Sunday, 24 February 2019

Susan drives Jennifer round the U-bend, plus Russ's secret diary

Ambridge up in arms at Lent challenge

Parishioners of St Stephen’s have voiced opposition to this year’s Lent Appeal, which asks church-goers to ‘Pay for a Favour’ to raise funds for the Intensive Care Unit at Borchester Hospital.
‘After discussion with her family, we agreed it would be a fitting tribute to the memory of Nic Grundy, who so sadly left us a year ago,’ said the Revd Alan Franks. ‘Nic was always bustling about, helping others and letting people know about it with a cheery smile.’   
‘It’s really rather tiresome,’ said an anonymous church-goer. ‘Usually, we all just pretend to give up wine and put a few extra pound coins in the collection. The thought of actually having to help someone isn’t in the spirit of Lent at all.’
‘It’s insulting, bribing people to do things they’d do out of the goodness of their hearts,’ said Susan Carter. ‘For example, just the other day I helped Jennifer Aldridge unblock her U-bend, without any need for payment or any ulterior motive at all. Mind you, it’s better than getting people to give up chocolate. That plays havoc with the shop takings.’

Ask Auntie Satya

With her warm wit and forensic legal skills, Auntie Satya is back to sort out all your emotional and practical dilemmas.

Dear Auntie Satya,

My mother-in-law has a new man friend who often visits her at our home for what they call ‘Scrabble days’, which involve a lot of giggling behind closed doors. We’re trying to make him welcome, but it can be awkward. For example, the other day I’d just put all my knickers out on the radiators to dry, when he came in. What’s the etiquette here?  Ruth.

Dear Ruth,

Don’t worry; next time you are airing your smalls, tell him they belong to your mother-in-law. If he says: ‘Really? I haven’t seen that pair before!’ you’ll know it’s time to buy a wedding hat.

Dear Auntie Satya,

My husband and I find ourselves in reduced circumstances and this week, I had to look on while my daughter’s mother-in-law, who frankly is not ‘one of us’ insisted on unblocking my U-bend. It was full of the most sordid gunk – I suspect compacted tofu and mung beans from when my vegan daughter had supper with us, but it looked and smelt awful. I had to blame it on the previous owners. And then she insisted we go to her house for a dinner party! How can I avoid such humiliation? Jennifer. 

Dear Jennifer,

I would advise buying a serviceable plunger and asking your husband to become familiar with its use. From your longer letter, I gather he does not have a great deal to do at the moment so this should not prove too difficult. As for the dinner party, why not call and say that to save your hostess work, you’d like to bring a tofu and mung bean dish that’s a particular family favourite. I suspect you’ll find the invitation is quickly withdrawn.

Dear Auntie Satya,

My daughter has been diagnosed with depression and is seeing a therapist. Obviously I want her to get better, but I’m worried that during her sessions she will talk about her childhood and blame her problems on me, because when she was a baby the au pair left and I had a bit of a breakdown. I have a new man friend and wouldn’t want him to be put off. Am I right to be concerned? Jill.

Dear Jill,

No. Whatever makes you think that a therapist would judge you for being distant, self-centred, interfering and over-critical as a parent?  I’m sure your fears are groundless. And even if they’re not, conversations between therapist and client are strictly confidential, so you needn’t worry that your man friend will learn about any past difficulties.  

Coffee break with… Pat Archer

In our series of interviews with readers who have interesting jobs, we catch up with the matriarch of Bridge Farm and stalwart volunteer at The Elms (are you sure? She never mentions it these days. Ed)

Pat, we’re lucky we’ve managed to pin you down to have a coffee. You’re usually so busy!

Ha ha ha, yes. Tony and I are really winding down now that our family are running the farm so beautifully. Our daughter Helen lets us take her boys to the soft play centre, but that’s about it these days!

And they have some exciting plans, we hear?

Oh yes. Of course, they do consult us. Just the other day, Tom asked us about his plan to buy a 10-acre field to expand our new agroforestry venture. We were so proud of our grandson Johnny. He was maturely discussing what he’d read in the Financial Times about the outlook for farmland prices. And to think, when he came to us he could barely read or write! But once Tom sorted out his dyslexia by advising him to print things out on tinted paper, there was no stopping him. Maybe that’s why he likes the Financial Times…  Anyway, as I was saying…

Er, yes Pat.  Tell us what you’re planning for the dairy?

