The Archers: All rise

It’s been a long 5 months in Ambridge.  Custard sales have plummeted and there has been a trifling (sorry) referendum in the meantime.  But this Sunday, marks the beginning of the trial of the century.

*** If you don’t listen to The Archers, don’t feel obliged to read on.  I feel the need to let it out but my husband hasn’t paid attention since Caroline and Oliver took 9 months to buy Grey Gables. ***

It’s always been difficult to convert people to The Archers because, in reality, it’s not very good. Obviously I don’t believe that for a minute, but it’s always been so present and embedded. It’s like trying to persuade someone that your family and your friends are awesome – they’re not, but you’re really fond of them and enjoy muddling along together.  For years, it has been there in the background, when lying in bed on Sunday morning, driving home from work, bathing babies, feeding children, folding washing.  There’s the occasional excitement: affairs, deaths, illnesses and something about herbal lays, but that’s about it. Weeks can go by without hearing from them but you catch up.

The everyday story of country folk blends into your everyday so that you can no longer tell the difference.  (I used to get terribly confused when they went to the Royal Show).

I think that’s why the Helen and Rob story has been so powerful – it’s not a blockbuster, high octane drama, but it drips intimately into your life when you’re not looking.  I think of people in The Archers rather like some of the Mums on the playground – I see them for 10 minutes a day and get a tiny glimpse into their lives.

The story of Rob’s coercive control has been ramping up, slowly and unnoticed for years. Now I like to point out on a regular basis that I’ve never liked him (here’s me in 2014)

I clearly sensed he was a wrong-un from the start but what’s great about this storyline, is that actually no one, including me, really liked Helen either.  She was whiny, spoilt, highly strung and obsessed with cheese. However in real life,  bad things do happen to irritating people and it’s been horrific to hear an abusive relationship played out, inch by inch, with each jigsaw piece going unnoticed by everyone around.  From the comments about her hair, her clothes, stopping her driving, convincing her she was unstable to rape and violence.  For me, the night he threw the dinner she was preparing in the bin and went out to buy steak (far more appropriate) was the clincher. Each tiny act was insignificant in itself and easily brushed away.  And  it’s far more impactful than any Hollywood blockbuster (and I’VE seen Sleeping With The Enemy).

That’s why the Helen Titchener Escape Fund , for the charity Refuge, currently stands at £134,000. Because we all know a Helen, or suspect that we do.  There are lots of women who have had to stop listening, because it brings back too many bad memories and more who have slowly become aware that their relationship maybe isn’t all that normal after all, and maybe they do deserve better.

But drama it is, and all this isn’t getting the custard cleared up.  Justice must be done, for all our sakes. There has been much criticism of the EastEnders like storyline developments of late. The Archers has always prided itself on its accuracy (as the Agricultural story editor will testify) but some things have been played fast and loose for the sake of a good plot.

So as the trial looms – these are my observations and predictions. I would welcome any expert answers since I have absolutely no knowledge of family law, criminal law, social services or anything else for that matter.

Anna – surely she can’t be such a bad barrister.  For someone supposedly an expert in domestic violence, she has been fairly inept at handling Helen and has let some massive flashing lights pass her by.  I’m hoping this is just a scriptwriters’ ploy and actually she’s been beavering away in the background.  I’m not disappointed she’s gay, although the weeks of a pronounless Max was clumsy, but I’m disappointed she appears to be as mentally and spiritually weak as a kitten.  Where oh where is Maxine Peake when you need her.

Hogwarts – please tell me she has followed up the Boarding School thing.  I’m hoping it comes up in Henry’s interview that it was ‘Daddy’s school’ and she has checked with the Head.  Then Rob can declare on the stand that Helen was delusional and she can waive the admissions form in his horrid little face. Not sure this will get us off the stabbing but at least then Anna will be able to shout “Liar Liar pants on fire” and it will be some comfort for us.

