January went quite nicely, at first. Jazzer and Tracy finally got engaged despite much fumbling interference from Brad and Chelsea. Justin, for reasons as yet mysterious, decided to put himself forward for shifts in the village shop. Sales of chenin blanc and luxury truffles have never been higher.
The Archers has long had a thing with brothers. Of the Cain-and-Abel, Romulus-and-Remus, chalk-and-cheese variety: William and Ed; Rex and Toby; David and Kenton. This January, it was the turn of Jakob, the “easy on the eye” (Lilian’s words) veterinary surgeon, to produce a sibling.
Erik, who parked himself in the Rookery for a few days in Jakob’s absence, proved to have all the aesthetic appeal of his brother, combined with a flirtatious charm entirely lacking in Jakob. Kirsty invited him for a swim in the Am. (I know! Wild swimming! It’s Guardian-reading, tofu-eating wokery gone mad!) Despite the hypothermic chill, they kissed afterwards over hot chocolate and a crackling bonfire. Later, they memorably scaled Lakey Hill together. One wished them well.
And so the month meandered on. Until it juddered, shockingly, suddenly and without warning, into something else: Jennifer Aldridge is dead.
Is it normal to weep recklessly in the kitchen because of a story on the radio? I know I was not alone. “Jenny darling” – as Brian so often called her – was at the heart of The Archers. She was born in 1945 to Peggy and Jack Archer, and her voice has been part of my life as far back as memory takes me. She had her faults – a snobbishness and pride in the material; a certain blindness to things, not least her own daughter’s alcoholism. But she was admirable, even saintly, as she strained to keep the peace between her quarrelsome brood. There were four children by three fathers, then her husband’s child Ruairi, born from an affair that nearly destroyed her, and whom she brought up, at first hesitatingly, and then with devotion. Her life had layers. She had a past (one of scandal, when, unmarried, she became pregnant in 1966) and one of some creative ambition: she wrote novels, a history of Ambridge, journalism. She was a contradictory person, as are we all.
How does one become so fond of the invisible creatures who speak to us from the radio? These complicated people who, after all, are made only of sound waves, of vibrations in the air? Time, I think: time is the great silent character in The Archers. Jenny’s life once walked in lockstep with our own. Now she falls silent. She died because she had too weak a heart: something that could never have been said of her, in life.