do hope they are a happy couple, although when Wayne learns that his daughter is stepping out with the copper who arrested him for dealing drugs, he may not be happy. Thinking about it, wouldn’t it be great if PCB and Fallon got married and Wayne had to give a speech, welcoming him into the family? It would almost be worth having Wayne back again to hear that – almost, but not quite.

The phrase ‘back again’ is apt this week, as we had Tony earning his money once more by playing a speaking part, rather than someone lying prone in bed, unconscious and with tubes in every orifice. He told Peggy that he heard what she said about the Will and he knows she loves him and he loves her and always will. Peggy phones Pat to tell her the good news and there is joy unconfined at Bridge Farm, though I reckon that Pat is secretly a little annoyed, as she has been at the hospital 24/7 and Tony hasn’t said a word, then his mother turns up and suddenly he speaks.

Back again too was Kate (he said, weeping). At first I had great hopes, as Phoebe was very rude to her and didn’t seem to want her there (not alone there, Pheebs). However, Phoebe changes her mind when she sees Kate wrapping a new i-Pad. Bad luck on Roy, who takes his present (a tablet) to Phoebe, who is extremely unpleasant to him and tells him to go, and take his present with him. Phoebe tells Kate that she wants things back as they were. Me too, so get on that plane back to Johannesburg sharpish, Kate.

Emma and Ed host Christmas at No. 1 The Green for what reads like the guest list from hell; apart from George and Keira, there’s Clarrie, Joe and Eddie, Susan and Neil. Be honest, wouldn’t you just go down the pub and stay there? Things are not improved when Joe and Eddie start singing carols – luckily they fall asleep (although their snores are louder and, it has to be said, more tuneful, than the carols). Unluckily they wake up again.

When Susan took George to see Santa Plod, his wish for Christmas was for it to snow. Late on Christmas Day, Ed opens the curtains and, sure enough, there is snow in the garden! Don’t get excited – PC Burns isn’t really a wizard in disguise, it’s just that Ed borrowed a foam machine from Jazzer. When they are alone, Ed asks Emma what was it she wished for earlier (I think she got the coin in the pudding or something) and Emma says she didn’t wish for anything as; ”I’ve already got everything I can wish for.” At the time of writing, I am still trying to decide whether this shows a spectacular lack of imagination on Emma’s part, or whether she is a masochist of stupendous proportions.

Monday, 22 December 2014

An Appeal For A Good Cause

Carole Boyd (Lynda Snell)

I have decided that, next year, I am going to ask for donations to a special fund to send Lynda Snell (and Robert, if he’s stupid enough to agree) away for the months of November and December. Every year I moan and rant about her Christmas specials and every year it gets worse. This year she is imbuing ‘Blithe Spirit’ with pretentious hidden meanings, the nuances of which are apparent to her alone, and quite frankly, it’s getting on my nerves.

There was hope when Helen pulled out of the cast, but assistant director Alice persuaded Auntie Lilian to step in, presumably by waving gin bottles at her, and so the production was saved. Or was it? Lilian is determined to see the play as a comedy and is constantly shouted at by Lynda to invest the role with some tragedy, or gravitas, or get in touch with her existential angst or some equally meaningless claptrap. “Walk out Lilian!” I kept shouting at the radio, but she was still there at the end of the week.

If we cannot raise enough money to send Lynda away, there may be another solution. On Tuesday, we had Jim and Carol infiltrating the drinks do to try and find out what plans the evil Justin Eliot has for Ambridge. In this they are successful and Jim insists on going to see Lynda, despite the lateness of the hour. Route B is only the start, he tells her – the plan is to have a distribution hub of massive warehouses in Ambridge and “If this goes ahead, Ambridge will be unrecognisable”. Jim is all for going to the Press straight away, but Lynda and Carol suggest waiting until after the Festive Season to maximise the impact.

Quickly donning her Joan of Arc costume, Lynda says shrilly “If they want to turn this part of Borsetshire into a semi-industrial wasteland, it will be over my dead body!” Do you see the other solution now? If so, meet up on the green and bring your hard hats – bulldozers, cranes and concrete mixers will be provided as operation Semi-Industrial Wasteland gets into gear.

I described Justin Eliot as ‘evil’, but Carol found him ‘charming’ and the farmers who turned up at his shoot on Wednesday managed to force themselves to eat his food and drink his wine/beer/spirits without doing too much harm to their consciences – even David, who agonised whether or not to turn up, but who did so in the end. He even managed to overcome his revulsion of Justin to the extent that he accepted the lavish hamper as a ‘thank you’ for coming. Justin asked if he could bring his architect round to Brookfield some time, as he is apparently going to live there himself and there are one or two changes he’d like to make. David, who in the eyes of the village has already trousered Justin’s 30 pieces of silver, agreed.

