Sunday, 16 September 2018

Brian's spying, Tom's plotting and Lily's off to uni...

Mystery trip story ‘full of holes’, say Ambridge locals  

Two senior Ambridge residents have been accused of ‘cooking up a preposterous story’ to explain their mysterious trip to The Bull last Tuesday lunchtime.
Brian Aldridge and his mother-in-law Peggy Woolley said they decided to make a special visit to the pub because Mrs Woolley fancied a pickled egg and some pork scratchings.
But outraged villagers say they were trying to gain an unfair advantage at the Flower & Produce Show by quizzing them about their entries in the giant veg, floral arrangement and savoury bakes categories.
‘They were asking questions about Robert Snell’s tomatoes, Clarrie Grundy’s fuchsias and Bert Fry’s dahlias, and Brian was taking notes on his phone,’ said a pub regular. ‘It was completely out of character, because he wouldn’t normally take Peggy to the pub unless Jennifer stood over him with a whip.’
‘I knew something was up when Mrs Woolley tried to get a feel of my corn on the cob, and she couldn’t take her eyes off my raspberries,’ said Neville Booth of Grange Spinney. ‘They must think we were born yesterday!’
Mr Aldridge denied he and Mrs Woolley were up to anything suspicious. ‘We may have asked about the Flower & Produce Show; I don’t recall, because it was raining,’ he said. ‘But we went to The Bull because it’s world-famous for its pickled eggs and friends said they had expanded their range of pork scratchings. Did you know, they have the biggest selection in Borsetshire, according to the Good Pub Guide 1993?’

Coffee break with… Tom Archer

In our occasional series of interviews with readers who have interesting jobs, we catch up with the dynamic young businessman behind the success of Bridge Farm (Are you sure? Ed.)

Q So, Tom – what’s new at Bridge Farm?

A Well, I’ve got this fantastic idea to future-proof the farm for Henry and Jack’s generation. It’s called agroforestry and it’s like trees with berries and nuts and fruit on, and you grow them in straight lines and then you let animals graze in between and plant crops, and if you grow paracetamol trees the cows will medicate themselves! And it’s called 3D farming and you print it off the internet or something! My friend Natasha from the Nuffield Scholarship reckons it could save the farm and so do I and it’s NOT because I fancy her, OK?

Q Wow, that sounds very – ambitious?

A Tell me about it! It’s tough being the only switched-on, modern, forward-thinking member of the family. My sister Helen is obsessed with her Borsetshire Blue and thinks we should set up a micro-dairy. I keep telling her, she’ll need hundreds of teeny tiny cows to make a kilo of her stinky cheese and there’s no one at Bridge Farm small enough to milk them. But she just doesn’t get it! It’s a good job I’m the grown-up around here.   

Recipe of the Week: Nic’s Harvest Pie

Thanks to Emma Grundy of Grange Farm, who sent in this recipe, which she says was a favourite of her late sister-in-law Nic and her family.


1lb shop-bought shortcrust pastry
Scraps of leftover roast beef, lamb or chicken
Chunks of leftover cooked potato
A tin of mixed veg (carrots, peas and beans)
Tomato ketchup


1.     Feed all those rubbish ingredients to Holly the dog.
2.     Get Clarrie to make one of her famous beef and vegetable pies with her special rough puff pastry.
3.     Pass it off as Nic’s Harvest Pie at the Flower & Produce Show if you don’t want little Poppy to be traumatised by the judges’ opinion of her mum’s terrible cooking.

Film of the Week

 Now showing at Borsetshire Rural Cinema:

The Karate Kid (PG)*

Seven-year-old Henry and his single mum Helen join a local karate class, but Henry soon finds himself the target of a group of bullies at the Ambridge dojo led by Ninja Keira, who despite not knowing her left from her right is an expert at delivering a sharp kick to the shins.
Fortunately Henry (and Helen) befriend Mr Lee, by day a mild-mannered physiotherapist who never forgets a face, but by night a black belt martial arts instructor. Mr Lee takes Henry under his wing, dissuading him from taking too close an interest in shotguns and preparing him to compete against the brutal Ninja Keira.

