Sunday, 26 February 2012

I'd Change The Will, Tony

Tom Graham (Tom Archer)

Do you get the impression that Tom is trying to drive his father into an early grave? Not only does he swan off to places like Shrewsbury at the drop of a hat, leaving Tony to pick up the slack on the farm, but he keeps coming up with these bright ideas, most of which involve extra work for his Dad. Tom can't see what all the fuss is about – truly, as the saying goes, nothing is impossible for the man who doesn't have to do it himself. An irritated Tony says: "I'm not a lowly farm hand and you're not my gaffer, so just back off, OK?"

And why does Tom have to keep going on these trips in person? How much personal input is needed to demonstrate what a sausage casserole ready meal is like? The latest project for Tony is tidying up the farm and, on Sunday, Tom moans that nothing has happened, to which Tony retorts "I deserve one afternoon off", but Tom cannot see this.

Later on in the week, when delivering veg boxes (yes – he does condescend to do the odd bit of work for the benefit of the farm now and then) Tom moans to Lilian that he wants to include more exotic veg "but Dad is dragging his feet". Lilian tells him to go easy on Tony, but he says "I can't – there's too much at stake".

So, good son that he is, Tom returns to Bridge Farm and immediately tells Tony about his plans to extend the poly tunnels – sorry, that should be his plans for Tony to extend the poly tunnels. Tom gets positively Messianic, declaring "This is a revolutionary time for Ambridge Organics" and presumably climbing on a handy soapbox. Tony reminds him that he owes Lilian £10,000, not to mention the bank and who's going to pay for this expansion? "Just forget it" Tom tells him, caring and gracious to the last, as he storms off. Cut him out of the Will Tony, but don't tell him – that'll teach the miserable little sod.

It's Lent and Alan has been rather restrained – instead of one of his usual crack-brained ideas, he suggests giving up gossip and performing the odd random act of kindness. No doubt Susan and Vicky will be wrapping their gobs in great swathes of duct tape.

Quite a lot happened last week – Jim came up with a spurious, quasi-mathematical formula to demonstrate that the cider should be divided 60% to the Grundys, 40% to everyone else. Let's be honest, it can't be that hard to pull the wool over the eyes of the likes of the Grundys, but Lilian wasn't fooled, asking Jim if he studied at the University of Hokum?

Tuesday was the evening of the long-awaited Promises Auction and everyone went mad for Harry, with Kirsty, Jolene, Rooooth and, much to Alan's surprise, Usha all bidding. Bids went up by £5 a time and the eventual winner was Sabrina Thwaite, with a bid of £85. Mike bid £65 for Eddie to fit a water feature and, blow me down, it turned out that Eddie's offer did not include supplying the feature, only fitting it and Mike will have to fork out £99 to buy it. Well, we never saw that coming, did we? Not much, we didn't.

Neil accompanied Tracy on a trip to get her stuff out of Den's house and there was a moment if tension when Den spotted them. Would he beat Neil to death with Tracy's corpse? No – it turned out later that Den had approached them in order to give Tracy some money for the kids. At least Tracy and the kids have moved out of Susan and Neil's and Bert proves that he really is idiot Gary's father when he tells the visiting Kylie that he's looking forward to the sound of the kids running around. I'll give it three weeks.

Of course, the biggest dust-up came at the public meeting to discuss the mega-dairy. Debbie opened with a talk called "The Big Picture" (and presumably subtitled 'as opposed to the small minds') and, during the open discussion later, Pat is vocal for the opposition, citing health problems for the cows and the dangers facing local businesses. Go home and cook your poor husband a meal, woman (Tony was too tired to attend the meeting). Brian cannot resist a crack, saying that the cows will be the most pampered in Borsetshire and there won't be any Health & Safety slip ups, "such as has happened with other local companies." Oooh! Below the belt, Brian!

We then had a surreal moment when Rooooth asked to speak and suddenly went all mystical and Zen-like, saying that "Cows belong on grass – it's in their genes." She said she wouldn't accuse BL of cruelty, "but we should all be in tune with the natural rhythms of the animals and of the seasons." Ah so Grasshopper – truly you have achieved Enlightenment. You could almost hear the sound of cymbals and chanting. Perhaps somebody should have asked her about being in tune with the bull calves and the natural rhythms of when they are carted off to the knacker's yard?

