Monday, 26 December 2016

Debbie Doesn’t Toe The Line

Tamsin Greig (Debbie Aldridge)

Brian picks Debbie up from the airport and hardly has the poor girl got into the car before he starts ranting about Adam’s unreasonableness about the proposed land purchase. Still, Brian’s pleased that at least now he’s got someone who thinks the same way as him. Except that Debbie is far from convinced that the purchase is a good idea - at least not on the scale that Brian wants.

At the family supper, Jennifer has banned all talk of the farm and the land and this lasts for about 10 minutes before they are all at it, arguing and voices being raised. Brian complains to Debbie about the obstructionism that he is facing, to which she replies that perhaps he should listen for a change, as Adam isn’t being unreasonable. “You can’t bulldoze through this decision,“ she tells him, adding that perhaps he could do with some time to think things through.

At the Borchester Land Christmas party a couple of days later, Debbie is in conversation with Justin and we learn that, not only is she not on message, Brian-wise, but she is actively trying to seek an alternative. Justin is mildly surprised, having been told by Brian that Debbie is 100% behind the plan and she tells him that it’s causing friction within the family. Has Justin considered selling the land off in a series of smaller parcels? Taking on a smaller debt might make it more acceptable to Adam, she suggests.

Brian returns with the drinks and Debbie tells him what she has proposed to Justin, who says that he doesn’t want to upset the family. Brian asks to speak to Debbie alone and he is very unhappy about what she is proposing. She fights back, saying “Can you not see the damage you are doing? The future of the farm is Adam - if you keep frustrating him, it won’t matter how much land you own, it won’t be a family farm any longer.” Brian maintains that he is only thinking of the future of the family and, somewhat bizarrely, adds “At least Ruairi supports me.” “He’s 14” Debbie points out, but Brian is past listening, saying again that the purchase will be good for the farm and the family. “If Adam can’t get his head round that, it’s a pity, because, believe me, it’s going to happen.” It’s always good to see democracy in action, I reckon.

I don’t know what timescale Justin has in mind to complete the sale of the land, but, if it is going to happen harmoniously, then someone needs to execute a massive U-turn fairly sharpish.  Whatever happens, we will no doubt have Jennifer wringing her hands and saying how awful it all is.

Going back to the BL party, Justin talks to Rob, asking him where he is spending Christmas. Rob says that he is going to the family farm and Justin remarks that it cannot be very comfortable, knowing what people are saying behind Rob’s back. Rob replies that it makes no difference to him - it just shows how gullible and petty-minded some people are. He learns that Debbie is at the party and he seeks her out, reminding her that she and he helped set up Berrow Farm (which is now bulldozed by, the way). “We made a good team” he tells her.

You have to admire Debbie’s candour - instead of mouthing a few platitudes and escaping, she tells Rob that she wishes they had never built Berrow “As that was what brought you to Ambridge.” She also tells him that he reminds her of one of her exes, who hit her, and observes that no-one else in the room seems keen to talk to him. “Cheers, Rob; enjoy the rest of your night” she says as she moves away.

Instead of skulking off, Rob finds Adam in the bar, waiting for Ian, who has had to go back to Grey Gables to sort out a catering emergency. Rob asks Adam if he isn’t missing Charlie and Adam, who is pretty fed up, tells him to go. Just then, Ian returns and gives Adam a big sloppy kiss in front of Rob then leads Adam on to the dance floor, telling Rob that he can have his warm lager as “You look as if you need a drink.”

Not long now till the panto starts and Kate has still only managed to produce about one and a half costumes. Phoebe is back from Oxford and we learn that she has either had a personality transplant, or has suffered a blow to the head, as, when talking to Kate, she is not merely civil, but positively nice to her. Kate shows Phoebe her designs and Phoebe is impressed. She also says that she is impressed with what Kate has done with Spiritual Home and, in a sure-fire indication that she has been sampling some mind-altering drugs at Oxford, Phoebe tells Kate: “You’re my Mum and I’m proud of you.” Bloody hell, that’s a turn-up for the books - it was not so long ago that the only person Phoebe referred to as ‘Mum’ was Hayley. Phoebe’s admiration isn’t undimmed when she learns that Kate is, predictably, about eight weeks behind with the costumes and she pitches in to help, as does Jennifer, Peggy and Chris.

Lynda manages to track Kate down and she is not impressed with the lack of progress. In fact, Lynda throws a wobbly about the entire project, predicting that it will be an unmitigated disaster as the cast still haven’t learnt their lines. Hysterically, she fears that her reputation will be trashed and imagines what the review in the Echo (written by Tristram Hawkshaw) will say. Lynda tells Kate that, if the costumes aren’t ready, then she (Lynda) will disown the show and leave the entire production in Kate’s hands.

Another person on the verge of hysterics was Helen. On Christmas Eve, she and Henry are out delivering cards when they run into Jennifer. Helen is talking when she suddenly realises that Henry is not around and it’s getting dark. They call Henry and Helen makes a frantic phone call to Tom. She is panicking and sobbing and wants to call the police. Tom tries to calm her down, when Henry turns up. He had just been posting the Christmas card he made “for Daddy” through the Blossom Hill Cottage letterbox, because he thought that Daddy should have a card like everyone else. Helen is weeping with relief and, later, she apologises to Tom for going over the top and that “Rob is still there, in my head. Tom reassures her and says that Rob has left Ambridge for Christmas they will all have  a wonderful, family Christmas.

Fresh from her photographic session, Susan is looking for an excuse to wear her posh frock, so she hits on the idea of holding a ‘Calendar Girls Reunion Party’. This is for females only, so Neil is despatched down the pub, with orders not to return until closing time. While there, he meets up with Eddie and Toby and much drink is consumed. The talk turns to Susan’s party - is it possible that the women will be stripping off? Eddie suggests that they go and have a look and Toby agrees, telling Neil “It’s your house after all - don’t you think you’re entitled to know what’s going on?”

The three creep around the patio and they see Susan helping Jean Harvey to take her dress off (Jean’s zip has burst). One of the men then knocks over an urn and an irate Susan comes to the door. Her temper is not improved when Neil pretends that they are carol singers. Susan apologises to her guests as they are leaving and has a go at Neil, telling him that, from January 1st, the ladies of Ambridge will be keeping their clothes firmly on. The question we are asking is ‘will this make 2017 a happy year for Neil or not?’ I know what I think.

Over at Brookfield, there is still much bad feeling about Pip’s refusal to visit on Christmas Day unless Toby is welcome too. As she decorates the tree, Rooooth wonders if she ought to be bothering and, when Jill offers to help, Rooooth goes off and leaves her to it.
Jill asks David what does he think is the attraction of Toby? David doesn’t know, and pointedly tells his mother that her keeping on about it is not helping the situation. Of course, she still goes on about it and says that it is as if Toby has cast a spell over Pip. Rooooth has just returned from a chance meeting with Pip, where Pip still refused to come over Christmas Day, and has a go at Jill. “You really despise him, don’t you?” Rooooth asks. “I don’t despise anybody,” says a shocked Jill, only for Rooooth to ask what is it that she hates so much about Toby? Jill replies “I just know he’s going to be bad for Pip. I’m sorry if that’s not a good enough reason for you.” Jill then adds: “Pip’s made her bed and she has to lie in it.” Between you and me, Jill, I reckon that is exactly what your granddaughter has got lined up for Christmas Day.         