*Contains upsetting scenes of helicopter parenting

The secret desires of Russell Jones

 In the second chapter of our searing Autumn serial, by award-winning romantic novelist Lavinia Catwater, our hero contemplates a life-changing move…

‘And can you imagine, Lily? That Waitrose article said you need stuff like rose harissa and organic bouillon powder to survive at uni! Ridiculous!’
Phoebe Aldridge snorted with laughter and forked more huevos rancheros into her mouth. Lily wrinkled her delicate nose. ‘Oh, but Russ loves Ottolenghi, don’t you darling?’ She patted his arm, leaving sourdough crumbs on his moss-green cashmere sleeve. Russ brushed them off and treated Phoebe to his most charming smile.
‘Yes Phoebe,’ he purred. ‘Lily and I will be living a rather more sophisticated life in Manchester than perhaps you’re used to at… where is it you study again?’
Phoebe put down her fork and looked at him with narrowed eyes. ‘Oxford. University,’ she said. ‘And Lily working all hours while you focus on your art; that’s sophisticated, is it?’
Russ winced slightly, suppressing a belch. This was meant to be a friendly brunch, not a rerun of his grilling by Dr Venables. His digestion still hadn’t recovered from all that unpleasantness about safeguarding, social services and police interviews.
He pushed aside his bowl of butternut squash and kale strata and took Lily’s hand.
‘What Lily and I have is far deeper and more precious than money and work,’ he said. ‘Isn’t it, darling?’
‘Oh yes,’ Lily breathed gratifyingly. ‘Russ is such a great artist…’
‘He’s certainly an artist,’ Phoebe muttered under her breath.
Their bill arrived, and both girls looked expectantly at Russ. He took out his hand-tooled Toledo leather wallet, but before opening it, gave them his most adorable lop-sided grin.
‘Guess what? Those Jo Malone candles I bought for the flat? Took every last penny!’ he said. ‘Silly me!’
‘Oh, darling,’ said Lily. ‘Freesia and English Pear – my favourite. You are SO sweet.’ She bent down to fetch her purse from her handbag. Across the table, Phoebe fixed Russ with a hard stare…

To be continued…

Sunday, 9 September 2018

Tom's biz woes, veg wars and Russell's hearty breakfast...

Business ‘flying squad’ to save Bridge Farm?

A leading farming think-tank has suggested that an elite team of experts is needed to sort out the business plan for a local farm.
The Nuffield Scholarship advisory group says that Bridge Farm’s business activities, which include sub-standard cheese made with bought-in milk, a herd of hobby cows, a farm shop stocked with bought-in produce, labour-intensive veg boxes and a goats’ milk health drink that everyone agrees ‘tastes rank’ is the worst case of failed diversification it has ever seen.
‘We can normally help farms spot weaknesses and exploit opportunities, but Bridge Farm defeated us,’ said a Nuffield spokesman.
‘We suggested that Tom Archer could try agro-forestry, where you plant fruit or nut trees and grow crops on the same land. But Mr Archer’s sister Helen said her sons had seen enough agro already and flatly refused to consider it.’
The Nuffield group concluded that Bridge Farm’s problems are so deep-seated and intractable they need a ‘nuclear option’ to sort them out. ‘We’ve advised Mr Archer to call in Lord Sugar, Baroness Karren Brady, Alex Polizzi, Mary Portas and the entire Dragons’ Den team, but frankly we’re not hopeful,’ the spokesman said.  

College boost for Borchester store

With High Street department stores under pressure, Underwoods reported a welcome uptick in trade this week as parents shopped to equip their teenagers for life at university.
‘To be honest, when we heard that Jennifer Aldridge might be leaving the area, we thought it was the end for us,’ said a spokesperson. ‘But recent trading has been fantastic. For example, there was a dad buying up the store for his 18-year-old daughter, who’s going to Manchester. He piled the trolley with high-end homewares: Egyptian cotton linen, three-speed kettle, wok, tagine, grill, coffee maker, Villeroy & Boch dinner service for 12 – all in jewel colours – and then descended on the food hall and practically cleared our stock of organic groceries.
‘It was quite unusual, because while Dad chose it all, her mum paid for everything, but that’s modern life for you. That girl certainly won’t want for anything at college – and it looks like our Christmas bonus is on again!’  

