Sunday, 29 March 2015

Paternity, a public meeting and a poem for Freda: a lively week in Ambridge

Shock revelation at crisis meeting

St Stephen’s Church was shocked to the rafters on Wednesday as David Archer of Brookfield told a packed meeting: ‘I am a farmer’. Angry residents had to be restrained as Mr Archer spent several minutes explaining that he and his wife, Ruth, made their living from farming and had done so for some years now. ‘I didn’t choose it; it’s who I am,’ he insisted as villagers demanded to know what this had to do with preventing another flood.
Adam Macy of Home Farm entertained the meeting with a slideshow of his time farming in Africa. ‘I really think you know… yes, it would be awfully nice if we looked after the land,’ he said, to wild applause.
Lynda Snell, who lost her home in the flood, praised the emergency services but warned against the building of a second anaerobic digester at Berrow Farm. However, Rob Titchener told Mrs Snell in no uncertain terms not to bring up digestion, as Helen had put too much onion in his salmon pasta bake again.
Councillors Morgan and Sykes, who were guests at the meeting, said they were delighted that Ambridge was now firmly in favour of a new road following route B, as eloquently expressed by Susan Carter.
‘I’m sorry, I’m too busy to comment,’ said Rev Alan Franks, who chaired the meeting. ‘Could you give me a hand with all these packets of soup mix?’

A hellish week for Helen

Poor Helen Archer. Her week hit a low point when Rob couldn’t finish the pasta salmon bake she’d made, even though he usually wolfs it down. Then the curds that make Borsetshire Blue cheese turned sour in their moulds as she found out that Kirsty had been to visit Pat. ‘I’d love to have seen her,’ she wailed, forgetting that Kirsty hates her even more than Tom for failing to warn her about his pre-wedding nerves. Helen recovered gamely, trying to blame Kirsty’s departure for the downfall of Ambridge Organics, but much, much worse was in store.
On the drive to pick up Rob’s car from the garage, he confessed that he had a ‘payroll problem’: the CMS is about to start docking his wages to support baby Ethan. ‘There’s only one way to stop Jess destroying everything we’ve built up together,’ Rob said.
Helen was about to hand him the pearl-handled revolver she keeps in her handbag, but Rob had other ideas.
‘I’m going to prove I’m not the boy’s father. I’m going to take a paternity test,’ he said, his manly knuckles turning white on the steering wheel.
Easter may be a time of miracles, but it remains to be seen how Rob will manage this feat of escapology….

Pop up for a pint at The Bull

Fuelled by bitterness towards his treacherous brother Dave, Kenton was determined to get The Bull back on its feet this week and began furiously shoving pansies into hanging baskets. Jolene, who knows about facelifts, said it was throwing good money after bad, but Fallon was much more optimistic. Her idea is for a Heads-Up Hen Easter egg trail, which leads across the Green to a marquee housing a pop-up Bull (not to be named ‘Otto’). She even plans to replace Freda Fry’s Simnel Surprise Stew with a lamb tagine from the caterers.
‘You’ve had a big glass of pick-me-up juice!’ said an approving Kenton, who needed something stronger himself, after a majestically hungover Lilian knocked back his embarrassing request for cash. But a rejection from the bank couldn’t dampen Fallon’s spirits; her vision for the Ambridge Tea Service is as bright as ever, and even prompted PC Burns to get out his chequebook. Go Fallon!

A good week for the Grundys

Even though they are all homeless, things could be worse for the Grundy family. Joe is living the life of Riley at Grey Gables, earning himself a reputation as the Vivienne Westwood of Ambridge with a range of bizarre outfits from Sabrina Thwaite’s charity box. Eddie is pretending to care about Scruff and Mediterranean gulls, in a bid to persuade Robert Snell to let him loose on the ruined conservatory at Ambridge Hall. Ed is now known as the Dirty Digger, working all hours to hide the evidence of neglected ditches. He even managed not to spill the beans about his secret mission to an inquisitive Jim, and was rewarded with a surprise pint in the Flood Bar, paid for by a thoughtful Kirsty. However, he may regret telling all to Emma, who caught him off guard with a Victoria sponge. Will Emma prattle to her mother Susan about the estate’s dereliction of duty? Probably….
Only Clarrie (or ‘the Grundy woman’ as Hazel Woolley refers to her) has little to smile about. Her pantomime villain of a landlady seems more interested in joining the estate’s shoot than in speeding up repairs to Keeper’s Cottage, which is fit for habitation only by Joe’s ferrets.

