Thursday, 31 December 2015

EXCLUSIVE ARTS EXTRA: Tristram Hawkshaw reviews Calendar Girls

Two dates with Calendar Girls – but no                  red-letter day


By Tristram Hawkshaw, theatre critic

As a professional critic of long experience – I still treasure dear Dame Judi’s début at the RSC – I pride myself on being able to absorb, appreciate and assimilate the very essence of a production after a single viewing. (Blimey, get on with it Tris. Ed).

In the case of Lynda Snell’s production of Calendar Girls at Lower Loxley, however, I was confounded. The saveur and ambience of the first night were completely ruined by a claque of unruly hoodlums, waving plastic geese, whistling and cat-calling like a rugby club outing. (It was a rugby club outing. Ed)

Already distrait by the antics of these voyeurs, I was then obliged to close my eyes for the pivotal  photography scene, as the set had been clumsily staged, giving some of us a view of the cast that no amount of iced buns or mince pies could decently conceal.

In the spirit of candour I should also admit that by this point, Mrs Elizabeth Pargetter’s generous servings of egg nog in the press room may have taken their toll, as I awoke to the curtain calls.

A lesser critic (and I make no mention of Dylan Nells here) may have cobbled up a review from this thin fare, but not Tristram Hawkshaw!

And so it was I returned to Lower Loxley the following evening, incognito, to see the entire divertissement.

I had particularly been looking forward to the performance of Susan Carter as Chris, having admired her Edith in Blithe Spirit last year. Again she did not disappoint, despite a rather ill-judged ‘Babydoll Santa’ outfit in the Christmas tableau.

The costume department also displayed its limitations – and rather more besides – with a malfunction to the rabbit suit worn by Ruth (Kirsty Miller). However, Ms Miller’s anguished cry from the wings: ‘I can’t go on with my bum hanging out!’ would have been better delivered sotto voce.

The programme notes promised us ‘art, imitating life, imitating art, imitating life’. There was certainly a frisson of genuine chemistry between Annie, played by the fragrant Mrs Pargetter, and Roy Tucker as her husband.

Those of us who attended Loxfest last summer cannot fail to be reminded of the folie à deux between these two, although unlike Annie’s John, Mr Tucker is unfortunately still very much with us.  

However, it was the last-minute, inspired casting of Jean Harvey as Jessie that lifted this production from the so-so to the (almost) sublime.

Commanding the stage from its centre in every scene (despite some rather inept attempts to dislodge her by other cast members) Miss Harvey displayed all the brio, panache and gravitas that so distinguish her performances at FLOPS.

Even when her piece of concealing knitting proved inadequate to its task, she carried on toute nue with the dignity of a grande dame – dismissing with a single, imperious gesture the stick-on silver stars that Susan Carter was inexplicably thrusting at her from the wings.

I had thought Miss Harvey’s Gertrude unsurpassable, but her Jessie is a thing of wonder and will long remain in the memories of all who saw it.

Unfortunately, her dazzling tour de force completely eclipsed the lesser lights around her – although the delirious applause of friends and family in the audience will no doubt persuade Mrs Snell, erroneously, that she has triumphed once again.

Tuesday, 29 December 2015

Today's festive special from the archive: The Trials of Ian Craig

When Adam met Charlie... 

In today's pick of the Ambridge Observer archive, award-winning romantic novelist Lavinia Catwater tugs at our heartstrings with her saga of a troubled love story... (is there any other kind? Ed)

Ian woke and turned to Adam. ‘Morning mate! How’s your silly mid off?’ he giggled. ‘Didn’t we have a great time at Edgbaston?’
Adam frowned and threw the giant inflatable kangaroo that lay between them across the room. Shocked, Ian asked: ‘What’s up? Did I embarrass you in front of Charlie? I’m such a duffer about cricket.’ 
‘No, Ian, you were fine.’ Adam smiled that irresistible smile. ‘Everyone loved your practical joke with the Panama hat and the pavlova. No, it’s this thing with Brian.’
Ian seized his moment. ‘Well, that’s simple,’ he said. ‘Take Debbie’s offer of a job in Hungary. I’d easily find a kitchen, and you’d have more money, more security, and no Brian breathing down your neck.’ (Or Charlie Thomas, he thought to himself).
Adam bounded out of bed and headed for the shower. ‘This is our chance, Adam!’ Ian called after him, hope flaring like heartburn in his chest.


Later that evening the scene was set: the flat smelt deliciously of goulash and a bottle of Tokay was chilling in the fridge. ‘Hi Ian, I’m home!’ Adam came in and flung his cricket bag down. ‘We won by eight wickets. And guess what?’
Ian handed him a glass. Had he called Debbie? Was their new life assured? ‘I’ve been to see Brian. I’m accepting his share-farming offer.’ Ian’s world went dark, but he managed a smile. ‘Well, you certainly know how to surprise a fella!’
‘I know, but Charlie says, seize the day. Charlie says I’ll regret it if I go. Charlie says… Ian, where are you going?’
‘Just turning down the goulash!’ Ian rushed to the kitchenette, where he stuffed a tea towel in his mouth to stifle his bitter sobs… 

To be continued…  

EXCLUSIVE: Don't miss Tristram Hawkshaw's review of Calendar Girls, only in the Ambridge Observer, this Thursday! 

