Saturday, 24 December 2016

Debbie flies in, Santa surprises and Susan entertains: a hectic pre-Christmas week in Ambridge

Grandmother ‘comfortable’ after acute shock, say paramedics

An ambulance was called to Brookfield in Ambridge this week as Jill Archer’s family feared she had suffered a heart attack.
‘It was terrible,’ said her daughter-in-law Ruth Archer. ‘All I did was mention to Jill that Pip and Toby weren’t having sprouts for Christmas dinner, when she went a very funny colour.
‘Then I added that they were buying a ready-stuffed chicken joint instead of turkey, and she keeled right over.’
Paramedics who treated Mrs Archer at the scene said she had suffered an acute panic attack, and was recovering well at home.
‘It’s such a relief; we thought we’d lost her,’ said Ruth Archer. ‘I’m just glad I didn’t tell Jill that Pip and Toby were having shop-bought mince pies. It would have finished her off.’

Police seek ‘phantom Santa’

Borsetshire’s Rural Crime Unit (PC Harrison Burns) warned the public to be vigilant this week after a mysterious inflatable Santa appeared in the yard at Bridge Farm.
‘It may seem harmless enough,’ said PC Burns. ‘Young Henry Archer looked out of his window on Wednesday morning and saw a cheery plastic Santa smiling up at him. But no one has admitted to playing this prank, and the perpetrator may be up to no good.
‘I am concerned it may be linked to a late-night incident at Ambridge View, when a decorative urn was knocked into a pond. Mr and Mrs Carter said ‘carol singers’ were to blame, but if you ask me we could be looking at a series of bungled distraction burglaries.
‘And frankly that’s the last thing I need before Christmas, when I should be snuggling up at home with Fallon in our matching Scooby Doo onesies.’

My Week … with Jennifer Aldridge

We catch up with Jennifer Aldridge of Home Farm, leading light of Borsetshire’s social scene, in the busiest week of the year:


It was ladies only this evening, as Susan Carter had a little party to celebrate the end of our ‘Calendar Girls’ year. It was a charming event; Susan always does her best with the catering. Some of her amuse-bouches were really… well, amusing! I haven’t had Dairylea and beetroot on Ryvita since about 1992. But apparently they were left over from Neil’s diet, which is why they were only slightly stale. Waste not, want not, I said to Susan, especially when you’re on a tight budget. I know exactly what it’s like. Heaven knows, we’ll be down to our last few million if Brian goes ahead with his plan to… oh, well, perhaps I shouldn’t say to a member of the press!
And it was so charming of Eddie Grundy, Neil Carter and Toby Fairbrother to turn up at the end of the evening to sing carols to us! Although they did look a little the worse for wear and for some reason Susan didn’t look very happy. Though what she meant by telling Neil chilli was off the menu, I’ve no idea.


I was up early today preparing a little supper for a very special party: all of the family at Home Farm for Christmas! My daughter Debbie is home from Hungary for two whole weeks; then there’s Adam, Kate, and my granddaughter Phoebe, who’s at Oxford University. And who else? Oh yes, Ruairi, of course. His end-of-term report says he’s good at art.
Supper was nothing special: just the eight courses, with special dishes for Kate, who’s vegan, and Ruairi’s usual plate of gruel – he says he’s not used to rich meals after boarding-school meals.  But I must say I had to step in when the family started bickering about this big land deal – you know, the one I’m not supposed to tell you about. When I wanted us to talk about lovely things like Phoebe’s tutorials. Did I tell you she’s at Oxford?


I had to miss one of the highlights of our year this evening: the Borchester Land party at Grey Gables. I was busy making costumes for the Ambridge pantomime – my daughter Kate had messed up as usual, so Phoebe had to take charge and organise a sewing party – so clever. She’s at Oxford, did you know? But Adam and Debbie told me all about it. Apparently Adam rushed into the kitchen to surprise Ian with a bunch of mistletoe! So sweet – and luckily the burns from the hot fat were only superficial. Everyone was there – Justin Elliott, my sister Lilian – everyone knows about their affair now, don’t they? Oh, you didn’t know? Well please don’t put that in your little article, will you? And Rob Titchener, unfortunately. Why Justin chose to employ that man I have no idea. But my daughter Debbie gave him what for when he tried to charm her. She had an abusive relationship herself, you know. But don’t put that in. Not very discreet of me. Anyway, no one gave Rob a Secret Santa present. So that jolly well told him!  