Monday, 19 December 2016

The Secret Of A Happy Marriage - Susan Is Surprised

Charlotte Martin (Susan Carter)

Last week we had Rooooth baking batches of mince pies in an increasingly-desperate attempt to produce something edible for Christmas. You wonder why she bothers, as in the first place, she is certainly no cook and, secondly, Jill can make better mince pies than her with her eyes shut and her hands tied, so why bother?

On Monday, Rooooth is in the village shop, looking for plain flour for yet another mince pie assault, when she is confronted by Susan in - what for her - passes for philosophical mood, when Rooooth mentions that Thursday is her 28th wedding anniversary (and David’s too, spookily enough). Tactful as ever, Susan remarks that David and Rooooth have had their share of ups and downs, yet have pulled through, so what advice would Rooooth give to someone starting out?

After a brief pause, Rooooth says “Listen to your other half.” Susan cannot get her head round this at all and you can hear the puzzlement and disbelief in her voice when she says “Really? Listen?” I suspect that Neil will continue to have his opinions ignored and dismissed, but as he and Susan have been wed for centuries (or so it probably feels for Neil), it seems to work for them.

As well as Rooooth, someone else wandering round the village looking for help and inspiration is Kate, who has been charged with getting the costumes ready for the panto. She asks everybody (with the possible exception of Joe Grundy) if they can help with making costumes, and everyone turns her down, including sister Alice, who had her fingers burnt when Kate asked her to help (ie take on the whole task) of casting Mother Goose. Kate’s despondency is aggravated when she opens Christmas cards from Nollie and Sipho (her children in South Africa) - Sipho has sent her kisses, while Nollie’s card may as well be addressed ‘to whom it may concern’ and kisses are noticeable by their absence. Neil, to whom Kate vouchsafes this information, demonstrates that his wife does not have a monopoly in tactlessness, when he says “You must miss them, this time of year.” I almost (but not quite) felt sorry for Kate when she said, wistfully, “When I was in South Africa, I used to dream of Christmas in Ambridge, now I just want to be back there - as far away as possible from Lynda Snell and her panto.”

That struck a chord with me and I wondered if we could charter a plane, or a Eurostar and join Kate in her flight. Of course, Kate would have to be thrown off the plane/train, but that’s just a bonus.

Going back to Rooooth’s mince pie obsession, an awkward moment was averted when David assumed that Pip would be staying at Brookfield on Christmas Eve, so as to be ready for the ritual opening of the stockings on Christmas mornings, in their pyjamas. Ignoring the fact that this sounds like something that Childline should be investigating, Pip (who hasn’t yet told her parents that she will be spending Christmas at Rickyard with Toby) was saved by the bell - or rather, by the sound of a tray of hot mince pies being dropped on the floor, accompanied by a  moan of “Oh noooo!” from the kitchen.

However, these things cannot be put off for ever (and, as I write this, there are only seven more sleeps before the big morning) so Friday sees David, Rooooth and Pip on the farm, with David blaming his hangover and indigestion on a dodgy chocolate fondant at his anniversary dinner, forgetting to mention the NFU lunch he had earlier the same day, plus the two bottles of wine and the double brandy (what a lightweight, eh?). Talk turns to Christmas Day lunch and Pip says that she won’t be at Brookfield. Detailed questioning reveals that no, she won’t be going away with Toby; yes, she will be having lunch at Rickyard; no, Rex won’t be there and it will just be her and her boyfriend; now she must go, as Toby is making spaghetti for lunch. Knowing Toby, spaghetti is all it will be. Fried. Good job Pip didn’t mention that she was going to invest £5k in Toby’s gin business. He protested, but gave in gracefully.

Pip’s news could well have put the dampers on Christmas at Brookfield. Later on after breaking her news, Pip and Roooth meet on the farm. Rooooth is miles away and admits to her daughter that she is remembering Christmases past; she understands that Pip wants to be with her boyfriend, but couldn’t Toby come to Brookfield? Pip’s response is that Jill finds it hard even to be civil to Toby (how does she know - Jill has never even tried to be civil towards Toby?). Rooooth says (presumably with fingers crossed) that Jill will be on her best behaviour (yeah, right) and “It would mean a lot to me to have you with us.”

Pip exhibits a shrewder knowledge of her family when she says “It would mean a lot to me if my family could try to like my boyfriend.” Rooth protests that she does like Toby, but, when asked, she is struggling to name much that she likes about Toby (as was I, to be honest). Pip says: “If we come to you, not a single person would have a nice time” and I tend to agree. Pip leaves, as David comes in and he asks if she has changed her mind? When Rooooth says ‘”no”, he says “it’s ridiculous” and moves to go after her, which prompts Rooooth into a mini-rant.

She says she’ll tell him what’s ridiculous - the fact that he and Jill take every opportunity to make clear what they think of her boyfriend. “He’s her boyfriend” Rooooth wails and, in a sentence that probably chilled David’s heart, she adds: “He could be her future husband.” While David wonders where his shotgun is at the moment, Rooooth goes on: “Do you want to drive her away? If we want to keep her, we have to respect her choice. We have to try and like him.” David is silent, presumably now wondering where he put his dum-dum bullets.

Brookfield isn’t the only place where Christmas will not see joy unconfined: every year, something adverse seems to happen to one or more members of the Grundy clan. This year, the middle finger of Fate is raised at Ed and Emma. There is a pantomime in Felpersham and, for only £100, the whole family could go and see the production (“That bloke from Eastenders is in it” Emma tells her husband) and have a two-course meal each. Ed moans that they can’t afford it (they can’t) but relents - they can dip into the ‘rainy day’ fund; after all, it will be nice to give the kids a treat.

Of course, you know that this is never going to happen and, on the day that he is supposed to book the tickets, Ed discovers that his prize ram (on which the hopes of him and Emma are pinned) has torn his scrotum - and don’t you just hate it when that happens, guys? - and he had to call the Vet out, so no panto. Emma takes it badly, saying that Santa never seems to make it to their house. Em, I hate to tell you this, but Santa isn’t real, sweetheart.

The saga of the chance to buy the land adjoining Home Farm threatens to drag on a la Route B story. Brian, Peggy and Jennie went to Grey Gables for dinner, where they ran into Justin Eliot. Peggy managed to upset everyone (except Justin, seemingly) by saying that family unity is worth more than money. Even Jennifer agreed with Brian afterwards that Peggy had been out of order, but she announced that she had spoken to Debbie on the phone and that Debs would be flying home for Christmas. Could be lively discussions around the Home Farm Christmas dinner table. As an aside, before lunch at Grey Gables, Peggy asked Justin about Lilian and, when she told Brian that “Justin seemed very satisfied with Lilian”, Brian nearly choked.