Whether it’s a case of Chinese Whispers or not, the story has changed dramatically by Friday, when Jennifer tells Jill that she had no idea how radical were Justin’s plans for Brookfield and wouldn’t it be terrible if he demolished Brookfield to build a new country house? A startled Jill has no idea what she’s talking about but goes home immediately to rave at David and Rooooth. “We can’t let him!” she sobs. This is like someone selling their house and then getting on to the new owner for changing the colour, or digging up the roses and at least David shows some common sense when he tells his mum “Now we’ve agreed to the sale, he can do what he likes.”

There was a hint of a thaw in relations between PC Burns and Fallon when he congratulates her on the super job she has done in getting Ambridge’s Christmas market together. From all the compliments and superlatives flying around, it would seem that Jennifer and Brian wasted their money by going to Prague’s Christmas Market. As PCB goes away, Carol says “He seems like a very pleasant young man” and Fallon, half whispering, says “Yes, he is.” Hang on in there Harrison – she’s weakening.

PCB also had his ear bent by Eddie, who chided him for not attending their “History of the turkey” event. PCB goes along to the next performance and we learn that he will be helping out at a homeless shelter on Christmas Day – what a nice person. Eddie tries to flog him a turkey and some holly and mistletoe and, instead of arresting him for unlicensed trading, or some breach of Health and Safety regulations, or being in charge of an annoying parent or some other breach of the law, PCB actually buys one of the damn birds. Speaking to Carol afterwards, Eddie reckons that the whole exercise has been very profitable, thus demonstrating the truth of the axiom attributed to P. T. Barnum: “There’s a sucker born every minute”.

Elsewhere, Adam received a phone call from Charlie, begging him to bring his digger over and help clear up a landslip. After a few well-placed barbed jibes, Adam agrees to help. Charlie gives him coffee and sandwiches and a lecture on how arable is the province of the big boys and Adam should explore more niche areas. This gets Adam’s back up ever so slightly and, as he is leaving, Charlie asks if he will be going to the Christmas party at Grey Gables? “It’s a very busy time of the year” Adam says as he goes. Perhaps the Fallon/PCB relationship is not the only one to be developing? We’ll see.

At the Nativity Play, George is outstanding as a Wise Man and Keira excelled as a snowflake. Clarrie is full of Grandmotherly pride and, when Emma invites them over to hers for Christmas Day, she can hardly contain herself, saying “We’re gonna make this the best Christmas ever!” Her enthusiasm isn’t even diminished one iota when Emma adds that she will be inviting Neil and Susan.

Not everyone is looking forward to a happy Christmas – Roy rings Hayley up, wanting to know when he can have Abbie over the holiday? The short answer is that he cannot – Hayley is concerned that going back to Ambridge would upset Abbie and why doesn’t Roy come over to Birmingham to see her? The fact that Grandparents Mike and Vicky might want to see Abbie doesn’t seem to have occurred to Hayley and Roy is miserable. But we know the truth, don’t we? It’s not the thought of Birmingham that’s getting at Roy, it’s the realisation that, all too soon, Kate will be back. You’re not the only one who’s upset, Roy.

Sunday, 14 December 2014

I’d Leave Now If I Were You, David

Tim Bentinck (David Archer)

It was a week when everybody seemed to give David a hard time. The poor sod only dropped into the village shop to pick up a farming magazine and he was subjected to a lecture from Jim about principles, or the lack thereof. Jim said that he thought David was a man of principle but now he knows that his principles can be bought. Instead of telling him to mind his own business, David tries to explain that, if the road bisects Brookfield, he won’t be able to farm the way he wants and he is only doing what is best for his family’s future.

Jim, who has obviously never heard the phrase ‘the customer is king’, then says that he believes David could have got £5 million for the farm. This time David does tell him that it’s none of his business and leaves. What is it with these people? If David has to sell - and no-one has questioned the rightness of the decision, assuming Route B is chosen - why shouldn’t he get the best price he can? OK, if Justin Eliot was offering a few thousand more than, say, Brian, then David might well have taken the lower offer. An extra £2.5 million is a different kettle of fish, however, and how many of David’s detractors (with the possible exception of Jennifer, who thinks money grows on trees) would have turned it down?

