Monday, 28 December 2009

The Miracle of Christmas

It is three days AFTER Christmas and this morning we finally put up all the decorations. That's how behind we are in the Grigg household.

However, we are thanking our lucky stars. While Mr Grigg and I have had a lovely Christmas, friends and family have not had it so good. It started with my dear friend Pelly Sheepwash being wiped out by the usual end-of-term bug which saw her issuing instructions from the sofa, Roman empress-style, to her large brood.

Then there was calamity and woe in Jamie Lee and Ted Moult's household. After a lovely evening at Mr F Word and Camilla's, at which Mr Grigg disgraced himself by spilling red wine all over the pristine white tablecloth and then broke the glass trying to clear it up, we left very warily in the ice.

We dropped off Posh Totty and MDF Man at their house, unaware of the drama going on up the road. The resourceful Jamie Lee, who must have come from the same 'don't walk without carrying' stable as me, decided to use the return trip to post some last minute Christmas cards. Teetering up to the Sheepwashes just outside Tuppence's house, she slipped on the ice. This was bad enough but she brought 17-stone Ted down on top of her. Mr Grigg suggested later this is what happens when you fancy a bit of al fresco rumpy-pumpy at midnight. But diminutive Jamie Lee was badly hurt, although no bones broken. She needed hospital treatment and we doubt if she will be fighting fit for some weeks yet.

On Christmas Day, poor Mr Grigg's mother had to have her much-loved corgi put down. Mr Grigg and his brothers said a few prayers as they buried the dog at the bottom of the garden.

We then learned my son-in-law's father is dangerously ill in hospital. Our thoughts are with him and the family.

So with this doom and gloom all around us, we very much count our blessings. Our sombre mood was cheered on Boxing Day by the sight of Number One Granddaugther, aged four, in a Scooby Doo suit, playing the harmonica accompanied on guitar by my strumming nephew, and the distinctive laugh of a long-lost cousin, found this year through Facebook.

The miracle of Christmas.

That's about it

Love Maddie x

Tuesday, 22 December 2009

Mummers the word at Christmas time

It's just three days to go and there are boxes of Christmas decorations in our hallway and cards still not delivered. It is freezing cold, it snowed on Sunday and we are running out of heating oil. I have just had a row with Mr Grigg, my credit card statement has come through and yet again one of my clients is having difficulty in paying me.

Happy blooming Christmas!

But we are, at least, in the festive spirit thanks to Mr and Mrs Champagne-Charlie who had a jolly, booze-filled open house on Sunday, and Mr Loggins and his band of merry mummers, who entertained us all in our village hall on Saturday night. The mummers play is from ages past. It's a simple tale of good and evil, death and rebirth, comedy and magic, hard to explain but great to watch. A clip from an outside performance in My Kind of Town gives you a flavour.

The clip doesn't show you the best character, a telepathic pony that excels at hunting out naughty children. A friend of mine from Australia was sitting at the front with her jet-lagged eight-year-old. The boy soon woke up when the sinister pony glared around the room and then nuzzled up to the sleeping child.

You wouldn't think a simple thing made out of wood and a hessian sack could be so scary.

Or the doctor, with his cure-all that raises knights from the dead, so funny.

You really had to be there.

I was honoured to be asked as the lady of the house to tie the bow on the holly bough, thus bringing the play to a rousing close.

So here's to a very merry (of course), happy and healthy and peaceful Christmas, if it is possible to have all of those at once. God bless.

That's about it

Love Maddie x

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

Many hands make light work

Scientists spent hundreds of hours working out that octopuses are intelligent.

Mr Grigg's brother spent five minutes working out the same thing.

Oh to be in a warm climate, now the cold and wet is here.

That's about it

Love Maddie x

Monday, 14 December 2009

It's beginning to feel a lot like Christmas

Just a quick post after a very busy village weekend:

* a party at the Munchkins at which, consumed by alcohol, I ended up inviting everyone for a long weekend in Las Vegas the year after next
* hangover Saturday
* Christmas tree erecting in the village square
* supper at our house for six with someone else doing the cooking
* chief cook and bottle washer at Mrs Bancroft's light bites and nibbles open house yesterday
* cooking roast leg of lamb with rosemary and garlic for assorted waifs and strays last night

This morning I discover the dogs have fox mange and the Christmas tree lights outside our house have been on the random flashing setting all through the night. Classy.

That's about it.

Love Maddie x

Monday, 7 December 2009

Ho, ho, ho, Santa arrives on a quadbike

This morning, as the rooks flew sideways, buffeted against the wind, I reflected on one of those very surreal weekends that seem to happen only in this village.

It began in the pub on Friday night where the chrome pole was wedged twixt floor and ceiling, in readiness for a girls' night out involving a group of ladies including Mrs Bobby Packman, Randy Munchkin and Mrs Monty Chocs-Away. But there were no takers and the pole stood gleaming in splendid isolation, although Larry the Landlord was thinking about it, as he unbuttoned his shirt behind the bar and kissed his own shoulder. When the door opened and Posh Totty walked in, I saw Mr Grigg and Nobby Odd-Job's eyes light up. But the moment was fleeting, as she was quickly followed by her daughter Charlotte Whinge-Bucket (pronounced Bouquet), MDF Man and Sparky Mark.

During the course of the evening, Larry was talking to customers at a table near the fire. A young lady, tired of waiting for a drink, walked behind the bar and pulled her own pint. Larry was behind her in an instant, and became Patrick Swayze to her Demi Moore on the potter's wheel in Ghost.

Picture it. The caption could have been: 'A glass of wine? I've got a nice semillion.' Or maybe 'Mine's a hard-on-ay.'

The next day, Mr Grigg went beating and came back dirty, wet and sweaty twenty minutes before the school Christmas Fair was about to start. After a dressing down from Mrs Grigg, a handbell was heard clanging around the one-way system. The red hooded figure of Santa suddenly materialised in the churchyard, sitting on a quadbike driven by Celebrity Farmer's dad, the new hero of the hour.(I have to say, Celeb's own shed-moving heroics have become tarnished after reports emerged that he did not lift the shed single-handedly as everyone thought but was ably assisted by a stronger and much younger nephew).

After the fair was over, Santa was spotted delivering a brace of pheasants next door.

'You're meant to go down the chimney,' yelled a group of passing children.

He was greeted by Champagne-Charlie, strutting around in plus-fours, who at supper that evening did an exceptional imitation of Rowley Birkin QC from The Fast Show without even realising it.

The next day, after breakfast in the village hall, Mr Grigg and I went to Clarks Village in Street to do some Christmas Shopping. Strangely, we kept seeing ladies from our village darting in and out of Eastex and Le Creuset. It was like something from an episode of The Prisoner or the film Don't Look Now. It transpired they were killing time before going to see Pam Ayres at the Strode Theatre.

Back at home, Mr Grigg took it upon himself to pluck six partridges on the dining room table, just as Pelly Sheepwash, a vegetarian, arrived for supper with her husband. We finished off cracking wet walnuts with our bare hands because the nut crackers were broken.

It's a strange old life.

That's about it

Love Maddie x

Thursday, 3 December 2009

An interview with a Santa

Santa is preparing to make an appearance at the village school Christmas fair this Saturday. If he can sort out his transport, that is. The reindeer are obviously resting before the big day, Celebrity Farmer's quad bike is being serviced and the horses are all gearing themselves up for Boxing Day hunt meets.

He dismissed a suggestion that he could ride to the fair on the back of one of the village's most attractive women. (No names here, but cast your eyes over my cast list and you can probably work it out).

'There'll be a queue for that, with bloody Celebrity Farmer at the front,' grumbled Santa, as he tried squeezing into his suit, which strangely shrinks every year just before Christmas.