Local mum to shun Flower & Produce Show

Helen Archer, whose abusive marriage was the subject of a dramatic court case two years ago, says she will be keeping her sons away from the Ambridge Flower & Produce Show because of its ‘toxic atmosphere’.
Tension is running high in the build-up to this year’s show, as veteran gardeners are said to be playing mind games and working on underhand strategies to help them carry off the prized rosettes.
‘Everyone is saying that Joe Grundy, Bert Fry and Cecil Jackson are at daggers drawn over their marrows, carrots and roses,’ said Ms Archer. ‘Henry, who’s seven, and Jack, two, are at a very impressionable age. And after all the violence and hostility they’ve seen, I’m not prepared to have them triggered by a fight over a giant parsnip.’

Health quiz:  how old is your heart?

Following the launch of Public Health England’s online test to assess your risk of heart disease, the Ambridge Observer has devised its own version, tailored to our local community. To find out your true ‘heart age’, answer the following questions and score 10 for each Yes, and 0 for each No.

1.     Is your son currently awaiting sentencing for drug-dealing?
2.     Are you training for a half-marathon fuelled solely on beer and crisps?
3.     Is your daughter about to set up home with a married man twice her age?
4.     Are you worried that your lemon drizzle might not be a winner in this year’s Flower and Produce Show?
5.     Have you recently turned down an ‘insulting offer’ for your family home of 40 years?
6.     Are you worried that the woman who has promised to be your surrogate may not return from Bulgaria?
7.     Do you worry that your new husband, who arrested a young man for drug-dealing while dressed as a Spice Girl on his stag do, is being unfairly shunned?
8.     Have you recently lost your alcohol licence and lucrative event bookings?
9.     Are you spending hours in the pub while your wife frets about selling your family home of 40 years?
10.  Has your artisan cheese been rejected by the chef of a local hotel, who you thought was your friend?

How did you get on?

Any score of 10 or more indicates you may be at increased risk of stress-related heart disease. If you scored 30 or more, seek medical help immediately. If you scored 0, so far, so good, but you can probably expect something majorly stressful to happen to you soon.

The secret desires of… Russell Jones

Award-winning romantic novelist Lavinia Catwater is back with a searing Autumn serial of passion and intrigue, set in Lower Loxley, the ancestral stately home of the Pargetters…

Russell stretched luxuriantly in Freddie Pargetter’s bed. The Jackson Pollock duvet cover was not to his taste and it smelt faintly of trainers and weed, but the fine cornicing and impressive Georgian sash windows of the room made up for that.  Of course, he would rather be in Lily’s neat, fragrant boudoir next door, but it wouldn’t do to épater la bourgeoise, in the disapproving form of Lily’s mother Elizabeth, just yet.
He slid out of bed, shivering slightly – he always slept naked – and slipped on his thigh-length robe, admiring the jewel colour of the emerald silk. Some might call it a shortie kimono, but he wouldn’t dream of such cultural appropriation.
Pushing his narrow feet, of which he was rather proud, into organic leather Bedouin slippers, he padded to the bathroom for his cold shower, followed by a brisk towelling and his saltwater and sunflower oil nasal gargle – his own, superior, version of the Ayurvedic ritual. His stomach rumbled; a sign that, as usual, his intestinal flora were perfectly in balance. It was a shame that the unpleasant scenes with Lara, and his rapid departure from the marital home, had prevented him preparing his customary bowl of overnight oats with soy milk, blueberries and chia. But some things are worth making sacrifices for, he reflected as he took a toothpick to a shred of smoked haddock caught in a molar, and thought of the beautiful young girl dreaming of him next door…

Note to Lavinia: darling, I really don’t think the readers can stand any more of this. They might not have had breakfast yet. Editor.


FOR SALE: Pair of girls’ school shoes, to fit sturdy 4-year-old, black with a flower motif.
WANTED: Pair of girls’ school shoes, to fit sturdy 4-year-old, black without a flower motif, because Mia says they’re cool and Poppy will be bullied if she wears the others.
FOR SALE: Pair of girls’ school shoes, to fit sturdy 4-year-old, navy without a flower motif, because Daddy was so stressed he bought the wrong colour.

NO LONGER FOR SALE: Pair of girls’ school shoes, to fit sturdy 4-year-old, navy without a flower motif, because Clarrie read the uniform rules and navy is fine. Daddy is such a muppet but he only wants the best for little Poppy, what with her missing Nic and everything.