Am I Rob Titchener? The Archers ‘Trial of the Century.’

This is perhaps my most serious blog post so far and it’s one that has been brewing for a little while. In the next week a character in Radio 4’s venerable soap opera The Archers, Helen Titchener née Archer is going on trial for attempted murder of her husband Rob.

If you are not familiar with The Archers here’s a quick history, feel free to skip a paragraph or two. The Archers is a daily (almost) 12 minute radio soap opera set in the fictional country village of Ambridge, in the equally fictional English county of Borsetshire. The everyday day lives of country folk have been told for a very long time. Since 1951 in fact. It started out as a way of getting farming information out to the population in a more relaxed and accessible way then Ministry men in suits talking down to men in wellies. However, the story and characters soon outgrew that brief and it became a staple for listeners across the country, even surviving the advent of mass television ownership. Generations have grown up listening to The Archers and the usual fodder of the soaps; deaths, affairs, babies, illness and, like most soaps, it’s a pretty unsafe place to live around Christmas or Easter.

What I think sets it slightly apart from other soaps, is the time it takes to develop story lines and, well, at times it just punches harder than other soaps. As a cancer survivor myself, when Ruth Archer had breast cancer treatment in 2000, it really hit a nerve and I felt the writing and portrayal was plausible, emphatic and very moving.

So, yeah, it gets accused of being smug, naively idealistic and bucolic and offering an unnatural slice of English country green nostalgia. (Billy Connolly once suggested the adoption of the theme tune as the national anthem, an idea not entirely without merit in my opinion)

So, that’s the Archers. Got it? It is incidentally available as a daily or weekly omnibus  podcast.

So, Rob and Helen Titchener. This plot has taken a couple of years to grow to the point we’ve reached now and it has been horrible to listen to much of it. Basically, Rob came to the village as a new Dairy Manager and soon began an affair with single mum Helen Archer. He was handsome, charming and very much an alpha male (In his own head at least). He dumped Helen when his wife turned up and we began to glimpse the other side of him as his marriage soon fell apart and he picked Helen back up.

They moved in together with her little boy Henry (born of a sperm donor so he has had no father) to some consternation to her family. However Rob’s charm and apparent studious attention and devotion to Helen and Henry soon quelled any concerns and, as far as the village were concerned, they were a blissful happy family.

I can’t quite be sure when I picked up that the the plot was taking a much more darker and unpleasant tone, but it was some time ago. And here I have to commend the two main actors, Louiza Patikas playing Helen and Timothy Watson as Rob. His wheedling tone never, at the beginning at least, strayed into pantomime villain. He was always calm, occasionally stern but so very concerned. When looked at individually, his demands, and behaviour were plausible and reasonable and, though you might disagree, they weren’t outright abusive. But looked at as an overview it becomes clear that he is exhibiting the signs of coercive control over Helen and Henry.

They marry, on a whim, away from her family who might have objected, because, in his words, it was more romantic like that. He took on the legal responsibility of Henry, to ‘become his proper daddy’. After a serious accident at the family farm, he leaves his job and starts working with Helen at the farm shop, spreading and exerting his influence and own reputation of being an heroic alpha male.

Inch by inch he took over her life, and she soon became pregnant. (So far it hasn’t explicitly been said but on the night in question it was clear she wasn’t in the mood but he wouldn’t listen to her complaints,  so rape.) His mother moves in to help during the pregnancy and made things worse as poor Helen became isolated from her family and friends, trapped in the hell of the idyllic Blossom Hill Cottage. Any obvious unhappiness or frailty noticed was put down to a difficult pregnancy. All this continues to build until Kirsty, a friend of Helen’s returns to the village and notices the dramatic difference in her and guesses the cause. She urges her to take action and call a helpline and the scales begin to fall from Helen’s eyes.

Finally, in April, it all came to a head, in an episode when Helen tells Rob she is leaving him. A vicious argument ensues where ultimately Rob places a knife in her hand and tells her the only way she’ll ever be free of him is if she kills herself. At that moment, Henry comes into the kitchen to see what they are shouting about and Rob turns his anger on him. We don’t know what he would do though as Helen, to defend her son, lashes out with the knife and repeatedly stabs Rob. The episode ends with her calling Kirsty to till her she’s killed him. In the next installment though, as Kirsty rushes to the scene she discovers he is not dead, but severely injured. Helen is immediately arrested and it all royally kicks off.