So while the transport negotiations went on in the background, I managed to get an exclusive interview with this very busy chap. I have close links to the man himself. I shall say no more.

What do you like about the area?

I go all over the world but, even for me, there is something magical about this part of Dorset. When you see it from up high on the sleigh it's like fairyland, and believe me, I know what that's like. There are lots of chimneys here, with great big fireplaces for me to squeeze down into. The children are usually good and quite generous, too, leaving me nice mince pies, Christmas cake, sometimes a bit of port or sherry - I do like port - carrots for the reindeer and sometimes a yummy mummy to squeeze.

What don't you like about the area?

Hmm, that's difficult. Well, I don't mind those places that haven't got chimneys, because I can use my special key to get in. But I don't like it when mums and dads bank up the fire just before going to bed because it's blooming hot when I come down the chimney. Last year in Bridport I nearly singed my bottom. So I wasn't best pleased about that. I'm also not very happy about the amount of shop-bought mince pies that are put out for me - kids, get your parents to make them, they taste so much better. Oh, yes, the other thing that really gets my goat is the number of children who stay up far too late. Get in bed you buggers.

What would you change?
Requests for computer-related stuff for Christmas. I went to one fair recently and only two children said they wanted a football, although one did want a teddy, which was very sweet. Most of them wanted the latest computer Wee or whatever it's called. Young children are spending far to much time on their own in their rooms on a computer or watching television. I'd also ban the use of the word 'X-mas'. Is everyone illiterate or was Christ anonymous?

You said you were asked for a football. Do you like sport? If so, what team do you support?
I'm really sports-mad and was very much into ice hockey when I was younger. I like anything really - rugby, horseracing, boxing, even leapfrog, especially with Mrs Claus. I support Lapland Wanderers FC, and I've been a fan since I was a boy. I had to stand on a box when I was small so I could see all the action. Mrs Claus likes some of the Latin and Mediterranean sides - something to do with their rugged, swarthy looks and she says the players look particularly good in shorts. It's funny because she's not remotely interested in football when I try to explain the offside rule.

If you had three guests at a dinner party, who would they be?

My first choice would be that author Raymond Briggs, who did a lovely book about Father Christmas with some great illustrations but depicted me as some grumpy old man who resented having to go out on Christmas Eve. I was a bit put out with one of the drawings showing me on the lavatory with my trousers round my ankles. Mrs Claus laughed at that and put it up in my workshop. She says every time I look at it I'll remember not to be quite so pompous.

My second guest would be Dudley Moore, who played an elf in some awfully corny Christmas movie. It was a dreadful film but I've always liked Dudley Moore - his piano playing was absolutely fabulous, it really was. And he was ever so funny with Peter Cook, although they were a bit rude. I never understood the line about Jayne Mansfield and lobsters.

The last guest would have to be Jesus, because it's his birthday! I'm not particularly religious but without him, I wouldn't exist.

What would you do if you won the lottery?
Give up the day job! No, seriously, I might enlist some help to make the job easier. If I won enough I could just sprinkle it around when I'm on my sleigh but I'm not sure if it would do any good. There are some people in this world with far too much money and others who have hardly anything. In a previous life, I think I was Robin Hood. Although Mrs Claus says more like Friar Tuck.

What do you like doing in your spare time?

That's a joke! I don't get any spare time. Once I've delivered presents to all the boys and girls of the world, I might put my feet up over Christmas, if Mrs Claus lets me. But then it's back to work again shouting orders at all those stupid little elves in the workshop.

How would you like to be remembered?
I hope grown-ups will remember me with affection, so much so that they make sure their children put out a nice glass of sloe gin for me this Christmas Eve - and, yes, some nice mince pies. Made by their mums preferably, or failing that, by Jessica's Farmhouse Cakes. And maybe a nice yummy mummy to squeeze. Yum, yum.

At that point, Santa cut our interview short when the 'stupid' elf assembly line decided to stage a go-slow.

Let's hope he makes it to our Christmas fair on Saturday. I'll keep you posted.

That's about it

Love Maddie x

Monday, 30 November 2009

The shed comes to town

I take it all back. It was actually quite a big shed after all.

When Mr Grigg rang me to tell me the shed was on its way I was in the middle of peeling apples for a nice Dorset apple cake. Fearing I'd miss it, I flung the apples down and went upstairs and waited. And waited. And waited. All to the tune of The Levellers What a Beautiful Day.

In the rain outside, the keen photographer who lives opposite spotted me in my window with camera poised and ran back in to fetch his own, fearing he might miss the prizewinning shot to enter in next year's village flower show. A boy racer roared through the Square. Crow Man got out of his Landrover, kicked his tyres, spat on the ground and then went into the shop for some cider and fags and the News of the World. A once spritely young man hobbled by for his Sunday Express, Posh Totty's Discovery towing a horsebox rattled through, the lesser-spotted Mr St John strolled by in shorts to get his Mail on Sunday and free CD, Super Mario and Princess Peach drove past in their Sunday best, a few goats sauntered up the street, the church clock struck 11 and tumbleweed gathered speed outside Mrs Bancroft's.

I admit I must have dreamed most of this. You see, while I was looking out the window I was also worrying about my cut apples downstairs that were getting browner by the minute.

And then I heard the rumble of Celebrity Farmer's tractor tyres coming round the bend and saw the flashing hazard warning lights on Mr Grigg's Landrover Freeloader. He stuck his thumb up. The cavalcade had come to town.

And then as soon as it arrived in the square, the wood shed was gone. Down the street to the field where eight testosterone-filled Sheepwashlets and friends - luckily home for a family party - threw off their hangovers to ease the shed into its new resting place, directed by Mr Grigg and his spirit level.

Who says life moves at a slower pace in the countryside?

That's about it
Love Maddie x

Friday, 27 November 2009

Move on up

A family of seagulls - mother, father and baby - fly in spirals overhead. They are inland, taking shelter from the stormy coast. They cry in unison, a sad call now that winter is here.

Up the road, plans are afoot to dismantle the Loggins's house, the love shack, ready for the timber rebuild in the new year. But first, the shed in the garden has to be taken down and moved to the little patch of ground Mr Grigg has on loan from Farmer Mayfield, where it will be used as a log store. So up at the Loggins abode, in a scene reminiscent of Delaney's Donkey, there was Loggins pushing it, shoving it, shooshing it, Sheepwash, Grigg and all the bally crew. The muscles of the mighty, never known to flinch, they couldn't move the shed a quarter of an inch...

Exhausted, the boys vowed to leave it for another day. Meanwhile, the wind had other ideas, blew the corrugated iron roof off into the middle of the lane and that hero of heroes, Celebrity Farmer, pitched up while no-one was looking and single-handedly placed the entire shed atop a flatbed trailer.

So on Sunday, the shed is off to its new home, with a reception party to greet it and put it in its place.

What worries me if there is this much trouble moving a small shed, taking apart the love shack is going to be an epic performance.

That's about it

Love Maddie x

Monday, 23 November 2009

And then the lights, went out

After a week of abstemious eating and drinking, I was looking forward to preparing Mr Grigg's supper. As I absent-mindedly chopped the carrots, thoughts wandering to faraway places, the lights went out.

'Bugger,' I said aloud, as Mr Grigg was down in the garage foraging for logs.

I groped around for the wind-up torch Mr Grigg had brought back from the conference and then checked the trip switches. All were fine. I opened the front door and the village square was as black as a bag. Bliss. No horrible street lights. Across the road, Mrs Bancroft's house was dark and I could see candles being lit in the pub some 25 yards away.

The phone rang. It was Nobby Odd-Job, ringing from the power-cut free zone at the top of the village.