Monday, 28 December 2015

Festive special from the archive: The Trials of Princess Kate, by Lavinia Catwater

By popular request: Lavinia reprises her greatest hits!*

What better finale to the year than to revisit the archive of one of the Ambridge Observer's most popular columnists, romantic novelist Lavinia Catwater! (Can't see why myself. Ed.)

New readers (of whom we're delighted to say there are many) may have missed all the pearls that dropped from Lavinia's quill in 2015. So here for your delectation is a chance to relive the first time she graced these pages with her compelling saga, first published on July 12: The Trials of Princess Kate.

And don't miss! Tomorrow: Lavinia treats us to Chapter One of The Trials of Ian Craig.

The Trials of Princess Kate

Chapter One, in which Princess Kate is cruelly misunderstood

Kate, Princess of Home Farm, stared moodily into her earthenware mug of Barleycup and sighed. How could she put things right with Phoebe? After all, it wasn’t Kate’s fault that she had interrupted the most important night of her beloved daughter’s life, by screaming like a banshee and throwing her boyfriend out of the house! Why couldn’t people understand how difficult it is to be a creative, sensitive Princess who also tries to be a caring mum and best friend to a stroppy teenager? ‘So unfair!’ she said to the mirror, with its handcrafted frame of Fairtrade milkbottle tops, petulantly tossing her luxuriant auburn curls. (Yes, get on with it. Ed).


An hour later Princess Kate was sitting on a bespoke Lilian Bellamy barstool in her favourite corner of the shabby chic but cosy Flood Bar, toying with her fourth glass of Chateau Chonqui vegan Burgundy.  ‘Kenton, it’s SOOO unfair!’ she wailed to the genial host, who was busy pinning a photograph of David Archer to the dartboard. ‘My whole family treats me like a pariah. And I had this amazing business plan, and all I needed was a tiny start-up loan, but my dad tells me off like I’m some kind of child! It’s so hurtful and demeaning!’ She held a bleached hemp handkerchief, embroidered by Bangladeshi craftswomen, to her startling blue eyes. ‘Tell me about it!’ sympathised Kenton, who, she knew, secretly adored her. ‘That’ll be 20 quid – cash, no more credit. And we’re closed.’


After a short but refreshing nap on a bench on the village green, Princess Kate walked back to Home Farm, striding out athletically in her organic Mexican rope espadrilles. But as she approached the swimming pool, a shocking sight met her eyes: Jennifer and Phoebe were sitting on the Oliver Sterling designer loungers, sharing a plate of brownies, deep in conversation.
She crept closer to listen. ‘It’s so unfair, she’s so hypocritical!’ Phoebe was saying. Princess Kate felt her daughter’s words like a dagger through her heart. ‘Well darling, it’s good to hear you and Alex are being so responsible,’ Jennifer said, stroking her granddaughter’s curly blonde head. ‘You can talk to me about anything, you know Phoebe.’ Princess Kate sank to a new level of anguish. How could her mother betray her so cruelly? Taking over her own role as provider of motherly guidance to Phoebe? Oh, why did life always have to be so UNFAIR?

To be continued…. 

*By popular request: we had one request, probably from Lavinia's mother, but it's easier than writing new stuff when you can't drag the reporters out of the pub. Ed  

Sunday, 20 December 2015

Adam and Ian tie the knot, Rob twists the knife and David is deserted… a sensational week in Ambridge

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to all our readers!

The Ambridge Observer will be taking a festive break next Sunday; the team has booked front-row seats for Calendar Girls and will be chomping our way through Justin Elliott’s most generous Christmas hamper. We’ll be back with all the news that’s fit to print on Sunday January 3rd!

Ambridge prepares for Christmas!

With the festive season well under way, The Ambridge Observer asked some leading local residents about their plans for Christmas Day:

David Archer: ‘Christmas won’t be the same this year as my wife Ruth is staying in New Zealand, with her new friends. I expect she’ll Skype when she has time, although I gather there’s lots to learn about hobbit-herding, or something. So I think I’ll have a gloomy drink with Ron and Vera Medlar, who are giving up dairying in the New Year. Did you know that £200 billion trillion has been taken out of the rural economy? It’s terrible… (that’s enough gloom. Meant to be a Christmas feature. Ed).

Pip Archer: 'It will be a bit sad with mum not here at Brookfield, but I'm hoping our contract milker Matthew will come for dinner. He's promised to teach me his 5-step Dutch foot paring method. And I'd like to know if he's a breast or a leg man!'

Clarrie Grundy: ‘We’ll be at Grange Farm, and it will be the best Christmas ever! Susan and Neil Carter are coming for dinner and I’ll be able to treat the kids to a few extras, when Toby and Rex Fairbrother have paid me for helping to dress their geese. I dare say we’ll all shed a tear when Joe starts singing The Borsetshire Carol round the fire. It’s about time we Grundys had some luck at last! We’re ever so grateful to Oliver and Caroline.’

Shula Hebden-Lloyd: ‘I will be at The Stables with Alistair and Jim, but it may be a little quiet as Dan will be either on duty or courting Dorothy from Haybury. So I might just pop round to Keeper’s Cottage with a hot mince pie and some brandy butter for Doctor Locke. Just to be neighbourly, you understand.’

