Sunday, 26 April 2015

Suspicions, seduction and a sad sideboard: a week of intrigue in Ambridge

Rob passes the test – but is this the last of Jess?

After her awkward birthday supper, this week began with another difficult encounter for Helen: Ian confessed he was worried about Adam and Charlie. ‘Tell me I’m wrong Helen; I’m just being paranoid?’ he asked. Which of course she couldn’t, having witnessed the Snog in the Shrubbery on New Year’s Eve. ‘He’s asked you to marry him, of course he loves you,' she said, with fingers crossed.
Then she was mortified when Tom told her about his man-to-man chat with Rob in the pub. ‘You had no right to tell Tom we were trying for a baby!’ she said, furiously mashing potatoes for Rob’s supper. ‘We are. Aren’t we?’ ‘No!’ But instead of tipping his dinner over his head, she soon forgave him. ‘I’ll always be here for you, Rob’ she cooed, and promptly phoned Tom to put off a meeting about relaunching Ambridge Organics at Bridge Farm.
This plan seems to make financial sense and Pat and Tony love the idea as it reminds them of their pioneer hippy days, but Helen’s now less keen.
And when the results of Rob’s DNA test arrived, showing that Rob is NOT the father of Jess’s baby (what? Surely some mistake. Ed) it was celebrations all round. ‘We always knew she was lying; now we have proof!’ said Helen. ‘But we didn’t need proof,’ said Rob, ominously. ‘No, no of course not darling,’ Helen corrected herself hastily. Rob now claims he will push through the divorce so he can plan his wedding to Helen. But will there be more twists on the way to the altar? It remains to be seen…

Adam, Adam, give me your answer, do…

Meanwhile, Charlie is continuing his campaign to lure Adam away from his path to the altar with Ian. He'd invited him to a farm tech open day, where he planned to turn his head with talk of drones and teat-temperature detectors (what they? Ed). So he was slightly miffed when Pip tagged along. ‘Here, Pip, why don’t you apply for this job on the other side of the world?’ he said, handing her a magazine and a road map. (Being more co-operative than Adam, she’s followed his advice to the letter and is off in search of robotic parlours new, much to Ruth and David’s surprise).
‘If it’s the last thing I do, I’ll convince Adam that he needs to be with me… erm, I mean, that technology is the future of farming,’ Charlie mused, munching on an ostrich burger. But Adam is playing hard to get, so Charlie changed tack. He got the beers in and laid on a special video guaranteed to get Adam’s juices flowing – and it worked.
‘Wow, that’s amazing! He’s increased fertile soil depth from 3 to 20 inches in just 15 years!’ Adam marvelled at the farmer from Ohio, who’s grazing cattle like bison. ‘We farmers have to stick together, even if we don’t always see eye to eye!’
Their next date is at the nets, where Charlie has suddenly rediscovered a passion for cricket.
‘You just fancy rubbing shoulders with farriers and farmers,’ Adam teased him. Just the one farmer will do for Charlie, Adam!

When Shula met Richard…

Over Earl Grey for him and a flat white for her, Dr Locke and Shula met for a chat and a catch-up in Felpersham. We soon learned that Richard has split up with his wife Chloe (sympathetic clucks from Shula) and is keen to see Dan, who recovered so well from his juvenile rheumatoid arthritis. ‘You did so much for him, said Shula. ‘It wasn’t entirely selfless,’ twinkled Richard.
When she got back, Shula tried to interest Alistair in a family lunch, but he is far too busy moping about having to rebuild the surgery and being pensioned off from the cricket team. ‘I said I’d find some dates and let Richard … know,’ Shula said to the room Alistair had just left. It looks as though it will be just her and the good doctor again then. Never mind Shula!

Flood committee is in full flow

The survey of the Ambridge flood, being carried out by Jim Lloyd and Jennifer Aldridge of FAG (Flood Action Group) is now being analysed. Preliminary results provide a searing indictment of events:
• there was a flood in which some people were affected quite badly
¶there was damage to the bridge, but it’s been repaired now
• the emergency services were quite helpful, if a bit late
• the authorities deliberately conspired to XXXXXXXXXXXX and leave Ambridge XXXXXXXXXXX ensuring more votes for XXXXXXXXXXXXXXX in Borchester (this section has been redacted as FAG does not want to upset anyone on the District Council. Ed).
A full meeting of the flood committee is to be held as soon as Kenton Archer has stopped sulking. Expect more valuable insights and fearless action from this dynamic group!

