Sunday, 27 September 2015

Jill moves out, Rob moves in, Eddie tells Elliott where to go: a game-changing week in Ambridge

Ambridge tells Elliott: keep your cash!

In a humiliating defeat for Ambridge Parish Council, villagers this week rejected Justin Elliott’s offer of financial help to rebuild the village hall, and decided to undertake the project themselves.
‘We can’t take his dirty money!’ said Eddie Grundy, to wild applause. ‘Not when it was his road scheme wot caused the village to flood and made all them folk homeless in the first place!’ (has this been legalled? Ed)
Council chair Neil Carter tried in vain to persuade villagers of the merits of Mr Elliott’s offer. ‘Without his money, we would only be able to repair the hall, not extend it and provide modern facilities, like the ‘Damara’ soft play area and the ‘Berrow Farm’ catering kitchen,’ he said. ‘Surely a little branding is a small price to pay?’
But then Mr Grundy played his trump card: a photograph of Anneka Rice, who helped villagers repair the hall in 1993, for her popular ‘Challenge Anneka’ TV show. ‘Look what we can do when a blonde bird in a tight catsuit gets us going!’ he said. ‘I’ve already got Baggy and Fat Paul on the lookout for cheap bricks; our Emma’s running up a onesie for Sabrina Thwaite, and everybody will rally round. One last push! Who’s with me?’
Councillors were nearly injured in the crush as volunteers rushed to sign up for the project, which is due to begin as soon as Mr Grundy has finished laying a patio in Waterley Cross. (I suppose this means we’ve got to give Justin’s bung back? Damn and blast. Ed)

Autumn fiction special: The Trials of Jill Archer

Award-winning author Lavinia Catwater takes us into autumn with a new romantic saga. In Chapter One, our heroine contemplates a fresh start with a heavy heart:

‘It will be alright mum, I promise!’ Elizabeth was smiling warmly at her. ‘Once we’ve got rid of some of this junk –‘ she waved at Jill’s bound copies of Beekeeping Monthly – ‘we’ll soon have you settled in!’ Jill winced inwardly, but smiled. ‘Yes darling!’ To hide her tears, she went to the window. How she would miss this view: the fields; the trees; Toby Fairbrother’s underpants drying on a line in the yard….
A frown crossed her face. Another reminder of Grace Archer! Would she ever be free of that woman? Sixty years after she died, it was as if Grace was moving into Brookfield, just as she was moving out… Giving herself a little shake, she said: ‘Don’t you worry about me. Just going to cut some green beans before I leave forever the house I’ve loved all my adult life and hoped to die in … I’ll be fine!’
As she closed the door, she heard Lizzie sigh: ‘Oh God, David, I’m not going to lock her in the attic!’ But David seemed to be lost in thought, playing with his toy farm…
In the garden, Jill tried to suppress unkind thoughts about Heather, attics and locked doors. But it was no good. ‘Oh, you nasty old woman!’ she wept, giving the green beans an extra-vicious snip with her secateurs.


Sitting at Lizzie’s kitchen table, Jill sipped her Nespresso soy latte in its recyclable paper cup and toyed with a shrink-wrapped flapjack from the Orangery. ‘Now darling, what can I do to help with dinner?’ she asked, eyeing the pristine Aga and unused rows of saucepans.
‘Nothing mum!’ Lizzie beamed. ‘I’ve got Hugh to run us up a lasagne, garlic bread and salad. It will be so cosy – just the two of us, the grape pickers and the conference delegates!’
‘Lovely dear,’ said Jill, her heart sinking. ‘I’ll just go up to Julia’s – I mean, my room and freshen up.’
‘Oh mum, sorry! You know what it’s like when your home’s your work and your work’s your home,’ said Lizzie, smiling ruefully. ‘I’m afraid I’ve let your room to a photocopier salesman from Redditch tonight. You do understand, don’t you?’
Jill nodded her head, not trusting herself to speak, but inwardly crying out in anguish: ‘Oh Phil, how has it come to this?’