Well, we have our new herd of Montbéliarde milkers, which Helen is sure will help her make fabulous cheese. Johnny’s actually looking after them of course, but Helen works so hard, regularly telling him he’s doing quite a good job, and she’s so happy with her new friend Lee – always singing ‘Eye of the Tiger’ around the dairy. It cheers us all up, I can tell you.  

And the veg boxes are due for a revamp, we hear?

Oh yes, Tom’s girlfriend Natasha is very ambitious for those. He’s so sensible; he just does exactly what she tells him. And Tony’s delighted because we’re going to put home-grown beef in our veg boxes, which is a first for Borsetshire. Natasha says it will be quite 'disruptive'. 

So with Brexit looming, you’ve no concerns that your plans might be swept off course?

A Good heavens, no. What could possibly go wrong? Oh look, it’s time for lunch. Would you like to stay? It’s only soup and a roll…

Borsetshire Community Cinema

Showing this week: The Sound of Music sing-along

Raid your dressing-up box, become your favourite character and join your family and friends at this very special screening of one of the world’s best-loved musicals. But hurry: tickets are going fast! Already signed up to attend are:
Jill Archer (Mother Superior)
Sabrina Thwaite (the Countess)
Clarrie Grundy (brown paper package tied up with string)
Joe Grundy (warm woollen mittens)
Mia Grundy (Liesl)
Ruairi Donovan (Rolf)
Poppy Grundy (Gretl)
Nic Grundy (Maria – her seat will be left empty).
(That’s enough Sound of Music. Something in my eye. Ed.)

NEW SERIES: The Secret Diary of Russell Jones, aged 40-something


Arrived at Lower Loxley (sigh). An uncomfortable journey, wedged in the back seat up against boxes of bedlinen and the Italian coffee pot. Lily knows I find driving stressful. Elizabeth delighted to see Lily, but not so pleased to see Yours Truly; I don’t know why. Tried to help by making my special coffee but Lily was petulant about it. Quite hurtful. And she completely flew off the handle when I suggested asking her relatives for money. I mean, it’s not as if I have any, is it? Not with the Manchester art scene being so cliquey, and Lara being difficult about the divorce.  Lily used to be so obliging and now she’s – spiky.  The last thing an artist needs is a shrewish muse, as any Pre-Raphaelite will tell you. 


A ghastly evening at The Bull being tormented by Lily’s troll of a cousin, Ben, and his spotty sidekick Ruairi. Not sure which was worse: Jolene’s caterwauling, which threatened to bring on my tinnitus, or bumping into that sour old puss from college. How dare she ask me how I have the nerve to show my face? I’ve done nothing wrong, as I told the disciplinary board just before they presented me with the choice of resigning or being sacked. This is why I was so against us coming back to Ambridge. These petits bourgeois have no clue about grand passion. Next day I showed Lily my sketch of a sorrowing heron, but she actually snarled. Quite hurtful.


Seems Elizabeth forgot she had a therapy session today. Must be more gaga than I thought. Anyway, quite a few people agreed with my anonymous online comments about Jolene’s dreadful gig at The Bull. Small victories. Then Lily got upset because Elizabeth was more grateful for a few kind words from Freddie than for all of Lily’s help. I suggested one of Russ’s special cuddles to cheer her up but got nowhere. That’s happening more often now. Quite hurtful. Adorable as Lily is, I wonder if her toxic family is having an unhealthy effect on my gut flora. Must eat more nuts and seeds, if I can find them in the back of the car. 

Sunday, 10 February 2019

Aldridge has his day in court 

Mr Aldridge on the steps of
 Borchester Magistrates' Court
Disgraced Ambridge farmer Brian Aldridge said he wants to ‘put the past behind him’ after being fined £120,000  at Borchester Magistrates’ Court for polluting the river Am.
Mr Aldridge was greeted by angry protestors and had paint thrown over him as he arrived at court, flanked by his family.
He pleaded guilty to two charges of knowingly permitting a water discharge activity, relating to a leak of toxic chemicals dumped on his land in the 1970s. He has already sold his home to pay for the clean-up, which is believed to have cost more than a million pounds.
‘I’m glad it’s all over and I’m grateful for my family’s support,’ he said. ‘My priority now is to get out of this terrible cheap  jacket, which my son Adam bought from Top Bloke. It’s only got one button. I can’t imagine a worse humiliation.’

Letter of the Week

This week’s star letter comes in verse form, thanks to Borsetshire Laureate Bert Fry, who wanted to draw readers’ attention to problems at one of our most popular local attractions. 

