David Benedict (Tristram Hawkshaw)
Perhaps we should get the panto out of the way (‘oh no we shouldn’t.’ ‘Oh yes we should’). Someone else I’d like to get out of the way is Tristram Hawkshaw - late of the Felpersham Light Operatic Society and part-time drama critic of The Echo. He attended the first night of the panto and his review appeared next day. More of Tristram later.
Backstage, Eddie says it’s like being in the trenches in WW1 with everybody waiting to go over the top. Luckily, he has a solution - a hip flask of Croatian brandy, which, judging from the gasps of those who sampled it - and this appeared to be the entire cast except for Lynda - was strong enough to strip paint. Suffice it to say that the players were more relaxed (Neil was as relaxed as a newt) and the panto goes ahead. Lines are forgotten and cues missed, but nobody cares really - certainly not Lynda, who overacts outrageously. At the interval, Brian tells Jennifer that he thinks he’s watching two different plays; a knockabout comedy and a deep tragedy. At the end of the panto, applause is muted and Eddie, Neil and Kirsty describe the night as “a disaster”. “We’re gonna need a bigger bottle” Eddie says, despondently.
Even Lynda has self-doubts, as she confides to llamas Saglieri and Constanza and, a bit later, to Robert. She feels that she didn’t have the audience with her a lot of the time. Never mind the audience woman - you didn’t even have the cast with you. At this stage, Tristram’s review arrives on Lynda’s phone and it would appear the man has been bought, as he praises Lynda’s performance to the skies. If you thought Lynda was pretentious (which she is, obviously) then cop a load of the guff spouted by Tristram. According to him, her performance “had true dramatic depth” and “was a multi-layered interpretation” and these are just two of the less sick-making comments. It’s a bloody pantomime man and she’s an evil fairy - who gives a toss about her back-story or motivation?
Lynda turns up the next night and is smugness personified. Harrison is (rightfully) apprehensive, saying “She’ll be totally unbearable now.” He’s right, of course, but what does he mean ‘now’? Eddie agrees and tells PCB and Jazzer “We’ve got to bring her down a peg or 12. And this is how we’re gonna do it.” If only Tristram had decided to go to The Bull afterwards and, high on dramatic interpretation, decided to go for a walk. At the same time, Matt’s hit and run driver fancies adding to his tally - there is a squeal of brakes, a dull thud, a faint moan and it’s ’goodnight Tristram’. Alternatively the driver could have cut out the middleman and gone straight for Lynda. Ah well - I can dream, can’t I?
But what of Eddie’s plan to bring Lynda down ’a peg or 12’ I hear you scream? This involves Jazzer and PCB interrupting one of Lynda’s scenes and making up dialogue. Initially, Lynda is taken aback but she soon turns the tables on the pair and, afterwards, she accuses them of challenging her because of her ability and, now she has proved she can outthink them, presumably there will be no such shenanigans the next evening. Reluctantly, they agree and slope off for a pint, tails firmly between their legs. Lynda is triumphant and, in a speech which chilled the soul, she turns to Robert, who praises her improvisation. This is surprising, as he only turned up for the last bit, having spent the evening in The Bull. An ecstatic Lynda tells him she has scaled new heights - the Muse has taken control. “I feel this is the start of a whole new chapter for Lynda Snell” she tells her husband. That quiet whimpering and sobbing you can hear is me, as I realise that things aren’t going to get any better in 2018.
While we are talking about pretension, we should mention Brian, who is visited by Christian, of The Echo, for an in-depth interview as part of the ‘Borsetshire Businessman of the Year’ series that the paper is planning. Brian shows himself to be very pro-Brexit and Christian puts the other point of view - we cannot have the BBC showing partiality, can we? Christian mentions the photo of Brian, dressed in Town Crier’s garb, that appeared the The Echo earlier in the year. Brian bitched and moaned about the photo at the time, but he tells Christian that he’s not just a successful businessman, but “a humble resident of Ambridge too.”
‘Brian’ and ‘humble’ are not two words that you often see in the same sentence - at least not without a qualifying negative - and now it is time to take photos in his office, which has been given a makeover and spring clean by Jennifer. Christian is keen to include photographs of the Aldridge family in the shot and Brian says that family is very important to him. Christian says that he looks forward to getting to know the family better during the year; something that gives Brian pause for thought, as he contemplates seeing an interview with Kate in print, or maybe explaining exactly who Ruairi is and how he comes to be part of the family. Then again, he can bring up the differences of opinion with Adam over Berrow Farm and the herbal leys. Perhaps you’d be better keeping the family in the background, Brian. Hide their photographs and deny knowing them.
It seems that Brian’s juices may be flowing anew, as he mentions to Roy that Lexi has done a fine job in Grey Gables’ restaurant. “She’s a fine looking woman” remarks Ambridge’s oldest lecher. I’d keep an eye on Lexi if I were you Roy, as old habits die hard - remember Siobhan!
