Monday, 21 November 2016

Out on a limb in a post-Brexit landscape

It's a strange day today.

Black as the inside of a bag and raining like billio.

I don't like it.

We had snow last week. Just five minutes of it, but snow nonetheless.

It's as if the natural world is protesting at what's going on in the unnatural world. Refugee crisis, terrorism, Trump...

Don't get me started.

And since my Brexit heartbreak, the landscape has been changing.


Here's a couple of trees whose progress I've been following since the summer. (Excuse the quality of the photos, they were taken on my phone. I blame Brexit). Indulge my flight of fancy, but I think they look like the British Isles. I am always seeing symbolism in nature.

This is what the trees looked like in the early summer. Scotland was a big dodgy and the west and south east coasts of Ireland weren't quite right, but you can see what I mean, can't you?
Fast forward to the late summer/early autumn.
Wales has dropped off but Scotland, surprisingly, is still holding firm.

By the time we get to winter, there are rooks roosting in the Highlands and the Westcountry has joined Wales in falling off the face of the earth.

I dread to think what might happen next.

So here's a couple of pictures of my dog in a turnip field.

Because, while all the world around you has gone mad, a dog is a dog.

That's about it.

Love Maddie x

Saturday, 22 October 2016

A weekend break in an Airbnb in east Cornwall - proper job!

We're walking down a wooded lane, Arty the dog and I. There's a high estate wall on one side, a long bank on the other. We crunch through leaves and step on chestnut husks.

She's on the extendable lead as a yappy little dog roars up around the corner. Arty bounces, a bit, to one side, an incomer in a new place. The other dog sniffs his approval and then trots back to his owner.

'It's a lovely morning,' the woman says. 'There's no-one about. You can let her off the lead.'

I explain that as we're only staying here a couple of days, I want to see the lie of the land first before allowing the girl to explore unfettered.

We leave the lane and enter a large, sheep-free field. A short walk through the grass, around the bend and then there's this...

We meet another friendly dog walker, who directs us up some steps and through a wood. We emerge onto a quay and I can look at the viaduct from a different direction.
Wow again.

We're in St Germans, a village in a tucked-away part of east Cornwall, just across the Tamar from the metropolis that is Plymouth. We're staying in a small but cosy cottage, a barn conversion in someone's garden. We found it through Airbnb and it's brilliant. We'll be back.

I've not felt so strongly attracted to a place in years. Even passing teenagers smile and say hello without any trace of sarcasm. There are lots of trees and creeks. There are rolling hills and views out across to Dartmoor from the top of them. There's a community shop, a pub, a village hall, a school, a station, a stately home, an antiques shop, a gallery and cafe.

'I could live here,' I say to Mr Grigg.

He glowers. The last time I said that we ended up renting a house in Corfu for a year.

Vapour trails cut across a clear blue sky, as aeroplanes bound for faraway lands pass by a daylight moon. Trains heading for Penzance hurtle across the viaducts and bridges.

On nearby beaches, dogs play in the waves while people grab a cup of tea and a bite to eat from the pink van that is the Travelling Diner, one of the best little food places for miles around. Street food not fast food, with as much choice for the vegetarian as the meat eater, along with banter from proprietors Emma and Andy. 

On days like these, who'd want to be anywhere else?

That's about it.

Love Maddie x

Sunday, 9 October 2016

Chard Carnival 2016

Yet again, the stops are pulled out. There are bells, knobs and whistles, and music with a bass line to make your rib cage dance.

It's carnival time again in south Somerset and I love it. The gaudy costumes, the bright lights, the majesty and the humour, they all combine to make a magical evening.

Next stop is Taunton on Saturday 15 October.

That's about it.

Love Maddie x

Saturday, 1 October 2016

Saturday in Sicily

There's a wedding today in the heart of Ortygia, Sicily.

Women in high heels and expensive dresses stand at the door of the imposing Duomo. Every few minutes, men glance at their watches.

A busker changes instruments and the sweet sound of lute is replaced by swirling bagpipes. Three cyclists, in tight, bright Lycra, do figures of eight in the piazza.

Guests begin to spill out from the cafes in which they have been waiting, as an advance party comprising photographer and video cameramen announce the bride's imminent arrival.

A sleek, black car pulls up outside the church, an old man gets out and two women fuss over the bride, who towers over them all as she emerges, wearing shoes the height of Etna and a bun on top of her head.

There is applause from the watching crowd as father and daughter walk, arm in arm, up the steps. The doors are shut and the people in the Piazza del Duomo disperse.

That's about it.

Love Maddie x

Monday, 5 September 2016

The sequel to our Greek odyssey in Corfu begins

It is morning on Nikiforou Theotoki Street in Corfu Town and someone is playing a clarinet. They're high up in one of the tall, Venetian buildings and practising their scales, the notes rising slowly and then falling again, up and down, up and down.

The smell of garlic wafts down through the street from the Restaurant Rex. It's early September and the shops are full of cut-price summer sandals, on sale now that the season is coming to an end.

A new pair of shoes is just what I don't need, having bought a pair of shoes every week for the last six weeks as a bizarre way of coping with my grief.