Talking of Rob Titchener (not that I ever gossip of course) I met poor little Henry with his mother today. He ran off for five minutes –and you should have seen Helen! Absolutely panic-stricken. And it turns out, Henry had been posting a Christmas card for Rob in their old cottage! That little boy has been through such a lot. We can only hope it doesn’t affect him in the long term.  He’s so bright; it would be lovely to think he might go to university, like Phoebe. Did I tell you she’s at Oxford?

(That’s enough Jennifer Aldridge. Ed).

Sunday, 18 December 2016

Brian’s big number, mince pie-gate and a radical Nativity: it’s beginning to look like Christmas in Ambridge

Costume crisis calls for radical panto rethink

With the Ambridge Christmas production of Mother Goose only a week away, costume designer Kate Madikane has thrown rehearsals into chaos again with a bid to stage a modern-dress version of Oklahoma! instead.
‘Lynda Snell’s creative vision and mine are completely incompatible,’ said Ms Madikane. ‘I’d done all these beautiful drawings for costumes, and she actually wanted me to make them into garments. Have you ever heard of anything so ridiculous?
‘So my suggestion is we scrap Mother Goose – which was totally contrary to my vegan ethos anyway – and put on a story about real farmers.  
‘All my family are dying to be in it. My dad Brian already knows all the words. You can’t stop him singing ‘We all belong to the land, and the land we belong to is grand’ – with David Archer on backing vocals. My brother Adam would do a great version of ‘I cain’t say no’ and my sister Debbie, who’s coming home for Christmas, could play Will Parker, who’s just come back from the big city, as a principal boy. She loves a bit of thigh-slapping.
‘And best of all they can all wear their own clothes. I don’t mind gluing on a few bits of straw for extra effect. It’s such a great idea, I’m going to pour myself another large Rioja to celebrate.’   

‘Mince pie-gate’ sours festive get-together

The Ambridge Women’s Institute annual ‘Festive Nibbles’ event had to be abandoned this week as members nearly came to blows over mince pies.
‘There were ugly scenes,’ said one member, who preferred not to be named for fear of reprisals. ‘Everyone is supposed to bake their own mince pies for the blind tasting. We all suspect that Sabrina Thwaite uses frozen pastry, but really, with that manicure, you can hardly expect her to do her own rubbing-in.
‘But this year, a couple of new members from Grange Spinney brought shop-bought pies. They didn’t even bother trying to hide the packets! It was shameless. And when the visiting lady judge actually chose one of the ready-made pies as her ‘nicest nibble’, a couple of committee members fainted and the hot-headed younger set had to be restrained to prevent a scuffle breaking out.’
A spokesperson for Borsetshire WI said the incident had been ‘blown up out of all proportion’. ‘Occasionally there are slight misunderstandings when new members aren’t aware of the rules, and that’s what happened here,’ she said. ‘It was easily resolved by giving the prize to Ruth Archer of Brookfield. Her mince pies were so revolting that they could never be mistaken for the work of a professional baker. Well done Ruth!’  

Novel Nativity tackles contemporary issues

The congregation of St Stephen’s enjoyed a ‘Nativity with a twist’ this week as the Revd Alan Franks introduced a daring modern element to the traditional story.
‘Last year we focused on the plight of the homeless, as the Grundys re-enacted the journey of the Holy Family, with Bartleby looking on as they settled down for Christmas in the cider shed,’ said the Revd Franks. ‘This year, I’ve been inspired by my deep spiritual conversations with a parishioner to draw attention to the sadness of the broken family.
‘In our Nativity, cruel Judge Loomis sends out a decree across all the land, that rapists and abusers shall have no contact with their children on Christmas Day – or at any other time except under strict supervision.
‘But our new character, the Unwise Man, longs to give gifts to his estranged sons, so he hangs about the church, hiding behind pillars, frightening the younger angels, clutching a plastic bag of cheap presents and crying so noisily you can hear him above ‘Away in a manger’.
‘However, the congregation turn their backs on the Unwise Man and shepherd the children away from him, leaving him to spend Christmas alone in his apartment on the Edgeley Road, with a frozen turkey dinner and a box set of Game of Thrones. It is truly a Nativity for our times, although to be honest Bishop Nick had his doubts.’

