Sunday, 28 February 2016

Grumpy cows, flood memories and making plans for Helen: a worrying week in Ambridge

 Cop warns of cattle rustling crime wave

Borsetshire’s Rural Crime Unit (PC Harrison Burns) held a press conference this week to alert local farmers to an outbreak of ‘industrial scale’ cattle rustling.
‘In the most audacious crime of this kind I’ve ever seen, thieves removed no fewer than six lorry-loads of finest black and white Holstein-Friesian cattle from Brookfield in broad daylight,’ he said. ‘They then replaced them with smaller cows, all funny colours – clearly inferior beasts, although they do have slightly longer legs.
‘I watched the whole thing from my covert surveillance post on Lakey Hill, apart from when I nodded off because the whole process took so long.
‘Of course, I made David and Ruth Archer aware of what was happening under their very noses, but they seemed quite happy about it. I can only assume they are in shock, which can happen in these cases. I’ve filed a report and will be mounting a county-wide search. Keep ‘em peeled!’ 

Community to mark a sombre anniversary

A special service to remember the devastating Ambridge flood, which took place a year ago this week, will be held at St Stephen’s on Sunday.
‘We will give thanks for our community spirit, ask for strength to continue the restoration work (especially in the Village Hall, as Brown Owl is getting more desperate by the week) and, of course, remember those we have lost,’ said Rev. Alan Franks.
Bert Fry, whose wife Freda tragically passed away after being trapped in floodwater, will deliver a heartfelt address.
‘I’ve been struggling with what to say all week,’ he said. ‘And I’ve finally decided. I shall tell those Fairbrother boys to stop treating me like an idiot and realise  I’ve made more mobile henhouses than they’ve had hot dinners. It’s what Freda would have wanted. She was never one to hold her tongue when something needed saying.’
In an unusual departure from tradition, the choir will process into church led by Mrs Lynda Snell and her dog Scruff. ‘I have made him a woolly coat and a pair of horns, so he is a symbol of all the animals who suffered in the flood, although of course, thank Heavens, Scruff was eventually restored to us,’ she said.

Ambridge mum-to-be welcomes new personal birth budget

The Government’s new plan to allow pregnant women up to £3,000 to spend on their preferred option for giving birth has been welcomed by Helen Titchener of Blossom Hill Cottage, who is expecting her second child.
‘Health professionals say I should have this baby in hospital, because with Henry I had pre-eclampsia and nearly died,’ she said. ‘But my mother-in-law Ursula tells me that hospitals are dirty places and I’d be much better off at home, where my friends can’t just turn up and visit.
‘My husband Rob is all in favour too. He says we won’t even need to spend the £3,000; he can bank that for me. So thoughtful. My mother-in-law, who’s an expert because she’s had two sons, will deliver the baby. Won’t that be nice?’

From the Message Boards

With half-term over and mock exams well under way, we drop in to the Ambridge Teen Forum to see how students are getting on:

• Sorry not to have posted for so long guys. I’m working 20-hour days to finish Churchill’s History of the English-Speaking Peoples, just in case it comes up in my mocks. I thought I’d lost volume 4 until I found Kate was using it as a doorstop. Honestly!  Feebs
Cool, Feebs! I didn’t know that dog off the telly adverts wrote stuff! I’ve had a great week – just passed my Level 2 apprenticeship in Practical Farmwork. My granddad’s been brilliant; if he hadn’t given me that tip about taking the cap off before you put oil in the tractor, I might have failed. JohnnyLovesFarming
Well done Johnny! Knew you could do it. I had Business Studies this week. The questions were really lame so I wrote about my egg empire instead. That’s OK isn’t it? JustJosh

Good advice on hand for grans

Family relationships expert Dr Patsy Pursglove will be the guest speaker at the next meeting of Ambridge Women’s Institute. ‘I’ll be focusing on the role of grandparents, as they are often left out of the family dynamic,’ she says.
‘For example, we all want to spoil our grandchildren, but feeding them chocolate and encouraging them to be naughty may not be helpful,’ she said. ‘Telling them that mummy won’t love them any more when she has her new baby is certainly not wise either.
‘On the other hand, grandparents may step back, not wanting them to interfere. This may prevent them noticing that something is very wrong with their grandson’s home life.
‘These are easy mistakes to make and I hope I can pass on some helpful tips,’ said Dr Pursglove. ‘If you know of anyone who might benefit, do please let them know.’     

New: The Ambridge Observer No-Prize Non-Jumbo Crossword

Test your little grey cells with this fiendish puzzle devised by our new crossword compiler, who wishes to be known only as the ‘Ambridge Alcibiades’. (Bet it’s Jim Lloyd. Ed) Answers next week!