As if he hasn’t had his ear bent enough, David turns up at the SAVE meeting at Lynda’s house, much to Jennifer’s surprise, who has a go at him. David, who must have been wondering why he bothered, says he wouldn’t be there if he had given up the fight over Route B. There are developments; Jim has been invited to a party by the Borsetshire Local Enterprise Partnership and he suggests that he goes, as Justin Eliot will be there and Jim (who is unknown to Justin) can mingle and “find out more about the wider plan”. He will take Carol (also not known to Justin) as back up.

There is a ray of hope on the horizon, as Jim has asked the Council for the minutes of their meetings concerning traffic density, but they are dragging their feet. Usha has told Jim that the Council has an obligation to supply the data under the Freedom of Information Act and he tells Lynda. The pair of them get a bit carried away, talking about whipping up ‘a storm of protest’ and informing the nationals of what’s happening. “We can take it all the way to Number 10!” Lynda cries. I’m sure David Cameron would be delighted.

Lynda has problems of her own - Caroline has pulled out of Blithe Spirit and, later in the week, Helen (who is playing one of the major roles) also pulls out. Lynda doesn’t actually say “So your father is in hospital, hovering between life and death - you can’t help him, so you might as well do the play” but she does her best to change Helen’s mind. It seems that Blithe Spirit is doomed (things aren’t helped by Lynda’s ponderous press releases, imbuing the play with various pretentious sub-texts) but towards the end of the week, Lynda persuades Carol Tregorran to take on the part abandoned by Caroline, so the play might yet be saved, sadly.

While on the subject of Carol, she gave Pat a sleeping draught (which was really effective) and Jill complained of chronic indigestion, so presumably she’ll also get one of Carol’s home-made remedies. I hope for their sakes that there isn’t a branch of Boots or Superdrug in or near Ambridge; they’ll be out of business before long. I’m still waiting to see if Carol’s patients fall ill.

David’s decision to sell has implications for other farms in the area, as Brian points out. After telling Adam that they have both been invited to a farmers’ shoot by Justin Eliot - it’s not that exclusive, as Ed Grundy is also an invitee - Brian tells Adam and Jennifer that they should seriously consider what he calls ‘The Armageddon Solution’. This involves selling all the machinery, making full-time employees Jeff and Andy redundant and contracting out the arable work. This doesn’t go down a storm with Adam, especially as the arable takes up a big chunk of his working time, and he is even more angry when Brian tells him that he has spoken to Debbie, who agrees it is the only viable answer. It’s the fait accompli of the mega-dairy all over again as Adam flounces out, telling Brian to tell Justin to stuff his shoot.

There is better news on the Tony front, as he is off the ventilator by the end of the week. On Thursday Pat is saying “Please God, don’t let him die” and that she couldn’t face life without him. On Friday, Pat and Helen are at his bedside - it’s Pat and Tony’s Ruby Wedding Anniversary the next day - and Pat tells her husband that she bought a special bottle of champagne to celebrate, but she will wait until he comes home. Suddenly she exclaims “Oh Tony!” and excitedly tells Helen that he squeezed her hand; presumably trying to tell her he’d like the champagne now.

The Grundys’ turkey extravaganza plumbed new depths, with Eddie dressed as Henry VIII and Joe forgetting his lines. Still, people are clapping rather than asking for their money back. Carol reads from “A Christmas Carol” - easier than writing original dialogue, I suppose.

Finally, I have a solution to the Justin Eliot problem; he has invited all the farmers (most of who he has seriously pissed off recently) to a shoot. What an opportunity for his pellet-ridden body to be found slumped at his peg, ostensibly the result of a tragic accident. The only trouble is that everybody there would be a red-hot suspect.

Monday, 8 December 2014

Another Bloody Christmas Ruined!

Kellie Bright (Kate Madikane)

Whose Christmas? Mine, that’s who. And why? The writers showed a particularly sadistic streak when, on Friday, they had Jennifer saying that she’s got some good news - Kate is so worried about Phoebe that she’ll be coming over for Christmas “for at least three weeks”.

Sorry? Good news? And why is Kate so worried about Phoebe now? After all, she buggered off to South Africa when Phoebe was little more than a baby, so why the sudden parenting urge? This news, after Wayne’s (blessedly brief) return and that of Tom (sadly, threatened to be permanent) has really made the last few months totally depressing. Jennifer says how nice it will be to have the family together; especially if Debbie comes over from Hungary. Not if she has any sense, she won’t.

