Tuesday, 28 June 2016

Not waving but drowning: how BREXIT landed me in hospital

Down in the depths, Boris and his sirens have slunk into the shadows.

'There is no plan,' they say in unison, sniggering behind jagged and yellowed teeth. 'Now you're down here, you just have to be bottom feeders along with the rest of us.'

There's something nasty on the seabed. It's pulling at my ankle and I'm out of here. Millions more rise in a mass of bubbles towards the light and up to the surface to await rescue. But no-one comes so we band together to make a human raft.

It is what it is and we have to jettison hate and anger and reach dry land, by paddling together.

On the morning the referendum results came through, I was attached to a heart monitor in A&E. The hospital was full of it, the staff had been listening to the news all night.

As I was wheeled up to the coronary care unit, the nurse in charge was upbeat.

'I voted for out,' she told all the patients, as if we should be thanking her personally for taking us to the brink of disaster and beyond.

'I really didn't think it would happen. But, wow, now it has, now it has!'

A student nurse shook her head as she attended to my stickers and wires behind the curtain around my bed. She was livid.

'That's my future,' she said. 'I just can't believe it.'

Neither could the young doctors, who greeted the joy of the health care assistants with long faces.

I couldn't believe it either. Here I was, hooked to a machine, in a Dystopian world where my own future and that of the country was stuffed. I had moved from England to live in Jeopardy. Had someone stepped on a butterfly a few millions years ago?

Rewind to the previous night and I'd posted a picture on Facebook of an empty pub and the results coming in on the telly:

On Midsummer's Eve, we're in the pub listening to the Referendum results show. We might just have to stay up all night. On Midsummer's Day we could all be part of a short story called A Sound of Thunder by Ray Bradbury.

Seconds later, as the results from Sunderland came in, I felt suddenly unwell, with chest pains and a numb, heavy sensation shooting down both of my arms. It took a good hour for an ambulance to arrive and I was carted off to hospital.

The next day, we were in that chaos theory and time travel story and I was right in the thick of it.

My own build up to Brexit has been accompanied by the worst few months my Larkin-like family has ever had to face. My lovely, kind, compassionate sister died suddenly in March, my dear old Dad slipped away in April and then, last week, my talented, smiling nephew died following a fire-related incident at Glastonbury.

Me, I'm alive, with an angiogram showing coronaries clear as radiating and beautiful tree branches, and being instructed to rest. It appears my recent bereavements have had an abnormal stress response on the heart. The condition is called Takotsubo cardiomyopathy and is more commonly known as broken heart syndrome.

So my own reaction to the news about Brexit has been muted, out of necessity. I am terribly shocked, but more shocked and saddened about what's going on with my nearest and dearest. Hold them close, they are all that matters.

And when the dust settles, as indeed it will, we must face the fact that, whether we like it or not, we are all in this together. We have to make the most of a bad situation. The sun still rises in the east, the honeysuckle still exudes its warm and heady scent, even when a dead rook lies at the roadside.

This morning, the Dorset landscape I love is all washed out but it's still there.
We can blame the politicians and media all we like for creating the backdrop to this mess. But it is what it is. We have to heal this broken country, together. It's all we can do.

There is love and goodness to be had all around us, as the Crowdfunding appeal set up by a stranger for my nephew's funeral shows. We have to believe in the good of humanity, otherwise there would be no point in carrying on.

Peace and love and stuff.

That's about it.

Love Maddie x

Tuesday, 7 June 2016

Good Morning, Corfu: A Year on a Greek Island storms the charts

I'm delighted to discover that Good Morning, Corfu: A Year on a Greek Islandis at number two in this month's FeedARead Top Ten.

FeedARead is a leading independent publisher, programmed with Arts Council funding. 

My initial reaction to being in second place was deep joy (the last time this happened, I went to Peru), swiftly followed by, 'Why isn't it Number One?'.

I consoled myself with the fact that the current Top of the Pops has been there for months on end. Actually, when you cut through the German description, it sounds fascinating. And I'm not being sarcastic, either.

The reviews Good Morning, Corfu have been getting on Kindle have been brilliant, too. (Thanks so much, Mum).

I love you all.

So all in all, Reasons to be Cheerful (a record that reached only Number Three in the UK singles chart, which is pretty outrageous in my book).

Now for Part II.

