Saturday, 16 August 2014

We are Happy in Lush Places

Back in Lush Places, a new video has just been premiered on the village website.

It might be old hat but we thought we'd get in on the act.

Because, you see, we are Happy.

Here's the film on my YouTube channel:
It's a varied village, a lovely and lively village, with lots going on. Heck, even the horses are musical.

And for my next trick, I'm going to try to persuade our Greek friends in Agios Magikades to do something similar...

That's about it.

Love Maddie x

Thursday, 14 August 2014

It's party time back in Greece, the land that invented hospitality

I'm up here in shorts, a floral top and Birkenstocks. New shorts and bright pink Birkenstocks, it's true, but I'm feeling rather under-dressed.

Up in the plateia, in this heat, this death/life defying heat (it's said Greece will reach 42 degrees at the heatwave's peak on Saturday), and the women are dressed up to the nines. Immaculately coiffured hair, sleek and shining, teetering in strappy sandals and glammed up in off-the-shoulder dresses.

Beside me, the village president tops up Mr Grigg's glass with retsina, while my husband queues at the barbecue, desperate to buy some souvlakia to repay the villagers the hospitality we have been shown since arriving in Corfu late the previous night.

Plates of souvlakia, feta cheese and briam are plonked on the table in front of us.
'Go on,' the people say. 'You eat.'

Xenia is a concept from Greece's ancient past. And it's still practised to this day.

And you can never, should never, outdo a Greek when it comes to giving gifts. If they present you with a gift, just accept it with a gracious efharisto poli. Don't try to top it. It's not a competition. And if it was, you'd still never win. The Greeks will always have the last word. Whatever you give, they will give you something bigger, and better.

It's festival week here in the village and the plateia is packed. We've only just arrived and already we're made to feel like old friends.
'Where you been? On your holly-days?' says Nikos the Dancer, resplendent in Che Geuvara T-shirt.

The musicians play Zorba's Dance and he's off.
And then the young boys and girls dance in friendship around him.
Oh, those Greeks.

That's about it.

Love Maddie x

Thursday, 7 August 2014

All aboard the Sidmouth Special

It's ten thirty in the morning and a bus pulls up outside our front door.

All aboard for the Sidmouth Special.

For just £9 a head, we weave our way out of Lush Places through narrow lanes, high up as anything and looking out over the hedgerows to the hills and views beyond and into people's back gardens.

And then we cross the border into Devon and make our way to the elegant seaside resort of Sidmouth, where, for the past sixty years, the renowned seaside folk festival clatters, tinkles, strums, beats, sings and dances its way through the crowds.

Usually, the town is home to some 15,000 souls, sixty percent of whom are over sixty five. But during Sidmouth Folk Week, the population soars and takes on a life of its own. My uncle, George Withers, sang in the pubs here for many years.

Today, there are tickets to be bought for those who want them and street performances for those who are quite happy to potter around and see what turns up. The esplanade, with its genteel, Regency buildings looking out across the stalls, is full of morris dancers and people soaking up the atmosphere.
A puppet spies a gap in the strolling legs and dances for money.
Musicians gather together on the seafront and play a tune.
And then a raucous band, Phat Bollard from Cornwall, strike up in the town and people of all ages and backgrounds dance to the catchy tune and sing along to the jaunty lyrics.
Several decades ago (I don't know when, exactly), one of our Greek friends performed here with a group of Corfiot folk dancers. People come from all over the world, to take part and to enjoy.

Our day done, we head back over the hills in the bus, the only ones singing in the back seat.
 What a day.

And then when the week is over, Sidmouth will go back to being genteel again.
That's about it.

Love Maddie x

Saturday, 2 August 2014

There's nothing quite like an English village fete

There's been rain for the first time in weeks in this long, hot summer.

This morning, it belted down on the conservatory roof, filled the sides of our Dorset roads with streams and lashed the hanging baskets.

And then the sun came out.

Which was just as well because it was Loders Fete.
Set in the gardens of the lovely Loders Court, this typically English event feels like slipping back through a time warp into the fifties, sixties and seventies.
With a nostalgic soundtrack featuring Spanish Flea, Danny Kaye singing Thumbelina and the music for Muscle Man, the grounds are alive with shrieking children, ice creams, stalls selling bric-a-brac, antique valuations, Otter beer, teas, plants and a horde of home-made cakes.
There are racing ferrets, a woman dancing with fire, a fancy dress competition, a bouncy castle and three balls on the coconut shy for 50p.

The cars keep on arriving in the car park hours after the fete opens.

'It's a popular one, this,' says a lady as she crosses the ha-ha and pays her £1 entry, with her Panama-hatted husband by her side.

It's the quintessential English country fete, the backdrop for a Midsomer Murders scene and it's not changed a bit since the music on the playlist was first popular.

England at its best.


That's about it.

Love Maddie x

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

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