Sunday, 31 January 2016

Justin makes a move, Grundys make a profit and Tom makes a pudding: a productive week in Ambridge

Much-loved cows to get a fitting send-off

As Brookfield prepares for the sale of its Friesian dairy herd, David Archer plans to mark the event by giving a public lecture on its history.
‘Writing up the details for the auction catalogue gave me the idea,’ he said. ‘When you think about all the love and care we’ve put into those old girls – first Dan with Doris, then Phil with my mum, and now me with Ruth. Of course, Ruth is better than they are because she can actually do farming. So call me an old softy but I think these ladies are worth celebrating. And a bit of family colour might bring in a few more quid for the cows, too.’
As Ambridge Village Hall has not yet reopened, Mr Archer has booked the telephone box on the Green for his talk.

‘Elliotts’ to be the next big Ambridge brand?

While still tight-lipped about his business plans, Justin Elliott has indicated that he’s readying a bold initiative to float the Elliotts on the Ambridge social market.
‘Aldridges, Bellamys, Archers – they’re all good strong brands locally,’ he said. ‘But I’m convinced there’s a gap in the market for Elliotts. I admit that backing route B, trying to buy Brookfield and bribing the Parish Council over the Village Hall was perhaps a little pushy.
‘So I’m now planning a charm offensive: getting old Brian back on the board of Borchester Land, buying into Adam’s tedious vision of sustainable farming, even renting the Dower House – as I believe Mrs Lilian Bellamy is always open to a mutually satisfying arrangement.
‘You mark my words: Elliott stock will soon be defying market forecasts and will be riding high in Ambridge. Fill your boots!’

Sampling the good life at Bridge Farm

The Ambridge Observer team were treated to a sneak preview of Bridge Farm’s delicious special offers this week. (It’s a tough job, but someone has to do it!!) We loved:

• Bridge Farm black pudding in Darjeeling, Lapsong Souchong and PG Tips flavour (featuring Grandma Grundy’s secret ingredient)
• Black pudding Scotch eggs (just like in fancy London)
• Enchiladas and burritos (with 10% discount on ingredients at the shop)
• Tom Archer country pork and spicy sausages (reduced for a quick sale)
• Emma Grundy’s vegan croutes, stuffed vegetables and mushroom roulade
• Organic chocolate amaretti biscuits: a snip at £6.95 (you are joking? Ed)

‘We’ve got even more exciting plans coming up, with heart-shaped chocolates and pastries for Valentine’s Day,’ said Fallon Rogers. ‘And we’re working on a special Lent menu for people who’ve given things up – like sugar-free cakes, for example. That was Kirsty Miller’s idea; she’s a really brilliant new addition to our team.’ ‘Yeah, well, she’s not all that,’ said Ms Rogers’ partner Emma Grundy. ‘And I still think heart-shaped toast is a good idea.’

Letter to the editor

Dear Madam,

As a concerned father-to-be, I’d just like to alert readers – any chaps out there in particular – who might not be aware of just how carefully you have to look after the little lady in your life when she’s expecting. Here are a few pointers I’ve picked up along the way:
• black pudding is a no-no, especially if it means your wife has fun with her family while developing the recipe.
• there’s no need to splash out on expensive maternity tops with low necklines. Send them back, I say; she should realise you’re not made of money, now that you’ve spent nearly all of Peggy’s cash on yourself.
• ladies can get sensitive about their weight at this special time. Just try saying ‘Look at the size of you!’ and see how quickly they step away from the breadbin!
• the last thing you need is interference from family and friends. Your wife is carrying your baby, not theirs. Much better to limit contact with outsiders as much as you can. You can’t afford to take any chances with your little prince!

Yours truly,

Rob Titchener, Blossom Hill Cottage.