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Will Neil Ever Get Away?

Brian Hewlett (Neil Carter)

I think it would be easier for Neil to let Bert, idiot Gary, Tracy and her kids have his house and he and Susan can move into number six, as it doesn't look like the poor sod is ever going to be allowed to escape. "When I've finished the landing I'm out of there" he tells David and Tony in the pub. Ha! As if.

A couple of days later, as he is finishing off and dreaming of a Tracy-free home, Bert persuades him to paint the hall, as it looks a bit dingy compared to the great job he's done elsewhere. Neil agrees reluctantly but says "But this is it." Brave words Neil, but I reckon the roof will need re-tiling or something else will crop up – I wouldn't put that toolbox away just yet.

Back at the pub, Tony and David are wallowing in self-pity and moaning about how awful everything is. OK, I accept that this is default mode for Tony, but David hasn't been this miserable since Elizabeth first stopped talking to him.

There could be civil war brewing among the next generation too – on Monday Josh helps Rooooth with the milking and says how he told his friend's father that he wanted to be a dairy farmer when he grows up – just like his dad, grandfather and great granddad, while on Friday (Pip's 19th birthday), she comes in from the lambing shed and says how great it all is and "I have such a brilliant job." David and Rooooth have yet to tell them that the future appears to be cows or lambs, not both. It will all end in tears for someone.

Meanwhile, Rooooth continues with her Mr Micawber impression by telling David that they should go ahead and buy the slurry tank and "it will be all right". David, not unreasonably, points out that saying it will be OK doesn't make it so and, if they have no cows, they won't need a slurry tank. "We need to think of Josh" says Rooooth and David counters this with saying what about Pip? They agree not to argue and spoil Pip's birthday – good idea, wait till the weekend to ruin one of their lives.

It was birthday time this week too for Tony (61) and Helen cooked the family a meal. Tony protests about all the fuss being made when it's not even a significant age (see earlier about default moaning mode) but Tom really gives him something to be unhappy about when he (Tom) suggests that the yard needs tidying up and made to look less tired so they can take photos and make a video ahead of the product launch in a few weeks' time. Great idea, Tom, but he, of course, is too busy to do it and, with his usual lack of finesse, tact or charm, he suggests that Tony does it. This goes down like the Titanic and Pat returns from taking a phone call to find a full and frank discussion going on. She decrees that, as it's Tony's birthday, it should be a business-free evening and would somebody help her gag Tom and tie him to the chair to make sure? OK, that last bit was a lie, I admit. Good old Tom is back to form the next day, when he tells Tony that the farm could really do with being decorated. Are you free at all, Neil?

Pat's phone call was from Adam. All week we had people talking about the forthcoming public meeting about the mega-dairy project and, at Home Farm, Brian wondering whether Adam will turn up and Adam wondering whether or not he should go. In the end he does what everyone else with a problem does – he asks Ian (I'm surprised David hasn't asked him about the cows v sheep problem). Ian says that there's nothing the media likes more than a family row and, if Adam goes, the Antis would want him to speak and all his good arguments would be ignored as the media would concentrate on the rift in the Aldridge family.

In the end, Adam agrees and telephones Pat to tell her he won't be going. "Am I just being a woos?" Adam asks Ian. "Of course you are you cowardly invertebrate" we yelled at the radio, but Ian, bless him, reassures Adam.

At the stables, Daniel is preparing to go out on a hack with Freddie and Topper's owner brings round a potential buyer for the horse. When Daniel comes back, he is full of praise for Freddie and says how fearless he is with Caspar. Perhaps Freddie should take him up on Lower Loxley's roof?

Alistair comes home and Shula tells him that she has bought Topper. "I thought I made it clear we can't afford to keep him?" says Alistair, in full Victorian patriarch mode. To this Shula replies that it's her business, not his, so butt out. To her credit, she still didn't bring up the subject of his past gambling debts – is she really a woman?

It was Valentine's Day last week and Chris and Alice celebrated with a Chinese takeaway and a DVD. Will whisked Nic off for a special meal at a hotel, where, unknown to her, he had arranged to stay the night. It was a great meal and, presumably, the only thing that spoiled a perfect day for Nic was that he hadn't booked two rooms.

