Monday, 28 January 2013

It's Off – It's On Again

Sunny Ormonde (Lilian Bellamy)

The week got off to a bad start for Paul and Lilian with yet another emotion-charged phone call. Matt was really hacked off with Lilian for missing a business meeting while she was supposedly seeing James and the atmosphere between them is strained. Actually, Lilian is lucky that Matt never rang James to see what was keeping his Ma in London – that would have been an interesting conversation.

The constant lying is getting to Lilian and she's feeling guilty (better late than never) and a tearful Paul says "I will have to let you go, won't I?" to which she replies "yes". 'That's good', I thought, 'it's over, let's move on' but I should have known better, as Paul rings up later in the week and says he cannot bear to think he'll never see Lilian again and can they meet up and talk next week? Ah well, he did go five days without contacting her, I suppose.

With her Christmas extravaganza over and done with (don't you just love the sound of those words?) Lynda can return to being her everyday annoying self, as opposed to her Busby Berkeley/Steven Spielberg annoying self. And it doesn't take long – while out on a walk with Jim, they find a badly-injured badger. If I may digress, it seems that whenever Lynda and Jim go for a walk, it turns into an adventure – earlier we had the sighting of the beast of Ambridge and now the badger; it's like something out of an Enid Blyton book. What next? Coming across an international gang of smugglers, perhaps? Finding a cache of stolen jewels?

As they stand there looking at the badger, help arrives in the shape of David. Well, not help exactly, as he says "I'll go and get my gun." To be fair to David, the badger was badly injured, although if it had only had a bad hangnail, he would still have been happy to put it out of its misery. He could have done us all a favour by getting his gun and using one barrel on Brock, saving the other for Lynda. Having got Patrick out to take the badger to an animal rescue centre (wouldn't it have been great if Patrick had said that it should be out of its misery?) Lynda comes up with a half-baked plan to put up badger warning signs up around the village.

Jim is back from his Liverpool jaunt and is distraught to see that his interview with Iftikar in Borsetshire Life has been rewritten to include some 'fluffy questions'. Just think of the money Jim and sod the authorial integrity. Speaking of money and Liverpool, has Joe pulled a crafty one? When talking to Ed about scattering Bob Pullen's ashes, Ed mentions a legacy and Joe comes over all evasive, saying that Bob only had a couple of thousand "which he left to" (long pause) "er – his favourite charity." Now I don't know if there has been a sub-plot which explains this shiftiness, because I don't listen to Ambridge Extra, but I await further revelations.

Rob Titchener continues to be paraded around the village, being introduced to all and sundry. He even attends the Estate Day Shoot at Home Farm and is introduced to Will. They talk of             Will's family and we learn that Rob and Jess don't have children. We can assume that he is a good poker player, as he doesn't cry out in alarm or astonishment when he learns that Will has been allowed to breed.

Rob tells Brian how friendly everyone seems to be and Brian warns him that he might not get such a warm welcome from some residents. Despite this, Rob continues to meet and greet residents and even seeks out Tom to congratulate him on his sausages and to discuss his Ready Meals, which Rob says are "the talk of the pub". Presumably that's talk as in "we don't serve Ready Meals – all our dishes are home made, not produced in some industrial unit." Of course, all this is music to egotist Tom's ears and Rob now has a friend for life. Well done Rob – Tom's frail ego and self-belief needed a bit of a boost; it can only be a matter of time before the 'Welcome to Ambridge' sign is replaced by a giant billboard, showing Tom, arms folded, jaw jutting and gazing moodily (yet purposefully) into the distance, with the legend 'Welcome to Tom Archer land – home of Ready Meals.'

If Rob has a friend in Tom, he has blown it with Lynda – she accosts him in the street and, despite his protestations of having to be elsewhere, demands to know where he stands on the subject of culling badgers. She also tells him that she has learned so much about him from Susan – that'll teach him to speak to strange people. Rob begins well (in Lynda's book) by saying that, as all his cows will be indoors, badger-spread TB won't be a problem for him. He then gets himself off the Snell's Christmas card list by adding that, by and large, he feels a cull is a good idea.

Had Rob been properly forewarned about Lynda and her activities, he could have saved himself loads of future grief by saying "what's it got to do with you, you interfering old witch?" and adding "and don't even think of asking me to take part in one of your Christmas productions, you sad old crone." That way she would never speak to him again and, alone among all the others of Ambridge, he would be assured of a peaceful and stress-free run-up to Christmas.