Mr Grigg shares a surreptitious rice pudding with Gorgeous George and then he meets Eleni on her fruit and veg stall. A friend in the market is better than money in the purse.
'Why you been away so long?' she says.

Back in the village, a swallowtail butterfly flaps by and lingers, lazily, on the cerise bougainvillea that spiders its way along the front of the syllagos, where just a few weeks ago they were mixing the sperna for the annual feast day on August 15th, the national and religious holiday that marks the falling asleep of the Virgin Mary.

The chattering swallows are still here, but printing their boarding passes for the long flight ahead.
A moth takes a rest on a mosquito screen outside Dukas taverna and reveals a scary face on its body and wings.
Pavlos and Vasso put on pork in the oven, just for us.
It's ten months since we've been here in our village, the place where we spent a year away from home. Locals walk through the plateia and nod a greeting and then do a double-take and come back for kisses and hugs when they see who it is.

'You been away too long,' says Canadian George.

There are hugs and commiserations from Betty, a trip to The Three Brothers at Astrakeri to give Yianni Pianni sheet music for Side Saddle, with the instruction that he must learn it by the time we come back next time. And in the kafenio, the men still play cards.

On hearing my sad family news, white-haired Maria, who speaks no English and communicates with us by the use of facial expressions, hand signals and our smattering of very poor Greek, breaks down in tears.

She lost her husband sixteen years ago.

'She is still sad but you have to be strong,' Kiki from the kafenio says.

I tell her about my broken heart, for which I needed hospital treatment.

'You have the memories, Margarita. Now you must travel and see many things.'

In my book, Kiki is likened to Athena. She has a wise head on young shoulders.

Meanwhile, Mr Grigg is told by the proprietor of the kafenio, eager perhaps for another coffee sale, that he has the skin of a thirty year old.

Filming is just about to start in Corfu for a second series of ITV's The Durrells and actress, producer and singer (and Tom Hanks' wife) Rita Wilson is one of five prominent Greeks of the diaspora to be honoured by a new stamp.

And then there's my book.

'Paw, paw,' Kiki says. 'My sister-in-law has read it. British people have read it. They like it very much.'

'Yes,' says an English woman. 'And now you must hurry up and write the next one. We want to see what happens next.'
That's about it.

Love Maddie x

Wednesday, 3 August 2016

The Jolly Boys' and Girls' Outing to Sidmouth Folk Festival

It's that time of year again, when the coach stops off at Lush Places to pick up villagers for the annual outing to Sidmouth Folk Festival.

There were only six of us this year, after several cancelled at the last minute and another overslept. Still, the people from the next village made up for it, with seventeen of them climbing aboard as we pulled up outside their pub.

The view from the bus was glorious as we wove around the lanes, past Dorset's highest point and then on to the main road down into Devon.

It was a quick stop-off at The Volunteer Inn first, where one pint turned, quite magically, into several.

And then we wound our way down to the seafront where it was all happening, including a mesmerising performance on a handpan and then off to another pub in a quiet backstreet where there was some foot tapping music going on.

There was more music and more stops at various pubs in the town, a picnic lunch on the beach before the tide came in, music and more stops at various pubs in the town, pre-booked supper at a nice little spot overlooking the main street, music and more stops at various pubs in the town and then back on the coach.
Mr Grigg was one of three people to count all the passengers when we boarded the bus and then count them all back in again for the return journey.

'If there's three people doing it,' said Mo, who helped organise the trip, 'then at least one of us might get it right and no-one will be left behind.'

And, after the long journey from Sidmouth to Lush Places, with lots of singing, the passengers had earned themselves another stop at our local when we got back.

It's fair to say that Monday was a complete blur. And, as far as I know, no-one was left behind.

That's about it.

Love Maddie x

Tuesday, 19 July 2016

Good Morning Corfu: 'Jack Kerouac meets the Archers via the Durrell family'

In a parallel universe, my book, Good Morning Corfu: A Year on a Greek Island is going down very well, like ouzo and iced water in the village plateia on a balmy evening.
The reviews have been lovely - thank you - with the latest describing it as 'Jack Kerouac meets the Archers via the Durrell family. Delightful!'

My dear friend, Betty, who is featured in the book, messaged me today in great excitement, after meeting a couple from Manchester who were in our Greek village looking for the Villa Oleander.

'I walked them to the house,' she said, 'and then they told me they were looking for it because they read your book! They already went up to the Square to visit every single place you mentioned.'

Apparently, the only reason they visited the village was because they had read the book. Of course, when Betty revealed that she was in it, they were delighted.

'The lady told me to tell you how much she enjoyed your book!'

I hope they spent some money in one of the tavernas and the mini-market...

Meanwhile, back in the real world, there is still so much sadness around me. I am wrapped within the pages of a family tragedy. I feel like I'm climbing a big wall of grief and I keep slipping down to where I first began. 

We must all grasp the good times when we can and share those precious moments when everything seems perfect.

Like the weather here in Dorset today.
If you have read my Corfu book, please take a few minutes to leave a review on Amazon. 

In the meantime, here's a (heavily edited) interview with yours truly for the Great Destinations Radio Show.

That's about it.

Love Maddie x

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