Friday, 31 December 2010

Supermarket sweep

New Year's Eve and the shops in My Kind of Town are heaving.

Mr Grigg and I go from Lidls to Morrisons, shadowed by a gabbling gipsy family looking for bargains on the salmonella shelf. Mr Grigg hovers closely behind them, puts in a hand and pulls out a tray of pigs in blankets.

'That'll do for tonight,' he says, plucking two half price pork pies and a packet of twelve loaded potato skins from the refrigerated unit.

He pulls away from the crowd, the spoils under his arm. The gipsy family look suitably impressed.

I struggle to find prunes and cocktail sticks and go back and forth, passing a man who smells like he hasn't had a wash in years who is pondering over whether to buy a 'value' pack of digestives to go with his two tins of new potatoes.

After the fifth time of wandering up and down the same aisles, I finally ask a disinterested man stacking shelves. He mutters to himself as if he's remembering the winning numbers of the lottery from a dream. At last he says: 'Aisles 14 and 15', without even giving me eye contact. Yet when Mr Grigg asks where the condensed milk is, a rather large female assistant smiles and says: 'Follow me', seduction written all over her full moon face.

Mr Grigg is a charmer, a man with whom men want to get drunk and women fall in love.

I shall be watching him closely this New Year's Eve, and staying very sober.

That's about it.

Love Maddie x

Sunday, 26 December 2010

Cold turkey

The day started so well. Christmas Day in The Enchanted Village. Pillowcases stuffed full of presents: new socks, Ferrero Rocher, a personalised calendar of our travels.

A bird-within-a-bird-within-a-bird, courtesy of Mr Champagne-Charlie next door, who had bagged four of the six birds before turning them into a culinary creation for us. Cranberry sauce prepared Gordon Ramsay-style, Louis Prima on the stereo and then the bottle of champagne.

Looking back, that's where it all started to go wrong. Niggling rows with Mr Grigg as we prepared the veg at the kitchen island, the disappointment at a new pair of boots a half size too small and then the decision to wander over to the pub for just the one drink while the bird-within-a-bird cooked merrily in the Aga.

Two hours and five drinks later, Mr Grigg's younger brother and two children wandered in. We staggered out to go home, the cold air hit me and I was out for the count.

This morning, I have just had a slice of cold bird-within-a-bird and a cold roast parnsip. It was obviously a lovely meal. A great time was had by all.

It's just a shame I missed it.

That's about it.

Love Maddie x

Thursday, 23 December 2010

All is calm but a bit too bright

This was going to be a short and sweet blog, just before Christmas. It went something like this:

All is calm in The Enchanted Village and - at last - bright.

The Christmas trees have finally gone up above the houses in the square. The lights are on and everyone’s at home.

It may well stay that way if any more snow comes our way. Cut off from everyone, except ourselves.

A very merry Christmas to you, wherever you are.

That's about it.

Love Maddie x

...However, I get home in the dark from a hard day's work. The tree above the Grigg hovel is flashing like something from New York's Times Square.

'We've had complaints,' says my neighbour Mrs Bancroft, the owner of a beautifully arranged Christmas tree on the corner of her house. The tree is a wonderful shape and the lights are perfect. Just like her.

As I stand gawping in the square, Mr Grigg pulls up from five hours of shopping in my kind of town and a swift pint in the only free house for miles around.

'What's wrong with the bloody tree?' he says, like it's my fault. 'It's bloody flashing.'

I sit in the bedroom window as he tries to sort out the lights at the socket near the floor.

'Sequence, chasing, glow, completely still,' he yells at me, but looking at the plug.

'They're completely out, honestly,' I say. I look out the window wishing I were somewhere warm and light. 'There's nothing happening, nothing.'

He gets up to look and the lights come back on again. He scoffs, thinking I'm exaggerating. (Who, me?) We try again and the same thing happens. Every time he looks away the lights go off. Every time he looks they behave. The next time he keeps an eye on the lights and the other eye on the socket. The lights fail.

'You're right,' he says. He sounds surprised.

Well thank you so much for that vote of confidence Mr G.

We struggle to adjust the lights to static but they're having none of it.

Our tree is a beacon of activity in an otherwise static and sedate square. The Grigg household flashes like billio while all around us all the other lights are keeping their heads. We seem to be losing ours. But we're all right. We just close the curtains. What the eye doesn't see...

From the Bancroft household across the road, our lights perform a cabaret. Mrs B and the family close the curtains before putting on the eye shades.

