Joe’s 92nd birthday ends in pain as he stumbles at Grey Gables and breaks his wrist. It quickly becomes clear that part of the cause of his fall was a piece of loose carpet, a realization which sends Eddie up to the hotel to threaten to sue Caroline ‘for every penny you’ve got’.
It is an understandable reaction the emotion of which is clear. An old man is in great pain and Eddie and Clarrie will be all too aware that elderly people struggle to recover from broken bones. Unsurprisingly, Eddie is angry. And the weeks do not diminish the anger; on the contrary, Joe’s spirit seems to have been broken by the fall and Eddie is clearly worried that an old man is losing the will to live. So, partly through his anger and partly through a determination that fight should not go out of the Grundys altogether, Eddie persuades Joe to reject the offer of £1500 compensation from Grey Gables’ solicitors. He is determined that the Stirlings ‘owe’ for the accident and that he is going to ‘make them pay’.
It’s easy to criticise Eddie. Has he not remembered that not very long ago health and safety officers launched an investigation into an outbreak of e-coli at Bridge Farm which concluded that Clarrie was responsible for contaminating the ice cream the sick children had consumed? He was not trumpeting the importance of ‘making someone pay’ at that point. Accidents happen; people make mistakes. Christians perhaps instinctively resist the ‘blame culture’, deleting the messages that mysteriously appear on their mobile phones telling them that ‘our records show that you were involved in an accident that was not your fault’, lamenting the prevalence of adverts from ambulance-chasing law firms on daytime television, and wishing that we had not developed a ‘litigation culture’. And Christians find a theological rationale for the instinct in the central act of Christian prayer – the Our Father. ‘Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us.’ Do not sue us, as we refuse to sue those who offend us.
At the heart of Christian understanding of that prayer is the fundamental belief that all are the children of God and therefore live in relationship with each other. What was broken that night at Grey Gables was not just an old man’s wrist but a complex of relationships. Caroline is Will Grundy’s godmother (and has been generous in that role over the years); Oliver is Ed’s landlord (and the one who helped to get him out of trouble when he was convicted of theft). But we cannot forget that the land Ed rents from Oliver is Grange Farm which Joe and Eddie held from the estate in the days when it was owned by Caroline’s first husband (Guy Pemberton), a tenancy they later lost. The relationships between the Grundys and Caroline have always been across a social divide. The Grundys have always struggled to make both ends meet; Caroline has a cut glass accent and aristocratic connections. Throughout the years, the Grundys have pointed us to an aspect of community life in Ambridge which sometimes is expressed as benefaction and gratitude and sometimes as inequality and resentment.
The Lord’s Prayer asks that Our Father forgives ‘our sins as we forgive those who sin against us’ after the petition ‘give us today our daily bread’. The prayer is not disconnected; to be generous in forgiving might be a lot easier when daily bread can be taken for granted. Perhaps inarticulately, perhaps even erroneously, Eddie’s anger causes us to reflect that easy forgiveness may leave injustice unchecked.