Tom the Rabbit with rise – I’m also hoping Rob’s instructions to Henry that he should never tell lies will come and bite him on the arse, and unleash the full horror of Tom the Rabbit, the Easter Eggs, Granny only wanting to see him on Sundays and how all good children must be quiet. I’m assuming Cafcass must be alert to these things and, if not, I might have to write a stern letter.

Culvert Operations – why on earth have Jennifer and David said nothing about Stefan and the culvert.  You think it would have come up.  If Shula is racked with guilt over not speaking out before now you would have thought there would have been at least a passing comment that maybe they should mention it. Jennifer should at least mention it to Justin.  Will Stefan burst through the back of the courtroom at the 11th hour?

Witness for the Prosecution – Will Kirsty will have the opportunity to tell the whole story, or is she only permitted to speak about the night of the crime? I am not hanging any hope on Pat not to stuff things up.

Flesh wounds – why did Rob have so many wounds?  Did Helen do them all or did Rob inflict a few of them himself?

There are more, but I’ll keep them to myself otherwise I’ll look like I think about these things too much.

Final Statements

Based on about as much legal knowledge as the scriptwriters, here’s my predictions.

Helen will be found Not Guilty of Attempted Murder but possibly guilty of Wounding with Intent.

However, Rob will be exposed as an abusive bully and Henry and Jack will be returned to Pat and Tony.

Rob will be run out of town in a scene akin to Murder On The Orient Express, with everyone lining up to give him a sharp blow to the cricket box as he leaves.  This will not be before Harrison arrests him and informs him he is prosecuted under the new Coercive Control Act.

Helen will then get out on appeal and create a brand new line of Social Enterprise cheese and set up a new dairy next to the prison allotment.

We can all go back to worrying about whether it was really George that stole the curtain money.

Do join me and make mine a gin, darling.


We Need To Talk About Nigella

nigellaNigella and I go back a long way.   By way of explanation, my Dad bore a striking resemblance to Nigel Lawson and my Mum decided that Nigella, back when she wasn’t that famous, was a good role model for me.  She used to ring me at University to tell me when she was doing the paper review.  Nigella’s first husband, John Diamond, had cancer at around the same time as my Dad and I would regularly read his column, desperate to hear the things my Dad had never been able to say out loud.  Her book Feast, was released just after my mother died and, I must confess, I repeatedly read her chapter on funerals and grief, before turning to my own ‘gin and carbohydrates’ therapy of choice.

And then she sorted out her eyebrows and started licking spoons and we grew apart.  However she has remained my fantasy big sister who would, one day, invite me round for a massive crumble.

Still, I’ve have always associated her with frailty and stoicism in the face of adversity.  Therefore I felt a fierce and familial sense of protectiveness when the pictures were published over the weekend.  The calculated callousness of his actions, her apparent attempts to placate him and his subsequent dismissal of what happened are shocking.  I would like to think that if I were on the next table, I would have intervened, would have asked if she was alright, maybe I wouldn’t.  The reaction to them has also been revealing.  There has been the fair share of apologists and all round cretins looking for a cheap laugh (none of whom I shall link to here).  There has been consternation that this attractive, successful, confidant woman, could be treated in such a way.  Cries of ‘leave the bastard’ fight against others who claim that it may not be that bad.  Saatchi himself says that it was ‘a playful tiff’.

There are others who feel that discussion of someone’s very private pain is inappropriate and intrusive.  Accusations fly that someone’s suffering is being used to sell newspapers and is grubby.  Like the people on nearby tables, the instinct is to look away as it is none our business.

Now I don’t actually know Nigella, or any facts about her relationship and it’s not my place to speculate. (maybe it was just friendly banter, but it didn’t look like it).  However how human beings treat other human beings is everybody’s business.   I wonder how many would have said that if it had been the waiter he had attacked.  There should be no closed doors to hide behind.  As a society, we have a responsibility to shout very loudly that such behaviour will not be stood for.