While at Grey Gables, Brian notices a light on in Oliver’s suite. Strange, as Oliver is in New York, visiting his daughter. Roy goes to investigate and finds Oliver hiding away in his rooms - he didn’t go to New York. He explains that he has had a lot of offers to spend Christmas, and he’s touched that people care, but he wants to be near Caroline, plus he wants to be on his own. This is on Christmas Eve and, the following day, Oliver is disturbed by a knock on the door. He thinks it is the only member of staff (except Roy) who knows that he is at Grey Gables and who has been supplying him with meals, but it is Joe Grundy and Nic. They have come to take him to Grange Farm and Joe won’t take ‘no’ for an answer. He employs moral blackmail, reminding Oliver that he (Joe) is 96 and can’t have many Christmases left and, if Oliver doesn’t join them, then Joe will be so miserable that he probably won’t be able to eat his lunch (as if).
Oliver gives in and he has a terrific time, being fed and watered (Eddie plies him with Tumble Tussock cider, much to Joe’s alarm - will there be enough left for the Grundys? Don’t worry Joe; you’re 96 and can’t have that much time left, remember?). The family also plays Twister, which Oliver describes as ‘undignified’, but admits it is great fun and that Caroline would have enjoyed the day.
Over at Bridge Farm, Tony is acting mysteriously and is clearing out an old shed, helped by Helen. Pat, meanwhile, is casting around for something worthwhile to do; Tony has his cattle, Helen has the shop, Roy has his Kefir (and from all accounts, he’s welcome to it), while Pat has nothing to occupy herself with. The solution? She and Helen have put their names down to help out at The Elms refuge on Christmas Eve - have a look round and see if you can find Darrell, Pat - where homeless people are fed and given clothes. It really affects Helen, who has to rush out, as it reminds her of the people she met in prison and she feels guilty because of the privileges that she has enjoyed in life. Pat reminds her daughter that she has been through a lot and has no reason to feel guilty.
On their return to Bridge Farm, the two women are full of the experience and tell a horrified Tony that they have volunteered to serve Christmas lunch at The Elms tomorrow. “What about our Christmas dinner?” Tony asks, aghast. Pat’s response is that he can cook it and she is sure that, between them, he, Tom and Johnny can manage to cook a turkey and she will leave him detailed instructions, presumably starting with ‘turn on the oven - that’s that big white thing in the corner with opening doors and rings that glow red when you turn the knob’.
On Christmas Day, Peggy joins the family, having been mildly alarmed when Pat tells her that the men will cook lunch. Peg offers to help, but Pat says no. “Men can cook too” she says, which shows touching faith in her spouse. Actually, I’m getting worried about Pat, as she seems violently anti-gender-stereotyping. Earlier in the week she told Peggy off for saying “boys will be boys” when told of something Henry did. I wouldn’t be surprised if Henry didn’t get a doll, or a pink dress, in his stocking.
Cooking lurches ahead and, despite expectations, a meal is produced. Tony is jubilant, until he turns over Pat’s instructions and realises that he has forgotten the stuffing. Disaster! It’s too late to make some now - who do they know who might have some left over? Tony is adamant that he won’t go begging to Brian, so Johnny is despatched to Grange Farm. When Pat and Helen return, Pat is impressed that Tony has managed to make his own stuffing recipe, which illustrates how gullible she can be, and she can’t wait to try it. Let’s be honest - she should know that Tony wouldn’t know which end of the Paxo box (other stuffings are available) to open.
Boxing Day dawns and Will is perturbed - a couple of dogs got loose in Spitfire (the jewel in the Boxing Day Shoot’s crown) and scared off the birds. Will has to substitute a less attractive drive and is subjected to much moaning and bitching from Brian. Even worse, the dogs belong to two friends of Justin who Will has been told to look after, so he cannot tell Brian the real reason for not shooting Spitfire. Noluthando is one of the guns; something that will give Kate the vapours and she is apparently a pretty good shot and popular with the others. Will moans to Nic afterwards that he only got £90 in tips, compared with over £400 last year. Brian never even thanked him and Will reflects morosely that it’s always the gamekeeper that gets the blame. Luckily, Nic has a word with Jennifer, who tells Brian about the dogs and he pledges to make things right with Will.
Also on Boxing Day, Pat announces that she is going to volunteer more often at The Elms. Then Tony reveals his surprise - he’s bought Pat a couple of goats “and they’re good milkers”. No they aren’t - both goats kick the bucket over and are generally bad tempered. It is obvious that they need milking and, in desperation, Tony rings Lynda, who once kept her own goats. Lynda is successful and a grateful Pat says she’ll name the goats after her, so one of the goats is dubbed ‘Lynda’. But what to call the other? Does Lynda have a middle name? Shyly, Lynda reveals that she has, and it is Scarlett. Offhand, I can’t think of a less likely scarlet woman.
We at Haharchers Towers wish all our readers a peaceful and happy 2018