1. Eddie’s wonky DIY project takes Ruth’s head off (3)
3. What Pat wears to deal with issues? (6)
6. Leaf and insect appear in Lynda’s Easter parade (7)
8. Star inspiring Emma to Clean for the Queen (7)
9. What Helen should answer when Tom asks if something’s wrong (3)


2. Henry wet the bed: scared by a little bear, or his new granny? (7)
4. Lilian is moved by king and jug (3,3,4)
5. Does Clarrie have the best recipe for these – or Jazzer? (6,4)
6. Tom’s birthday tea tastes like what Rob tells (5)
7. What traffic lights do when Kate drives up? (2,5)

Calling all crossword fans!

The Ambridge Observer is looking for freelance crossword compilers to contribute to future issues. No pay; complete amateurs welcome; choose your own nom de plume (within limits). To apply, contact the Editor in the usual way.

Sunday, 21 February 2016

Cows ship out, Ursula moves in and Lynda’s muse strikes again: an eventful week in Ambridge

Family celebrates ‘emotional’ sale of historic herd

David and Ruth Archer of Brookfield said they were pleased to have received top prices, but sad to see their dairy herd, which the family had built up over three generations, go for sale at Borchester Auction Mart this week.
‘I even welled up on Valentine’s Day,’ said David Archer. ‘I thought the film at The Bull was ‘Beef Encounter’ and it reminded me of the cows we were losing. But Ruth soon put me right. I’m so glad she came back from New Zealand.’  
‘We’ve all got such a lot to look forward to,’ said Mrs Archer. ‘There’s something about poring over cattle catalogues in bed that does wonders for a marriage. And our daughter Pip’s finding that out for herself; she and Matthew spend hours Skyping about herringbone versus rotary parlours.  I told her, that’s how you know it’s love.’

‘Ambridge saved our bacon’ says card industry

Greetings card manufacturers enjoyed record Valentine’s Day sales, thanks to an unprecedented surge in demand centred on Ambridge.
‘It’s so encouraging,’ said an industry spokesman. ‘Everywhere else, the market’s in freefall as people send e-cards, texts and cheeky tweets. But in Ambridge, good old-fashioned Valentine’s Day cards have been selling like black pudding Scotch eggs.
‘It seems to be the rule in Ambridge that everyone, married or single, receives at least one Valentine, and some get dozens. Postal workers often refuse to deliver there because of the sheer weight of cards. We’re hoping we can learn from this micromarket and scale up for a national campaign.’

Pageant strikes a controversial note

The grand re-opening of Ambridge Village Hall at Easter will be marked by a production of England’s Pleasant Land, a little-known pageant written in 1940 by novelist E.M. Forster.
‘The play charts the history of rural England, from the Domesday Book through the Enclosures to the Second World War,’ said local impresario Lynda Snell. ‘What could be more appropriate to celebrate the rebirth of the hall, which represents the spirit of rural life and culture? Not as much as my new shepherd’s hut does, of course, but we couldn’t stage it there.’
However, some residents claim they have been ‘banned’ from the production even before rehearsals have started. ‘When I heard it was a pageant I rang to offer my services,’ said Mrs Sabrina Thwaite. ‘My Labradoodle and I perform a stunning routine dressed as Wonderwoman and Wonderdog, but Lynda was having none of it. I told her: if it’s good enough for ‘Miss Torbay Talent 1994’, who are you to turn your nose up!’
‘The playgroup mums are livid,’ said Mrs Emma Grundy. ‘My Keira would have walked a ‘Toddlers in Tiaras’ pageant. But Lynda told me it’s all peasants and levellers and that. What a swizz.’

Foodies vote Wayne’s World a big hit

Diners are raving about the Spring menu at The Bull, designed by new chef Wayne Tucson. ‘My husband Kenton was a bit worried about having my ex in the kitchen, but it’s working out brilliantly,’ says landlady Jolene Archer.
‘Yeah, man, it’s, like… totally cool,’ said Mr Archer. ‘The punters are loving the new dishes – and a few hours after eating, they suddenly get peckish and order second helpings! It’s doing wonders for business.’
Mr Tucson, who is also an accomplished Country & Western musician, credits the  ‘touch of magic’ he adds to meals that makes them irresistible. ‘No need to mention it to my daughter’s partner PC Burns though, eh?’ he said.
Signature dishes include:
• Ganja nachos
• ‘Get you baked’ potatoes
• Corned beef hash
• Veg-out stir-fry with crispy sea-weed
• Pot-roast chicken
• Smokin’ pulled pork burger
• Space cake
• Stoned-fruit crumble
• Special brownies

Hooray for Henry!