Brian Aldridge: ‘My sister-in-law Lilian is still with us for Christmas, God help us, so I’ll be keeping a close eye on the cellar keys. My son Ruairi will be telling us what he’s been up to, as none of us has seen him all year. I expect Phoebe will be joining us for a 10-minute break in her Oxford revision. As long as Kate takes her vegan nut roast off to her new yurts, and leaves me to enjoy Jennifer’s legendary Christmas spread, I’ll be happy.’

Rob Titchener: ‘My wife loves to spend Christmas Day with her family at Bridge Farm, so that’s why we’ll be staying here at Blossom Hill Cottage, just the four of us – Helen, me, Henry, and our baby son. Helen forgets sometimes that her sole purpose in life is to give me a healthy heir in 2016. So I may have to give her a few reminders. It’s for her own good. Merry Christmas!’    

Festive Fiction Special: The Trials of Ian Craig

In Chapter 2 of our romantic saga by award-winning novelist Lavinia Catwater, the joy of our hero’s wedding is shattered by deceit and betrayal…

‘I love you Adam. And I can’t wait to make an honest man out of you!’ Ian patted his partner’s vibrant, orange and pink polka dot shirt affectionately. ‘But don’t dance; people will think you’re the light show!’
It was the stag party Ian had dreamed of: surrounded by family and friends, the Guinness, champagne and shots flowing freely. Tonight, he could even smile at Barry and his exploding crisp packets. True, it was a surprise when Rob Titchener had turned up, and Charlie was there, looking like he’d lost a heifer and found a hamster. But tomorrow he and Adam would be married. And at last, any doubts about his commitment would be washed away on a tide of joy and love…. 
‘Ian – have you got a minute?’ He turned to find Rob standing a little too close for comfort. ‘I just wanted to say, you know… Adam…Pavel… Charlie… open secret… even Helen saw them kissing…’
Like a mongoose mesmerised by a python (surely cobra? Ed), Ian was rooted to the spot, unable to stop the flow of poisonous gossip into his ears. ‘…so, anyway, congratulations old chap!’ Rob slapped him too hard on the back and melted back into the crowd.
Desperate for air, Ian staggered into the pub garden, nearly uprooting Freda Fry’s memorial rose. And who were those two in the shadows? ‘Oh, er, Ian! Hi! Charlie’s had too many shots. I’ll be in in a minute.’ Adam smiled at him.
Shots! Yes, Ian felt as if he’d been shot, straight through the heart.  ‘I’ll see you at home then,’ he stammered, his whole world falling apart….


‘Are you sure you want to go through with this?’ Ian’s heart was breaking as he looked at Adam, so handsome in his suit, while his own… he pulled his waistcoat down and ran a finger round his too-tight collar. The perils of being a professional chef, he sighed inwardly. Why was he so greedy with the tasting spoon? No wonder Adam preferred Charlie, who was as slim as a snake. …
‘Of course!’ Adam’s lovely warm voice reassured him. ‘I want to spend the rest of my life with you. Let’s get married!’
Arriving at the register office, Ian’s emotions were in turmoil. Could he and Adam really start a new chapter in this poisonous atmosphere of betrayal? And talking of betrayal… here was Helen, wearing a hideous purple frock and thrusting a rose at him. ‘Buttonholes!’ she smiled. Ian turned away. His best friend, yet she’d known about Adam and Charlie for nearly a year and said nothing! It cut like his sharpest Japanese kitchen knife. He’d wondered what she saw in Rob Titchener, but it was clear now. They were made for each other.
And now she was taking a picture of Adam and Charlie together! How could he bear it? He stumbled into the register office, still not sure if he could go through with it…. 


All eyes were on Ian as he stood up to make his speech. Somehow, he had got through the ceremony, though he’d almost choked on the vows that he and Adam had written together – was it really such a short time ago? Now this happy crowd was expecting jokes and happiness… he threw his prompt cards on the table. ‘Look, I hope when we get old we’ll look back on today and know we did the right thing…’ his voice tailed away into an awkward silence. Then suddenly Rob stood up  - Rob, who’d been watching him coolly, enjoying his pain.
‘Could you join me in a toast to the happy couple!’ said his arch-enemy, raising his glass and fixing Ian with a cruel, triumphant smile. Ian turned away, towards Adam, who was looking at Charlie’s empty chair. Would he ever be happy again?
To be continued…


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Letter to The Editor

 Dear Madam,

I’d be very grateful if you could let your readers know that the Christmas production of Calendar Girls now features Jean Harvey in a starring role as Jessie, following Carol Tregorran’s withdrawal due to a family crisis. Jean Harvey is really awfully good, you know; her Gondoliers won an award and I understand her Gertrude had to be seen to be believed (though for this production she will be wearing a scarf). While by no means a diva, Dame Jean (as she likes to be known) can get a bit batey if she feels under-appreciated, and my Lyndy is under enough stress, what with putting on the play and finding organic, gluten free Stollen for little Mungo at Christmas.
Thanks ever so,
Robert Snell, Ambridge Hall.