So we are left with the situation that a woman, who has a history of mental illness in her past, who recently has been seen exhibiting signs of mental distress and unbalance again has allegedly snapped and tried to kill her doting, heroic husband. We know what happened as the audience, but nobody else does. We are left facing a trial it seems nearly impossible for Helen to win. We have been promised high drama and high emotion in the coming week as it unfolds. There are plenty of people who have seen signs of Rob’s true character but ultimately, whatever he has done elsewhere, she is still the one who used the knife on him. And she, still trying to free herself of his mental influence, has been unable to truly explain her situation and what happened.

I finally get to the point…

Still with me? Good, because this is my point and I think it’s an important one. Coercive control over a partner is now a crime, but one that is hellishly difficult to prosecute, I’d imagine, as it’s all words. Rob has only ever hit Helen once, that we know of,and that was because ‘she was becoming hysterical’ and she ended up apologising that he had to do it.(She had actually discovered he was arranging to send away the 5 year old Henry to boarding school, so her fury was understandable).

There has been massive support on social media for Helen. There is currently a trend on Twitter of people taking pictures of themselves with a cup of tea to show ‘solidari-tea’ with Helen and other abuse victims, with the hashtag #FreeHelen. I know, from listening to The Archers fan podcast DumTeeDum, that many listeners have found the whole storyline very stressful and some have even stopped listening because of it.

Now, I don’t know what dramatic devices will be employed in the series in the next week. But, ultimately, in the real world, it’s hard to see how a real life Helen would stand a hope in hell of getting acquitted.

And there are other victims, too many, who live with this controlling behaviour from their partners every day, so I finally get to the question I ask in the title…

Am I Rob Titchener? Am I a controlling husband/father? Am I a monster? I don’t think I am but frankly, who does? Do we suppose the character, Rob Titchener, feels he is a villain, a skillful Machiavelli twisting the will of those around him as he twists his evil moustache? Does he look into the mirror and think ‘I am a bad man, doing bad things’?

No.

Who does?

He rationalises it to himself. He thinks of himself as entirely reasonable in his actions and justified in his behaviour, because he knows what is best for his family. Even if that means applying pressure to make sure they see things as he does.

He told Helen how to dress, how she should wear her hair. He poured scorn onto her friends and fermented gossip to drive a wedge between them. He isolated her from her family and those closest to her to prevent them from being a contrary influence. He destroys her self-confidence until all that is left in her head is his voice, his judgment. He does all this to maintain the image he has in his head of the perfect family, behaving perfectly. (We meet his father after the assault who is clearly just as monstrous).

And all this happens within a close knit community of friends and family, and nobody sees it happen. Because he isn’t physically beating her there are no bruises or black eyes for her to hide. In this fiction, things rise to a dramatic point and she lashes out with violence. In real life there is no such convenient narrative. Women will live with this abuse for years and years and years. To protect their children, to protect themselves. They will become a ‘Stepford Wife’, a perfect android example, because the fear of causing displeasure is so great it quells any thought of escape or rebellion.

Abuse within the family home is horrendous. Be it physical, sexual or mental. But it happens too often and is hidden because often people don’t want to see it. They don’t believe that someone they know could be the cause of such pain.

So, I am a man. I am a father and a husband. I think I am, largely, a good man. But so does Rob Titchener.

Dare I look at myself honestly and ask ‘Am I Rob’?

Dare you?

If you would like to talk to anyone on the subject of Coercive Control, or any form of abuse, you will find links to organisations who can help you on this BBC webpage. I have largely written, in this post, about abuse by men towards women. I am very aware it also happens the other way round and in same sex couples. If one partner, if one child, is in daily fear of their partner, or parent, then they are victims of abuse.

Find me on Facebook – www.facebook.com/fatbloketalking  and on Twitter – @fatbloketalking 

 

Highlight of the Week – 22nd August

This week’s top pick among the new episodes released (that I’ve listened to) is another show from the Sanspants Radio stable….

Highlight of the Week – Shut up a Second – Getting Old/People

Shut up a second is, what I’d guess you’d call, a Banter based podcast. Each week a revolving panel of 3 people will sit and discuss a particular topic, muse on hypothetical scenarios , examine the history of said topic and review any cinema releases on the subject.

