Friday, 12 July 2019

Horrible handbags at the ready


There is a welcome breeze in the French air today, after more than a week of sweltering temperatures. It's warm but not as crazily hot as the last two weeks.

A day without sweating is a day to be savoured, as are the early types of fruit from the purple-leafed plum trees encircling the village. In the garden, there is a Mirabelle and the fruits are delicious lightly stewed and served with ice cream.

In the markets, the fruit and vegetables are equally fresh. It’s a joy to wander around, soaking up the sights, sounds and smells of the rural French way of life.





In the supermarkets E Leclerc and Carrefour, the fruit and veg sections groan under the array of melons, lettuce by the yard and apricots, lots of lovely apricots, and nectarines.

The fish counters are works of art and the cheese section has me salivating at the choice laid out before us. Prices are not cheap – this is not Spain – but the quality and freshness is most excellent.

There is a promotion on in Leclerc at the moment for Tupperware. Collect enough stamps and you can purchase an abundance of items for which plastic was made for.

Remembering the parents of friends' Tupperware parties of my childhood, the prospect of getting my mains on one these containers begins to excite me until I remember we’re in the age in which the love of plastic is akin to devil worship.

At the till, our trolley groaning with products, we are offered stamps for the latest promotion. Hey, Tupperware, lead us not into temptation.

But then I don’t have to resist it, as the cashier tells me the Tupperware promotion is over and gives me a brochure detailing the latest offer.

I leaf through to see UP TO SIXTY FIVE PERCENT OFF handbags and purses, apparently designed by sisters Kendall and Kylie Jenner. (I have recently learned these two young women are famous for being famous.)

Their faces peer out at me from the pages, like two vacant, vapid sex dolls, with lips parted and pouting a la mode, and eyes that wish they were somewhere else . They stand together, in an incestuous, slightly girl-on-girl pose, the brunette holding the blonde one’s jeans together and the blonde one's hand on her sister’s tummy.


The blonde one looks very uncomfortable, as if she is about to break wind and is worried the button of her jeans is going to blow off in the process. The brunette appears to be saying through gritted pout: 'Just wait for the photo to be taken and then you can go to the toilet.'

I have no interest in celebrity culture and only know the two of them are Kardashian relatives after watching the television series about OJ Simpson in which Friends star David Schwimmer played the lawyer with the Mallen streak.

I looked up his character on the internet (I’m a Google and Wikipedia junkie in my search for useless bits of information, which will never be of any value apart for winning the trivia category in the village quiz), and discovered the Kardashian and Jenner cult of which, up until that point, I had not been aware. 

I don’t get out much. Tabloids pass me by, along with glossy magazines. The things inside them are mostly hateful, pointless or made up.

So, anyway, I leaf through this brochure with the sex dolls - sorry, the Jenner sisters - to find the most hideous merchandise I have ever seen with their names plastered all over them. Why would anyone collect vouchers for this crap, let alone pay full price for it?

When did the public get sucked into all of this rubbish? And when did the sex pout become fashionable? And why? I swear in thirty years' time, kids will be looking back at their parents and grandparents' photos and laughing like drains.

So I politely decline the stamps we are about to pick up with our shopping and resolve to make a point of shopping in the street market next time we need anything.

Handbags at dawn, anyone?

That's about it.

Love Maddie x

Friday, 5 July 2019

Tales from a French heatwave: the Boris who came to tea



It’s morning and the sun is streaming through the windows. It’s early but it’s light as anything out there and in here. And cool, at least for for the moment.

We both wake at the same time, the disturbed look on Mr Grigg's face reflecting exactly how I am feeling at this moment. I’ve just had a very strange dream.

Remember, we are in south west France in the middle of a heatwave.

Oddly and as if on cue, he says: “I had a really funny dream last night. We were hosting a dinner party. But it was a disaster.”

“That’s odd,” say I, barely able to lift my head from the pillow it was so hot last night. “So did I.”

 “Really? Well, I dreamt I’d invited someone you really didn’t want there as a guest.”

“An ex-wife?”

“No, worse than that.”

“I don’t know,” I say. “Give me a clue.”

And he tousles his hair and makes an idiot face.

“Not Boorish Johnson?” I am intrigued.

“Exactly him.”

I sigh with affront and turn over to look at Mr Grigg as he goes into great detail.

“It was terrible” he says. “It was obvious you were really angry I’d asked him to dinner, because you were refusing to serve him.”