Congratulations to Henry Titchener, aged five, who has won first prize in the St Stephen’s children’s art competition. The judges praised Henry’s use of colour and detail in his drawing called ‘My family’. ‘It’s a picture of me, mummy, daddy, mummy’s new baby and my new grandma Ursula,’ Henry said. ‘She’s nice and gave me toy moo-cows. I like my granny Pat too, but daddy says Ursula is my real granny and I must be good for her. And I have to be a good boy for mummy because I’m going to be a big brother soon.
‘Grandma Ursula came for half-term but I hope she stays longer. We make cakes and she helps mummy. She answers her phone and makes sure she doesn’t have nasty friends, like aunty Kirsty.’
Well done Henry! His prize is a trip on the Blackberry Line.

Wheel rustlers on the prowl, police warn

Borsetshire’s Rural Crime Unit (PC Harrison Burns) has advised owners of trailers and caravans to keep them secured as ‘gang war’ has broken out over spare parts.
‘Ruthless rustlers will stop at nothing to get their hands on wheels and axles to build small vehicles such as mobile hen houses and shepherd’s huts, which they can sell for high prices to gullible incomers and hobby farmers,’ he said. ‘Even prams and buggies may not be safe as these gangsters, who appear to be harmless old gents doing a spot of DIY, try to secure supplies for their dubious projects. Keep ‘em peeled, folks!’

Properties to let

Holiday cottage, set on a delightful family farm. Facilities include wind chimes, scented candles, yoga mats and dream catchers in every room. Rent: as much as you possibly can because I’ve really got to make some money out of this, OK? Apply: Kate, Home Farm. 

Elegant residence, in need of a little TLC. Available unfurnished (tenant to pay to store my stuff, darling). Suit gentleman looking for a discreet rural bolthole. Personal services (social secretary, interior designer, dinner escort) negotiable by arrangement, if you understand me. Apply: Mrs Lilian Bellamy, The Dower House. STOP PRESS: This property has been let to Mr Justin Elliott. 

Thursday, 18 February 2016

Special edition: Academics come to Ambridge

Ambridge came under the microscope this week as a team of academics invaded the village to conduct in-depth surveys, give demonstrations and even dig archaeological test pits in residents’ gardens.

Led by Cara Courage, PhD student at Brighton University, Dr Nicola Headlam of Liverpool University and Dr Peter Matthews of Stirling University, the boffins camped on the village green. ‘They were generally quite well behaved,’ said local resident Gemma Hawkins, ‘but they did keep us awake with their cider drinking, wassail songs and arm-wrestling contests to see who deserved the most enormous research grant.’

The Ambridge Observer was given exclusive access to the research team (well, not really. They were on telly and radio all day. Ed). Here’s our round-up of events:

Why we all like it up Lakey Hill 

Lakey Hill is set to be become England’s smallest theme park, as ethnographers claim it holds a unique position in rural culture.
‘Lakey Hill is possibly the dullest place in Borsetshire,’ said Prof Lyn Thomas of Sussex University.  ‘And yet it holds an almost supernatural fascination for local residents.’
Prof Thomas’s research found that nearly every woman in Ambridge had been taken up Lakey Hill at some point, and for many it represents a reassuring sense of place and home.
‘When you consider the disasters that occur when people travel outside Borsetshire – for example to Cumbria, or to a motorway service station – it is hardly surprising that they prefer to stay close to Lakey Hill,’ said Prof Thomas.
‘Of course, dramatic events do happen in Ambridge, such as someone falling off a roof, or having an emergency C-section, ‘ she added. ‘But generally, Lakey Hill is the backdrop to all the most dull events in the village – lambing, cricket, the fete, Stir-Up Sunday, Bonfire Night and the Christmas lights. 
'Unlike most theme parks, Lakey Hill will have no tourist attractions whatsoever. That’s exactly why people will like it.’

Theatre-goers to get Moor this Christmas

After last year’s triumph with Calendar Girls, Ambridge will be staging a production of Othello this Christmas.
Shakespearean tragedy is not typical festive fare, but scholar Abi Pattenden concluded it was the ‘perfect choice’ following her studies in the village.
Othello is a play about the differences between ‘seeming’ and ‘being’ – deception and honesty,’ she says. ‘Spending time in the Bridge Farm shop, I’ve observed there is a perfect Iago –a master of deceit and manipulation – and sadly, a very convincing Desdemona, the flawed yet innocent wife.
‘Casting the play should be easy and I feel it would have intense resonance with the village – although hopefully Lynda Snell can write a happier ending.’
‘This sounds like a very suitable production,’ said Peggy Woolley of the Women’s Institute. ‘After showing their assets last year, it would be good to demonstrate our members’ more traditional skills, like seaming. I always sew mine by hand – much better than the machine, don’t you find?’

