Friday, 25 July 2014

Those magnificent volunteers from the RNLI

As my watch ticked towards six o'clock, we eased off from the pontoon, out through the twin piers and into the open sea.

With the glorious, golden sandstone, layer-cake cliffs of West Bay behind us...
...we tore off into a cloudburst sunset and headed for Lyme.
And then we saw them. A mercury sea, calm as anything, and a strange sky turned from silver to scarlet as the Red Arrows roared overhead, giving a full-on aerobatic display to the good people of Lyme Regis.
In the bay, other boats like ours but with better timekeepers as skippers, had turned off their engines to watch the drama in the skies overhead.
At this time of year, there is something of a pilgrimage to Lyme for the annual lifeboat week which raises money for the RNLI, one of the most worthy causes around these parts. Tonight, the town would be packed to the gunnels but here, in these still waters and from this angle, the experience was weird, surreal.

They whirled, they spiralled, they parted. In a great arrow formation they commanded the skies, breaking the Creation-type cloud formation into something equally dramatic.

And then, silence. They were gone. And the boats around us started up their engines and headed for home, safe in the knowledge that if they were ever in trouble, the volunteers from the RNLI would not hesitate to come to the rescue.

Heroes all.

And all that was left after the Red Arrows flew off into the sunset was a crimson tide and and a stunning red sky.
Back towards West Bay, and the boats were coming in to a jam-packed harbour, where more fundraising was going on for the RNLI at the annual raft race.
And, safely moored in our little boat, we sat and watched the world go by, just like the passengers on the Jurassic Coaster bus.
That's about it.

Love Maddie x

Monday, 21 July 2014

Around West Dorset by electric bike

Once upon a time, when I was fit, I cycled up to the most wonderful place on earth.

It's in West Dorset and, when you get to the top, you feel like you're looking out across Narnia. A patchwork of fields, a huddle of houses here and there, ancient hillforts in the distance and then out to the sea, the coastline curling round towards Devon as if Dorset's saying, 'I'll let you into this view, this photo opportunity, but only if you're on your best behaviour.'
The spot in question is Eggardon Hill, a magical, mystical, wonderful place owned, in the main, by the National Trust.

Years ago, I watched a storm from here, as it circled and brooded its way over Bridport several miles to the south west. The lightning lit up a dark sky and, up on Eggardon where it was as dry and calm as an empty millpond, it was like being in charge of the weather.

Twenty years ago, I rode up the long, steep hill to Eggardon on my touring bike without getting off. I was as proud but sweaty as anything.

Fast forward and I'm on an electric bike, courtesy of the best prize Mr Grigg has ever won in a raffle - a tour for two led by Martin and Wendy from Jurassic Electric.

It's a new experience, this, and I'm loving it. You get all the best bits of cycling and none of the bad. You can work as hard or as little as you like.

'It's like all of Dorset's hills have been flattened out,' said Hilary, one of the participants on the tour. She and her husband were so impressed with their taster trip last year, they went out and bought their own electric bikes.

They're not cheap, but the tours put on by Jurassic Electric are very reasonably priced. There is nothing quite like seeing the beautiful Dorset countryside from a bicycle saddle. Peering into wooded gardens and getting a glimpse of a lovely cottage or two and tearing down the hills as if you are on fire.

But the best thing about the electric bikes is, once you get to grips with using them, is the effortless pootle you're able to achieve up some of Dorset's hilliest lanes.

When you've cycled for a couple of hours, remarkably un-saddle sore, it's a lovely lunch in the garden of a pub in one of West Dorset's prettiest villages.
And then, you whizz down through Powerstock and along the back roads, far from the madding crowd, through villages and hamlets and under the main road, where the cars zoom and rush as if they had a plane to catch, and down to the sea at Burton Bradstock.

It's a wonderful feeling of being free, of being in touch with your surroundings, the wind in your hair as it wisps out from your cycling helmet and the sun on your back.

And at the end of it all, it's back to Lush Places by car and a welcome cup of tea. And not a drop of sweat in sight.


That's about it.

Love Maddie x

Friday, 11 July 2014

CSI Lush Places

Everyone loves a good police drama.

And there's one going on right now in the village square outside my window. I'm so excited I've got camera shake and I daren't use the flash in case the spotlight turns on me.

