-Friday June, 16th-
There’s been a youth-orientated storyline running through this week’s episodes which I haven’t previously bothered mentioning for time-saving purposes. Typically, then, Friday’s episode put the conclusion of this story in pride of place at the expense of nearly every other plot. There was no mention of the tube stalker, Danny Dyer’s Father’s Day menu, Johnny Geezer’s nanny search, or Max Branning’s dodgy dealings. There wasn’t even time for any characters to highlight the overall marvellous sense of community that Albert Square basks in. That’s how damn busy things were.
So, before I can write about this episode, I’ll have to give the background deets in a nutshell. Ready?
Right. Well, a boy named Keegan (not Kevin) bragged to his schoolmates about having sex with Sharon Mitchell’s daughter, Louise, at a party. Louise claimed she’d had her drink spiked and remembered none of it. Her actual boyfriend, who, you may recall, was a receiver of mother Sharon’s best flirting earlier in the week, then dumped Louise after hearing she’d slept with Keegan (not Kevin). Louise denied everything but there was, allegedly, a video recording of the whole sordid act, which, as it turns out, never surfaced. Despite her insistence that she hadn’t done nuffink, Louise began to experience sickness in the mornings: a phenomenon otherwise known, in medical circles, as ‘morning sickness’. She thought she was pregnant – with Keegan’s baby! She wasn’t, though. But she was paranoid about the whole affair. Next, she thought she had chlamydia – with Keegan’s penile bacteria! She rushed over to the Albert Square sex clinic for answers. She was their first patient since Mark Fowler in 1991. Whilst there, a practitioner suggested that, as the sex with Keegan was non-consenting, Keegan (not Kevin, remember) had actually raped Louise. To add extra spike to proceedings, Keegan, it transpired, was one of Ma Turdburglar’s many children. And that’s where we were at kick off, before Friday’s episode ramped the drama up to a crescendo.
By all means give yourself a minute or two to re-read that.
I actually started watching Friday’s episode on Saturday. It messed with my head. Eastenders and Saturday don’t mix. It’s like a Bacardi and Bovril cocktail. Honestly, hearing that theme tune, watching the camera spin above the Thames, up into space. Something about it disturbed me. My brain couldn’t process what was happening. I had to stop watching and wait until Sunday. It was much more palatable then. At least Sunday and Eastenders have a semblance of a relationship. That was when the ‘omnibus’ used to be on.
(The London on the old Eastenders intro used to frighten me as a child. There was an enveloping sense of sad danger about it. That thick turquoise line cutting through grey and black smudges of fading dockside communities. A city with no end. Now it’s all green and light. A city of leisure, a city of interns, intercoms, cycling paths and park lunches. And, somewhere, Albert Square.)
But I digress. Deliberately, you see. I’m building up the tension. It’s a trick I learnt from watching Eastenders for four days.
After a phone call to the council, during which she asked the age-old question ‘But what about me ’ousing benefit?’, Ma Turdburglar received an array of doorstep visitors. Somebody called Denise (who was last seen potting flowers in the communal garden and feeling smug about it) introduced herself to the new gal. She said Albert Square was a nice neighbourhood, which, if you’d only been watching Eastenders for a week, you might believe to be largely accurate. If you’d watched it at all during the previous thirty years, however, you’d know it to be a cold lie. Albert Square is a hotbed of incestuous, murderous, back-stabbing, soul-destroying misery.
‘’Ere. I know you,’ said Ma, as if to prove my point. ‘You’re Denise Fox.’
‘You’re the one ’oo smacked my Keegan. You cut ‘is face up.’
This reference to a former incident went beyond my understanding. I’d only been watching for a week. But it was nice to discover that the all-round good egg, Denise, had some more innovative methods of honouring that all-important community spirit than simply tidying the public garden. Namely, cutting boys’ faces up. Still, nice community, Albert Square. Denise defended her honour by effectively saying that Keegan (not Kevin) had been askin’ for it. And as we all know, when a schoolboy pushes his luck, it’s only natural that one would attempt to slice his features a bit. It’s the only language they understand.
‘Yeah, well,’ Ma said, relenting, ‘Arm gonna give you the benefit of the dahht. But next time you lay a finger on ’im, Arl knock you straight aht!’