Lament for Lower Loxley 

As Lower Loxley’s senior guide
My job has given me great pride.
But lately things have gone awry
And the other guides are asking why.

For example, Lady Henrietta’s bureau
Is closed for cleaning, as all should know.
But the website isn’t up to date 
And visitors got in a dreadful bate.

So the other guides said that I should go
And let Elizabeth Pargetter know.
They said that I’m a man of letters
And used to talking to my betters.

I told her, politely as I could,
That things aren’t working as they should.
I tried to tell her about the rota
But she wouldn’t change it one iota.

I did my best to make her see,
But she just blamed it all on me!
And Elizabeth seemed so distressed
I didn’t know what to do for the best.

So we guides don’t know what we’re doing
And the estate is going to rack and ruin.
So although it pains me to have to say,
I’d advise your readers to stay away.

A lawyer writes

This week, Will Chargemore of local solicitors Hassell and Payne answers your family law questions.

My partner and I have an agreement with a wonderful Bulgarian woman to help us have a child by being our surrogate. I am the baby’s biological father and we used a donor egg. Our surrogate has decided to spend her pregnancy in Bulgaria and return for the birth. With Brexit looming, what are the implications for our family if the baby is born in Bulgaria, or if his or her mother decides to stay in the UK after the birth?  

Yours is a most unusual situation and I have throughly researched international law and precedents to find you the answer, which is… not a Scooby. Sorry.

Our widowed mother has announced she has a man friend, who at 80 is some years younger than her. He seems pleasant enough, although frankly he knows nothing about pigs or dairy farming. We would like her to be happy in her autumn years, of course, but should we be worried in case she changes her will?

No, but if they are as close as you say, I would strongly suggest a pre-nup.

Q  My husband and I are going through a divorce and have just received our  degree nisi. Recently though, we’re getting on much better and because he has run a half-marathon and is getting his business back on track, I’m beginning to fancy him again. Legally, can we get back together?

A  Yes, of course; you can apply to have the decree nisi rescinded and your divorce petition dismissed. Any lawyer would be happy to take your money – I should say, offer their professional services for the reinstatement of marital harmony. 

Be my Valentine…

Love must be in the air in Ambridge, as this year we’ve received a bumper crop of Valentine’s messages from our readers. Our editor’s off to buy a wedding hat!

From the gin king:
Rosie’s our baby, you’re her lovely mum,
And I know you think I’m a lazy bum.
But now I’ve paid Emma to clean the cottage,
Will you let me play hide the sausage?

To my hunky karate teacher: 
Make a move on me and I won’t defend myself (unlike that time in court when I had to…) Anyway, you give me butterflies despite your terrible taste in shoes and your love of fart jokes. Say you’ll take me up Lakey Hill soon! 

From Wales with love:
I knew I wanted to share my spreadsheets with you when I saw your PowerPoint at the Nuffield. Now all you have to say is ‘veg box’ and my money-maker starts tingling! With my brains and your slavish devotion it will be win-win all the way, boyo!

To my dapper Valentine:
My family are worrying about my morals,
But life is fun since we met at The Laurels. 
So polish your dancing shoes and buff up your dentures 
And let’s set off on some glorious adventures.

To my favourite bird:
Before I met you I couldn’t tell a marsh warbler from a blue tit. Now you make me twitch and there’s no one I’d rather hide with. Come and nest with me in the Beechwood and we’ll make sweet music. 

Sunday, 3 February 2019

Veteran vet is back on top 

Ambridge vet Alistair Lloyd says he has been ‘given a new lease of life’ by his triumph in the Felpersham half-marathon, where he and Philip Moss raised more than £700 for charity by running the race in a pantomime horse costume.
‘It’s remarkable,’ he said. ‘Before the race, I felt I was on a downward spiral: my marriage was over and my bosses thought I was past it. All I was good for was seeing to Lavinia Rafferty’s Schnauzer, and that wasn’t much fun.
‘But the experience of running the race in a hot, itchy and, to be honest, smelly furry costume was incredibly liberating. Just the memory of it was enough to help me deal confidently with Joe Grundy’s pony Gem, tackle my boss about my role in the practice, and free the trapped leg of one of Bridge Farm’s new Montebéliarde cows.’
Mr Lloyd says that when he’s out and about in Ambridge now, children often follow him singing  ‘Top Vet – he’s effectual; Top Vet; he’s intellectual… He’s the most tip top – Top Vet’  to the tune of the popular cartoon Top Cat
‘It’s very pleasing, but I’m just doing my job,’ he says modestly. ‘I’m wondering now if wearing furry costumes could improve other areas of my life. I believe some ladies are interested in this too. Of course, I would never have dared mention it when I was married to Shula.’