To be continued…. [Editor dear, do I get a pay rise for this second series? Lavinia. No. Ed.]

New series: Legal postbag

Family solicitor Felicity Letoff-Lightly opens her casebook for the Ambridge Observer:

• Clients often ask me about different ways of adopting a child. A typical example is this query from R.T: ‘I would love to adopt my stepson H. How can I avoid checks by police and social services into my background? I’m concerned they might discover I’m a manipulative and possibly murderous bully.’
R.T is right, of course. Modern families come in all shapes and sizes but his history might flag up an obstacle to adoption. However, in advising R.T, I came to see that he is clearly a high-functioning psychopath, with considerable skills in dissembling and persuasion. This being the case, I am sure he will find a way to exploit the law for his own purposes. For example, he could persuade the authorities that H’s mother is mentally ill and an unfit parent. I am confident that R.T and H will be a proper family soon. It’s cases like this that make my profession so rewarding.
• Occasionally, I have to advise clients against taking precipitate action based on wild claims and conspiracy theories. For example, J.A contacted me as she believed her friend, C.T., had murdered her husband. She had built a case based on Agatha Christie plots, hearsay from a forgetful acquaintance, and suspicions about her friend’s herbal preparations. Fortunately, I was able to reassure her on our firm’s special WAD* tariff, which made this case especially rewarding!
* Wealthy And Deluded

Poetry corner

Thanks to Bert Fry, who reports on the Flower & Produce Show in his own inimitable style:

Ambridge Flower & Produce Show

‘Twas on a warm September day,
the marquee looked so bright and gay,
full of flowers and veg and fruit,
and even Joe Grundy wore his best suit!

Me and Mrs Tregorran won,
with a marrow nearly as big as the sun!
And my rose it won another prize,
but it brought a tear to my eyes,

because my Freda wasn’t here to see
her Bert carry off a victory.
Her pickles, jam and cakes were winners –
and so were her famous Sunday dinners.

The flood swept my dear Freda away,
and I go on without her every day.
But she wouldn’t want me to be sad,
so I congratulated Mrs Woolley on her glads,

and Neil Carter on his carrots and beans.
The judge from Suffolk said she’d never seen
tomatoes as big and juicy as Joe’s.
Hope she don’t find out where they grows!

 So all in all it was a smashing show;
despite the flood, Ambridge gave it a go.
And next year, when my garden’s fixed
I’ll win all the prizes that this year I missed!


Sunday, 20 September 2015

Peggy gets tough, Rob serves up a stinker and the WI celebrate: a feisty week in Ambridge

Village hails its have-a-go Gran

Ambridge residents declared 91-year-old Peggy Woolley a heroine this week after she singlehandedly saved the village shop from closure by her own stepdaughter, Hazel Woolley.
‘We would have carried her shoulder-high if it weren’t for her dodgy hips,’ said one grateful villager. ‘You should have seen the way she marched into the shop, armed only with a legal document and a lethal dose of emotional blackmail.
‘Hazel didn’t stand a chance, despite her armed security guards and bullet-proof limo with knives on the wheels.’ (Are you sure? Ed)
‘It was nothing,’ said a modest Mrs Woolley afterwards. ‘I just reminded Hazel that her father Jack was a generous-hearted man who wouldn’t have been proud to see his daughter damage the very heart of the village.
‘And then of course I had the ultimate deterrent – Christine Barford’s ginger biscuits. Not even Hazel’s titanium crowns could withstand them, and once her mouth was clamped shut she was putty in my hands. Would you like one?’

Say cheese! Rob serves up a stinker

Bridge Farm, Ambridge’s popular organic dairy brand, is delighted to announce the launch of a new cheese. ‘Stinking Scoundrel’ is the brainchild of Rob Titchener, who explains how his wife Helen taught him the art:
‘Cheese-making is a very personal thing and I see a lot of myself in this one,’ he said. ‘It’s a fascinating process; you insinuate a special fungus into the milk, stir things up as much as you can, and cut up the curds into tiny pieces. Then you leave it to set so the rot runs right through.
‘It’s a powerful cheese; bullies everything else on the plate if you’re not careful. I wanted to call it ‘Henry Titchener’, as I’m about to adopt my stepson, but we felt ‘Stinking Scoundrel’ summed up the cheeky humour of the brand. Didn’t we darling?’