This one could run and run. All over the festive period.

That's really about it.

Love and bling and ting.

Maddie x

Monday, 20 December 2010

Dreaming of a white Christmas

It was all building up to a crescendo. And then it came. Deep and crisp and even.

For the past few days, we have been up to our necks in snow. Across the land, we're feeling The Grinch's icy pinch. Oil stocks are running low, trains are being cancelled and freezers are being raided for fruit and veg sensibly put in during a summer glut.

We made our way to a carol concert at the Big House, walking along the snowy driveway. Brushstrokes in a Brueghel painting, illuminated by a waxing gibbous moon.

Mr Putter sang his longed-for solo when Caruso threw him a verse for We Three Kings, with Caspar landing in his lap, at the last minute. There was a round of applause when he finished, in time and on tune.

And then the concert we had all been waiting for, practising for, singing for, was cancelled.

So it was off to the pub for scampi and chips and an impromptu folk session featuring Ding Dong Daddy and friends, including the 2010 international solo jig champion.

As the dancer bounced up and down to The Bluebell Polka, flicking a leg here, flicking a white hanky there, the stuffed stag's head gazed down, unfazed by the Christmas bells and shiny baubles hanging from its antlers.

A truly enchanting village.

That's about it.

Love Maddie x

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Christmas cheers

As the choir sits down to its Christmas meal in the pub, Caruso, with festive hat at a jaunty angle, fumbles around with his music.

‘I think it’s time we had a song,’ he says.

Quick as mustard, Mr Putter steps up to the podium, rapidly dishing out photocopied sheets bearing the immortal words of Donald Where’s Yer Troosers.

We all join in, much too low, and Caruso’s face is like thunder. He was thinking more along the lines of a tuneful The Holly and The Ivy in rounds.

The pub rapidly empties of customers. We fear people with tickets for the concert at the weekend might soon be asking for a refund.

And then, like a saviour, Caruso redeems us all with a beautiful rendition of William Butler Yeats’ poem, He Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven, in song.

Mr Putter makes an emotional speech about how much he has enjoyed our singing evenings, expresses his deep love for Caruso (but not in a weird way as he squeezes the knee of his fragrant wife) and we all applaud.

Caruso thanks me, of all people, because some months ago after Dudley’s wake and too many glasses of wine I persuaded him to revive the choir.

We raise our glasses to dear Dudley’s memory, a wine bottle falls over – rather like Dudley used to after too many glasses of Grand Marnier – and then Caruso sneezes five times in a row.

One more and it would have been equivalent to an orgasm.

My dears, oh what a rock star life I do lead.

That’s about it

Love Maddie x

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

The countdown to Christmas

As the lights twinkle in towns near us, just prior to them all shorting out on Christmas Eve, the Enchanted Village is preparing for its own illuminations.

The lights on the Christmas tree on the village green are so far holding out against the teenage vandals. There is a hidden power source within the folds of the tree’s green skirt, which reaches down to where the ley lines cross.

In the next week, the trees will go up above people’s houses, their white lights chosen carefully to enhance rather than detract from the cluster of listed buildings in the square.

On the outskirts of the village, a house is bedecked with flashing santas, eager-looking elves and jumping snowmen all jostling for attention. At the other end of the village, an inflatable reindeer and an incongruous Mickey Mouse in wizard’s costume wobble up and down, ready to deflate when the power goes off via the timer switch in the night.

In the early morning, the air will pump back through the reindeer’s plastic veins and the creature will rise, slowly, until it is nose-to-nose with the surprised paperboy whose head is filled with the sound of iPod music.

At the entrance to the village, the bronze nymph statue is wearing her winter garb of chequered poncho to keep out the cold winds that funnel down through the one-way system.

So this is Christmas.

That's about it.

Love Maddie x

Saturday, 11 December 2010

The office Christmas party

For the last few months, the gazing from my window has been less frequent as I knuckle down to another office job. Not for me the joys of walking the dogs while the village children skip to school. These days, I head out in the dark with two panting spaniels and a dodgy torch from Lidl before driving off to workland.

So I find myself at the office Christmas party, surprisingly sober, and watching the dramas unfolding around me: acres of flesh on display, flesh that would be better housed under a nice little bolero jacket, legs up to armpits and people who usually wear glasses suddenly small-eyed and slightly scared looking as they witness the spectacale in contact lenses. There is pent-up passion, hands-on knees-under-tables, a look, a glance, sighing, raised voices, ladies bopping wistfully to Dancing Queen and someone from IT getting up to applause for Sex Machine.