Sunday, 20 January 2013

Is It A Bird? Is It A Plane? No, It's A Stork

Rachel Atkins (Vicky Tucker)

Firstly an apology – last week I said that the not-so-fantastic four (Jim, Bert, Bert and Joe) were going to Blackpool, whereas their destination was in fact Liverpool. Apologies to the shopkeepers of Blackpool, who were boarding up their premises unnecessarily, and to the inhabitants of Liverpool, who must have got a nasty shock.

The biggest news in Ambridge last week was of course the arrival of Bethany Claire (6lb 5oz), which was the cue for the vast majority of people in Ambridge to lapse into soppy, baby-admiring mode. None more so than Mike, although he has got an excuse, as she is his daughter. Mike, Vicky, Lynda, Amy and Brenda all say that she's the most beautiful baby in the world and Mike tells Neil "I couldn't be happier." There are slight concerns, as young Bethany isn't suckling very well, but Amy puts Vicky's mind at rest.

Actually, Brenda's enthusiasm is worrying – the last thing we want is for her to start getting broody and encouraging Tom to think about starting a family. Having said that, I reckon Tom would be too busy to think about that, never mind having the energy. Once again there are discussions between Tom, Tony and Pat. With memories of Tony's heart attack apparently obliterated, Tom wants Tony to consider doing some morning milkings. Tony considers it and says "no", so Tom asks if he could do some afternoons? Yes Tony, and if you take this broom and insert it, you can sweep the yard while you're at it.

Tom's excuse, apart from being an arrogant, self-centred git, is that, when he took on John's business, he wanted to do John proud and, if he had more time to devote to Ready Meals (fanfare, drum rolls, wild excitement) the business could move to another level. It appears that 'doing John proud' is more important than helping your father into an early grave. Still, as long as Tom is being kept busy 24/7, he won't breed, so that's no bad thing.

Someone else who's keeping busy is Pip, whose life appears to consist of burning the candle at both ends and in the middle – when not out partying, she's devoting time to Spencer and crashing out for a couple of days when exhaustion overcomes her. Rooooth and David are worried when they learn that she is writing an essay that should have been handed in before Christmas, but the skiing holiday took precedence. Let's pray that Pip isn't reverting to the bad old days when she was going out with Jude.

Rob Titchener is still getting to know the inhabitants of Ambridge and, when he goes into the shop, he makes the mistake of talking to Susan. Rob tells her that he is going to dinner at the Aldridge's and Susan triumphantly says "the Aldridges are family". Memo to Rob – don't mention this to Jennifer, or you could end up wearing the dinner instead of eating it. During Rob and Susan's chat about family, Rob says "so you're a Horrobin then?" and wonders why Susan bursts into tears and throws herself under a train.

Brian reveals the extent of Rob's social gaffe when he describes the Horrobins as 'Ambridge's answer to the Krays' and tells Rob that two of the brothers are in prison. Surprisingly, he doesn't say that Susan has also been inside.

Later on in the week, Rob is in the pub, talking to Neil and Jazzer, with Jazzer trying to get him to buy him a pint. Rob remarks that the cows won't be arriving until August but he'll be busy till then as there are lots of people to be recruited. "What about me?" pipes up Jazzer, to which Neil says "What do you know about cows?" Then again, what did Jazzer know about pigs before he started working with them, apart from the fact that their lifestyles and hygiene levels were so similar? If Jazzer becomes a cowboy and deserts the pigs, that would be another blow for Tom, who has already tried to persuade Jazzer to do more work (for more pay, naturally).

Paul and Lilian are still at it like knives – at the start of the week he takes her breakfast in bed (at his house in Watford) and tells her that he was going to show her what Watford has to offer. This turns out to be lunch at a local restaurant. Later on in the week, they have a liaison (polite word for it) at a London hotel and he treats her to afternoon tea and a show in the evening. What with this kind of treatment from Paul and Matt falling over himself to try to make her happy, Lilian has never had it so good.

The only cloud on the horizon is that it is becoming increasingly difficult to think of excuses for Lilian to spend days away from Ambridge. However, there may be a solution handy, as Lilian remarks that James's accident and subsequent recuperation has proved the perfect excuse for her to get away. If I were you James, I'd be very, very careful when crossing the road and, when you do get the replacement car, I'd check the brake pipes before you drive off.