Situation (not really) wanted

Look guys, my dad made me place this ad, OK? So here’s the deal; I’m willing to work for a few hours a week, as long as I can still get to my bikram yoga classes and lectures (except the ones by that sad creep with the combover). I can’t do manual work because it upsets my chakras, I’m allergic to hostile auras and need regular breaks for meditation. So as long as your place is vegan-friendly and has been fully feng shui-ed, I’m your girl! Reply to Kool Kate, PO Box 666.

A fond farewell to Freda

Mourners at the funeral of much-loved Ambridge resident Freda Fry on Monday were moved to tears as her husband Bert read a poem he’d composed specially for the occasion.  ‘It was so powerful; it was obvious he meant every word,’ said old friend Mrs Carol Tregorran. The Observer can think of no finer tribute to Freda than to reproduce it here, with kind permission from Trevor and the family.

A rose always in bloom

They say that you will never see
a poem lovely as a tree,
but there was never oak nor cedar
lovelier than my dear Freda.

She was my rose always in bloom,
who brought the light to any room;
she could read me like a book
and tell me off with just one look.

I never thought my blushing bride
would be famed for her cooking, far and wide;
Her pastry was light, her pies were savoury;
She loved her job, never thought it was slavery. 

From the first time I saw her face
there was no one could take her place.
We went on honeymoon to Llandudno;
she told me not to take her picture, but I did though.

We were so happy in our bungalow;
she loved mock orange, lavender and mallow,
but if I was too handy with the shears
I had to watch out; she’d box my ears.

We spent sixty wonderful years together
until that flood separated us forever.
And whatever time now is left to me
I’ll spend alone, with no company.

So, my dear Freda, rest in peace,
as I am praying on my knees
that we will meet in Paradise
and everything will be really nice.

Sunday, 22 March 2015

Crisis at Ambridge Observer office: villagers rally round

Down but not out...

The Ambridge Observer office has been struck by an outbreak of norovirus this weekend, so unfortunately we aren't able to publish a full edition.

Many thanks to readers and residents for their good wishes, especially Justin Elliott for the Fortnum's hamper, Pat Archer for the soup, and Joe Grundy for back issues of Ferrets Magazine.

See you next time folks! Ed.

Sunday, 15 March 2015

Revolution, public relations and a sad loss: a sobering week in Ambridge

The flood claims its first casualty

Ambridge residents have been deeply saddened by the loss of Freda Fry, who passed away in Borchester General this week. Freda was admitted to hospital with pneumonia, which she contracted on a foolhardy mission to drive through the floodwaters to join her soulmate Bert. ‘They said she was getting better; we’d got the room at Brookfield all ready, with Ben’s superhero posters and her recipe books all dried out for her.’ said Bert. ‘Now she won’t be coming back at all.’
Freda Fry’s quiet, self-effacing character was in contrast to Bert’s more voluble nature. ‘You could say Bert did the talking for both of them,’ said a regular at The Bull, where Freda’s cooking was legendary. ‘She was this invisible presence, but as long as the pies kept coming out of the kitchen, you knew all was right with the world. She will be sadly missed.’ See next week’s issue for details of the funeral arrangements.

Anger rises as the flood waters subside

Now that the full extent of the Ambridge flood is becoming clear, the mood in the village is changing from one of relief to fury at those they hold responsible for the disaster.
The Ambridge Observer can exclusively reveal that a number of prominent local residents are to form an action group, provisionally called Ambridge Residents Say: Enough! Hands Off Local Environment (are you sure? Ed)
Founder members include:
• David and Ruth Archer, who were leaving Ambridge five minutes ago, but are now its most passionate defenders. ‘When something like this happens, it brings people together,’ David told the local TV news. ‘Now it’s time to act.’
• Adam Macy, who is concerned that modern farming methods are causing soil erosion on a sub-Saharan scale. He also blames Borchester Land’s neglect of ditches and culverts for the flooding. The fact that Charlie Thomas is playing hard to get after Adam saved his life is not relevant at all here.
• Pat Archer, who blames local councillors who built flood defences to protect executive housing in Borchester, placing Ambridge at risk. ‘The little people, like you, Clarrie, are left to fend for yourselves,’ she fumed.  
• Jim Lloyd, who compares the way the villagers rallied round after the flood with the Paris Commune of 1792. Until they began massacring the priests. Although if it was up to him…