'I'm a bit worried about Mrs Bancroft,' he said. 'She rang me and left a message to say she was sitting in the dark and wondered if I was too. I went down but there was no-one there so I went to the pub. I've just tried to ring her back and there's no reply.'

So I checked on Mrs Bancroft, and then cooed through Night Nurse's letterbox next door. They might have been holed up together.

When I came back, I said to Mr Grigg, who was by now sitting next to a roaring fire: 'I can't make them hear across the road. I hope they're all right.'

'All right? They're watching a film in the village hall.'

It transpired that the electricity at the top end of the village was working perfectly, as is usually the case when we have a power-cut. Which was what Mrs Bancroft wanted to know from Nobby before she ventured out to the hall. He'd taken it as a cry for help, she'd meant it as a rain-check.

I lit the candles on the table, cooked the supper in the Aga and, just as things were getting all romantic, the lights came on. Bugger.

That's about it.

Love Maddie x

Friday, 20 November 2009

Close encounters of the strange kind

The smell of sausage casserole is wafting up the stairs as I type. Mr Grigg is preparing food for the 5,000 for the quiz tomorrow night and the aroma is making me feel hungry. Oh, how at home he looks in a pinny.

The damp decaying leaves were squidgy underfoot as I took time out from computer work this afternoon for a walk on The Hill with Pelly and the dogs. The ford was overflowing and we found half a corn cob in the middle of nowhere. Celebrity Farmer, his brother and father were all in a row in the second-from-top field, hedging and fencing. It looked like some kind of rural line-dancing ritual. From the shelter of the trees in their warm coats of green velvet moss, we emerged to look out on to the vale and across the hummocks to the grey sea beyond. By the time we came down from The Hill, there was a sliver of a moon in the sky and the clouds in the west were turning pink.

It's been a strange old week. On Tuesday I saw the driver of a car in My Kind of Town with a long white balloon on the end of his nose. Later, I sat in the Thai restaurant on a table next to the most loud and boring young man who did nothing but complain about his food and then pontificate on methane being the fault of farmers domesticating animals for the last 2,000 years.

This morning, Mr Grigg and I came downstairs to find the cats had been locked in and one of them had poohed in the sink.

My head has not been straight since taking part in Subtlemob in Bristol last Friday. If you are at all interested, take a look at this YouTube link. Bit of a soundtrack to a life, I think. If you can spot the bemused bag lady, that's me. Wouldn't have missed it for the world.

That's about it
Love Maddie

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

Mr Grigg unpacks a new bag of tricks

The wind shifted to London this week as the green cabbage soup-stuffed Mr Grigg went up to The Smoke for a conference.

He came back laden with two jamboree bags full of goodies - lots of pens for the village quiz on Saturday, two memory sticks, a stress ball, a mug, a pack of tissues, a hand gel dispenser, a wind-up torch, eight remote controlled light switches, a personal alarm, a triangular highlighter pen with nibs at each corner and a gaggle of gonks.

He plunged his hand into one of the bags and pulled out a small thing that looked a bit like a tape measure.

'Now, this is the best thing of all,' he said, like an excited child. I think he was trying to sweeten me up after telling me that drinking until 2.30am in the hotel lounge with two female strangers was called 'networking'.

He held one end of the thing and then pulled a long thread out. He looked puzzled.

'Now what was it the chap said this was for?' he said to himself.

'A garroting device?' I suggested.

He's taking me out for a meal now. It's the least he can do.

That's about it.

Love Maddie x

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Has anyone seen my old friend Dave?

Excuse me for using this like a chat room, oh faithful blog readers, but has anyone heard from or about Dave Pie and Mash? I keep clicking on his blog title but computer says no.

I'm worried.

Especially when the last post I read he was having violent thoughts about the neighbour and anyone else at work who crossed his path...

A collective blog hug then, please, for Dagenham Dave, wherever he is.

That's about it.

Love Maddie x

Monday, 16 November 2009

When the wind blows

It's windy in the village today. Roads have been blocked by fallen trees and deep floodwater. Down on the coast a few miles away, the waves have been flying high over the piers.

November is well and truly here. After the big booms and flashes of fireworks night and the somber, half muffled tones of the church bells on Remembrance Sunday last weekend, the autumn sunshine makes long, tall shadows. The trees are virtually devoid of leaves, the schoolchildren are wearing gloves and I'm saving on heating oil by wearing my bodywarmer - or 'gilet' as the owner of the rather upmarket shop in the next town remarked to me on Saturday. (I remember her as a lowly bank clerk before her marriage to and divorce from a wealthy gentleman. She doesn't intimidate me. No sir.)

You can tell winter is coming because of all the stupid Christmas catalogues coming through the letterbox, the Yellow Pages propped up outside in a plastic bag (does anyone use Yellow Pages any more?), the mud-splattered cars, walking the dogs in the dark, the smell of woodsmoke from the village chimney pots, Mr Loggins resuming his seasonal chainsaw massacre and the coal lorry parked in the middle of the Square.

But most of all you can tell it is winter because Mr Grigg is on the green cabbage soup diet again. I told you it was windy today.

That's about it

Love Maddie x

Thursday, 12 November 2009

Living in a box

Day two of Four Country Bumpkins go to London and we find ourselves all brushing our teeth in the tiny bathroom at the same time and talking gibberish. It is like a cross between the crowded cabin scene from the Marx Brothers'A Night at the Opera and Marlon Brando in cotton wool mode in The Godfather.

From Middlesex Street, we head down past St Paul's to the Tate Modern. The main turbine hall is dominated by a very large shipping container, a great big dark steel box on legs.

We sneer as we join the crowds making tentative steps up the tailgate. It is completely black inside, and we are tiny in a great big world. Our hands reach out and we are surprised to touch soft baize walls. We feel more comfortable and head to the back of the box. Elevated, we look back from whence we came, towards the light and the tall shadows made by those entering and exiting.

'Now what was all that about?' I ask Mr Sheepwash afterwards.

'Oh, to me, it represents existential nihilism in all its epistemological, metaphysical and ontological forms,' he says. I hope he is joking but he looks deadly serious.

Guardian reader Pelly sees the big box as a metaphor for illegal immigrants, crammed into a container on a ship bound for a faraway land.

I am still in Open University film and television history mode. For me, it is a homage to the final scenes of Spielberg's Close Encounters.

When I see five shiny aluminium ducting pipes on the turbine hall wall, I expect them to come out with those five classic five notes from John Williams' theme tune.

I ask Mr Grigg what he thinks about the box.

'Complete bollocks.'

He is your archetypal Emperor Is Wearing No Clothes man. And I wouldn't have him any other way.

That's about it

Love Maddie x

Monday, 9 November 2009

Pasties at dawn

In a greasy spoon not far from Liverpool Street Station, word reaches us that Clint Eastwood is in town. According to Mrs Bancroft's Daily Mail, the man with no name is taking over several streets around Spitalfields for his latest film.

I am sitting opposite Number One Son and Mr Grigg and squeezed on to a bench seat next to Mr Sheepwash. Cue the music for The Good, The Bad and The Ugly. Tumbleweed blows along the pavement, the Eastern European waitress freezes in mid-frame. Mr Grigg lets out a gasp. We look around. From the collective corners of our eyes, we see a sinister reflection in the pub window across the road. The shocking, blood red logo on the side of a delivery lorry moves slowly towards Mr Grigg like the truck in Duel, the shark in Jaws, the alien in Alien.

Mr Grigg shudders. He is afraid, very afraid.

He shuffles on his seat.

'I think I'll give that pasty a miss,' he says.

That's about it

Love Maddie x

Friday, 6 November 2009

Banished to the henhouse

I'm in the doghouse. Or to be more precise, the chicken coop.