This makes it sound all very interesting and sensible. Almost educational. And it might very well be so in other hands. However this is from a gang of Australian Millennials who are more than happy to substitute fact, knowledge and research for abusive language, arguing and diverting so far from the topic on hand you often forget what it was they were talking about in the first place.

And it’s sublime. So, so funny. The Sanspants team are all so entertainingly up-beat about their ignorance that it’s hard not to be charmed. Yes, there is a fair amount of bad language so not recommended family listening. The hosts are very candid about themselves and their lives, to the extent that I can tell you which host is missing which body part. (More than you’d imagine with such young podcasters.)

In this episode they discuss growing old and old people so naturally there was a lengthy tangent/ argument about Monkey’s living in Jacuzzi’s, the benefits of metal teeth and another shouting match about the plot of the film Cocoon.

It’s not rehearsed, or scripted and it’s the  chaotic character of the interactions that make it so fun. It’s genuinely like hanging out with a bunch of friends and, since I do have a few years on them, I get to do the patronising head shake of the ‘you say that now, but you wait a few years’ adult.

So, if you like a bit of juvenile, immature and slightly surreal comedy give it a go. There is a huge back catalogue to binge through which really helps get through a long day at work.

I think you’ll like it. Unless you’re my mum. She’ll hate it.

Find me on Facebook – www.facebook.com/fatbloketalking  and on twitter – @fatbloketalking 

 

 

 

An actor unprepares….

I woke with a shudder, a thumping heart and sweat on my brow last night. I’d had one of those dreams. The classic stress dream. The kind where you turn up for an exam you haven’t studied for, you don’t know any of the answers and you’re naked from the waist down.

Except this wasn’t an exam. I was appearing on stage, in a play. A real play, my next play. You see, amongst my other ‘talents’ I am an amateur actor. I like to think I put the amateur into Am Dram! I work with a drama company in my town, which although amateur, approach performances very professionally and we have won numerous awards for our plays.

So last night my subconscious  found me in a nerdy comic book store, that was selling off some classic geek merch; I picked up an original Ghostbusters poster and a cool retro Star Wars T-shirt for only a couple of quid.Bargain! However I should have been at the theatre. I run to the theatre (now for some reason in a darkly gothic row of Georgian townhouses.) And crash into the dressing room just in time to hear my cue line. No time to get into costume I, reasonably I would think, pull on the Star Wars T-shirt and walk onto stage to awkward silence. No idea what my lines are, none at all. My fellow actors exchange glances and try to pick up the threads but it’s clear I’ve fatally wounded the performance and it was at this moment I woke and took some time to console myself that my next role isn’t ’til November.

I think every actor, professional or amateur, has a list of anecdotes of when things have gone wrong; lines forgotten, sudden blackouts, prop drinks actually being hard liquor, collapsing sets or in one case, back in my student days, missing out an entire act of the play. We reel them out in dressing rooms like veterans retelling  old war stories.

To this day, although I don’t get stage fright, on my first entrance I am always certain I have forgotten all my lines. So, my new little routine is to stand quietly for a moment, eyes closed, a few deep breaths, running my opening line over and over in my mind. I figure as long as I get my first line out, someone else will speak and give me time to dredge it up what follows. It’s not failed me….yet.

I’m struggling to find a moral of this piece, so I’ll just subtly shift tone to say that Amateur Theatre doesn’t mean Amateurish Theatre. There are lots of groups who work bloody hard up and down the country, giving up hours to rehearse, to build and paint sets, to prepare costumes and props, who struggle to make any money at all from shows to keep going. So let’s make a deal, take a little effort to look at your local theatre and see if anything tickles your fancy and I’ll make sure I learn my lines, turn up in time and, most importantly, remember to wear trousers.

Listening Week -15th August

It has been another busy listening week. I’ve been binge listening to catch up up to date on a few shows and enjoying many new episodes of current shows.