I’ve written about this subject before but what this story proves is that the issue of domestic abuse is not a simple one.  It is not confined to drunken men beating their wives on council estates, nor is it the domain of mousey women at home who can’t stand up for themselves.  The recent cases of Rihanna or Justin Lee Collins should have proved this already.

I have several friends who have suffered from domestic abuse at some point in their lives.  What links them all is that they are all successful, outgoing, confident women.  Or at least they looked like it at the time.  All of them thought that they were strong enough to handle it, did not want to admit defeat. Very few of them ever made public the exact reasons they left or aggression they suffered.  Their ex-partners continue, untainted and untroubled, possibly treating all the women that followed exactly the same way.

Why people choose the relationships they do is a complicated business and nobody goes looking for one.  The fact that it is someone you love who inflicts such pain or control doesn’t make it less painful, it makes it worse.  It is difficult, when you’re in a relationship, to see the line between protective and controlling, between ‘passionate’ and violent.  Where does ‘powerful’ turn into bullying.  Romantic literature is full of dark, brooding men who are terribly complicated and flawed and we turn them into heroes, desperately searching for the one strong capable woman who will rescue them.  In real life, knights don’t have shining armour and very few get to ride off into the sunset.

The reason men and women find themselves in abusive or destructive relationships, or remain in them, is not something I can answer.  However the statistics are horrifying.

Just last week, Parliament voted against a clause in the Children and Families Bill to introduce discussion of healthy relationships into the national curriculum. These are the same MPs who have cut funding for refuges and removed Legal Aid from people leaving abusive relationships.

Whether MPs felt that it wasn’t a real issue or that it was appropriate for schools to discuss is anybody’s guess.

For the rest of us, it is important to call it when we see it and to not look the other way.  To say, very loudly and often, that it is not OK to treat another fellow member of the public like that, especially when you are married to them.   That putting your hands to someone’s throat is not getting your point across, neither is putting your hand over their mouth playful, it’s being a violent and intimidating bully (Daily Mail link which now makes for disturbing reading for all sorts of reasons).  The fact that your partner doesn’t immediately leave you is not proof that it was OK.

It is not simply a question of teaching victims to stand up for themselves, just as teaching women how to avoid being raped reinforces myths and prejudices and puts the responsibility in the wrong place.  All too often the emphasis is on the victim, not the perpetrator.  It is not a feminist issue, it is a societal one.  Just as with racism or child abuse, standards of behaviour in society need to be crystal clear.  Boys and men must be shown, by everybody, that, no matter how rich, powerful and successful they are, violence and intimidation will not be tolerated, laughed away or swept under the carpet.  It’s not big or clever and they must be held to account.

So, even if she would rather we didn’t, we need everybody to talk about Nigella.

*** If you are worried about a friend, or indeed your own relationship, this information could be useful ***

Philpott – Why we’re still looking in the wrong place

Mick Philpott is a nasty little man.  An idiot, but a nasty idiot nonetheless.  One who will be spending the next 15 years, at least, in prison.  I have watched enough crime documentaries in my time to realise that this is no criminal mastermind.  And yet the story has received more coverage than any crime of recent times.

In essence, The Philpott media story is of a man, subsidised by the state, who controlled the people in his life for his own ends, with horrific consequences for his own family.  That isn’t particularly unusual.

Six children have tragically lost their lives, but that is not what is making the news.


What is making the news is how Mick Philpott spent his life, and how he came by the money that he lived on.  The conversation has now shifted to how the popular press are covering how he spent his life and how he came by the money that he lived on.

Once again, just like in the Savile case, politicians and influencers are using the suffering of children as ammunition in their own self-interested battles.  Now George Osbourne wants a go.

However those six children remain dead and the discussion is in the wrong place.

Cases like this happen all of the time, and they will continue to happen.  Look at how the Daily Mail reported the case of Christopher Foster.  He was a millionaire who set fire to his house, killing his wife Jill and daughter Kirstie, because he was in danger of losing his fortune.