At Bridge Farm, Johnny is trying to grow a beard, to impress a girl (Amber) he fancies at the fashion show. Sadly, on the day of the show, he spots another boy with his hand up Amber’s shirt and Johnny legs it, subsequently telling Helen and others that he never really fancied Amber anyway. Oh yes - he shaved the beard off too.

Helen featured prominently last week. Apart from reassuring Johnny that he is the “loveliest man in Borsetshire” after the Amber debacle, she was at the church, where Henry was appearing in the Nativity Play. Rob was spotted, sneaking into the porch, but fortunately Henry never saw him.

Helen decided to go and see Jess, having beaten Pat off with a stick to stop her going along. As it is, Pat mapped out the route for her, organised emergency rations and tried to get the roads cleared and a SWAT helicopter following her, because you just can’t trust a Titchener. At first, the meeting with Jess was lukewarm, until Helen handed Jess a card, saying ‘I owe you my life’. Helen thanks Jess for speaking up for her, to which Jess replies that she did it for herself as “I didn’t want him to win any more.” The two women bond and Jess reveals that she’s still scared of Rob. Helen says she cannot allow herself to be scared, “Because if I am, then he’s still winning.”

This attitude is put to the test on Friday, as Helen is at Bridge Farm - Johnny has gone upstairs to work on the computer and there is a knock on the door. She opens it and it is Rob; Helen tries to shut the door, but he has his foot in it and begs to be heard. He has brought Christmas presents for the boys - unwrapped so that she can see what they are - and asks her to give them to Henry and Jack, so he can feel a small part of their Christmas. He says he’s been talking to Alan “trying to make sense of where we went wrong”. “We?” queries Helen and Rob quickly amends this to “me”. He goes on: “I’m a mess; all I ever wanted was a beautiful wife and children and a home and I had it all - and I destroyed it. I want to be a better man, Helen.”

Not unreasonably, Helen asks “Why would I want to give the boys anything from you?” Rob replies “Because you are a good person.” He then definitely pushes his luck by saying “Do you think we might -” Helen snorts “What?” Rob: “You and me, please give me some hope or say you forgive me.” but Helen has taken her advice to Jess to heart and says “you really are a piece of work.” “I’m begging you, don’t say we are over” Rob pleads. “You know we are” Helen tells him, shutting the door, adding “Goodbye, Rob.” Johnny comes down, having trouble with the printer. “Are you OK?” he asks Helen, who responds, in a confident voice “Yeah. I am. I’m absolutely fine.”

Neil and Peter wish all our readers and the cast of The Archers (with some notable exceptions) a happy and peaceful Festive Season and we’re gutted that we couldn’t get tickets for Mother Goose.

Sunday, 11 December 2016

Peace And Harmony? I Don’t Think So

Patricia Greene (Jill Archer)

Peace and Harmony is what Pip asks for when David asks her what does she want for Christmas? Oh, and for the family to be nice to Toby as well. David says that that would be a Christmas miracle, but, when Pip says that all shes asking for is a bit of everyday civility, he says OK, peace and harmony it is.

Ha! In your dreams, David! True, he wants a nice family Christmas, as does Pip and Rooooth, but the problem lies with Jill - instead of everyday civility, she wants Tobys head (and other bits) on a spike. And she doesnt keep her feelings to herself, either - when she sees Toby working on his pickup in the farm workshop, she has a go at him about the still. Toby cannot resist the urge to wind her up, saying that he has abandoned the still idea, but the cannabis plants are coming along a treat. Jill tells him she wants him to leave Pip alone and clear off the farm. Are you for real? Toby asks, adding: You want me to break Pips heart just so you can be happy? Sorry Grandma; thats not going to happen.

Mind you, Toby brings a lot of it upon himself - he is in a quandary, as he cannot distil gin without a licence and he cant get a licence until he has somewhere to house the still. The solution? He goes to see Rex and tells him he wants to move the still to Hollowtree. Rex isnt keen, to put it mildly, and tells his brother that David would terminate the lease in a heartbeat. But Toby has been looking at the lease - firstly, both his and Rexs names are on the lease and secondly, nowhere does it specify what type of business can be carried out on the premises.  David might not like it, but he has no option. Toby tells his brother.

It turns out that Toby is right on both counts - David does indeed go ballistic when he confronts Toby, who calmly explains the situation to him, and David realises that he actually doesnt have a choice. He may have accepted the situation, but Jill cannot believe that Toby has got away with it. David then tells her about his Peace and Harmony promise (incidentally, his conversation with Pip was after he apologised to Toby for losing his temper) and Jill demonstrates a novel twist on Peace and Harmony as it is after David tells her this that she has her get off the farm confrontation with Toby.

Should Toby tell Pip what Jill said? He knows that she thinks the world of her Gran and doesn’t want to upset her. However, she realises that something is up and he tells her the story. Toby suggests that he goes away for Christmas, so that Pip can have her family celebration and he’ll be back on Boxing Day. Pip however, is having none of it, saying: “No Toby - I’m not going to stand for this; they can do Christmas without me - let’s do our own Christmas here in the cottage.” So much for Peace and Harmony.

There appears to be a rift developing too, over at Home Farm, where Brian is keen to buy the additional acreage from BL. Jennifer is worried that it will cost and awful lot (£2.7 million - about half the cost of her kitchen) and Adam isn’t happy as it would mean more intensive farming. “We’re going to end up with a dustbowl” he tells Peggy. For her part, Peggy can see where Brian is coming from - he wants to pass on a bigger farm to his children. She is worried that Adam might walk away, but he says that he’ll stick it out, for Ian’s sake if nothing else. Has Adam spoken to Debbie about it? No, he hasn’t and Peggy suggests that it might be a good idea.

The following day, Brian returns from a meeting with Bryce, Home Farm’s accountant and financial adviser, with the news that Bryce thinks they can afford the deal and that it’s a good idea. Jen is still concerned and says can’t they get a second opinion? At this point, Adam comes in and tells them that he has spoken to Peggy, who said that Brian should get in touch with Debbie. Brian protests that she’s hard to get hold of, to which Adam says that he just rang her mobile and she picked up. “How is she?” Jen asks, brightly and Adam replies that she was “alarmed” to learn of the suggested deal “She thought you were out of your mind” he tells Brian. Brian insists that Adam must have given her a skewed version of events and: “Don’t worry, Jennifer - I’ll talk to Debbie and give her the actual, unbiased facts. She’ll soon understand the benefits, believe you me.” Looks like interesting times ahead at Home Farm.

Kenton takes time out to help Elizabeth seek out a car for Lily and Freddie’s birthday (and one car between two teenagers sounds like a recipe for trouble to me). Not only does he buy himself a red 4x4, but he’s missing a panto rehearsal, which earns him a tongue-lashing from Lynda. David wasn’t happy when he learned of the car purchase, as Kenton still hasn’t repaid the money David lent him to help refurbish The Bull. Things aren’t going very well at the panto (as in every previous year for the past decade or so) and Kenton criticises Lynda’s script for being a) too long and b) too boring. Lynda is not one to take criticism well and tells him that it has been lovingly crafted. Never mind, Kenton and Toby rewrite the turgid egg-laying scene, including visual jokes and fart gags, and play it for Lynda. I think ‘apoplectic’ is the word that best describes Lynda’s reaction. Perhaps nobody will turn up to watch, although I am sure that it will all come good in the end - it seems that triumph is snatched from the jaws of disaster when it comes to Lynda’s plays.