A wizard wheeze on wheels

Local artisans Joe and Eddie Grundy (are you sure? Ed) are to patent a design for a new product they claim is a ‘ground-breaker’ in the hospitality and heritage markets.
‘When Lynda Snell asked us to make her a shepherd’s hut, I thought she was a-mockin’ the heritage of the working man,’ said Joe Grundy. ‘But when we saw the prices they can fetch we knew we was onto a winner.’
‘And then when we was converting Oliver and Caroline’s shed into our new Cider Club premises, the idea struck me like a falling ladder!’ said Eddie Grundy.
‘Our Cider Club Tour Bus looks like a traditional shepherd’s hut on the outside, but inside it’s kitted out with everything for the cider connoisseur: barrels, tankards and a compost loo.
‘And ‘cos it’s on wheels, you can trundle it wherever you want – if cider drinkers can’t come to the Cider Club, the Cider Club can go to them!’
Mr Grundy says the family’s new venture will be completely sustainable. ‘We’ll be sourcing materials from some of the finest tips in the area,’ he said. ‘And of course each bus will come supplied with our own cider – at very reasonable rates – starting with the latest pressing of Cidre Nouveau.’
Prices start at £10,000 for a basic model and Mr Grundy is anticipating strong demand. ‘As long as there’s people out there with more money than sense, there’ll be a market for this product,’ he said.  

Sunday, 24 January 2016

Lilian saddles up, Rob speaks up and has Charlie given up? An awkward week in Ambridge

Berrow Farm to become bloodstock operation?

Rumours that Damara Capital’s Justin Elliott has turned his attention away from dairy farming and towards the bloodstock market surfaced this week, as the cows were shipped out and Berrow Farm took delivery of two thoroughbred stallions.
Mr Elliott confirmed that he intends to keep more horses in Borsetshire, and is considering expanding his interests in owning and breeding racehorses.
‘There’s nothing I like better than a good ride, but sadly my wife Miranda is more interested in haute couture,’ he said.
‘Fortunately I have found a willing partner in Mrs Lilian Bellamy, a fine horsewoman who is full of wisdom and spirit. (surely, spirits? Ed).
‘When Lilian and I drew breath after our gallop, and I took one look at those steaming flanks and heaving chest, I knew it. I had to have that beautiful creature. Abdul Aziz, the horse, of course. What did you think I meant?’
Mrs Bellamy said she looked forward to collaborating closely with Mr Elliott on his equine and other business interests.
‘I knew Justin would be impressed by the size of my property portfolio,’ she said. 'But d’you know  darling, I always thought of myself as just a run-of-the-mill old landlord, letting out crappy properties for huge rents. No! Justin says business people like me are the glue that sticks rural communities together. Fancy that! And I do, darling, if you know what I mean…. ‘

Titchener tightens his grip

Evidence of a family split at Bridge Farm emerged this week, as the Ambridge Observer found itself embroiled in an ugly row over the stocking policy in its shop and tearoom.
Our distribution manager, Will Shiftmore, had agreed with Tom Archer to supply both the shop and the café with extra copies, to boost the new ‘Sunday Brunch’ promotion (featuring Joe Grundy’s legendary black pudding recipe).
But Rob Titchener cancelled the order, claiming that Bridge Farm should stock only organic products, including newspapers.
Mr Archer argued that the Ambridge Observer deserved its place in the shop as a local, high-quality product. ‘It may not be organic as such, but there’s a definite  farmyard whiff about it, and I believe the staff are kept in high-welfare conditions,’ he said. (Well, sort of. Ed).
But Mrs Pat Archer took her son-in-law’s side. ‘Tom has to let Rob make the decisions; Tom is only a family member, whereas he is an expert in everything. More mung bean stew anyone?’
Mr Titchener said he was ‘gratified’ by Mrs Archer’s support.
‘If Helen weren’t at home with a bad headache she’d agree with me, and if she didn’t agree with me, she’d soon have a bad headache,’ he said.