 Village businesses bounce back

Although both the village shop and The Bull were flooded out, both are set to rise again like a phoenix from the waves (mixed metaphor. Ed) thanks to the enterprising women of Ambridge. With the ground floor out of action, Fallon has opened the Flood Bar in the upstairs function room, complete with utility chic décor of hard chairs, bench tables and bottled beer. Bert didn’t see how they could serve food without his Freda, but Fallon channelled her inner Ruth Archer and is dishing out sandwiches, salads and microwaved pizza like there’s no tomorrow. The Archers were among the first customers, as the food is noticeably better than Ruth’s standard fare. ‘That looks lovely,’ said Jill of a veal and ham pie, before deciding to play it safe with crisps.
To Susan’s despair, the entire stock of the village shop has been condemned, apart from a few tins of peaches that will doubtless feature in the sherry trifles at Ed and Emma’s wedding. But you can’t keep a Carter down for long, and soon  
Pat had rallied round too, suggesting that they relocate the shop to Bridge Farm. Susan, however, was distracted by Helen’s news about Rob’s injury; it seems he may be left with a permanent reminder of his heroic lifeboat rescue. ‘Ooh, they say some women find a scar quite sexy, don’t they?’ she said. ‘That reminds me, Pat, I must get home and put the chilli on.’

 Justin Elliott: a local hero

The Ambridge Observer would like to thank Ambridge’s very own Justin Elliott, visionary entrepreneur and statesman, for his most generous support for the community in its hour of need. We can only echo Susan Carter, doyen of the village shop, who says: ‘He’s not just all talk; he’s put in £10,000 out of his own pocket to help. Who cares where the money comes from if he does some good with it? My old dad could do with a new telly for a start.’
The Observer is proud to support Mr Elliott’s Amvale Relief Fund and all the sterling work Borchester Land is doing to invest in our local infrastructure and economy. Honoured to have you in Ambridge sir!
 (NB subs: I’ve thanked Justin for the new coffee machine and FA Cup semi-final tickets. Run this past Damara Capital’s PR guy to check he’s happy. Ed.)

Mother’s Day appeal

Not every mum is lucky enough to spend Mothering Sunday with her loved ones. Here are just some of the heartbreaking cases our appeal aims to help this year:
• ‘Heather’ is elderly, frail and lives alone hundreds of miles from her family. Recently her only hope of seeing her grandchildren grow up was dashed when they changed their mind about moving home. Now she is forced to contemplate living out her days in sheltered housing with her bossy friend Marjorie.
• ‘Lilian’ was devastated when her partner left her penniless and has seen nothing of her son and his family since. She is reduced to searching derelict pubs for forgotten bottles of gin.
• ‘Clarrie’ is left without a stick of furniture after her hapless husband forgot to pay his insurance premiums
• ‘Kate’ is a single mum who was forcibly separated from her two children in South Africa and is now struggling to forge a bond with her stroppy and ungrateful teenage daughter. She spends her days going to yoga classes and wondering why everyone is so horrid to her.
• ‘Lynda’, who has no children of her own, is bereft after her beloved dog Scruff disappeared in the floods. Although she is grateful that her llamas survived, she will not rest until Scruff is back in his basket in the shed.   
Could you reach out to a lonely mum like these ladies and so many more like them? A friendly smile, cup of tea and slice of Dundee cake could make all the difference!

Recipe of the week

Thanks to Kate Aldridge of Home Farm, who plans to make this unusual and tasty dish for her family on Mother’s Day.

Vegan hummus and halloumi wraps

1.     Ask your mum to buy organic hummus and wholemeal tortilla wraps next time she’s in Underwoods.
2.     Make vegan halloumi by mixing organic tofu with onion powder, paprika  powder, turmeric, Celtic sea salt, nutritional yeast and grapeseed oil.
3.     Alternatively, if you can’t be bothered, buy non-vegan halloumi and pretend.
4.     Put it all on the table and get everyone to make their own wraps.
5.     If your teenage daughter would rather go to her stepmum’s than spend Mother’s Day with you, flounce off to your cottage with a bottle of your dad’s Barolo.