I smile inside, above all this predictable chicanery. I excuse myself and go to the ladies, where colleagues are yelling to each other from the cubicles.

I look in the mirror as I wash my hands and wonder at it all. Here I am, nearly fifty, and scenes from the school disco whizzing past in cinematic montage.

A rather well-built woman comes out fresh from flushing.

'Excuse me, love,' she says.

I bristle, sensing a fight. Had I inadvertently looked at her husband?

'Not being funny but...'

She's moving in for the kill.

'Well, it might be the fashion...' she says.

And then I realise. Lofty, aloof me, has just committed the classic Ladies Toilets Faux Pas.

'You've got your dress tucked into your knickers.'

Now there's a picture that would have looked good on the office intranet.

That's about it.

Love Maddie x

Sunday, 5 December 2010

A moment in time

Christmas is on its way. The Enchanted Village's version of Last of The Summer Wine is huddled under the teenage shelter drinking coffee and eating toast.

There's Mr Champagne-Charlie with flat cap on as Foggy, Mr Sheepwash with wry observations on life as Clegg and Mr Grigg and Nobby Odd-Job doing a double act as Compo. Nobby is wearing the Compo hat but Mr Grigg is wearing the Compo mouth, stating the crude and obvious.

They are on the village green, putting up the Christmas tree lights. The power comes from a hole in the tree - magic, see? - where the Punch and Judy man normally plugs in his microphone on village fete day.

The Enchanted Village mist swirls as Celebrity Farmer and his father meet each other on tractors where the ley lines cross in the square.

They wave to me as if it is quite normal for me to be walking across the square in a colourful apron and carrying a tray of spotted coffee cups.

Next to the village pump, a white van has broken down, and there are ball bearings all over the square. I fear a cartoon comedy moment coming on.

But it passes. And life resumes as normal.

That's about it.

Love Maddie

Thursday, 2 December 2010

The first day of advent

As we traipse down a snowy driveway to the Big House, our thoughts are on a poignant funeral service for a friend.

A cold church, puffs of steam coming from people's mouths and noses as they sing Amazing Grace, a floral tribute that says 'Mum', a tolling bell and memories of a feisty, fun and pint-sized woman loved by all who knew her. The church is packed with villagers, in big coats and warm hats. They stand in the pews: Caruso, Princess Peach, the Popes, the Parson's Daughter, Nobby Odd-Job, Mamma Mia, Mr and Mrs Sheepwash and Mrs Bancroft. There is Night Nurse beside the Loveliest Lady in the Village, there is Posh Totty and Mr F Word and Camilla and Mr and Mrs Putter. The church is so full that Tuppence and Ding Dong Daddy and his wife have to sit in the choir stalls, just steps away from our departed friend.

She leaves the church to a soundtrack of sobs, sad faces and Leonard Cohen singing Hallelujah.

It is the first day of advent, a time when our thoughts are usually about the lead-up to Christmas. But it is hard when you see so much grief around you.

Later, we share joyous moments with the family in the village hall. With plates of vol-au-vents, sandwiches and coffee cake, cups of tea and glasses of wine, we watch a slide show featuring pictures of our shopkeeper and then a BBC film made for The Politics Show about declining village services. The Enchanted Village looks truly enchanting, with camera shots through redundant pumps and hanging baskets into the misty streets beyond. And there is our shopkeeper, putting out the fresh flowers. She is a tiny slip of a thing, surrounded by colourful chrysanthemums.

So back to the beginning. On the way to the Big House, Caruso's choir clutch their sheets of music. Emotions are running high because of the funeral and wake we have just attended. There is trepidation in the air. Will Night Nurse find the right music? Will The Parson's Daughter and I clash with the altos in I Saw a Maiden? Will Mr Putter get his longed-for solo?

We disrobe in the dining room, leaving our music folders behind, taking just the sheets we need for the afternoon's performance. The sitting room of the old people's home is lined by residents, most of whom look pleased to see us. Mr Putter says a cheerful hello to a lady in a wheelchair who mutters: 'Stupid people.'

Our reputation precedes us.

So we chug along, singing joyfully, and get into our stride. Our music teacher Caruso then struggles to find the correct sheet for his solo (the irony of which does not go unnoticed by Night Nurse and also Mr Putter, who thinks he is in with a chance of a solo).