When Kenton was out with Elizabeth, the pair spoke about Dr Richard Locke and his and Lizzie’s opinions of each other. Elizabeth admits that she has feelings for the doctor, but is worried, because Shula told her that, when she and Alistair were going through a sticky patch, Shula developed “a crush” (her words) on Richard. Elizabeth is worried that, if she and Richard developed a relationship, might this not hurt Shula? Kenton tells her to go for it, adding that Shula would be mortified if she thought that she was being a stumbling block to Elizabeth’s happiness. We await further developments with interest.

Wednesday was the day of the Family Court Hearing about Rob’s access to Jack and Pat was apologising to Susan because she (Pat) gave Clarrie the day off to slaughter turkeys and Pat had totally forgotten about the court hearing, so Susan will be on her own in the dairy. I find this incredible, as Pat and Helen have talked about little else over the past few weeks and I cannot believe that it slipped her mind.

At the hearing, Helen is nervous that the court might widen Rob’s access, even though the psychologist’s report is so damning. Helen’s nerves are not improved when her brief, Anna, tells her that she has known courts in the past that have totally rejected such reports. Nice one Anna - just what Helen wanted to hear. As it happens, we are not privy to the actual hearing, but only to the result, which was a triumph for the Archer family - apparently Ursula kept interrupting the judge and the result was that Rob’s attempt to change Jack’s name to Gideon was rejected and - even better - his access to Jack was cut to once a month, at a contact centre and overseen by a professional. Even better, Rob has to pay for it. Helen still has reservations - she can divorce Rob, but Jack will have to see him once a month for the next 16 years. God, is the woman never satisfied? Anna tells her “Time will heal, Helen; believe me, it will.”

You will be delighted to know that the vomit stains did come out of Susan’s dress but, now she can’t take it back to the shop, she’s determined to get some wear out of it and comes up with the idea of throwing a party. She invites Kirsty, who would probably prefer to remove her own entrails, and then Susan speculates about whether there is ‘something going on’ between Justin and Lilian - it’s the way they look at each other during panto rehearsals (they’re probably looking longingly towards the exit). Susan also goes all coy about how Roy and Tracy met in the nightclub and didn’t Kirsty think that they were well suited? Tracy was sad that she lost Roy in the crowd - a tribute to Roy’s ability to make himself scarce.

Kirsty tries to nip all this in the bud, asking Susan if she’s matchmaking (Susan denies it) and saying, quite sternly, that Susan shouldn’t go around spreading rumours. Susan exhibits a capacity for self-delusion worthy of Rob when she replies indignantly: “Me? Spread rumours? I wouldn’t dream of it!”

Over at the Vicarage, Alan is getting it in the neck from parishioners, complaining that the Nativity plays are a bit early this year. “Don’t they realise that I have to organise four plays?” Alan asks, peevishly. Usha is on the way out to show prospective tenant Anisha Blossom Hill Cottage when Rob storms into the Vicarage, saying that he needs to talk to Alan urgently.

To digress, Anisha does take on Blossom Hill, having haggled about the rent and asked about traffic noise. Usha asks if she is aware of the recent history and Anisha replies yes, but it doesn’t worry her and the two go off to seal the deal over a cup of coffee.

Back at the Vicarage, Rob is at his ranting best, telling Alan that the court’s verdict is completely wrong and how could they think that he would hurt his son? “I love that boy. How is he supposed to get to know me? He’ll be scarred for life.” Rob seems not to have grasped that the whole point is that Jack doesn’t get to know him too well and any scarring would result from contact with his father, not from a lack of it. Alan says diplomatically that the court believes that this is what is best for Jack, which does little to calm Rob down.

Rob’s thoughts then turn to Henry - what must he be going through, not being allowed to see his ‘Daddy’? A thought strikes Rob - is Henry appearing in the Nativity play? Alan confirms this and Rob wonders aloud whether he could sneak into the back of the church and maybe give Henry a Christmas present? Slightly alarmed, Alan says that the court said that Rob should have no contact with Henry and Rob’s idea is not a good one.

When Usha returns and Rob has left, Alan is troubled. He cannot reach Rob, who is convinced that he is right and everybody else is wrong. “It’s as if there’s a piece of his brain missing” Alan tells his wife, and Usha urges him not to let Rob get to him. Alan replies that a bit of him feels pity for Rob and he wants to make him understand (good luck with that, vicar!). “Perhaps not all mankind can be redeemed” he muses. Tell you what, vicar, I reckon that Jill Archer would agree with that 100 per cent, although it’s not Rob that she’d be thinking off.

Sunday, 4 December 2016

Be Careful What You Wish For, Roy

Ian Pepperell (Roy Tucker)

You can’t please some people, can you? Roy Tucker is - if not desperate, then at least very keen - to get back into the dating game. Trouble is he’s not that good at it; although he embraces the latest technology, with Apps and the like, he still manages to cock it up, sending messages to the wrong girls (he hoped one girl’s Grandma was feeling better and she replied that she died two years ago) and it’s making Roy despondent.

Never fear! Jolene says that he should junk the technology and do it the old-fashioned way and she shows him a flyer for a 90s night at a club in Felpersham. He’s interested, as it’s his era. “Maybe a new approach is exactly what I need.” he muses. The next day he floats the idea to Tom and Jazzer and the three agree that they are up for it and set off. Jazzer knows the club manager - he knows everybody - and soon the lads are strutting their stuff on the dance floor. Or, rather, Jazzer is, as Roy and Tom are keeping a low profile because Tracy Horrobin has developed the hots for Roy and he can’t shake her off. Tom goes on to the dance floor and Roy says he’ll join him later. “Tracy is on the way over” says Tom and Roy is on the dance floor in a nano-second. As I said, you can’t please some people - Roy wanted a female companion and Tracy is more than willing to fill the role, but Roy still isn’t happy.

Leaving Roy cowering in fear in the club, we turn our attention to matters at Home Farm. It is getting to the stage where, if I hear the words ‘herbal ley’ once more, I might not be responsible for my actions. Yes Brian, we know that results aren’t good and, yes Adam, we know that your vision is going to take time to prove itself (assuming that it ever does). You can understand Brian’s point of view, as he’s just turned 73 and, by the time the herbal leys have proved their worth, he could be in a bath chair, or a coffin. Equally, Adam could argue that the future belongs to him and his siblings and he’d prefer to inherit a farm with decent soil. Whatever, the constant repetition of argument and counter argument is getting on my chimes.

Brian has introduced another factor into the equation - Justin has asked if he would be interested in purchasing 337 acres of Estate land, bordering on Home Farm? The going price is around £2.7 million and, as Brian tells Jennifer, they could raise £1m from cashing in shares and they could borrow the rest. Jen points out that it is a lot of money, but she has news of her own and tells Brian about Justin and Lilian’s affair. Brian demonstrates his caring, human side when he says “If Justin is involved with your sister, this could be just what clinches this land deal.”