Councillor defiant on website blunder

Parish councillor Emma Grundy faces questions this week after gossip about Ambridge residents appeared on the council website, instead of the agenda for next week’s meeting.
‘I couldn’t understand it,’ said Hilary Noakes. ‘I thought they were supposed to be discussing the budget, but the page was full of an article called “I just thought you’d like to know what people are saying about you.”. I couldn’t believe my eyes. I had no idea that Lexi Victorova was carrying a baby for Adam Macy and Ian Craig, and that some people are claiming she’s doing it for the money. Absolutely appalling – although I must say it gave us plenty to talk about at the Knit & Natter meeting.’
Contacted by The Ambridge Observer, Mrs Grundy apologised for the error. ‘I offered to post the council agenda myself because Jennifer Aldridge, who usually does it, was too busy making a game pie,’ she said. ‘Unfortunately, I posted some of my private files instead. Our family makes a point of never spreading gossip and this was not my intention. I have apologised to Lexi, who is a comrade of mine at the chicken factory. But I will not apologise to the Aldridge family who yet again have shown their aristocratic oligarchical contempt for the bodies of working-class women who they see as chattels and use for their selfish, entitled…' (continued on p94. Ed.)

Your week in the stars

Our resident astrologer, Janet Planet, reveals what fate has in store for readers this week:


Motherly Capricorns whose loved ones have been through a lot may be worrying that their child’s new boyfriend wears tracksuits and box-fresh trainers and only talks about martial arts and stuffed crust pizza. But take a moment to reflect on how fond you were of your children’s previous partners. How did that go? Discretion may be the better course here, Capricorns!


Taureans facing life-changing decisions, such as moving in with their partner or changing jobs, will need their friends for support this week. If possible, choose people who will listen to you and sympathise, rather than bang on about their new boyfriend and snap at you for suggesting you’re not supporting them enough. You deserve better, Taurus!


Lions with a house purchase in the offing will be roaring with excitement this week, but don’t forget that others only want to help, even if they don’t share your taste in ‘global nomad’ interior décor. Family harmony may suffer if you reject design suggestions from older generations, so try not to turn your nose up at the offer of, for example, ‘my Susan’s old mangle’ or wallpaper with a ferret motif.  


Scorpios are known for being secretive and vengeful, and having kept a few secrets in your past you may now feel the need to ‘have your day in court’ and take revenge on those who have found you out. But listen to those who are older and wiser, even if they may be poor and have a whiff of ferrets. Sometimes proud Scorpions need to draw their claws for the sake of loved ones, although putting others before your ego will be a first for you.  

From the Message Boards

We drop in on the Ambridge Teen Forum to see what’s got local youngsters chatting online this week:

• Hey, you guys. Valentine’s Day coming up? But Love sucks, yeah? My homie Ruairi and me are having an anti-Valentine’s party with like, torn-up love letters and broken hearts. In my dad’s old caravan. Are you up for it guys?  BennieBoy.

• Not guys, you idiot. Girls! We want girls! ‘Cos, like, we’re so over dating and all that trying to impress the ladeez stuff. We just want girls to, er, discuss feminism with. With cider.  Ruairi.

• Sounds great, mate, but I think Bella will expect something a bit more classy, just the two of us. I’m going to show her how I muck out the Montbéliardes and then we’re going for a kebab at the van on the bypass. I’ll get her a red rose to make it special. CowboyJohnny.

• OK Johnny, well maybe Bella could tell her friends?  It’ll be like, totes wicked, sick and dope… BennieBoy

• No dope, slurry-for-brains! Have you forgotten Freddie Pargetter can’t come? Ruairi.

That’s enough Message Boards. Ed.

Lost – and found?

Do you recognise any of these items?  A poncho, a set of dentures and a cactus (or possibly an aloe vera) in a pot are just some of the lost property found at Grey Gables in the past few months.
‘It’s amazing what people leave behind them after their stay,’ said deputy manager Roy Tucker. ‘We’re not sure what the hairy item is – we think it’s a wig, but no one dares get close enough to find out.’
Unless claimed, the objects will be off to charity shops and the recycling centre. 
‘We invited Borsetshire’s rural crime unit (PC Harrison Burns) to inspect all the items in case any of them were stolen property, but he reported nothing of interest, and still no sign of the missing bunting,’ said Mr Tucker.