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

Wednesday, 26 August 2009

T'was the week before the wedding

The wedding is getting nearer. Number One Daughter is behaving like Bridezilla, stressed up to the eyeballs, thinking she's talking about people behind their backs but actually saying it to their faces, wittering about table plans, spray tans and eyelash tints and praying for good weather.

The wedding coincides with Number One Grand-Daughter starting school (at only four years and two months) and the bridegroom going into business, on his own, in a recession.

'You can back out you know,' Mr Grigg, the snake, whispers to Number One Daughter's intended.

Like a shot, Number One Daughter, with the ears of a bat, retorts: 'I keep telling him that.'

Future son-in-law rather wisely keeps his mouth shut.

My old school friend is paying me another visit tonight. The one whose partner is top-notch fashion designer Jacques Azagury. (Just look at the Diana pages on his website). I thought my plea from earlier in the year about having a little something from the cutting-room floor had been taken on board. A sample maybe. One of Princess Di's cast-offs. But it has been totally forgotten.

I have just learned the bridegroom's mother has changed her choice of yellow to pink. As this is also the colour I will be wearing (I'm plumping for the charity shop number, glammed up with accessories), she and I will be at either end of the official photographs like bookends. Number One Granddaugther can't decide on the Spiderman outfit or Sportacus. Anything but the bridesmaid's dress.

Mr Grigg has picked up a bargain suit, a lovely dark navy pinstriped Jaeger one, reduced from £400 to less than £90 at Clarks Village. (Why does anyone ever pay top-whack for anything? Because they can, probably). I have also persuaded him a pink shirt is a must, explaining that men who wear pink are comfortable with their sexuality. The fact the colour will also complement what I'm wearing has nothing to do with it.

Several pots at the front of the house have just been knocked over in a howling gale, the neighbours' removal van has taken up the whole of the Square all day and I have just been prescribed tablets for acid reflux.

That's about it

Love Maddie x

Wednesday, 19 August 2009

No flies on him

We're having a bit of trouble with the compost bin. Every time we open it, a load of fruit flies come roaring out in a hornet-shaped cloud. I have asked Mr Grigg to bring his fork back from the plot to turn the contents over to bury the blighters but to no avail.

It has something to do with the weather, which has taken a turn for the better. Ever the optimist, I have been predicting a heatwave for weeks. And finally it arrives. The village comes and goes, cars still park this way and that in the Square and a large lorry tries to go up the one-way system.

There is a rumour that Thomas Hardy's Far From the Madding Crowd is about to be remade around these parts. Hence the picture at the top of this posting. I couldn't bear to use one of flies. I cannot see it working without Julie Christie and Terence Stamp. Sergeant Troy's devil-may-care attitude is not unlike Mr Grigg's, who underneath it all is as dependable as Gabriel Oak. Some 80 cast and crew are looking for self-catering accommodation. I now hear the whole village (the Griggs included) is planning to bunk up with relatives to make a bit of money.

Tuppence has just come back from three weeks in Ghana with a tan and a song in her heart. Mr Loggins and Darling are about to go off camping and Pelly has Mr Sheepwash going full pelt with the pressure washer on the terrace. Mrs Bancroft has invited me to lunch at The Wild Garlic. Bellows is back from his hols - we could hear him from the Square. Monty Chocs-Away has erected two very large posts outside his large house and we are waiting for the bulletin on the gates to find out more.

Lady Friend put 25 wine bottles outside Mr St John's for recycling yesterday, after learning he feared the whole village would think him a lightweight for the lack of booze receptacles in his green box. At last he can hold his head high.

Celebrity Farmer had a name check on Sky Sports after being spotted at Edgbaston. Luckily he has recorded it on his hard drive so is playing it over and over again. Meanwhile, Celeb's mother - the minx - is coming to our 'No Hat, No Supper' party next week to thank our fete helpers. But she read the invitation as 'no knickers'. Mr Grigg says he will be checking things out on her arrival.

The mirrored garden of the Nymph's Dad has become the target for people taking pot-shots. Over the road, children have etched rude words inside the play tunnel on the green. I know this only because a delightful seven-year-old came through it and then asked me what was it that Old Mrs Hunt had.

The wedding is getting nearer and Number One Daughter is getting stressier. Number One Son, who is giving her away, has a new tie to go with his prom suit and is pleased he does not have to make a speech. Less pleased, however, is Number One Daughter on being told her mother - that's me - is going to make one instead.