At eleven thirty, my husband turns to me in bed and says: 'There's a police car outside.'

Ever the Miss Marple, I climb out of bed and peep through the curtains to see two young men in shorts sitting down in the road, propped up against Mr Grigg's car, with a third standing next to a police officer. There's drunken shouting and swearing, and young men's Westcountry belligerence and four policemen talking calmly and persistently until the men are asked to get up.

To think, with windows wide open, I nearly slept through all of this.

Then I hear the immortal lines that go something like 'you do not have to say anything...anything you do say may be given in evidence.'

Crucially, I miss what they are being arrested for. The three are handcuffed and one is ordered to the ground as he attempts to 'try something silly'.

Then a police van arrives and the young men's vehicle, a dark coloured Land Rover Discovery (I've watched enough Crimewatch to take a note of these things) is searched high and low with more police officers with high powered torches.

And then the police car and van drive off and the unmarked car lurks, with an alleged criminal in the back. Nothing to watch here, Maddie, you can get off your knees, naked behind the curtain and go back to bed.

And then there's a commotion as the empty Land Rover now has someone in it.

Another police car arrives (that's eight policeman we've had so far) and they tell the person inside GET OUT OF THE CAR!

I'm back at the curtain now, watching the drama unfold, my knees hurt and we're wondering how this one will pan out.  There's lots of to-ing and fro-ing, I can see Mrs Bancroft is peering out from her window across the street and I think, blimey, the B&B guests next door ought to being paying double for a front row seat.

The man in the car says he can't get out. The police say he can because he got in there. After much nagging, they finally smash the window (they smash the window) but the door still doesn't open. After about forty minutes, they manage to get him out  and he is arrested and put into a car.

Another car has just arrived, I think it's The Sweeney or possibly Sgt Catherine Cawood from Happy Valley which makes me think it's actually lucky these cider heads were not carrying guns

The unmarked car is still lurking.

There are holdalls put in the boots of police cars and, in a detail that touches me, a policeman gets a broom out and sweeps up the broken glass.

It's still going on and I'm tired but what a great thing to happen while I'm studying a Future Learn forensic psychology course about witness investigation.

To be honest, they didn't look like much of a criminal gang. They were all wearing shorts and sounded like Nick Frost in Hot Fuzz.

Any minute now, Mrs Bancroft is going to come out wearing fluffy slippers and a dressing gown and carrying a tray of hot cocoa while Champagne Charlie will be offering gin and tonics all round.

The cars all leave the scene, the entertainment comes to an end and a single policeman is left guarding the evidence before the tow truck arrives to take it away as the church clock strikes two.

That's about it.

Love Maddie x

Wednesday, 2 July 2014

The Jurassic Coast: scratching the underbelly of this rural idyll

A friend of mine has run into a spot of bother.

He's been quoted in a national newspaper article highlighting the negatives of living in rural and coastal areas like this one.

Anyone would think he was the Antichrist, the way his comments have been received.

But, in broad brush terms, I think he's right.

This corner of England, this land, is the closest things to heaven in the world.
We have amazing cliffs and coastline, rolling hills and hinterland, and we're continually featured in the media for this wonderful landscape and the feel-good vibe. 
It's what I missed when I was away from it for a year in Corfu. It's what hundreds and thousands of people come to visit each year.
It's a rural idyll.

But is it? Is it really? Beneath the veneer there is something else. Something you will find in similar places up and down the country. There are drugs, there is poverty, there is heartbreak. There is domestic violence, child abuse and alcoholism. There is a lack of affordable housing.

I tend to focus on the bucolic beauty of this place and I make no apologies for that. This landscape lends itself to poetry and lyricism.

But while we celebrate its breathtaking charms, it's also possible to acknowledge and, where possible, tackle some serious problems. The two things aren't mutually exclusive. I've alluded to that, in my description on this blog of Lush Places, and in the opening of a chapter in my novel, A Town Like This, a farce in which local people take on the London influx.

So, whilst some people might not be very happy of the picture painted of the area by the Observer article and the comments attributed to my friend Sean, it's certainly opened up debate and discussion.

And that has to be healthy.

That's about it.

Love Maddie x

Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Do you believe in magic?