Brookfield opens its doors to doubters   

Interest in the new spring calving regime at Brookfield has reached fever pitch, (are you sure? Ed) prompting David and Ruth Archer to hold an Open Day to explain their plans to local farmers.
‘So many people have asked us questions about it, and some have expressed doubts – even our son Josh, who’s distracting himself from Aston Villa’s terrible plight by researching what could go wrong with our scheme on the internet,’ said Mr Archer.
‘Our neighbour Brian Aldridge has expressed concerns about nitrates from the pastures polluting Haydon Brook and the Am, but we think he’s just jealous. And of course, we have to take into account lots of ‘what ifs’: what if Bert never moves back to the bungalow? What if Jill gets tendonitis and can’t mix a Victoria sponge? What if Toby Fairbrother runs amok with a chainsaw in the milking parlour? But we have to confront these issues and overcome them. Our children’s future depends on it.’
‘Our daughter Pip and contract milker Matthew will give a presentation on their recent research trip to a spring-calving herd in Dorset,’ added Mrs Archer. ‘Of course, they’ll have to make it up, as they spent the whole two days in bed and never clapped eyes on a cow. But still, you can’t live your children’s lives for them, can you?’

Hot tickets for Burns Night at The Bull

Jim Lloyd and Jazzer McCreary are promising a fun-filled evening of ‘Caledonia vs the Classics’ as they host Burns Night at The Bull on January 25.
‘I will be giving a lecture on the history of whisky, including the notorious “Babylonian controversy”, entirely in Latin,’ said Mr Lloyd.
‘And I’ll be keeping a close eye on the haggis, making sure it’s full of offal, like it should be,’ said Mr McCreary. ‘Pat Archer tried to fob me off with a veggie version made wi’ lentils and served wi’ pak choi and mung beans instead o’ neeps ‘n’ tatties. Rabbie Burns would be birlin’ in his grave!’

Items wanted

Shepherd’s hut on wheels. Must be in good condition, suitable for garden and children's play, and as a powerful symbol, conveying the owner’s strong connection with the rural environment and her nurturing role in bringing culture to life in Ambridge for the past 30 years. No time-wasters (Grundys) please. Apply: Lynda Snell, Ambridge Hall. 

Lonely hearts

With Valentine’s Day nearly upon us, a new column for readers who are looking for that special someone…

Beefy butcher, recently finished a bone carving of a pennyfarthing and looking for a new challenge, WLTM lady with an interest in charcuterie. Gloomy temperament preferred. Call Maurice.

Thrusting poultry tycoon, rugby-playing hunk with absolutely no murky unfinished business in Brighton, seeks attractive young female with extensive knowledge of foxes and a large family farm. Please send photo of the farm. Call Tobes. (Hope he’s not as old as that joke. Ed).

Image-conscious chap, recently swapped his mullet for a man-bun and feeling hot, hot hot, is looking for love! Looks, age immaterial; must find exploding crisp packets hilarious and like cricket and real ale. Call Barry.

Lost soul, about to move to Perthshire with a broken heart, WLTM a newly married farmer who will leave home and run away with him, but who, despite the special moments they shared in the shrubbery, seems to prefer watching box sets with his husband. Call Charlie. Adam, call Charlie… please… it’s not too late… (That’s enough lonely hearts. Ed)

Sunday, 17 January 2016

Fire breaks out, Helen chills out and passion will out: a sensational week in Ambridge

