The real Archers Country
By Graham Harvey
19 January 2019
I’m intrigued by the odd behaviour of Brian and Jennifer Aldridge following their enforced down-sizing from a large and comfortable farmhouse to a small cottage next to Kirsty and Roy. It’s almost as if they regard it as a minor inconvenience rather than the trauma it would have been to most of us.
Let’s remember the well-appointed house at Home Farm became the family residence way back in 1976 when the couple were first married. It’s where they brought up two daughters, Alice and Kate. It also became home to Adam and Debbie, Jennifer’s two children by her earlier relationship with Roger Travers-Macy.
Over the years there have been no end of happy family gatherings on the terrace and beside the swimming pool in the luxurious farmhouse. On countless occasions the rather grand dining room as echoed to the chatter and laughter of family and friends.
Jennifer’s cooking has become legendary especially following the couple’s eye-watering investment in a gleaming new kitchen a couple of years ago. But just before New Year they were forced out of their beloved house with all its memories and associations.
A massive debt – the result of Brian’s contamination of the land and nearby River Am through the illegal burying of toxic wastes four decades ago – has to be paid. The couple’s family partners decided that instead of funding it through the sale of land, Brian and Jennifer should move to rented accommodation so the house could be sold.
In a storyline that wouldn’t have disgraced a Dickens novel, the unhappy pair were made to pack up their things and abandon their home before the bells rang in the New Year. You’d think Jennifer would be beside herself with rage that husband Brian’s shabby behaviour all those years ago had brought them to this.
Not a bit of it. The two of them seem to be viewing it as some late-in-life challenge, even an adventure. There’s frustration from Jennifer at the lack of work space in the cottage kitchen. And Brian appears irritated beyond measure at Kirsty’s constant complaints about the noise her new neighbours are making.
But so far there’s been no raging at fate – or even at their spouse – for bringing them low. Could it be that they’re in some sort of denial? Or are they displaying that age-old British virtue of smiling in the face of adversity? Who can tell? But surely they’re going to crack and show their true feelings one of these days?
Moving well-loved characters out of their traditional homes is always a high-risk strategy for soap story-liners. Not long ago the writers had the bright idea of moving the Grundys out of Grange Farm, the place where Joe had been born. As a story it made good sense. The Grundys were struggling tenant farmers at a time when many like them were up against it financially.
They were then hit by a series of farming disasters. The dairy herd went down with disease resulting in a lost income. Feed bills went up and rent arrears mounted. Eventually the business was declared bankrupt and the family were evicted.
They were rehoused in a rundown block of flats in town. Despite Clarrie’s heroic efforts to keep the family together, she and Eddie watched as Joe, the old countryman, fell into despair and depression. As a storyline it was all too plausible. The problem was everyone hated it.
In The Archers, the Grundy family – Clarrie, Eddie and Joe at least – need to be at Grange Farm, as they are again now. To the listeners it’s as important as the Queen being at Buckingham Palace and the PM being at Number Ten. Well maybe not quite so important, but you get my drift. It’s part of our sense of the world being an ordered place.
In the same way we need to know that the Archer family are thriving at Brookfield. We expect the kitchen to be constantly warm and welcoming, with the smell of one of Jill’s newly-baked fruit cakes drifting from the Aga oven.
We expect the kitchen at Grange Farm to be welcoming too, though with a healthy dash of Grundy muddle and anarchy mixed in. So in an odd way it’s reassuring to hear Eddie at the kitchen table clipping the claws of his favourite ferret. It’s simply the way the world ought to be.
I can only suppose this is why Jennifer and Brian seem relaxed about their new straightened circumstances. Jennifer knows that sooner or later she’ll be back in that posh kitchen at Home Farm. And Brian is confident that despite past stupidities, the natural order will eventually be restored. He’ll be back at the spacious kitchen table munching his morning toast and tutting at The Telegraph. Brexit or no Brexit, some things can’t be allowed to change.
9th March 2019
I’m reading a terrifying book about the nightmare future we face as a result of climate change. It’s called The Uninhabitable Earth and, as the title suggests, author David Wallace-Wells offers precious little by way of comfort.
9th February 2019
When I first arrived in Ambridge back in the 1980s Brian Aldridge was by a big margin the wealthiest of all the farmers in the village. With about 1500 acres of prime farmland and no mortgage he was about as solid as the Bank of England.
2nd February 2019
Vet Alistair Lloyd is rapidly becoming a local hero. If he saves another sheepdog, lame pony or dairy cow injured in a farm accident he’ll surely be in line for some special honour from a grateful community.