My Week

Country Life Every Week - - Contents - Kit Hes­keth Har­vey

Kit Hes­keth-har­vey on the Archers

GRANTCHESTER looked its Ru­pert Brooke-ian best for Jef­frey and Mary Archer’s Golden Wed­ding cel­e­bra­tion in Cam­bridgeshire. The sun roasted the Old Vicarage, the march­ing band of the Royal Marines swel­tered, Mary sang her own naughty lyrics to Old­Fash­ioned Girl, about the song’s ‘old-fash­ioned mil­lion­aire’, win­ning even Sir Tim Rice’s ap­pro­ba­tion, the ex­em­plary St Catherine’s Girls’ Choir sang sa­cred motets and Jef­frey an­nounced that he was stand­ing for lead­er­ship of the Labour Party.

Jef­frey’s favourite song is, with ghastly in­evitabil­ity, My Way. Sur­vey­ing those few Tory guests who had sur­vived the scythes not only of the Grim Reaper, but of the new Prime Min­is­ter, I launched into Why May?. One en­no­bled Con­ser­va­tive min­is­ter par­tic­u­larly rel­ished the qua­train that ran:

While Gove, the lit­tle s**t

Whose treach­er­ous ploy proved so out­landish Is toast, and feels a bit

Ed Miliband-ish It was, as the Archers’ par­ties are, im­pec­ca­ble, de­light­ful, and pre­pos­ter­ous. Re­grets? They’ve had a few, but a 50-year mile­stone is an achieve­ment by any stan­dards. They’ve proved that an en­dur­ing mar­riage de­pends not upon sex­ual fidelity, nor even upon sear­ing hon­esty, but upon for­give­ness, re­spect of one’s part­ner’s dif­fer­ences and, cru­cially, a sense of hu­mour.

We couldn’t not re­fer on­stage to The Archers, Ra­dio 4’s ev­ery­day story of coun­try folk

An en­dur­ing mar­riage de­pends upon, cru­cially, a sense of hu­mour

who have been watch­ing too much Easten­ders. How­ever, to see Mary as the emo­tion­ally tor­tured He­len Archer and Jef­frey as the tyran­ni­cal Rob is way off the mark. (Mis­chie­vously, we sug­gested that the re­verse was true.)

The Archers might have been hi­jacked by townie cookie-cut­ters, but, here in the Wild East, it has to be said that re­cent life is im­i­tat­ing soap opera. A jog­ging ser­vice­man in my sis­ter’s vil­lage was nearly ab­ducted. My par­ents’ house­keeper was forced to spend two days re­as­sur­ing the na­tional press that she was still alive, after her ex-hus­band shot his sec­ond wife and then turned the gun on him­self. Up the road in Spald­ing, there was an­other do­mes­tic triple tragedy a few days later.

I’m not sure what it is about these bad­lands that we do such a spec­tac­u­lar line in vi­o­lent death. Tony Martin, the So­ham atroc­i­ties, the Wat­ton mys­ter­ies: it’s a long line. Lives of quiet des­per­a­tion seem to be ex­ac­er­bated by the iso­la­tion and huge skies the bird­ers and pho­tog­ra­phers so ad­mire. A 2014 Bri­tish in­die film, The Goob, turned it into com­edy, but let the iso­la­tion, the sidelin­ing and the fail­ure to lis­ten con­tinue unchecked, and the con­se­quences can be star­tling. That’s why Bos­ton be­came the cap­i­tal of Brexit.

Re­mote­ness can, how­ever, have its up­side. A musical col­league from Lon­don dis­cov­ered that the near­est place to get his Yamaha key­board re­paired was on an in­dus­trial park to the north of Nor­wich. While it was un­der­go­ing surgery, he and I went into the cen­tre. I sud­denly saw my fa­mil­iar city through his met­ro­pol­i­tan tourist’s eyes.

Park­ing was 30p an hour. Ad­mis­sion to the cathe­dral precincts, where sum­mer hol­ly­hocks nod­ded against old flint walls, was free. A lunch of seafood and just-picked samphire, eaten in a mar­ket­place as crowded, as gaudy and as de­light­ful as any in Provence, was £3. The Nor­man cas­tle: free. Rather than be­ing rammed with be­wil­dered Ja­panese tourists in quest of Burberry, Ge­orge Skip­per’s won­der­ful Art Nou­veau Royal Ar­cade con­tained one soli­tary child, who was en­chanted by my dogs: ca­nines that were pos­i­tively wel­comed into the tran­quilly me­dieval river­side court­yard, where two ex­cel­lent cof­fees and two Crunchies came to £4.80.

We saw two in­for­mal art ex­hi­bi­tions, talked to a busker about the tech­ni­cal­i­ties of his hur­dygurdy, lis­tened to the cho­ris­ters singing How­ells through the open win­dow of their prac­tice room and re­turned to re­claim the key­board £12 poorer, but im­mea­sur­ably richer. And the strangest thing? We saw not one sin­gle tourist.

I don’t blame Alan Par­tridge. I’m rather grate­ful to him.

Ed­in­burgh will be far dif­fer­ent. Off to the Fes­ti­val we trot, where £12 will get you re­ally not very much, other than a ticket to our minty-fresh new show at the G. and V. Ho­tel. This might well be my 38th con­sec­u­tive Fringe, but I’m un­easy. The hand­shake be­tween the Prime Min­is­ter and First Min­is­ter, on the steps of Bute House had something of the Tu­dors about it:

Ms Stur­geon’s lost her way

Upon the tricky path she’s tread­ing Check­mate: to Fotheringay For her be­head­ing

Kit Hes­keth-har­vey is a so­ci­ety cabaret en­ter­tainer and reg­u­lar broad­caster for the BBC

Next week: Jonathan Self

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