Arsonist sought after mystery Wassail blaze

Borsetshire Rural Crime Unit (PC Harrison Burns) has appealed for witnesses after fire broke out in a shed at Grange Farm during a Wassail ceremony hosted by Mr and Mrs Eddie Grundy.
‘At first we thought the Mothers’ Union, or their ringleader Mrs Shula Hebden-Lloyd, might have set the fire to protest at the pagan nature of the ritual,’ said PC Burns. ‘But this was rather extreme, even for them.
‘It seems in fact we may be dealing with a crime of passion. We understand Phoebe Aldridge, the Wassail Queen, jilted her boyfriend Alex minutes before she was hoisted into an apple tree to tie a piece of cider-soaked toast to the branches. (Are you sure? Sounds ridiculous. Ed).
‘We would like to appeal for witnesses who heard a young man running from the scene yelling “I am a firestarter, twisted firestarter,” to come forward as soon as possible.’
• In other crime news, PC Burns has apologised to Eddie and Edward Grundy for arresting them for the theft of Reggie and Ronnie, the pigs dubbed the ‘Diamond Weaners’ for their smash-and-grab raids in Ambridge gardens this week.
‘It now appears that far from stealing the pigs, the Grundy family helped track them down and alerted their owner Tom Archer, who has now recovered them,’ said PC Burns. ‘It was an easy mistake to make, as all pigs look much the same, but nonetheless I have referred myself to the IPCC (Independent Porkers  Complaints Commission).’ Surely ‘Police’? Ed. 

End of an era for Ron and Vera

Ambridge residents have expressed ‘complete shock’ at the news that Ron and Vera Medlar of Bank Farm are to sell their dairy herd. ‘We’d never even heard of Ron and Vera, when suddenly we find out they’ve been farming here for generations. And now they’re going out of business!’ said one.
‘It’s terrible,’ said another. ‘I only found out the Medlars existed when the vicar pointed out they weren’t at the Plough Sunday service. I was so upset, I nearly walked into Ed Grundy’s tractor. ‘
Fellow dairy farmer Ruth Archer said she was ‘gutted’ by the news. ‘Ron and Vera’s story shows just how easy it is to get it wrong,’ she said. ‘Luckily, thanks to our new business plan, the future for Brookfield is really exciting. Aren’t we clever?’

Coffee break with… Kirsty Miller

In the first of an occasional series profiling readers with interesting jobs, we talk to Kirsty Miller, manager of the spa at Grey Gables country house hotel. 

What’s the most rewarding part of your job?

Definitely, making people feel good about themselves. For example, just the other day, a customer who’s having a baby came in for a pre-natal pamper day. She’s a friend, so I knew she wouldn’t mind when I told her she looked thin and pale – dreadful in fact. But she soon perked up after a foot soak and one of our legendary scalp massages! And she bought some extra product, which is great for my sales targets.

Do you go the extra mile for customers?

Oh yes – literally in some cases. Like my friend, who’s pregnant? I gave her a lift home, so she could spend longer in the spa; her husband was pestering her to leave early. And when we got there, he couldn’t get rid of me quick enough! Practically shut the door in my face. People are funny, aren’t they? Can I interest you in some of this Papaya and Pine Nut Scrub? It’s on special…’

Thanks Kirsty! Next week: Greville Hammer-Price, livestock auctioneer, who is handling the sale of the Brookfield Farm dairy herd. 

The Trials of Charlie Thomas

The latest chapter of our winter fiction special, by award-winning romantic novelist Lavinia Catwater. Will it be farewell forever or happy ever after for our hero?

Charlie took a last look round his empty office. Since he’d handed all his files over to Justin Elliott’s liquidation squad, he had no more duties to perform.  ‘Apart from saying goodbye to the love of my life’, he thought, then cursed his self-pity.  Picking up the Borchester Echo, he slumped in his swivel chair and flicked through the usual drivel and tittle-tattle. (I like this bit, Lavinia. Keep it up. Ed)
Then a headline on the business page made him sit up straight. ‘Berrow needed a real man at the helm’ it read, above a picture of Rob Titchener, smirking evilly out at him. Charlie scanned the interview, his eyes widening in horror.
‘Cutting corners… poor leadership… no backbone… shoddy practices… moral vacuum’… In a few short paragraphs, Rob had trashed his entire career! He knew the man was bitter, but this was too much. He wondered what Rott & Weiler, Damara’s solicitors, would make of the libellous claims. But more importantly, what would Adam think? Would he agree that Charlie was a complete failure as a manager, a farmer… and a man?
Shaking with fury, he snatched up the giant badger-hair sporran, his leaving gift from the milking team, and flung it across the room. Would this torture ever end?