Sunday, 13 December 2015

Pot luck for David, bad luck for Charlie and good luck for the Grundys: it's all change in Ambridge

Controversial Berrow Farm manager to leave Ambridge

Speculation is rife in Ambridge this week about who will take over as manager of the mega-dairy at Berrow Farm, after Charlie Thomas confirmed he is to take up a role at another Damara Capital estate in Perthshire.
Rob Titchener, who left Berrow Farm earlier this year, refused to confirm rumours that he was to replace Mr Thomas.
‘Look, we all know I could manage that place better than Charlie,’ he said. ‘I’m a proper man, for one thing. But I’m too busy winning touch rugby tournaments, managing Bridge Farm shop and trying to stop my mother blabbing all my secrets to my wife.’
Mr Thomas’s tenure at Berrow Farm has divided opinion. ‘He was to blame for the botulism, and now the company is quietly moving him on,’ said Mrs Lynda Snell. ‘It’s how these corporations operate. I’ve seen it all before.’
But Jennifer Aldridge of Home Farm defended him. ‘He is a fine young man; we’ve all taken him to our hearts and we will miss him,’ she said. ‘My son Adam seems especially upset about it, which is odd, as they didn’t seem to get on at first. But recently they’ve become close. It’s a shame. But I expect Adam will get over it. After all, he’s marrying Ian next week. Do you like my new hat?’

Appeal for forgetful wine festival goer

Borsetshire Rural Crime Unit (PC Harrison Burns) is calling for someone who lost personal property at the Lower Loxley Wine Festival to come forward and claim it.
‘Various items were found in shrubbery near the house, and were handed in,’ he said. ‘They include two one-way rail tickets to Perthshire, a guide to romantic Scottish hideaways, and a presentation box with a gold ring inscribed with the words ‘C loves A 4ever’.
‘It looks as if these items were discarded in a hurry but we are sure someone is missing them,’ said PC Burns. ‘If not, I might get the ring changed to read ‘H’ and ‘F’. It would make a lovely Christmas present for the little lady.’

Winning short story is Christmas magic

Congratulations to George Grundy, aged 10, who has won the Ambridge Observer Children’s Christmas Story competition. ‘His heartwarming family tale sums up the magic of Christmas,’ said the head judge, award-winning novelist Lavinia Catwater. ‘A real work of imagination, as stories like this just don’t happen in real life.’
George’s prize is a rugby shirt and a Christmas goose for his family, courtesy of Toby and Rex Fairbrother. Well done George! Here’s his winning story: 

Once upon a time there was a granny and granddad who lived in a cottage with an old man called Joe, a pony called Bartleby and some ferrets. One day the flood came and washed their cottage away. So they moved to a hotel, but the people there were cross with them because the old man walked about in his long johns and the ferrets ran everywhere.
They wanted to move back to their cottage but the Wicked Woolley Witch cast a spell on it and turned it into a palace, so only a rich prince could live there.
The granny and granddad tried to find somewhere else to live, but they could only afford a small flat in a faraway town, and old Joe was put into a hostile, (surely ‘hostel’? Ed) where Bartleby and the ferrets couldn’t stay, so they were all sad.
Then one day just before Christmas they were killing turkeys in the cider shed when their Fairy Godfather Oliver rang them up and said they could live in his house, because he and Fairy Godmother Caroline were having such a lovely time in Italy.
The granny and granddad and Joe all cried with joy. ‘We can keep a little pig in a pen by the stove, just like the old days, when I lived there with my Susan!’ said Joe. ‘Come on everyone!’ said their little girl Emma. ‘We can celebrate with these mince pies; the filling’s leaked but they taste OK!’
So Bartleby had a carrot, the ferrets bit old Joe so he did swears, and they all lived happily ever after. The End.

Christmas Fiction Special

The Trials of David Archer

In Chapter 1 of our festive fiction feast, by award-winning romantic novelist Lavinia Catwater, our hero finds himself deserted, disabled and in despair….

‘Quite right Brian,’ said David, sighing inwardly. ‘Oops –sorry about your carpet Jenny,’ as another forkful of peas and gravy shot off his plate.
Curse this broken arm! He felt so useless – and so lonely. Why was he having to endure Brian droning on about the CAP? He should be at Brookfield, with all the family, and his mum spoon-feeding him her famous treacle tart. But Pip was out playing rugby with the Fairbrothers, and of course, Ruth was in New Zealand, doing who knows what with… Thinking of his wife in the arms of a hunky All Black, he stabbed at a carrot, which landed in Brian’s lap. ‘And how are you going to treat Ruth for your anniversary?’ wittered Jenny. How indeed? Somehow a new pair of chest waders didn’t seem quite enough. But would Ruth even be at home for their anniversary? He slumped in his chair, and held out his good arm for another brandy…


 ‘You’re right Matthew. Damn! How could I have missed this?’ David looked at the sick calf, with its runny nose and staring eyes. What was he thinking, lounging in the kitchen, finishing off his mum’s cake mix? ‘It’s pneumonia. I’ve only got a bad arm; I could have checked the stock.’
Furiously, he phoned Pip, who was busy slaughtering geese with the Fairbrothers. ‘You stupid, stupid girl!’ he yelled at her. ‘Why didn’t you tell me something was wrong?’ ‘Don’t blame me dad!’ she yelled back. ‘If mum was here, she would have spotted it. And why isn’t she here? Because you drove her away!’
Wearily, David ended the call and dialled Alistair’s mobile. Pip was right, of course. He’d had another sleepless night, feeling so lonely in the big bed, which was usually full of Ruth and her herd fertility reports. How could he ever have thought he could manage without her? But as he stroked the sick calf’s head, a glimmer of an idea occurred to him… perhaps he could show Ruth how much he cared after all…