Women’s Institute is 100 years young

Several generations of Ambridge womanhood celebrated the 100th anniversary of the Women’s Institute with a splendid feast in St Stephen’s Church this week.
The committee dressed in vintage costumes to mark the occasion, while members wore purple, green and white sashes made by stalwarts Clarrie Grundy and Susan Carter.
After an Edwardian-style supper prepared by the members, Mrs Jill Archer reminded the audience that the Ambridge WI was set up by her mother-in-law Doris in 1927, and that her granddaughter Pip was involved in the WI today. She went on to recall the WI’s campaigns for women’s votes, fair trade, the dairy industry and bees.
When the audience woke up, they all stood for a rousing chorus of ‘Sister Suffragette’ from Mary Poppins (no, they didn’t. It was Jerusalem. Behave. Ed)
‘It was all right, if you don’t mind leg-of-mutton sleeves in your soup, and you’ve got the teeth to cope with Nic Grundy’s barley bread,’ said guest Mrs Lilian Bellamy. ‘But there was no gin, and no trouser, if you know what I mean darling! Don’t suppose you’ve got a ciggie?’

This week on the message boards:

Justin Elliott’s offer to fund the new village hall is the talk of the Ambridge online community this week. The Observer listens in:

• ‘Who does this megalomaniac Justin Timberlake guy think he is? Coming over here, splashing the cash. The old folk hate his so-called music anyway. Who’s thinking about them? I vote for the Jeremy Corbyn Hall! ’ Anon
• ‘My wife Moira and I have happy memories of the village hall; it’s where I proposed to her after a dance, more than 50 years ago. In fact, if anyone finds a pair of Utility knickers under the stage during the rebuilding, we’d quite like them back for old times’ sake!’ Eric White
• ‘The village should take the money. You don’t have to like the guy. I mean, if it was your brother, who you hate and despise, who offered you cash to bail you out, you’d take it, wouldn’t you? I mean, I would. And Justin isn’t even family.’ CrazyKenton
‘Is it really appropriate to be considering our own needs when there is a refugee crisis in Europe? I for one will be asking Mr Elliott to convert the village hall into a reception centre. The village’s generosity has already been overwhelming (thank you, Neil and Susan Carter, for the tin of spaghetti). But we could do so much more!’ AlanTheVicar
‘Hey guys, I’ve got a great idea! Why not celebrate the new village hall with a fantastic feast of roast goose? Rex and I can let Justin have a goose for every single villager – very reasonable prices. Whaddya say?’ Tobes.

Personal Announcement

Caroline and I would like to thank all our friends for your kind wishes as we set off on our Tuscan adventure. It was lovely to see so many of you at our combined farewell party and celebration of dear old Joe Grundy’s 94th birthday.
Before we go, we would just like to say that we will forget all about you the moment we get on the plane. We will miss absolutely nothing about Ambridge; we’re sick of the Grundys cluttering up Grey Gables, tired of Roy’s unctuous bumbling about, and frankly if we could afford it we’d retire to Italy for good.
So please don’t bother us with any of your petty problems while we’re enjoying la dolce vita. Arrivederci, losers!   Oliver Sterling, Grange Farm.

