Sunday, 15 October 2017

Nice Dinner with Matt Lilian, But What’s for Afters?

Sunny Ormonde (Lilian Bellamy)

We have speculated a lot recently about Justin and Lilian’s relationship, and things are obviously getting desperate as we kick off the week with Justin triumphantly announcing that he’s made Lilian a sandwich! But Lilian’s not hungry. Not hungry, not interested in discussing colour schemes, not interested in going for a walk and certainly not interested in wedding plans. The truth about Justin’s Scotland trip has hit her hard and she takes herself off to another room to be left alone with her thoughts. Justin interrupts her to get his cardigan, and the atmosphere is icy as she tells him she’s off to visit a friend’s stables, and he’s not invited.

When she gets to the stables, guess whom she sees? Yes, that’s right – Matt Crawford. He’s there to look at a couple of horses with a view to shipping them to Costa Rica. Afterwards they go for tea and cake, which gives Matt the chance to probe Lilian about Justin. He knows that something’s up, and he persuades her to spill the beans about the Edinburgh trip. To be fair, he’s a good listener and tries to get her to see Justin’s point of view, saying that if it was him he would have told her ‘where to get off’ if questioned.

Later she accepts a last-minute invitation from Matt to the Cheltenham Literature Festival, and then immediately lies to Justin about who she’ll be going with. She says she’ll be back for supper, so Justin plans to surprise her with a meal on her return, and goes to see Ian for tips. The problem is that Lilian and Matt have such a great time that they decide to stay in Cheltenham for dinner. Lilian phones Justin to say she’ll be having a bite to eat with ‘Marcia’ and he hides his disappointment very well, even though he was blitzing the herbs for a salsa verde at the time. When she eventually returns home Justin’s still up, but she heads straight off to bed.

Things are looking bleak, and on Friday 13th look bleaker still. The window-cleaner left the back gate open and Ruby’s gone missing. Lilian fears that she’s been dog-knapped, and her and Justin start ringing round and organising search parties. Guess who finds her, yes that’s right, Matt. Or rather she finds him. Matt pops in to the Bull to borrow some string to use as a lead, but who should be in there but Justin, who immediately accuses him of abducting her. Justin phones Lilian to tell her that he’s found her, but omits to mention Matt. Matt offers Justin advice on dog-handling, which could be easily construed as advice on keeping hold of Lilian. This is all too much for Justin and is about to punch Matt’s lights out when Harrison appears and breaks them up. Justin shouts “I’ve had enough!” and storms off.

On returning Ruby to Lilian’s grateful embrace, Justin tries to clear the air by apologising about his Edinburgh trip, but is defiantly unapologetic for trying to protect her from his business and divorce arrangements. He also professes his fidelity and says he has never had the need or desire to stray from her, and if she doesn’t trust him then that’s her problem. Oh, and tonight he will be sleeping in the master bedroom. And they say romance is dead!

Joe and Eddie are busy making cider out of their precious find of Tumble Tussocks, scratting (pulping) the apples and squeezing out the juice. They’re making great claims for the cider that will be produced, with Joe claiming it will be Premier Cru. Nic’s there taking this all in and asks about the turkey business (they’ve been gobbling away in the backround). Joe thinks its days are numbered, but Nic has a brainwave – label the cider as a local limited edition Christmas Cider and give away a bottle with each turkey. Joe initially bemoans the fact that there’ll be less for him to drink, but comes round to the idea when Eddie mentions they’ll be able to afford whisky at Christmas from the profits.

It looks like the appointment to the position on the Parish Council vacated by Oliver is going to be between Emma Grundy and Robert Snell. Jim, who is Parish Clerk, drops in on Emma because he’s concerned that Robert will get the position by default and doesn’t want a ‘stitch-up’. He lets Emma know that if more than 10 villagers call for an election, one has to be called, which would result in a fairer process. He also happens, by sheer coincidence, to have the relevant paperwork on him. We later hear that Emma easily got the required number of signatures and an election has been duly called.

Bad news for Alistair; a complaint has been made about him to the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons after Titan died under anaesthetic. He now has to write a response to explain how the horse died during a routine castration, and to make matters worse rumours seem to be circulating amongst the clientele.

Shula, meanwhile, is having work done on her manège (it’s ok I looked it up for you – it’s what horses run around on in the stables). Phillip, who’s doing the work, notices that Alistair looks troubled and invites him to the pub for lunch while he’s waiting for the concrete to set (he must have used quick-drying). They talk about difficult customers in their respective professions and it turns into a badly needed therapy session for Alistair.

Things are fractious between Kate and Noluthando, and Kate thinks some time with her cousins, Lily and Freddie, will do her good. When they meet, Freddie calls her Nolly and Lily points out that they’re actually only second cousins, and once removed at that. But they seem to get on well and start talking about the Hunt Ball that Shula’s organising. Lily thinks Noluthando looks a bit ‘urban’ and offers to take her shopping, but Noluthando quickly slaps her down by saying “if that means ending up looking like you Lily then thanks, but no thanks”! Freddie’s impressed, and they start talking about Kwaito music and who Noluthando would recommend. I don’t know what she said, but I’d be very disappointed if she didn’t recommend Kyle Naidoo and Arthur Mafokate as good starting points.

Over in the dairy Susan and Clarrie are talking about the amount of work they’re doing, what with making ice-cream, yogurt, Kefir, and helping out in the poly tunnels and seem to be fermenting a plan to get a pay rise. When Helen comes in she’s shocked to see how behind they are with packing the yogurt and she takes Tom to task that Susan and Clarrie are too busy making his Kefir and letting everything else fall behind. Tom offers to increase their hourly rate, which does the trick, but this all seems too simple to me. If I were Tom I’d play them at their own game and make it conditional on achieving aggressive production targets.

Finally, Pip calls in on Toby as he’s bottling gin. She’s brought him lunch and is being really nice to him – which is disturbing. Toby reassures her about the bruising on her face, and Pip says it reminds her of when they were together (spending time with each other, not the bruising). She suddenly makes a move on him and Toby’s not happy, telling her not to mess around with him like that, and to go on Tinder if she’s feeling horny. Well done Tobes!

Sunday, 8 October 2017

Like Mother, Like Daughter…

Mogali Masuku (Noluthando Madikane)

Just when we were getting resigned to the fact that Kate appears to be a permanent fixture in Ambridge, it now appears that we are going to have two of them to contend with. I speak of course, of Noluthando, Kate’s daughter, who would appear to have inherited the worst aspects - and there are an awful lot of them - of her mother’s character.