  • My Dad Wrote A Porno – The host and friends read from an Erotic novella written by his father. It is very, very, laugh out loud funny but all very, very rude! Only for the broad-minded.
  • The Moth – Real life people recounting stories from their lives at live audience events. Some heartwarming, some heartrending, always moving and engaging.
  • The Film Programme – The Radio 4 show about, well, Films!
  • Punt PI – Little, light-hearted documentaries presented by comedian. This week looking at reports of a mysterious, world wide hum and questions around the death of an elderly actress back in the 40’s
  • Home Front – Radio 4’s serial drama, set in Great War Britain. More melodrama than gritty realism, it’s still engaging and, occasionally interesting.
  • Tracks Episode 3 of a 9 part drama from Radio 4. Very good so far. Conspiracy thriller with a dash of sci-fi. Gripping stuff!
  • Still Untitled Adam Savage Project – Just started with this podcasts back catalogue. General conversation about making things and other topics with Adam Savage of Mythbusters fame.
  • Dum Tee Dum – A podcast about the radio 4 soap – The Archers, made by their fans. One for fans only I suspect but you can’t fault the enthusiasm and knowledge.
  • Funny From The Fringe – A short daily show show highlighting some of the comedy output at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe Festival.
  • Friday Night Comedy – The Museum of Curiosity Comedy discussion show from Radio 4. Interesting, intelligent listening.
  • The Archers – Daily Episodes Needs no introduction.
  • The Black Tapes Spooky Documentary style drama. Very atmospheric and well done. Reached the end of season 1.
  • D & D is for Nerds A game of Dungeons and Dragons played as a podcast. I know, but trust me it’s very, very funny. This weeks episode was a 2 hour live show. That’s people who have bought tickets to go and watch other people play Dungeons and Dragons.
  • More or Less: Behind the Stats Radio 4 show examining in detail the statistics and maths we are presented in the news and media. WILL change how we see the world.
  • The West Wing Weekly A weekly podcast examining each episode of the West Wing. One for the fans maybe, but then I am a ‘Wingnut’. Finally caught up with new Episodes coming out each week.
  • Comedy of the Week -Just a Minute. The veteran comedy panel game hosted by the veteran Nicholas Parsons. Been broadcast for ever and still makes you laugh as the game descends into bickering and sarcasm, at often at the expense of the host.
  • Shut Up A Second  A bunch of young Australians discussing a particular topic. They argue, swear and are generally very funny. Sometimes they even stay on topic. This week’s topic – Old Age.
  • This American Life A magazine programme, telling varied, interesting, funny and moving stories from the US and beyond.
  • Jesse vs Cancer The one man podcast of one man and his journey with stage 4 bowel cancer. Jesse Case is a stand up comic, and graphically and very funnily shares his experiences of treatment and the world in general.
  • Hector vs The Future New comedy podcast. Some filthy language but very funny.
  • Seriously – This look a look at how terrorist acts have led to a change in attitude toward non-white citizens of the UK. Thought provoking and chastening.
  • From Our Own Correspondent  Small letters from BBC correspondents around the world. Unpacks and delves behind the brief headlines and global news.
  • No Such Things As A Fish Comedy ‘Fact’ show, presented by the QI Elves who fact gather for the TV show QI. 4 incredible facts each week, accompanied by witty banter, personal abuse and intelligent(ish) comment.

 

King of the Sandbox

I first wrote this piece at a time when not everyone in the whole world  had heard of Minecraft. To me, the zeitgeist is something that happens to other people…

I play video games. I like playing video games. There I’ve said it, get over it.
Now, I’m not an addicted, compulsive gamer zombie who spends his every waking hour glued to his or her controller. In fact I only usually get to play at the weekends. I like the challenge, it relaxes me, stimulates my brain and entertains me. It engages me in a way that just watching T.V or a film can’t.
Now, as you’d imagine there are many, many different genres of game. Sports games, Driving games, First Person Shooters ( or FPS) Role Playing Games (or RPG), platform games, puzzle games, music games etc. Just as with films, books and any other extended artistic endeavour not all types of game appeal to all players. I’m no fan of sports games, or the more serious driving games. Fighting games are only fun in small doses against a live opponent.
No, what I like, and it’s a style that crosses many genre of game, is the Sandbox.
The sandbox is basically a large open landscape that you are free to explore at your pleasure. The game still has levels, missions or objectives but you are free to pick and choose the way you approach them. This may mean solving little puzzles in a virtual Gotham City in Lego Batman 2, or deciding how to take out an enemy compound in Far Cry 3. In Grand Theft Auto it’s the freedom to do, controversially, almost anything morally dubious you want to.