Brian runs the idea past Adam, who is immediately wary about incurring such a huge debt, although Brian waxes enthusiastic about how it would secure the future of the farm. They walk the land and Adam remarks that the soil is in poor condition. Brian’s response is that Adam is just the man to improve it. What? Does this mean that the herbal leys are back in favour? The argument continues to rumble throughout the week, with Adam going home early on Friday after supper at Home Farm (Ian had to work and couldn’t make it) saying that he’s tired.

Jennifer says that £2.7m is a lot of money “And we won’t be running the farm for ever.” Brian’s answer is that land is the safest investment there is and, when Jen chides him for bringing up the subject after dinner, he replies “Adam will be fine - there’s nothing the matter with a bit of healthy debate.” “Is that what you call it?” Jen says, dryly. Brian insists that it is not his future that he is thinking about, rather that of his children and, once he has explained it to Kate, Alice, Debbie and Ruairi, they’ll realise what a terrific deal it is. I’m reserving judgement.

Lilian tells Justin that ‘some of the family’ have found out about the fact that they are having an affair, neglecting to tell him that Rob also knows. Justin takes it all in his stride, saying that people were bound to find out at some stage and the important thing is that Miranda must not be embarrassed. Justin apologises to Lilian for the fact that he has to spend Christmas Day at home, but he will be back in Ambridge on Boxing Day and can stay through to New Year.

And now we look at the farce that is the Carter family’s photoshoot. It is booked for Tuesday and, on Monday, Susan still hasn’t made up her mind about which dress to wear. Eventually, Lilian persuades her that she looks good in the buttercup yellow, but even on the day of the shoot, Susan is still wondering whether it is the right choice.

You’d think that it would be comparatively simple to organise a family photograph, but Susan has turned it into a logistical exercise of monumental proportions, with a list of worries as long as your arm. First of all, will Chris and Alice manage to get to the studio in time? Will Ed scrub up sufficiently to meet Susan’s high standards, or will he have to stand at the back? And look at the state of Neil’s hands - why didn’t he use Susan’s hand cream, as she wanted? The reason for this is that he was already having a hard time with Jazzer and Johnny taking the rise out of him and he didn‘t want to give them more ammunition.

As Susan and Neil wait outside the photographer’s studio, she is overcome with foreboding - there are no lights on inside and no sign of life. Susan phones them, but it goes to answer phone, so Susan asks for them to ring her back. “Is that rain?” Neil asks, which does nothing to cheer Susan up. On the plus side, Emma turns up with Keira, who is looking a bit peaky. Emma explains that there appears to be a bug of some sort going around.

Susan gets a message from the photographer - they have overrun on a shoot and cannot get there until six o’clock at the earliest. In the end, it is decided to postpone the shoot until a week Monday (God, that means the saga will continue to drag on). There is the sound of barking and George turns up with Holly. Susan says there is no way that the dog is appearing in the photograph and Keira pesters Granddad Neil to be picked up. Susan is still having doubts about whether her dress is suitable, but Emma says that it looks lovely and she should definitely wear it in the photograph. Keira is squirming and wriggling and Neil puts her down. Emma says that Keira is going to be sick and she promptly is - all over Susan’s dress. We learn the following day that it is possible that the stains won’t come out. I bet Neil is wishing that he’d let Susan have plastic surgery and had never mentioned the photo, as presumably his diet will be enforced for another week and we’ll have another seven days of Susan moaning and agonising over dresses.

As Christmas approaches, one thing I would bet my mortgage on is that Toby Fairbrother will not get a Christmas card from Jill - when it comes to him, she exhibits a vindictive streak a yard wide. In idle conversation with Rooooth, her only topic is Toby - what does he do all day? Has he got rid of the still yet? Rooooth keeps trying to change the subject, but every time Jill drags it back to Toby. Rooooth says that Pip’s cattle will be sold on Thursday and she’ll get a big cheque, so the world will be her oyster. By this time, Pip has come over to see her mother and Grandmother and the conversation is a bit stilted. It stops completely when Jill suggests that she should leave Toby behind.

Pip has a go at Jill - she’s always sniping at Toby. “What will he do next?” Jill asks, adding somewhat nastily “Smuggling? Poaching?” Pip replies that the gin is a fantastic idea and, when Jill still won’t let up, Pip walks out.“ ”Now look what you’ve done” Rooooth says, adding that it might be better if Jill kept out of Pip’s love life. Not in the least abashed, Jill says on the contrary; she won’t turn her back on Pip. She rubbishes Toby’s track record and his attitude to women and says “Believe me; Toby’s no good and the sooner Pip realises that, the better.” You may be right, Jill, but it’s not really any of your business, is it?

As things are going, it looks like there could be a few empty places round the Brookfield dining table on Christmas Day, but perhaps Rooooth could take a few scraps over to Rickyard. A word of advice Toby - whatever you do, make sure that you don’t give David and Rooooth a bottle of artisan gin for a Christmas present, or a full and frank discussion might ensue.

While the Pip/Jill/Rooooth conversation is going on, Toby (whose ears must be well alight) goes to see brother Rex and compliments him on how good the geese look. Rex says he’s busy and what does Toby want? He also has a go at Toby for possibly putting his tenancy of Hollowtree at risk by annoying David. Toby says that he has got rid of the still - it’s in Grundy’s field and also that their mother would like to see them for a dinner one night. Rex replies that he is busy - not living off Pip and messing about with gin (who could he be thinking about, do you suppose?).

Later on, outside The Bull, while waiting for the Christmas lights switch on (great radio) the two brothers meet again. “Where’s Pip?” Rex asks. “Getting the drinks” Toby replies. “Oh yes - she’s the one with the money” Rex says, prompting Toby to stalk off, saying “At least Pip still believes in me.” “More fool her” his brother retorts. I don’t know how much Pip got from the sale of her cows, but I hope Toby gets a job or something to pay his way soon, or Pip’s hard-earned dosh will vanish like early-morning dew and we won’t be able to shut Jill up.

Sunday, 27 November 2016

Still, What Did You Expect?

Tim Bentinck (David Archer)

Let’s begin at the end of the week. It looks like Toby has got his act together over use of the botanicals to flavour his gin and the latest batch is very drinkable. Toby takes a bottle to Lynda and Robert to say ‘thank you’ for letting him use herbs from their garden, although Lynda sniffily points out that Toby actually filched them when she and Robert were away. Never mind! The gin gets the Snell seal of approval and Robert suggests calling it ‘Scruff’ instead of ‘Toby’s Gin’, which is the blockbuster of a name that Toby came up with. How these marketing geniuses do it is beyond me.

