Friday, 31 July 2009

Living well within our means

It has been more than a week since my last blog. When someone dies unexpectedly and leaves very sad and confused people behind, blogging - or my kind of blogging - just seems so very trite.

But community life here in England's rural underbelly goes on. As I open the bedroom windows just before nine this morning, Celebrity Farmer's dad rolls up in his Landrover Defender, eases himself out of the driver's seat and shouts: 'Tis time you got up, Maddie.'

I have, in fact, been up for a while but obviously not as long as Celeb's dad. He is a farmer, after all. Nobby Odd-Job, carrying a lavatory flush for no apparent reason, walks by and stops for a chat with MDF Man. A two-trailer cattle lorry jacknifes in the Square and there is pandemonium.

My stint at the council Death Star finally came to an end yesterday. I bought a load of sweets, cakes and biscuits to say goodbye. The Stormtroopers turned out to be a nice bunch but public sector bureaucracy does my head in. I had an interview yesterday for a similar, permanent job, at a place I shall call Alderaan. I am still waiting to hear. I have already had four calls from people wanting to know how I got on, one of them from another candidate who asked for my freelance work should I get the job.

But the clock is ticking and I haven't heard a thing. Back then to Plan B, the one in my heart rather than my head. Muddle along as best I can, working for myself, at home, and not spending too much. As long as Mr Grigg and I can pay the bills, we will be fine.

News from the past week? Well, the oil thief has been apprehended. MDF man saw a police raid outside a council house in the next town. There was a large white van outside full of oil drums, which spilled over into the garden (surely some clue overlooked there, then?). He later spotted the same van on a low-loader being taken off by CSI Dorset for forensic tests.

Mr Grigg has been harvesting a glut of cucumbers, sticking one through Mr St John's letterbox. He attached a note to it saying 'Ooer missus, the martians have landed' and then poked through the Nana Mouskouri CD that Mr St John left on our boat last year. It has been propped up just inside our front door for the last few weeks, bringing scornful looks from visitors who thought it might be ours. I am glad to see the back of it.

Delia the late developer hen has astonished Pelly by going broody so is now in isolation so she doesn't put the others off from laying.

I have bought another 'stand-by' outfit for Number One Daughter's wedding, just in case I change my mind on the charity shop purchase. This will mean buying completely new accessories but hey, the Death Star has just overpaid me, so there is cause to celebrate after all. Particularly as Number One Grand Daughter, aged four, has just told me she is planning to wear her Sportacus outfit instead of a bridesmaid's dress.
But this frugal thing could be going too far. This morning at breakfast, Mr Grigg, looking like Buddha with a towel wrapped around his lower half, was frantically swiping at passing insects with a fly swat. You could see the air being sliced in two, hear the whooshing as he wove in and out.

'What?' he said, looking at me with my mouth agape. 'It's cheaper than a Wii.'

That's about it

Love Maddie x

Thursday, 23 July 2009

Goodbye for now

Forgive me if I don't blog for a while.

We have had a tragedy in the village. A person here died very unexpectedly yesterday. And although I was not close to that person, this is such a tight-knit community we are all in various states of shock.

Such a needless waste of life. So very sad.

That's about it

Love Maddie x

Monday, 20 July 2009

Stripping the willow with Johnnie Boden

It is overcast here today in the village. Little pockets of sunshine occasionally break through the clouds. The trees gently rustle in memory of the great winds that blew through them over the weekend. A cow wails like a whale along the ridge above the allotments.

Despite a distinctly unpromising start, there has been plenty going on. Given the choice between a barn dance open to all and sundry at the Boden ranch and an invitation-only chilly, chilli barbecue at the Logginses, Mr Grigg and I plumped for the latter. Up at the Loggins abode the conversation inevitably turned to logs. Mr Grigg has come up with the ingenious idea of following the power cables to scoop up the spoils left by the electricity board tree fellers.

A veil of boredom suddenly fell over the women's faces. A sleepy Sheepwashlet face nearly landed in the semifreddo.

Mrs Darling Loggins glared at her husband. 'Can we talk about something else other than bloody logs? When we go to bed at night you even read the chainsaw catalogue.'

'Well hark at you,' Mr Loggins retorted. 'It's better than reading one of your fancy books and sitting up in bed like Queen Victoria.' (Mrs Loggins is well educated).

Nobby Odd-Job intervened and rather helpfully confided that his bedtime reading was the Screwfix catalogue. The supper than degenerated with Mr Loggins' exceptional Professor Stanley Unwin impersonations and a rendition of 'Old Mrs Hunt with a rough cut punt.'

Meanwhile, Mrs Bancroft was undoubtedly stripping the willow with Johnnie Boden. I had offered to lend her my pistachio green cord Boden coat to single her out from the crowd but she politely declined. This was the dance where last year Mrs Bobby Packman went outside to avoid the queues in the ladies. As she dropped her drawers in a quiet corner of the farmyard, a pair of tractor headlights suddenly came on, thrusting her bare behind in the spotlight. She gave the dance a miss this year. The highlight of her weekend was an umbrella sword fight in the square with Randy Munchkin at one o'clock in the morning after a girls' night out in the pub.