‘Charlie! Coo-ee!’ Startled, Charlie looked up from his turnip and quinoa soup. Damn! He was sure the Ambridge Tea Room would be empty; judging by the soup, it deserved to be. But here was Jennifer. Beaming, she swooped on him with a kiss. ‘Charlie, you’re having a leaving party at Home Farm – no arguments!’ she trilled. ‘Oh, Jennifer…’ Charlie was torn. A party could be Ambridge’s last chance to humiliate him- especially if Rob was there. He glanced at Helen, fussing over a cheese display in the shop. But deep inside, he couldn’t deny a growing thrill. Adam would be there; he couldn’t afford to let this opportunity slip. ‘Well, don’t go overboard…’ he smiled. ‘Oh, trust me Charlie, it will be the perfect little soirée!’ said Adam’s mother. ‘Helen – Helen dear, where are the vol au vent cases?’
Thoughtfully, Charlie returned to his congealing soup, but barely had chance to lift his battered vintage spoon before the Fairbrother boys bounced over.
‘Hey Chaz!’ said one of them – was it Toby or Rex? He was never sure. ‘You heard of this caveman diet? You know, grass-fed mammoths and all that? Niche market for us? Whaddyathink?’
Charlie glared at the grinning fool in front of him. Only a few short months ago, he’d been gently teasing Adam about grazing bison on the prairie, both of them hunched over the joystick of his drone. ‘I distrust faddishness,’ he said curtly, and stalked off to the till. ‘Well, he’s not much fun, is he?’ he heard Toby say to Rex, or vice versa. They were right. He would never have any fun, ever again…


Charlie downed his third glass of red wine and looked anxiously towards the door. ‘Adam… he did say he was coming?’ he asked Jennifer, accepting another smoked trout and pineapple crostini. ‘Yes, of course – look, here he is!’
The room seemed to empty as Adam’s lean frame filled the doorway – and Charlie’s heart. ‘Hullo everyone; sorry mum, Ian couldn’t make it!’ he said, cramming a devil-on-horseback into his mouth.
No Ian! And Rob had already cried off, claiming Helen was unwell. Charlie began to enjoy the party. Even Shula and Ruth seemed quite witty, thanks to Brian’s finest Shiraz. But still, he couldn’t wait for them to go, so he and Adam could be alone…
At last, Jennifer sent them into the cold, dark garden to find Sabrina Thwaite’s discarded stilettos. It was now or never. ‘Adam – just one more thing before I go…’ he faltered, his heart pounding. He grabbed Adam’s shoulders and kissed him hard on the mouth. ‘Charlie, no!’ Adam thrust him away. ‘I’m sorry. I love you and never want you to go. But I’m a coward!’
Charlie’s world collapsed. He’d gambled everything, every chance of happiness, on this one last throw of the dice. And he’d lost. 
He turned back to the house, intent on drowning himself in Jennifer’s lethal hot toddies (Lilian’s recipe). But then he heard a guttural sigh. ‘Charlie… stay… don’t go…’ and all at once it was Adam seizing him in his strong arms, Adam kissing him, Adam… Adam… 
To be continued…..     