By Thursday, there’s another batch ready for tasting and Pip asks if it matters that it tastes different from the previous batch. Toby confidently replies that it just proves that it is an artisan drink and it doesn’t matter. On Friday, David tells Pip that he thinks Toby is just a freeloader who does vanity projects and, Pip defends her lover, conveniently forgetting that, earlier in the week, Toby had asked her for money, as he’s broke. David is not convinced when Pip says that Toby will come good one day and he says “If he showed half the commitment of his brother Rex, I might believe in him.” Pip goes off in a huff and David says (to himself) “Oh Pip, why can’t you see what everyone else can?”

Later on that day, Alistair is at Brookfield, ministering to a cow with mastitis and he casually enquires “Have you heard Toby’s latest idea?” “Go on, surprise me” says David, gloomily. I think we can safely surmise that he was, indeed, surprised, as we next hear him banging on the door of Rickyard Cottage, yelling “Pip!” at the top of his voice. Pip lets him in and he is furious, demanding to know where is the still? Toby tells Pip that he can deal with this and he informs David that they haven’t sold a drop and all that they have made has been for personal consumption and that of friends. This does nothing to calm David down and he points out that Toby was down The Bull, dishing out gin and tapping up Kenton as to possible future sales. Witheringly, David also says that he has done some research on the Internet – which Toby patently hasn’t – and it is an offence to operate a still and not charging for it is irrelevant.

Still incandescent, David offers an ultimatum – get rid of the still immediately or he will give them notice to quit. “You can’t do that!” Pip protests, but David is implacable, saying: “I’ve no choice Pip – either the still goes or you both do; it’s as simple as that.” So, another Toby Fairbrother idea goes nads up – he’s a bit like a younger, upper class Joe Grundy when it comes to things commercial. God only knows what sort of banker he was. As an aside here, for Clarrie and Eddies 35th wedding anniversary, they were served a meal (turkey, what else?) in the Cider Club shed and Joe offered Clarrie apple juice, cider or apple brandy – wouldn’t making apple brandy require the use of a still?

Elsewhere, Rob continues to cast a long shadow. He returns a scarf to Lilian that he found when collecting papers from the Dower House and he has put two and two together about her and Justin. “It always pays to be discreet” he tells her, but she pretends that she has no idea what he’s talking about. On Wednesday, when Rob has his midweek hour with Jack, he tells Tony about Lilian and Justin and Tony says that he already knew, but deep down, he is shocked. When he and Lilian eventually meet up, he asks her how could she do such a thing – how could she have an affair with the man who hired Rob; “the man who raped and abused Helen?” Lilian answers that she pleaded with Justin not to hire Rob, but he insisted it was just a business decision. The conversation is intense and Lilian is sobbing, when Tony suddenly realises that this is exactly what Rob wants; to drive the family apart, but Tony won’t let it happen. “Maybe we can use this to our advantage” he says, enigmatically.

The psychologist has completed her report on Rob and it is a damning document, as we find out when Pat and Helen read it. It describes Rob as ‘narcissistic’, ‘exploitative’, ‘self-important’ and ‘with no concern about other people’s feelings or the consequences of his actions.’ Furthermore, ‘he remains harmful to others’ and the psychologist recommends that Rob’s future contact with Jack should continue to be supervised and should be cut to once a month, or maybe even less, ‘due to the level of psychological and emotional harm that Mr Titchener poses’.

Rob seeks out Alan for a talk and he immediately rubbishes the report as a pack of lies and that the psychologist was obviously manipulated by Helen “And all those damned Archers together.” Demonstrating his acute aptitude for picking up on nuances, Alan replies “So, you’re not happy with it?” Don’t know why you think that, vicar. Alan tries to get Rob to consider forgiveness and suggests that he and Helen should channel their love for Jack into being good parents. “There is no way I will ever forgive Helen” is Rob’s answer. Better look for a plan B, Alan.

There was one nice moment when, during Rob’s hour in the tearoom with Jack, the baby won’t stop crying and Rob demonstrates that, when it comes to being a parent, he’s about as much use as an ashtray on a motorbike. He refuses to give jack a dummy (“it’s just an excuse for a lazy parent”) and won’t listen to Tony when he says that Jack is teething. Rob angrily describes the tearoom as a totally unsuitable place for his contact visits and, having by this time had more than enough, Tony’s killer reply is “Well, when your contact goes back to once a month, it won’t be such a problem, will it?”

Earlier, we mentioned Clarrie and Eddie’s 35th wedding anniversary and we learned the importance of doing thorough research. He bought her a conch, because it was the nearest he could get to coral, while she bought him jade cufflinks, thinking that a 35th anniversary was jade (it isn’t – for once Eddie was right and it is coral). While on the subject of Eddie’s cufflinks, I suppose he’ll have to save up till he’s got a shirt to wear them with. As part of her present, Eddie drove Clarrie to Barmouth, of which she had fond childhood memories, playing on the beach. Emma had packed them a hamper, which was apparently very nice and, while strolling on the beach, Eddie suggested ice creams. Clarrie’s response was that it’s a bit cold, but she’d welcome a bag of chips. The hamper couldn’t have been that substantial then. Personally, I can’t see the attraction in walking along the sea front in late November, but each to his own, I suppose. Clarrie was disappointed that there were no donkeys, as she remembered from her youth, but presumably the donkeys breathed a sigh of relief that they wouldn’t have to transport a middle-aged matron up and down the beach in the depths of autumn.

Alistair and Anisha are moving closer to a partnership, as she has had the business valued and Alistair admits that her figure “is in the ball park” and he has instructed his accountant to open formal talks. She joins him for a drink in the pub, where she learns that he is related to half the village. Alistair replies that “It’s a very small world round here and secrets can be hard to keep. Now, I might be reading too much into this, but are we being prepared for a future romantic involvement, do you think?

Another big story of the week concerned Adam’s herbal leys and Pip’s mob grazing cattle. Sunday was Brian’s birthday and Adam and Ian got him a bottle of Japanese whisky, which was received with a certain amount of suspicion. Brian also told Adam that he wanted to have a talk about the whole mob grazing/herbal leys/no-till agriculture situation.

‘Talk’ is a bit misleading, as Brian makes it plain that he thinks the whole system should be wound up – it is experimental, it is not producing results and it is unprofitable. Adam is distraught and brings out all the arguments about how it is a long-term solution to improve the soil and going back to high-input agriculture is not the answer. Brian cocks a deaf ‘un and, when Adam asks if he has made his mind up, says “Let’s just say that mob grazing and the herbal leys are on borrowed time.”

Adam is not the only person devastated by Brian’s attitude, as, when Adam tells Pip (whose cattle do the mob grazing) she says “He can’t do that!” Afraid he can, Pip. She asks Adam if she should talk to Brian, but he says, despondently, that it won’t do any good, as Brian isn’t known for changing his mind. Still, there is a faint ray of hope, as Brian has agreed to let the leys be until after the winter so, should there be a miraculous increase in productivity and soil quality, they might be saved after all. Of course, Brian is getting on a bit and, if the coming winter is as severe as some are predicting, or if he has a reaction to the Japanese whisky, then he might not make it to spring and the leys might be saved.

