Sunday, 28 February 2016

Home Sweet Home (Birth)

Louiza Patikas (Helen Titchener)

Helen goes for another in what seems to be an unending series of scans, driven by Ursula. When they are at home, Ursula makes it plain that she thinks a hospital birth is not a good idea - she had a bad experience with Rob’s brother, Miles, who could have suffered brain damage, plus she “was cut to pieces”. Consequently, with Rob, Ursula opted for a home birth; an experience that she described (rather unlikely) as ‘joyous’. Helen points out that she had a bad time with Henry and, had she not been in hospital, she and he might not have survived.

Ursula tells Helen that she mustn’t let herself be pressured into doing something that isn’t right for her (as if!) and she knows that Rob would be happier with a home birth. When Rob returns home, Helen confesses that she’s confused about where to have the birth and she doesn’t know what to do. Rob says that he knows Ursula’s feelings and he trusts her judgement “but I’m not going to interfere in any way - it’s your decision; you must do what you think is best.”

The following day is Tom’s 35th birthday and also the 18th anniversary of brother John’s fatal accident. To celebrate (presumably the former, rather than the latter), a supper party is held at Bridge Farm. There was further cause for celebration, as Johnny passed his level 2 agricultural apprenticeship exam and is looking forward to level 3. Rob asks Helen if she’s told her mum what she (Helen) has decided? Helen is confused, so Rob announces that Helen has decided that she will have the baby at home. Pat is stunned - all the advice has been for a hospital birth, to which Rob replies that Ursula is something of an expert when it comes to childbirth and Helen shares her anxieties. He also gives the reasons that Helen arrived at her decision; she seemingly being incapable of speaking for herself.
Tony proposes a toast to “the birthday boy” and then another to Johnny for passing his exam, saying that he hopes that Johnny goes all the way and that there is a job for him at Bridge Farm at the end of it. For his part, Johnny proposes a toast to his late father (who would have been 40 on New Year’s Eve, in case you are interested. Helen bursts into tears and rushes from the room. Tom tells Rob to stay there and he’ll comfort Helen. He asks her if everything is OK at home with Rob and, when she says that she misses John so much, as she could always talk to him, Tom says that “you can always talk to me - I’m here if you ever need to talk about anything; anything at all.”
Speaking the following day, Rob shows that it’s not just Tom that he’s against, as he mentions that “we’re stuck with Johnny for another year” and describes Tony’s talking about a full time job at the end of his apprenticeship as “grossly irresponsible - this is a business, not a charity.” Helen exhibit’s a spark of rebellion, as she reminds Rob that “this is a family business, and Johnny is family.” “So are we - we have responsibilities” her husband replies. Helen then asks whether or not they should think of getting more help in the shop, as it seems to be doing well. Rob (no doubt scandalised by this show of independence) says that he doesn’t think the extra cost can be justified. He says that “Johnny is a free agent - he could get a job anywhere.” Helen, who has obviously been taking the Brave Pills, retorts “so could you.” “I’m doing this for you, Helen”, Rob says, adding that, when the baby is born, he will need his mother and Rob needs to be close by to support her.
It’s encouraging that Tom seems to be suspicious that all is not well between his sister and her husband and, towards the end of the week, Kirsty manages to get a one-to-one with Helen, despite Ursula not passing on to Helen Kirsty’s request for a talk. Kirsty says that Helen doesn’t seem relaxed and is everything OK? Helen blames the pregnancy, but Kirsty pushes her luck and asks if everything is OK with Rob? Helen replies “of course” and Kirsty asks is he mistreating her in any way, and would she like to talk to a counsellor? Helen has mild hysterics, saying “Stop it, stop it! You shouldn’t interfere Kirsty - I just need to be left alone - just go away, please.” Rob chooses this moment to turn up and demands to know what’s going on. He is furious and tells Kirsty to “get out and never come round again.” He tells Helen not to worry, as “I’m here and I’ll look after you.” Well Kirsty, well spotted for recognising Rob’s baleful influence, but I really think that you could have handled it better.
Sorry to have spent so much time on the Helen/Rob/Ursula story and I tend to agree with the many readers who have begged for a swift conclusion - preferably one which involves Rob going over a waterfall in a spiked barrel, full of rattlesnakes - but it is a major theme and, as such, needs to be covered. Pray for a swift nemesis.
Moving on, we wonder if there might be room in that barrel for Toby. He turns up at the caravan, late for a meeting with Josh after another night on the lash. He is less than impressed when Rex tells him that he has persuaded Lilian to let them move her furniture out of the Dower House. Toby says he needs shower and a coffee, and dismisses Josh as “a schoolboy”. Rex points out that Josh has been running his own business for a number of years and “We are the amateurs here, Toby.” When the brothers go to Brookfield, Toby goes to see Bert, who is making the Eggmobile, and who he annoys by asking stupid questions. An exasperated Bert finally snaps, saying “Have you ever heard the expression ‘teaching your grandmother to suck eggs’ Toby?” The answer to that is probably ‘no’, but Toby asks why isn’t there a provision for the doors to the henhouse to open automatically in the morning, to save him getting up at the crack of sparrows? Bert says that this wasn’t part of the brief, but a day later, Josh has come up with a solution. I don’t know what sort of percentage Josh has in this joint venture, but, going on what’s happened so far, it isn’t enough.
Toby also was disappointed when he asks Josh how is Pip (or ’love’s young dream’ as he calls it) is coping with Matthew’s absence? Josh says that she spends all day texting him. “Makes you sick” Josh adds. “Doesn’t it just” Toby adds, with feeling. Sadly, it wasn’t all bad news for Toby, as, at the meeting, the brothers and Josh realise that their plans for robust packaging and marketing are going to be more expensive than they thought. “What we need is a sponsor” Toby says, but where to find one?
Fast forward to the furniture moving at the Dower House, where we had some riveting radio, describing how a wardrobe comes apart so that it can be carried downstairs. Toby quickly discovers that Lilian is working as Justin Eliot’s social secretary and that he is keen to get involved with local projects and enterprises. “Interesting” Toby says. I can’t think where the Fairbrothers are going to find their sponsor, can you?
When all the furniture has been removed, Lilian and Jennifer stand in the empty house and Lilian is in maudlin mood - she had always thought that she and Matt would end their days there, but here she is, living with her sister. Jen, who doesn’t take offence, says that, surely, that’s not so terrible? Jen also is affected by her sister’s despondency, asking what has she actually achieved in her life? Well, you’ve got a kitchen that cost a few grand, if nothing else. Jen reminds Lilian that she has a new job, her health and strength, and, rashly, says that Lil also has her family, including James and young Muppet. Fortunately, Jen manages to stop Lil throwing herself out of the first floor window when she digests this information, but Lilian’s mood is not improved and she says, despondently “I’ll be 70 next year. “ “70 is the new 50” says Jen, cheerfully, but Lilian says wistfully: “It seems awfully late to be making a fresh start.”
We cannot let the week pass without mentioning the momentous events at Brookfield. The herd has been sold and 200 new, crossbred, cows have been purchased to replace them. These cows arrived in batches and we had more wonderful radio moments as various members of the Archer family described the cows’ varying colours, how they were frisky when being walked out to pasture and the difficulties of getting 200+ cows to go through the (to them) unfamiliar milking parlour. Rooooth seemed to voice doubts about whether they could do it, to which David, quite rightly pointed out that it’s a bit late now. Mind you, he too has reservations, as, over the next few weeks, half the cows will be calving. Still, he looks on the bright side, calling the new enterprise “A whole new chapter in the history of Brookfield.” Let’s hope so, or else Rooooth might get a good kicking from the family.
There was one encouraging theme to emerge from the arrival of the new cows - Lynda took the opportunity to visit Brookfield and to try and persuade David and Rooooth to take part in her Easter pageant (‘England’s Pleasant Land’). She points out that David wouldn’t even have to learn any lines, as it would involve reading from the page. Lynda bangs on about what it’s all about, but David points out that they have 200 unfamiliar cows to look after and he, Rooooth and Pip will be a tad busy over the next few weeks. What about Josh? He’s got exams to study for, says Rooooth. Ben then? Rooooth implies that, if she knows her youngest son, he’d rather stick pins in his eyes, so bye, bye Lynda, there’s work to be done.
Poor Lynda (I don’t mean that, obviously) as she is frustrated because she cannot get Eddie to show her the progress on her shepherd’s hut (described by Ed as ‘wonky’ and by Clarrie as ‘not like any shepherd’s hut I’ve ever seen’; both of which comments bode ill for when it is finally unveiled). Not only that, but Lynda approaches Kirsty about the pageant and the ‘Clean for the Queen’ litter pick - or so Kirsty thinks, but Lynda only wants to put a poster up in the Health Club. Nevertheless, Kirsty makes it plain that she has better things to do (washing her hair, watching TV) and is not interested in Lynda’s plans. Now this is an encouraging development and let’s hope that it is (a) contagious and (b) long-lasting. Let’s start a ‘Do one Lynda’ campaign - or how about everyone giving up participation in her extravaganzas for Lent? Or, better still, for the 21st century?