It was the first, faint glimmer of her golden heart.
The old couple downstairs had been watching the exchange from behind their net curtains. They had an elderly friend visiting who, coincidentally, used to live next door to the Turdburglars on another estate. She was a bag of nerves. They had to give the old girl pills to calm her down. (Everybody in the building is drug dependent.) All the while, Romeo by Basement Jaxx pounded downwards through the ceiling; another lovely example of BBC One’s take on what working class people are listening to these days.
All round, this was a great episode for that classic Eastenders trick of having the characters pulling a face at the end of a scene to ensure that we know how they secretly feel about things, lest the script doesn’t make it clear. Pauline Fowler was queen of this. She could never speak to another man without afterwards glancing at that framed photo of Arthur on the mantelpiece. They were all at it tonight; Pauline’s spirit lived on. Almost all scenes ended with an emotion-heavy face being pulled. With the exception, I must say, of two real star turns from young Louise Mitchell and her schoolgirl friend, Bex. The former’s tear-laden interrogation by the snidey police officer was a surprisingly excellent piece of television. Ditto for Bex’s kitchen table confession to her mum. And that’s the thing with soaps. Every now and then they are good. Every now and then they get it right. But the peaks are few and far between. I felt honoured to have seen one this week.
Things came to the fore once Louise had told her mum, Sharon, about the whole sorry Keegan affair. Sharon stormed down to the Turdburglar residence, accessories jangling with each stride, to give Ma a piece of her mind. Madame Turdburglar, as luck would have it, was already standing out on the pavement, smoking a fag and being overweight. And having already necked her day’s quota of human kindness-flavoured milk on Denise, she was more than ready to voice any displeasure she may, or may not, feel upon hearing Mrs Mitchell’s accusations.
Things were about to get shouty.
Sharon, slightly out of breath, gave Ma the lowdown. Ma pulled a face or two then said that her Keegan would never do such a thing. Sharon begged to differ. The discussion, like those recent discussions up and down Britain’s political corridors of power, reached something of an impasse. Rhetorical deadlock was achieved. There was nowhere for the debate to turn. But Ma had an idea. A way out. It was a little unorthodox but, she thought, it might just work: she smacked Sharon in the hooter. Lo and behold, it worked. The debate had reached a conclusion. Job done, Ma Turdburglar went inside whilst Sharon reacquainted herself with the freshly blood-stained Albert Square community pavement.
Inside the Turdburglar residence, Ma grabbed Keegan from her flock and gave him a lecture:
‘I hope you put summink on it,’ she said, strangling her son by the collar. ‘Last fing I wanna do is share a grandkid with that mare!’
It was hard not to sympathise with her on that score.
Keegan said that he didn’t even sleep with Louise. He said it was all a big joke. Ma Turdburglar may not be the first person you’d call when assembling a quiz team, but she was smart enough to recognise that her son had been an idiot. She punched him on the arm by way of an education, then asked whether he knew how serious this was and why the bloody ‘ell he did it.
‘I like her…’ Keegan said in a puppy voice. ‘She’s a proper sort.’
At this, Ma visibly tamed. Her son wasn’t a total fuckwit after all. Just a hopeless romantic who pretended to have non-consenting sex with girls at parties in order to woo them. She hugged the lovable young fool. The law, meanwhile, were less keen to see the romantic side. Two police cars raced to the street corner outside. The community assembled to watch the arrest. Fake blood dripped from Sharon’s face. The old people downstairs pressed their noses to the net curtains. The police arrested Keegan Turdburglar on account of rape. They also, much to the community’s delight, cuffed Ma Turdburglar on account of her having thwacked Sharon Mitchell on the conk.
And I checked my watch. Another twenty-nine minutes of my life had evaporated.
‘Wait til next time,’ Ma screamed at Sharon, as her head was lowered into the police car.
‘In you get,’ said a policeman.
To end, the writers drew upon one of their favourite lines. An Eastenders classic. A line that has carried them through feuds from Angie and Den, Pat and Frank, Phil and Grant and all in between:
‘And that’s not a fret,’ screamed Ma. ‘That’s a promise.’