That's about it - although if you are at a loose end tomorrow evening, tune in to Air FM between eight o'clock and ten when my alter ego and two friends are presenting the Hijack Show.

Prepare yourself for terrible ballads from one friend, raucous, shouty stuff from the other and some sublime stuff from me, in memory of my dear sister and dad.

Love Maddie x

Tuesday, 10 May 2016

The first of a new Corfu trilogy steps out into the sunshine

Well, Good Morning, Corfu: A Year on a Greek Island is going really well, with interest from national magazines and newspapers.

Read about it here, on The Bridport Press website.

And if you're an agent or publisher who'd like to work with me, please get in touch. In the wake of The Durrells, I can feel a new Corfu Trilogy coming on.

That's about it.

Love Maddie x

Wednesday, 4 May 2016

Extract from a grown-up gap year on Corfu, Greece - paperback and ebook out now

Well, the book's arrived and the launch at Waterstones, Bridport, has been announced.

It will be this Saturday, 7 May, from 10am until 2pm. If you pop in after noon, you can have a taste of Thiasos wine, courtesy of Wessex Wines and made by one of the pioneers of the modern Greek wine revolution, Yiannis Paraskevopoulos, from vineyards in Nemea in the northeastern area of the Peloponnese peninsula.

There's red and there's white.

I'd planned to launch Good Morning, Corfu: A Year on a Greek Island  this Monday in my little village near Paleokastritsa. But I lost my dear dad a few days before so there was no way I was going to get on a plane and leave the family behind, especially after losing one of my lovely sisters suddenly in March.

So the launch in the plateia will just have to wait and I will keep my Corfu friends posted.

It's available as an ebook on Kindle, as a paperback or to order from bookshops.

In the meantime, here's a taster...

Good Morning, Corfu: A Year on a Greek Island
Maddie Grigg

The key was in the lock but the front door refused to open.

‘I don’t know what’s happened,’ the agent said, trying to push the door with her shoulder. ‘It was all
right when I came up yesterday.’

We were standing on the side of the road in a hillside village in north west Corfu. It was a warm day in June and the cicadas were chirruping as loudly as ever. We were about to view a third rental property and the search wasn’t going too well. While the agent struggled with the key and became more and more flustered, my husband tried to give her a helping hand. I sloped off and opened a side gate into the garden, with its view of olive trees and cypresses on a distant hillside, tumbling down to an invisible sea. I took a deep breath and inhaled the smell of pine, herbs and hot, dusty roads.

‘What a lovely place,’ I thought to myself. ‘I could write here.’

Five minutes later and still in a trance, I was back at the front door. They were no closer to getting inside. A man working on the neighbouring house ambled over and tried to prise open the lock with a screwdriver but without success. He shouted to his workmate, a young Albanian, who walked across and attempted to break in by forcing the handle with brute strength. But the door wouldn’t yield.

‘There have been a few problems with this place,’ the agent finally said, as we huddled around the door getting nowhere. ‘The owner wanted me to tell you she’s quite happy to put it back into the state it was in before the last tenant moved in.’

Alarm bells rang in my head. A few problems? The state it was in before the last tenant moved in? I turned away from the door and walked back into the garden to reacquaint myself with the view and the good feeling I’d first had about this place. I tripped over a long dog lead, narrowly missed a pile of mess belonging to the same animal in the coarse grass; and I became aware of a broken manhole cover on the lawn. And then the smell of herbs that had earlier wafted around so obligingly was replaced by the sickly sweet aroma of dog shit and Greek drains. How quickly a place can change.

The workman continued to struggle with the lock and screwdriver.

‘The woman who live here, she move out yesterday,’ he said. ‘Maybe she not want you to get in.’

Suddenly, his young friend declared that he had the answer. With the agility of a gecko, he shot up a drainpipe to an upstairs balcony, felt around the window, pulled up the mosquito screen and, hey presto, he was in.

From the outside, we could hear him coming towards us down the stairs to the front door. It sounded as if he was running. From the inside, he opened the door with ease. But instead of ushering us in, the young man rushed out, slamming the door behind him and slapping his arms and legs.

I shuddered.


And then the agent, my husband and the workman and I all began to itch frantically, a psychosomatic reaction to the teeming infestation inside.

‘We can get it fumigated for you,’ the agent said, rubbing the inside of her elbow.