Actually, I’m steaming just thinking about it.

“What about your dream?” Mr Grigg asks.

“Well, I was catering for lots of people, almost feeding the five thousand. And I had so many helpers dishing up the food, we were getting in each other’s way. And  I'd overcooked the roast pork so much it was carved up into thin sheets of steel accompanied by metallic gravy.

“And then I brushed past one of the diners with my backpack as I presented his with his meal, cutting off some of the fronds of his broccoli. He was furious.

“It was someone from the public health department who in real life a year or so ago interviewed me for that job I didn’t get because. well, you know I interview so badly.

“In the dream, the nightmare dinner was so awful I flounced off out into an adjoining atrium where I sat on the floor and had a nervous breakdown.”

“That’s dreadful,” Mr Grigg says. “Do you know what Boris did in my dream?”

I imagine Boris Johnson lifting the lid off a silver dish to see the disembodied head of the United Kingdom in map form with a poisoned apple in its mouth.

Or hurdling over huge Irish borders placed between the place settings.

Mr Grigg is clearly upset about what Boris did next.

“He got up on the table. He got up on the table.”

“Not the lovely walnut table we picked up for a song at the auction and then paid rather more to have expertly restored?”

“The same one entirely.”

“He didn’t dance on it, did he?” I can feel myself sweating, and it wasn’t even my dream. “You're telling me that Boris Johnson danced on our antique table?”

If I’d been angry at hosting a dinner party to which the country’s prime minister-in-waiting had been invited without my knowledge, I’m incandescent at the thought of Boris Johnson’s trotters plonking up and down on our beautiful piece of furniture.

“No, he didn’t dance on it,” Mr Grigg says. “He got up on it and prayed.”

Prayed?

“I asked him what he thought he was doing and he said he just wanted to say a few prayers at the table.”

At that point, a bird in the garden cries out “cuckoo, cuckoo” in French. Which is rather appropriate, really.

That’s about it.

Love Maddie x


Wednesday, 3 July 2019

Baking in the French sun as the Brexit temperature rises

It was the bagpipes that did it.

I was feeling pretty emotional in any case, as the cavalcade trundled by, its Europeans theme reflected in some of the floats and marching bands.

It was a balmy summer’s night in a small town in France, the swallows flitting overhead, laughing at and weaving in and out of the tremendous shifting shapes of sparrows roosting in the trees.

A hound on a lead was howling like it belonged to the Family Baskerville. People dangled their feet in a fountain. It was gone ten-thirty and the bridge over the Aveyron was still too hot to sit on.

This canacule (my newest French word) was going on for far too long. It was time the heatwave turned to dust before we did. The day before, I had melted in forty-two degrees.

The carnival queen and her attendants were ultra cool, though, dancing on their tiny float and surrounded by the flags of Europe, including our own Union Flag, all fluttering alongside each other.


And then there were funky trumpet bands from Eastern Europe and lots of excited jigging around. Poland and Slovakia were out there in the intense heat, which showed no sign of abating even at this time of the evening.

And then the pipes began to call and the kilt-wearing members of the City of Bristol Pipes and Drums made their way up the street, stopping right in front of us with a rendition of ‘Sailing’.

It was too stirring, too haunting, too beautiful. The tears welled up in my eyes.

Here in south west France, I feel desperately sad that we seem to be careering out of Europe in a handcart pushed by incompetent clowns. I bloody love Europe. The union has its faults but we should be fighting from within, not throwing the baby out with the bathwater just to honour the decision of a small majority of those that voted in a referendum three years ago, which has been shown to be embroiled in the lies of careerist politicians and charlatans.

And then the pipes moved on, wailing up the street, to be replaced by a jostling brass band from Limoges, closely followed by a giant Tintin, Snowy and a rocket, grown up majorettes, Mickey and Minnie Mouse, a massive white cat with pink ears, a Lego castle and, finally and inexplicably and much to my delight, Homer and Marge Simpson bringing up the rear.


That's about it.

Love, Maddie x

Friday, 31 May 2019

A funny thing happened on my way around the hill

Up on the hill early one morning this week, I was walking quietly around, minding my own business, when I noticed a billycan hanging from a tree trunk.

'Ooh, that's nice,' I thought. 'Someone's been up here with the children during half term and had a barbecue. But they've forgotten to take their rubbish home with them.'