Sunday, 10 January 2016

Phoebe gets in, Ruth and David get on and Ian gets tough: a lively week in Ambridge

From grey hair to little grey cells*

Borsetshire University of the Third Age, which is open only to seniors, reports a New Year flood of members signing up for courses.
One new recruit is Peggy Woolley, 91, of Ambridge. ‘I passed the exam to go to grammar school, you know, but my father wouldn’t hear of it,’ she said. ‘He thought it would give me ideas above my station. And we couldn’t afford the uniform, anyway. So now is my chance to make up for lost time.’
Mrs Woolley is going to study psychology and sociology. ‘I hope it will help me understand some of life’s mysteries,’ she said. ‘Such as why Richard Thwaite, who is an educated man, would be married to a woman who wears a shocking pink hat to church. After Christmas. Unbelievable.’
Her daughter Jennifer Aldridge, who has just celebrated her 71st birthday, intends to study astrophysics. ‘My granddaughter Phoebe has inspired me,’ she said. ‘She’s been offered a place at Oxford, subject to the grades, of course.
‘But it made me think that although I’m so lucky to have an Albion kitchen and a platinum account at Underwoods, life may have passed me by.
‘And our friend Justin Elliott said he always thinks of me as a Newnham girl! I’ve never been a bluestocking (except on Brian’s birthday) so I thought I’d take up a challenging subject. I hope Phoebe will be as proud of me as I am of her! Did I tell you she’s been offered a place at Oxford?’

 • Bit ageist, this headline? Ed

Pig rustlers have been rumbled, police claim

Borsetshire’s Rural Crime Unit (PC Harrison Burns) hailed a successful start to 2016 at his New Year press conference.
‘I am pleased to report that Mr Eddie Grundy and his son Edward have been arrested for the theft of two six-month old weaners belonging to Mr Tom Archer,’ he said. ‘The animals were found in a hastily erected pig arc at Grange Farm, where Mr Eddie Grundy currently resides.
‘I was tipped off by Mrs Clarrie Grundy, who was convinced her husband was up to no good,’ he said.
‘It’s true there are a couple of loose ends to tie up – the pigs found at Grange Farm are several months younger than the stolen ones, and Mr Archer is adamant they aren’t his.
‘But I’ve done the paperwork now, and it’s great for my clear-up rate, which means more snuggle time at home with Fallon. Result!’

Mystery hero saves the day at the races

Racegoers narrowly avoided injury at the New Year’s Day meeting at Felpersham, thanks to a mystery hero who stepped in to control a runaway mare.
‘Lilian Bellamy and I had been invited by Justin Elliott to lunch in his box,’ said Mrs Shula Hebden-Lloyd. ‘Lilian is always high-spirited, but I thought she’d behave herself in the Owners’ and Trainers’ stand. Unfortunately, she had a few  glasses of Red Rum punch in the Clare Balding bar and became even more lively.
‘I thought I could control her, but suddenly her handbag strap snapped and she was off. She galloped to the paddock and was about to leap up on the favourite  for the Ladies’ Bumper, when thank goodness, a very dashing man in a well-fitting hunt coat stepped in and calmed her down. He’s a hero - I don’t know what I would have done without him.’

Musings from the Vicarage…

In the first of an occasional series, the Rev Alan Franks has some wise words for new parents:

‘Mums and dads often ask me for advice on choosing godparents to guide their new baby on his or her journey into faith. From long experience, here are some suggestions:
• It’s best to ask someone who returns your calls when you phone them.
• Choose someone both you and your spouse get on with. For instance, if your husband despises your choice of godparent and tells him that his partner is a serial cheat on his stag night, this might cause trouble going forward. 
• Be sensitive to a prospective godparent’s feelings. For example, if someone says: ‘I want no connection with you and if you think I would stand as godparent to your child you must be on another planet, so you must’, this might be a sign they are uncomfortable with the idea.
• Try not to take it personally if your choice of godparent turns you down. Your husband will not hold it against you and use it as evidence that you are pathetic, worthless and mad. Really, he won’t.’

 Next week: midwife Ellie Richards of Borchester General offers advice on eating disorders in pregnancy.

Young entrepreneur offers New Year tips

Toby and Rex Fairbrother of Hollowtree Celebration Poultry are looking forward to a bumper 2016, as their landlords David and Ruth Archer have agreed to extend their lease by a further two years. We asked Toby for his tips for a winning pitch:

• It’s guys who make all the decisions in business, right? So when you’re pitching to a couple, like David and Ruth Archer, make sure you talk to the man.
• But don’t forget to thank the little lady for making the coffee!