Against the odds, David had quite enjoyed the Lower Loxley Wine Festival. It was good to talk about his bad arm, the pneumonia, how badly the herd was performing, and how much he was missing Ruth. There’s nothing like sparkling small talk to get a party going, he congratulated himself as Adam and Ian drove him home.
For some reason, they didn’t want to come into Brookfield for a coffee, so he waved them off with his good arm. In the hall, his eye fell approvingly on the gift he’d ordered for Ruth. A bronze-effect cow and calf, lovingly handcrafted in Thailand, and his for only six monthly instalments of £49.99 (plus postage). He was sure she would love it! 
As if by magic, the phone rang. ‘Hi love, it’s great to hear your voice!’ Somehow, Ruth sounded so dear and so close, not 10,000 miles away. ‘Oh hi David! Just calling to say I’m going to stay a bit longer. In fact I don’t know when I’m coming back. I’m loving it here! Sorry – got to go; we’re going on a Lord Of The Rings tour!’
The connection was lost and David was left alone in the dark. The cow and calf seemed to be mocking him now. How long would it be before he saw his wife again? And was it too late to ask his mum to make him some cocoa?
To be continued….

(Ed darling, do I get a Christmas bonus for reading all those ghastly kids’ stories as well as this? Lavinia. No. Ed.)

Teen prodigy to give geo-political lecture

Borchester Business Forum is delighted to present a New Year lecture on ‘South Africa: conflict between the pressures of globalisation and the aspirations of the post-colonial state’ by Phoebe Aldridge of Home Farm. ‘We heard that Ms Aldridge has an original and thoughtful view on this hot topic, which deeply impressed Oxford fellows at her recent interview,’ said a spokesperson. ‘It seems her insights from Wikipedia, the Daily Telegraph and her grandfather’s dinner table conversation wowed them in Oxford and we’re sure our members will appreciate it too.’

Personal announcement

Elizabeth Pargetter and Roy Tucker would like to announce that yes, they did have an affair last summer, and yes, it is slightly awkward that they’re playing husband and wife in Calendar Girls, but honestly, they are just acting and really, isn’t it time everyone just grew up and got over it? It’s ancient history now, especially as Roy is making cocoa for Kirsty Miller and Lizzie has got her eye on Dr Locke, who’s moving to Keeper’s Cottage. Thank you.  

Letter to the Editor

Dear Madam,

I would just like to say how lovely it is to have the community shop open again. Without it, it was as if the heart of the village had been ripped out. I like the new staff uniforms too. Mrs Snell’s striking orange necklace (she told me it was inspired by the Masai Mara) set off her Paisley tabard a treat. And unlike my friend Jean Harvey, I don’t mind Susan Carter’s new way of greeting customers. She can ‘Call me Madam’ any time she likes! Well done to the team!
Mrs Mallard, Manorfield Close.

Sunday, 6 December 2015

Christmas lights are switched on, clothes stay on and is Charlie off? An intriguing week in Ambridge

 Santa kicks off Ambridge seasonal fun

Ambridge celebrated the start of the festive season in style this week, with the grand re-opening of The Bull and the traditional ‘Ambridge wave’ of Christmas lights around the village green.
Borchester Silver Band welcomed hundreds of villagers to the event, with Santa’s sleigh and real reindeer making a surprise appearance, courtesy of Kenton Archer, landlord of The Bull.
‘My brother David’s not the only one who knows livestock,’ he said. ‘It’s a shame he didn’t go to New Zealand with Ruth, but you can’t have everything. It’s going to be a fab Christmas for me and Jolene, and 2016 will be the best year ever!’
‘I may have broken my arm, but there are some things I can still do, and patronising my brother Kenton is one of them,’ said Mr Archer. ‘I was determined to remind him how I’d bailed him out, by pretending to tell him how well he’d done with the refurbishment.’
Rob Titchener delighted the crowd with his impromptu performance of ‘For unto us a son is given’ from Handel’s Messiah. ‘Our private scan this week showed I am having a baby boy of my very own, so it seemed appropriate,’ he said. ‘My wife Helen is also involved, up to a point. Isn’t it wonderful?’
The younger generation was also in high spirits. At one point a scuffle broke out under the mistletoe as Toby Fairbrother vied with Matthew Holman, the newly-arrived contract milker at Brookfield, for the attentions of Pip Archer.
‘Matthew was telling me how good I am at keeping cows calm, when Toby butted in.’ said Miss Archer. ‘Silly boy! There’s no way he could compete with a chat-up line like that.’

