The real Archers Country
By Graham Harvey
5th January 2019
There’s something about the Grundys of Ambridge that could have come straight from the novels of Thomas Hardy. Though I wouldn’t claim to be any kind of expert, many of Hardy’s characters appear trapped in the vice-like grip of fate.
Whatever their hopes and ambitions, some chance event will inevitably bring them crashing down. And so it seems to be with the Grundys. Take Joe and Eddie’s famous – or should I say infamous – farmhouse cider.
For the first time in nearly half a century, the early cider they made in the autumn of 2017 turned out to be a classic. Though to this day they don’t know quite how they did it, they succeeded in bottling a tipple that delighted everyone who tasted it. Suddenly everyone in the village wanted to get hold of a bottle of Grange Farm Tumble Tussock.
But in a twist of fate that was pure Hardy, someone went and bulldozed the only known tree of this old and rare variety. And Joe, who must have grafted more apple trees than most of drunk pints of scrumpy, somehow managed to bodge the job of taking grafts of Tumble Tussock. Once again Joe and Eddie’s dreams of riches were cruelly dashed, though they can hardly have been surprised. It’s what always happens to them.
Now it seems that young Ed is tainted with the same Grundy curse. After struggling to make a living as a farm contractor, he spent most of the meagre savings he and his wife Emma had managed to accumulate, in a bid to breed a champion Texel ram.
It looked as if he might succeed when one of the three ram lambs they bred by embryo transfer, seemed to have the characteristics of a true champion. In the summer Ed showed the young animal in a special class for ram lambs at the Three Counties Show in Worcestershire.
Though Ed’s Texel didn’t win anything, a local breeder was so impressed that he offered £4000 for it then and there. Knowing that a few years back a champion Texel sold for over £230,000, Ed turned down the offer. I can’t help feeling that right now he must be wondering if he made the right decision.
With finances tight, Ed and Emma are still living with his parents at Grange Farm. But to Emma’s delight they’ve been offered one of the new affordable houses going up in Ambridge. The downside is that they’re going to need to put down a deposit. And right now they’ve got little hope of raising it. Once again fickle fate has dealt the Grundys a dodgy hand.
This week we heard Ed doing taking on some casual labouring in a bid to earn a bit more cash. His powerful tractor, bought on borrowed cash a few years back in the hope that it would earn him a decent income from contract work, stands idle. None of the Ambridge farmers have any work to offer him at this quiet time of the year.
In desperation Ed has taken a job as labouring assistant to a guy who goes around the area fixing gates and hedges. It’s quite a comedown for the ambitious young man who just a few years ago ran his own dairy herd.
Who’s to blame for Ed’s demise, I wonder? I’m sorry to say it’s no one other than us, the listeners. When I was researching the story of Ed’s new tractor a few years back, I suggested to the boss that the young farming entrepreneur might do rather well as a farm contractor. With his powerful new tractor and good farming contacts he could have quickly built up a profitable business.
“We can’t have him do that,” replied the programme’s editor at the time, “he’s a Grundy.” And that was it. As a family the Grundys are in The Archers to represent the heroic failures that we British seem to find endearing. It seems we resent success in others. So we want our favourite characters to be endlessly struggling in vain.
Remember Hardy’s characters Tess Durbeyfield and Jude Fawley. Both could be described as heroic failures. So in a way could Michael Henchard, the Mayor of Casterbridge. The story-tellers of Ambridge are following a long and distinguished English tradition.
I live in hope that one day Ed and Emma will see good times. Maybe as Ed goes around the village fixing gates and fences with his new work colleague he’ll find a long forgotten apple tree of the rare Tumble Tussock variety growing in the corner of someone’s garden.
With the crop he and his dad Eddie will make another batch of their classic cider and lay the foundations of a multi-million pound drinks company. I’d dearly like to see it happen. But I’d have to admit his genes are against it.
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.
19th 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.