Dispute divides community orchard leaders

The future of the community orchard at Grange Farm hung in the balance this week as a row broke out between its founding members.
‘I don’t know how it happened,’ said Dr Samantha Walton of Bath Spa University. ‘I was just chewing the fat with Joe Grundy and Jim Lloyd over a pint of cidre nouveau, when I pointed out that Joe’s approach to the orchard comes from a place of authority, proximity, memory, reality and knowledge. Whereas Jim views the orchard from a more classically informed standpoint of romanticism, distance, history, mediated knowledge and nostalgia.
‘Suddenly it all kicked off. They practically came to blows over whether proximity or mediated knowledge made better cider. But fortunately I brought the conversation round to poetry and there was one thing we could all agree on: John Keats was merely a warm-up act for the Ambridge Folk Laureate, Bert Fry.’ (Hear, hear! Ed)

Junior diggers do the dirty

A community archaeological dig involving Ambridge youngsters had to be abandoned early after artefacts were found to have been deliberately planted.
Professor Carenza Lewis of Lincoln University and her colleague Clemency Cooper revealed that a hoard of high-status Roman Samian ware, dug up in Grange Spinney, had in fact been made out of Plasticine by Molly and Tilly Button.
‘I can’t believe it,’ said Prof Lewis. ‘We've been organising these Higher Education Field Academies all over the country and usually find that the teenagers are enthused and inspired. We’ve never come across such a thorough and devious attempt at sabotage before.’
The fake finds were particularly disappointing as test pits in other parts of the village had proved unproductive. ‘All we found was some old bunting, buried in the garden of Woodbine Cottage,’ said Prof Lewis. ‘I don’t suppose you know who it belongs to?’

Tomorrow’s Farming World comes to Ambridge

Ambridge’s farmers were treated to a futuristic vision of labour-saving, safer farm work with a demonstration at Brookfield.
‘Farming exposes workers to a wide range of musculo-skeletal risk factors, such as twisting, jumping, heavy lifting, vibration and long working hours,’ said Professor Neil Mansfield of Imperial College, London. ‘Yet the design of farm machinery has in some ways changed little since the war.’
Tony Archer, David Archer and farrier Chris Carter were among those who groaned in agreement when Prof Mansfield pointed out the dangers of injuries from animals.
But not everyone was convinced of the merits of cutting-edge technology. ‘I don’t like the look of this driverless tractor,’ said Ed Grundy. ‘It would put me out of a job – and I’ve not finished paying for my new one yet! My Em would go mad.’
Adam Macy said he was ‘in two minds’ about drones that plant trees and crops robotically. ‘I have very happy memories of drones; my former colleague Charlie Thomas was a fan,’ he said, wiping away a tear. ‘But if we used drones in the polytunnels, and no longer needed a fit, young workforce to come over from Eastern Europe – well, I might have some reservations about that.’

‘I’m no NIMBY’, protests parish councillor

Mrs Lynda Snell of Ambridge Hall has taken ‘extreme exception’ to research by Dr Peter Matthews of Stirling University, which concludes she is a ‘middle class warrior’ determined to preserve Ambridge as a rural idyll.
Dr Matthews pointed out that despite numerous applications, not a single unit of affordable housing has been built in Ambridge parish in the past 30 years. ‘People like Lynda use their social capital, education and persistence to produce outcomes that are not always beneficial for the community as a whole,’ he said. 
‘I am shocked,’ sniffed Mrs Snell. ‘All I can say is, I’m no NIMBY. My new shepherd’s hut is a perfect example. It’s housing, and it’s affordable; Robert and I can afford it easily. That Dr Matthews seemed such a nice young man too. I’m glad I didn’t offer him a glass of sherry.’

Local GP faces ethics probe

Dr Richard Locke, who recently returned to live in Ambridge, faces a disciplinary hearing and may be struck off following a ‘shocking breach of professional boundaries’, according to an expert in medical ethics.
‘It only took one chat with Susan Carter to put me in the picture,’ said Professor Deborah Bowman of London University. ‘The rules are absolutely clear; doctors do not date patients, or the families of patients. But Dr Locke not only had a relationship with the mother of his patient Daniel Hebden-Lloyd; Shula herself had previously been under his care for fertility treatment.
‘Of course, boundaries can be harder to maintain in a rural setting,’ said Prof Bowman. ‘And I understand that Dr Locke may be under considerable social pressure, as Shula keeps arranging his parties and lending ponies to his step-daughter.
‘This may provide context, but no excuse. Even though these events date back some years, I’m afraid I shall be referring Dr Locke to the Clinic for Boundary Studies for urgent re-education.’