Blushing beauties in Calendar Girls cover-up

The Ambridge Christmas production of Calendar Girls is set to be the first ever to be performed fully clothed, after bashful cast members staged a mutiny at this week’s rehearsal.
‘Nobody told us the stage crew were mainly men!’ said Susan Carter. ‘My son Christopher is behind the scenes and there’s no way he’s seeing my ‘cheeky chilli cheeks’ as Neil calls them. We’d both be mortified. It’s a body stocking or bathrobe for me!’
Lilian Bellamy said she was horrified by the skimpy nature of the stage props. ‘Those cakes were nowhere near big enough, and putting them on a cake stand was frankly an insult to my assets,’ she said. ‘It wasn’t just my business brain my Tiger was attracted to, if you know what I mean, darling….’
Director Lynda Snell said she was confident she would be able to talk her reluctant cast members round. ‘What the ladies don’t yet understand is there’s a world of difference between ‘naked’ and ‘nude’,’ she said. ‘And frankly, I’m more worried about their atrocious northern accents. I brought young Johnny Phillips in as voice coach, but he took one look at the calendar photos and fainted.’    

On the AmMums message boards:

What’s got Ambridge’s mums buzzing online this week? Here’s our pick of the forum:

• Does anyone on here know where to source an alternative, non confectionery-based Advent calendar for my grandson Mungo? I was going to knit my own, with appliquéd Christmas trees, but Calendar Girls is keeping me so busy. I’m sure Cameron Mackintosh doesn’t have this trouble. LeadingLadyLynda

What’s wrong with a chocolate Advent calendar? We always had one each when the kids were little, and if someone wasn’t sick before breakfast it didn’t feel like Christmas to us! SeasonalSusan

Can’t help you, Leading Lady Lynda! We stock chocolate ones in our new shop – organic only, of course. At least I think we do. To be honest, I’m so muddleheaded these days. I lost the cheque book this week, but when my husband came home he found it straightaway in the bureau, where I’d already looked! Isn’t that strange? He says it’s these pregnancy hormones… Anyway, must go, Rob says it’s time for my nap… SillyCrybabyMummy.

• I’m still worried about my granddaughter. She’s working so hard for her Oxford interview (did I mention she’s very bright?) that she won’t even take time off for her uncle's wedding next month! And when she’s not studying she has her nose in the Daily Telegraph. Her views on immigration are refreshingly robust for one so young. Should I be concerned? Jenny Humblebrag

• Oh, chill, mum! No child of mine could ever be a Ukipper like Dad! Anyway, why can’t you be happy for me for once, now that my yurts have got planning permission? Not that Dad helped, telling the committee I need a brain transplant and advising them to turn it down! Still, they saw sense. I’m so excited, my chakras are tingling! KarmaKate

Situation vacant

Berrow Farm, one of Borsetshire’s largest dairy units, is looking for a new manager, as Charlie Thomas has been ‘redeployed’ to a super new job on a Damara Capital estate in Perthshire. Our visionary chairman, Justin Elliott, was so keen to advance his career that he even packed his suitcase and bought his train ticket! So now we’re hoping to recruit a manager with exceptional skills, able to optimise the business matrix, liaise with key stakeholders and engage the local community. If your name is Rob Titchener, please have a word with Justin at the next Home Farm shoot.    

An Ode to Freda’s rose

Thank you to Bert Fry, temporarily living at Brookfield, for sharing this moving ode in tribute to his late wife Freda.

Our home had roses round the door,
But now my Freda is no more,
And the bungalow doesn’t look too clever,
That flood it changed our lives forever.

But today it was the day we chose
To plant Freda’s memorial rose,
‘Tis in the garden of The Bull,
So all can enjoy it to the full.

My old friend and rival Joe,
Helped measure out the hole just so,
Though he’s got troubles of his own,
Having to leave his Ambridge home,

And move into a hostel, so they say,
He was there to support me on the day.
He swore apart from his Susan, on his life,
No man could have a finer wife.

And so we planted the Borsetshire Belle,
A dusky pink, with a lovely smell,
Just like my Freda, she always smelt nice,
Especially when she’d been baking pies.

So the village has come back to life,
the same is not true of my dear wife.
But although I miss her in every way,
I’ll be able to wear her rose one day.

Sunday, 29 November 2015

Rob takes liberties, Ruth takes off and Roy takes some persuading: an action-packed week in Ambridge

Ambridge hero breaks world horn-blowing record

Huntsmen across the UK said they were ‘in awe’ of Ambridge resident Rob Titchener after he managed to blow his own horn for an entire week. ‘It wasn’t just that Rob won the horn-blowing competition at the Hunt Ball, and bagged the most birds at the Home Farm shoot,’ said one.
‘He also managed to take all the credit for the Bridge Farm shop, while appearing to heap praise on his wife Helen. He got the Borchester Echo to run a feature on his journey from Berrow Farm to family businessman, and pretended the journalist harassed him into it. (that rag will print anything. Ed). He booked a surprise private scan for Helen, which made his mother-in-law go all gooey but is really to check they’re having a son.
‘He claimed to have been offered the job at Greenbury Farm Services but turned it down to take care of Helen, when we’re pretty sure he never even went for the interview.
‘And you had to take your hat off to him at the Hunt Ball. He managed to get Jennifer tipsy and spill the beans about Adam’s fling with the fruit-picker, and sowed doubt in Justin Elliott’s mind about Charlie Thomas’s competence while bigging up his own performance.
‘Anyone who wants to try horn-blowing should take lessons from Rob. He’s a master.’