TV special: Ambridge does Gogglebox

Ambridge residents were very excited to be asked to take part in a special edition of Channel 4’s Gogglebox, in which families are filmed watching television. (Are you having a laugh? Ed.) Here are the highlights:

• The Snells are watching Countryfile at the Dower House. ‘Look Lindy, there’s a chiff chaff!’ says Robert. ‘Robert! How can you concentrate when that spiky-leafed plant is ruining the feng shui in this room?’ sniffs Lynda.
• At The Stables, Shula is watching Doctors on catch-up. Alistair is at the opposite end of the sofa, snoring.
• Rob is watching the rugby and Helen is snuggled up to him, reading Brides Magazine. When his team scores Rob leaps up and knocks over his chicken sandwich. ‘Helen darling, now look what you’ve made me do!’ he says.
• In the lounge at Grey Gables, the Grundys are watching Grand Designs. ‘Ooh Eddie, will Keeper’s look like that when Hazel’s done it up?’ says Clarrie, who is sewing a button on a pair of bright pink cords. ‘Course it will, Clarrie love!’ says Eddie.
• At Home Farm, the Aldridges are watching Masterchef. Jennifer is taking notes on roasting squab pigeon. ‘Mum, how could you? Meat is murder!’ says Kate, nibbling kale crisps. Brian sighs and slurps claret. Lilian is on her iPad, flicking through Tinder, tears rolling down her frozen cheeks.

Items for sale

Vintage sideboard. Much-loved heirloom, no longer needed as family is downsizing to a park home. Utility style, some wear and tear but skilfully restored by craftsman vendor. £5. Will deliver. Enquiries: E Grundy c/o Grey Gables, Ambridge.  

Sunday, 19 April 2015

A barn dance, Botox and happy birthday, Helen: a packed week in Ambridge

Residents gather to celebrate the Ambridge spirit

There was a delicious buffet, miles of bunting and barn dancing galore at the Brookfield village supper this week, but not everyone was in party mood.
• Alistair had warned Shula he wasn’t up to stripping the willow, but she was still miffed when he preferred to take Aunty Chris home rather than squire her in the Circassian Circle. She made a late-night booty call (invitation to coffee, surely? Ed)) to Dr Richard Locke, and they arranged to meet in the café near Felpersham Cathedral. Probably the very same one where Lilian trysted with the doomed Paul. How soon will history repeat itself?
• Pip was pie-eyed, pining for the move north, and desperate to put all her new-fangled university ideas into practice. ‘That’s my problem. I’m not patient,’ she slurred. Could she be off to inflict a robotic milking parlour on someone else’s farm? As Brookfield is so crowded, it might not be such a bad idea.  
• Jolene put on her game face to call the dancing, but is worried about debts, and had to confess to David that Kenton was at home, sulking with his big screen TV and refusing to soil his hands with Brookfield’s ‘dirty money’.
• This upset David, although he had the crowd welling up with his speech about community spirit. (not another one. Ed). ‘It’s not going to be that easy,’ he mused to Pip. But the man who got his sister to forgive him for killing her husband won’t be beaten!