I can report that Celebrity Farmer is in his cups after being turned down by Noel Edmonds, the oil thief has been back to the village hall tank again, Posh Totty's dear little daughter, Charlotte Whinge-Bucket, (pronounced Bouquet) is in hospital with a mysterious swollen foot and the Ra-Ras from down the road had a variable meal at Hix's fish restaurant in Lyme Regis.

I can't say I have much sympathy for the Ras but we're all rooting for little Charlotte.

That's about it
Love Maddie x

Friday, 17 July 2009

School's out

The wind is howling. Children leaving primary school for the very last time are howling.

Mrs Bancroft's hanging basket has come crashing down, along with the clematis on the wall. Posh Totty and MDF Man have got a fire going and it's still only six o'clock.

Crow Man has given up trying to change his flat tyre on his Land Rover Discovery outside my front door and called in reinforcements in the shape of the farmer who wears a deerstalker and long sideburns and sends tractors to the Third World.

The police have just paid a visit to the pub after another break-in. Not long after, the landlord's daughter arrives home from London after falling 20ft from a window on to concrete below and lives to tell the tale.

Ding Dong Daddy marches down the road for a swift pint as if keeping to the beat of an integral iPod playing jazz inside his polished head. The Union Jack outside the shop has wrapped itself around so many times it looks like a patriotic barber's pole.

Nobby Odd-Job drives by in his Range Rover, with its personalised number plate, and wearing a suit. The great trees on the village green bend and sway like the pictures you seen when the Caribbean has a hurricane.

Noel Edmonds plays mind games with Celebrity Farmer who sits beside his phone, waiting for the call that will tell him if he has made it on to Deal or No Deal. A blue plastic bag filled with dog crap lies on the edge of the field, the field that was recently the scene of a frank exchange of views among the silage between Celeb's dad and a stray dog walker.

A holidaymaking couple cross the square hand-in-hand. The brassy blonde woman looks old enough to be the man's mother. Four boys about to go into their second year of secondary school swagger by with bicycles and footballs, looking forward to September when they can boss the younger ones around. They snigger and quietly make rude remarks about a visiting family who go past them with a pushchair.

Silky volvar toadstools have sprung up on a pile of wood chippings outside Pelly's house as the sky gets darker.

There is a sense of foreboding in the air.

Here comes the summer.

That's about it

Love Maddie x

The adventures of Flat Stanley

I am feeling uninspired about village life at the moment, what with the rain falling down in sheets and my jaw aching from sinusitis. So I am going to bore you a bit more about Flat Stanley, who is currently waving at me as I type. I created him for our village scarecrow competition and he is based on the title character of a 1964 children's book by Jeff Brown.

Stanley Lambchop's adventures begin when a big board hanging on his bedroom wall flattens him in his sleep. But he survives and soon he is sliding under locked doors and letting his younger brother use him as a kite.

Stanley even helps catch some art thieves by pretenting to be a painting on the wall. He visits his friends by being posted in an envelope. Eventually his little brother, jealous of all the attention Stanley is getting, reverts him to his proper shape by blowing him up with an air pump.

During my research for the scarecrow, I came across the Flat Stanley Project, which was started in 1995 by a teacher in London, Ontario, Canada. Schools across the world take part by hosting flat visitors and keeping and sharing Flat Stanley journals, complete with photos.

Flat Stanley certainly gets about a bit, as you can see from the collage below.

And as one of the people in the photos would say, I'll be back.

That's about it

Love Maddie x

Monday, 13 July 2009

Hangdog expressions

The village square has been quiet up until the bellringing practice started. This has changed considerably from the days when Mr Grigg and I did our bit for the community by pulling on the ropes and making some sort of tune. Frankly, the bellringers tonight sound a whole lot better.

We never intended to be bellringers in the first place. But beware drunkenly telling a passer-by when the bells are ringing in the new year that you've always fancied taking up campanology. Cue a deputation of ringers on your doorstep the next day, and the day after that, and the day after that until you give in and then say 'oh, all right then, if you're desperate'. And then you realise it was Number One Son they were really after but he's far too cool to get involved, thank you very much, and then you're lumbered.

This evening, Mr Grigg and Mr Sheepwash are in their whites complaining about dirty gloves on the cricket pitch in a pathetic attempt to put off the opposition before heading over to the pub for a cider or five. Celebrity Farmer is flushed from the success of his first auditon with Deal Or No Deal - 'you know Maddie, the audition where they decide if you've got the face for TV'.

The parish councillors are in the village hall doing their bit for the community under the watchful eye of Atilla the Hen. Pelly's poultry have abandoned their recent rooftop prison protest and gone to bed. Russell's Crow is silent.