Noluthando spends most of her time telling Kate off for calling her ‘Nolly’ - it’s a baby name, says Noluthando and she’s not a baby any longer. Indeed, Eddie Grundy is surprised to learn that she is only 16 and he describes her as “a bit glammed up for Ambridge.” Eddie saw Noluthando when Kate took her on a tour of the village, telling her daughter that Ambridge is as much part of her heritage as Joburg and Durban, plus it has amazing vibes. That’s as maybe, says Noluthando, but it’s boring, dirty and the sounds of the stags rutting is pretty gross. She also cannot believe that people pay money to come to Spiritual Home and, when Kate bangs on about Reiki and similar treatments, Noluthando interrupts her and says that she’s “not interested in all that ‘hippy rubbish.”

In short, Noluthando appears immune to the bucolic idyll that is Ambridge. Why can’t they go to the city? Kate agrees, thinking of Felpersham, but Noluthando has her heart set on taking a trip to London and Kate is backed into a corner. Perhaps Brian will fund the trip? she asks Adam. Apparently Brian agrees, as the following morning, we hear Kate banging on his bedroom door, asking for the money as they have a train to catch in a few minutes and £400 should cover the cost of the day. Brian, who wasn’t aware that they were going so soon, asks why so much. Shopping and a bite to eat is Kate’s answer. A grumpy Brian says he’ll give her £300, which still seems rather excessive to me for a day out. Mind you, he might think it worth it to have a Kate-free day.

On the trip back, Kate complains about a man whose suitcase is blocking the aisle in the train, but Noluthando points out that the racks are full of their shopping. She also takes Kate to task because she is drinking non-vegan wine and doesn’t that make her a hypocrite? Kate responds by saying that she’s tired and fancies a nap. When they get back home, there are further allegations of hypocrisy when Brian, eyeing the mountains of clothes, etc, says he thought that Kate was de-cluttering her life and possessions were irrelevant? Kate’s answer to this is that it’s ok if they spark joy and these do. Brian says sarcastically it looks to him like she’s got enough for five years of joy. Water off a duck’s back, Brian.

Just as we were consoling ourselves with the fact that Noluthando, who isn’t a particularly nice person, will only be around for a couple of weeks, she tells Kate that she wants to stay at Home Farm and please don’t make her go back to South Africa. Her father, Lucas, has a new woman in his life - Siphiwe - who is a bitch and who has turned Lucas against his children. Kate doesn’t seem keen on Noluthando having an extended stay and Noluthando immediately says that, when Phoebe came to South Africa, Kate was all for her prolonging her visit and it’s obvious that, of the two daughters, Kate loves Phoebe more. Noluthando storms off to her room and Kate goes after her, offering grovelling apologies.

The next day, Kate rings Lucas at work and accuses him of mistreating their children. Lucas asks what tales has Noluthando been spinning, adding that she has been a complete nightmare for the past few months, bunking off school and behaving badly. One day he followed her and she was drinking in an illegal den. Lucas then surprises Kate by saying that Siphiwe is the woman he should have spent his life with and he’s filing for divorce. I must say it surprised me too - I would have thought that he would have been on to the lawyers seconds after he had thrown Kate out of the house. Kate is obviously taken aback, but says that he can have his divorce, but he’s not having Noluthando; “I’m going to give her the loving home she needs - mum and dad will be delighted to let her stay.” Kate? Loving home? How likely is that?

Dad is far from delighted with the idea, but Kate tells him that Lucas has been letting Noluthando go out drinking, which is stretching the truth more than somewhat. Eventually (probably to get a little peace) he says it would be ok if Jennifer agreed. Typically, Kate takes Jennifer’s acceptance as given (she hasn’t asked her) and triumphantly tells Noluthando that she can stay. Poor Brian - no sooner has he got rid of Lilian than he has yet another female foisted upon him. And it’s not just me that thinks Noluthando isn’t a nice person - she and Phoebe had a catch-up and Noluthando is envious that Phoebe was allowed to travel round Europe alone, conveniently forgetting that Phoebe is a few years older than her.

Later on, Roy asks about Noluthando and Phoebe says she’s ok, but lives in a world of her own, oblivious to other people’s feelings - exactly like Kate, in fact. As I said in paragraph one, we’ve now got two of them to contend with.

Before we leave Kate, Adam tells Ian of her idea to be their surrogate. At first Ian welcomes the idea, although Adam has reservations - reservations bigger than the Sioux Indians had, to be exact. As Ian talks to people, it dawns on him that Kate would never let them bring up the child without interfering and the idea is a non-starter. But how to break it to Kate? They enlist the help of Alice, who’s weapon is flattery - she tells Kate that Adam thought her offer was “a beautiful gesture”, but has she considered the wider picture? What about the effect on Kate’s other children and does she realise that older mothers have difficulty in getting their figures back? Kate mulls things over and tells Alice that, on reflection, she thinks it’s not a good idea, but how to tell Adam and Ian? Alice says that she will do it, prompting Kate to call her sister “a sweetie.” Phew! I don’t think I could have stood nine months of a Kate pregnancy, so well done Alice!

Having spent more than enough time on Kate-related subjects, let’s look at some other stories. Ian is getting stressed with the antics of Joey, the Sicilian Maitre d at Grey Gables. Not only is Joey incompetent, but is rude to the guests and, on Tuesday, Joey argues with a guest and tips a table over in a fit of anger, before walking out. This happens when Oliver has just returned from Italy and Roy and Ian talk down the affair to stop him worrying.

Oliver has decided that he needs to rearrange some things in his life and he resolves to step down from the Parish Council, which came as a surprise to me, as I didn’t know he was even on it. Perhaps he has caught de-cluttering from Kate? Neil, as PC Chair, tries to get Lynda to take Oliver’s place, but she’s too busy with her reading project. However, when discussing it later with Robert, Lynda says that he would be an ideal Councillor and isn’t it time that he stepped into the spotlight? She didn’t actually say ‘out of my shadow’ but you just know that the thought was there.

Neil is happy, but a couple of days later, Emma enquires about the vacancy, saying that she was, and still would be, interested. Neil tells her to submit a letter, outlining what qualities she has and the PC will consider it, alongside a similar letter from Robert. One of these qualities will definitely be ‘hard-working’ as Ed reminds her that she already has three jobs and where would she find the time? Emma says she’d manage and “it’s about time people in this village took me and my family seriously.“ Ed wisely shuts up. Anyway, he’s too busy looking at a website, picking out which Texel rams to choose for breeding - something which he optimistically tells his wife could ensure a bright future for them. We were also treated, if indeed that is the word, to a blow-by-blow account of how the AI process works. Thank God the Archers is on radio and not TV, I say - this was definitely a case of way too much information. As for Ed’s optimism about the future, I submit that we have heard this sort of thing numerous times before from assorted Grundys.