Sunday, 8 March 2015

Hell and high water: an apocalyptic week in Ambridge

Heroes of the flood, we salute you

The residents of Ambridge are still reeling as they realise the full extent of the devastation that the Great Flood of 2015 wrought in the village. They cannot even bury their dead, as corpses lie piled up at Home Farm (Steady on. These are sheep. Ed). It will surely be many months before the villagers of Ambridge come to terms with the loss of their homes, livelihoods, hopes, dreams and future happiness (Get on with it. You’re not Fergal Keane. Ed).
With a shocking lack of support from the emergency services (see Letters, page 94) it was up to the villagers to do what they could to save their homes and, indeed, their own lives. Tales of astonishing bravery have reached the Ambridge Observer offices. Here we salute just some of the courageous men and women who pushed the boat out (in some cases, literally) for their community.

• David Archer
As flood warden, David had to leave Pip alone at Brookfield and take his tractor and trailer to ferry stranded residents to Grey Gables. Having lost contact with Jill and Pip, he could manage only a few ham sandwiches before sobbing to Lizzie that he’d let everyone down. But after a sleepless night, he was off on the tractor at dawn, to find Jill and be joyfully reunited with Pip, who had got on perfectly well without him.

• Adam Macy/Charlie Thomas
Adam was on his way to check on Home Farm sheep when he met Charlie, who was struggling with a blocked culvert. When Adam’s trusty digger couldn’t shift it, Charlie jumped in and got his foot trapped. Adam dragged him out, enthusiastically gave him the kiss of life and took him off to Home Farm for the night. ‘Of course I’m here, where else would I be?’ he cooed in a way that might make Ian feel he’s lost more than just his home…. Sadly, Adam forgot to check the sheep, so that at least 20 ewes and eight lambs drowned…

• Pip Archer
Pip rolled her sleeves up
to save the parlour
Pip combined brains and brawn to come up with the idea of uninstalling the milk pump to save the Brookfield parlour, and when her assistant Tom retired hurt, she undid three of the four bolts herself, as well as looking after a bewildered Bert Fry. When David turned up next morning, she was calmly milking the herd. Go Pip!

• PC Harrison ‘Ford’ Burns
Harrison’s first noble act was to call time on karaoke at The Bull, thereby saving the village from Jazzer McCreary’s Bohemian Rhapsody. He then took charge of the search and rescue operation and even had a twinkle in his eye for Fallon, who impressed him with her toddler-wrangling skills at Grey Gables.

• Rob Titchener
Rob was about to slope off with Helen and Henry when pressed into service by PC Burns. A natural loner, this Cockleshell Hero rescued Shula, Alistair and the octogenarian Aunty Chris from the Stables’ hayloft in a boat, only to sustain a serious but not life-threatening injury when he was hit on the head by a rowlock.

• Rev Alan Franks
Alan battled the waters to stop Freda Fry trying to drive back to her bungalow, rescuing her from the car just before it rolled into the river. Alan also hosted Jill, Carol Tregorran, a hysterical Hilary Noakes and Sabrina and Richard Thwaite in the church overnight, which required the forbearance of a saint.

• Eddie Grundy
When the Brookfield milking parlour sprang a leak, Eddie was down in the main drain like a water rat, trying to block it and prevent it filling the pit. He then went out in a boat with Ed, saving Lucky the turkey and nearly saving Charlie Thomas, although he thought Adam’s frantic cries were just wind. Too many sprouts again, Eddie?   

• Clarrie Grundy
Although she had lost her own home, Clarrie coaxed Lynda Snell out of Ambridge Hall, persuading her to leave her Coalport dolls, Easter cactus and favourite coffee table and reassuring her that Scruff the dog would soon be found. She even had the presence of mind to save Joe Grundy’s ferrets.

Après Ruth, le déluge….