Anyway, I digress. Back to the compost bin. I have been telling Mr Grigg for some time the best accelerant is male urine. He eventually listened when Pelly said the same thing (for some reason, he takes notice of what she says. I think it is the Queen's Guide badge she still wears with pride or the eco-halo that hangs like an aura over her head).

I say he needs to get on with it before the new neighbours arrive next week. What a welcome that would be, seeing him taking aim over the other side of the wall.

'I could do it in a cup and then chuck it in,' he suggests

'No, just get it out, take the top off the bin and pee into it,' I say.

He makes a face, points to his groin and then makes a buzzing-sort of fly sound.

'They might get me,' he says. 'Sounds like a task for Nobby Odd-Job.'

Nobby, you have been warned.

That's about it.

Love Maddie x

Monday, 17 August 2009

In the spirit of Pavlov

There are compensations working from home. This morning, as I amble around the field at seven o'clock with the dogs, dozens of swallows dart in and out the trees. I hear a buzzard mewing and then the comical noise of six Canada geese honking as they fly in graceful formation overhead. Two crows flap far apart high in the sky and a lone seagull cries on a chimney pot above Alf's cottage.

Now back in the house, I reflect on the weekend gone by. It has been one spent with friends - a dinner party chez Mr St John and Lady Friend, a barbecue with Mrs Bancroft and Nobby Odd-Job just before the carnival in Bridport, a classic car charity breakfast the next morning and then a veggie supper at the Grigg abode with the Sheepwashes and the Logginses. A non-stop circle of friendship.

The carnival could have been better but it was good to see community groups out in force. And in between the majorettes and the drab collecting vehicles, there were flashes of brilliance and a great deal of effort. What a shame the arty-farty trustafarian Notting Hill-on-Sea crowd don't get involved in the parade and turn it into something more like the town's London namesake.

However, I digress with this deeply-felt rant.

We have also been tending to the hens while Pelly and Mr Sheepwash were baking in the sweltering London heat. Mr Grigg said he was reminded last night of the girls chasing each other for fresh slugs when we witnessed Mr Loggins and Mr Sheepwash diving for the poppadoms and pickles. Mr Loggins then regaled us with a story of how a large piece of driftwood - nay, a log - floated Jaws-style towards him as he sat on Burton Bradstock beach with friends.

'It was like destiny. It was coming straight for me,' he said, his mouth full of Eton Mess. 'I nearly came back home and got my chainsaw.'

Mr Grigg was more restrained in his eating. After the 'chubby cheeks' comment from Reuben on my last post, and Maternal Tales being convinced that Mr Grigg was the one on the extreme left of the photo (this is, in fact, the lead singer of Dorset band The Sidekicks, who are playing at Number One Daughter's wedding), he has taken to doing a strenuous workout on the stepper I bought him two years ago and has hardly ever used. He has now devised an exercise routine around three-and-half plays of Bob Dylan's Thunder on the Mountain to get himself in shape.

I've been a bit wicked, though. Every now and then, when he is least expecting it, I quietly put the track on and blast up the volume. And he starts immediately running on the spot.

Pavlov would have been proud of me.

That's about it

Love Maddie x

Thursday, 13 August 2009

Fay Weldon pops in a for a bit of fish

A dry spell in August means haymaking. The cut fields smell of my childhood, and the tractors thunder through the Square to pick up the bales before the rains come.

This week, Mr Grigg has been victorious, picking up a medal in the battle for the Crosby Plate, a major cricket competition around these parts. Here he is at the presentation with his team mates. But you'll have to guess which one he is.

The team should get a mention on Radio 4 on August 25 - my birthday - when human rights lawyer Clive Stafford Smith presents With Great Pleasure. This is a Desert Island Discs-style programme with guests presenters and literature at its heart.

I know this because on Monday, the ever-resourceful Pelly managed to get us tickets for two recordings of the show at The Electric Palace in Bridport. This is an old cinema that has risen phoenix-like from the dust of years of closure to become one of the best and most diverse entertainment venues around.

I feared an intense, highbrow performance from Stafford Smith, who for 25 years has been representing prisoners facing the death penalty. He is a very clever man. But he strolled on to the stage in cricket whites, and with self-deprecating humour apologised for his appearance. He explained he was hoping to catch the last minutes of a cricket final in a nearby village. He was playing for the Mapperton Marauders.