Rob puts Helen to the test

Helen felt she had good reason to celebrate her birthday this week, as Rob, showing all the enthusiasm of a mule, finally took the DNA test. ‘You know, Jess might have convinced herself that I really am the father,’ he ventured to Helen on the way to Felpersham. ‘But you’ve been separated for a year and a half! She’s a fantasist!’ said Helen. So having submitted to the ‘humiliating charade’, Rob’s next challenge will be to try to prevent Helen finding out what will surely be the truth…
No wonder he was so grumpy when Helen told him, over birthday supper in the Flood Bar, about plans to close Ambridge Organics and re-open it at Bridge Farm.
Customers have been swooning over Helen’s cheeses and Tom’s sausages since the temporary shop opened, so they reckon it makes sense to cut overheads and offer local, artisan produce to discerning customers on-site (get on with it; you’re not Mary Portas. Ed).
‘I don’t understand it!’ raged Rob. ‘I do my best to make life easier for you but you’re determined to make the same mistakes over and over again. You never seem to learn!’
So did Helen slap him in the face with her microwaved Hawaiian pizza for speaking to her like that? No; she apologised. ‘I shouldn’t have sprung it on you; you’re really angry with Jess, not me. I’d feel just the same – but there’s nothing to worry about now, is there?’ she soothed, proving that if there is a fantasist in Rob’s life, it probably isn’t Jess…

Ian wonders why Adam’s droning on…

Poor Ian, who is normally as trusting as the hapless Helen, was left to ponder this week why Adam seems to enjoy playing with Charlie Thomas’s joystick so much. (Rewrite. I warned you about this last week. Ed).
This followed a most instructive lesson in soil management, in which Adam contrasted Brookfield’s rich soil (‘full of worms’ said chef Ian approvingly) with the arid dustbowl that Charlie Thomas is creating at Home Farm. ‘I’m confused; you let him treat you to lunch and give you a free go on his drone, yet today you’re running him down as the bad guy,’ said Ian.
‘These things don’t have to be black and white; people can be complicated; they have different sides to them,’ said Adam airily. ‘Charlie Thomas is one of those people.’
At the barn dance, Charlie turned up with a well-dressed beard (young lady. Ed) but still found time to invite Adam to a high-tech farm open day next week – which Adam failed to mention to Ian.
It was lucky Charlie’s broken ankle stopped him dancing, or partygoers might have been shocked to see him and Adam stripping the willow like there’s no tomorrow.

Lull before the storm for the Grundys?

The senior Grundys unwittingly found themselves in an episode of Homes Under The Hammer this week. They were delighted that their landlady Hazel Woolley was doing up Keeper’s Cottage to the very highest spec.  ‘It’ll be a right little palace, all paid for by Hazel’s insurers!’ crowed Eddie. Sadly they haven’t stopped to wonder why Hazel, who waters her whisky with the tears of little children, would be so generous. Surely she wouldn’t be planning to turf the Grundys out and bring in higher-paying tenants? All together now: oh yes she would!
Fortunately, Ed’s new tractor is so big it could probably accommodate the whole family, although Clarrie’s battered old sideboard, much-loved legacy from her dad, might be a squeeze.
Emma was less than impressed with the cost of the Mean Green Machine, but Ed softened her up with a pasty in the Flood Bar and she was soon wanting to drive it home. ‘Em, I love you to bits and would give you the world if I could, but no,’ said Ed – his most sensible decision for some time.

New series: Beauty with Bellamy

And now something especially for our lady readers: our new columnist, Lilian Bellamy, has graciously agreed to share her top beauty tips with us. Over to you, Lilian!

• My beauty routine starts first thing, darlings, with a glass of brandy. It makes the world go a little bit blurry just before you put your make-up on – perfect.
• I never, ever, expose my face to daylight. Nothing to do with sunburn; I just look so much better in darkened rooms.
• I strictly follow the 5: 2 diet. On two days of the week I have just five gins, and on the other five I drink whatever I like. Works for me!
• Exercise is very important to me. I always walk to the car.
• I love the pool. Lying beside it with a strawberry daiquiri is my favourite spa treatment – and it’s one of your five a day!
• I’m not a believer in expensive anti-ageing creams – not since my son James recommended this marvellous little man in Bayswater. Thanks to his magic syringe, I look 20 years younger. Just ask my brother-in-law Brian. He says if he wasn’t married to Jenny he’d be after me himself! Not bad for a lady in her late 40s! (NB subs, check. Looks 70 if she’s a day. Ed)