I was just about unhook it off the tree when I turned the corner and noticed a tent in the shadows. And then a solitary, male figure emerged from inside, stretching his arms up to the sky as if he'd just got up.

I'd only that moment been thinking about an idea for a short story which had come to me after its fantastic title was kindly provided by the dictation facility on my phone's WhatsApp. This had completely misheard me when I said 'cattle escaped'. I'm not going to tell you what it typed, as I don't want you to use that as as the title for a short story which goes on to be the basis of a bestselling novel. That would never do.

Anyway, I was just thinking of how the story might progress when I saw the billycan, tent and then the stranger.

And it felt like one of those moments in a scary film where you just know that the next thing your leading character does will start the engine of the plot.

Don't do it, you say in your head. Don't be curious, don't stop to find out what it's all about.

But the characters in the scary drama - and they're often a lone woman - decide they must do just that, while you, the viewer, are shrieking inwardly turn around, don't do it! as you grip the edge of the sofa and hide behind a cushion.

And this action is the pivotal part of the whole plot. If the character didn't stop to find out more, there wouldn't be a story. You wouldn't be watching it. Because nothing would happen.

So what did I do?

I turned around and legged it with the dog.

That's about it.

Love Maddie x


Tuesday, 21 May 2019

Blue sky thinking


The sky is as blue as a sailor's trousers this morning. You could make hundreds - no, thousands - of pairs, if only you had the right scissors to cut through the heavens.

And you'd need a magic sewing machine. But there probably isn't thread that blue anywhere in the world.

All this blue sky gets me thinking. It's a bright, cobalt blue. It's absolutely stunning.

There are white, wispy angel wings hovering in the blue, too. They'll soon be dispersed by the vapour trails of aeroplanes heading here, there and everywhere.

Me, I'm heading for the hill, where the only way is up. Grey squirrels scamper up the trees as soon as they see the dog. The bluebells and the beech trees and the grass still look glorious, the morning light making the colours sing.


I make for the fir trees, just as I always do, to see if the sea is still out there, beyond Langdon Wood and Golden Cap to the south.

I can see the sea.

That's about it.

Love, Maddie x

Friday, 10 May 2019

A lush spring in Lush Places

It's been three weeks since I last posted on this blog.

Sorry, but, just like the rooks roosting in the ash tree next door, I've been busy.

Everything is so lush out there, what with a fantastic Easter followed by unseasonable chilly weather and rain. The fields and trees and wild flowers are just looking absolutely gorgeous.

All I've wanted to do, really, is to get out into the countryside and enjoy it, even in the showers. Everything is looking so fresh.

I'll endeavour to be a little less tardy in future and try to post every week. This landscape and place needs documenting on a regular basis.

In the meantime, here's some photos.

Spot the goblin.







That's about it.

Love Maddie x

Wednesday, 17 April 2019

Spring is in the air just in time for Easter

May is out and clouts have been casted.


Whatever clouts are, spring is well and truly here.

The daffodils are out and over, the primroses are running rampant and the bluebells won't be far behind them.

Up on the hill it's quiet in the mornings but like Piccadilly Circus as the day progresses. There are families with dogs, older people whose energetic grandchildren drag them up the slopes towards the rope swings.

Down in the fields, the sheep are safely grazing while young steers and heifers frolic among themselves when they spot a dog walker scurrying along rather too hurriedly. The best way to avoid their attention is to ignore them completely, although I have been known to stop, turn around then roar rather loudly if they get too close.


Mind you, I have been known to run down in my wellington boots at half past seven in the morning, singing at the top of the voice.

On those occasions, when I'm belting out Don't Fence Me In, the cattle generally shoot off in the other direction, which is a little bit harsh.

Oh, the joy of the open countryside. You just can't beat it.

Happy Easter!

That's about it.

Love Maddie x

Tuesday, 2 April 2019

Going native in the Brexit headwind

Over the past few years, I've avoided talking about Brexit, either online or in person.

The referendum nearly three years ago ended up with me being carted off in an ambulance to hospital with a heart attack.

Which ever way you voted (and I'm firmly in the 'Remain' camp), this whole debacle and the politicians' terrible handling of it has left everyone fuming.

And still it goes on, and it will do for years and years to come, whatever the outcome. We are a divided nation, although we have more in common than we think.

People are angry and intolerant and quick to take offence about everything, particularly online. It's as if being respectful and kind have been consigned into the bin of history, along with the Sinclair C5 and clackers.