Through one of my blog characters, I am guilty of libel. Now, being trained in this sort of thing, I wouldn't normally admit my mistake. However, as the character is question is Russell's Crow, I think I might stand a chance of getting away with it. Although if a cockerel in the past could be prosecuted, then I suppose it is possible for a cockerel to turn the tables and take out a private prosecution.

The thing is, you see, poor Russell's Crow is still alone. Yes, his girlfriends were slaughtered by a serial killing fox but, despite my suggestions to the contrary, they have not been replaced. Those white things I saw in the pen were indeed the ghost of hens past, the zombie chickens of yesteryear.

So I apologise for the distress I have caused poor Russell's Crow who, I am told, narrowly escaped getting his feet bitten off by the aforementioned fox. He is still crowing each morning, lord of the very little he surveys.

Me, I am off to London for the weekend with my head hanging in shame. I have a new haircut. A more defined bob with those irritating bits of hair at the front. Mr Grigg has threatened to cut them off while I am asleep.

But as my hairdresser said to me yesterday, you might be a country bumpkin but you don't have to look like one.

That's about it

Love Maddie x
PS 8,355 words so far in National Novel Writing Month. Only another 41,700 to go...

Sunday, 1 November 2009

The ghost of halloweens past

The rain is coming down in sheets here on All Souls Day. The empty square is a contrast to last night when the village was buzzing with skeletons, witches, Frankenstein monsters and some children as just plain hoodies.

Trick or Treat in this village is quite a civilised, good natured affair. The children are accompanied by parents or older siblings and call only at those houses where they know they will be welcomed.

Up in the village hall, the garden club was holding its AGM, along with a carved pumpkin competition. We resisted the urge to go this year, thinking nothing could top our outing 12 months ago. If you missed it, go back in time, it's a good 'un.

Meanwhile, back at the Grigg hovel, Mr Grigg had his own ideas about tricking or treating. When the young visitors knocked on our door, he would ask what trick they'd like. Tiring of the fact they didn't seem to get the joke, he went one step further, ready for the next lot.

'What are you doing?' I asked, as he whipped an old duvet cover from the airing cupboard.

'Just wait and see.'

With that, he got out the scissors, made some appropriate holes and, hey presto, alakazam, izzy whizzy let's get busy, an apparition arose in our front hall...

That, coupled with a water pistol and a stuffed fox's head, snarling, seemed to do the trick.

We weren't bothered again.

That's about it.

Love Maddie x

Friday, 30 October 2009

Land of the Luvvies

A little while ago, I told you about a film being made around these parts. Loosely based on Thomas Hardy's Far From the Madding Crowd, the story centres around Tamara Drewe, whose comic strip adventures were told by Posy Simmonds in The Guardian.

It's been directed by Stephen Frears and stars Bond Girl Gemma Arterton (pictured below in the TV role of Tess of the D'Urbervilles):

and Mamma Mia eye candy Dominic Cooper (seen here in the role of Willoughby but described by the press as the New Mr Darcy):

For some, the film has been the biggest thing since locals tapped into the Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall Whisky Galore barrel. Thousands have been made by those switched on enough to let their homes to cast and crew.

Others I know have also made a pretty penny, contracted to provide services to the stars. And all of us have seen the vehicles roaring through and the coded signs springing up on lamp-posts here there and everywhere. This is the one three strides away from my house:

Are we bothered? No, not really. There was excitement for about five minutes but then other priorities took over - the fate of the village post office for example, the number of articulated lorries getting stuck in the square and trailer loads of potatoes going over the speed bumps.

But if this British film is the hit it is hoped for, who knows the spin-offs that could emerge?

More bloody Londoners moving in.

That's about it

Love Maddie x

Tuesday, 27 October 2009

A drinks party to welcome the neighbours

The mist has descended on the village this morning like it does, suddenly, all through the year. The top of The Hill is completely obscured by fog and the ground is squelchy and damp underfoot. In the street, the recycling boxes and bags are full of paper, bottles and cans. The Grigg abode is no exception, with an extra bag for bottles after a party to welcome the new neighbours, Mr and Mrs Champagne-Charlie.

They were quite taken aback when the doorbell kept ringing. Villager after villager strolled through our front door, clutching wine bottles and cans.

'We didn't expect all these people,' they said.

'Neither did I,'I replied.

Some 18 people crammed into the cottage, enjoying Mr Grigg's stuffed rabbit and roasted vegetable tart, my bread and butter pudding made with Lidl's panettone and a pavlova I renamed 'effing mess' after dropping it on the floor. When Ted Moult and Posh Totty drank us out of house and home, Mrs Bancroft was sent across the road for reinforcements and came back clutching three bottles of white wine.

'They're not chilled,' she said, 'I just grabbed them from the cellar.'

I ask you. You just can't get the staff these days.

That's about it

Love Maddie x

Friday, 23 October 2009

Start spreading the news

The sun rises late in Mu-Mu Land this morning. A seagull which has lost its way caw-caws as it flies in confused circles around The Hill. A startled thrush darts out of the beech hedge and a robin trills a sweet song above the stile.

Across the valley, the sad, lonesome voice of Russell's Crow, defiant and desolate, rings out around the village. I fancy he is calling for his lost soul mates, devastated by a fox last week. He cries out, like Macduff: 'What, all my pretty chickens, and their dam, at one fell swoop?'

Down the lane, Pelly Sheepwash is keeping watch over her flock and my timeshare hens. We are hoping Mr Sheepwash's thorough digging-in of the chicken-proof fence will deter this blood-hungry animal. Or maybe the fox was caught by the hunt-that-is-not-a-hunt which clattered through the square last weekend, causing me to pull a calf muscle as I turned quickly to get the camera.

And this morning, as I hobble along the ridge with the dogs, I can clearly look across to Russell's Crow's pen. Expecting to glimpse the sad sight of a solitary figure atop the hen coop, I am surprised to see what appears to be lots of white hens scurrying around him. Are they the ghosts of hens past? Zombie chickens? Are they hell as like. Replacements, that's what they are. Russell's Crow wasn't grieving, he was showing off.

It wasn't Macbeth he was quoting from. His little town blues are melting away as he makes a brand new start of it. By pretending to be Frank Sinatra. I can hear the crashing finale of Big Band music now.

'And find I'm king of the hill, top of the heap...'

That's about it

Love Maddie x

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

Bela Lugosi's Dead

I was clearly suffering from the effects of magic mushroom poisoning when I wrote my last post. Pre-exam nerves, I think. My apologies.

I am now tired and emotional after my OU level three film history exam. And the omens didn't look good.

There was a solitary magpie in pouring rain as I walked the dogs this morning. And as I drove past the examination centre in Exeter this afternoon I realised it was where I went the wrong way down a one-way street on my driving test 30 years ago. When I tried to pay the car park machine, I had no change, it rejected my credit cards and I had to go through a painful process of registering my car with NCP through an automated phone system. I was sorely tempted to mug the Big Issue salesman who was sleeping on the concrete floor around the corner.

Inside, I sat at my desk and calmly began to nibble on my chocolate bar, as my tutor had suggested, while I turned over the exam paper and considered the questions. And then the sugar rush. Yes, a question on Titanic, British films of the 50s and 60s and the classic serial.

Wahay. No first class honours on this one, to be sure. But maybe a pass. Please God a pass. If only for my description of Colin Firth in a wet shirt.

Anyway, it's over now, Bela Lugosi's Dead and I left my chic and expensive waterproof hat on the exam table.

That's about it

Love Maddie x

Monday, 19 October 2009

I said do you speak a my language?

What's going on? First, our old next door neighbours bugger off, then our other neighbour, wise old Alf, announces he will be following shortly. Across the Square, the publicans Larry and Mimi hand in their notice and then our shopkeepers reveal they, too, are planning to shut the till drawer permanently just as soon as they get a buyer.