Sunday, 13 September 2015

Justin splashes out, Kenton caves in and Kate means business: a surprising week in Ambridge

Justin emerges just in time as village hall saviour

This edition of the Justin Elliott Ambridge Observer is brought to you from our new, state-of-the-art premises, thanks to a massive bung (surely, far-sighted business investment? Ed) from ‘Mr Ambridge’ himself: Justin Elliott.
Splashing out on new notebooks and pencils all round deepens Mr Elliott’s commitment to Ambridge, which this week saw him pledge a ‘significant sum’ to fund the rebuilding of the village hall, complete with nursery, gym and screening room.
‘I’m so glad Susan made me wipe that smudge off my cheek before the meeting!’ said Ambridge Parish Council chair Neil Carter. ‘I’m sure that swung the funding deal. And Mr Elliott demanded absolutely nothing in return, apart from naming the hall after him, and asking for flags, a church service and the sacrifice of an ox in the village on his birthday.
‘I’m sure the council will agree this is the least we can do. Anyway, must dash – Susan’s doing her special chilli for tea!’

Cheers all round at The Bull

The future of another of Ambridge’s iconic buildings was also assured this week as Kenton Archer agreed to accept the £26,000 being offered by his family to help repair the pub. Jolene – a more successful hostess than Jill or Shula – managed to get the whole family round to lunch to break the news. Kenton even asked David if he could shake his hand (although he had his fingers crossed and was hissing ‘Nix, nix nix!’ under his breath).
It was a happy ending to a trying week for Jill, who sent her beloved writing table to Lower Loxley as the first step towards moving in. ‘What do you write on it mum?’ asked David. ‘Oh, you know – lists!’ said Jill. ‘Recipes, WI, gardening, reasons I hate you, Ruth and Heather for making me move out…’
‘You will like living here, mum?’ flapped Lizzie. ‘Lily is drawing you a picture!’
‘Lovely dear. I’d rather have a fitted carpet and I don’t like the en-suite bathroom. But don’t you worry about me!’ sniffed Jill, gazing out over the ha-ha and wiping away a tear…

On the AmMums message boards…

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

• Does anyone know how to stop a teenager from working too hard? My granddaughter is applying to Oxford to read PPE (that’s philosophy, politics and economics) and of course we’re so proud of her! Her teachers say… but no, mustn’t boast! Anyway, she’s always got her head in a book and I’m worried she’s just too intelligent and committed. Any tips mums? Jenny Humblebrag

• You’re lucky Jenny. Since my daughter graduated she’s given up a well-paid job, cost us thousands of pounds and started all kinds of schemes, like stubble turnips and limestone trackways, without telling me. She and her dad are so close, and now I’m away looking after me mum, I’m an outsider in me own home. I feel like me daughter’s me mother and me mother’s me daughter. It’s a killer. Northumberland  Lass.

• My son is in his first week at school and loving it. He has lots of friends (mostly girls!) and wants to wear his school sweat shirt at home. So sweet. The only thing is, he’s starting wetting the bed and won’t sleep on his own. He seems to be scared of someone called ‘Joseph’. That’s nothing to worry about, is it? I mean, his psychopathic stepdad isn’t even called Joseph! Silly crybaby mummy.

• Don’t you fret Crybaby! That’s probably old Joe Grundy given your boy a fright. He used to terrify my boys with his ferrets when they was nippers. And there is a shocking whiff about him now he’s growing his tomatoes in his ‘special manure’. It’s enough to make anyone wet the bed, let alone a little lad! GrannyClarrie.

• Hey guys! I got it all wrong about my daughter! I came in tonight and she was making me a fabulous meal: tuna pasta bake (she’d bought a tin specially) and salad with a mustard dressing. We had a lovely girlie night, drinking a bottle of Lambrini and gnawing on a frozen cheesecake. So don’t give up mums! Northumberland Lass.

Kate’s recipe for a healthy profit

In our business feature this week we ask Kate Madikane for her top tips on bringing the sweet smell of success to Home Farm with her holistic retreat:

• Finding the right location is crucial. My retreat is just outside my cottage, so no commute for me! And my dad has given me the land, which helps. He’ll soon forget that dull old loan agreement!
• You need family support. My stepbrother Adam is clearing me a barn, digging compost loos, moving his sheep off my field, and generally tidying up. I had so many tasks for him to do, I had to buy a clipboard!
• Make time for yourself. Aunt Lilian and I are off on a research trip to a retreat for a few days. Setting up a business plays havoc with your chakras and you need to rebalance.