I'm in Sir Oliver Letwin's West Dorset constituency. I had hoped his intervention in the Brexit pantomime might have sorted things out once and for all.

Oh no, it didn't. And, look, behind him are a bunch of lying, cheating colleagues jostling for position to bring us ever further down into the quicksand that the majority of the population did not vote for.

These days, I can only keep sane by going native every day to find solace in the little things. Small details like the early spring sunlight peeping through branches on a morning walk to the top of a hill.


The vivid red of a postbox against a bright green grass verge.


The way raindrops collect on the bars of a field gate.


Exquisite birdsong, damp and springy lichen on thick-set tree trunks. Squelching in deep mud in my wellies, the smell of cow dung on the fields, the feel of the rough bark of a beech on my cheek when I go to hug it.

Violets hiding in the hedgerows, primroses smiling in the grass.

The dog nuzzling up to me with a toy in her mouth, wanting me to throw it. Freshly-washed clothes billowing out with gusto on the line.

Small joys in an increasingly mad world. To be breathed in and soaked up before anyone can tell you otherwise.

That's about it.

Love Maddie x

Monday, 25 March 2019

Lady Day in Dorset

I'm up bright and early on Dorset's highest hill, looking out across the vale to a hazy coast, at around about twenty past seven.


This is a 'no filter' photo from my phone. It's wonderful up here this morning, with no-one else about.

On the top of the world, looking down on creation.

It's Lady Day today, and also my only brother's birthday. Two important events in my family's calendar over the years: the latter because he is the Golden Child, the only male in a gaggle of females, and the former because it's the traditional day for farm tenancies to change.

As children, we were brought up on a county council smallholding in Somerset, so Lady Day has always been part of my inner make up. It's the first of the four traditional English quarter days (the others being Midsummer, Michaelmas and Christmas Day). It's called Lady Day because it marks the Feast of the Annunciation, which celebrates the Angel Gabriel's announcement to the Virgin Mary that not only was she expecting a baby but that he was the Christ.

I've just looked up Lady Day on Wikipedia and it's fascinating:

In England, Lady Day was New Year's Day from 1155 until 1752, when the Gregorian calendar was adopted and with it the first of January as the official start of the year.[1] A vestige of this remains in the United Kingdom's tax year, which starts on 6 April, or "New Lady Day", i.e., Lady Day adjusted for the 11 lost days of the calendar change. Until this change Lady Day had been used as the start of the legal year. This should be distinguished from the liturgical and historical year. It appears that in England and Wales, from at least the late 14th century, New Year's Day was celebrated on 1 January as part of Yule.[2]
As a year-end and quarter day that conveniently did not fall within or between the seasons for ploughing and harvesting, Lady Day was a traditional day on which year-long contracts between landowners and tenant farmers would begin and end in England and nearby lands (although there were regional variations). Farmers' time of "entry" into new farms and onto new fields was often this day.[3][4] As a result, farming families who were changing farms would travel from the old farm to the new one on Lady Day. In 1752 England finally followed western Europe in switching to the Gregorian calendar from the Julian calendar. The Julian lagged 11 days behind the Gregorian, and hence 25 March ("Old Lady Day") became 6 April ("New Lady Day"), which assumed the role of fiscal and contractual year-beginning. (The date is significant in some of the works of Thomas Hardy, such as Tess of the d'Urbervilles and Far from the Madding Crowd, and is discussed in his 1884 essay The Dorset Farm Labourer).
You learn something new every day.

So have a wonderful Lady Day and, if you're my brother, have a great birthday.

That's about it.

Love Maddie x

Wednesday, 20 March 2019

The first day of spring


In a poor imitation of Harry Secombe, I’m walking down through the field singing If I Ruled The World.


It's just as well no-one else is about. It's not a very good imitation, especially the high bits. Even the dog is cowering.

But the song just popped into my head. And this has nothing to do with Brexit, Bercow or people jostling for positions in the forthcoming local government reorganisation here in Dorset. It'st because the second line is ‘every day would be the first day of spring’.

It’s feeling very spring-like this morning, despite ribbons of mist in the valley and grey skies overpowering the blue. Despite natural and man-made disasters around the world, despite climate change, plastic pollution and our materialistic culture. Despite bickering politicians, sleaze and crime.

In my world, there are woodpeckers drilling for England, pigeons cooing their plaintive call and grey squirrels scampering through the skeletal branches of beech.

Up on the hill, there are clumps of bluebells just biding their time before bursting forth their sweet, sweet, sweetness.