Calendar Girls director pulls off daring casting coup  

Local impresario Lynda Snell promised ‘art reflecting life, reflecting art’ with her production of Calendar Girls, and she’s certainly achieved that with the controversial casting of Roy Tucker as John, the husband of leading lady Annie, played by Elizabeth Pargetter.
‘Just in case anyone didn’t know that Roy and Elizabeth had a real-life affair last year, they certainly will now!’ said Mrs Snell. ‘The chemistry between these two just fizzes. Who cares what people think? Art gives us the licence to rise above such petty concerns!’
‘Roy and I are grown-up enough to ignore any silly sniggering,’ said Mrs Pargetter. ‘Anyway, it’s a very small part, perfect for Roy – and I should know.’
‘Elizabeth certainly has nothing to be nervous about in the nude scene, if you know what I mean!’ said Mr Tucker. ‘And my character dies in Scene 3. Though my daughter Phoebe will probably kill me before then. Mortified. She’s got an interview at Oxford, did you know?’
• Mrs Snell and Jennifer Aldridge said this week they will not press charges for voyeurism after venture capitalist Justin Elliott gatecrashed a rehearsal for their nude photo shoot. ‘I only went into the barn to congratulate Mrs Aldridge on her sumptuous venison stew,’ said Mr Elliott. ‘As soon as I realised what was happening – after about half an hour or so – I revealed myself to the ladies and we all had a good laugh.’ (Can you check Justin’s PR is OK with this? Ed).

Social services in desperate housing crisis plea

Borsetshire’s social housing team said this week they were struggling to cope with a sudden peak in demand from families with special needs.
‘Obviously, we can’t name individual service users,’ said a spokesperson. ‘But our emergency housing team is being tested to the limit. One family, about to be thrown out of their temporary hotel accommodation, requires a care facility for a 94-year-old man with a bad back and farmer’s lung.
‘Our assessment also shows the family needs space for ferrets and a pony, and somewhere to slaughter and prepare several dozen turkeys.
‘We hate the thought of splitting a family up just before Christmas, but there may be no alternative. The old gentleman is putting a brave face on it, but honestly, this job breaks your heart sometimes.
‘We’d ask any readers of The Ambridge Observer who could offer this family somewhere to stay to contact us. For example, if you are a wealthy couple who are spending the winter in Italy, and need long-term house sitters for your sprawling farmhouse because you have recently been burgled, we’d love to hear from you.’
 • Over to you, readers! Can you think of anyone who might fit the bill? Ed.

Special festive quiz

Christmas can be a tricky time of year, when the heady mix of parties, family and mulled cider often brings simmering tensions to the boil. So why not try our quick quiz to test your emotional intelligence, and pick up some tips for sailing serenely through the festive season?

1.Your wife seems unhappy and has booked herself on a solo trip to New Zealand. Do you:
a) book yourself a ticket and tell her she can’t go without you?
b) make her feel as loved and needed as you can before she goes?
c) confront her with your daughter and accuse her of making some kind of statement?

2.  Your wife complains she is left out of decisions on the farm. When two of your cows fall sick, do you:
a) cancel her trip because you need her expertise?
b) promise to send her health updates on the herd every day?
c) treat the cows with your daughter and agree not to tell your wife?

3. You are concerned that you and your wife are drifting apart. Do you:
a) remind her that she would be nothing without you?
b) have a heart-to-heart and agree to work harder on your relationship?
c) confide in your mum, who tells you not to worry?

How did you answer?

Mostly A:
You love your wife but are perhaps a little too controlling. Have you been taking advice from Rob Titchener?
Mostly B:
You seem caring and considerate. Are you sure you belong in Ambridge?
Mostly C:
You have the emotional intelligence of an ironing board. Are you David Archer?

Café offers seductive selection

Fallon Rogers and Emma Grundy this week unveiled the menu at The Ambridge Tea Room at Bridge Farm, which will be opening soon. ‘My partner Harrison has been a great inspiration,’ said Ms Rogers. ‘Although it’s completely untrue that we ‘christened’ the café like we did our new home at Woodbine Cottage. Rob just happened to see me trip over one of Tony Archer’s new tables, and Harrison fell on top of me, that’s all.’
The tearoom’s Naughty Winter Treats menu features:
• Cheeky Chelsea buns
• Kissmas cake
• Fondant fancies-you
• Rumpy-pumpy babas
• Hot, hot , hot chocolate with whipped cream
• Egg snog
(That’s enough winter treats. Feeling a bit queasy. Ed).

Sunday, 22 November 2015

Ruth-less Brookfield, car-less Helen and bra-less photo shoots: an eye-opening week in Ambridge

It’s Archer vs Archer in bitter industrial dispute

Ambridge was reeling with shock this week as one of its leading farmers announced plans to sue her own family for constructive dismissal.
Mrs Ruth Archer of Brookfield claims she has been ‘forced out’ of her role on the farm by husband David, daughter Pip and mother-in-law Jill, since she had to take time off to care for her mother.
‘It started with little things, like not telling me they were spending me mam’s inheritance on cows, and making jokes about getting scurvy from my cooking,’ said Mrs Archer. ‘Then it was Jill and Pip drinking champagne without us, and Jill rearranging the cereal packets. And the mug tree. And inviting Carol to Christmas lunch. And David was patronising to me about the calves.
‘But the last straw was about my special role on the farm. As the only Geordie in Ambridge, it’s my job to say ‘way aye man’ to the cows every day. I’ve had refresher courses up North and everything.
‘Then I found out David had replaced me with a ‘way aye man’ from an agency and was paying £30 a cow! It was completely humiliating.’
Mrs Archer’s solicitor, Usha Franks, said she would be seeking ‘exemplary compensation’ in view of her client’s distress. ‘Mrs Archer is going to New Zealand with the Felpersham Dairy Discussion Group, and will pursue her case on her return, unless she meets a widower with nice eyes and a family-run beef unit outside Auckland, and decides to stay,’ she said.