Here was a ‘striver’.  A man who had worked his way up from nothing to achieve vast riches, a product of the capitalist, entrepreneurial system.  And therefore the story is pitched a little differently. We are supposed to feel pity for this man, or at least a deal of understanding.

 “The position of his body suggests to Enid and others his motive was one of love  –  trying to protect Jill from the humiliation of his financial troubles.”

And he actually meant to do it.

“But Foster’s impending financial ruin makes his actions consistent with a man who would sooner murder his own loved ones than endure the shame of penury.”

Not poverty you notice, but the loss of the ridiculously, disproportionately extravagant riches he had been enjoying until that point.

The unifying theme in these two cases, like so many others like them, is one of control.  A man’s need to control the the world around him, and particularly the women in his life.

I have no idea what went on inside Philpott’s idiotic little head but I doubt the loss of the £1,000 in benefits that he was losing was the real issue.  It was the loss of control over a woman who had the audacity to leave him.  It was the need to punish her, a need so strong that he didn’t give his children a second thought.  He didn’t want them to die – he just thought that he had control over everything, even fire.

The chances are there will always be people like Christopher Foster and Mick Philpott, just like there will always be men like Savile.  It isn’t the welfare system that creates them, or Jeremy Kyle.  The world is full of nasty little people.

But actually Philpott would be not be a story without the women in his life, to skivvy for him, to give birth and look after his children.  He’d be a loud old man in a pub corner.  It was the women who received the majority of the benefits, even though both did also go out to work.  Their wages and benefits that they and their children were entitled to, were paid directly to him.

It’s difficult to feel sympathy for Mairead Philpott.  Any woman who can put her own children in such mortal danger is difficult to comprehend.  Why she would go through with it, why she would cover it up?

It is difficult to understand why a woman would ‘be prepared to go to any lengths, however humiliating, to keep him happy’.  This included allowing another woman to share her husband and have his children.  It’s very easy for me, as a privileged woman, to say how could you!

However, that is the trouble with controlling and abusive relationships.  All of his relationships were abusive, and the judge’s sentencing remarks make for chilling reading.  This is a man who had already been in prison for viciously stabbing a partner who left him and who abused every woman he was with.  People find it all too easy to sit in judgement, to ask why people didn’t leave, or speak up or complain.  The argument goes round in circles.  People ask why vulnerable people (usually women) don’t speak up, don’t say no, don’t get out.  Then, if they do, no one cares, no one believes them, or they have nowhere to go.

It is no surprise that all the women involved were in their teens when they got involved with Philpott; vulnerable and with few options in life.  It’s not an excuse.  It’s not to say that, today, standing in the dock, she deserves sympathy.  However in countless places around the country, there are teenage girls entering into similar relationships and few of them will end well.

To nick Tom Stoppard, ‘There must have been a moment, when we could have said no, but we missed it”.   And we will keep missing it.

If you look around you, there are still high street shops selling T-shirts making light of domestic violence.  Look at the Rochdale case, and the ‘lifestyle choices’ young girls were accused of.

One of the largest group suffering in abusive relationships are teenagers and single young people in need of a home receive no help, often with only the Mick Philpotts of this world to turn to.

He does need you love, but you don't need him.
He does need you love, but you don’t need him.

Young girls listen to Rhianna standing by her man and think that it’s OK. Controlling and abusive men are romanticised into misunderstood heroes.

We still have an education system where your success owes a lot to the sharpness of your parents’ elbows, leaving those with a rough start even worse off.  Sure Start centres have been closed down and women’s refuges are full and under funded, leaving abused women and children in dire situations with fewer and fewer choices.

I don’t have the answers, but I know they won’t be found by using the tragic death of six children as an excuse to make people poorer, with fewer choices and opportunities.

In the same week that the Government has cut benefit payments, is discussing cutting the minimum wage, has withdrawn legal aid for those seeking divorce or leaving abusive relationships, it’s probably time we put a stop to powerful men, determined to get their own way, doing irreparable damage to the very people they claim, on television at least, to care for.

Like I said, there’s a lot of them about.