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

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 ...