Fallon and PCB have completed on Woodbine Cottage and hold an impromptu party to celebrate. One of the guests is Christine and PCB thanks her for selling it to them. Talk turns to cricket and PCB mentions that women are definitely a part of the team and he talks about the need for separate changing facilities for the sexes. Christine offers to fund the new facilities and, in a statement that would be totally alien to many inhabitants of Ambridge, says “what’s the point of having money if you don’t use it for good?”

One person who would find this a puzzle is Matt Crawford, who turns up at the Dower House to see Justin, who is in Edinburgh. Lilian invites Matt in for a drink and he shows her pictures of his new apartment. The man appears to be on a tour of South America, as he has abandoned Costa Rica for Ecuador, with which he “fell in love”. He invites her out to see the place and, presumably sensing that something isn’t right between her and Justin, he tells her that he’ll be in the UK for a few more weeks, adding: “You’ve got my number. If you want to talk - about anything - I’ll be at your service.”

Lilian is upset as she has learned that Justin’s trip to Edinburgh involved meeting with Miranda, the wife that he is divorcing. Not only that, but he went with Miranda to see her nonagenarian aunt Moira. When Justin returns, on Friday, Lilian has torn up the agreement to take AmSide into the Damara fold and she asks Justin why he didn’t tell her that he was meeting Miranda and what the hell was he doing going to see Aunt Moira? Justin replies that he didn’t tell Lilian because he didn’t want to upset her and Aunt Moira was the only member of Miranda’s family that he had any time for. However, he lets slip that he and Miranda led Moira to believe that they were still married - why upset someone who’s 95 or whatever? This is too much for Lilian and she flounces out. Where is she going? “To make up the guest bedroom” she answers. “There’s no need for you to sleep there” protests Justin. “Not for me, you idiot; for you” she snaps back.

Finally, some good luck for the Grundys. Shy Colin (he never has much luck with the ladies) has told them about a shed full of cider apples going begging. The owner has died and the landlord wants shot of them. Eddie, Ed and Joe go to collect them, with Joe prophesying doom and grumbling about time wasting. But when they get there, he changes his tune - the apples are ‘Tumble Tussocks’, one of Borsetshire’s rarest cider apples and which make wonderful cider. He hasn’t seen one for years. But where are the trees? Eddie says he’ll go to the local pub next week and ask around. The question on all our minds is how are the Grundys going to cock this one up, or what mean trick does Fate have in store?

Thursday, 5 October 2017

It's Competition Time!

THREE LUCKY READERS will each win a SIGNED copy of Timothy Bentinck’s new book ‘Being David Archer: And Other Unusual Ways of Earning a Living’.

All you have to do is reply in the comments with a question that you’ve always wanted to ask David Archer! A crack team of judges here at Ha Archers Towers will sift through the replies and choose their 3 favourites. These will be put to Timothy – sorry, David – and we will publish his answers! The authors of the 3 selected questions will each win a copy of the book.

So what are you waiting for? Pull up a comfy chair, settle down with a pint of Shires or a large Scruff Gin and Tonic, and get thinking!

Closing date for entries is Thursday 12 October 2017. UK entries only.

Our thanks to Timothy Bentinck and Little, Brown Book Group.

Terms and conditions available on request.

Wednesday, 4 October 2017


*** Get ready for an exciting announcement from the Ha Archers blog tomorrow. There will be prizes! ***

Sunday, 1 October 2017

Helen Decides It’s Too Much To Bear

Louiza Patikas (Helen Titchener)

Helen had a surprising suggestion for Ian last week – the two were having a catch up (Ian managed to get a few days off, although he told Adam that he ought to go into Grey Gables and check up on stand-in chef Joey, who he doesn’t really trust) and the conversation turned to the subject of Ian and Adam’s proposed surrogacy. The two men had debated the pros and cons of having the baby carried by a stranger or a friend and Ian remembers the disappointment a few years ago when his best friend Madds changed her mind about being a surrogate mother.

“We’ve thought of everybody” Ian tells Helen, to which she replies “What about me?” Ian immediately says it’s an amazing offer, but he couldn’t ask her to do that, with all she has been through. That’s all water under the bridge, Helen says and adds the caveat that she isn’t 100% sure yet, but she’ll think about it and let him know.

Ian talks it over with Adam, who is vehemently against the idea, saying “You know how fragile she’s been; we need to talk her out of it” and “It’s all going to go wrong.” For his part, Ian thinks that they should give Helen the space to make up her own mind. Over at Bridge Farm, Helen runs the idea past her mother and Pat is appalled by the idea – has Helen forgotten the pre-eclampsia she suffered with Henry? Could she really bear to give up a baby? Helen accuses Pat of being negative and says “It’s my decision and I don’t really want you or anyone else telling me what to do.” This is obviously not simple enough for Pat to grasp and she continues to raise objections, causing her daughter to say sharply “It’s up to me and no-one else, ok?”

I must admit that I thought this story would run and run, but the very next day Helen and Ian meet again and she tells him that she cannot be the surrogate as she would worry about the effect on Henry of giving up the baby. She apologises profusely but Ian says she has nothing to reproach herself for and she is the best friend he’s got. The two of them profess love for each other and they hug. Back to square one on the surrogate hunt, Ian.

At Brookfield, the week begins with Pip telling Josh that her new contract milking job is pants – not only is it a long commute, but the farmer is a miserable sod who watches every move she makes. Josh asks why doesn’t she jack it in? But Pip says that she can’t just do that. This, it turns out, was the wrong decision as, later on, Rooooth gets a phone call – Pip has been kicked in the face by a cow. Luckily, it missed her eye, but it is very painful. Rooooth is fuming, saying that the farmer should have warned Pip that the cow was a kicker and he’s lucky that they aren’t suing him. Pip begs her not to make matters worse. The next day Rex enquires after Pip and Rooooth tells him that she has lost a lot of confidence and won’t be back working before the weekend. I must admit that, having my face used as a football by a bovine would knock my confidence in working with cows more than somewhat. Toby drops in to see Pip and the two of them seem to be getting on worryingly well, with Toby bringing grapes and chocolate. During the small talk, Pip asks if the gin business is going well and Toby replies “Yes – your investment is still looking sound.” So he hasn’t forgotten about the five grand she lent him. Mind you, there was no hint of when he might start paying it back.