Sunday, 20 November 2016

Lynda’s On The Prowl

Carole Boyd (Lynda Snell)

Kate goes round to see Lynda to break the news that Mother Goose is proving impossible to cast and wants to organize a talent show instead. She blames Alice to whom she ‘delegated’ responsibility for casting, and Lynda for going away for 3 weeks and not leaving a script, before landing the coup de grace – the only person they could find to play Mother Goose is Nathan Booth. Lynda’s at the point of giving up, when Robert squanders yet another opportunity to kill off the Christmas show by making her a calming cup of chamomile tea and reminding her that she’s at her best when faced with adversity. The man has form in this area and it’s about time something was done about him.

So Lynda goes into recruitment overdrive, and in no time has signed up Susan for the Queen of Gooseland in the Christmas show. Emma’s wavering about Keira and George too, even though Eddie previously banned them from taking part. It look’s like she’s hooked Roy to play Mother Goose’s son Colin and Kirsty seems to be a shoe-in for love-interest Colinette, but isn’t so sure when she finds out that Lynda has earmarked Justin to play her father, the Demon Squire. When Kirsty complains that Justin’s just as bad as Rob (I wouldn’t go quite that far) Lynda suggests she use her feelings against him to inform her role.

Over at the tearoom Rob’s trying to get Tony to agree to make changes to his regular contact with baby Jack/Gideon, as his work will make it difficult to maintain the regular schedule. Tony’s sticking to his guns and tells Rob that he’ll have to rearrange his work commitments instead. As he leaves, Rob tells Tony that he’ll see him next week, but at 08:30 – before the tearoom opens. “Not my problem” is Rob’s response when Tony points this out, and counters that the court may view him as being obstructive. This last remark seems to have had the desired effect, as later on Tony tells Pat and Peggy that either Fallon or Emma will open the tearoom especially early.

Eddie’s agonizing over how he’ll mark his and Clarrie’s 35th wedding anniversary, what with having no money and with Kenton recently taking Jolene away to a ‘swanky spa hotel’ for theirs. Joe hatches a plan to raise money by making a new batch of their single variety cider, putting it in fancy bottles, and selling it. When Eddie points out the crop of Borsetshire Beauties has been less than bountiful, Joe reminds him there are some trees over at Brookfield. It also turns out that Lynda’s got some in her garden, and Usha helpfully points out that Lynda’s working and won’t be there, thereby getting round the fact that Eddie and Lynda aren’t on speaking terms. Lynda’s trees turn out to be more productive (llama poo?) and they help themselves to as much as they want before Lynda unexpectedly appears. And what is the penalty for being caught red handed up a tree scrumping apples I hear you ask? Well, taking part in the Christmas show of course as a comedy bailiff (Eddie must have seen enough bailiffs in his time to play that one to perfection).

Meanwhile Alistair is keen to show Anisha, the prospective new partner in his veterinary practice, the full range of his activities (I bet he is), and suggests he takes her to see Bartleby. Anisha gives Bartleby the once-over, and suggests they try a new treatment for his joint pain that’s had promising results. Joe’s worried about the cost, but Anisha suggests a special introductory offer, and Joe likes the idea of being a pioneer so agrees.

Alistair’s wife Shula is having a heart-to-heart with Elizabeth and explains how Alistair’s decision to either sell up or go into partnership has given their relationship a new lease of life. She slips in the fact that her feelings for old-flame Richard Locke were just a fantasy. Elizabeth’s surprised that she felt that way, especially as she’s been no stranger to the doctor’s affections.

Lynda hunts down Adam in a field and interrupts his business conversation with Pip to invite him to play Mother Goose in lieu of Kenton, and unsurprisingly finds the idea of being a Kenton substitute less than attractive. Lynda also gets Pip to try and persuade Toby to take part wearing his ‘Ganderman’ goose costume. Pip cleverly gets Adam off the hook by suggesting Lynda try David instead, who she knows hasn’t the faintest intention of taking part, but this little distraction serves its purpose. Back to Estate business, and we learn that 50 farm professionals are due on a farm walk tomorrow to see how Adam’s trial of no-till drilling is coming along. On the day itself Adam confidently gets things started by giving some background about the floods and the need to adopt a new approach to soil management, before taking everyone up to see the herbal leys. Pip does well, and demonstrates how much the cows like the pasture, while Adam shows off the previously grazed areas.

Toby, who by now has agreed to be Ganderman in the panto, is telling select people about a secretive get-together at the Bull that evening, including Kenton, Elizabeth and Ambridges resident ginophile, Lilian. The meeting turns out to be a tasting of his Borsetshire gin, which goes down well until Elizabeth asks Toby whether he distilled it himself. The answer sends Kenton into a panic as he could lose his licence for allowing ‘moonshine’ to be consumed on the premises. Cue Lynda who is still on the prowl looking for her Mother Goose. While she’s doing her best to persuade Kenton to play the lead, Lilian – who has been necking the stuff, knocks over the bottle and all is about to be revealed when, in an act of desperation, Kenton agrees to be Lynda’s Mother Goose.

So the panto is cast, my Christmas is ruined, and Robert Snell is in deep, deep trouble – again.

Sunday, 13 November 2016

Well Played, Lilian And Oliver!

Michael Cochrane (Oliver Sterling)

On Tuesday evening, Lilian took a phone call from Rob - he has seen an AmSide property - Hillside - on the website and it looks just what he’s looking for, so when can Lilian show him round? She is stunned - how did he know about the property, as it has only been on the website for about 10 minutes?

That’s the question she asks Justin the following day and he admits that he might have mentioned it to Rob. Lilian cannot believe that Rob would have the nerve to ask her, but Justin, who seems to have no idea of the depth of anti-Titchener feeling among the majority of inhabitants of Ambridge, doesn’t see what the problem is. Lilian says, somewhat incredulously, “You’re talking about the man who raped my niece and you want me to put a roof over his head?” Justin points out that Rob hasn’t been convicted of anything and he is lucky to escape without being struck.

Later on, Lilian is still in a bad mood and Justin apologises if he had been insensitive. Lilian refuses his offer of lunch and tells him “How do you think my family would feel - how would I feel - if I became his landlord?” Justin suggests that it could be a good thing for Helen, if Rob is free to start a new life, but “the decision has to be yours alone. As ever, I trust your impeccable judgement.” That’s not strictly accurate, as, when Justin was thinking of taking Rob on, Lilian advised against it and Justin ignored her advice.

Lilian mulls it over and, on Thursday, she tells Rob face to face that she has ‘other plans’ for Hillside. He retorts that he has found a better property on the Edgeley Road anyway and drives off. For her part, Lilian goes to The Bull, inviting Neil and Eddie to join her (“my treat”) to celebrate turning Rob down as a tenant. Eddie is all for it, but Neil says better not, as Susan will smell beer on his breath and bang on about the diet again. “But I wouldn’t say no to one of Wayne’s pork pies” he says, brightly. Well done, Lilian!

You do have to wonder about the blind spot that Justin has when it comes to Rob - he treats him as a normal, human being. The only other person who does that is Alan, and he has to, as that’s his job as vicar. On Friday evening, Justin invites Rob round to discuss an upcoming takeover - he wants Rob to help him with the research. Justin asks if he was disappointed at not getting Hillside? Not at all; in fact, Rob says Lilian has done him a favour, as he’s away from all the petty prejudice that he encounters in Ambridge.