‘Explore your care options’, families told

Three experts were on hand to answer questions at a well-attended health and social care seminar held at St Stephen’s: Jo Moriarty of King’s College, London, independent social work education consultant Helen Burrows and Dr Katherine Runswick-Cole of Manchester Metropolitan University.
‘I was concerned to hear that Bethany Tucker, a little girl with Down’s Syndrome, had moved away from Ambridge because her parents felt she would not get the support she needed,’ said Dr Runswick-Cole.
‘It seems the family were also subject to some mundane disablism – comments made at the village shop, for example. It is a shame that services weren’t more proactive in helping Bethany settle into a local school, but I still feel this would be preferable to living in Birmingham,’ said Dr Runswick-Cole. 'In fact I have started a campaign, #BringBackBethany, which I hope will go viral.’
Ruth Archer of Brookfield said she was ‘devastated’ to hear from Jo Moriarty that she could have accessed more support for her late mother, Heather Pritchard, both in Northumbria and Ambridge.
‘Me poor mam, I’d no idea we could have got her an alarm system, grab rails and a wet room,’ she said. ‘If we’d done all that, instead of trying to move the whole farm up north and then putting her in a care home, she might still be with us.’
‘So much distress could have been avoided,’ agreed Ms Moriarty, ‘especially for Ruth’s mother-in-law Jill, who would never have had to move her writing desk into a stately home. But sadly, families in rural areas do have to fight to find out what support is available.’
Speaking in the context of the new law against controlling and coercive behaviour, social work expert Helen Burrows said she hoped to raise awareness of domestic abuse. ‘An over-protective partner may be a concern,’ she said. ‘If, for example, a man insists on attending all his pregnant wife’s medical appointments, we might flag that up.
‘But in that case, social workers would probably face a wall of hostility and may come away thinking that perhaps the situation is not that bad,’ she said.
Mrs Pat Archer, whose daughter Helen is expecting her second child, said she found the seminar 'interesting, but not relevant'. ‘It must be awful for people,’ she said. ‘Imagine that happening in your family. We’re so lucky Helen has Rob.’ 

Society’s hot topic for debate

The next meeting of the Ambridge Union will debate the motion: ‘This house believes that Ambridge society is a microcosm of anti-utilitarian medievalism.’
The debate will be chaired by Dr Philippa Byrne of Oxford University, who says: ‘Proposing the motion will be Emma Grundy and Fallon Rogers, who will explain how their vision for the Ambridge Tea Room exemplifies the values of the Arts & Crafts movement, with its reverence for preserving and beautifying the past through craft.
‘Rob Titchener will speak against the motion. His approach to the design of the Bridge Farm shop and treatment of staff represent the drive towards modernisation at all cost, together with disdain for the value of meaningful work.
‘I anticipate a lively debate with informed comment from the floor,’ says Dr Byrne. ‘I gather Jolene Archer, for one, believes modern Ambridge reflects Thatcher-era neoliberalism rather than a return to Victorian values as such.’
Tickets for the debate cost £5, to include tea or coffee and an Ambridge Tea Room fondant fancy. Proceeds to the Village Hall appeal.

Villagers hear themselves as others hear them

An ‘Accent Analysis’ workshop held by Dr William Barras of Aberdeen University proved extremely popular, with residents keen to find out more about their vocal foibles.
‘Dr Barras couldn’t explain why my George sounds all posh, when he’s lived with me and Ed so long,’ said Mrs Emma Grundy. ‘But he did say that my mum Susan is ‘hyper-rhotic’. I asked him if she could get some ointment for it, but he said it only meant she put a lot more  ‘r’ sounds into words than other people do.’
‘Some residents were able to bring recordings of their voices when they were younger, which was fascinating,’ said Dr Barras. ‘Mrs Shula Hebden-Lloyd was amazed when I pointed out how far her vowels had dropped over the years!’
Mrs Pat Archer also said Dr Barras’s workshop was a delightful surprise. ‘I’d completely forgotten I was Welsh!’ she said. ‘It was only when we played a tape from 1974 that I remembered, look you!’

Campaigners fight on as planners ‘move goalposts’

Campaigners for and against Route B – the controversial new road that would split Ambridge in two – vowed to fight on this week as it was revealed that planners’ assumptions could be completely wrong.
Following a detailed study of local maps, Christopher Perkins, reader in geography at Manchester University, has concluded that the course of the River Am has moved substantially in recent years and was ‘straightened out’ in the early 1990s.
‘It seems that the landscape of Ambridge was not as fixed in previous years as it is now,’ said Mr Perkins. ‘There are also significant landmarks, such as the Berrow Farm mega-dairy, the Ambridge bypass and Arkwright Hall, that do not appear on any maps.’
‘This is excellent news,’ said Justin Elliott of Damara Capital. ‘If the maps aren’t correct, we can just draw some new ones and drive Route B right through!’
‘Typical planners!’ said Lynda Snell of the SAVE campaign. ‘One blue line on the map looks just like another to them. Now they’ll have to put Route B somewhere else!’

