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.