Justin seems genuinely concerned, asking Rob if that bothers him much? “I barely notice it now” Rob tells him, to which Justin observes that it still cannot be very pleasant. “Water off a duck’s back,” Rob says, adding: “I shouldn’t have got tangled up with one of the oldest families in the district. I was never going to get a fair hearing, was I, so why bother fighting it?” Justin calls this attitude “very philosophical” and Rob replies that that’s the way he’s always been. “Even at school, I’d rather be right than popular” he says, inviting the comment that one out of two isn’t bad.

Justin describes this as “a refreshing approach” and expresses the hope that Rob stays that way. Is the man insane? The two talk of Charlie Thomas and his shortcomings and Justin says that Damara and BL are building for the future and what will be needed in 10, 20 or 30 years’ time. Rob isn’t averse to a bit of crawling and tells his boss “I don’t have divided loyalties - whatever the job, you can always count on me.”

Going back to Thursday, it wasn’t a good day for Rob. As well as getting blown out of renting Hillside, he receives an unexpected visit from Oliver. Rob is very affable, inviting him in and Oliver is icily formal, refusing offers of drinks and seats. Rob apologises for missing the first meet of the season, but he will definitely be at the next meet. “That’s what I’ve come to see you about” Oliver tells him.

We learn a bit later that Rob has been thrown out of the Hunt and he tells Oliver bitterly “I didn’t think that you’d been taken in by Helen’s slanderous allegations” and “If the foul things she claimed in court were true, why haven’t I been arrested and charged? It’s because the police know I’m innocent.” Oliver replies that it’s nothing to do with Helen; it’s Hunt business. Specifically, the fact that Oliver knows that Rob lied about the incident with the Hunt saboteur. It is revealed that Shula has grassed Rob up and he is furious, saying “Shula is Helen’s cousin - she’s doing this to get at me.” Still maintaining his dignity, Oliver says “I trust Shula implicitly.” “More fool you!” Rob rants “The whole family is two-faced!” Oliver calmly lays Rob’s subscription cheque on the table and says he’d better leave, as Rob shouts “There are better Hunts in the county who’ll be delighted to have me join, so you and Shula and all the rest can just go to hell!” This was the day before Rob told Justin that he barely notices the prejudice he encounters, incidentally. Well done Oliver - pity you didn’t have your horsewhip with you, but I commend your restraint.

Toby returns from Brighton on Sunday and begins unloading boxes at Rickyard Cottage. It turns out that he has brought back a still and is going to distil his own gin. Is that strictly legal? Toby thinks it is, telling Pip that he doesn’t need a licence if he’s not selling it. If that’s true, why aren’t we all doing it? He tells Pip that they are “Two pioneers, laying down foundations for a massive business” and she, while still angry because he went off to Brighton and only told her just before he left, nevertheless reluctantly agreed to act as his guinea pig gin taster. I’d watch it Pip - knowing Toby, he’ll distil the sort of alcohol that kills you, rather than makes you happy. It’s a pity that bullshit is not a valuable, marketable commodity - if it were, then Toby would be the richest man in Borsetshire, or possibly the world.

I understand that whisky has to be aged for at least three years, but Toby’s gin is ready for tasting on Thursday. It’s revolting - he appears to have added herbs etc by the shovel load and Pip takes one gulp and that’s it. She makes various derogatory comments, and a suddenly-earnest Toby says that he’ll start another batch tonight and tweak the recipe. “I need the money, Pip I’ve got to make this work.” Well, good luck with that, say I.

Elizabeth is worried because Freddie doesn’t appear to be making any friends at college and she asks Johnny to keep an eye out for him and talk to him. The two lads travel home on the bus together on Wednesday and Freddie says that his classmates tend to keep themselves to themselves. He is regarded as posh (a couple refer to him as ‘Downton’) and living at Lower Loxley doesn’t help - if he invites people back, they might think he’s showing off, and if he doesn’t, then he’s standoffish. Johnny recalls his first few days at college, when people mocked him for his northern accent. “I’m sorry, I can’t understand a word you’re saying” Freddie replies, perplexedly. OK, I admit that last bit was a total fabrication, but it would have been good. In an effort to cheer Freddie up, Johnny invites him home to share pizza and beer with him and Tom. I’m not entirely convinced that that is what Elizabeth meant when she asked Johnny to keep an eye on her son.

At Home Farm, Adam is being pursued by Brian, moaning about the state of the autumn crops and how they mustn’t let Justin see how bad they are. Adam unloads his woes on David, telling him that things at Home Farm are pretty grim - Kate is bemoaning the lack of people signing up for the panto, Lilian is miserable (this was when she was a bit arsey with Justin) and Brian is the worst of the lot. “The main trouble with Brian is - well - he’s Brian” Adam tells David and apologises for Brian’s rudeness earlier in the week (Brian interrupted their conversation on Monday to drag Adam off to inspect the bad crops). “I wish he had more faith in me” Adam says. David tries to be positive, saying how good the no-till and herbal leys are and Adam mustn’t let Brian wear him down. “I’m not sure how much more I can take” is Adam’s despondent answer.

On the subject of the panto, we learn that Alice thinks it won’t happen and she and Kate are resigned to having a talent contest instead. One person who won’t be in any panto is Susan, who is extremely annoyed when Kate approached her, saying that she had just the part for Susan - that of Esmeralda. Susan was quite pleased, until she saw the description of her character, which read “a gossipy old crone.” Tact and finesse were never Kate’s strong suits, but her judgement was spot on in this case.

Having said that, when it comes to tactlessness, Susan can be right up there with the best of them. The saga of the Carter family photograph grinds on, as does the moaning of Neil about his enforced diet (Neil had mushrooms on toast for Sunday lunch and carrot batons as a snack at the village bonfire), but at least Susan has finally chosen a photographer.

Even better, she tells Emma that, as she (Emma) recommended the firm, she will get a ‘finder’s fee’. Emma is delighted, as she is always short of money. And this is where Susan’s lack of tact is given free rein, as she wonders in front of Emma whether Ed will want to be in the photograph? After all, it will be very prim and proper and “Your father and I will be very dressed up.” The temperature falls a few degrees as Emma replies “Ed won’t mind.”

This is where Susan should keep her skate-mouth-sized gob firmly closed, but she cannot help herself, suggesting that perhaps Emma could use the finder’s fee to pay for Ed to have “A real good grooming session first, at a proper salon.” “Why?” asks Emma sharply and Susan makes things worse when she goes on “So he won’t feel out of place,” adding: “As long as he gets his hair cut properly and his nails tidied up.” The atmosphere is positively glacial now as Emma retorts that Ed can look very smart and there are about 100 better things that they can spend the money on. “It’s a really stupid idea” Emma tells her mother, who sighs and says “OK - I got exactly the same reaction from your dad when I suggested getting his nose hair layered.”

Never mind, Susan, if you ensure that Ed is positioned on the edge of the family group, he can always be cropped off, or Photoshopped out.