Ruth left Ambridge in a huff on Saturday afternoon, taking Ben to see his granny Heather. ‘My mother is not something to be dealt with… I’m putting her first for once,’ she hissed at David, not even stopping to listen to Pip, who was trying to tell them that the parlour was flooding. After that, all contact was lost between Prudhoe and Borsetshire, so it was left to David and Pip to survey the lake that is now Ambridge and contemplate the future. ‘Even so, it’s rather beautiful from up here, isn’t it Dad?’ said Pip. ‘Of course it is. It’s our home, and it always will be,’ said David. So if Ruth returns thinking the flood might have changed her husband’s mind again, she can no longer count on Pip as an ally. Bad luck, Ruth!  

Local hotel in environmental health scandal

Grey Gables Hotel was subject to an emergency environmental health inspection this week after a guest reported that vermin had overrun the premises. ‘My wife and I had just arrived in Borchestershire and were enjoying a relaxing weekend,’ said Wilbur M. Cornstalk, 63, of West Virginia, USA. ‘We were digesting Chef Craig’s delicious ’50 Tastes of Grey Gables’ menu in the bar, when there was a commotion outside. We thought maybe it was some quaint local entertainment, like your Doris Dancing, which was fine by us. Next thing you know, the whole place was like a refugee camp on account of some flood. Now, back home folks help each other out, but this was crazy: there was cats, dogs, kids running all over. One old guy had a pocket full of rats that he let run round the lounge. He was even feeding them chicken sandwiches. Jeez; that’s the kind of trailer trash behaviour we came to get away from. And it got worse when we went up to our room; the guy from reception was in there talking about some divorce to a half-naked woman who was wearing Wilma’s housecoat! We were out of there as soon as they could send a cab and we ain’t never coming back!’

Poetry corner

Thank you very much to Bert Fry, who despite being left homeless and very confused by his ordeal in the floods, took time to send us this moving poem, which the Ambridge Observer is sure speaks for many in the community.

Ode to the Ambridge flood

The floods of Ambridge were very bad
and now we all feel tired and sad,
so many folk have lost their homes,
even Eddie’s garden gnomes,
and my broad beans are a goner
thanks to Mr Sean O’Connor (who he? Ed)

My Freda went off to the church,
she thought I’d left her in the lurch,
she left my dinner to keep hot,
and I forgot to turn it off,
it must have burnt up to a cinder
before the flood came through the winder
and took away our bungalow,
it was a night of tears and woe.

But young Pip Archer saved the day
she took me in and let me stay.
My Freda was always in my heart;
we’d never spent a night apart
but she was spared, thank the Almighty
even though she didn’t have her nightie.

So now the waters have gone down
Freda’s in hospital in the town,
the villagers will pull together,
we always do, whatever the weather,
because no matter how much we are afrighted
the people of Ambridge will stay united.

Sunday, 1 March 2015

Betrayal, a birthday and another way for Peggy’s will: a tense week in Ambridge

Can she forgive him?

It rained all week in Ambridge, but the atmosphere at Brookfield was as frosty as one of Ruth’s ‘signature’ pizzas as she struggled with David’s life-changing decision to stay. He was quite chirpy, supported by Shula and Lizzie, who took the news remarkably well. ‘Stop apologising, David! The most important thing is I’ve got my big brother and his family back!’ beamed Lizzie, while Shula chewed her lip and did her best to agree.
David was relentlessly upbeat. ‘One day we might look back on this whole upheaval and see it as a great thing. We must start thinking outside the box!’ But for Ruth his use of business-speak, on top of his failure to consult her on the move, was the last straw. ‘I feel the whole bloody Archer clan is lined up against me!’ she wailed on Usha’s shoulder. And then of course there is her mum Heather, marooned in Prudhoe, waiting patiently for the boat to come in. ‘How can I choose between me mum and me family? How can I do that Usha?’
If Ruth decides she cannot forgive David’s betrayal of trust and leaves, it will be a devastating blow for him; good livestock managers are hard to find. But at least Jill, who has been irritating Ruth beyond measure by tiptoeing round her, offering tactful cups of tea, would be back in charge of Brookfield, where she belongs. Although strictly speaking, she isn’t an Archer either. 

Happy birthday Tom Archer!