And then when Caruso introduces the next number, a resident is heard to say: 'Oh no, not another bloody song.'

At the end of our performance, Caruso tells them we'll be back again on the 18th.

'Well, I'm going out on that day then,' says a resident with limited mobility.

Another, who was joining in the chorus of Dashing Away with the Smoothing Iron, smiles as if to say: 'Take no notice, we enjoyed it.'

As we put on our hats and coats for the walk back into the village, a look of terror crosses Mr Putter's face when he put his hand into his music folder and pulls out sheets marked up for a soprano. Someone has walked off with his music. In amongst all the 'official' songs are ones he had printed off from the internet, including Donald Where's Yer Troosers? His cunning plan to come out with a surprise solo of his own at the Christmas supper in the pub has been well and truly scuppered.

That's about it.

Love Maddie x

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

In the bleak midwinter

The snow is compacted underfoot. It crunches as I walk along the lane towards the Sheepwash house. A little wren perches on their door knocker and hops around, as if she is desperate to get in from the cold. Up in the field, sheep scrabble around in icy grass. One of them has a bramble attached to its back. It is hooped like the skeletal framework of a nativity angel's wing.

Children in beanie hats, thick coats and scarves pad along to primary school. In a few years' time they will discard their winter gear and insist they're quite warm enough, thank you very much, as they shiver to big school in short skirts and thin tights.

The school bell rings and all is calm again. There is an eerie silence in The Enchanted Village today. Cars pull up outside the shop, the drivers get out and then get back in again when they realise it is closed as a mark of love and respect for the funeral of our shopkeeper. She was plucked from us far too early.

Black cars line up around the square, in front of a huge sign advertising the school Christmas bazaar.

Life, and death, goes on. Wednesday, full of woe.

Later, we will sing at the old people's home. Christmas songs and the sad, sad Coventry Carol. I'm hoping they will be too full of sherry to notice any duff notes.

That's about it.

Love Maddie x

Thursday, 25 November 2010

The girls watch the boys

So there we were, swimming up and down rather leisurely, in an indoor pool all to ourselves and bathed in soft blue light. The Book Club girls on tour, enjoying the hospitality of Darling Loggins who is still living in her rented cottage on a campsite on the coast while her wooden house takes shape on the hill back in The Enchanted Village.

Outside, the skies were clear, sprinkled liberally with sharp constellations: the eyes of Cancer, the horns of Taurus. Up country and down in Cornwall they've had snow. But here in Dorset we had one of those beautiful, cold winter days where the sky is blue and the light seems like it's been imported from Photoshop.

In the sauna, we got fired up and pulled apart the book we'd been reading (Sister), all agreeing we were either irritated, puzzled or underwhelmed. Which was reassuring, because you never really know if people are on the same wavelength as you.

We dined on vegetable curry and pears poached in cider, compared books-we-have-loved (my five all either had child protagonists or lead characters with childlike qualities - Jay Gatsby and William Boot from Scoop - what does that tell you?) and then toddled off home when Mr Loggins came back early from the pub and declared he was off to bed.

Back in The Enchanted Village, the boys are still in the pub, up to their necks in bar billiards. There's Mr Champagne-Charlie dressed in pullover and yellow tie just potting a white, Mr Sheepwash talking about cricket, Nobby Odd-Job keeping score, Mr Putter sulking on the sofa and a new recruit, Ernest, smiling inanely behind a bushy white beard as he tries to take it all in.

And who is taking the lead on rousing the troops out of their snooker slumber? It's Mr Grigg bawling out instructions from the sidelines.

'Oh, hello baby,' he says when I walk in. He's got that stupid 'when-I-say-I've-had-three-pints-of-cider-I-really-mean-seven' look on his face. His beaming grin reminds me of an old friend from primary school who could never tell a lie without his nostrils flaring.

I think of the girls' discussion in the sauna and then look at the boys - we were a scene from a winning film at Cannes and they're Last of the Summer Wine playing doubles.

That's about it.

Love Maddie x

Thursday, 18 November 2010

We are stardust

Jupiter shines like a beacon in the southern sky. There is an eerie halo around a waxing gibbous moon. This circle of ice crystals disappears as the clouds make way for the moon to throw its ghostly light across fields and hedges.

Bright stars are revealed, studding the heavens like sparkling eyes. Lyra and Cygnus, Cassiopeia and Andromeda. Mythical names in faraway places.

