Maddie's back! After narrowly avoiding clinching a book deal and a column in one of the weekend supplements, The World from my Window re-emerges as a regular look at life from England's rural underbelly.
It is November 1 - All Souls Day - and in about an hour's time I have to lock up the church. I really need to check it first for tramps sleeping under pews before I turn the key. I'd best take a torch with me. It is very dark down here.
There has been a rush on pumpkins at the local nursery for a Halloween competition in the village hall. The gardens and allotments society, in an attempt to get more people interested, put on the event for its AGM last night. We are not members but a friend is, and to show our support for him, we turned up with our pumpkin lantern to add to the table of entries at the back. My Lidl pumpkin, carved on Wednesday, had become quite soft and its once wide open mouth and crooked teeth had shut after the top lip sank into its chin.
The committee, combined aged 926, was dressed in pointy hats and wizard cloaks as we settled down to listen to our guest speaker (and pumpkin judge) talk about dowsing and healing. The surreal picture of elderly, normally upstanding, Christian members of the community, sitting in rows in the hall dressed as witches, was quite unsettling. It reminded me of a Harry Potter convention. And when the guest speaker started talking to her dowsing rods and stroking her crystals, it dawned on the committee she was actually a white witch. Quite appropriate really, given the date, but none of them had realised this at the time of booking.
Meanwhile, the pumpkins at the back were getting hotter and the smell of burning became too strong to politely ignore. As the speaker got the energy flowing through her dowsing rods, my earring flew off and two pumpkins suddenly burst into flames. The smoke detectors, however, failed to pick this up, having been boxed in with cereal packets earlier in the week for a function that had involved smoke bombs and explosions on the stage. Don't ask, it's best not to.
Fortunately, the speaker found a ready supply of water (her rods took her to the kitchen sink) and gave the offending pumpkins a good soaking. That wiped the cheerful grins off their faces.
Drama over, we tucked in to a hearty supper and then realised we were the only ones drinking alcohol. Flyers had been sent around the village, inviting thempeople to bring their own liquid refreshment and glasses. We took this to mean red wine, but everyone else had brought fruit juice or cordial and some had brought nothing at all. We felt like alcoholics at a temperance meeting. Somehow, we were persuaded to stay for the AGM ('it won't last long,' our friend said, 'only a couple of hours'. We thought he was joking). Half an hour later, and stalemate having been reached on whether the society should remove the word 'allotments' from its title after a schism in the ranks ('they don't want anything to do with us' was the widely-held view, and I wondered why), we sloped off to the pub.
The red wine in our pub is the kind you wouldn't take to someone's for supper even if you disliked them. This is not the landlords' fault, more the brewery which doesn't give mine hosts a choice. A large glass and a small glass of dreadful red wine later, the bar had thinned out to about eight of us . Larry the landlord put on a Sound of Music CD given to him by the local bus driver who had got it free with the Daily Mail. As the strains of Climb Every Mountain permeated the pub, the assembled throng began to sing. In particularly fine voice was Hawkeye, a 60-year-old steel erector whose Dorset drawl is like a Westcountry version of John Wayne. It struck me that it would be a good idea to have different versions of The Sound of Music, such as the True Grit one. These fanciful thoughts soon disappeared, however, as the introduction to Do-re-mi tinkled in. Without thinking, I was seven again and in the primary school social, but this time in the lead role. I was Maria and suddenly, finger pointing, directed the people at the bar into their roles like seven restless children. Some of them were reluctant, it's true, and Mr St John's 'S0, a needle pulling thread' was a bit weak' but Hawkeye's 'La, a note to follow So' was positively breathtaking. It was one of the best bits of improvised singing I have seen and heard in the pub for ages.
Now we were on a high, the landlord took this as his cue for a bit of Larry-oke. As the opening bars of Dancing Queen broke through and four women (including me, I regret to say) took to the mics and became Meryl Streep et al for the evening. Unlike my pumpkin, I do not know when to shut my mouth.
That's about it,
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There is nowhere quite like it. But then, I'm biased. That's about it. Love Maddie x