Is it something I said?

I am beginning to think it's me. For the past few days, I have been re-reading Harry Potter and The Philosopher's Stone for my Open University children's literature course. And in the same way that when you read health information on the internet you are convinced you are seriously ill, I have suddenly developed the ability to understand a kind of Parseltongue, the language of snakes and other magical creatures.

For example, the other day, when I was having licentious thoughts about Mr Grigg when he was spending a night away (because absence makes the heart grow fonder), a huddle of teenage schoolgirls walked by singing '...Nothing you can compare to your neighbourhood whore...' and then giggled off stage left.

Then, on Friday, I was recovering from two injections inflicted on me by an over-enthusiastic dentist. It was on the NHS so I won't complain. Anyway, I agreed to go for a walk with Pelly Sheepwash on the understanding that I wouldn't talk. You try saying 'specific' and 'balsam' when your top lip and tongue feel like they have been lashed by 50,000 stinging nettles. Pelly kindly resisted the temptation to call me 'Duck Face' and I began to overcome my self-pity. And then several children on their way to the football ground walked by. A particularly annoying boy, who looks like an angel but has a mouth like an ash tray, looked at me, grinned and said: 'Sshh, are you sheerious?' I hadn't even opened my mouth.

So when we walked through the yard of the farmer on the hill who is occasionally visited by aliens, I felt for sure he would speak my language. You know, along the lines of the farmer from Hot Fuzz who, translated by a rustic police officer, turns out to have an arsenal in his outbuildings.

I grinned, not realising I looked like John Mills in his Oscar-winning role in Ryan's Daughter crossed with Orville and said: 'Schtill warmisch for thisch time of year, ishtn't it?'

He looked at me as if I were the village idiot.

He turned to Pelly and said, in the perfect accent of an English gentleman: 'Nice weather for ducks, isn't it?'

That's about it

Love Maddie x

Thursday, 15 October 2009

Things are rarely what they seem

Great excitement in the village square today as the bus breaks down, just at the point where the driver is doing a three-point turn. The result is even more chaos than usual, as motorists work out which way to negotiate this temporary roundabout. Initially I thought there was a fight going on because I glimpsed an angry young man with a mohican haircut and a grumpy old lady on a zimmer frame loitering around the bus door. Then I realised they were disgruntled passengers wondering how they were going to reach their destinations.

Other news I have just heard is the addition of a pole inside the pub, brought in especially for Sunday regulars. I am not privy to what went on but have visions of Dudley, General Custer and all the drinkers from Compost Corner gyrating around the said pole while Larry the landlord gives it welly on the karaoke machine. I hope we will see more of this pole before our publicans depart in the new year. However, it could be that the brewery is converting the pub into a fire station and the pole represents a quick exit from the rooms upstairs.

My neighbour Mrs Bancroft has had her potted bay tree - the one the size of Africa - taken away from the front of her cottage and put in the garden of Nobby Odd-Job's yet-to-be-built new house. I am pleased about this because I dreamed the other night that the tree's roots had reached out, triffid-like, across the square and strangled Mr Grigg and me in my sleep. I then woke up and discovered it was the necklace Camilla had given me, which had attached itself to the skin of my neck in a Medea-like moment.

Anyway, the bay tree was transported to Nobby's by Celebrity Farmer's dad with a tractor and link-box. He proudly knocked on Nobby's door to say it had arrived, only for Nobby to rather ungratefully declare it was a yucca. Fortunately for his cattle, Celebrity Farmer's dad knows the difference between hay and straw. He is also still basking in the glory of his harvest supper piano playing so appears not to have minded too much about making another trip.

Finally, I have had a rather spooky experience this morning. As I walked from outside into my hallway to the living room, the eyes in the back of my head saw a hand at knee level come in around the front door and place an envelope on my window seat. I turned on my heels, flung the door open, only to find the cheerful neighbourhood watch man, the kindly colonel with a handlebar moustache and a disability scooter, making a quick getaway across the square. On inspection, the envelope contained handy hints on how to deter thieves. Number one was 'lock the door behind you' and 'beware of elderly disabled men bearing crime prevention advice'.

That's about it

Love Maddie x

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

A winter's tale

There is an advert on Westcountry Television at the moment, advertising the latest attraction to the Plymouth Pavilions this coming Sunday. It's getting me down.

Big time.

You know you're getting old when the pop star whose poster graced your teenage bedroom and looked like this:

now looks like this:

No offence, but every time the advert comes on I think it's my brother-in-law. The one who looks like Bill Oddie.

Rock On.

That's about it

Love Maddie x

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

Haven't we been here before?

After a flurry of emails, photos posted on Facebook and virtual hugs through the ether, this column by an old friend sums up what actually happened at our reunion.

That's about it

Love Maddie x

Monday, 12 October 2009

The place I love (is a million miles away)

This morning, as I walk the spaniels around the field, I hear Russell's Crow shrieking in the hen coop across the valley. The sun comes up over the beech wood on The Hill. The summit of its flat-topped sibling across the way grows in silhouette.

The secondary school children saunter down to the school bus, singing some inappropriate pop song as they pass The Extremely Pleasant Company, a stationery business run from the old telephone exchange.

I think of my old journalist classmates, getting on their bikes or tubes or whatever mode of transport they use for travelling across The Smoke. My quietly ambitious friend, Curious Girl, roaring off in her company BMW to a high-powered business meeting.

It is quiet here in Mu-Mu Land but it's been a busy weekend. The applause is still ringing in my ears after the harvest supper. And the chitter-chatter of old colleagues at my reunion is whooshing around my head.

Mrs Bancroft and the Parson's Daughter can congratulate themselves on a fine evening of entertainment in the village hall. Who needs West End theatres when we have an elderly farmer on the piano, playing the right notes but not necessarily in the right order? When we have Dudley getting carried away on the introduction to Summertime and a child prodigy playing Moonlight Sonata? The village stalwarts, Mr and Mrs Cardinal, doing a modern take on Nelson's last moments, complete with diversity, health and safety restrictions and EC laws? And a rousing finale of risque jokes by Celebrity Farmer before he donned a mask and moonwalked to Michael Jackson's Thriller?

I have captured it all on video and when I have a bit more time will try to upload a few clips for your delectation. My own contribution was a poem by my late Uncle George, which you can find by following the thread here.

Meanwhile, back at the reunion in Plymouth, the city of discovery, I thought of my late grandfather as a child, swimming across the harbour to seize second prize in an adults' race and then a few years' later heading for adventure in Australia in 1910. I looked out across the wonderful sweep of Plymouth Sound and thought of Gatsby gazing longingly over to Daisy's dock and the green light.

As I walked along, flanked by two senior section editors of very well known broadsheet newspapers, I remembered how Plymouth had filled me with fear and joy and all those things because for me, it was a big city, a step into a new life and whatever lay beyond. For the Oxbridge folk it was probably a step backwards, a means to an end.

Thirty years on, I can feel happy with what I have achieved. Two children, three step-children, grand-daughter and step-grand-daughter. A loving husband, a quirky cottage with a fantastic story behind it. A career in PR for public sector organisations, a spell as a local newspaper editor, running a pub, publishing a book, learning how to sail, ring bells and being comfortable in my own skin.

And the biggest privilege for me is doing it in this wonderful place, surrounded by softly-rounded hills, trees, big skies. If you double click on the photo at the top of this post and scroll from left to right, you'll see what I mean. Such beauty. It's enough to make me weep. And it does. Frequently.

'So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.'