Perhaps the ultimate Sandbox experience is Minecraft, a game which is all Sandbox and virtually no game, beyond surviving and creating the world as your imagination leads you whilst exploring a randomly generated environment.
If you’ve never seen it, perhaps the best way to describe it is as a world built of little bricks; earth, stone, wood etc. That you are free to dig up and put down at your leisure. Any way, any where. Rare metals found deep underground unlock the ability to create simple electrical circuits to work lights or open doors and create train tracks to whizz you around or to turn into huge roller coasters. Don’t like the monsters, switch ‘um off! Don’t want the hassle of gathering your own elements, switch to Creative mode and have infinite resources to really unleash the imagination.

With enough vision, imagination and time you can create huge magnificent, impossible wonders of architecture. One team actually recreated, to scale, the whole of Denmark, landscape, buildings et al.
Minecraft has rightly become one of the most successful games ever. Its creators sold it to Microsoft for an eye-watering $2.5bn in 2014.  It’s easy to pick up, non violent, no gradient of difficulty that makes you give up in frustration. Play with friends or alone and build and explore to your hearts content.
A huge world of forests, jungles, deserts, caves and mountains where your only limit to what you build is your imagination.
Now that’s what you call a Sandbox.

In the last week or so a new sandbox experience has been launched on PlayStation 4 and PC. No Man’s Sky takes the sandbox to a (literally) astronomical level. It is a space exploration set in a universe of randomly generated worlds, populated by equally random flora and fauna. We’re told there are 18,446,744,073,709,551,616 planets to be discovered. Every player plays in the same virtual universe so if you arrive on a new planet and discover a dinosaur type creature you can name it after your favourite granny and any subsequent visitor will find the Grannysaurus roaming the plains. 

I’d love to give a review of the game but sadly, don’t have a PS4 to play it on. Is that a potential Kickstarter cause do you think?

Highlight of the week: 8th August 2016

Last week I couldn’t choose between two  comedy shows, so had two highlights. Incidentally, D&D is for Nerds and Hector Vs The Future both had great episodes again this week,  but I can’t keep choosing the same shows!

This week Radio Drama has most impressed me and, since they both come under the same Podcast, I’m going to cheat again by having two highlights.

Highlight of the Week – Radio 4 – Drama of the Week – Poetry in Motion. 

(Drama of the week podcast titles are only available for a brief period, you have until 18th August to download. )

This is a lovely, well written and well performed piece, first aired in the 45 minute afternoon play slot. It’s a simple, touching play, concerning the journey of 5 strangers on a train from London to Manchester. We hear their personal internal thoughts and the stilted public conversations between them. There are no great dramatic, impassioned speeches, just charming sketches of everyday people sharing a space together for a brief period. As a non-driver I am more than familiar with the practice of silently assessing your fellow passengers and how your thoughts wander away on a long journey. (Or, in my case, fall asleep with you head against the window, so when the bus goes over a bump, you wake up with a start and bite your own tongue.)

Written by Katie Hims this was, to me at least, a lovely 45 minutes.

Highlight of the Week – Tracks Epi : 1, Also available as Radio 4 Drama of the Week.

In contrast to the gentle emotion and humour of Poetry in Motion, Tracks is a nine part thriller, mixing elements of scientific conspiracy, a merest hint of sci-fi, and unnamed menace.

Without giving up too much of the plot, the lead character is a GP, Helen, who is first on the scene of a plane crash. A plane full of scientists on the way to a medical conference. One passenger, who dies in her arms, is later found under autopsy, to have no heart. The corpse is quickly removed by a shadowy medical research corporation. This all sets up for a search for the truth by Helen and Freddy, the doctor who performed the autopsy.

The writing from Matthew Broughton, is great, tense and keeps you off balance. The characters have real depth, with real tangible personal issues. A good radio drama always, to me at least, has a way of engaging with the listener and allows a  more subtle and emotional connection than TV drama, where spectacle is more important and characters tend to be drawn with broader strokes.

The first two episodes are available at time of writing, and Tracks is available as a stand alone podcast. Episodes will apparently be online for 60 days, so I recommend downloading quick as each episode is released, not to miss out.