Items for sale

• Four tickets to ‘Puss in Boots’ at the Felpersham Coliseum, with that bloke from EastEnders in it, for Wednesday December 21. Includes a two-course meal at the Torn Scrotum. £100 needed to pay urgent vet’s bill. Contact: Emma Gruny, Grange Farm.

• Glow-in-the-dark ‘Santa stop here’ sign. Not needed as Santa will not be stopping here this Christmas, what with the rent due in the New Year. £20. Contact: Emma Grundy, Grange Farm.

• Designer dresses: one fuchsia and one buttercup (with very faint stain, you’d hardly notice). No longer needed as my husband Neil prefers me in the red velvet I wore for my 50th. Honestly, men. What are they like? Contact: Susan Carter, Ambridge View

At home with… Pip Archer

This week we pop in for coffee at Rickyard Cottage with Pip Archer, who’s looking forward to spending a first Christmas in her cosy home with entrepreneur boyfriend Toby Fairbrother…

So, Pip – how will you and Toby be spending the big day?

Well, it will be nothing like Christmas Day at Brookfield! We won’t be lolling around in our pyjamas opening presents. No pyjamas – and no presents either! Toby needs all his cash for investing in his business, and I’ve given him all my money so I can’t buy him anything. But love is all you need at Christmas, isn’t it?

What about lunch?

At Brookfield we do the turkey, and the roast beef, and the ham, and all Gran’s lovely baking – but who needs that stuff? Toby can’t face poultry after slaughtering all those geese anyway. And we’ll be drinking champagne all day – Toby’s got this great recipe, he’s going to make some – so I don’t suppose we’ll feel much like cooking. I think the Thai takeaway on the bypass is open on Christmas day? Isn’t it? Oh…

And you’ve been so busy you haven’t had time to put the decorations up yet?

Well, all the decorations are at Brookfield; mum still puts all the stupid little angels on the tree that we made when we were little. And Gran knits a whole new Nativity scene every year. But Toby says that’s just dullsville. He’s going to bring some mistletoe that he and Eddie picked in Brookfield and have been selling in the market – and he says he can let me have it half-price! Isn’t that thoughtful? Typical Toby…

Oh dear. Thin stuff.  Wish we’d gone for Justin Elliott instead. Ed.

Sunday, 11 December 2016

Susan plans a party, Toby plans a panto coup and Rob’s plans are thwarted – an intriguing week in Ambridge

The Bull 'struggling with Christmas rush'

Customers at The Bull have complained about poor service, raising concerns that the popular Ambridge pub is not coping at the busiest time of the year.
‘You never know who’s going to be behind the bar,’ said one regular. ‘Apparently there was a bald bloke called Marco, but I never saw him –he was always going off sick.
‘And now Kenton has taken Toby Fairbrother on. He’s brilliant at remembering complicated orders – he’ll whip you up half a dozen Jolene’s Juleps and a couple of Shula Sours, lots of ice and lemon, before you can say bootleg gin. But give him a simple order, like “Take your still and get off my farm” and he just ignores you. It’s weird.’
Jolene Archer, landlady of The Bull, said she was ‘very confident’ that staff would be able to manage the festive rush. ‘Of course, we’re having a busy time, what with Kenton playing the Dame in the panto and polishing the new car we really can’t afford,’ she said. ‘But to apologise for any inconvenience, our chef Wayne Tucson is laying on his special festive brownies as a complimentary bar snack. Nibble one of those and soon you won’t care whether you get served or not.’

Is the Generation Game set to save the panto?

The crisis threatening Lynda Snell’s production of Mother Goose took a new twist this week as two cast members came up with an idea they say will save the show.
‘The script was as heavy as Christine Barford’s scones,’ said Kenton Archer, who is playing the title role. ‘So Toby, who’s playing Priscilla the goose, and I decided to replace the turgid rhymes with brilliant slapstick comedy.
‘Instead of me pleading with Toby for a golden egg, David and Jill Archer take turns to beat him over the head – Jill with her handbag and David with a rolled-up copy of his tenancy agreement,’ said Mr Archer. ‘Jill keeps yelling ‘I hate Toby more than you!’ and David yells back, ‘No mum, I loathe him, yes I do!’ The kids will love it – I can just hear them joining in.’
‘Jill and David each grab one of my wings and there’s a comedy tug of war,’ said Toby Fairbrother. ‘And at the climax of the scene I lay the golden egg (played by Pip Archer) live on stage. It’ll bring the house down.’
Mrs Snell was unavailable when contacted by The Ambridge Observer. A spokesperson said she had been admitted to a private facility to recover from an acute nervous episode and would not be commenting.