Sunday, 13 January 2013

The Cowman Cometh

Timothy Watson (Rob Titchener)

We were introduced to a new character last week – Rob Titchener, the new herd manager for the mega-dairy. In real life, people are reserved and newcomers are left well alone for a few years out of politeness. But not Ambridge! Hardly has Rob crossed the threshold of Blossom Hill Cottage (which he's renting from Usha) and we know that he is married (to Jess), has been working on large dairy projects in the USA and Canada and only came back to the UK because Jess's Dad had a stroke.

He's very well spoken and presumably good looking, as Alice says it's a shame he's married (not for her, of course) and, when Rob went into the shop, apparently Sabrina Thwaite was impressed, so by next week we might know his inside leg measurement. He exhibited a slightly weird streak when he expressed the hope that Blossom Hill Cottage had a ghost. Brian gives him a tour of the mega-dairy facility and he's too polite to mention that there don't seem to be many cows.

Brian also introduced Rob to Adam, who crossed himself and hissed 'Satan!' And there was a hint of a possible future conflict when Rob casually mentions that it is going to be difficult for Debbie to run the farm from Hungary. I wouldn't let her hear you say that Rob, or your lifeless body might be found floating in the anaerobic digester.

Ed upholds the Grundy traditions of thoughtlessness and incredibly bad timing when he sounds Mike out about possibly increasing the price he pays Ed for his milk. Mike points out that, with the birth of the baby imminent, he has more important things on his mind and says "we're doing OK – let's not rock the boat." The trouble for Ed is that the boat is not rocking – it's sinking - and he muses about whether or not he ought to sell to one of the 'big boys' instead of to Mike. That will well and truly knacker the milk round.

Mike and Vicky are going to Neil and Susan's for a meal and Mike tells Vicky not to mention anything about Ed. As if! Skate-mouth Vicky is barely over the threshold before she blows the gaff.

Elsewhere, we have Alice moaning about her job. Poor lamb – she's been there a week or so and no-one has offered her a partnership or a seat on the board. Get real, kid – fall to your knees and thank heaven that you've got a job and money coming in.

Not everybody can be a business magnate, which leads us seamlessly round to Tom and his vision of the future. The future is – wait for it – Ready Meals! So impressed is he by the sales that he is considering buying a new unit and scaling up his operation, so that he can supply supermarkets. Brenda tries to keep his feet somewhere near the ground by suggesting that the high sales might just be because of Christmas and doesn't he remember what happened the last time he got involved with a supermarket? Tom's response is that Ready Meals could well be the core business of the farm before long.

Tom shows a touching regard for Tony when he says: "I've got to go with it or I could end up like my Dad - blinkered and in a rut." Brenda points out that, in their day, Tony and Pat were pioneers of organic farming. She also tactfully forbears to mention that it was Tom's overweening ambition and lack of working on the farm that contributed massively to Tony's heart attack. However, it seems that Tony has learned his lesson, as he and Pat discuss going away for a holiday in February. This goes down like a lead balloon with Tom when he realises it will mean more milking for him and, as Brenda neatly put it, "less time for Tom's plan for world domination."

What is it with Ambridge villagers and holidaying at odd times of the year? Admittedly Tony and Pat are planning to go where there's some winter sun, but we had Lilian and Peggy in Whitby and last week we learned that Jim, Berts Fry and Horrobin and Joe Grundy are planning a break in Blackpool. My God – imagine being trapped in a railway compartment with that lot! And with Bert Horrobin absent, who will look after Gary? Gary is like an idiot savant – only without the savant - and he shouldn't really be let out on his own.

Lilian returns home from the ordeal that was Peggy in Whitby, telling Matt that she wants a hot bath and a large G&T. This being Lilian, Matt goes out to find a clean bucket and a small iceberg.

Paul is back from Dubai and the couple share a day of passion. He invites her to stay the night ("too risky" she says) and then suggests that she spends a day at his house in Watford. First Whitby, now Watford – how much excitement is a girl expected to take? The reason for the Watford meeting is that the renovation of the church is now finished and so Paul won't have an excuse to come over to Borsetshire any more. Hussy Lilian tells Matt that she has to go and see an old friend at the weekend – why make things so complicated? All she has to do is to get Paul to tell Darrell to take the floorboards up.

Sunday, 6 January 2013

Freddie Gives Lizzie A Fright

Jack Firth (Freddie Pargetter)

It's New Year's Eve and Freddie is missing – he should be getting ready to go to Ambridge to see sister Lily ring in the New Year, but he's nowhere to be found. Panic stations! What if he's continuing the male Pargetter tradition of exploring Lower Loxley's rooftops on tonight of all nights? Lizzie is in a bit of a state, but Iftikar saves the day when he tracks Freddie down, showing off his horse Caspar to his friend Conrad.