For more information on Academic analyses of life in rural Borsetshire, visit

Sunday, 14 February 2016

Rex loses out, Bert looks back and Rob closes in: a troubling week in Ambridge

Pancakes fall flat at The Bull

There were dramatic scenes at The Bull this week as new chef Zoe Waffle-Iron walked out in the middle of service during the busy ‘Flipping Pancakes’ event.
Landlady Jolene Archer had to take over in the kitchen while diners waited for up to an hour for pancakes with a range of special toppings.  
‘I’ve no idea what happened,’ said Brian Aldridge of Home Farm. ‘I merely went to enquire about our order in the kitchen. All I said to the young woman was: ‘How’s about a bit of Mexican Hot Stuff?’ and she began to cry. Then when I asked if she’d seen my Cheeky Banana with extra cream, she threw her apron at me and ran screaming from the kitchen! Extraordinary!’

Nightmare for Damara Dream

The spring meeting at Felpersham Racecourse was mired in controversy this week as a runner was found to be ineligible to race.
Damara Dream, a filly part-owned by local business mogul Justin Elliott, came third in the Darrington Wholefoods Juvenile Handicap Hurdle, but stewards later found she is a three-year-old. Under National Hunt rules, three-year-olds do not race this early in the year.
 ‘My trainer must have taken his eye off the paperwork,’ said an embarrassed Mr Elliott. ‘But to be honest, I’ve also been preoccupied. I’m aiming to ease myself into the local community, starting with the lovely Mrs Lilian Bellamy, who has graciously agreed to be my social secretary on a strictly informal but generously remunerated basis.’
Mrs Bellamy could not be contacted for comment as she was ‘out shopping’, according to a spokesperson.

The Trials of Rex Fairbrother

In the latest chapter of our Winter Fiction Special, by award-winning romantic novelist Lavinia Catwater, our hero faces a bitter-sweet Valentine’s Day…

Wincing, Rex opened a packet of paracetamol. Oh, why did he always let Toby lead him astray? A night of Jågerbombs at the rugby club was no preparation for a hard day’s egg marketing. ‘Yo, bro!’ The caravan door was kicked open; Toby bounced in and drop-kicked a pack of bacon at him. ‘I say, that totty at the health club – Christie? Trixie? Kirsty, that’s it! Saw her in the shop. She can give me a massage any time… Oh, what’s up Rexy? Afraid you’ll be all on your ownio on Valentine’s Day?’
Before he could move, Toby had him in a playful head-lock. ‘Listen bro, I told you; get in there with young Pip. Her thing with Matthew the Magic Milk Man will go nipples aloft soon enough!’
Rex struggled free. ‘But I thought you liked her…’
‘Na, not Miss Frosty Pants,’ said Toby, ripping open the bacon. ‘Be my guest – and remember, she comes with a farm attached!’
Oh, if only Toby knew that Rex would happily be Pip’s Valentine, even with nothing but the dung-stained overalls she stood up in! But she was Matthew’s now, and even if Toby had the morals of an alley cat, Rex would not play the cad…


His heart as heavy as the pile of leaden pancakes he’d eaten at The Bull last night, Rex trudged into the yard at Brookfield. He’d only gone to Flipping Pancakes in case Pip was there, but instead he’d spent the evening bribing the Button sisters not to put mustard on Ruth’s salted caramel crepes.
He looked around, hoping to see Bert Fry, when a voice from the lambing shed made his heart leap. ‘Come on; this one’s yours, you stupid old thing!’ He peered in and gazed at Pip, her hair falling onto her face as she knelt over a bloody lamb. Her heady fragrance of disinfectant and sheep poo filled his nostrils and he knew it was love.
‘Oh, hi Rex!’ She looked up with that devastating smile. It was now or never. ‘Hi, Pip,’ he faltered. ‘I missed you at The Bull last night… I just thought, you know, if you ever wanted to go for a drink, you know, to chat…’  His voice tailed away. It was hopeless. How could he compete with Matthew, master of the five-step Dutch foot-paring method?
But what was this? Pip was nodding! ‘OK, Rex yeah,’ she said. ‘Good idea. See you at eight in The Bull?’
Rex was elated. The next four hours he spent explaining his plans for a mobile henhouse to Bert Fry passed in seconds. Soon, soon he would have Pip all to himself…


‘Look, here’s the selfie Matthew and I took in the bedroom at Dorset. And look – here’s where we knocked the lamp over. Did I tell you how he hogged the duvet all night?’ Rex’s heart was breaking. Pip was so beautiful, her eyes sparkling and her face so close to his as she showed him her photos for the seventh time.
‘Yes, Pip, you did. Hilarious,’ he smiled dutifully. But something in his expression must have betrayed him, because Pip frowned and patted his hand.
‘Oh, poor Rex. Here’s me, going on and on about Matthew… let’s talk about you.’
She put down her pint of Shires and looked soulfully at him. ‘Tell me…’ Rex could hardly breathe. Was this his chance to declare his feelings?
‘Tell me Rex, what do you really think of Matthew?’ she said. ‘You’re such a good mate. Do you think he’s as wonderful as I do?’
All at once, Rex felt his dreams shatter as fatally as one of Barry’s exploding crisp packets...

