Monday, 25 May 2009

Jerry Hall and a hard day's night in a Beetle

Market day morning in my kind of town and the streets are paved with the bourgeois and the bohemian. It is bank holiday Saturday, the toffs are down from town and tourists with all the time in the world shuffle past stalls jam-packed with pretty things you don't need, bijou bollocks and frippery fuckwittery.

In the almost 30 years since I have lived here, the town at certain times of the year lives up to its broadsheet moniker 'Notting Hill-on-Sea'. Jerry Hall was spotted on the arm of a local entrepreneur in the audience at a comedy night last week, and writers and artists are two a penny, holed up in the folds of the landscape while young locals struggle to get on the housing ladder.

But after two o'clock in my kind of town on a Saturday, everything changes when the underbelly fall out of bed to stalk the streets with their exposed midriffs, gold chains and a choice turn of phrase.

Meanwhile, inland, the weekend starts well, with the village square a hive of activity. Farm tractors with silage trailers, dung spreaders and implements the size and shape of ferris wheels roar through. Neighbours tending the pots outside their houses wave to the drivers and chat to each other in between the tractors. The ubiquitous 4x4s with their dahling and yah drivers grind to a halt, forced to make way for the bigger beasts.

Tuppence drives past, waving frantically. Pelly stops for a pot of snails for the hens and Mrs Bancroft, complete with large hat and trug, is out dead-heading. This against a backdrop of party political posters for the forthcoming county council elections. The Green Party candidate lives in our village and has frugally and modestly put up a poster for himself in just one of his windows. Opposite, one of the many Tory bastions here has responded by plastering the place with posters for the Conservative candidate.

In the Grigg household, the only political certainty is that Mr Grigg and I agree to disagree. One of us is left, one of us is right. And if you did not have both, how would the world function? Imagine two left feet, two right hands, two left side of brains (heaven forbid). Although with the current expenses scandal, both of us are unusually throwing up our hands in horror and declaring all politicians corrupt.

However, I digress.

In the evening, the sun glints on the glasses of cider being consumed in the hostelry garden as we drive by in the birthday present to myself two years ago. A 1969 convertible Beetle that the previous owner named Bella. I am not a great one for calling cars names. A car is a car after all. But little yellow Bella is my darling, I love her to bits. She took us to Greece and back without a murmur, stopping only twice, when hit by a Chinese Italian woman in a tunnel and thumped from the rear by a Corfiot lorry driver who failed to stop at the traffic lights.

We are on our way to the gloriously named Black Dog in Devon for a 50th birthday barn dance. We do-si-do our way through the evening, strip the willow and balance and balance and turn around.

At the end of it all, we start up dear old Bella and head for home, some 40 miles away. A quarter of an hour into the journey and the lights start to flicker and fade. They come back on again. About 200 yards from my parents' home, the car almost stops and then bursts back into life. All is well.

'Shall we carry on?' I ask Mr Grigg. Both of us have always been fly-by-the-seat-of-our pants type of people. We hope for the best and usually things turn out all right.

'Yes,' he says. 'We'll be fine.'

Two miles later, at 1.30am, the lights go out and we judder to a halt, right behind a car that is already stopped in the layby. Curiously, the car's interior lights are on and there is music playing but apparently no-one is at home. We have parked in the local dogging spot and our arrival is nothing out of the ordinary.

Mr Grigg has left the details of his breakdown insurance at home. In the dark, we phone the AA, RAC and Green Flag, cursing through all the automated options until the phone runs out of credit.

My parents live two miles away. But we have no torch, it is the middle of the night and they are elderly. So after lots of recriminations, we sleep in the car. Or try to. I curl up on the back seat, and for about 10 minutes dream of the Grigg bed and hope I wake up in it. Mr Grigg grunts and groans. I shuffle and start to cry. When I was 20, this kind of thing happened all the time. When you're twice that and plus, it's not an adventure, it's just crap.

When the sun comes up at just gone four, we are wide awake and listening to the birds. At 5.15, through adversity Mr Grigg and I have become the best of friends. We decide to walk to my parents' house and then hang around outside for ages because I don't know how early they get up. At about 6.45am, Mr Grigg hears a radio. I transpires that my father, a retired farmer, has been up for a while. He is not in the least bit flummoxed to see his youngest at the window, as if this kind of thing happens all the time.

Not long after, my mother emerges, convinced someone has died and instantly fearful for Number One Son's safety in Barcelona. 'No, he's fine,' I tell her, explaining the story. 'We've just broken down.'

'Well why on earth didn't you knock on the door in the middle of the night? We wouldn't have minded.'

So we have a cup of tea, so strong you think my father had made it, and head for Bella with a battery charger.

An hour later and we're on the road again, discussing our plans to sell the bloody car which has now become a heap of junk. At home, Mr Grigg collapses in bed but I soldier on, treating my lack of sleep like jet lag. A few hours later and we're out on a hike up The Hill and down the road for lunch in a pub garden with Mr and Mrs Sheepwash and the widdling dog. It's a lovely day and this cosy corner of Dorset, with its Roman hillforts, scrubby land and languid cattle, is at its most beautiful.
But by the time we get back to the Sheepwashes, where Mr Sheepwash has an appointment with his deckchair, I fall asleep while drinking my tea. It's time for bed. We go for a lie-down for a few hours at 6.20pm and wake this morning at 7.15.

Every so often, I am convinced I am living in the middle of a sit com. You couldn't make it up.

That's about it

Love Maddie x


  1. Your description of 'my kind of town' had me sniggering away, and as you know that is a difficult task, or maybe I recognised the Saturday morning characters !!

  2. Yes, you do live in a sit-com and no, you couldn't make it up! Absolutely fabulous. I love the bit where you and Mr Grigg become best friends in adversity. I think Mr PM and I would've been Not Speaking by that point!

  3. One of us is left and one of us is right in this household too.

    I had a 1969 Beetle. In 1969. Bella has done you well but this time she has to go. So no wonder you were so tired. Makes my bike riding experience seem like a picnic.

    I am laughing again.

  4. I think the shepherd would have been well under the patio after that lot. This IS a sit com for goodness sake - brilliant

  5. Little award for you at mine x

  6. Dogging spot eh? I presume you mean the place where everyone meets to walk their dogs? Enlighten me...MH

  7. Marvellous, Maddie!
    Poor Bella, but perhaps it is time? Or maybe she just needs a new battery to put life back in the old girl Lucky lucky you to have one anyway although sleeping in her sounds like one devotion too far.

    PS MH having just discovered this phrase myself .... believe me when I say you don't want to know - or go there!

  8. MH
    I will leave you to google the word and see what you find...
    Maddie x

  9. No way you could make this stuff up. I had to laugh at your breakdown - sorry - it was just too close to home.....and your mother's immediate worry for her son - that's my mum.
    Another great post - I 'get' your kind of town, though I've never been past London. You are so good at putting us in the scene.

  10. I know where Notting Hill by the sea is... you really are posh, aren't you? :)
    Lucky you on the VW Beetle front. I always wanted one. They are a bugger to maintain, but don't get rid of it! Or at least, not until summer is over.

  11. I am taking Bella to the menders at the weekend and hope it won't cost me too dear.
    Dave, you've got me all wrong, believe me! Posh? Never. That's Posh Totty, not me...

  12. When I was 20, this kind of thing happened all the time. When you're twice that and plus, it's not an adventure, it's just crap.



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