One consequence of Pip’s accident was that Josh missed the grudge cricket match against Darrington and his place was taken by Jolene. It is a tight match and the Ambridge cause isn’t helped when PCB is run out 15 short of his century and his replacement, Will Grundy, is out for a duck. So much for preparing all those dossiers on the opposition, Will. The game goes down to the final over and Darrington just shade it, but there is one tiny victory when the Darrington captain, who is notoriously anti-women cricketers, is caught on the boundary by Jolene, off the bowling of Anisha. PCB declares that the women cricketers are a vital part of the Ambridge team, leading Jolene to remind him that they still haven’t got their own changing facilities and what is he going to do about it?

I am concerned about the relationship between Justin and Lilian, as one or two – admittedly hairline – cracks are starting to appear. Lilian has a problem with an AmSide client who is causing trouble over some plans. Justin offers to put Damara’s legal team on the case, free of charge (and it’s not often you will see the words ‘legal team on the case’ and ‘free of charge’ in the same sentence). He goes further and suggests that AmSide should “come under the Damara Group umbrella” as there would be a number of beneficial synergies. Lilian, slightly alarmed at the possibility of losing her independence, says she’ll consider the idea. However, a few days later, Justin says that he’s had a draft agreement drawn up, but Lilian is still not convinced.

On Wednesday, Lilian drags Justin round an art gallery and he’s bored, bored, bored. On Friday, Justin took Lilian to a networking event and he tells her off for making an exhibition of herself (telling risqué jokes and taking the Mick out of an influential businessman). The two have also been thinking about the wedding and honeymoon. For the latter, Justin has always fancied Mexico, while Lilian is much taken with Rajasthan and the romance of the Taj Mahal. Hmm – separate honeymoons, maybe. Could start a trend, I suppose.

Friday is also the day of the joint birthday party for Alice (29) and Kate (40). Kate is still in de-cluttering mode and this has widened to include not just her stuff, but everything else in the house that she deems joyless. We learned earlier in the week that she had tried to give away Brian’s golf clubs and, on the day of the party, Jennifer rescues a book lent to her by Lynda and one of Jen’s favourite ornaments from Kate’s latest charity bag.

On the evening of the party, Kate is supposed to be preparing the salad but, on learning that the drumming has started, she shoots off to speak to the drummer. Leaving Ian (who is a guest) to complete the task. Later on, Ian is also handing round the canapes, so it was very much a working party for him.

During the party, Jennifer disappears and Kate, who has specifically asked for no presents, is suspicious. What is her mother up to? The answer is the big surprise that Jennifer has been working on, as she presents Nolly – Kate’s daughter from South Africa. Kate is overcome and there are hugs all round. But where’s Sipho, Nolly’s brother? Nolly says that he couldn’t get time off from school (she’s going to be around for two weeks) and Kate says that he has been giving her the cold shoulder for months now. But never mind – seeing Nolly is her best present, ever.

The highlight of the party is supposed to be when Kate’s family tell her what she is good at and in what areas she needs to improve. Brian starts and pays her a few compliments, then says that he was doubtful about Kate’s Spiritual Home business at first, but she has made it a success and he’s proud of her as a business woman and mother of his grandchildren. Jennifer calls her daughter talented but adds that sometimes she starts something then leaves others to finish it off. Kate interrupts, her saying that what Brian said about Spiritual Home shows that this is no longer the case and let’s move on to someone else.

Let’s just examine these comments in more detail, starting with Jennifer’s. Three paragraphs ago, we had Kate leaving Ian to finish preparing the salad – a minor thing, granted, but so typical of Kate. Brian praised her as a businesswoman, but only last week he had to stop her throwing away financial records that have to be kept, by law. As for being a good mother, this is the first time Kate has seen Nolly for well over a year and her son Sipho is ignoring her. Years ago, Kate went off to Africa, leaving Phoebe behind in Ambridge and had precious little contact with her for years, to the extent that Phoebe referred to Hayley as ‘mum’. You may have noticed that Phoebe didn’t make it to the party either – that’s two no-shows out of three. When it comes to being a parent, it could be argued that Kate has displayed all the maternal instinct and hands-on childcare of a mother turtle.

The last family member to speak is Alice, who calls her sister “a lot of fun” but adds that she can be tactless. Stung by this, Kate says that she will return the gift, for Alice, calling her “clever” but that she can be selfish. “I’m only saying this for your own good so that you can work on it” Kate adds, pompously. Alice suggests that Kate should work on her own issues and the atmosphere is getting a bit fraught. Brian breaks it up before it gets any worse. Alice cannot believe what Kate said and she tells Jennifer that she is going to get drunk. “Do you think that’s a good idea?” Jen witters. “I think it’s an excellent idea” Alice replies.

In an attempt to cool things down Ian tells Kate, who has been showing Nolly round to all and sundry, that he envies her. Kate says she’s lucky – she’s got her “lovely, little Nolly.” There is a pause, then Nolly says “From now on I’d prefer it if you called me Noluthando – I’m not little any longer.” For the record, Nolly – sorry, Noluthando – was born in 2001.

Finally this week, let’s return to Justin and Lilian. Back home on Friday, the pair are relaxing and listening to music, having escaped from Kate and Alice’s party with its constant drumming and awful music. Justin has to go to Scotland on business at the weekend and will be away for a couple of nights. Lilian is getting stressed about this and about the wedding and Justin tries to calm her down, saying “Trust me – it will get easier – everything’s going to be absolutely fine.” A surefire indication that some terrible cataclysm is in the offing, if ever I’ve heard one.

Monday, 25 September 2017

Cecil Sweeps The Board

Edward Kelsey (Joe Grundy) and Eric Allen (Bert Fry)
with Cecil’s Award Winning Veg

The week kicked off with the Flower & Produce Show. Jennifer had entered her Frangipane Tarts in the pudding section and a late entry in the same section was Lexi’s Banitsa; a Bulgarian dessert made from apples, amongst other things. Jennifer is her usual, condescending self, telling Lexi not to be too disappointed when she doesn’t win. Bert and Joe tell Jennifer about their plan to not enter a number of categories, so that the terminally-ill Cecil Jackson can enjoy a moment or two of glory in his final days.