We smiled as we scratched; but she knew she was out on a limb. Our list of possible houses was diminishing and we were running out of time. We had given ourselves three days to find the perfect house to rent for a year. But it wasn’t meant to be. It did not exist.

The despondency hung in our hire car like a Dorset mist as we drove back to Corfu Town, the lovely capital whose old parts are the prettiest in Greece.

My husband’s dream of letting our house in the UK and renting somewhere on Corfu for twelve months was ridiculous, especially with the Greek economy at its very worst and austerity measures beginning to bite, even in the islands. But it had seemed the answer to our prayers a few months earlier when we’d looked out of our English window onto a never-ending view of rain. And I had gone along with it, quite happily. Twelve months in the sun was the perfect antidote to the English summer and it would be good for his health, too. But both of us were agreed that it all hinged on finding the right house.

We knew we’d know it, if and when we found it. And if we found it, we’d do it. We’d been waiting for some sort of sign, not necessarily a dramatic break in the clouds and a big booming voice from above saying ‘this is the one’, but a sign nonetheless. This was Greece after all, the land of ancient magic. But, at this rate, it wasn’t going to happen.

Our hire car dragged its way up the mountainside, as downhearted as its occupants. Suddenly, behind us, there was a screech of tyres and the agent’s car came past. Like some sort of crazed hen, she flapped her arm out of the window in a signal which stated very clearly that she wanted us to stop.

‘I’ve had an idea!’ she shouted as we drew up alongside. ‘I’ve got to go to another house to take some photos. It’s in a village I always think of as one of my top three on the island. Would you like to come and have a look?’

That's about it.

Love Maddie x

Sunday, 1 May 2016

Corfu: what a way to spend Easter*

Easter in Corfu is the most incredible thing.

In our eleven years of visiting this island, it is something we have been told about many times.

'You must come to Corfu at Easter,' our friend Jiannis told us. 'You will not believe it. The Greeks are famous for Easter but in Corfu, it is the best.'

And how right he was. Words cannot describe the spectacle. Photos do not do it justice. You really have to be here to understand. A strange mixture of ritual, devotion, celebration, tradition, noise, ceremony, moving music, lots of eating and lots of fireworks combine to create a heady experience on a massive scale, with some poignant moments of detail in between.

This is the place and time to come for an unforgettable long weekend break.

All week, Corfu's famous bands have been at the forefront, along with the island's mummified patron, Saint Spiridon, who is paraded through the streets on Easter Saturday on one of his four outings a year.
In the town, the celebrations are enormous. Little sign of austerity here.
Pots are hurled from the windows to great cheers from the crowds who, at the end of it all, scrabble around for a piece of broken shard for luck. For days afterwards, the red dust of shattered pottery is scattered through the town's streets and pavements.

And, at night, a candelit vigil waiting for the moment that Easter Sunday arrives, accompanied by a fanfare of crashing band music, choral voices and great rockets and firecrackers in the sky.
In the village, the drama unfolds at a more leisurely, intimate pace.

Services in the church, a sombre, candelit procession to the cemetery with a coffin covered in red and white carnations on Good Friday, while on Easter Monday the villagers make their way up to the cemetery church with an icon of the Virgin and Child, draped in red velvet and pinned with gold necklaces, bracelets and earrings.
Along the way, there are deep booms that crack through the village and beyond as mortars are let off by the local builder. And then there is our own Spiros, strong as an ox, carrying the twenty foot tall banner at the head of the parade.

And sandwiched in between, feasts up and down the island, lamb and goat roasted on the spit, hard boiled eggs dyed red (or, in our case, multi-coloured and decorated, thanks to our half-Polish neighbour from Lush Places, Mrs Champagne-Charlie), salad, wine and great big desserts.
Our Greek neighbours did us proud with a leisurely lunch fit for royalty, their own animals cooked on the barbecue, their own cheese and their own wine. It didn't matter that we had three friends to stay.

'You must bring them,' our host insisted. 'You are all most welcome.'

And he meant it.

As we sat overlooking the hills and valleys of Corfu with these lovely people, we thought to ourselves, this is something very special.
The Greeks are famous for their filoxenia, a generosity of spirit and kindness to strangers. We have encountered this here in spades in Agios Magikades. The warmth and hospitality of our new village friends has been overwhelming.
And the highlight for us, apart from the fireworks, candles, singing and all, was an Easter egg hunt we organised for our new Greek friends' two small children.

