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.

 

50 Shades of Laundry: In Defence of Christian Grey

fifty_shades_of_grey_lego_trailer_stillAmongst the hype, the Lego and the dubious marketing efforts, there’s a growing backlash against 50 Shades of Grey

A campaign #50DollarsNot50Shades has been launched encouraging people to boycott the film and donate to domestic violence charities instead. Pressure groups and websites I usually support have got on board, arranging cinema protest and inspiring numerous newspaper columns.

However I have to say I disagree and, like a knight in shining armour, feel the need to defend Ana and Christian from their critics.

I liked it. There.  I’m not proud.

Now I love a bit of intellectual sneering as much as the next person. I will be the first to admit that they are not good.  However, this is pornography. And just as you don’t hear many men lamenting that Debbie Does Dallas lacks the cinematography of Citizen Kane, I’m not quite sure you can judge this by the same standards as literature.

It’s a clunky, clichéd ‘colour by numbers’ approach to fiction. She is always inexplicably banging on about her subconscious and really needs to give the whole Inner Goddess thing a rest. There’s a bewildering obsession about his trousers being on his hips (I’m not sure where she thinks other men wear theirs).

I’m also not the target market for this sort of thing. Despite my carefree exterior I am remarkably prudish. My favourite film is Brief Encounter and I’d far rather my heroine’s had soot in their eye than bodily fluids.   I’m also embarrassed by any direct mention of intimate body parts and immediately transported into a Victoria Wood sketch and the moment is lost.

That aside, I do think the critics of 50 Shades are missing the point. Their argument is that it romanticises abusive relationships and encourages naïve or vulnerable women into coercive or controlling relationships.

50 Shades is a sexual fantasy. More than that, it is a fantasy written by a woman, directed by a woman, for women. It is possibly the first example of mass market mainstream pornography aimed solely at women. It is unlikely to be the fantasy of anyone who has survived an abusive relationship or been assaulted and I accept that it can trigger a lot of painful issues for many people. I am not someone who believes that everything a woman does must, by nature, be feminist and should be supported.

However I do feel incredibly uncomfortable that groups of women are taking the internet to tell another group of women that whatever fantasies they may have or enjoy are wrong.

For crying out loud it’s been a long journey of sexual liberation to get to this point and women are already carrying enough guilt around with them without making them feel that they are responsible for the domestic abuse and rape of other women.

Fantasy is by its very nature an indulgence in what we don’t have. These stories have always existed. Growing up, my romantic ideals were a bizarre combination of Heathcliff, Sean Bean in Lady Chatterley’s Lover and Father Ralph with a few Lost Boys thrown in. Christian Grey is not really my type (too weasely) but I must confess that my feelings towards Oliver Reed’s Bill Sykes are so against my feminist principles that I can no longer watch.

It’s also a ludicrously unrealistic portrayal of abuse. Christian Grey practically wears an ‘I’m an abuser’ T shirt with flashing lights, bears physical scars of his own troubled past and makes her sign a contract fairly early on to essentially agree to be abused.

Real life abuse is, in stark contrast, marked by its mundanity. They don’t start out abusive. They begin as doting, charming, loving with the gentle erosion of self-confidence and self-esteem. Often the victim doesn’t even realise what’s happening and when she does, by then it’s too confusing or frightening to leave.  The painfully slow storyline between Helen Archer and Rob Titchener is a far more realistic portrayal.

Men rape women, men abuse women and men control women. It’s a message that groups such as Everyday Victim Blaming constantly reinforce.  I find it hard that the focus is then on women for being complicit in the culture of abuse rather than the perpetrators.

Far better to concentrate on male culture. I am partial to the odd thriller but even I have grown increasingly uncomfortable at the level of casual, sadistic violence against women. Tombstone, Liam Neeson’s latest outing, follows the standard ‘anonymous pretty girl in peril’ format with mutilation and torture scenes that are shocking simply due to their normality. I would argue that this has a far greater influence over its largely male audience and their likelihood for contempt towards women.

All this gives the film more importance that it needs.

Surf_Liquid_546816-885441In reality, 50 Shades of Grey is really just a film about washing. I was greatly alarmed and amused to see Surf’s Limited Edition 50 Shades washing powder, complete with handcuffs, but actually it makes perfect sense.

It has become such a massive phenomenon because most of us are just knackered. It would never have been successful 30 years ago. I read a Jackie Collins as a teenager, and from what I remember there were a lot of power suits, high flying dominatrix kind of women wearing stockings and no knickers. However these days most women have tried that (maybe not the no knickers bit) and realised it’s not all it’s cracked up to be.

What 50 Shades represents is not a consensual BDSM relationship but a total lack of decision.

I am married with 2 children trying to run my own business and remain vaguely interesting. My days are made up of endless decisions, logistics, and calculations that leave me exhausted by the end of the day. It’s not the manual toil, but the mental processes that are overwhelming.

A story where the central character has no autonomy and is required to make no decisions whatsoever is remarkably appealing.

I read 50 Shades a couple of years ago but the bits that stayed with me were not the sex. They were

  1. That scene where she wakes up in VERY expensive sheets to find that the clothes that she’d left on the floor in passionate abandon had been washed, ironed and put away for her and there were some new ones that had miraculously appeared.
  2. There was always food in the fridge, ready prepared just needing to be taken out and eaten.
  3. He buys her a car. She did not consult a single Which report on safety or fuel economy.
  4. She wasn’t even expected to park the bloody thing.
  5. There’s a whole section on her being really tired from all the sex and then having a really long sleep.

Now I have been with my husband for 20 years. I genuinely have no need for a handsome multi-millionaire with a sex dungeon and a large chopper (snarf snarf). However, we often get to 6 o’clock and realize there is nothing to eat. It took a long time to decide what colour to paint the hall. The nights when I’m exhausted from a night of non-stop sex (kinky or otherwise) are arguably less frequent but last week I was awoken at 3am to discover my 5 year old got into my bed and weed all over me.

So actually if you want to spend 30 minutes in the bath reading about total subjugation knock yourself out …. before you get out, realise there are no clean towels and go downstairs to help your husband look for his keys.

I would love to hear your views and this is in no way an attempt to take away from the incredible work that charities such as Women’s Aid do.  Therefore I have and would encourage everyone who does decide to see the film to still make a donation.