Sunday, 21 February 2016

The Evil Gene?

Carolyn Jones (Ursula Titchener)

Well, have we been doing Rob an injustice, accusing him of being devious, manipulative, nasty, interfering and loads of other unflattering adjectives? True, he exhibits all those characteristics, and more, but last week we learned that it might not be his fault - it could be all in his genes.

The writers were cunning - Ursula, Rob’s mother, arrived to look after Helen and Henry during half term and Rob predicts that they will get on like a house on fire. And so they did; Rob returned home to find them enjoying a laugh and he reminded his mother that he was right when he said they would get on. “When are you ever wrong?” Ursula said. On Wednesday, Kirsty rang and Ursula said “Oh yes, you’re Helen’s friend - you should come round.” Helen was having a rest, but Ursula promised that she’d get Helen to call back and set a date for a visit. Utterly gobsmacked, a stunned Kirsty could only stammer “I have got this right - you did say you were Rob’s mother?”

The meeting took place on Friday and Kirsty, Helen and Ursula are getting on well. Indeed, when Ursula departs to take Henry to the child minder, Kirsty remarks that it’s good to have the old Helen back. For her part, Helen says that, since Ursula has arrived, “things just seem normal again.” Kirsty agrees, saying “I like her, I really do.” How can Rob be so different from his mother? But wait! Cut to Ursula, who is on the phone to Rob. She says “I’ve met the famous Kirsty now and you’re absolutely right, Robert - not the kind of friend that Helen needs at all. You’re very wise to want to put a stop to that relationship, and the sooner the better, I’d say.”

How about that for something out of left field? Just when we thought that there was hope for Helen, her saviour turns out to be devious, manipulative (see list of unenviable character traits in paragraph one). Well, at least we now know where Rob gets it from.