(Is that it? Seems a bit thin. Ed)

Poetry Corner

Many thanks to Bert Fry of Brookfield for sending in this seasonal ode:

New beginnings

It’s Happy New Year for David and Ruth,
A relief to all, and that’s the truth,
For when she went travelling Down Under,
I thought they might be split asunder.

David moped and spread the word
He planned to give up the dairy herd,
But Ruth came back and put him right,
They’ll still have cows – but not black and white!

So now they’re both like love’s young dream,
And Jill’s a cat that’s got the cream,
With Matt around, she’s a happy grandmother
Because Pip’s gone off that Toby Fairbrother.

And as if our good news isn’t enough,
Lynda Snell has found her wandering Scruff!
He must have covered a lot of mileage,
But he wasn’t dead in Home Farm’s silage. 

So after the terrible year we’ve had –
And losing my Freda still makes me sad –
At last we’re having a bit of luck.
As Eddie Grundy would say: ‘Thank goodness!’

Sunday, 3 January 2016

Ruth returns, Justin rethinks and Rob rejoices: New Year revelations in Ambridge

Shock as Elliott bails out of Berrow Farm

 There was no New Year cheer for workers at Berrow Farm as its owners confirmed that the mega-dairy, which was hit by a botulism outbreak earlier this year, is to close with the loss of all jobs.
Justin Elliott, chairman of Borchester Land’s holding company, Damara Capital, said: ‘These are always difficult decisions, but the climate was just too challenging. I could cope with the Parish Council rejecting my offer to fund the new village hall, and even turned the other cheek when the vicar sent my Christmas hamper back.
‘But stumbling on Lynda Snell in the altogether at the Calendar Girls photo-shoot was the last straw. I haven’t been able to look at an udder since. The cows have to go.’

The Trials of Ruth Archer

 Award-winning romantic novelist Lavinia Catwater gets the New Year off to an emotional start with the latest chapter of her saga, in which our heroine must share life-changing news with her loved ones…

Ruth Archer made a final note in her ‘Bilbo Baggins’ scrapbook and hugged it to her new All Blacks sweatshirt.
This flight was exhausting, but the journey she had taken in her mind was so much longer. What was it the Maori elder had told her on her pilgrimage to Tongariro? ‘I see cows in your eyes, my child. They are your future.’. Descending through the night towards home, she wondered if her revelation on the sacred mountain would lead to happiness, or tear her family apart…


‘So you see, it’s like this!’ Despite her jet-lag, Ruth’s eyes shone with passion as she surveyed her family: David, his face red with the effort of holding in his gently swelling paunch; Pip, writing ‘M’ in spilt sugar on the kitchen table, and Jill, carving a rib of beef with one hand and stirring a pudding with the other. How she loved them all!
‘What I’m saying is, we need to stay in milk, but do it differently!’ she urged. ‘Sell the herd, buy some new cows that cost less to run – crossbreds, Norwegian Reds with Jerseys…’
‘Oh, I’m not sure I could knit jerseys for them all at my age dear,’ said Jill. ‘Maybe the WI could help.’  
‘Hmm; I’ll have to see what Matthew says,’ said Pip dreamily. But David’s face was mottled now with rage. ‘Sell the herd! How could you! That was MY idea!’ Turning on his heel, he stomped out of the kitchen.
Heartbroken, Ruth stroked the bronze sculpture of the cow and calf, still half wrapped, that David had given her for their anniversary. Would it be a symbol of new beginnings – or a memorial to their marriage?


