In The Archers, violence is delivered symbolically through the medium of baked goods. This month, it was Jennifer’s pavlova that established her primacy in Ambridge’s feminine pecking order – putting her sister, Lilian, in her place as she demanded, and got, promotion from producing starters to puddings for the annual harvest supper. Vince, in the meantime, chose a pear frangipane as his weapon of choice against young Ben Archer, newly entangled with Vince’s daughter Beth: the abattoir owner faked anaphylactic shock from a nut allergy and made a fool of the poor lad right in the thick of Les Soeurs Heureuses, Borchester’s fine-dining establishment. Still, Vince should have chosen another battlefield, since the restaurant is hallowed Archer moral high ground: it’s where Jill Archer had her anti-food-waste activism moment in 2017, when she was arrested for chucking a homemade flapjack at one of the soeurs themselves (symbolic violence, in this case, actualised). Beth in turn decided to try to impress Jill with a 91st-birthday cake, and went all Bake Off season 12 on her, concocting something sculptural with spun sugar: just as well it got squished, really, as Jill is more a farmhouse fruitcake kind of girl.
It turns out that Bert Fry’s verses – or “interminable dirges” as Russ cruelly put it – were, in the end, all too terminable. Poor Bert, locally renowned for his prowess in the flower and produce show, hasn’t been the same since there’s been no Joe Grundy to loathe, nor, indeed, since he lost his beloved wife, Freda – swept away, Maggie Tulliver-like, by the 2015 Borsetshire floods. His final performance was at the harvest supper: an epic poem containing, according to Russ’s hostile review, at least five minutes on cutting his toenails, and a lengthy section closely describing a trip to the pharmacist. This radical, rhyming-couplet autofiction, I predict, will soon be hailed as Borsetshire’s answer to Karl-Ove Knausgård’s My Struggle, and Bert’s posthumous renown will outlive his fragile frame. Lucky for Bert’s housemate, Rex Fairbrother, that Trevor, Bert’s son, has offered to give him all of his father’s manuscripts. There was a remarkable episode when Trevor asked Rex to scour Bert’s bedroom for a photograph, a birth certificate, a book and a cricket scorecard. For a delirious moment it seemed these objects were of momentous significance – I don’t know, clues to the whereabouts of Anglo-Saxon treasure buried on Brookfield’s land, like the hoard Eddie was so fruitlessly metal-detecting for earlier in the year. Nothing so exciting, alas.
The old farm labourer had expired peacefully at his table in The Bull. It is, surely, how we’d all want to go. Rest in poetry and produce, dear Bert.