Judges warn against Flower & Produce ‘scams’

With Ambridge’s Flower and Produce Show only days away, judges have warned they will be on the lookout for any illegal performance-enhancing activities in the entries, or attempts to influence the judges.
‘I may have just moved from Suffolk, but I wasn’t born yesterday,’ said Anita Millingford, head judge of the vegetable category. ‘We’ve all heard of that old ‘feed your marrow with sugar and water’ trick, and it won’t wash with me! And I won’t be accepting any cups of herbal tea while I’m judging. Some of these old dears can brew up quite mind-altering potions, you know.
‘But the judges understand that Ambridge’s produce output has been badly hit by the flood this year. So we’ll be giving extra marks for innovative growing methods, such as unusual fertilisers, especially for tomatoes.’


Sunday, 6 September 2015

Adam goes green, Brian sees red, and Jolene sees a way out: a fast-moving week in Ambridge

Money worries split leading families

The Archer siblings realised a shocking truth this week: there will be no more family meals until the row with Kenton is sorted out. ‘How can we carry on making raspberry cheesecake and mum’s special stew if no one turns up to eat them?’ wailed Shula, shovelling the leftovers from Pip’s farewell/welcome back meal into Tig the dog.
There was nothing for it: to get Kenton to come to dinner (and incidentally to save The Bull), the family would have to stump up the £26,000 needed for the building works. Jolene was touchingly grateful for the offer, but whether Kenton will accept the cash is still uncertain, especially as he has added ‘throwing my poor mum out of Brookfield’ to the list of David’s capital crimes.
Meanwhile Brian needed extra blood pressure medication to handle Adam’s new sustainable cropping plans at Home Farm. The prospect of turning 17 per cent of the arable land into herbal leys sent him into overdrive: ‘I see how it works: you pour money down the drain, then you carry on pouring money down the drain!’ he fumed. ‘Oh, come along Brian; Adam knows what he’s doing. With his experience in Kenya he’ll have the place buzzing!’ said Jennifer, soothing him with hummus and a Cornish pasty. ‘Yes, with bailiffs!’ said Brian, spraying pastry all over the worktop.
However Kate was the unlikely beneficiary of his rage, as he gave her the land for her holistic retreat with barely a murmur – although it’s coming out of the herbal ley allocation. ‘Let Adam deal with Kate; they can weave crop circles together,’ he mumbled despairingly into his lunchtime burgundy.

Carter bid to save hall sparks council row

Ambridge Parish Council was in uproar this week as it emerged that chair Neil Carter had approached Justin Elliott for help to rebuild the village hall without the approval of fellow councillors.
The leaked email (no need to say Justin’s PR copied us in. Ed) praises Damara Capital boss Mr Elliott as a ‘visionary philanthropist’ and ‘saviour of Ambridge’, and asks ‘his most generous beneficence’ for a donation of at least £100,000 to rebuild the hall.
‘It’s outrageous! This is the man who wants to run a road through Ambridge and turn the landscape into industrial wasteland!’ said one councillor, who asked not to be named. ‘Of course, Carter’s wife Susan put him up to it. I bet he just typed out what she said. That woman is Lady Macbeth in a pink and orange paisley tabard.’

High hopes for youngsters as new school year starts

It was back to school for Ambridge’s students this week: how did they get on?

Keira Grundy enjoyed her first day at Loxley Barrett, despite a few tears (surely, 20-minute screaming tantrum? Ed). ‘Well, what do they expect if they try to take her Elsa-from-Frozen costume off her? It’s not right!’ said mum Emma.
Henry Archer After a mix-up at registration, when stepfather Rob insisted his surname was ‘Titchener”, Henry settled in well. ‘Don’t worry about silly mummy crying again, Henry,’ said Rob. ’Women are like that. I’ll keep a close eye on her for you.’
Phoebe Aldridge celebrated stellar AS results with just one square of dark chocolate and was back in Borchester High library before term started. ‘Why am I trying so hard to get into Oxbridge? Have you met my mother?’ she said.
Josh Archer is looking forward to a more relaxed final year. ‘Yeah, I dropped PE – couldn’t hack the theory side,’ he said. ‘Anyway, you don’t need exams to build up an Egg Empire. Toby Fairbrother says so.’