Holistic retreat offers tailor-made pampering  

Stressed-out festive shoppers can enjoy a relaxing new treatment at Spiritual Home this Christmas – a unique therapy that combines yoga with sewing.
‘I always feel most fulfilled when running up curtains on my mum’s old Singer,’ said Kate Madikane. (Are you sure? Ed) ‘And as I’ve got all these panto costumes to make, I thought, why not share that sense of serenity and purpose with my clients?
‘So I’ve set up a wonderful ‘sewing bower’ in one of my yurts. Clients sit cross-legged on the floor (that’s the yoga part) and are given a panto costume – one of my organic, Fairtrade gluten-free designs – to sew up. They’re not allowed to stop until they’ve finished – that’s the spiritual discipline aspect of the therapy, which is so important.’
Ms Madikane says customers are so keen to try out the new treatment, which costs £120 an hour, that there is a waiting list for places. ‘At this rate, I’ll have kitted out the whole cast, including the goslings’ chorus, by the first dress rehearsal – and cleared a few thousand into the bargain!’ she says. ‘It just shows what you can achieve when you put your faith in the Universe.’

Dear Santa: Ambridge’s Christmas wishes

With the festive season well under way, our reporters have been out and about asking readers what they hope to find under the tree on Christmas morning:

Tracy Horrobin: ‘Ooh, I’d like to find that Roy Tucker under my tree – and you needn’t bother wrapping him up, if you know what I mean! I thought I’d pulled on the 90s night in Felpersham, ‘cos when I asked him to dance and he said ‘Get lost Tracy’ I know he was just playing it cool. But then he disappeared… Don’t suppose you’ve got his number at all?  

Richard Thwaite: ‘I’m planning to surprise my wife Sabrina with an unusual gift – a ride-on lawnmower. Sabrina’s always saying she’d love something sturdy and powerful to cut the grass – ever since we watched Poldark. So this seemed like just the thing, and Josh Archer says he’s found me a real bargain. I can’t wait to see her face.’

Henry Archer (aged 5): ‘I want to see my Daddy for Christmas but Mummy says I can’t. My friend Keira says her brother has two Daddies and he sees them both. Granddad Bruce said my real Daddy was a test tube but Grandma Ursula said shut up darling he can hear you and anyway my little brother Jack can see Daddy and I can’t and it’s not fair. I want like a gun like Daddy’s for Christmas.’

Brian Aldridge: ‘I’m fully expecting a lovely big parcel of land, wrapped in a mortgage and tied up forever in inheritance litigation, for Christmas. It’s all for the children of course – not that they’re grateful. Adam thinks I’m a threat to the climate, Debbie thinks I’m mad, Kate’s only worried about her fire pit and Ruairi hasn’t said a word. Only Alice understands about the big data revolution and the evolution of the world of work and… erm, all that kind of thing. Thank goodness I’m not the only member of the family with a vision!’

Rob Titchener: ‘What do you mean, what do I want for Christmas? I want to see Myson Gideon! It’s my right, whatever that dolt of a judge and pathetic psychologist’s report say. But oh no, it’s once a month, in Felpersham, and not until January! How am I supposed to convince Gideon his mother’s evil and I’m a misunderstood victim with some nosy social worker sitting in? And why don’t you get that notebook out of my face, you miserable little…’ (that’s enough vox pop. Ed)

Letter to the Editor 

Dear Madam,

I am holding a ‘Calendar Girls’ Christmas party in two weeks’ time, for all the ladies who were brave enough to bare all for the 2016 Ambridge charity calendar. I was wondering if you would like to send a photographer? It would give your readers the chance to see us ladies dressed up to the nines, not clinging to our modesty with a carefully-placed cottage loaf – or in my case, having to cover my blushes with stick-on silver stars.
It’s no fun spending a whole month on people’s walls, with the likes of Nathan Booth gawping at you from his lazy boy recliner. So a tasteful photo in the Ambridge Observer would help us all put this ‘Year of Shame’ behind us.  

Yours sincerely

Susan Carter, Ambridge View

(Note to subs: plan in a colour supplement of all the calendar pix for next week’s issue. Justin Elliott says he’ll pay for the extra pages. Ed)