Actually, earlier in the week, Ursula was talking to Pat and confided that she had experienced some health difficulties when pregnant with Rob. Personally, I reckon that was the womb’s reaction to the embryonic horns, tail and cloven hooves.

Moving on, I wonder if the writers have got it in for me, or maybe I’m developing paranoia, but it’s as if they read this blog and think ‘what can we do to really annoy him?’ Take last week - my antipathy towards Wayne has often been aired in these entries and he ends up in the kitchen of The Bull on Valentine’s Night. Kenton was jealous, as Jolene seemed to be spending - to Kenton’s way of thinking - an inordinate amount of time with her ex-husband. As the day wears on, Kenton takes over the food orders and spends more time with Wayne. Wayne thanks Kenton for giving him the chance of some work and, in a mega-brown-nosing moment, mentions that it’s nice to see Jolene happy, and that’s down to Kenton. Crawler.

I can live with Wayne making the occasional appearance, but writers be warned - I am watching you. Going back to the paranoia, show me who it was who decided that Lynda should stage E. M. Forster’s only stage play (“Well, more of a pageant, really”) as a celebration of the re-opening of the Village Hall. This is cruel and unusual punishment - it’s only a few weeks since we were subjected to Calendar Girls and, in other years, at least we had a break from the flow of Lynda’s creative juices until the Village Fete, or Mayday, whichever came first, but this year it’s just relentless and it shouldn’t be allowed.

Apart from the goings-on at The Bull, Valentine’s Day was a bit of a non-event for many inhabitants - Kirsty and Roy both got a Valentine’s card each and Kirsty is concerned that hers might have come from Roy and she might have been sending the wrong signals. Bloody well ask him, woman! At least then he’ll know how you feel, although I wouldn’t be astounded if Kirsty and Roy became an item. We learn later in the week that Adam and Ian had a tiff on Valentine’s Day, as Adam received an anonymous card and Ian saw it. We weren’t told whether or not it had a Perthshire postmark.

One person for whom Valentine’s was a roaring success was Pip. Matthew got the weekend off and came down to Brookfield, where he and Pip spent as much time together as possible. We were subjected to the sound of numerous kisses, but at least Matthew is a sensible lad who likes his early nights, as he asks Pip if she’d like to go back to the cottage, as it‘s cold. This was around lunchtime.

On Wednesday, Pip was talking to Rex and she said that she received an anonymous card. “Is that Toby’s writing?” she asks. Rex says definitely not, but when Pip has gone, Rex asks Toby what the hell he’s playing at? Sending the card was part of Toby’s plan “to move things along a bit” between Rex and Pip. Rex points out that Pip is obviously madly in love with Matthew, to which Toby’s reply is “Well, if you’re going to give up at the first minor setback…” Rex’s response? “Just drop this Toby.” Too right - concentrate on the egg business Toby and stop interfering in other people’s lives.

It was an emotional week all round for Pip - not only was there the weekend marathon shagfest, but the cows were shipped off to market on Thursday, although the Archers did keep back three of their favourite animals. Pip, Rooooth, David and Bert were all wiping away a tear as the bovines were loaded into lorries. Even Brian took the time to go to the market and watch the sale - a sale out of which Brookfield did quite nicely, thank you very much. At the end of the day, David finds Rooooth in the newly-empty cowshed and the couple have a meaningful and deep conversation. While they are excited by the prospects for the future, there is a tinge of sadness. Rooooth says “We can take a moment to mourn what we’ve lost.” Well you did sell the damn animals love; it’s not as if they were struck down by disease, or perished in a natural disaster. For his part, David earns mega-brownie points when he says “I’m just glad that what we lost wasn’t each other.”

And now a financial warning - sell your shares in Damara quickly, before the inevitable cash flow crisis engulfs the company. Lilian has her corporate credit card and tells Jennifer about the social functions she has planned for Justin, all of which will require new outfits. And it gets better - she shows Justin round the Dower House and he asks if she would mind if he ‘refreshed the décor a little’? He would, of course, pay for everything and would Lilian mind if he moved his own furniture in? He would, of course, pay for hers to be stored. Would she mind? What do you reckon? Not only that, but Justin would like her to choose the colour scheme, fabrics, etc. “Of course, I’ll pay for everything” he says. Do you think he’d like to look over my car, or maybe I could leave some holiday brochures laying around?

What about Miranda (Justin’s wife)? He confides that she’s not interested in that sort of thing. Later on, Lilian is talking to Jennifer about Valentine’s Day and Lilian says “I’m well out of all that nonsense - I’ve got a handsome man to squire me around with no strings attached - what more could I want?” Call me a cynic, but I reckon she might soon be finding one or two strings making an appearance - Justin is a businessman after all. Imagine if Justin starts making advances; no doubt Lilian would fight tooth and nail to preserve her honour (better late than never), but for how long? About however long it takes to slip out of her latest, paid-for-by-samara outfit, is my guess.

To end, let’s go back to Pip and her romantic weekend experience. She admits to her mother that she is in love with Matthew and, when Pip invites Rex to her birthday drinks do (she was 23 on 17th February) she mentions that it’s sad that Matthew won’t be there. “It must be hard for you” Rex says, sympathetically. “Not so hard after Valentine’s Day” Pip replies, happily. Absolutely no further comment from me.

