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.