I gave a big whoop. This is Mr Grigg's team and he was its founding captain 10 years ago. Listen in at 11.30am when the show is broadcast. You may just hear me whooping.

Stafford Smith's choice of prose and poetry was highly accessible. It made perfect sense when he confided that as a child, the mythical character with whom he most identified was Robin Hood. A fearless campaigner for social justice, he is the founder and director of Reprieve, which uses the law to enforce the human rights of prisoners from death row to Guantánamo Bay. One of the most poignant pieces he chose was a statement by a right wing US judge who at the eleventh hour of his professional life suddenly wandered down a humanitarian path.

Then it was the turn of Fay Weldon, who toddled on to the stage in black top and velvet trousers and a magnificent technicolour dreamcoat jacket. Despite her advancing years and constant putting on and removing large glasses at the microphone, she was as sharp as Mr Grigg's penknife. In a sweet, posh voice, she told the audience this was a Radio 4 first as her interview with Roy Plumley for Desert Island Discs was never broadcast. Hers was indeed a more highbrow choice, with a Thomas Hardy poem thrown in for the Dorset audience.

At the end of the show, we ambled up to the town hall where an army of Mapperton Marauders were outside a pub, celebrating their win with cider and roll-ups. Back home, Mr Grigg would be in good spirits and the diet forgotten, so Mrs Bancroft, Number One Son and I went to the chip shop to pick up some supper.

As we waited for our haddock to cook, who should stroll in for a piece of fish but Fay Weldon, her naughty eyes a glinting. The old she-devil.

That's about it

Love Maddie x

Monday, 10 August 2009

And a swallow takes flight

After a weekend of fine weather to remind us just how fortunate we are to live in this part of the world, Monday dawns with grey skies and drizzly rain.

Mr Grigg and I are recovering from grandparents' duties during which the four-year-old impressed us with her care and kindness towards the baby, 14 months. The weekend, however, began and ended at the Sheepwashes, with a simple supper (more like a banquet, actually. Anyone would think Pelly was working towards her cookery badge in the Girl Guides) on Friday and then Pimms yesterday evening. And when the sun went down, the chimnea kept us warm and cosy.

It was a good weekend after a harrowing Friday in which 401 people attended the funeral of a local man whose death has hit us all so badly. He was 53 and took his own life. In the words of his father, such a wicked waste of a brilliant mind. As his coffin lay with the Union Flag draped over it in front of the altar, his two lovely children being comforted by their mother, a swallow swooped down from its high vantage point to the chorus of All Things Bright and Beautiful.

Village life goes on, although there is little to report.

Nobby Odd-Job has ricked his neck quite badly and no-one knows how he has done it, Mrs Bancroft is indignant at the church's ruling against dishing out communion wine because of swine flu. She also left the price label on the underside of her new shoes for all to see as she knelt at the altar rail.

Mr Loggins is irate because the tree trunk at the side of the road all the men have been talking about has finally been taken away before they had a chance to log it up and cart it off. Darling Loggins is getting eggy about embryonic plans for a Dorset version of the Monopoly pub crawl after Mrs Bancroft reported seeing a group of people dressed as penguins in the Docklands area going around with a checklist.

Number One Son did not break his ankle but a nasty sprain means he hasn't done his summer job for the past week. Number One Daughter came back with a headache from her hen night. Mr Grigg missed the turning for the car park for a neighbouring village's open day after becoming fixated on the bottom of a woman dressed as a bunny girl.

Celebrity Farmer went to London for the weekend and interviewed one of the doctors from TV's Embarrassing Illnesses. Our new neighbours were welcomed to the village by Mr Grigg pushing a fresh cucumber through their Landrover window. Mr St John and Lady Friend are back on course. Caruso and Dudley have again been living it up at the Hix oyster and fish restaurant.

Our shopkeeper asked me for a third time what the web address was for this blog, the pub is full of holidaymakers and a family of Sikhs are staying in Tuppence's house.

Nothing to report? Maybe a bit then, but that's about it.

Love Maddie x

Thursday, 6 August 2009

A tribute to Harry Patch

For a tribute to Harry Patch in the words of my grandfather, the 'lost' war poet of Somerset, please visit Westcountry Miscellany.

What's the story with Liz Jones?