On the longest day, we returned to the fairy woods.
We scuttled around, children shrieking as they opened the doors at the foot of tree trunks to find little things for little people.
Since our last visit a couple of years ago, a few of the doors are in need of a bit of tender, loving care.

But there are new additions springing up all the time in the enchanted forest, which is a ten-minute drive from Lush Places.

We even saw a fairy homestead complete with swings, slide and a tea set.
It was called Fairytopia.
You just have to believe.
And, having had this picture on the wall of the bedroom I shared with my sister, I can tell you I do.
It's called Do You Believe in Fairies and it's by Margaret W Tarrant.

Our magical day began in our own enchanted village with a walk up towards Bluebell Hill.
And then, my Midsummer's Eve grandchild and I called in at Bridport on a friend who was launching a children's book written by her late daughter, a folk singer, artist and good person, who died tragically about this time of year in 1994.
The books sold out.

After our walk around the woods and the children snuggled down to bed, Mr Grigg and I took turns to slip in to the pub for the open mic night.
And then the longest day ended with this sunset captured on camera from the pub doorway.
Longest day?

Perfect day.

That's about it.

Love Maddie x

Friday, 20 June 2014

Oh what a beautiful morning

A squashed adder, flat, like a toy shop snake, lies in the road, its curving wiggle preserved for all time, or at least until natural decay and car tyres wear it away completely.

There are horse flies bothering the horses and humans. Mares stand under the shade of leafy trees, tails swishing.

My friend's dog, Martha, sniffs and trots through the fields, heading for Bluebell Hill.
In Dorset, we're having a heatwave. In the Ionian islands, there's been sun and rain and twisters.
One hundred people speak silently over telegraph wires. Vapour trails glide listlessly through the morning sky in dreamy white lines.

Sheep graze, the sun glowing on their backs.
And then a lost lamb calls to its mother. From the other side of the hedge, Mother answers: where are you, little one?

And in a clear, Greek-flag blue sky, a solitary, wispy cloud, like a washed-out tide mark, stops for a while to take in the view.

It's the Pastoral Symphony without the music.

And then we shut the gate, brush past the ground elder which is beautiful in the right context and head up through the village. In the distance, the church clock strikes eight. Oh what a beautiful morning.
Mrs Bancroft is up early doing a morning shop in Bridport and Champagne-Charlie is getting out his mower.

There are children in secondary school uniform walking down to the bus and, up on the village green, I can see the legs of primary school children swinging to and fro. There is a mild argument going on.

'This is boring,' says one boy, about to head on.

'Well,' a rather confident little girl says, 'you'll be waiting outside the school gate for fifteen minutes. Where would you rather be, in a park or at a gate?'

My thoughts entirely. The Force is strong with this one.

That's about it.

Love Maddie x

Monday, 16 June 2014

Slow down, you move too fast

Back in The Shire, the weather has been Corfu-like in its warmth and sunshine.

West Bay - known to millions of television viewers as Broadchurch - is sparkling, with people chilling out, enjoying picnics and barbecues on the beach and the kiosks doing a roaring trade.

There are plenty of boats in the harbour and skippers pottering around in slow motion.
There's not much mackerel about - yet. But give it time, they'll be back.
From the sea, the sandstone cliffs look more beautiful than ever. Just don't stand on the edge or underneath them.
Inland, the young men who work for agricultural contractors are roaring through the narrow lanes of Lush Places at breakneck speed on tractors towing machinery the size of the Channel Islands.

Time is money, so they try to do it as quickly as possible.

I'm a farmer's daughter. I appreciate work needs to be done. I live in the countryside and farming life goes on, just as it should do. But these contractors are something else. It's not the local farmers' fault but it gives them a bad name by association.

As the crops stand by unfazed, these huge vehicles tear around as if they were late for a World Cup match.
(This is one of the slow ones. The bigger, wider ones went too quickly for me to capture on video.)

In the grand scheme of things, it's hardly the worst thing in the world. Terminal illness, war in the Middle East and the abuse of vulnerable people are rather more pressing.

Still, it's annoying when these leviathans on great big wheels refuse to slow down, charge around corners and hurl foul-mouthed abuse at women in wheelchairs who are in their way, which is what happened last week.

I wouldn't be at all surprised if someone doesn't put out a stinger before too long. Especially if they run over one of my cats.

That's about it.

Love Maddie x

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