It’s Pip’s brilliant blog from Brazil!

Young Ambridge farmer Pip Archer is off on an exciting adventure working for Webster Agri-International in Brazil. Before she went, the Ambridge Observer snapped up the rights to her travel blog – and here’s her first post! 

Umm, OK guys, I know this is a bit embarrassing, but I only lasted two days in the job! Yes, they dangled Sao Paolo in front of me, but it was meetings and spreadsheets all the way. So here I am again, cleaning tractor filters, ordering limestone for the new trackway and testing calf dung for colostrum. Never a dull moment!
OK, yeah, it was awkward that mum and dad had to pay the contract milker £2,500 to leave (shame: he was quite cute!) but I had a brainwave! I’m going to grow stubble turnips and bring Welsh sheep in to graze them; small margins but low input and the ewe hoggs (that’s weaned lambs, not gimmer shearlings, or ewes of course) will improve soil fertility too…
(Give me strength. I hope we’re not paying her for this. Ed)

Letter to the Editor

Dear Madam,
I am writing to offer you my services as theatre critic. As you may know I have occupied this role at the Borchester Echo for many years. But I find I am obliged to transfer my allegiance elsewhere.
I returned from my ‘Mapp & Lucia’ weekend in Rye to find the standards of critique in the Echo, which I have nurtured since dear Dame Judi was an ingénue, traduced – traduced! – by that parvenue Lynda Snell (Dylan Nells fools no one darling). The woman can barely direct a pantomime cow, let alone convey the nuances and chiaroscuro of Magic Opera’s performances at Lower Loxley.
Her ‘review’ also committed the ultimate faux pas of commenting on the audience. Readers do not wish to know what the hoi polloi have for their interval picnic or whether a ghastly mobile phone goes off. Yet the Snell/Nells woman is obsessed with Wurzels ringtones and selfie sticks. I can only assume she is a closet Cumberbitch who should never be allowed near the operatic milieu.
I trust, Madam, your organ will be more accommodating to my superior talents.
Yours ever,
Tristram Hawkshaw (
Ask him to cover Borchester WI’s centenary ‘divertissement’. Should put him off. Ed.

Postie ‘baffled’ over homes mix-up

Ambridge’s much-loved postman, Pat, has complained he ‘can’t keep track of the comings and goings’ of villagers displaced by the flood. For any readers confused by who is living where, here’s an Ambridge Observer handy guide:
• Adam and Ian are back home in Honeysuckle Cottage, which was renovated in record time and with minimum fuss.
• Caroline and Oliver are no nearer to moving back into Grange Farm and are going to Tuscany for three months to escape the chaos.
• Eddie, Clarrie and Joe Grundy are still in Grey Gables, but hope to be back in Keeper’s Cottage before Joe’s 94th birthday.
• This is news to their landlady Hazel Woolley, who plans to evict them as soon as she’s lined up new high-spending tenants.
• Fallon Rogers and PC Harrison Burns are moving into Woodbine Cottage, once the crack in Christine’s floor is fixed (this may take some time).
• Jill Archer will not move to Lower Loxley until she’s seen the whites of Heather’s eyes at Brookfield.
• Lilian is still cluttering up Home Farm with fag packets and gin bottles; Lynda and Robert Snell are practising feng shui in Lilian’s Dower House, and Jim is feeling awkward in the frosty atmosphere at The Stables.
• Grange Spinney residents are still camping out in tents and caravans outside their ruined homes, but no one really cares about them. (That’s enough comings and goings. Ed)