Sunday, 12 April 2015

Suppergate, old flames and a rogue ferret: a troubling week in Ambridge

Rob makes a meal of it 

Unusually, it was a week of appalling meals in Ambridge, starting with Kate’s Easter Day lunch of celeriac and lentil bake. Not surprisingly, Brian sneaked off early, pretending he had to see Will but secretly stuffing himself with lamb tagine at the pop-up Bull.
Unfortunately, deception came back to haunt him next day, when Kenton spilled the (non-vegan) beans to Jennifer. ‘You couldn’t expect me to pretend I’d enjoyed it!’ said Brian, which made Jennifer even crosser as Brian has been quite good at pretending in his time.
Ruth’s mum Heather was also facing a week of slim pickings (‘I get me lunches brought in now you know,’ she told her daughter, who presumably didn’t) before Ruth marched her round the farm shop and sent her back to Prudhoe with a truckle of Borsetshire Blue cheese, Bridge Farm yogurt and some crackers. ‘This’ll keep me going for weeks,’ Heather protested feebly, as she’d much rather eat Fray Bentos and fish fingers.
Young Henry Archer would rather eat fish fingers too, but his not-yet-stepfather Rob had other ideas. Furious that Helen was spending so much time at the farm shop and Ambridge Organics, he took culinary revenge by making a revolting mushroom stroganoff with cream, salt and lemon juice. Henry cried, and even über-loyal Helen refused to eat it. ‘Well Helen, if you’re never going to be here, what do you expect?’ said Rob, very quietly. Whatever could he mean?

The perils of Daphne: a ferret’s tale

Long-suffering guests at Grey Gables had a further fright this week when Joe Grundy, in a panda jumper, took over the phone in reception.
‘Eddie, Eddie, you’ve got to come! They’re gonna kill Daphne! They got a big van full of potions and poisons for massacring God’s poor creatures!’
The crisis arose after Susan spotted Joe’s errant ferret in the dining room, prompting Caroline (at last) to call in pest control.
This was inconvenient for Charlie, who was trying to soften Adam up with a romantic lunch, after showing him his drone and letting him play with his joystick at Home Farm all morning. (Rewrite. This is a family newspaper, not a Carry On film. Ed).
So began a Benny Hill-style chase round the hotel, with Joe, Eddie and Ed one step ahead of the exterminators. It culminated in the laundry room, where Daphne was holed up in some 400-thread count Egyptian cotton sheets.
Fortunately for ferret and Grundys alike, Roy was in a good mood, as Phoebe had bought him an Easter egg. He offered to take Daphne home with him, where hopefully she will soon bite Kate on one of her ‘You’re not a fit parent Roy Tucker’ rants.
‘Don’t worry Daphne, it’ll just be like going on a little holiday,’ crooned Joe.
‘It’s been a good day,’ pronounced Eddie, before remembering the trails of pork scratchings that his father has left all over the hotel.

When do the fireworks start, Shula?

Lizzie described the sudden arrival of Dr Richard Locke at Messiah in St Stephen’s as a ‘blast from the past’. And it seems there may be some heat in this old flame, in contrast to Shula’s relationship with Alistair, which is fizzling fast.
With all the empathy of a postbox, Alistair told Shula that she looked ‘every inch the officer’s mother’ in her new dress for Daniel’s passing-out ceremony. ‘It won’t matter what we look like anyway,’ he said, more interested in bird-watching than admiring his wife.
Already disappointed, Shula was irritated when Alistair announced they had to cut their trip to Sandhurst short as he wanted to get back and view some new surgery premises.
‘I hope it’s worth it,’ she snapped. But Alistair revealed he might be getting too old for self-employment anyway. ‘Maybe it’s a sign to get a job in a larger practice, take on some locum work – I’m not sure I have it in me,’ he mused, before succumbing to a weak bladder and nearly missing Daniel uncovering his pips. (What does this mean? Ed).
But the newly commissioned 2nd Lieutenant Daniel Hebden-Lloyd had his mother sussed. ‘I’m ordering you to tell me what’s wrong mum,’ he said, with the subtlety of one of his new tanks.
‘I suppose watching you fulfill your dreams, I was wondering what happened to my own plans,’ she confessed. ‘And I met an old friend this week, which made me wonder what my life might have been if I’d made different decisions.’
‘It’s not all over yet mum!’ Daniel reassured, wise beyond his years. Can it be long before Dr Locke starts making house calls again?