The show proved a triumph for Cecil, as he swept the board, winning category after category. In fact, the only things that he didn’t win were the Junior Tomatoes (George Grundy was victorious) and the Pudding section, where Lexi’s Banitsa was voted a knockout by judge Ian. Never mind, at least Bert and Joe had done something noble to cheer up a dying man. Except that Cecil isn’t dying - he’s off on a trekking holiday in the Himalayas with his daughter and the ill-health that he spoke about in The Bull (not that we heard him - his character doesn’t have a speaking part) was due to an adverse reaction to vaccinations for the trip. CJ does a dance of triumph and Roy kisses Lexi passionately, so at least they are happy. Meanwhile, Joe blames Bert (unfairly) for getting it all wrong and wonders if he (Joe) will be around long enough to win the Freda Fry ‘Best in Show’ cup next year.

Mark the date of 30th September in your diaries, as this is Kate’s 40th birthday. Jennifer is planning a surprise, to which we are not privy, which got me thinking of what I’d like to give her. A one-way ticket to Antarctica and a very lightweight tent and summer clothing is favourite at the moment, but no doubt our inventive readers will have their own ideas. But Kate is acting oddly - even for Kate - as Brian watches her spread out a sheet on the ground, onto which she is tipping her possessions. Further investigation reveals that she is de-cluttering her life and everything that does not bring her joy is being thrown away.

Jennifer is appalled when she sees that some baby clothes that she made for Kate’s dolls are earmarked for the bin and she promptly rescues them, much to Kate’s annoyance. Brian notices that the rubbish pile includes bills and invoices from Kate’s business and he tries to explain to her how you have to keep such documents for five years in case there is a tax problem. Kate cannot get her head round this - they don’t bring her joy, so they’ve got to go. Brian, who wisely knows when to stop banging his head against a brick wall, says that he will find space for them. Let HMRC prosecute her, I say.

Kate further nonplusses her parents when she says that she doesn’t want any expensive presents; what she’d really, really like is for those close to her to tell her honestly what they think of her as a person. She’s looking for clear, objective criticism - what are her best qualities and what can she improve? Speaking personally, if I were asked for my opinion, the first part would take about three nano-seconds and I would still be listing areas for potential improvements when Kate was celebrating her 50th birthday.

But let us pass on to the plans that Adam and Ian have to start their own family. Things are moving a bit fast for Adam, as Ian keeps moving the goalposts. First of all they were going to adopt an older child, then a baby, then Ian is keen to try to find a surrogate mother so he can be the child’s biological father. Adam is left floundering, especially when Ian tells him that there is a big get-together planned, which includes women who have been surrogates as well as those who want to try or just to find out more. Oh yes - can Adam try and finish work a couple of hours early on Thursday, as that’s the day of the get-together and it involves driving to London. At the party, Adam is concerned about what might happen if the mother changes her mind - Ian would have no legal standing as father. Ian dismisses this train of thought as defeatist and he is all for going ahead. It’s going to be a long and complicated road.

‘Complicated’ is also the best word to describe the developing relationship between Roy and Lexi. Speaking to Kirsty after the Banitsa-inspired kiss at the F&P Show, Roy admits that he has fallen for Lexi in a big way, but how can he tell her? What if she just wants to be friends? Roy, has anyone ever told you that you tend to over-think these things? Kirsty advises him to tell Lexi how he feels, but again, he says what’s the point, as she’ll be going back to Bulgaria in a few weeks.

Kirsty continues to beat him over the head and he eventually says that he will tell her and he arranges for them to spend time together at a pop-up food festival in Felpersham. Both are having a wonderful time and Roy is leading up to his big moment, telling Lexi that there’s something he needs to share with her. At this moment, her phone rings and it’s Lexi’s mother with bad news. Lexi’s aunt has broken her leg and mother needs to go and look after her sister. As such, she won’t be able to look after Lexi’s children and Lexi needs to come back to Bulgaria pronto. She doesn’t want to, but her children need her. A despondent Roy shelves the speech he was going to make and agrees the children must come first. “I’ll help you book a flight”, he says, mournfully.

Indeed he does and, more than that, he drives her to the airport and offers to stay with her until she goes airside. Lexi says she’d like that and, when the time comes for her to leave, she asks Roy for one last hug. Roy almost tells her how he feels, but, as he explains to Kirsty later at The Bull, he didn’t think it fair and now he’s heartbroken. “I’ll never see her again - why does it always happen to me?” he moans. Roy, Bulgaria isn’t really the other side of the Galaxy, is it? I’ve just checked online and there is a return flight to Sofia for £19, which sounds like a pretty good deal to me. Still, Roy is obviously suffering and woe betide anyone who approaches him and says ‘Parting is such sweet sorrow.’ Despondently, he leaves the pub and returns to his empty house.

The Brookfield Archer children continue to bicker (well, at least Pip and Josh do - Ben seems to have vanished and is only referred to in passing). Josh has bought a new loader to do up and sell. Correction; Josh has bought an old (at least 20 years old, David reckons) loader. No, that’s still wrong - Josh has acquired a 20-year old loader but hasn’t actually paid for it, but he reckons it will still be a good deal and he can sell it on, pay the vendor and be quids in. Pip mockingly derides this as “coming straight out of the Eddie Grundy book of business management” and Josh retaliates by calling his sister “a wage slave” because she has taken on more contract milking.

It seems that Pip was more right than she realised, as next day Josh wants to know where is his loader? It appears to have been nicked (truly a Grundyesque scenario). David reminds his son that, as he hadn’t paid for the loader, it wasn’t legally his and he isn’t insured. Josh says that surely they can claim under the farm insurance? David however says that claiming for something that wasn’t legally Josh’s sounds very much like fraud to him and the answer is ‘no’. Josh then says what if he managed to find a document proving his ownership - it’s only a matter of dates after all. “Forgery as well as fraud.” David muses. Josh is beside himself - he owes nearly £3,000. “What am I going to do?” he wails. Around six months is my guess.

The situation whereby Johnny is working at Home Farm has unforeseen repercussions for a number of people. Firstly, Ed Grundy gets to hear about it and he is unhappy, as he was always first in line for extra work and, as he pointedly reminds Adam, he has never let him down. Adam says that Johnny approached him and he is Adam’s cousin, after all, but Ed storms off, believing that Johnny got the work because he is only being paid as an apprentice. That’s another friendship being put under pressure.

Bridge Farm is suffering too, as they are one man down on getting the potato harvest in. Tom approaches Susan and Clarrie and says that he’d like a staff meeting later that day as “we need to restructure our overall labour strategy.” Susan immediately assumes that this is all to do with Kefir and is convinced that someone (guess who) will be sent on a course to learn about the managerial side of being responsible for fermented foods. Susan shares her thoughts with Clarrie and is practically mentally choosing the furniture for her new office.