Sunday, 14 February 2016

You’re Off My Christmas Card List, Jolene

Buffy Davis (Jolene Perks)

I used to have a lot of time for Jolene; time and sympathy, for having to put up with Kenton. However, I’m afraid that she is now persona non grata as far as I’m concerned. It all went wrong on Tuesday, which was Shrove Tuesday, and only the second night in
The Bull’s kitchen for new chef Zoe.

Zoe, who Kenton says has experience cooking in Belgium, is getting cheesed off because all she is doing is cooking pancakes. Admittedly the fillings vary, but Zoe feels this is below her and walks out, leaving Jolene in sole charge of the kitchen. Service is suffering and is not helped by Kenton encouraging people to make up their own, bespoke fillings such as panda and passion fruit, or elephant and aubergine (see the ‘sympathy‘ comment in the first line of the preceding paragraph). This is the second time in a fortnight that Jolene has been under pressure in the kitchen and she tells her husband that she’s had enough, what with Valentine’s Day coming up and they desperately need someone.

Kenton says that they will look further afield, but Jolene says “better the devil you know” and she will ring Wayne. Understandably, Kenton isn’t impressed, saying incredulously “You want your ex-husband working in our kitchen?” and Jolene replies “Either we get Wayne in or you can run the kitchen yourself.” And that’s why she’s off my Christmas card list - after all these months of his blessed absence, the thought of the return of whiny Wayne is enough to make you weep. But all is not lost: don’t throw in the towel, Kenton - get yourself a set of whites and an apron and enrol on that express cookery course. Quickly.

Am I the only one who thinks that there could be a synergy between the Fairbrothers and Lynda Snell? Consider; she wants a shepherd’s hut, which is, essentially, a flash hut on wheels, while the Fairbrothers are looking for a mobile hen house (the ‘Eggmobile’) which is, essentially - well - a hut on wheels. Instead of getting Eddie to knock up the former (and, if history is any guide, you know that this will all end in tears) and Bert Fry to build the latter, why can’t there just be one mobile shed? Lynda could look at it during the day and Rex and Toby could lock their hens in it at night. Just a thought.

While talking of Lynda, we learn, with sinking heart, that she is planning some sort of production, celebrating rural life, to mark the re-opening of the Village Hall on Easter Monday. Bert comments “Lynda’s a glutton for punishment, isn’t she?” When it comes to dishing it out to us, she certainly is - I mean we’ve only just had Calendar Girls, for God’s sake

Rex is still carrying a torch for Pip and his sensitive brother gives him advice, telling him to “get in there - what are you waiting for?” Toby says that he has become bored with Pip’s ‘hard to get’ act and reminds Rex that “Pip does come with a farm attached.” Who said romance was dead? Rex isn’t impressed: “You give men a bad name” he tells his brother. The following day, Rex is at Brookfield, looking for Bert to discuss plans for the Eggmobile, and he runs into Pip, who is despondent, as she and Matthew had their first row the other night and she is wondering whether or not a long-distance relationship is viable. Rex invites her for a drink to talk about it and is somewhat surprised when she says OK and how about tonight?

At The Bull, she pours out her heart to Rex and, to his credit, he says that perhaps she should be patient and hang on in there till they can get together. “Like a romantic weekend, maybe?” she replies, brightening up considerably. Rex,” she says, “you’re brilliant; I feel so much better now - you’re such a good mate.” Wasn’t that sweet of Rex? Compare and contrast his attitude with that of Toby, whose reaction to Pip’s situation would have been along the lines of ripping off his clothes and saying “come over here you trollop and get some of this” or something equally sensitive.

Later on in the week, Rooooth thanks Rex for cheering Pip up and tells him that she and Matthew have managed to get the weekend off and will be together for Valentine’s Day. “I’m really pleased for her” says Rex, in a hollow voice. He discusses the situation with Toby, telling him that he feels it’s pointless to pursue Pip now. For Toby, however, glasses are always brimful - never mind that half-full, defeatist rubbish, and he says Pip and Matthew will have a few loved-up days, then Matthew will “go back to Yokelshire.” “Keep her sweet and wait for the Matthew thing to implode” is Toby’s advice.

Now we have to ask ourselves exactly how hard does Lilian work for AmSide? We know that, on Justin’s advice, she is disposing of some properties in Borchester, but that seems to be it, as far as work is concerned. On Thursday, she is waiting for Justin to take her to Felpersham races, where his horse is running. He picks her up at Home Farm, where Brian, somewhat mischievously, says that he and Miranda (Justin’s wife) must come to dinner sometime. It’s worth mentioning that, earlier in the week, Brian was wondering to Jennifer exactly what was going on between Justin and Lilian. “Don’t be a gossip” his wife admonished him.

We do wonder if Brian’s suspicions are correct, though, as, at the races, Justin tells Lilian that he has a proposition for her. Miranda never lets herself go, he says and he is looking for a social secretary-type person to help him network and ease himself into the local community. Does she fancy the job? There would be recompense, of course, in the form of a generous clothing and expenses allowance, plus a Damara corporate credit card. Lilian takes about two nano-seconds to say ‘yes’. Justin said earlier that he admires a spirited filly. Well, one out of two isn’t bad, Justin.

Back at Home Farm, Kate has had an idea to finance her hippy commune, having tried unsuccessfully to tap up Jenny and Peggy for funding - she’ll let out her cottage for holiday lets. But where will she sleep, Adam asks Brian. In sepulchral tones, Brian says that she will move back to Home Farm. Adam offers him a whisky in sympathy. “Make it a large one” Brian replies, despondently.