Having removed all forms of harm from our reach, let’s go back to Jennifer, - she is incandescent when she learns that David and Rooooth are selling Brookfield to Justin Eliot, accusing them of betraying the village and at a loss to understand how and why they could do such a thing. Perhaps £7.5 million could have something to do with it? Jen says that she would never betray her principles for such a sum (presumably what she spent on the new kitchen) and indignantly asks Brian if he would sell out for such a sum?

Brian (who, let’s be honest, would not only sell his grandmother for half that amount but would volunteer to dig her up into the bargain) suggests that until one is made such an offer, it is difficult to say how you would react. David’s siblings all reacted in the same way, which could be summed up as “give me my share” – even Shula, who David and Rooooth thought would be against the sale, was there with her hand out. In fact, Shula was the first to ask for her share, beating Elizabeth by a short head. Kenton meanwhile was anxious not to appear too keen to take his share, unaware that his sisters had got in before him. Jill was a bit upset that no-one wanted to keep their investment in the family farm, but her daughters pointed out that it would be at the other end of the country and there would be no emotional attachment, as with Brookfield. All I can say is that, if the sale of Brookfield falls through (as it must, surely?) there will be a lot of disappointed people about.

Adam is already disappointed, as Justin’s bid is way more than Home Farm could afford and Adam has a go at Charlie, accusing him of trying to buy up Ambridge bit by bit. “You’re not going to get your hands on Home Farm” Adam tells him. Brian, meanwhile, is incensed that half the Borsetshire Land board knew of Justin’s interest in Brookfield and nobody told him. So angry is he that he resigns from the BL board, which is probably what Justin wanted in the first place.

Over at Bridge Farm, Rob’s plans for world domination come up against Tom’s new-found determination to keep things as they are for when Tony comes home. Rob has taken a couple of, what are, according to him, minor decisions. One of these was to change the feeding regime, substituting potatoes for grass. “That’s not how we do things at this farm”, Tom says and sends them back. Rob has also unilaterally decided to substitute another (cheaper) breed of cow for the Angus dams. Tom says that Tony wanted a 100% Angus herd and cancels the order. Bad luck Rob.

So how is Tony? The short answer is ‘not too good’ as the antibiotics he was given are not working and, until his infection clears up, the hospital cannot operate on him. Peggy has been kept in the dark about just how bad he is and, when Tom takes her to see him, she is shocked at his appearance. Peggy says she bitterly regrets leaving Tony out of her Will and that his present condition is all her fault, as it was this that made him buy the cattle to try and prove that he is not the failure that his mother seems to think he is. “No mother could have loved a son as much as I love you” she tells him, prompting the thought that she’s had a funny way of showing it over the years.

A happier story is that of Emma and Ed. Clarrie urges Emma to ask Will if they can rent No. 1 The Green for a short let and at a reduced rate. On a scale of probability from 1 to 10, this would be about -3, I reckon, but, unbelievably, Will agrees to a six month let. Emma’s appeal that Ed is Will’s brother didn’t work (“I wouldn’t play the family card if I were you” William tells her) and Will only gives in when Emma points out that George would love it and besides, surely it’s better to have some rent coming in rather than none at all?

The week ends with the Christmas lights switch on around the Green and Ed is mystified when Emma produces the keys to No. 1 and says that Will wants George to switch on the lights. The light eventually dawns on Ed and he says he cannot get his head round Will doing him a favour (I must say I found it difficult too). As if this wasn’t enough, Emma has decided that Ed is “a brave and amazing man” and she asks him to marry her. An overjoyed Ed shouts “Yes! Yes!” no doubt leading the people watching the switch on to wonder who it is that is having the orgasm – the lights aren’t that good, surely?

Tuesday, 2 December 2014

Why I Will Henceforth Always Hate Thanksgiving

Eleanor Bron (Carol Tregorran)

I wasn’t even here for Thanksgiving - thanks to Neil for stepping in and holding the fort while I was away - I was in Mexico, researching reactions to the Grundy’s Turkey Pardoning among American tourists (’The Archers - is that a soccer team?’) and seeing how many turkeys were pardoned at our resort (none). Still, someone has to conduct these arduous surveys and all at my own expense; the things I do for this blog.

So, why will I hate Thanksgiving? Let’s quickly deal with the Grundy’s pre-Christmas turkey pardoning extravaganza (if you will forgive the hyperbole). As per Grundy, it was an embarrassment from start to finish, with Eddie wearing a turban and waistcoat (the fancy dress people sending the wrong kind of turkey costume) and later on changing into a chicken costume (“Don’t ask; it’s a long story” he told Helen, who had taken Henry along in the na├»ve belief that it would be fun). From then on, things got worse.