Tom turns up for the meeting and says that not having Johnny on the team full time has thrown up logistical problems “and we need to build in flexibility and make changes in working practices.” Susan bangs on about courses in fermented foods, and Tom is bemused, as he’s talking about something totally different. Indeed, we learn later that he is expecting the two women to put in some time in the polytunnels, cutting vegetables for the veg boxes. Susan is bitterly disappointed, saying that her work on Kefir was wasted and the new situation is such a waste of her talents. Exactly what talents these are, except for an over-active imagination and an ability to jump unerringly to the wrong conclusion, we never find out.

As the week progresses, tension rises as Sunday is the day of the big game - the grudge cricket match with Darrington. Extra spice was added this year by PCB’s fictitious e-mail, purporting to come from the Darrington captain and PCB is desperate to win (recent results have been disappointing.) So keen is PCB that there is a three-line whip on attending nets, which are being held on practically every day.

On Friday, the Darrington team and supporters take over The Bull and, in what PCB describes as “a deliberate provocation”, have offered Ambridge the chance of forfeiting the match. Not only that, but they are constantly chanting insults. The answer? Get Ambridge supporters to chant even louder - David gets to the pub and apparently they have been doing just that for over two hours - you can see why Tom left to go home and I bet the noise is really popular with any customers who couldn’t give a toss about cricket.

However, as Rex tells PCB, Tracy had a secret plan to scupper Darrington, which he had to talk her out of. Apparently, it involved ball tampering and, according to Rex “apparently Tracy is an expert on that.” I just bet she is.

Sunday, 17 September 2017

Killer On The Loose

There’s a homicidal maniac stalking the streets of Ambridge, with dead bodies carefully buried in the garden of The Lodge. The scene of carnage was uncovered by Robert Snell, who was delivering a squirrel-proof bird feeder and looking for the best place to put it. Having found a likely spot, he discovers a veritable necropolis, with bodies of birds, frogs and small mammals neatly interred. The perpetrator is none other than Hilda Ogden, the feline killing machine and Peggy is her Accessory After The Fact, covering up (literally) evidence of Hilda’s mass slaughter.

This is too much for Robert, who says that he couldn’t possibly condone putting a bird feeder in the garden, as this would only encourage Hilda’s nefarious activities. He is presumably worried that Hilda will come back one day with a dead lamb and he sternly tells Peggy to sort the problem out. She rings Pat to see if Tony could take her and Hilda to see Alistair to see what can be done. Tony tells Pat that he’d only do so if it were for her final journey - we assume he was talking about Hilda, rather than Peggy - and the short straw is eventually drawn by Adam. He’s no fool and takes along a pair of heavy duty industrial gloves to deal with the cat. PC Burns, who happened along, says that Hilda looks ‘quite sweet’ in her basket and Peggy demonstrates her blind spot as far as Hilda is concerned by remarking sharply that Hilda is very sweet - she’s just misunderstood. Presumably Peggy thought that Hitler wasn’t a bad bloke underneath it all.

What can Alistair do? He comes up with the idea of a collar fitted with a bell, which everyone believes is an ideal solution. The only trouble is who will fit the collar on an increasingly fractious cat? Sounds like a job for a vet and later Peggy tells Jennifer that the collar was eventually fitted, after a considerable struggle.

Jennifer had an eventful week, checking up on Lexi’s caravan-cleaning performance, which doesn’t meet Jen’s high standards. Lexi has two particularly filthy caravans to deal with and phones Roy to tell him that she can’t make their date tonight, as she’ll be working late. Roy, bless him, turns up to give Lexi a hand and she is touched. Roy is hosing down the exterior of one of the vans and manages to totally soak his jeans. As he and Lexi laugh about it, Jennifer turns up with a supply of bin bags and hears Roy saying something about getting his trousers off and she cops an eyeful. Jennifer has an attack of the vapours and runs off, leaving Lexi laughing hysterically and Roy very embarrassed and shouting after Jennifer, trying unsuccessfully to explain.

I am very much afraid that Pip and Toby might be getting back together. He is going out with Kitty, the glamorous yet high maintenance girl who appears to be cutting a swathe through the manhood of Ambridge (well, Roy and Toby). Toby asks Pip if she would come to The Bull and meet Kitty, who has expressed a desire to meet Toby’s ex - something that Pip, and indeed I, find a bit weird. In the event, Tracy forces Pip to accompany her to the pub and manages to upset Kitty by telling her that Toby bought her and Pip a drink.

Pip tells Toby that Kitty isn’t the girl for him (he has shaved his chest hair and eyebrows to please Kitty) and that there’s no point in pursuing a relationship that doesn’t work (and she should know). He tells her the next day that he has dumped Kitty and, when she asks how he did it, he says the same way that Pip dumped him - short and sharp. He also says that he is getting together a team for a pub quiz and is Pip interested in joining the team? She says yes eventually - don’t do it Pip; you’ve been happy without Toby, so keep it that way. Oh yes; and ask him for your five grand back.

The biggest story of the week is the ‘will they, won’t they?’ saga of whether Ian and Adam will adopt a child. It was only the end of the previous week that Ian let slip the news that they were thinking of adopting and, on Sunday morning, Oliver congratulates Ian. Oliver says that he has fond memories of when he and Caroline fostered teenagers - it was challenging, but very worthwhile. How did Oliver know about the adoption? Phoebe was in the shop earlier and must have mentioned it. Ian shouldn’t really be surprised by the speed and efficiency of the Ambridge rumour mill - he’s lived there long enough. Also on Sunday, Ian gets another reminder when Roy invites him to the pub “as I want to hear about the adoption.” “Who told you?” asks Ian, to which Roy replies “Phoebe, Saturday; Susan this morning: Lynda 10 minutes ago - take your pick, mate.”

On Tuesday, Adam and Ian attend ‘an adoption event’, which is very well attended and they get talking to a couple - Sian and Rachid - who are also keen to adopt. It turned out that Sian spent some time at Spiritual Home over the summer and she describes Kate as “warm, welcoming and so very grounded”, which causes Adam to choke on his coffee and the rest of us to wonder who this other Kate can be. In fact, later on in the week, Jennifer congratulates Kate on the success that she has made of Spiritual Home. “Much to Dad’s surprise” says Kate. I must admit that I’m pretty damn amazed, myself - I can only assume that Kate got a manager in to oversee the project, or that Sian is a rubbish judge of character and Jennifer ditto of what makes a business successful.