Elizabeth is sharp with Freddie and she is grateful to Ifty, saying that this is when she misses Nigel – he would have known instantly where to look for Freddie. Him and millions of listeners – I'm sure I wasn't the only person who yelled at the radio "Look in the stables – he'll be with that bloody horse!"

As well as the subsequent profound conversation between Lizzie and Ifty, Kirsty and Tom have a deep conversation, amazingly one in which the phrases "Christmas hampers, Ready Meals" and "footballing pigs" do not feature. Kirsty tells Tom that he is lucky, as he has his future all mapped out and the right partner (I wonder whether she would say the same to Brenda?). "What about you?" asks Tom, to which Kirsty replies that, while Ifty is a great laugh "he's not husband material." Talk about planning ahead for every eventuality – this is only about the fifth date they've been on. I imagine that if you asked Kirsty out for a first date, her stock reply would be "OK, but I might not marry you."

At the New Year's Ball, Tom is boring the pants off everybody as only he can, by saying what a wonderful Christmas it has been. Why so – did he get a new bike, or a train set? No – sales of hampers and sausages were up. Brenda tells him to give it a rest for one night and Ifty takes her on to the dance floor. I would have left via the fire exit, personally.

Of course, Tom is still seething because Jim Lloyd chose Chris Carter as the subject of his next feature for Borsetshire Life ahead of Ambridge's answer to Alan Sugar, Richard Branson and Donald Trump all rolled into one. How could he prefer a muscular, good-looking young man pictured in front of a glowing forge, with sparks flying, over a boring git with pig crap halfway up his wellies? Tough call.

New Year is a time for reconciliation and, sadly for Emma, auntie Tracy comes round to make up and to apologise for being such a cow. The apology should be over around the end of May, I reckon. It turned out that Clive had been getting it together with Donna, the wife of Clive's brother Keith, who is banged up in chokey – isn't it nice when families are so supportive of each other in times of trouble? Anyway, it all turned nasty and Clive was threatening Donna and the kids. Donna and Tracy fled to Ambridge, knowing that Clive would follow, thus breaching his court order. Tracy tipped off the police, who arrested Clive and now he's back inside for another four years. That's a nice present from your sister to see in 2013 and one that he will no doubt reflect on over the next four New Years.

There was one comment that made me smile – when Susan was telling Neil the story of Donna and Clive, she said "Donna's not the sharpest knife in the drawer", which is rich, coming from someone with the cutting edge of a teaspoon. Susan also told Neil "Tracy absolutely swore me to secrecy." Well, that worked well, didn't it?

Mike and Vicky's baby is due very shortly and Mike is worried in case she is badly disabled, while Vicky seems to think that her daughter (working name Bethany Claire) is going to win Olympic medals as well as getting a Phd at Cambridge before the age of 12. At Bob Pullen's funeral, Jill said it's a case of "out with the old, in with the new", referring to Bob's death and the new baby. Seems a bit hard on Bob to me, but perhaps Archers' writers now have to conform to a strict quota system when it comes to numbers? I know that they are allowed only seven speaking characters per episode, but has the quota now been expanded to the overall population of the village?

We had a trip away from Ambridge when Lilian took mum Peggy to Whitby in order to relive her wartime experiences when Lilian's father proposed to Peggy. What a brilliant idea to go to Whitby in January – the duo walk along the seafront in a howling gale and Peggy is adamant that she wants to eat fish and chips out in the open, preferably out of newspaper. Lilian, who was looking forward to a bit of a la carte and a decent bottle of wine, is appalled.

Lil's mood is not improved when Peggy tells her that she is determined to walk up the 199 steps to the Abbey and Lilian tells her that she must be back at the hotel by 5pm for an important phone call. It's from Paul, who tells her how hot it is in Dubai (bet she wishes she'd gone now) when Peggy comes in, looking for her handbag. "This is a private call" says Lilian sharply, but Peg doesn't take the hint and says "Who is it?" Lilian tells her it's none of her business and is then mortified at her rudeness and worried that Peg will rumble her secret. 

Finally, we had evidence that Nic's life has been an unending procession of bad luck, abuse, violence, ill-treatment and an unremitting struggle against overwhelming odds. How do we know this? Simple – on New Year's Day she and husband Will are dining at Grey Gables, where she tells him that the past 12 months "has been the best year of my life." Poor kid – how terrible must her childhood have been for that to be the case!