You may want to stop reading here, as we are now going to discuss the latest antics of Spawn of the Pit Titchener. Helen has ended up in hospital, where anaemia is diagnosed. Kirsty sends her a text, but Rob won’t let her answer, saying that he’ll call Kirsty later, as Helen isn’t well enough. Gosh yes - holding a mobile can really take it out of you, can’t it? He tells her that “you put our baby in real danger; high blood pressure, pre-eclampsia and a stillbirth are all possibilities, darling, because of what you’ve done.” What has Helen done? Basically, not eating - at least not enough for Rob’s liking. And don’t you love the way that he adds the word ‘darling’ to all the horrible things he says to his wife?

Kirsty rings again, but Rob won’t let Helen answer and he is cool towards Kirsty, saying that Helen is much too ill to see anyone - either now in hospital, or when she gets home. You have to admire the way Rob twists everyone’s opinion of him to his own advantage; talking to Peggy, Pat says that Helen has been taking on too much and the baby has to be her priority. “Rob’s absolutely right.” Pat says. A couple of days later, Bert is talking to Shula and he says that Helen has always been highly strung and “she’s lucky she’s got Rob to look after her.”

Meanwhile, Rob continues to rub Tom up the wrong way. Tom is pleased because the black pudding scotch eggs have sold out and mentions this to Rob. Rob’s opinion is that they shouldn’t have been on sale in the first place, as the shop wants to attract up-market clientele. Tom’s view is that they should provide good food to anyone who wants to buy it. “I can see this is something we aren’t going to agree on” Rob tells him. Tom also says that he has noticed that sometimes, the chiller where his sausages are kept is empty and isn’t that a reason for stocking more? Rob tells him in no uncertain terms that he knows best what the customers want and “I’d be obliged if you’d leave the stock control to me.”

Tom goes to see his sister, taking advantage of Rob’s absence, and the pair have a good laugh as he fills her in on what’s happening with Brian and his harem. “I’ve been so out of touch” says Helen, adding: “I haven’t laughed so much for such a long time.” Perhaps you should ask yourself why, Helen. Actually, I foresee trouble ahead, as Helen asks Tom to buy a Valentine’s Day present for Rob and I reckon he’s bound to be angry when he realises that someone else has got in to see his wife, without his permission.

Back home after picking up Henry from school, Rob tells Helen that he and the family have arranged things so that Helen doesn’t have to go to the shop at all, as he will take on her shifts. But wait - next week is half term and Helen is far too ill to look after Henry on her own. That’s OK, Helen says - she’s sure that Pat will help out. But Rob says that they shouldn’t become more obligated to Helen’s family and he has arranged that his mother, Ursula, will come to stay for the week. Helen is mystified and apprehensive, as she has only ever seen Ursula once, when she turned up unannounced and Henry has never ever seen her. Also, when Ursula did turn up, Rob was desperate for her to go, so why is he so keen now, we ask ourselves?

Rob takes Henry upstairs to read him a story, but first tells him that there’s something he needs to say. “Mummy’s been very ill and I need you to be a very good, very quiet boy. You’re going to be a big brother soon and I need you to help me - to do that, you need to be obedient. Do you know what that means?” Henry doesn’t, and the week ends with Rob saying “I see, well let me explain it to you…”

I don’t know about you, but I had this mental image of Rob approaching his stepson with nipple clamps and giving him an electric shock, while showing him a photograph of Helen and muttering in that sinister voice of his “Mummy has been very naughty, hasn’t she Henry? She hasn’t been obedient - what should we do to her?” What, with his creepy manner and the threatened return of Wayne, is it any wonder that my blood runs cold?

Sunday, 7 February 2016

Kirsty Is Concerned

Annabelle Dowler (Kirsty Miller)

I feel that Kirsty will ultimately prove to be Robs nemesis, as she is deeply concerned about Helens health and she suspects that Rob is responsible. Having been invited by Roy to join him on the steam train experience (Mike and Vicky cant make it, as Bethany is in hospital), Kirsty realises that there must also be adult and child tickets going begging. Roy says that if she knows anyone who could come, by all means get in touch with them.

Kirsty texts Helen, who calls her back in the evening - shes all for it. Kirsty asks Helen where shes calling from and the answer is the garden as Helen claims to be feeding the birds. When the call is over, a thoughtful Kirsty asks Jim if anyone would feed birds in the dark and, when he says no, she replies Thats what I thought. Kirsty Marple is well and truly on the case!

As it turns out, Helen and Henry dont make it to the train (of which more later), so its just Kirsty and Roy. She tells him of her concerns for Helen and doesnt believe that her no-show was down to illness, as Helen had said. Kirsty points out that, when she was carrying Henry, Helen was fit, well and happy and whatevers the matter with her now, its not just physical. Roy tells her to talk to Helen, and Kirsty says that thats what shes been trying to do, but I’ve got to get her to trust me again.

She gets her chance the following day, when Helen rings her and asks to meet in Borchester after her latest scan. Unbelievably, Rob hasnt gone with her, but he did book (and give Helen the money for) a taxi there and back. However, Helen went shopping in charity shops and then met with Kirsty. Helen apologises for not telling Kirsty about Toms pre-wedding doubts and then bursts into tears, saying that she keeps driving people away. Kirsty says Youre not right, are you? It cant just be hormones. Im worried about you. And why are we meeting here in Borchester - does Rob know youre meeting me? Helen says Of course; why wouldnt I tell him? Kirsty says that she doesnt know - perhaps for the same reason that Helen rang her from the garden after dark, the other day? Helen rushes off, saying: I’ll call you. No, you wont Kirsty mutters at Helens retreating back.