Their joy in finding the chocolate eggs hidden in their great-uncle's garden was matched by ours when they promptly hid them all again for us to find, before the brother and sister then alternated between hiding and finding. Their pleasure was in the game rather than the chocolate.

This Greek gap year has already been a surprising experience. The heartache of homesickness does not abate, for me at least, although it is more bearable as the warm weather soaks into my bones.

But is something we will not forget in a hurry, that's for sure.
That's about it.

Love Maddie x

PS Since publishing this piece, I have been taken to task for the use of the word 'mummification' in relation to the body of St Spiridon. No offence was intended. As the Metafysiko website makes clear, according to the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches, incorruptibility differs from mummification (the artificial technique of preserving the dead body that was used by some ancient civilizations, like the Egyptians). Please see the websitefor more information.

*First published 7 May 2013. For more Corfu stories, see the book Good Morning, Corfu: A Year on a Greek Island

Thursday, 28 April 2016

Crackpots: Easter in Corfu*

Easter in Corfu. Moving and bonkers.

Here's the bonkers bit:
And then a mad scramble to pick up the broken pieces after the Easter Saturday pot smashing in Corfu Town is all over.

We took ours home and put them on the mantelpiece as an offering to Hestia, the goddess of the hearth and home before a siesta and the evening festivities to come.

That's about it.

Love Maddie x

*First published 4 May 2013

Monday, 25 April 2016

Fireflies, flowers and Faure for May Day in Corfu*

* First published 2 May 2013

The sense of anticipation is mounting here in Corfu for Holy Week.

Church bells ring twice a day as the devout and those who do not want to risk eternal damnation make their preparations for Easter and pile into the church.

In the evening, the village plateia is alive with people as the congregation mingles with the card players and coffee drinkers, beer imbibers and children, now on school holidays and tearing around on bicycles. There are swallows and swallowtails, hooting owls, croaking frogs, waking cicadas and a host of magical fireflies flitting around the lanes and gardens.

The air is heavy with the scent of jasmine and mock orange blossom.

Yesterday was Labour Day, a May Day celebration which saw garlands on doors and small posies of wild flowers under car windscreen wipers. At first, I thought Turkey Spiros (so called because he breeds turkeys) had a female admirer when I noticed a bunch of marigolds on his bonnet. An hour later, Mr Grigg had his very own nosegay, made with scabious, flax and wild fennel.

And in the evening, a concert at the theatre in Corfu Town, courtesy of our lovely friends, Gorgeous George and The Graceful Mrs G.

'It's some choir or other,' I told my English neighbor, Mrs Bancroft, who has come over for Greek Easter with our other neighbours, The Champagne Charlies.

So we went, completely open-minded and none-the-wiser, to meet our Greek friends on the theatre steps.

Corfu is probably the most musical island in Greece, with more philharmonic bands than you could shake a drumstick at and more music students than notes on the most demanding song sheet you are ever likely to encounter. So whoever was playing would be good in our book.

And then we saw the poster and realised it was rather more than 'some choir or other'.

Greece's finest classical musicians began the programme with what many call the saddest music ever written, Samuel Barber's Adagio for Strings. I was melting in the heat, which came in great waves in between bursts of cool from the air conditioning. I was also melting with the emotion of the music, a wonderful mixture of pathos and passion, a lament in the minor key.

'They played this at my cousin's funeral last week,' Champagne Charlie whispered, as a tear rolled discreetly down my cheek.

And the music played on while a young child of about six in the seat in front of me waved his arms in harmony with the conductor.

And then, after the interval, Faure's Requiem performed by the Corfu Municipal Choir.

Deep joy. You do not have to be religious to enjoy the spirituality of this music. Instruments are beautiful things, and the most beautiful of all is the human voice. With a large choir, the effect on an individual is enormous. It stirs the soul, it takes you to the very heart of the human condition.
But did our guests feel the same?

At the end, Mrs Bancroft turned to me and said: 'You know, I've sung that four times. I was miming along to it. I have had such a wonderful time'

'I hoped you enjoyed it,' said the Graceful Mrs G.

Lost for words.

That's about it.

Love Maddie x

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