Mrs Bancroft and Pelly are wrapped up like best buddies in a school meeting, Night Nurse is sitting at her table gazing at her new computer (imagine a caveman being first shown the wheel). Mr St John and Lady Friend are doing a 'shall we, shan't we dance' all over the village and Posh Totty 2 and the original are probably having a great time poring over the Boden catalogue as they contemplate spending their Gold Rush cash.

And me? Feeling sorry for myself because I have no money because a) I've just come back from holiday and b) two of my customers forgot to pay me. To cap it all, there is no wine in a house, which is empty apart from Flat Stanley waving at me from the corner of the bedroom.

At least he's smiling.

That's about it.

Love Maddie x

Friday, 10 July 2009

There's gold in them there hills

When the most exciting thing to happen in the village this week is a car going the wrong way up the one-way street, a Gold Party at Lady Friend's is a must. It is circled in red on the calendar.

Lady Friend, she of the Jimmy Choos in the recycling bin and stacks of champagne in the fridge, has asked us to take along any old bits of jewellery we no longer want. A gold expert will weigh it and then offer us a fair price. We can enjoy a glass of wine, nibbles, a natter and buy costume jewellery made by a very talented young lady from Axminster.

I don't get invited to things like this very often. Never been a girlie girl, never been a lady who lunches, always too busy working. So I ransack the bedroom to find very little gold, apart from a Jersey milk bottle top, a pair of Monsoon bikini bottoms and an old bracelet from Argos.

The doorbell rings and I leave a grumbling Mr Grigg at home (how hard can it be to warm up last night's risotto?) to be accompanied by Ladies in Linen - Pelly, Darling Loggins, Mrs Bancroft and Night Nurse, who thinks she ought to have brought a metal brief case chained to her arm 'just for safety's sake'.

'What if someone mugs us?' Night Nurse says, as we walk arm in arm along the quiet street, past the nymph statue at the top of the road, the one whose bits are covered only by trickling water and caused such a stir when she appeared overnight two years ago. I swear she was winking.

Posh Totty is late and turns up with Jamie-Lee. They are weighed down like the Brinks Mat robbers. I push my Argos bracelet deep inside my handbag, knock back two glasses of sauvignon blanc and buy a handmade necklace for £8.50.

I know my place.

That's about it

Love Maddie x

Tuesday, 7 July 2009

No place like home

We arrive home to a display of flowers at the front of the house far better than I could have tended these few hot weeks. Our dear neighbour Mrs Bancroft has been diligently watering and dead heading my nicotianas, nasturtiums, the tall spikes of yellow loosestrife, the passion flowers and snapdragons and tomatoes facing up to the bizzy-lizzies and red pelargoniums in the concrete pots next to the village pump on the other side of the Square.

Pelly and Mr Sheepwash have wandered up to the patch of ground we borrow from a nearby farmer and watered the courgettes in Mr Grigg's polytunnel. And Mr Loggins was drafted in when all our little helpers found themselves (not together) in London for a hot weekend.

Nobby Odd-Job spent almost the entire fortnight stuck inside our house. His duties were to water the plants in the back yard. But Mr Grigg gave him the duff key and Nobby locked himself in.

After nearly an hour trying to devise his escape he hit upon the idea of ringing Mrs Bancroft across the road. Well, our downstairs phone didn't work properly and he had to fight his way upstairs through paperwork and a large Flat Stanley abandoned by me in my office/second bedroom in my haste to get ready for the trip away.

He dialled her number but Mrs B was sunning herself outside on her decking and couldn't be bothered to answer the phone. After the third time of ringing in a row, she put her Birkenstocks on and went inside only for it to ring off when she got there.

So she dialled 1471. Our number. A chill ran through her. How could that be? By the time she plucked up the courage to venture out, Nobby had managed to get the key to work and was coming out the door.

Our animals welcomed us home in the customary manner. Lulu the cat presented us with a dead mouse, Jimi came in with a rabbit which William the older dog promptly ate and then Bertie the puppy widdled all over my foot.

And the grand daughter, the chosen child? When asked by her mum just before we got back if she wanted a sandwich, she yelled: 'No I don't want a sandwich, I just want my granny.'

But the best part was wandering down to Pelly's for a low-key drink on the evening we returned. There, sitting at the table, were all our very good friends and a lovely supper.

'Well, you did text me from Greece to say Mr Grigg expected a homecoming,' Pelly said. 'And what's more, because we thought you were coming back last night we had one then as well.'

The next day, the heatwave broke and the heavens haven't stopped emptying since.

Home. There's no place like it.

That's about it

Maddie x

Monday, 6 July 2009

With a song in our hearts

Just returned from the Ionian - latest instalment on The world from my porthole

Plus a celebration at Westcountry Miscellany of the life of my very talented uncle, who died while I was away.

Photos and a description of the homecoming soon...

That's about it

Love Maddie x

Wednesday, 1 July 2009

The taxman cometh

We pick up a couple of hitchikers who are not all that they seem. Visit my other blog for the full story.


Batten down those hatches, it's recycling day

It's blowing a hooley out there.  The wind is lashing against the windows and the dogs are play fighting in front of the Aga before...