It was another difficult week for Helen - Rob took her and Henry to The Bull for lunch, where he keeps trying to force-feed her with roast beef. Helen must feel like a foie gras goose and, when the conversation turns to the delights of the Bulls Valentines menu (asparagus, oysters and suchlike) Helen rushes off to the Ladies to throw up. Henry turns up a few moments later, saying that hes been sent to find her and that Daddys got a surprise for her. It turns out that the surprise is dessert - a light sorbet, perhaps? Not quite, as Mr. Thoughtful has ordered sticky toffee pudding, with extra custard. Helen manages to stop herself rushing off to the loo again. Incidentally, Rob has decided that they should do their jobshare shifts together, which seems to defeat the object of the exercise to me.

That was Sunday, and Tuesday was the day of the steam train excursion. Helen tells Henry that she has a treat for him and that she will pick him up from school early and he is not to tell Daddy. Henry doesnt need to, as Rob spies Helens car outside the school and confronts her, just as the teacher is bringing Henry out. Helen has told the teacher that Henry has a medical appointment, but Rob says that Helen has got her dates mixed up and Henry should stay at school. Henry screams that he wants his day out and Rob admonishes Helen, saying: Now see what youve done? What were you thinking? He tells her that hell follow her home.

At home, he demands an explanation, accusing her of going behind his back, deceiving him and lying to the school. Why did she do it? Helen has no explanation, but is desperately unhappy. Never one to miss the opportunity to twist the knife, Rob says Darling - I knew this would happen. You get close to Kirsty again and see what happens. It was the day after this debacle that Helen met with Kirsty, so perhaps there is a spark of rebellion in there somewhere?

Rob really is a nasty piece of work, who seems determined to destroy what little self-confidence remaining in his wife; when examining the clothes she bought from the charity shops, he approves their dowdy look (theyre not as tarty as the last lot), adding: Youre not exactly Kim Kardashian, are you? Instead of retorting And youre no George Clooney, Helen says, meekly No, Im not.

It gets even worse for Helen on Friday, as Rob now seems intent on driving a wedge between her and Henry. Henry is acting up because he missed his treat and Rob tells him that it was Mummys fault for telling lies, which is very naughty. Mummy also told him to keep it a secret, and Henrys teacher said that secrets are nasty things, as they mean leaving someone out of things and you can imagine how I felt when I learned that you and Mummy were going on a day out without me. Henry agrees that that was mean and, when Helen comes into the room, she is stunned when Henry tells her Im not speaking to you - youre horrible. You lied to me and Daddy - I hate you! Helen is, understandably, upset, but Rob says it was her fault for making promises that she couldnt keep. I put it to you that she could have kept her promises if Rob hadnt interfered. Come on Kirsty - expose him for the nasty, manipulative piece of scum that he is, as he’s doing my blood pressure no good at all.

It did my heart good to see Toby get turned over by Josh last week. With Matthew up in Cumbria, Toby obviously thinks that he stands a chance with Pip and commiserates with her on her broken heart. On the contrary, Pip says that she and Matthew are solid and ignores Toby’s comments about it being just a holiday romance and that Matthew probably has girls all over the country. Not everybody’s a low life like you, Toby.

Josh approaches the Fairbrothers to talk about their proposed pasture eggs project. Josh mentions that of course they will have thought of the Bridge Farm shop and café as outlets for their products? As Josh takes his leave, Toby gloats “This is just too easy” and rushes off to Bridge Farm to talk eggs. Later on, Josh approaches the Fairbrothers again and Rex feels guilty that they have muscled in on his ideas for markets. Toby, who probably has a degree in being patronising, offers Josh £20. Josh brushes this offer aside, saying that he foresees massive possibilities and “I want in.” Toby points out that it’s their idea and why should they need Josh as a partner?

Undeterred, Josh proceeds to tell them exactly why - for example, they hadn’t even considered such obvious markets as the Bridge Farm shop and tearoom. Rex says that they are only at the planning stage and hadn’t contacted potential customers yet. Josh immediately slaps them down, saying witheringly: “And when you do, what are you going to say? ‘Hi, we’re a couple of city boys who thought we’d do a bit of hobby farming for a laugh’?” Josh points out that he knows all about eggs and the markets for them and there’s no way the Fairbrothers would be able to blag their way into the market. Rex is willing to listen, but Toby is unconvinced. “Fine,” says Josh, “Do what you want, but don’t come to me in six months’ time, expecting me to sort out your mess.” Rex asks him to sit down and we are in no doubt about who has the upper hand, as Josh replies: “Great; let’s talk percentages.” Will Josh be able to handle Rex and, especially, Toby? Mum Rooooth has no doubts, as, when speaking to Usha later in the week, the latter asks whether Josh can trust the Fairbrothers and says that she hopes Josh won’t get ripped off. Rooooth’s reply to this is that it’s more likely to be the other way round. Well done Josh; make sure you keep rubbing Toby’s nose into the dirt.

Now we come to one of life’s mysteries - why on earth would anyone go around looking for Kate? I have been luxuriating in her absence over recent weeks, but Brian is annoyed because he cannot track her down. Eventually he runs her to earth in her cottage and hammers on the door, demanding to know why her business isn’t up and running. Kate admits that “I am a little behind on my optimal opening date” and Brian, breathing heavily and no doubt clenching and unclenching his fists, asks his daughter, through gritted teeth, to explain what’s happening and “I won’t be cross, I promise.”

