Celebrating this marvellously sunny weekend by sitting on the settee listening to <em>The Archers</em>. Nothing like Sundays with Ambridge. I’ve listened to <em>The Archers</em> all my life, and somewhere around the age of 8 I realised that this wasn’t quite usual, when I tried to discuss something about whatever Jennifer was up to with a schoolmate and realised that no-one knew a) who Jennifer was, b) what the show was, or, really, c) what Radio 4 was. So that was that, and thus began a long and delightful relationship with squirreling away the show for listening to at the right time.
I used to play badminton from 9am-11:30 on Sundays, so I’d always miss it live. My mum would tape it for me, and, right until I left home when I was 18 (the week Elizabeth had Freddie and Lily, as I recall), I’d bike down to the Thames and sit on the edge of the towpath watching the water, and concentrating hard on that hour, and then hour and fifteen minutes, of fictional life far away from London.
If I think about where I was in my life at almost any point, I can probably tell you what was happening in <em>The Archers</em> at the corresponding time. My difficult second year at uni was accompanied by Jazzer’s ketamine phase and Brian and Siobhan’s messy affair. I used to listen to the show on tape then too – I’d tape it myself with the volume down so I could listen to it in the dark in our odd kitchen when my housemates were out, with a glass (bottle) of wine and my bodyweight in value pasta. Ah, student times.
I remember when I was doing my GCSEs, and Will and Ed had one of their first properly epic fights. I should’ve been revising for history, but, eh, I needed the break, and it was a beautiful summer evening, and when I turned up for the exam on Monday morning it flew by easily – I got an A, and frankly no hour of staring at scrawled felt-tip notes would’ve given me the distraction and brainspace of a trip to Ambridge.
It’s much mocked, and maligned, even by people who love it. Every couple of months my mum complains that it’s not about farming any more, and then I hear them discussing milking rotations and expansion and crop prices and all sorts, and think to myself about how this too is part of the cycle. People say it’s too sad, or too dark sometimes, but there’s always Linda Snell organising a panto, or Kenton and his weird fete initiatives, or Eddie making money in a new and devious way, and certainly it’s never been as grim or annoying as <em>EastEnders</em>.
The reality of running businesses, of living in a small village, of having a family, being in a family, it’s all perfectly present and interesting, and given that I don’t live in a small village and only have a very small family and have never owned any cows, lonely or otherwise, it’s all of interest, always.
Probably the only time I’ve really struggled is when I was halfway through driving across Denmark, something I’d been quite nervous about doing, and I’d put it on for a bit of comfort in the car. Sid only went and expired of a heart attack – not long after my dad had, fortunately, survived one. It was pretty distressing – well-handled and all, but about the only time I’ve really wanted to turn the show off because it was juuuust too close to home. Oh, except for during the infinite saga with Lillian and Matt’s brother. I didn’t love that. It went on, and on. And on. But if those are all my complaints in a lifetime of listening, it’s not so bad!
The writing is, as far as I’m concerned, brilliant as well. I rarely find it grates, and the composition is amazing. Stories burn for months before catching fire, and characters are set up for the long haul and really integrated into the village perfectly. Yes, there’s always more that could be done, but for me, that’s the joy of the show – it’s been running practically sixty years, and they’ve got so much more to give. I love that.
I don’t watch (or, indeed, listen) to many soaps – really just this and <em>Neighbours</em> (which should really get its own post sometime) but there’s really not much that’s as safe and constant in quality, content and character as <em>The Archers</em> and, now I’m in my thirties, and find that many of my friends keep up with the show just as much as I do, I’m confident that it’ll always be there, just like it ought to be.
It’s the main reason, too, I’m glad for podcasts. The show magically appears right after broadcast, so that even here, in Stockholm, I can sit back with a glass (just a glass now XD) of wine and feel right at home. I’ve run half-marathons and flown all over the place whilst listening, but a bit of me will always feel like I’m just there, by the river, and everything is just as it should be.
Plus, now, there’s <em>Ambridge Extra</em>, with the most random, curiously chosen storylines, just right for listening to at breakfast or whilst running a quick errand. Not sure they’ll ever top Harry’s surprise!ex-boyfriend for a storyline, but I’d never turn down more show.
Now, I am rather concerned about Helen. Of all the characters, her storylines have brought me to tears more than most…could she not make some good decisions and be happy sometime, please?