That's about it

Love Maddie x

Thursday, 8 October 2009

Those were the days my friend

It's a big weekend, with two major events coming up. A reunion with people I trained with as a journalist three decades ago and the village highlight of the year. When I was asked if I wanted to join the 1979 gang on Friday night as well as the Saturday, I could hear guffaws and giggles through cyberspace when I replied: 'I'm sorry, but it's the village harvest supper and I'm part of the entertainment.'

I never was going to amount to very much, I can hear them thinking, even in 1979. But I only ever wanted to be a big fish in a small pond, never a tiddler in a wide open ocean. I'd wanted to be a local newspaper journalist from the age of about nine, after quickly abandoning my first choice of being a zoo keeper on Animal Magic. However, my careers adviser at big school suggested I should try being a librarian.

'Journalism is far too competitive, dear,' she said.

But I was determined, even when a major calamity hit in my fifth year at comprehensive. On the day I was due to sit my biology O-level, I had a baby, Number One Daughter. This could have been a drama of Eastenders proportions. But the family calmly put their collective arms around me and the child. There was no question of me packing in school, packing in my dreams. So I did a few O-level re-sits, went and got some A levels and then applied everywhere I could think of.

It was by pure chance I landed a job with Mirror Group Newspapers as a trainee journalist in Plymouth. A letter I'd written to a very kind Mirror journalist in Bristol was forwarded to the training scheme. For months I heard nothing. And then one night I dreamed I was at an interview with a lot of other people. We were all cramped in one small room, going round to editor after editor touting our wares.

I told my mother at breakfast the next morning. She smiled and shook her head. A few hours later I had a telephone call. Could I possibly go down to Plymouth tomorrow for an interview? Someone had pulled out and I was on the reserve list.

So I got on a train at Taunton, stayed with a friend and went to a Dr Feelgood gig, and later caught guitarist John Mayo looking at my backside when we saw the band having drinks at the Holiday Inn.

The next day, the interviews were in a cramped Portakabin with various editors of the Mirror Group stable of local newspapers in Devon and Cornwall. It was cramped, awkward and awful. A few days later, I learned I'd got one of six school leaver placements. Such talent, I allowed myself to think, after years of low self-esteem. I learned much later I'd got the job because the training manager Jim Dalrymple liked my bottom.

The rest, as they say, is history. Not to you, but to me. Those three years in Plymouth, Exeter and Newton Abbot were among the best years, and the worst years of my life. I remember good times on the dance floors, roaring up and down the A38 on a Vespa 100cc scooter most weekends, guest speakers such as John Pilger and Lynda Lee-Potter. And bad times crying on the beach at Paignton because I missed home, my baby and couldn't seem to grasp the finer points of Teeline shorthand.

As one of my former classmates, Ross, so quaintly puts it, we were the dumb-ass kids at the back, taking the piss out of the graduates. They'd spent three years hard study at Oxbridge only to find themselves on the same training scheme as a group of unruly Westcountry teenagers. But it was by far the best journalism training anyone could ever have. Six weeks in the Portakabin and then being let loose on a weekly paper as an indentured apprentice. Thirty years on and I am still writing for a living.

So, having passed the harvest entertainment auditions in front of our local Simon Cowell and Louis Walsh - Mrs Bancroft and The Parson's Daughter - this weekend I will be mostly on stage at the village hall and then doing a time-travelling act and making my way down to Plymouth. But not on a Vespa.

That's about it.

Love Maddie x

Saturday, 3 October 2009

Dancing in the moonlight

Strictly's Jo Wood - more of her later.

After throwing my toys out the pram and threatening to give up blogging altogether, inspiration comes along in the shape of supper at Ted Moult's and Jamie Lee's. This involves a tour of their monster motor home, the best Beef Wellington I have ever tasted and Posh Totty peeling off her jeans to show Mr Grigg a bruise on her thigh caused by an excited horse.

During the course of the evening, I am dazzled by headlights as a car I assume to be driven by Ted and Jamie Lee's occasional neighbour Mr St John goes up and down the drive trying to throw light on the identity of the dinner guests.

By the time we leave, Ted's shirt is up over his chest, showing off his toned torso after losing four stone following a health scare, Jamie Lee, like her A Fish Called Wanda namesake, is weak at the knees by the way Mr Grigg says Deportivo La Coruna and Camilla generously gives me her necklace after I remark for the third time how pretty it is.

'No, honestly,' I say. 'I didn't mean you had to give it to me.'

'Oh take it,' she says irritably, 'I don't really like it. I'd much rather you had it.'

Sadly, it is made of buttons rather than pearls. I like it so much I wear it in bed.

Then on our way back, we slip into Mrs Bancroft's, who seems to be entertaining the rest of the village to drinks and nibbles. While we are there I get into a conversation with the aunt of Jo Wood, the former wife of Rolling Stones rocker Ronnie, who is currently battling it out in the BBC's Strictly Come Dancing programme tonight. This is not a programme I watch but the village is hooked because Jo's aunt is one of our gang, a leading member of the local WI but of the Helen Mirren variety rather than Miss Marple.

Jo is having a hard time of it, and may not make it through tonight's programme. Among her Strictly rivals are boxer Joe Calzaghe, Oxo mum Lynda Bellingham - whose convicted fraudster husband 'Mr Spain' used to run the local nightclub in my kind of town - and cricketer Phil Tuffnell.

'I want everyone to root for her,' says Jo's aunt.

As we leave Mrs Bancroft's in the early hours, Mr Grigg and I waltz across the village square in the moonlight.

That's about it.

Love Maddie x

Thursday, 1 October 2009

Me, indecisive? Mmm, I'm not sure

After being downhearted yesterday, oh how your comments have cheered me. Mr Grigg has talked me out of dumping the blog habit and I received this award today from for Westcountry Miscellany.

I will put my blogging feet up for a bit. But I think I will be back. When I have something to say.

But before I go, and to make me feel better, I want to publicly thank Dave Pie & Mash for this lovely award I picked up a while ago:

Dave kindly gave me the choice of several but this one seemed particularly genteel. And besides, I couldn't possibly accept the one with the f-word on it because I think my mother reads this blog.

And this, from Maternal Tales from the South Coast:

She says: "The blogger who receives this award believes in the Tao of the zombie chicken – excellence, grace and persistence in all situations, even in the midst of a zombie apocalypse. These amazing bloggers regularly produce content so remarkable that their readers would brave a raving pack of zombie chickens just to be able to read their inspiring words. As a recipient of this world-renowned award, you now have the task of passing it on to at least 5 other worthy bloggers. Do not risk the wrath of the zombie chickens by choosing unwisely or not choosing at all."

There had to be a catch.

So I nominate, in no particular order:

The lovely Buggles of Balham High Road
My old flatmate A Curious Girl's Guide to Life
Another old chum Chips Ahoy
and the charming City Views, Country Dreams

and last but definitely not least, that wise but not so old bird,


Over to you! Ha! Now it's your turn.

That's definitely about it.

Love Maddie x

Wednesday, 30 September 2009

Blogging overload

I'm thinking of calling it a blogging day.

I was planning to tell you about all the vinegary and fruity smells coming from the cottages as the vast majority of villagers knuckle down to chutney and jam making. I was planning to tell you about the talent show rehearsals for our harvest supper, where Celebrity Farmer is topping the bill. I was planning to show you the wedding photos that have still not materialised. I was planning to tell you about a fungus foray, a girls' night out and the reunion Curious Girl and I are organising with our fellow Mirror Group trainees from 30 years ago.

But I am tired, unsure of my direction as I juggle so many balls in the air. And I am not too happy about writing to please the local populace rather than myself. So forgive me if I wind down a little bit.

And besides, I have a level 3 Open University exam in three weeks' time and haven't a clue what the course was about.