But back to Ian and Adam. The adoption event is pretty intense and goes into great detail about what is involved. Adam, who had really initially gone along with the adoption idea to make Ian happy, becomes an enthusiastic convert to the cause and is all for going ahead. On the other hand, Ian seems less sure and he dwells on the sadness and heartache that he sensed at the meeting. Adam asks his husband what is the matter and it transpires that Ian has been having second thoughts about adopting an older child. In conversation with Helen, she reminds him how he originally wanted to father a child with a surrogate mother “I just want a child - it’s as simple as that” Ian tells her, adding that he could get adoption leave from Grey Gables.

Only it isn’t - in a heart to heart with Adam, Ian says they might be jumping the gun. He talks about the sadness in the room with those without children and says “We haven’t tried for our own baby yet.” “You’re talking about surrogacy again” Adam says and Ian admits that he would like to go for it. Adam is finding this hard to take in but Ian continues, saying: “Our own baby would be the most amazing thing in the world” and he is ‘more than certain’ that this is what he wants. “If that’s what you want, then that’s what we’ll do.” Adam tells him. Obviously this story is going to run and run. Who would you pick for a surrogate mother?

The Flower & Produce Show is almost upon us. Lexi apparently bakes something amazing (in Roy’s opinion, anyway) which he says would really put Jennifer’s nose out of joint. Talking about the F&PS earlier, Jennifer explains to Lexi that it can get very competitive, especially among the older men of the village. By this, she means Joe Grundy and Bert Fry, whose rivalry is legendary. But wait! This year is different, as there is a newcomer in Ambridge - one Cecil Jackson, who apparently has a track record of stunning successes in similar shows over the years. It appears that CJ could pose a real threat to Bert and Joe and the latter suggests that the two of them join forces to confront the Jackson threat, or else CJ will win every category on Sunday.

All very well, but how to do it? One suggestion is that they only submit one entry between them in each class, but the trouble is that they are both convinced that their carrots, marrows, onions etc are the best and neither will defer to the other. It’s a problem, but things take a bizarre turn when Joe and Bert meet Tony in The Bull, where Tony has offered to buy Bert a drink. While Bert rings the date on his calendar, Joe’s ears prick up at the words ‘drink’ and ‘buy’ and he nearly chokes himself, trying to down his pint after Tony has said “I see you’re OK for a drink, Joe.”

When Tony returns, he has potentially grave news. At the bar, he was chatting to CJ, who has just come back from the doctor’s - not only that, but it was his third visit this week. CJ told Jolene that there would not be any more visits - he would be gone soon, whereupon he turned ashen and Jolene had to offer him a brandy on the house. Tony leaves and Bert and Joe discuss the possible implications of what they have just been told - this changes everything and Bert says that they should make sure that Cecil wins something if this is to be his last show. To ensure this, he and Joe should pull out of a number of categories to improve Cecil’s chances. I await with anticipation to find out how this is all going to backfire on Bert and Joe.

Johnny is enjoying his work at Home Farm and is keen to get his hands on some expensive kit in coming weeks. Bert watches him ploughing at Bridge Farm with a rather less sophisticated and expensive tractor and Ambridge’s own ploughmeister declares himself to be impressed with Johnny’s performance - not only is he a natural stockman, it seems, but he’s a bit of a wizard with a plough, not to mention a valuable member of the cricket team and a useful all-rounder. What next? Will he prove to be a genius with Kefir and other fermented products, or will he crash and burn after being totally knackered, working all the hours at the two farms and fitting in college and cricket? I’m just surprised that Johnny isn’t entering anything into the Flower & Produce Show, but there’s always next year.

Monday, 11 September 2017

Take Your Patronage Elsewhere, Jennifer

Angela Piper (Jennifer Aldridge)

In the past, I have commented ‘nobody does patronising quite like Brian Aldridge’. Well, dear readers, I was wrong, as events last week illustrated that, when it comes to talking down to people, Brian’s wife Jennifer is right up there with him.

It happened when Lexi was helping her to clean the caravans, newly-vacated by the pickers, who have returned home - or rather, Jen was giving orders while Lexi did the cleaning - and Jennifer asked whether Lexi thought that the pickers had enjoyed themselves. True, there was the racist unpleasantness at the Fete, but Jennifer was confident that this was a small price to pay for staying somewhere as special as Ambridge.

Jen has found that the pickers are always impressed by Ambridge; presumably because “it must be a contrast to what they are used to - more affluent and developed.” The boys especially, Jen continues, are particularly impressed when they see the cars and houses - only natural when their countries are catching up. Ambridge must seem like a dream when they arrive. Lexi hails from Bulgaria, where, according to the Internet, they appear to have houses and even cars, and being addressed as some kind of semi-civilised peasant grates somewhat. I suppose she is lucky that Jennifer didn’t talk about ‘the big, silver bird that brought you across the sea’ or the ‘iron horse that transported you to Ambridge’, where they were given accommodation in luxury tin boxes, called caravans.

Whatever, Lexi is not happy and gets her own back by quoting a passage from ’Mistress of the Paddocks’ - the novel that is generally recognised around Ambridge as a thinly-veiled account of Jennifer and Brian’s numerous sexual indiscretions over the years. Stung, Jennifer angrily dismisses the book as “overrated” and tells Lexi sharply to get on with scrubbing the walls, and to put her back into it. Tempers are rising, when Roy appears, ostensibly to return Phoebe’s equipment used on the picking job. He deftly turns the conversation to his daughter’s forthcoming trip to Budapest, which he says was inspired by Jennifer’s and Brian’s reports following their recent visit. Apparently there wasn’t a mud hut to be seen and they had boats and restaurants and everything.

Roy is not so much laying it on with a trowel as employing a shovel, but the tactic works, as the unpleasantness between the two women is forgotten. Jen proceeds to give Roy a list of ‘must do’s’ for Phoebe in Budapest - a list which Lexi quietly, but acidly, suggests will cost her a fortune and she (Lexi) took her daughter to the public park, or one of the museums (yes Jen, they have those too).

Jennifer asks Roy if he is going anywhere near Borchester and, when he says he is, she suggests that he gives Lexi a lift, as she’s heading that way too. He agrees and the two leave. Jennifer is not only patronising, but tends to overlook the bleedin’ obvious and she is blissfully unaware that Roy and Lexi are an item. Indeed, Roy’s real reason in visiting Home Farm was to pick Lexi up and, as he tells Lexi on the way to his car, he heard the raised voices “and stepped in before you started thumping each other.” When they are out of Jennifer’s sight, the pair kiss.