I'm taking a break today and I'm sitting here with laptop on lap, four-year-old grand-daughter cuddling in to the left of me, black cat Lou-Lou curled up next to us on the sofa. Balamory is on the television and we're thrilled because today's main character is Archie the Inventor. He has red curly hair and sideburns, a posh English voice, wears spectacles, a pink jumper and a kilt and lives in a pink castle. He's our favourite even though the things he tends to invite are pretty rubbish. He has just given Pocket from the shop a rope to help her swing around. Duh. He then made a telephone out of a polystyrene cup and a piece of string. Clearly no Alexander Graham Bell.

Watching Archie made me wonder about the actor who plays him. The beauty of the internet is you can find out all sorts of things, some more useful than others. So I have just googled Archie and found an interview with Miles Jupp. The article from The Scotsman is five years old but the actor comes across as a very good egg, whose feet are very firmly on the ground. He does not take himself too seriously.

He is such a contrast to the clearly mentally ill writer Liz Jones who is interviewed by Rachel Cooke in the Observer. Rachel asks 'Is Liz Jones mad?' I think the answer to that is quite obvious.

Exmoor Jane
, one of my blogging friends, frequently rants about this terrible woman, who has moved to Devon, gets paid to write a column and all she does is slag off the locals and complain about her situation. This is a woman who blames everyone else for her woes. Unlike the Miles Jupps of this world (and there are many of them, especially here in Blighty), who is confident and humble enough to be self-deprecating, Ms Jones, as Mr Grigg would say, is self-defecating.

Reading about people like Jones annoys me so much it is energy sapping. That's why I try to avoid the Sunday papers, 'lifestyle' articles and women's magazines . My mantra is that you get out of life what you put in.

But I do not have time to ponder the reasons for the existence of people like Liz Jones (even wasps and slugs have a purpose). This morning, the grandchild and I have work to do. Cleaning off the fox poo from the spaniels for a start, before wandering down to see Pelly and the hens and then checking up on Number One Son, who is about to find out if he has broken his ankle after falling down stairs on his nearly-brother-in-law's stag trip.

That's about it.

Love Maddie x

Monday, 3 August 2009

All the fun of the Sidmouth Folk Festival

Mr Grigg, the Sheepwashes and I are recovering from a village charabanc trip to the Sidmouth Folk Festival. Living in the square meant the coach pulled up right outside our house. It really was door-to-door service and the one-legged trip organiser pledged to be legless on the way back. Super Mario and Princess Peach nestled in to one of the seats up front while we spread ourselves out in the back seat just in front of an already inebriated General Custer. There were 35 of us in all, most from the neighbouring village.

One of the highlights was the drunken community singing on the return journey, led by a man with a guitar and his tipsy wife in a flowery straw hat. We all joined in, apart from Mr Sheepwash who spent the entire half-hour with his mouth agape.

The seaside town was full of mellow folk, with jingly bells on their legs, carrying double basses in cases, dancing in pub gardens, enjoying picnics in public parks, queuing for the lavatories, sitting outside genteel hotels while bowlers concentrated on their usual Sunday match, oblivious to the sights and sounds around them. A pair of whippets called Bob and Jack sported rather fetching neckerchiefs.

At lunch in the park, Mr Grigg and Mr Sheepwash shared earpieces to catch up on the cricket scores and then slipped off to a pub to see the last of England's innings.

Meanwhile, the seafront was awash with morris dancers and buskers.

The best was our very own Stomping Dave, who plays at our village fun day every year. At Sidmouth he was reunited with his partner, the diminutive Professor Oz.

So, for your delectation, a couple more videos capturing the spirit of the day.

Align CentreOh, incidentally, I didn't get the job. ButI'm not disheartened. To tell you the truth, I'd almost backed out at the last minute anyway, wondering what on earth I was doing contemplating full-time, permanent work in an office.

My personality test showed top of the scale for independent thinker (not team player material) and bottom for not being very good with numbers. Having achieved grade three CSE maths three times, the third time with the aid of private tuition, this number dyslexia has always been a stumbling block. And when you are meant to be in charge of a budget, being rubbish at maths is not good.

I was also low persuasive and very high mistrusting. The results of the test were meant to be confidential. But ironically, the last outcome was repeated to me later by a third party unconnected to the organisation. Enough said.

Here's to a creative and sunny (I hope) August.

That's about it

Love Maddie x

A horror film for Halloween

On Halloween, I head out under the cover of darkness, a tub of sweets by the front door for young trick or treaters on the prowl with their ...