Mud and cow dung give a satisfying slurp as I wade through in my wellies. This morning, the phantom gate leaver opener has failed to strike and the cattle are lowing in the field in which they're meant to be lowing.

A horse chestnut tree is budding, the cherries are in blossom and my wallflowers having been giving the village a good show since well before Christmas. In the verges there are violets, primroses, celandines and daisies.

The world is still turning, just.

Today marks the Spring Equinox, a magical time when the days are as long as the nights. There is a change in the seasons, a sign of new hope.

Today, I'm wearing my Star Wars T-shirt and wishing the world were a better place. Like Harry's, if I were in charge, my world would wear a smile on its face.

I've just logged out of Twitter, where inane chattering does my head in, but not before I discovered that as well as it being the first day of spring, it's also the International Day of Happiness. Who knew?

This year's theme is Happier Together, focusing on what we have in common, rather than what divides us.

Amen to that.

That's about it.

Love, Maddie x




Monday, 11 March 2019

An evening out at River Cottage HQ

We wait in the car as the rain pours down outside.

There's a shelter opposite and a few people in there are enjoying a hot drink. We put the windscreen wipers on and we see steam coming from the cups.

We make a dash for it and squeeze into the shed as more people arrive. The hot drink is mulled apple juice and it's very fine indeed.

Our names are ticked off by a lady with a clipboard, and then the tractor and covered trailer arrives and we're squashed inside it next to complete strangers and they're all animated in their excitement.

River Cottage celebrates its 20th birthday this month. We've seen Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's baby from the very beginning and watched it grow. Mr Grigg is in one of the early episodes of the television series, captaining the peasants' cricket team against the toffs.

It's become part of what West Dorset (and East Devon more recently) is known for. Most people here this evening are from away and are staying locally in hotels, guest houses and B&Bs. We must be the only locals.

Both my children have sampled its delights and thanks to a Build and Bake course taken by Mr Grigg, we now have a clay oven out in the garden called Jabba the Pizza Hut. It's even made from clay from a local field. And now I've finally made it here, too.

And we're all set for a superb evening.

Down the hill in the trailer we go and there's lots of babbling and chatter from the twenty-five or so people on board. At the bottom, we're ushered into a large yurt with a log fire in the middle and enjoy elderlflower champagne and some rather spiffing canapes. There's farmhouse rarebit, cauliflower hummus on rye cracker and then, down in the barn, purple sprouting broccoli with blood orange hollandaise sauce.

By now we've been joined by the second trailer load and the place is buzzing. We're sitting next to complete strangers again, whose names we have memorised from the seating plan.

This is a place that excels in cooking beautiful dishes using local produce. And, for us, the Dorset theme continues with a tall glass of smooth Black Cow Vodka and tonic for me while Mr Grigg enjoys a nice G&T, with Conker Gin with our canapes.


More dishes arrive and I struggle to write down the ingredients that were rattled off earlier. I'm writing the old fashioned way, shorthand in my notebook, while the young chap next to me is tapping it all into his phone. By the end of the evening, we compare notes and this is an approximation of what comes next:

Air dried beef, rendered down pork dripping with onion, house pickles, radish salad.

Baked celeriac puree, pear, crispy kale, pumpkin seeds, preserved lemons, sage, tamari and olive oil and goats cheese with rosemary.


Beetroot, soft-boiled egg, anchovy and garlic. tamari and balsamic vinegar, parsley, chives and chervil.


Leg of lamb, chargrilled and finished in butter, in a red wine sauce with cubes of haggis made from the offal, parsnip puree, whole red onion and a salad of red Russian kale, pickled brine and garlic and spicy dressing.


Fennel and bay pannacotta with blood orange, raw rhubarb and gingernut crumble.


Then there is coffee or tea with sweets. I'm so stuffed by this stage I don't eat them and I've lost the will to write down what they are.

This is all washed down by an excellent selection of reasonably-priced wine.

With two really warm and interesting couples either side of us, both of whom are staying locally, the evening passes by really quickly. By the end of it, they're not complete strangers at all.

The food, ambience, service and ethos has been fantastic.

So thank you, River Cottage and Mr Grigg, for a wonderful evening. It was everything I hoped for, and more.

That's about it.

Love Maddie x

Horrible handbags at the ready

There is a welcome breeze in the French air today, after more than a week of sweltering temperatures. It's warm but not as crazily hot...