As Eddie Grundy and his grandson Dodgy George pondered their turkeys – “I could watch them for hours,” said Eddie, while George seems poised to give them their own TikTok account – it struck me that this scene was the perfect mise-en-abyme, the ideal metaphor for The Archers itself. If the turkeys, with their gobbling and squabbling, their minor and futile dramas, are like the inhabitants of Ambridge, Eddie and George stand in for us, the listeners, mildly amused, broadly detached, essentially heartless. “As flies to wanton boys are we to the gods,” and all that.
Whichever way you cut it, the gods or wanton boys or the cruel fates themselves have been circling around Ambridge’s most virtuous character this month. I am not talking about St Shula, who is off to Sunderland for a year, or for ever, to share her ministry with the grateful people of the north. I am talking about young Ben Archer – student nurse, all-round mensch, the foil to his less scrupulous brother, Josh. As soon as his gran Jill presented Ben’s girlfriend, Beth, with a topaz pendant – a family heirloom no less – their idyll was obviously doomed. Especially when Jill cheerfully noted that topaz is a symbol of love and loyalty.
And so it was that, while Beth was safely in Magalouf on a hen weekend, Ben spent 48 hours under his duvet rocking, weeping and contemplating the fact that he had impregnated 17-year-old Chelsea Horrobin – a one-night fumble at that famous Ambridge “rave” back in July. (I thought raves were just things I’d been too square to go to in the 1990s but no, it turns out they are all the rage again.)
Chelsea has been, not unreasonably, in a right state about what to do, running away and seeking refuge with modern-slavery victim Blake, who, despite his history of cluelessness, seems presently endowed with almost Yoda-like depths of wisdom. The rest of the Horrobin clan concluded the daddy was Russ – Lily Pargetter’s artist boyfriend down at Lower Loxley. Not unreasonably, in a way, given Russ’s icky history of leaving his wife for Lily when he was a teacher at her school. There was a delicious moment where it looked like Jazzer and Tracy might incite the entire village to round upon Russ, wielding their pitchforks, and rip him limb from limb in a kind of dionysiac sparagmos.
Two possible scenarios. One, in some distant future, long after I’m in my grave, Chelsea’s baby becomes the inheritor of Brookfield itself, crowning the slow-burn rise of the Horrobins. Or, in a week or so, Chelsea is accompanied by Ben to the clinic for a sombre, but ultimately guiltless, termination, after which Chelsea calmly resumes her studies. I know which I’d rather.