That's about it

Love Maddie x

Saturday, 26 September 2009

No place like home

The sunny square has not changed very much while we were away in the Ionian. Our return is marked by colourful patchwork blankets hanging from makeshift washing lines and hedgerows. Mr Grigg thinks the gypsies have set up camp on the village green. But we discover the display is part of a quilt exhibition.

At least it is not like a few years ago when we discovered on return from holiday a new extension had been added to our house. Before leaving, Mr Grigg had put a couple of doors outside, hoping someone might pinch them as he had run out of time to take them to the dump. We came back to find that Nobby Odd-Job and Manual had made us a new porch, complete with a council planning enforcement notice signed by a Mr R. Sole. A sign proclaimed the work had been carried out by a firm called Bodgit and Scarper.

This time, the homecoming is more genteel. Bellows and his family walk by with four black goats on red leads, Super Mario heads for the cricket pitch for a spot of maintenance and Mr St John and Lady Friend have jetted off to the sun. They are taking a villa holiday in Greece, hoping to join us for a spot of sailing. Unfortunately, Mr St John booked the week after we came back, thinking we were there for a fortnight.

'He only went for that week because it was cheaper,' Lady Friend snarls. 'I wish he'd let me bloody organise it.'

Have they travelled on separate planes? Mr St John on Easy Jet and Lady Friend business class? We wonder about them - will they make it through the night, let alone the week?

Meanwhile, Pelly has been diligently coping with a broody Nigella and clipping runaway hens' wings at dawn, Mrs Bancroft has met the new neighbours, Mr and Mrs Champagne-Charlie, the flowers next to the village pump are still going strong, Monty Chocs-Away's party (with the hired-in caterer) was enjoyed by all and Titch the blind terrier is still barking at nothing in particular as he goes for an early morning stroll.

There are two bits of big news. Our publicans are throwing in the towel after four or more years. Prospective new tenants are being shown around as I write. We will miss them but they have decided the time is right to move on. And change is good for a village, as long as the brewery keeps the pub open. Luckily for us, the site is not big enough to be developed so it is not in the brewery's interest to turn it into houses.

But the biggest and best news for us is that Mr Loggins and Darling have at last won the right to build an eco-friendly log house on the site of their hillside love shack. They have been trying to work with the planners for over a year. But obstacle after obstacle has been put in their path. The planners agreed that the love shack - rather like something built by one of the the three little pigs - should come down but prevaricated time after time over the plans to replace it. The use of timber was never in dispute but there were concerns over size. So the Logginses accommodated the planning officer's whims. After pre-application meetings and post-application meetings, the case officer, aged 12, then turned round and said that timber was not appropriate.

So Mr Loggins and Darling had to the get the plan 'called in' and discussed by councillors because the officers were recommending refusal. After hearing an impassioned plea from Darling, and then parish councillor Bellows and then their new neighbour most affected by the plans, hand after hand went up for a resounding 'yes' in the council chamber.

Darling says she felt like crying.

'I was so emotional. And so proud to be part of it. British democracy at its best.'

It doesn't happen often but when it does, triumphing over officialdom is really very sweet. Mr R Sole indeed.

That's about it

Love Maddie x

Thursday, 24 September 2009

Bare-faced cheek in the Ionian

Mr Grigg is accosted by a naked German in the showers just before unsuspecting Mormons do the rounds on the boats in Corfu marina. Hop, skip and jump across to the final installment of The World from my Porthole.

That's about it.

Love Maddie x

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

England versus Germany

Sandwiched between yachts full of Germans in the Ionian. Can Mr Grigg's brother cope? Hop across to next installment of The world from my porthole.

That's about it

Love Maddie x

Monday, 21 September 2009

Keith Floyd - better late than never

'Low tide at Cancale and the beach stretches far to the Britanny horizon. The sun has resigned, washed out by the early evening grey. A niggling wind is blowing, rippling the water in the little oyster basins that clutter the beach like a system of crude sewage tanks. Concrete tanks that trap the receding tides are filled with sacks of oysters. Stumps, clustered with mussels, stand like rotten gibbets way down to the muddy sea.

These are the opening words to that seminal (to me at least) cookery book Floyd on Fish. Much has been written about the flamboyant TV chef Keith Floyd since he died in Bridport, Dorset, a week ago. I heard about it in Greece and was desperate to blog about it but my internet connection wasn't working. Now that it is, it almost feels too late to add my four pennyworth. But I'm going to anyway. Have to.

I met him a few times decades ago when he was filming in Bridport, cooking scallops at The George or when he was visiting old friends. He was debonair, funny and a little bit fanciable too.

Floyd made me passionate about fish, fresh ingredients and good food, something that in the 1980s was almost a thing of the past. When I split up with Number One Son's father 14 years ago, one of the things I regretted not taking with me were my Floyd books. So I hunted them all down again on Amazon.

Where Delia taught me the basics, it was Floyd who provided the pizzazz. He was never one for presentation over content. He plonked things together intuitively. His recipes rocked, really they did. It was great food - and great television. With his smoky posh voice, bow tie and quips to the long-suffering cameraman, Clive, Floyd created must-see television. He was also a great writer. I hope his latest autobiography, which is about to be published, is a great success.

And now he has gone. With all the fags, wine and the women and tumultuous overspends, I am surprised he lasted this long. But I was so sad when I heard the news. Really sad. And my ace cook, Mr Grigg, shed a tear too, for the loss of a kindred (apart from the fags) spirit.

I am desperately sorry for Floyd's girlfriend who was going to be wife number five. She is a jolly soul, a spirited, warm human being. They'd known each other for 40 years and fell in love after the death of her writer husband, who was my mentor. She describes Floyd as pain to live with at times. But she had found happiness, love and companionship. And now, two years on, she is coping with loss again, but this time surrounded by the media.

Floydy - you'll not be forgotten. Better late than never.

That's about it

Love Maddie x

Mr Grigg and The Octopus

Hop across to The World from My Porthole to find out what happened when Mr Grigg met an octopus.

That's about it

Love Maddie x

Saturday, 19 September 2009

Blog and island hopping

Hi there, skip across to The World from My Porthole for the latest goings-on in the Ionian. Sorry not to have blogged for a while or left comments for anyone else but I've been sunning myself where the internet does not always shine. Hence why I can't get the link to work in the usual way...

That's about it

Love Maddie x

Wednesday, 9 September 2009

Autumn arrives

It is morning here in Mu Mu Land. The church clock strikes eight and then a reversing bus goes 'peep...peep...peep' as it does a three-point turn in the Square. This has been its manoeuvre ever since a gung-ho driver thought he could get round the corner of the one-way system and shaved several stones off the pub wall in the process.

A blind terrier called Titch yap-yap-yaps at nothing in particular as he scuttles along to the village shop with his elderly owner, Effie. She and Titch have been away from the village for months after Effie hurt herself in a fall. Many of us thought they might never come back. Titch's incessant yapping became a thing of the past and poor old Effie was forgotten. Then, out of the blue, Effie turns up at the village flower show, looking younger and more spritely than she has ever done in the past 10 years. Titch is still blind and still yapping. But those of us in the know feel things are now back as they should be. Justified, and ancient, and autumn.

Secondary school age children swagger down to the bus, great big backpacks swinging from their shoulders. A short while later the smaller ones, holding their mothers' hands, walk down to the village school. I see Pelly Sheepwash dawdling as if she were being dragged to work by some invisible force. Bellows barges past the house, late for work as usual, and a little while later Randy Munchkin will be reluctantly switching off her home computer to do her stint at the school.

The pelargoniums in front of the village pump are losing their vigour. They look as if they are a withering bunch of flowers placed there for a crash victim. Fortunately, my bete noire, the bizzy lizzies in their concrete pots, have long since gone to mush and been carted away.