Joe was dressed as Uncle Sam and proceeded to pardon the turkey in a long-winded address in an accent that rivalled Dick van Dyke’s Cockney Bert’s (Mary Poppins) in authenticity. The thing that I couldn’t understand was that, when Eddie was giving them the hard sell for Christmas turkeys, holly, mistletoe and the amazing fortune-telling turkeys, there was the sound of many hands clapping. Haven’t these people got lives? Was there nothing on TV? Were the pubs shut?

The mystic, fortune-telling turkeys are either very good or the ‘yes’ bowl has been laced with turkey goodies; consider, Henry asks if his Grandad will be home for Christmas and the answer is ‘yes’. OK, he didn’t specify which Christmas (but more of this later) but, with four weeks to go, the turkey needs remarkable healing powers. Fallon, at Carol Tregorran’s suggestion, asks “Will I come to regret a recent decision I made?” The answer is again ‘yes’.

While annoying, I agree that the foregoing isn’t enough to engender hate for Thanksgiving, but at the end of the Thursday episode, Helen and Johnny are talking about Helen’s experience she says “It was fun in an odd sort of way” (presumably in the same way that being buried alive is fun) and the door opens and there stands Tom, back from Canada. Pat has been trying to get in touch with him with no answer and we find out why, as he tells Helen that he has been in a cabin in the backwoods and only just picked up the message. There’s never a rapacious Grizzly Bear around when you need one, is there?

Even this might not be enough to make me hate Thanksgiving - after all, Tom could be on a flying visit - but on Friday Peggy (who is pathetically pleased to see her Grandson back) says that he needs to get arrangements in place to make sure Bridge Farm can function after he goes back to Canada, and when will that be? The heart-freezing response? “I’m not going back - I should never have left in the first place. I belong here at Ambridge - I’m back for good.” Peggy says “That’s wonderful”, which surely marks her down as ready for the same dementia ward as recently vacated by Jack, while the rest of us quietly weep and bang our heads against a wall.

So much for Thanksgiving, or henceforth, Unthanksgiving. But we have neglected Tony, poor lamb. Not that he knows that, stuffed with tubes, lines, drips and whatever. However, it gets worse, as Tom goes to see his Dad on Friday and is taken aback by his appearance. Helen assures Tom that Tony can hear and understand what’s said to him, then she leaves so Tom can bend his Dad’s ear. Later, Tom tells Peggy that he was sure that Tony squeezed his hand - well, be fair, the man’s ill and couldn’t reach his neck, could he?

As an aside, Tony must be a better man than I, as, when Tom first came back, I heard the voice and thought ‘who the hell is that?’ - obviously the best time to introduce a new actor is when his Dad is virtually in a coma. I go away for a couple of weeks and we have a new Tom, who didn’t mention sausages once (although he did admit to missing the pigs) and a new Pip, whose voice seems to have broken. Perhaps you could all contribute money and I’ll selflessly stay at home to safeguard the status quo, or what’s left of it.

A brief mention of the impending sale of Brookfield; the agent reckoned a good price was £4.5 million, possibly a bit more in a phone auction. Damara has offered £7.5 million - should they accept? Pretty tricky question if you ask me (where do I sign?).

Now to one of the sillier storylines of the week: Jennifer is convinced that Carol had a hand in John Tregorran’s death. She talks to Lilian, who tells her to get a life, but Jen is rebuffed by John and Carol’s daughter when she asks for a meeting. However, the (adopted) son Richard Grenville is keen and they meet. Jennifer Poirot asks him why he wasn’t at John’s funeral, as he obviously loved his father. Richard says he couldn’t face being there with his mother “Not after what she did”. Zut alors! Jen leaps in, asking did Carol have something to do with John’s death? Richard says no, but Carol leaving broke John’s heart. Jen is unconvinced and still harbours suspicions about Carol.

Jen conveys her suspicions to Lilian, saying that Carol is very keen on herbal remedies and it would have been easy to slip John something. Lil laughs in her face and asks whether the police wouldn’t haven’t have noticed something? But wait - on Thursday, Fallon delivered a refurbished table to Carol, who noticed that Fallon had a headache and persuaded her to take a herbal remedy. Remember the question that Fallon asked the mystic turkey (“Will I come to regret a recent decision I made?”) I thought it concerned PC Burns, but it could have been about drinking Carol’s remedy. Keep an eye on Fallon’s health, I say; Carol could be the new Dr. Crippen, if Jen is correct.