Dragons’ Den Ambridge

In an exciting new series, our tame tycoon invites local small businesses to pitch for investment. How will they get on? Let’s see:

Q: I have this really cool idea for a tea room. The bank won’t give me a loan, but my boyfriend has given me a cheque for £50, the vicar really likes my community spirit, and a bloke I met in the pub on Sunday says he wants to check out my assets! And I’m keen on this crowd-funding, erm, peer-to-peer lending thing – you know what I mean. What do you think? Fallon Rogers.

A: Fallon, I’m afraid what you’ve outlined so far isn’t a strong investment proposition. But I’ve heard your tagine brings all the boys to the yard – maybe you could develop the ’hospitality’ side of the business more?

Q: I’ve sold my dairy cows to start a contracting business. My fiancee and I agreed we could only afford a small tractor, but my dad made me buy a big green monster on credit because it will be more impressive. I have a history of bad luck and getting into debt. Do you think I’ve done the right thing? Ed Grundy.

A: No. I’d rather invest in your fiancee. She seems to be the brains of the outfit.

Q I have a flair for retail and love writing up prices on little chalkboards and arranging peppers in wooden crates. Customers tell me they want to spend all their money once they see me behind the counter! But I’m concerned that my possessive partner is undermining my efforts and quite possibly poisoning my child. What should I do? Helen Archer.

A Have you tried examining some of your life choices lately? I’m out.

Sunday, 5 April 2015

Heather visits, an inspector calls and Kenton gets even: a tetchy week in Ambridge

 Emotions overflow at village flood meeting

Feelings ran high at last Thursday’s action meeting as villagers counted the cost of the flood. Many residents were moved to tears by the massive crack in Christine Barford’s kitchen floor, and local historian Jim Lloyd was appointed to make a record of all the villagers’ experiences to begin a process of closure before moving forwards.
A committee was elected to progress the action plan, including Jennifer Aldridge, Lynda Snell, Mr Lloyd and David Archer, who convened the meeting, as chair.
Kenton Archer, the popular mein host at The Bull, said: ‘Despite my best efforts, my darling brother David is chairing the committee. He should be cast out like a pariah, not be welcomed with open arms and allowed to boss everyone just like he did when we were little – um, I mean, just because he now claims to love the soil of Ambridge. It’s a rotten swiz, it really is. And I won’t talk to him. So there.’

An inspector calls at Bridge Farm

Now that he’s back hobbling round Bridge Farm, Tony was in twitchy mood, nagging Tom and Johnny to clear up the yard and telling Helen off for parking her car badly. They thought it was to impress customers to the new village shop, but Pat knew better; he was dreading the visit of Mr Wallace, the HSE inspector. Tony even fretted about the name of his solicitor, thinking ‘Ruby Ponting’ didn’t sound professional enough.
The younger Bridge Farm generation are in good spirits though; Helen is relieved that Rob is going to take the DNA test, and Tom is excited about colonising a corner of the new shop for his sausages, Tony’s beef and Helen’s cheese.
Even Susan agreed, though she was distracted by the prospect of Hazel Woolley sizing up the old shop and Fallon’s flat, possibly for redevelopment into an upmarket bondage dungeon and fetish club.
When Mr Wallace arrived, he interviewed Tony at length and clearly would have liked to interview Otto the bull, but it was a bit late for that. Tony did his best, given his memory lapses, but didn’t feel it had gone well. ‘It’ll be a substantial fine and another terrible stain on the reputation of Bridge Farm!’ he wailed. ‘Oh noo, Tooony!’ Pat wasn’t commiserating; Tony had stamped on her foot with his crutch.