A day earlier, Roy was showing Lexi around Ambridge, without making it obvious that they are a couple and, whenever they meet someone, the talk turns to cricket (a game which Lexi has no interest in). She and Roy agree that it has been a nice afternoon, but Lexi’s feet hurt and she asks if there’s anywhere they can go. Roy says that there’s no-one at home and they could go there. Lexi says “Good, we can talk about cricket. Or maybe find something else to do.” Roy - don’t blow it now; she doesn’t really want to talk cricket, honest.

So, how did this happen? We have been urging Roy for weeks to pull his finger put and do something about getting to know Lexi before she goes back to Bulgaria - after all, if Jennifer is to be believed, there might not be a phone network available to reach her in her home country. The catalyst for this coming together was Phoebe, but things didn’t quite go as Roy planned. He had intended to have a heart-to-heart with his daughter and tells her that he knows about the pregnancy test. Phoebe reacts angrily and tells him that she is always careful and she’s 19 years old for God’s sake. Roy points out, quite reasonably, that the pregnancy test is evidence that she isn’t always careful, but Phoebe says that there was a slight chance that she was pregnant, but she isn’t and she never wants to hear anything about the subject ever again. End of.

Roy says that bringing Lexi into it (Lily told him that the test was Lexi’s) proved embarrassing and Phoebe ferrets out the fact that Roy and Lexi had attended a book reading together. She asks if he fancies her and - taking the fact that he goes bright red as a ‘yes’ - refuses to let him eat or do anything until he has called Lexi and arranged a date, and this is where we came in.

We’ve spent a lot of time on Roy, but I’m pleased for him and it will be interesting to see how - or even if - the relationship between them continues. Lexi has family back in Bulgaria, so the logistics of any on-going romantic development could be problematic, or at least involve utilising the big silver bird. We’ll have to wait and see if Roy has found a soulmate, or if this is just a (very abridged) summer romance. Personally, I hope it’s not the latter, but time will tell.

It was D-Day for the staff at Grey Gables on Monday and Roy (whose actor really earned his corn last week) and Lynda are sorting through the stuff left in rooms by guests (mainly chargers) and discussing possible futures - what will Oliver decide? We soon know, as Oliver calls a staff meeting and lets them all know that, when push came to shove, he just couldn’t let Grey Gables go and it’s not for sale; not now, nor in the foreseeable future. Cue cheers and applause for Oliver, who tells the staff that he will be residing in The Grosvenor suite from now on - that’s got to adversely affect the profit margin, surely?

The following day, Oliver, Ed and Shula meet for a private memorial ceremony for Caroline in the Grey Gables’ grounds, with the planting of a cherry blossom tree and the scattering of Caroline’s ashes. All three agree that it is very fitting as Caroline’s final resting place.

At Bridge Farm, Johnny tells Tony that he doesn’t fancy college next year. That’s lucky, as Tony tells him that there could be a full-time job for him at Bridge Farm come Christmas. And what is this job? A good description could be ‘veg box supremo’ as Johnny would have total responsibility for the vegetable side of the business, from organising planting rotas to the paperwork and overseeing deliveries of veg boxes. Great, except that Johnny is thinking more about getting experience of operating pieces of farm machinery worth hundreds of thousands of pounds and has approached Adam about covering tractor driving for Geoff, who has put his back out. Adam is inclined to give Johnny a chance and offers him a job, much to Brian’s disgust (that is until Brian learns that Johnny would be paid apprentice rates).

Johnny breaks the news to Pat and Tony, with the bombshell that he would be starting right away and it would mean working at Home Farm three days a week. “Impossible!” Tony cries, and proceeds to outline reasons why it cannot happen. Reluctantly, Johnny agrees and, when we next return to Bridge Farm, Tony has done a complete volte face and he and Pat give Johnny their blessing to go ahead.

You will be delighted to know that Justin and Lilian have named the big day - it’s at Lower Loxley sometime in December - and she can talk of little else. Meanwhile, Adam and Ian have been having in-depth discussions following Ian’s revelation that he would like a child. It becomes obvious that, when it comes to babies, Adam doesn’t have a paternal bone in his body and the gulf between the pair seems unbridgeable. Lilian confesses that she didn’t like babies much (I must say she seemed to change her mind when Muppet came along - perhaps it’s because she could give him back) and she reminds Adam that they don’t stay babies for ever. The upshot is that Adam suggests to Ian that they look into the possibility of adoption. Ian is over the moon and Adam says that it wasn’t an easy decision, but he could not have Ian feeling unfulfilled. “This could be the start of something wonderful” says a thrilled Ian.

Adam suggests that they keep the news quiet for the time being and Ian lasts nearly 48 hours before he blows the gaff at a special evening meal at Home Farm, where he and Adam and Justin and Lilian are guests. To be fair to Ian, it was probably the only way to stop Lilian banging on about photographers and presents for the Best Man and Matron of Honour (Justin protests that they haven’t even chosen a Best Man yet). All are delighted for the couple, although there is an uncomfortable moment when Brian says “Will they let you?” (Awkward silence) “I mean, you’re not too old?” he adds, recovering somewhat. Brian leads the way to the Drawing Room and ‘a rather fine Armagnac’ by way of celebration. Lilian hugs Ian, and Jen, who lags behind with Adam, tells her son “I couldn’t be more delighted.” Adam, who said that he wasn’t expecting Ian to say anything quite so soon, adds “Good - me too.”

The Flower & Produce Show is looming on the horizon and the anxiety level is being ratcheted up a few notches among some villagers. Joe Grundy, particularly, is worried - not only is there his annual rivalry with Bert Fry, but this year there is an added factor - Cecil Jackson, a new face in the village. A new face, but not a new voice, as CJ doesn’t have a speaking part. We only know of him through others’ reports and these are alarming - apparently he has cabinets full of trophies, won at various Produce Shows across Borsetshire, and, something that makes Joe quake in his boots, he has raised beds in his greenhouse - a tactic that Joe describes with a degree of trepidation as ‘professional’. Another cameo involving the F&P show is that of Pat’s gooseberry jam - almost without exception, everybody hates it (the exception is Brian, but Jennifer explains that he did go to boarding school). Even Joe Grundy, who is not slow to grab any freebie going, tells Eddie that “it nearly took the roof off my mouth.” Jill presents Shula with a jar of the stuff and that is typical of what’s going on - jars of gooseberry jam are hurtling around Ambridge like  ticking parcels and no-one wants to be left holding one when the music stops.