It is autumn here in Mu Mu Land, where the seasonal cycle dictates that everything must change but, on the grand scale of things, nothing actually does. The fields are beginning to fill up with crunchy leaves, churned-up mud and magic mushrooms. The blackberries slowly ripen and the blackthorn branches are heavy with sloes. The spaniels chase the rabbits zig-zagging through the grass. The log piles are stacked up and the heating engineers' vans arrive to service the village Agas and Rayburns.

Number One Son will soon be heading back to university for his third year, the fairy grand-daughter has just started school and Number One Daughter is now a Mrs. The wedding is over and things are getting back to normal. But I am longing to see the photos. As mother of the bride, I had a handbag to carry so got someone else take the pictures.

The mobile library, with its knowledgeable and kindly librarian, will be pulling up outside the house soon. And Mr Grigg, who has taken the week off to finish the decorating, has just fired up Bob Dylan's Thunder on the Mountain, ready for his daily workout.

That's about it

Love Maddie x

Monday, 7 September 2009

The wedding of the year

The wedding of the year has been and gone. And all is well.

This was despite dropping the plug from the iron on my big toe as I was pressing the lapel on my linen coat, finding live nits in the flaxen curls of the four-year-old bridesmaid (Number One Grand-daughter), the dressmaker leaving a stitch where she shouldn't have in the wedding dress (discovered with minutes to spare) , Number One Daughter whipping the wrong wedding speech from her cleavage and then having to ad lib her way out of it and the Best Man joking that 'nothing sucks like an Electrolux, apart from the bride'. It was the only time I've been glad my elderly mother is hard of hearing.

Number One Son looked the part as he led his big sister up the aisle, preceded by the fairy grand-daughter. I was proud of them but managed not to cry. Composure is my middle name. I got through the bit in my speech when I thanked the two substitute fathers in my daughter's life but welled up when I turned the spotlight on my parents, who were there for her and me, right at the beginning when I was a frightened teenager with a baby.

Number One Grand-daughter was a hit at the evening do in her Sportacus suit, as was a much-loved but long-lost cousin, found by me on Facebook, whose arrival had everyone sobbing. The rain held off, my hat and shoes were the talk of the day and Number One Daughter turned from Bridezilla into the Princess Bride. As I knew she would.

Photos to follow.

That's about it

Love Maddie x

Thursday, 3 September 2009

It's all relative if you Google it

While thinking today about my speech for Number One Daughter's wedding on Saturday, and in between times when I should have been working on my freelance stuff and a 4,000-word critical analysis on soap operas, I've been looking out the window at the mobile library. I though our publicans were in for some luck after seeing the end of the rainbow going down their chimney.

And then I started playing around with Google. Bloody fatal.

Far From The Madding Crowd was on my mind, because as you know, the rumour is that it is about to be remade in these parts. From there, I got to Jonathan Firth, who starred in a TV remake of the 1967 John Schlesinger film classic.

Jonathan is Colin's brother.

(I know which one I prefer).

Then I wondered if Peter Firth was their cousin. I say cousin because to look at him he could never be their brother. Oh all right, maybe the wrong side of the blanket then.

Peter Firth played Scooper in the 1970s television series Here Comes the Double Deckers. Were the three Firths related? Google said 'no' but threw up some obscene comparison about the length of Peter Firth's acting career and Colin Firth's penis.

From there I got to the Double Deckers' cast list and wondered what those child actors were doing now. So I went to Wikipedia and clicked through them one by one. I knew about Firth and Brinsley Forde's later careers (the latter was a founder member of Aswad) but I was astonished by the subsequent career of Doughnut, the stereotyped fat boy played by Douglas Simmonds:

Douglas Simmonds (born 18 February 1958 in England), is a British child actor who played the part of Doughnut in the UK television show Here Come the Double Deckers.

Douglas left acting to work in science and medicine, training as a medical student before becoming a theoretical physicist and researcher. Whilst working on string theory, he later expanded this theory to include toroidal hyperspaces. After working for several years for the Department of Health as an expert in Medical Computing he retired and is now a researcher in ancient glyptic art.

Someone must have made that up. Doughnut? String theory?

As comedian Dave Gorman said on Radio 4's Chain Reaction last night, if you want to be a writer, don't be connected to the internet. It gets in the way of disciplined, constructive thought and the storywriting process. I've just googled Dave Gorman to see what he looked like. I recognised his voice but up until that point, I thought he was John Gorman from The Scaffold. Maybe they're father and son.

I know, let's Google it.

That's about it

Love Maddie x

Monday, 31 August 2009

The cat in the hat

As the mists swirl around this village like something out of The Land That Time Forgot, the hall is ready to open its doors for the annual flower show.

Last year, I had the honour of opening this event, much to the dismay of my oldest sister, a primary school deputy head in a neighbouring county. So far, the extent of her duties in the village in which she has lived for 35 years has been to judge a children's art class. I am sure she did admirably. However, she has not yet forgiven me for usurping her.

'I'm the queen,' she hissed. 'And I can't believe you wore a hat.'

Given the opportunity, I will wear a hat every time. I am toying between hats for Number One Daughter's wedding. I am reluctant to wear the huge pink panama from Snooks the hatters for fear of obscuring the view of the guests behind me.

'But you're the bride's mother,' Mrs Bancroft sagely says. 'You can wear what ever hat you like.'

So I'm thinking about it.

Hats were off the menu meanwhile when I went to The Wild Garlic restaurant twice in one week. To find out how I got on at the place run by MasterChef winner Mat Follas (an occasional reader of this blog), go to Westcountry Miscellany.

That's about it

Love Maddie x

Saturday, 29 August 2009

Spuds you like

Tractors towing trailers full of potatoes have been thundering through the village over the past few days. We initially thought it was Mrs Bancroft's supply for a mass baked potato supper but it transpires they are on their way to become Walkers crisps. Mr Grigg and I have been lying in wait for them next to the speed bumps. With arms outstretched, in the hope of catching a few strays.

I remember seeing a potato trailer going up a hill once, the tractor driver oblivious as the spuds escaped and rolled out cheerfully in his wake. Like something from medieval times, locals came out of their front doors to scoop up their rewards. That happened with a meat lorry in Chard once when I was on a school lunch break. It did a U-turn, its back doors flew open and joints fired out in all directions. I have never seen so many 1970s teenagers act so quickly, running out into the street en masse, picking up legs of lamb, chickens and rib of beef and scuttling home to mother with enough food to feed the family for a week.

There was food a-plenty last night, when almost my entire cast list turned up to a thank you party for all those who helped out at the fete. The theme was 'hats off to helpers'. Celebrity Farmer turned up at the village hall for about five minutes wearing a mortar board and then blushed very deeply when we, including his mother and father in Viking helmets, all sang happy birthday.

Mr Grigg looked very fetching in a captain's hat, Mrs Bancroft and Randy Munchkin wore matching sombreros, Manual had a hat with corks, Pelly donned a bowler and I had a beret. I thought the two of us looked rather attractive until someone said we reminded them of Freddy Parrot-Face Davies and Fred Scuttle.

Everyone sniggered when Bellows grabbed the microphone. He could have said his thank you speech from his house, way up the road, without amplification. We would have still heard him.

But the best was yet to come. Cue the always popular newspaper game, in which you dance around bits of ever-decreasing sheets of newspaper and jump on one when the music stops. There is no limit to how many people can stand on the paper, just as long as no feet are touching the floor. I swear Nobby Odd-Job was deliberately keeping close to the curvaceous Randy Munchkin and the elegant Lady Friend. As Dancing Queen came to an end, he jumped on a bit of paper, pulling them with him and ended up like the filling in a sandwich.

No wonder he had a smile on his face.

That's about it

Love Maddie x

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