We are tiny. Specks in a massive universe.

The Enchanted Village is still tonight, in mourning for two good souls who are no longer with us. Our wise neighbour, Gandalf, once so active and skilful, who gradually became old and weary and was ready to go. Every time I walk in my kitchen I see him in my mind, fitting my cupboard and plastering a wall when he was eighty years old and running around like a man half his age.

And then the sad, sad passing of our shopkeeper, a woman not much older than me, who died suddenly on holiday. She was far too young to go. A serene, kind person, a hard worker who did not deserve to be taken so soon.

Two more stars join the heavens.

That’s about it.

Love Maddie x

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Out in the cold and sent to Coventry

It is cold and frosty in The Enchanted Village. This morning, ribbons of mist lie in the valleys like trails of whipped-up egg white. And tonight, the nymph statue that welcomes visitors to the village ought to be wearing a hat, scarf and gloves.

Up at the community room, Mr Putter is reprimanded for a tuneful burst of Where have all the young men gone. Caruso makes a knife motion across his throat and shouts: 'Cut!'

It is choir practice night and Mr Putter is feeling confident. Mr Grigg, who has only been to one singing session and is still to be convinced he has a decent voice, is away. Night Nurse is scolded again for losing her place, while I forget a dotted note and someone else is blamed for the clashing of voices. Sometimes it is good to be teacher's pet.

'I remember performing at The Albert Hall,' Caruso says, 'I was singing Haydn's Creation. The old dear next to me was singing Handel's Messiah.'

He raps his harmonica and calls for order. We need to be in fine voice for a performance just before Christmas when our Enchanted Village voices will join Ding Dong Daddy and his friends for a special concert. It is incredible how ideas casually tossed around the pub turn into full-blown events. It's how we work.

Meanwhile, we have a special appearance at the old folk's home to worry about. As if we are in detention, the top team of six stay behind to practise The Coventry Carol. It is so beautifully moving it makes my cheekbones ache.

After my cold last week, I struggle to reach the top notes and to sustain the melody right to the end. And when I get home, alone, the necklace Camilla gave me a year ago because I kept saying how much I liked it threatens to engulf me, like the poisoned dress in Medea.

Where is Mr Grigg when I need him?

That's about it.

Love Maddie x

Sunday, 14 November 2010

We will remember them

A peal rings out from the church bells. Their song is echoed by a ghostly refrain, perfectly matched. The half-muffled bells call to each other as if from two sides of a valley, a yawning chasm or from green hills far away.

It is Remembrance Sunday, the day when we remember those who gave their lives for their country in times of conflict.

In The Enchanted Village, it has been grey all day before darkness descends.

In our ancient church, the elders line up in dark coats, with poppies on lapels, and prepare themselves for this sombre ceremony.  They sing hymns of remembrance, reflect in silent prayers and listen as the names of village men from two world wars are read out, chanted like a litany of lost souls.

Up in the bellringing chamber, a bugle player waits, patiently, for his moment. For The Last Post and Reveille.

On my wall, a picture of my ANZAC grandfather and his best friend, both in uniform and smiling at the camera as they pose in the photographer's studio just before setting off for Gallipoli and France. The best friend lies in a French cemetery, his name one of thousands on the war memorial in Canberra. In Mr Grigg's family, his mother's brother lost forever to the German battleship The Scharnhorst.

The bugle player steps up to the rail, the congregation turning as his notes reverberate around the cold, stone walls.

Come to the cookhouse door, boys, come to the cookhouse door. Wherever you are.

That's about it.

Love Maddie x

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Duelling songsters

A cow gives a high pitched bellow in the dark and the haunting sound echoes across the valley. The long note is similar to that of the hunting horn played by the landlady last Friday night. But it is more forlorn, like a cow on market day that missed the chance of saying goodbye to its calf.

It is cold in The Enchanted Village. There is ice on the inside of car windows and the smell of woodsmoke is thick in the evening air. The street lights spread a false smile in the village centre, while the outskirts are dark, frosty and wintry.

Wrapped up in the cosy Grigg hovel, I am cheered by a surprise visitor, a Sheepwashlet on my doorstep with two eggs, one still warm. Just what the doctor ordered.