Good news from Felpersham Hospital, where Tony is now performing on the parallel bars (you sure about that? Ed). He’s due home in a couple of weeks, so the Bridge Farm clan were in high spirits, celebrating Tom’s birthday. Jazzer especially welcomed a pint or two, as he’d spent the day with Johnny, moving pig arcs in full Highland dress. Neil was also on good form, as his partnership with the sage, considerate business leader that is Tom Archer goes from strength to strength. ‘Your dad will be proud of you when he hears your plans, Tom. You’ve kept your vision,’ he said as the young genius agreed to another of his ideas. With chilli now a permanent fixture on the menu at home, Neil splashed out on dinner at Botticelli’s for his and Susan’s anniversary. Congratulations to the Carters!

Will they drop the shop?

The future of Ambridge Organics, one of Borchester’s most popular retail outlets (not lately. Ed) was in doubt this week as Tom, Helen and Pat held a summit meeting. Pat was in waspish mood, having drenched her trousers in a puddle (or at least, that’s what she said).  ‘Do you think you’re the only person who’s ever faced this dilemma?’ she accused Helen, who was bleating about the difficulties of juggling work with one small child and a man who likes his steak Diane on the table promptly at six.
But Tom was an unlikely supporter of Rob’s plan for Helen to close down the shop. ‘Maybe organics isn’t quite as fashionable as it was, maybe it’s online shopping… it might be better to cut our losses and get out now,’ he said, not adding that a useless manager and a counter full of rotting cheese might not have helped much either. It remains to be seen what Tony thinks, but once Tom explains it in his respectful, considerate way, how can he not agree?

No comfort for Phoebe in Tuckers’ war

The mood board for the new look
at Kate's Kool Kottage
The week started badly for poor Phoebe, who was being forced to consider migraine-inducing colour schemes in Kate’s Kool Kottage. It got worse when Hayley came round to break the news that she will be staying in Birmingham, divorcing Roy and retraining as a teacher. ‘Loving someone isn’t the same as wanting to share your life with them,’ she told Phoebe, who went to see Roy to see if this could be true. Luckily, Mike had been round earlier to clear up the pizza boxes and dirty underpants, and had got Roy into the shower, so he looked quite presentable when Phoebe turned up, but his message was the same. ‘No sweetheart, I don’t think there is a way,’ he said, chewing on a stale chapatti and sending Phoebe in floods of tears to Mike. ‘I really thought mum would forgive him, and I want things to be back the way they were,’ she sobbed to her grandfather, who did his best to mop up but could offer no solution. Unlike Kate, who thinks that a fun fur throw and a DVD of Modern Family can cure all ills. 

Legal notices

‘I, Margaret Woolley of Ambridge in the County of Borsetshire, being of relatively sound mind, do hereby revoke my previous Will and Testament, which caused my son Tony to have a midlife crisis and nearly caused his demise. I now bequeath my estate to be divided equally between Tony Archer, Jennifer Aldridge and Lilian Bellamy, with the provisos that Tony does not buy another bull and Lilian does not spend it all on gin. I make no provision for my granddaughter Helen Archer or my great-grandson Henry Archer as their security will be assured by Helen’s marriage to that lovely man, Robert Titchener.’

New series: Money matters

Let our personal finance guru help with your money worries. In this week’s bumper postbag:

Q ‘I used my credit cards to pay for a holiday of a lifetime in Australia with my wife. I was expecting to cover it with a windfall from my brother. We’ve now learnt that we won’t be getting the money after all. What should we do?’
A Contact your creditors and ask for a managed repayment plan. In the meantime, do you have any ways of boosting your income? For example, if you ran a pub, could you start watering the beer? Or if your wife was a singer, could she go out busking? Good luck!

Q ‘My ex-partner has disappeared to Costa Rica and has emptied all my bank accounts. I am down to my last pashmina. What would you advise?’
A In your longer letter you tell me that your sister has taken you in and you have a portfolio of investment properties. Under the circumstances the Citizens Advice Bureau is unlikely to be able to help. I would advise steering clear of internet dating sites in future.

Q ‘My parents are refusing to invest in my career by paying my tuition fees. All they’ve given me is a free cottage with hideous varnished furniture and floral curtains. My father doesn’t even want to pay for a decorator! Please help! (P.S. I am 37).’
A Oh for heaven’s sake, is this the best you can do? (We’ll find you some real problems next time. Sorry. Ed).

Next week: the pros and cons of setting up a chintzy tea room in a run-down area of Darrington, and hedge-cutting: how many miles do you need to do each year to pay the rent on 50 acres?