Monday, 13 February 2012

And You Know Why You Can't Afford It, Don't You Alistair?

Michael Lumsden (Alistair Lloyd)

There is concern over at the stables, where Shula is distraught that the man who bought Topper (Nigel's horse) can no longer afford the livery. Freddie will be mortified if he is sold and moved away, she wails and comes up with the half-baked idea to buy Topper herself.

Alistair puts his foot down, saying that they can't afford such a sentimental gesture and it's not just the purchase price, but the on-going costs of upkeep. "It has to be a business decision" he says, loftily. While Alistair is probably right, he'd do well to remember exactly why everything is mortgaged to the hilt and they can't afford it - if he doesn't get off his high horse, I hope Shula just whispers the words "Texas Hold 'Em" into his ear. Failing that, beating him over the head with a poker would give him a reminder.

However, I have a solution – after all, Freddie is Elizabeth's son, so why doesn't she buy Topper? Not likely though, as she was the one who sold him in the first place.

Just when you hoped that the whole Rich business had been kicked into the long grass, bloody Kylie goes and writes to Pat and Tony, saying that she knows that they had sought Rich out and saying "thank you" for a kind gesture. This time it's Tony who goes all maudlin and is found by Helen, reading Kylie's letter. The fact that Rich is good at cricket makes him even more John's son, says Tony.

Tom, showing the compassion and tenderness that we have come to expect from him, is all for writing to Kylie, pointing out the grief and trouble she's caused but Helen is more sympathetic, reminding Tom that it was Tony who found John's body and he seems so lonely. Tom says "I'll try and be there for him, but he's got to be there for us." And this from the man who keeps making appointments when he should be doing his turn at the milking. Mind you, he has got a point – Tony is so busy (as he keeps reminding everyone) that he shouldn't have the time to be sad.

Someone else who shouldn't have much spare time is Rooooth, although she manages to write some anti-mega-dairy propaganda, start up an online petition and wander round the village putting up posters. Sensibly, Jolene won't let her put one up in the pub.

The battle lines over the dairy are really being drawn now, with Jennifer putting a pro-dairy article on the village website and Pat and Rooooth retaliating. Pat is so energised and throwing herself into the campaign that she forgets to do anything for Tony's lunch when he comes in frozen and starved after a morning doing weird things to vegetables. This might well be the shape of things to come, Tony, but at least it will give you something else to be miserable about.

Things look set to hot up, when Lynda and Neil agree that, as Parish Councillors, they should set up a public meeting to discuss the whole subject of the dairy. Furthermore, Neil says it should be within the next couple of weeks. The BL board think that this is too soon, but as Brian says "What can I do?" I'd bring your hard hat, Brian.

Jennifer was pleased with her efforts to support the dairy (it was she who wrote the pro-dairy article on the website, complete with link to BL's own site) but she is aghast when, talking to Susan in the village shop, Susan says "I don't know what I'll do when Alice and Christopher want to start a family." The thought of her little girl actually breeding with someone descended from the Horrobins is obviously something that strikes a chill into her heart. Mind you, she shouldn't be that surprised – God knows they seem to be practising hard enough.

There's much debate about the size of the allocation of the cider to the workers who have helped in its making. Jim and Joe negotiate how much the Grundys should keep back. Jim's initial offer of 10% falls somewhat short of Joe's estimate of 90%. Be careful Joe, you might be doing it all by yourself next year if you don't see the workers all right. It's all very well having the knowledge and experience (his criteria for wanting 90%) but at the end of the day, you need people to pick the apples and cart them around.

Finally, I cannot wait for the promises auction – Alice and Tracy are the latest ones to say that they might bid for Harry. Poor Jazzer cannot understand why there's so much interest and is teased unmercifully by Fallon, who tells him that she might enter a bid. "You haven't even got a garden!" he explodes, to which she replies "I'd better put a window box in my bedroom then." A whole new meaning to 'planting seeds' perhaps? I wouldn't be surprised if, on the day, Jazzer doesn't try to buy Harry out of spite, just to make sure that no female gets to enjoy him. Personally, if I were Harry, having seen the reaction of the women of Ambridge, I'd knock this milk round lark on the head and start up on my own as a gigolo.