My Week, by Rob Titchener

In our new series profiling readers who have interesting jobs, we talk to Rob Titchener, former manager of Berrow Farm, who is now linchpin of the new Bridge Farm shop.


I usually work on Sundays – no peace for the wicked in retail! – but today I had a much more important job: looking after my darling wife Helen, who’s expecting my baby. She’s been a very silly girl – gone and made herself anaemic by not eating. What was she thinking, little Miss Airhead? Of course, I had to lay down the law. No visitors, no phone calls – especially from that drama-addicted witch, Kirsty. And constant vigilance. If I have to force-feed her to keep our baby healthy I will. Never let it be said Rob Titchener doesn’t take care of his family!


With Helen home from hospital, I was back running the shop today. Honestly, you can’t turn your back on my-laws for a minute. Anyone would think they owned the place! Do you know, Tom Archer actually wants to sell the sausages he makes in the shop? I told him straight: Tom, we want discerning foodies in here, not people like your friends the Fairbrothers who are only eating your disgusting black pudding Scotch eggs for a bet. Helen and I are job-sharing at the shop now, except of course I’m not allowing her to go back to work, so I’ll be covering her shifts too. With brothers like Tom, she’s better off without family anyway.


I’m not one to boast, but under my leadership I’m confident we’re making the  Bridge Farm shop into a profitable business. My mother-in-law Pat thinks so anyway; she’s happy to leave everything to me, including Helen. Sensible woman. Half-term is bound to be busy so I’ll be working hard, but I’ve invited my mother Ursula to stay, to help Helen with Henry. My wife is so lucky; she won’t be left alone for a single minute.  And once Henry and I have had one of our special talks, he’ll understand exactly what ‘obedient’ means, so he won’t be any trouble either. You all have to pitch in with a family business, don’t you?

Poetry Corner

Many thanks to Bert Fry of Brookfield, who has sent us this poignant poem.

Valentine’s Day

This Valentine’s Day it’s nearly a year
Since the flood took away my Freda dear.
It was always a special day for us,
Though she didn’t usually like a fuss

She always loved the flowers I’d grow
To cheer up our little bungalow.
‘Bert’ she’d say, ‘I love your posies
More than any shop-bought roses.’

‘No sweeter bloom than you,’ I’d say –
The same thing every Valentine’s Day.
But this year I’ll be on my own,
And not yet back in our former home.

Mrs Jill Archer knows how I feel;
‘Twas just the same with her and Phil.
She found his card for Valentine’s Day,
Some time after he’d passed away.

But there’s no point getting in a tizzy;
I count my blessings and keep busy,
And though my Freda’s no longer here
I’ll still grow flowers for her every year.

Sunday, 7 February 2016

Kate on the edge, eggs on the menu and a Lent appeal that’s close to home: a fractious week in Ambridge

Will it be curtains for the hall?

The Ambridge Village Hall Curtains Committee was warned to pull itself together this week as the debate between pinch pleats and pelmets nearly descended into open warfare.
‘It was pretty ugly in there,’ said one member after a meeting at the Ambridge Tea Room. ‘Some of us want tiebacks and others want cords; there’s a pressure group demanding blackout lining and another insisting on standard.
‘And then Lynda Snell swans in and sends the discussion into uproar with some scheme about people giving things up for Lent to pay for stage curtains. As if we haven’t got enough on our plates trying to give the Zumba class a bit of privacy!’
‘We will need to sort this out soon one way or another,’ said chairwoman Mrs Shula Hebden-Lloyd. ‘Reopening the Village Hall without curtains is unthinkable, and the Brownies are getting desperate.’