Kate bangs on about how the green log burner, underfloor heating and photo-voltaic cells have proved much more expensive than budgeted for and the cash has gone, including what both Brian and Debbie put into the venture. Brian asks what happens now and, when Kate begins “Well, if you could just -” he explodes, ranting “I said this would happen!” Kate reminds him of his promise not to get cross and Brian storms off, shouting “I’m not cross - I’m furious!” He confronts Jen, who is delivering logs to Kate and also Alice. “I’m subsidising half of Ambridge!” he rants, telling Jennifer that Kate is “completely without shame or any shred of self-reliance.” Jennifer calms him down, reminding him that he and Adam have a meeting with the BL board, where Adam will pitch for the Estate contract.

At the meeting, Andrew Eagleton is sceptical about awarding the contract to Home Farm, but Adam wipes the floor with him, demolishing his arguments with hard facts, much to Justin’s delight. They do get the contract and, back at Home Farm, they are getting stuck into the champagne, when Justin joins them, also bearing a bottle. We hear Lilian’s voice, saying “Do I sense champagne?” and Brian says to himself “How does she do it?” in a mystified voice. Justin tells Brian that he is renting a house in Ambridge. Which one? Asks Brian, and Lilian tells him it’s the Dower House. “But where will Lilian go?” Brian asks, to which Justin replies that Brian is a lucky beggar, having Jennifer and Lilian under his roof. “How long for?” Brian asks, in a strangled voice. “Indefinitely” says Lilian in triumph and Jennifer adds “Won’t that be lovely, Brian?” There is no reply, as Brian has been rendered speechless with shock.

Let’s return to Kate who, after Brian’s tirade, seeks out Lilian to ask what can she do? Lilian suggests she teaches yoga, but she has no qualifications. Then what about selling some unwanted possessions? Kate replies that she hasn’t got many and Lilian says, desperately that there must be something she can make money from? I can think of something, but Kate’s past experiences suggests that she is more used to giving it away free of charge.

Before we go, here’s a reminder of The HelenTitchener (nee Archer) Rescue Fund - “raising money for Refuge because for every fictional Helen, there are real ones” - which at the time of writing has raised £37,500.

Wednesday, 3 February 2016

100,000 Thank Yous!

Well, it’s been a landmark week, as our blog hit counter has passed the 100,000 mark! When I checked on Tuesday morning, the total stood at 100,911, which is great.

Neil and I would like to say a big ‘thank you’ to all our loyal readers for getting the number of hits into six figures and we enjoy reading your comments. By all means spread the word about the blog among friends and other Archers aficionados, as the more the merrier.

When the blog first started, hits were few and far between, but word eventually spread and the pace picked up a little. Over the past few months, we seem to have attracted a lot more readers and it’s good to know that we are reaching a wider audience and that you appear to appreciate our take on life in Ambridge. Any increase in audience numbers has been achieved by word of mouth and recommendation, which makes it all the more gratifying.

Some of you tell us what you think is going to happen with certain story lines and the clear current front runner is the Helen/Rob situation. If there is not some sort of resolution soon, I fear that some of our readers will march down to Ambridge (or the BBC) and take matters into their own hands.

Speaking personally, Rob has replaced Will in my personal Pedalo of Doom and, up till a few months ago, I would have bet large sums of money against anyone taking over from Will in that.

Anyway, thank you all once again and we hope you continue to enjoy our weekly summaries and the odd Bonus Posting. Keep the comments coming - it’s nice to know that our efforts are appreciated.

Monday, 1 February 2016

The Comeback Kid - Sorry, Pensioner

Charles Collingwood (Brian Aldridge)

Brian is rattling around Home Farm, totally at a loss for something to do. Adam has the arable side all sewn up and, since Adam has also decided that winter lambing is now consigned to history, Brian cannot even look forward (?) to spending the occasional chilly night in the lambing shed.

No wonder he moans to Jennifer about Lilian, saying: ”That woman leaves a trail of destruction wherever she goes; dirty underwear, overflowing ashtrays and gin and wine glasses all over the place.” If I may digress, he also moans about Kate, asking Jennifer if she knows what’s happening about the so-called therapy business and why isn’t it up and running? Jennifer says “we shouldn’t be judgemental”, to which Brian replies “why ever not?” I’m with you on this one, Brian.

But back to Lilian, who comes in as Brian, who is not in the best of tempers, is leaving, muttering under his breath, “I see Mr Grumpy’s back in town” Lil remarks, before asking her sister a favour. Earlier, Lilian was out with Justin at the top of Lakey Hill - she thanked him for the advice his experts had given about which properties she should sell and he asked if she might do him a favour. No, not that - at least not yet. Justin is keen to get more involved in local affairs and, since his purchase of Brookfield has gone nads up, he wonders if Lilian was willing to rent out the Dower House to him?

Let’s pause here for a second - Justin referred to Brookfield as his preferred “bolt hole”. Bolt hole? The man was willing to pay £7.5 million for the place - that’s some bolt hole. Good job he wasn’t after a residence. Lilian is all for it and asks Jennifer if she can carry on living at Home Farm. Jen is overjoyed but Lilian’s question - “What’s Brian going to say?” - remains unanswered. We have also learned that Justin’s wife is not keen on country living (Ambridge is too parochial, apparently), so we have to wonder exactly what sort of local affairs Justin is keen on. The phrase ‘pushing at an open door’ springs to mind, but we‘ll wait and see.

