Photograph: Sally Anderson/Alamy
January went pretty well, at first. Jazzer and Tracy eventually got engaged despite interference from Brad and Chelsea. Justin, for still mysterious reasons, decided to show up for shifts at the town store. Sales of luxury chenin blanc and truffles have never been higher.
The Archers have always had a thing for brothers. Of the variety of Cain and Abel, Romulus and Remus, chalk and cheese: William and Ed; Rex and Toby; David and Kenton. This January, it was the turn of Jakob, the “easy on the eyes” (Lilian’s words) veterinary surgeon, to produce a brother.
Stationed at the Rookery for a few days in Jakob’s absence, Erik proved to have all of his brother’s aesthetic appeal, combined with a flirtatious charm that Jakob completely lacked. Kirsty invited him to swim in the morning. (I know! Nothing wild! It’s a Worry Reading the Guardian and Eating Tofu Crazed!) Despite the hypothermic cold, they kissed afterward over hot chocolate and a roaring campfire. Later, they memorably climbed Lakey Hill together. One wished them well.
And so the month passed. Until it jolted, shockingly, suddenly and without warning, into something else: Jennifer Aldridge is dead.
His voice has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember.
Is it normal to cry recklessly in the kitchen over a news item on the radio? I know I was not alone. “Jenny darling,” as Brian used to call her, was at the heart of The Archers. She was born in 1945 to Peggy and Jack Archer, and her voice has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. She had her faults: snobbery and pride in the material; a certain blindness to things, especially the alcoholism of her own daughter. But she was admirable, even saintly, as she strove to keep the peace among her quarreling brood. There were four children of three parents, then the son of her husband, Ruairi, born from an adventure that almost destroyed her, and whom she raised, at first with doubts and then with devotion. Her life had layers. She had a past (of scandal, when she, single, became pregnant in 1966) and another of a certain creative ambition: she wrote novels, an Ambridge story, journalism. She was a contradictory person, as we all are.
How is it that one becomes so attached to the invisible creatures that 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 mute character of The Archers. Jenny’s life once walked in unison with ours. Now she is silent. She died because her heart was too weak: something that could never have been said of her, while she was alive.