Smelling of Vick's vapour rub and with a chest that hurts when I breathe in, my spirits lift when I think back to Caruso's singing class last night. Accompanied by Mr Grigg - for one night only - I am greeted almost with applause by the rest of the choir, who are sitting in a horseshoe facing the master as we walk in. Mr Grigg is placed next to Mr Putter, who is pleased to have a male companion, if only for the evening.

When it comes to distributing solos in 'Oh, No John, No John, No John, No', Caruso gives me two lines, the Parson's Daughter gets one and a bashful Mrs Bancroft refuses to sing at all. Night Nurse is scolded for talking in class and we are again reminded of the importance of the dotted note.

'I will not tell you again,' Caruso says.

As the solos are awarded, Mr Putter is on edge. For weeks he has been turning up to these singing sessions, come rain or shine. He is a dog about to be given a bedtime treat. He peers over his spectacles, song sheet in hand. But Caruso passes him by. There is nothing for poor old Putter. No, a verse is awarded to a late arrival at the ball, an incomer.

Mr Grigg.

There is hostility in Mr Putter's eyes.

Why should the devil have all the best tunes?

That's about it.

Love Maddie x

Monday, 8 November 2010

Sing along with the common people

The winds roared through the night, as the window were lashed with heavy rain. This morning there are puddles everywhere. A thick, brown gilet of sycamore and beech leaves lines the windscreen and bonnet of a parked car, keeping the vehicle warm until it awakes.

The weather held out for bonfire night and the skies around The Enchanted Village were a riot of colour as Mr Grigg set off rockets with names like 'Explorer' and 'Goliath'. As well as our own village do, the posh people up the road pitched in, with fireworks even bigger and better than we commoners could afford.

Over the hill, the sky lit up from north to south, from east to west, with flashes of light accompanied by loud booms. For one night only, World War Three had been declared.

And in the pub and several pints of cider later, Mr Putter led a small table in a singsong, starting with Donald Where’s Yer Troosers. Mr Grigg lowered the tone, with a cheeky rendition of Adge Cutler and The Wurzels' Twice Daily: 'Her ups and slips and zummat rips and I went there twice daily...'

And then the landlady, normally so quiet and demure, got down the hunting horns. We hadn’t seen anything like this since Dudley’s wake back in the summer.

We found ourselves being conducted in ten verses of Roll Me Over in the Clover, rapidly followed by me leading Dinah, Dinah Show Us Yer Leg.

Even the usually ladylike Mrs Bancroft was chuckling and joining in while the fragrant Mrs Putter managed to get a very good tune out of one of the horns, although not half as good as the landlady, who must surely have been a whipper-in in a previous life.

The saving grace was that our singing master, Caruso, wasn’t in the pub that night. He would have been worried about more than just our intonation. The words might have vexed him slightly too.

Roll me over in the clover indeed.

That's about it.

Love Maddie x

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

The Sopranos

A tattered St George’s flag ripples on top of the church. It is early morning and a regiment of rooks descends on the stays of the flagpole, sinister, like something from Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds.

The pink-tinged clouds signal the arrival of Homer’s rosy fingered dawn and The Enchanted Village awakes, twinkling lights coming on up and along the valley to a theme of The Planet Suite on my iPod.

Autumn has well and truly arrived. At Halloween, candelit pumpkins grin in the windows while children dressed as vampires, skeletons and ghosts tour the village in packs, pouncing on sweets thrown from the doorways like pigeons after crumbs.

At Mr and Mrs Champagne-Charlie’s, a bumper parcel arrives, stashed with fireworks. These are the ones Mr Grigg and his pals will be setting off on Friday evening to celebrate Bonfire Night. The crowds will be thronging the square, queuing up for burgers and hot dogs, going ‘ooh’ and ‘ahh’ in all the right places when Nobby Odd-Job and Mr Sheepwash light the blue touchpaper and Mr Grigg and I will stand well back as the rockets zoom up over the village green and land far away rather than on the church roof and blocking the guttering like they did last year. Or the previous year, when all the rocket tails ended up spiked neatly in individual graves.

A ginger wig blows by like tumbleweed as I make my way up to the old people’s complex for our weekly singing session. Caruso is in fine form, splitting us up into basses, altos and sopranos to sing Good King Wenceslas in rounds.

We are just getting up a good head of steam when he raps his baton and stops us mid-flow. Our voices are a derailed train, tumbling into the sidings. He shouts, wildly.

‘I’m only going to say this once. Don’t miss out that dotted note.’