‘I thought I’d find you here.’ David was leaning on a fence post, kicking its base like a sulky little boy as Ruth gently approached. ‘I know it’s a lot to take in, what with my having big ideas for the business and that and just springing them on you.’
‘Yes,’ David said grudgingly. ‘I’d never do that to you Ruth.’
‘I know pet,’ Ruth smiled knowingly to herself. ‘But spending time with all those lean, bronzed sheep shearers with six packs in New Zealand just made me realised how much it’s you I really want. Although a bit less of your mum’s fruit cake wouldn’t go amiss!’
Playfully, she poked him in the belly and he grunted like Ellie his favourite cow, who was guzzling silage, oblivious of the huge changes that were about to happen at Brookfield Farm. ‘Dan and Doris; Phil and Jill; you and me – we’re in this together!’ said Ruth, her eyes brimming with happy tears. ‘Thank God! It’s been hell without you,’ beamed her husband. ‘I still need a bit of help with my arm. And you won't believe what Toby Fairbrother wrote on my plaster!’

Calendar Girls hailed as a ‘triumph’

Despite rumours of a ‘disastrous’ dress rehearsal, local impresario Lynda Snell described her production of Calendar Girls at Lower Loxley as a ‘triumph’. ‘Our ladies were outstanding, especially when the heater failed,’ she said. ‘The company gave their all and the audience got everything they came for, and more.’
‘It was certainly a lively introduction to Ambridge,’ said Dr Richard Locke, who attended every show. ‘Elizabeth Pargetter as Annie was a real hottie...  I mean, she gave a poignant and moving performance.’
However, a spokesperson for Jean Harvey, who played Jessie, said she was considering legal action over the alleged sabotage of a vital prop. ‘Someone unravelled my client’s knitting, leaving her without the wherewithal to give a dignified performance,’ she said. ‘Compensation is due.’
• See our Arts Special for Tristram Hawkshaw’s review of Calendar Girls!

My Week, by Helen Titchener

Ambridge cheese maker, retailer and mum-to-be Helen Titchener shares the highlights of her busy festive season.

Christmas Day
I had a rotten cold before Christmas so my husband Rob brought me breakfast in bed: he spoils me! Our son Henry had already opened his presents, which was thoughtful of Rob as he knew I’d over-tired myself wrapping them. But he and Henry showed me a selfie, which was lovely.
Rob gave me a beautiful necklace – I don’t know how much it cost, as he looks after all the finances now. And a new dress, but I’ve ‘bloomed’ so much it didn’t fit – so upsetting.
Note to self: lay off the mince pies!

Tuesday December 29
We had our 20-week scan today. Rob was super-excited to see the baby’s fingers and toes! ‘You’ve done all this before Helen, but not properly,’ he said. ‘This is MY son.’ So sweet! Rob’s already had lots of ideas for names: he likes Dominic and Julian. For some reason I don’t really want to think about it yet. But I did try and contact my friend Ian about being a godparent. We had a silly misunderstanding at his wedding but I’m sure we’ll make it up soon! I feel lonely sometimes (oh, don’t put that in; Rob won’t like it).

Wednesday December 30
Such a silly thing happened at Bridge Farm shop today! It seems I repeated the pre-Christmas fruit order, so we’re completely awash with oranges and bananas. It was odd, because I’m sure I remember taking extra care, but Rob said not to worry, it was just my hormones, or my cold, or something. He’s right; I’ve been feeling really sluggish lately, so I decided not to have any supper.  I’m sure a lot of busy mums-to-be feel the same!

Thursday December 31
Rob is such a modern husband: he’s persuaded me that we should job-share at the shop, so I have more energy for him, the new baby, and Henry. Isn’t that lovely? It means I get to relax at home (how did I get through the day without Homes Under The Hammer?!) and of course I’m not driving because I can’t be trusted on the road. But Rob’s fine with me phoning people up, as long as I tell him first, and if I want to go out, I just have to make an appointment! I simply couldn’t manage without him. I’m so lucky. (Editor, you will make sure you leave this bit in, won’t you? Thanks, Helen.)