But we eventually get round to the comeback kid of this week’s title. Justin takes Brian and Jennifer to dinner and talks of his plans for the future. He admits that he has made a lot of mistakes and, thinking about it, for a so-called astute businessman, he certainly has; Berrow Farm was a disaster, the anaerobic digester will only work if slurry is trucked in, he offered over the odds for Brookfield and still didn’t get it and his attempts to schmooze the villagers of Ambridge over the dairy and AD were unmitigated PR disasters.

Anyway, does Brian think Adam would be prepared to address the BL board and outline his new strategy for the Estate? Of course he would - the chance to turn the majority of Borsetshire into one vast herbal ley is too good to miss. Justin also says that he regrets the fact that Brian resigned from the BL board, which is a bit rich, as it was he that engineered it, and that Annabelle (Brian’s replacement) hasn’t quite come up to scratch. Would Brian consider rejoining the board and, when Annabelle decides to step down - “And I’m sure she’ll make the right decision when the time comes” - it would leave Brian free to take the Chair again. “Assuming you want to, of course.” Hmm, what do you reckon? Me too. If you wouldn’t just mind falling on this sword, Annabelle. That’s lovely, dear - bye bye.

Inevitably we turn to things Titchener. I must say that the comments we have had about Rob show a difference of opinion - half of you hate him, while the other half loathes him. I don’t know what his evil agenda is, but he moved into overdrive this week, especially where Tom was concerned. Firstly Rob told Tom that the shop was cutting down on the amount of sausages it would be carrying in future, as they weren’t selling well. An incensed Tom said that the shop existed to serve Bridge Farm products and business, to which a sneering Rob replied that he thought the idea was to make a profit.

Later on, Rob came across Tom and Helen trying out recipes for black pudding, using Joe’s ‘secret’ ingredient of used tea leaves. Helen was laughing when Rob made his entrance - something that was guaranteed to annoy him; how dare she be happy without him? Rob immediately has a go at Tom, saying that this seems to be another example of him being bypassed over a new line for the shop and it would have been nice to have been consulted. Helen is busy apologising, but when Rob asks if this (“blood and oats etc.”) is the way we want to go, Tom defends black pudding as being increasingly popular in London. “Peasant food” says Mr Sneery, adding that there must be better ways to make the shop profitable and “perhaps we all need to try a bit harder.”

Pat, who apparently now believes the sun shines out of Rob’s bottom, confesses to him her fears that Helen might be returning to her anorexia days. She also mentions her fears to Jennifer, who goes round to visit Helen. Rob returns as she is leaving and asks Helen what was her aunt doing there? “Your family just can’t leave you alone, can they?” he says accusingly, adding: “Earlier I had your mum implying that your anorexia had come back - that’s the last kind of thing you need now, that kind of stressful insinuation.” Spot on Rob, so why did you tell her? “When will [your family] learn that it’s my baby you’re carrying, not theirs?” As Helen leaves to tend to Henry, Rob rings Pat and tells her that Helen has said that she’s just fine and no need to worry. “Thank goodness you’re there to look after her” says Mrs Gullible, later telling Tom that she’s sure that Ian and Kirsty are keeping in touch with Helen and that she knows there are lots of us looking out for her. That’s a ‘no’, ‘no’ and ‘Rob’s working on the rest of her friends and family’, actually Pat

Moving on to happier things, Pip seems to have fallen head over heels for Matthew and seems determined to wear him to a frazzle before he drags his shattered body off for a few days’ rest before starting his next job. “I want to make the most of every minute I’ve got left with you” she tells him, making us wonder if you can operate a milking parlour with your trousers round your ankles. There was a nice moment when Pip, who had been invited to The Bull by Rex and Toby to hear about their latest business scheme, persuaded Matthew to go with her. Toby wasn’t best pleased - his opening comment to Matthew; “You’re not hanging around, are you?” set the tone, but Pip put Toby in his place by telling him to get the beers in.

The idea was patently total garbage and Matthew told them so. When Pip and Matthew went off to watch the dancing (it was Burns’ Night), a severely pissed-off Toby told Rex “She’s clearly under the cowboy’s thumb” and, when Rex says that Matthew will be gone soon, Toby replies “Good riddance - smarmy git.” Pots and kettles, Tobes.

What else has been happening? The Brookfield cows have had their photos taken for Rodway’s sales catalogues and there is much love and “we’re in this together and it’s a new step forward” between David and Rooooth. Fallon, Emma and Kirsty manage to overcome the pickiest bride in England and their catering of the reception is a triumph, due in no small part to Kirsty saving the day at least twice. Fallon is full of praise for her, but Emma is her usual, miserable self and, when Fallon asks Kirsty if she’d be prepared to help out at future events, Emma’s comment is “Do you think we’ll need her?”

The story of Lynda commissioning Eddie to build a bespoke shepherd’s hut is too laughable to contemplate - and she’s paying him £3k in advance. Prepare for tears and strong words, I reckon.

Let us finish with Matthew taking his leave (only temporarily is my bet) of Brookfield. He’s done his final milking and Rooooth says goodbye, telling him to keep in touch. “We’ve enjoyed having you here” she tells him. Somehow, I think that phrase would have been much more appropriate coming from her daughter’s mouth.