Ambridge ladies vote for all to bare 

In a daring ultra vires move in his role as chair of the Parish Council, Neil Carter forced a vote among the cast of Calendar Girls requiring actor-director Lynda Snell to join them in a nude photo shoot.
‘We’re all in this together, ‘said Mr Carter. ‘Well, not me obviously – although I must say there’s been a bit more chilli on the menu at home lately. Acting makes Susan quite frisky! But all the ladies agreed with me that Lynda should take part, especially as her own husband is taking the photos.’
Mrs Snell said she was ‘happy’ to appear in the calendar, which will be shot at various Ambridge locations this week. ‘It’s all about the bonding process with one’s actors,’ she said. ‘Robert is looking forward to it too; he’s been polishing his massive new lens all week. I just hope he’s more successful than the ‘Life study’ photography club he used to go to in Borchester, where the pictures were never good enough to show me, for some reason.’
Meanwhile, Ambridge’s bakers are being called upon to cook up giant cakes and pastries for the production’s props department. ‘We need big buns, monster muffins and colossal cream horns to preserve our ladies’ modesty,’ said Mrs Snell.

Braking-distance boffin shines in test

A local 17-year-old who hopes to go to Oxford University has scored the highest ever marks in the driving theory test. ‘We were surprised when the candidate ignored our multiple choice questions and wrote essays,’ said Melvyn Crossley of the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency. ‘But to be honest it was quite refreshing. I’d never thought about the impact of the Chinese rare minerals industry on roundabout etiquette before.’
The high-IQ highways boffin was revealed as Phoebe Aldridge of Home Farm, who said she was too busy revising to comment.

The Bull is ready to charge this Christmas

After weeks of renovations the new-look Bull will officially re-open on December 4, to coincide with the grand Ambridge Christmas lights switch-on. And in a novel twist, customers will be cooking their own festive meals as hosts Kenton and Jolene Archer haven’t yet recruited a chef. ‘We were too busy sorting out where Freda’s memorial rose will go in the garden,’ said Mr Archer. ‘But customers understand and are rallying round.
‘For instance, Ian will be cooking the wedding breakfast when he and Adam celebrate here on December 14. Adam was lovely about it. "It will be great food, and gives me time to have a bash at ‘It should have been me’ with Charlie Thomas on the karaoke", he told me.’
Other festive events planned for The Bull include:

• Christmas quiz
• Christmas disco
• Christmas party
• Christmas carol-oke (one for the churchgoers!)
• Christmas stockings night (one for the gentlemen!)
• Christmas tree festival (one for the tree surgeons!)  
• Christmas Carol Tregorran
(That’s enough Christmas events. Ed).

Local family relives violent farm tragedy

Pat Archer of Bridge Farm has described how she feared a repeat of the horrific accident to her husband Tony that happened a year ago this week.
‘It was bad enough when Tony took on Otto, our new and temperamental bull, which nearly killed him,’ she said. ‘But when I saw him arguing with Rob Titchener about café tables my heart was in my mouth. I was so worried Rob would be upset! He hates having his retail design skills challenged. And when Rob said Tony’s rustic tables sent out a message of ‘organic mumbo-jumbo’ I cheered!’
‘But luckily, they both backed off, the tables look lovely, and we were able to focus on looking after Helen. She had a car accident, poor love, and Rob and I agreed she shouldn’t be driving at all. Not since pregnancy removed her brain. Rob always knows the right thing to do.’ (Subs: can you check these quotes are right? Doesn’t sound like the real Pat Archer at all Ed.)

Fairbrothers plan a perfect match

Young guns Toby and Rex Fairbrother claim they will ‘shake up dull old Ambridge farming’ with a novel sports and business promotion event.
‘It’s, like, a no brainer,’ says Toby. ‘We’ve got geese, and now Pip’s swung it for us to have some cows with Adam as well. So, with all my contacts, what better than to put on a rugby match – geese versus cows? We’re calling it ‘Feathers will Fly.’ It’ll be hilarious! Of course, the geese are likely to come off worst, but that’ll save us some processing costs – and spectators can take their own Christmas roast home with them!’

Old timer finds a new home for Christmas

Villagers were thrilled and relieved this week to learn that an old, homeless resident will soon be making a fresh start. ‘Yes, I can confirm that my old kitchen units will be used in the refurbished village hall,’ said Jennifer Aldridge. ‘To be honest, I still think they are a bit too good for charity. I bet Susan Carter will kick herself for not taking them, every time she's on WI tea duty. But that’s her problem.’