Listening Week – 8th August

It has been a busy listening week. I’ve tried some new Podcasts, and am busy binge listening to catch up on others, all the while keeping up to date with new episodes of others.

 

New titles this week…

  • Crossing Continents In depth current affairs documentary from around the world. This weeks episode looked at Polish War Games; civilians playing soldiers with air soft weapons, that the government hopes will help prepare a militia for real war.
  • My Dad Wrote A Porno – The host and friends read from an Erotic novella written by his father. It is very, very, laugh out loud funny but all very, very rude! Only for the broad-minded.
  • The Moth – Real life people recounting stories from their lives at live audience events. Some heartwarming, some heartrending, always moving and engaging.
  • The Film Programme
  • Punt PI – Little, light-hearted documentaries presented by comedian
  • The Allusionist – Charming little programme about language, and the idiosyncrasies of the Englush tongue. Present by Helen Zaltzman, of Answer Me This fame.
  • Home Front – Radio 4’s serial drama, set in Great War Britain. More melodrama than gritty realism, it’s still engaging and, occasionally interesting.
  • Tracks First two episodes of a new 9 parts drama from Radio 4. Very good so far. Conspiracy thriller with a dash of sci fi. Gripping stuff!
  • Still Untitled Adam Savage Project – Just started with this podcasts back catalogue. General conversation about making things and other topics with Adam Savage of Mythbusters fame.
  • Dum Tee Dum – A podcast about the radio 4 soap – The Archers, made by their fans. One for fans only I suspect.
  • Funny From The Fringe – A short daily show show highlighting some of the comedy output at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Makes me really miss Edinburgh and performing at the Fringe.

Also of mention, not a Podcast, but available on download from the BBC Iplayer is the new series of Start / Stop on Radio 4, a comedy about 3 couples on their terrible marriages. Funny, little bit rude but great fun. Try and catch the earlier series on repeat.

Old Favourites..

  • Friday Night Comedy – The Museum of Curiosity Comedy discussion show from Radio 4. Interesting, intelligent listening.
  • The Archers – Daily Episodes Needs no introduction.
  • The Black Tapes Spooky Documentary style drama. Very atmospheric and well done.
  • BBC R4 Drama of the Week A pick of Radio 4 and 3’s Drama Output. This week’s download was Poetry in Motion. A wonderful afternoon play.
  • D & D is for Nerds A game of Dungeons and Dragons played as a podcast. I know, but trust me it’s very, very funny.
  • More or Less: Behind the Stats Radio 4 show examining in detail the statistics and maths we are presented in the news and media. WILL change how we see the world.
  • The West Wing Weekly A weekly podcast examining each episode of the West Wing. One for the fans maybe, but then I am a ‘Wingnut’
  • Comedy of the Week – Guilt Trip (Epi: 2) A comedy about a Mother and Daughter walking the Thames Coast path for charity, with rather too much baggage, and I don’t mean rucksacks.
  • Shut Up A Second  A bunch of young Australians discussing a particular topic. They argue, swear and are generally very funny. Sometimes they even stay on topic. This week, ‘Cops’ and the lack of subterranian law and order apprently.
  • This American Life A magazine programme, telling varied, interesting, funny and moving stories from the US and beyond. The last two weeks have been a series of stories presentd from Refugee camps on Greece. Reminds you that refugees are not a faceless ‘swarm’ but real people who have sacrifcied a lot to try and find a safter future. Excellent podcasting.
  • Jesse vs Cancer The one man podcast of one man and his journey with stage 4 bowel cancer. Jesse Case is a stand up comic, and graphically and very funnily shares his experiences of treatment and the world in general.
  • Hector vs The Future New comedy podcast. Some filthy language but very funny. Last weeks Highlight of the Week for Eiposde #2
  • Seriously – Stalking Under Scrutiny – A programme looking at the long term affects of stalking and Swapping Psalms for Pop Songs, a documentary taking a long at the Non Regligois Sunday Gathering movement, gaining momentum around the world
  • From Our Own Correspondent  Small letters from BBC correspondents around the world. Unpacks and delves behind the brief headlines and global news.
  • No Such Things As A Fish Comedy ‘Fact’ show, presented by the QI Elves who fact gather for the TV show QI. 4 incredible facts each week, accompanied by witty banter, personal abuse and intelligent(ish) comment.