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Seems Like A Nice Lad

Darrell tiling the bathroom

Last week we heard from Darrell, Elona's husband and the latest in the ever-lengthening line-up of Ambridge's ex-cons. Mike gave him some work and was impressed with the way he got on with it. Darrell showed what a nice bloke he is when Neil turned up at the Bull in a state of shock, having just seen the results of Joe and Bert's drunken efforts to tile Bert's shower room.

Neil takes Mike and Darrell to have a look at the carnage and Darrell offers to help him put it right, free of charge. Neil is grateful and Mike asks Darrell if his daughter Rosa (who can't get a job) would like to help out in the dairy occasionally. Isn't that nice? If Darrell keeps on being so helpful, we'll have to call him Harry Mark II.

Meanwhile, if I were the original Harry, I'd move away for a while, as the list of wizened old crones who are promising to bid for his services at the promises auction is staring to read like the first scene of 'Macbeth'. The latest harridan to declare an interest is Lilian – go on Harry, get in that milk float and high tail it out of town.

We had the official launch of the Ambridge Organics brand and it almost became 'Ambridge Orgasmics' when Tom learned that celebrity chef Shelly Brazil would be turning up – and bringing a photographer. The launch was a spectacular success, despite Tony's moaning about having to do the milking again. Sorry Tony, but that's what farmers do.

Strangely enough, at the launch nobody made the connection that the new brand is being produced in the same place that the e.coli-stricken Bridge Farm products were. No doubt Tom would claim it as a masterpiece of marketing.

Talking of marketing, Brian's attempts at PR and networking are proving ineffective. Yes, people are willing to take his drinks, but not to listen to his point of view. He even tried to hijack the launch of the Green Burial Ground, with no success. At least Joe got a double whisky out of him at the after-launch party at Jaxx's.

It wasn't really Brian's week – he saw a website that was rubbishing the mega-dairy project and that had all the facts wrong and carried misleading photographs. Brian immediately confronted Pat and accused her of being behind it. She was insulted that he could think that she would produce such a rubbish site, but when Brian had departed, still in high dudgeon, it did give her the idea to produce a factually-correct anti-dairy site of her own.

All the publicity about the mega dairy is bad, concentrating on the family rift, and Brian gets a call from Annabelle – the BL board have heard that Brian has been high handed with people and should talk less and listen more. Brian is amazed at the accusation; "Am I really like that?" he asks Jenny, presumably striking a passing serf with a horse whip to relieve his feelings. "Not all the time" is Jennifer's less-than tactful answer, adding: "But yes, especially with Adam."

There's trouble brewing at Brookfield, when David asks Oliver if they can have a chat about "something I can't talk to Ruth about". Oliver agrees and David turns up with a load of statistics about milk yields and costs. It turns out that he has been investigating the possibility of selling the dairy herd without telling Ruth because she'd go mad if she knew. I can't help thinking that she'd notice if there weren't any cows around any longer, but then I'm not a farmer.

Oliver says he's unable to come down on one side or the other and urges David to talk to Ruth about it. David said he feels bad because he promised Phil that he'd keep Brookfield a mixed farm. Never mind that the place is going to Hell in a handcart – promises must be kept. Perhaps when the farm goes bankrupt and the land is bought by AmSide for property development, they might name the housing estate 'Mixed Farm' in Phil's memory?

Nevertheless, David decides to tell Ruth and they agree to talk at lunchtime. However, Ruth has found evidence on the printer of David's clandestine investigations and is not a happy camper, to put it mildly. She accuses David of giving up on the herd and he points out that, with milk yields falling, they are throwing good money after bad and how else are they going to find the £22 K for the slurry tank?

Ruth suggests a loan, but David tells her to look at the figures and tell him how they can justify keeping the cows? She tells him that she will scrutinise the figures in minute detail "And we are not selling the cows!" Another fine business decision there – Ruth will be dressing them up in clothes and taking them for walks at this rate. What with her love for the herd and David's angst over a promise to his dead father, whatever happened to pragmatism and logic – I thought there was no place for sentiment when it comes to farming?