Heather: not surprised that Hadley Haugh is off

Ruth’s mother Heather arrived for Easter this week, bringing with her no marmalade (‘I’m not up to standing at the stove these days pet’) but a heap of homespun Northumbrian wisdom. Although the proposed move to Hadley Haugh was for her benefit, it turns out Heather is the only person involved who never thought it would happen. ‘I thought Ruth and David were kiddin’ theirselves,’ she confided in Jill. ‘David’s too firmly rooted here. I never quite believed it.’
After several months protesting that she needed to be near her mum, Ruth also confessed she was pleased to be staying put. ‘It’s difficult to stay mad at someone you love when they’ve been such a hero, saving animals and rescuing people from their homes,’ she told Heather, handing over the sheltered housing brochures she’d ordered, with Post-its lovingly placed on the cheapest ones..
But Heather isn’t going down without having her say on family matters. She suggested that Ruth invite Jolene and Kenton round on Easter Monday for a make-up afternoon tea. But it turned out this attempt at diplomacy was doomed.
‘There’s no way I’m sitting down in the same room as them, playing happy families!’ Kenton fumed at Jolene, who had put her tin hat on specially. ‘I don’t want to have tea with my smug, double-crossing brother. I don’t want anything to do with him, ever again!’ 
Oh well. All the more of Jill’s home-made hot cross buns to go round, then. 

Where’s the beef, Brian?

It was a trying week for Brian Aldridge, thanks to his inconveniently opinionated children. Adam is convinced that much of Borsetshire is turning into a dustbowl, thanks to Brian’s short-term, rapacious farming methods. Brian protested there were plenty of beetle banks and wide field margins to sustain the ecostructure, but Adam is not convinced, accusing Brian of refusing to acknowledge the impending environmental disaster and muttering about organic matter.
But there was more organic matter hitting the fan at Home Farm when Jenny revealed that Kate had offered to do all the cooking, vegan style, over Easter.
Horrified at the thought of missing out on Jennifer’s luscious lamb roast or juicy venison haunch, Brian put his foot down. ‘I didn’t spend a fortune on this kitchen so Kate could cook us all rabbit food!’ he roared, much to Jenny’s amusement; she will be far too busy writing tedious articles for the Echo and thrusting SAVE leaflets at tourists to care. ‘Vegan food cooked nicely can be quite tasty and nutritious,’ she ventured; but Brian wasn’t having it. ‘You won’t get Ruairi eating vegan unless there’s a couple of sausages on the side!’
Will Kate take over controls at the Albion or will it be lamb tagine at The Bull all round? It remains to be seen…

Save the date: Village supper, Friday April 17

David and Ruth Archer of Brookfield Farm are preparing to welcome the whole village (except David’s brother Kenton, who is washing his hair that night) to a special supper to celebrate the community spirit that Ambridge showed during the flood. Thanks to generous donations, a delicious menu is on offer:
• Herefordshire beef roast (Brookfield)
• pulled pork rolls with Susan Carter’s chilli relish (Bridge Farm)
• tofu quiche and salads (Usha Franks and Jennifer Aldridge)
• hot double-cross buns, hard cheese and sour grapes (The Bull)
And the merriment doesn’t end there! Pip Archer and the Young Farmers will be hosting a Barn Dance, Fallon Rogers will be providing her legendary bunting, and the raffle prizes include a fabulous day’s ferret shooting at Grey Gables, thanks to Caroline Sterling and Justin Elliot. (Are you sure? Ed.) Don’t miss it!

Letter to the editor

Mr Wilbur M Cornstalk of West Virginia, USA writes:

When are you people in Borchestershire going to do something about the crazies who run Grey Gables Hotel? Wilma and I thought things couldn’t get any worse after we stayed back in March, so we recommended it to my buddy Sol Berkowitz for a stopover on his golf tour. Boy, were we ever dumb!
The way Sol tells it, he was polishing his putter in his room one afternoon when he heard a scritchin’ and a scratchin’ behind the baseboard. He called reception and the next thing you know, the Three Stooges show up – an old-timer in furry white slippers, a kid with a fishing net and a creepy lookin’ guy in a cowboy hat.
 They reckoned they were from maintenance, or pest control, or some such – but Sol didn’t stick around to find out. He checked out so fast he left his second best sand wedge behind.
And the worst part is, Sol blames me and Wilma for sending him to a flophouse. She’s been banned from the Ladies’ Labor Day fundraiser and I can never hold my head up in the Great White Lake Sitting Bull Lodge again. Shame on you, Ambridge!