They are the eggmen…

It’s no yolk: three young Ambridge entrepreneurs are hatching a plan for a new venture producing high-welfare, pastured eggs.
‘We’re not crowing about it, but we think we’ve an eggcellent business model,’ said Rex Fairbrother, who runs Fairbrothers Celebration Poultry at Hollowtree Farm with his brother Toby. ‘And now we’ve partnered with Josh Archer – not just a chicken eggspert but a hardboiled businessman too.’
‘It was a real coop – I mean, coup – finding Josh,’ said Toby. ‘Customers already flock to buy his eggs and we’ll be poaching plenty more from pubs, health food stores and restaurants.’
‘We’ve set up a shell company to launch the business and you can bet we’ll be thinking outside the box,’ said Toby Fairbrother. ‘The business might be poultry, but not the profits.’ (OK, you’ve had your fun. Rewrite. Ed)

Winter Fiction Special: The Trials of Princess Kate

In the latest chapter of our romantic saga, by award-winning author Lavinia Catwater, our heroine finds the path to her heart’s desire is strewn with disappointments…

Princess Kate snuggled into her handspun Nepalese pashmina and settled in the lotus position on her Kalahari hemp rug. Closing her eyes, she allowed her breathing to rise and fall in time with the soothing ‘Whale Wellness’ music she was testing for her retreat. ‘Success, success…’ she whispered to herself, creatively visualising the flood of bookings, the rave reviews in Vogue and the customers queuing to buy her range of vegan, organic holistic remedies… It was all within reach. All she had to do was build her retreat, set up her website, make some products….
A banging on the cottage door disturbed her reverie. Was this her first customers, drawn to her by the Philosophy of Abundance? She hurried to greet them…


‘Kate? What the hell do you think you’re doing? Why are you sitting here chanting when you should be installing the compost loos by the yurts?’
Oh, why was her father always so cross? Didn’t he realise how hard it was being a sustainable, eco-aware and fashion-forward entrepreneur these days? ‘Well, dad, you know I’m useless at filling in forms – they’re just too constraining for a free spirit like me,’ she said, perfectly reasonably. ‘So I haven’t got planning permission yet, and as for the cost of photovoltaic panels and underfloor heating….’
‘Underfloor heating? In a yurt?’ Brian had turned the colour of Kate’s favourite pomegranate and aubergine foot scrub.
‘No, silly,’ she smiled indulgently at him. ‘For the cottage of course. You can’t expect me to make inspired business decisions when I’m cold! Look, here are the plans… only £20,000…’
But Brian had already left, slamming the door so hard the draught snuffed out   her special vanilla and vetiver ‘thinking candle’. Oh, why was life so unfair? 


Later that day Kate pulled on her new designer fleece, made of recycled plastic bottles, and headed for Home Farm. She was lost in thought, wondering how she could borrow the £50,000 she needed to pay her feng shui consultant –  worth every penny, of course! Who knew it was so unlucky to position your wood-burner under your prayer flag?
‘Why so glum darling?’ That familiar cackle and cloud of cigarette smoke meant only one thing. Kate smiled. ‘Aunty Lilian, how lovely!’
But quickly remembering her plight, she sighed. ‘Oh, Aunty, what can I do? Dad is being perfectly horrid. Just because I’ve got nothing to show for the money he’s invested. It’s too bad of him.’
Lilian fished out her hip flask and took a quick swig. ‘Want some darling? Eddie’s finest scrumpy cognac!’ Kate shook her head sadly. ‘OK then, darling, let’s think. You just need to show Brian you can make some money. I mean, look at me. Justin’s going to rent the Dower House. I’ll be rolling in it. And that’s not all, if you get my drift darling…’ She winked saucily at her niece.
‘That’s it! Aunty, you’re a genius!’ Kate kissed Lilian and whipped out her solar-powered mobile phone. ‘Dad – hi it’s me! Chill; money troubles sorted! I’m going to rent out the cottage – and move back in with you and Mum! It’ll be great Dad – Dad? Are you there?’
There was a roar, then a deafening silence as Brian cut her off. ‘Plan B then darling? said Lilian, handing Kate her hip flask. This time, she took a deep pull. Oh, why did life have to be so unfair?
To be continued….  

St Stephen’s Lent Appeal

The Rev Alan Franks, vicar of St Stephen’s, is taking ‘Suffering and need on our doorstep’ as his Lent theme this year. ‘I normally like the Lent Appeal to benefit charities outside the parish, but this year I feel there may be those closer to home who need our help,’ he said.
‘I would urge parishioners to look closely at those around them – perhaps people they see every day, even friends and family members – to see if they have missed the signs of suffering or distress.
‘For example, do you know a young woman who seems scared of her partner? Is a mum-to-be who should be happy and enjoying life, looking pale and ill? If your daughter, your friend or your sister keeps telling you she is fine, do you believe her, or wonder why she seems so anxious and jumpy?
‘It is too easy to dismiss our concerns because we don’t want to interfere – or because we are afraid of causing more trouble,’ said Rev Franks. ‘But this Lent, instead of giving up chocolate or eating soup for lunch, why not sacrifice some time to reach out to someone who may need help but be too afraid to ask for it?
‘If you aren’t able to intervene directly, you could consider donating to a suitable charity instead,’ said Rev Franks.
‘And of course, if you could spare Lynda Snell a few quid for the stage curtains for the Village Hall, that would be great too.’