Our sniggers stifled, he starts us up again. We're in fine form, steaming and a rolling through crisp and even snow and gathering winter fu-el. And then the train hits the buffers.

‘Sopranos [that’s me], you’re dropping the pitch!’

We look down at our sheet music, not daring to even take a glance at each other. I sneak a peep, like you might sometimes do in church to see if other people are really praying. Mr and Mrs Putter are going cross-eyed, the Parson’s Daughter is suppressing a giggle and Mamma Mia is looking very perplexed. Night Nurse looks defiant and Mrs Regal Bird has the face of an angel.

And then, at the end, Caruso anounces the line-up for his dream team for a singsong at the village's old people’s home in December.

And I’m in it.

That’s about it.

Love Maddie x

Friday, 29 October 2010

A new chapter as the book club begins

The rooks are doing merry dive-bombing dances in the fields, catching a thermal here, taking it to the next level and then spiralling downwards. The trees are red and orange and yellow and green, orange and purple and brown. Crab apples underfoot, a perfect imprint of a sycamore leaf on the bonnet of my car and pink-tinged clouds at sunset.

Later, I venture from the house and make my way to Mrs Putter's for the first meeting of our new book club, with six hand-picked handmaidens as members. I call in at Mrs Bancroft's but there is no-one at home. I peer through the letterbox to see a pair of pumps at the foot of the stairs. But there is no sign of their owner. Has she spontaneously combusted?

I venture on, hoping to meet Pelly at the end of her lane, because I have forgotten my torch. Living in the floodlit square, I forget how wonderfully dark it is on the village's edges. As I tiptoe past Bellow Packman's so as not to wake the goats, a security light goes on and I feel like an escaped prisoner exposed for all to see.

At the Putters, Mrs Bancroft and Mrs Champagne-Charlie have already arrived, closely followed by Pelly and Darling Loggins. We sit around the table, scoffing roasted vegetable lasagne and copious glasses of wine. We dip our toes in the literary water and make candid confessions about what we like to read. I throw in a few worthy titles, like The Odyssey and Zorba the Greek, and when jaws drop to the floor I realise I can get away with saying Patricia Cornwell if I want to.
The breadth of the book club's reading experience is impressive. I keep quiet about the Jilly Cooper. We cut up Richard and Judy's reading list and pull out Sister by Rosamund Lupton from the hat. Our November choice is made, and it will be followed in December by Notwithstanding by Louis de Bernieres.

That's as far as our list goes, although our July choice is mapped out. We're going for The Mistress of Nothing, by Kate Pullinger, and will have a Skype meeting to discuss it with my blogging pal, Pondside, and her five book club friends in Vancouver Island.

After supper and warm hugs we head down the road, the night plucking us off one-by-one like something from an Agatha Christie novel.

Up at the pub, The Enchanted Village's Gentlemen's Club, comprising absent husbands, is having its inaugural meeting around the billiard table.

That's about it.

Love Maddie x

Time after time...

This Sunday, we say goodbye to British Summer Time, an annual occurence that causes no end of chaos in The Enchanted Village.

To find out why, please take a look at my guest post on Smitten by Britain.

That's about it.

Love Maddie x

Monday, 25 October 2010

October skies

In The Enchanted Village, we are enjoying the strong light of October, the month that is to winter what May is to summer.

The early morning frost sprinkles like fairy dust from passing Land Rovers. Wood smoke rises from the chimneys as we crunch through brown beech leaves.

In the afternoon, cows graze under Flemish landscape painting skies and at night, a waning Blood Moon holds court over an impressive Orion and ever-present Plough.

Oh, the joys of autumn.

That’s about it.

Love Maddie x

Sunday, 24 October 2010

A dance to autumn

Up in the village hall, Mr Grigg is clearing away the debris from a party to celebrate Tuppence's birthday. A few weeks ago, she almost lost her eyesight. But last night, she was up on stage, a tiny woman with a big voice, belting out numbers and starting the first of two sets with Cockney Rebel's Make Me Smile.

And there were smiles all round. Some of us have been through tough times lately, and are still going through them. But the illustration by Jules Feiffer on Tuppence's party invitation says it all:

If the devil could have cast his net on the dance floor last night, he would have killed off my blog in one fell swoop. We were running the bar and in among the bohemian creative types (with fascinating colour combinations, fab hair and Doc Martens), there was Nobby Odd-Job, Pelly Sheepwash, Mrs Bancroft, General Custer, Farmer Mayfield, Mamma Mia and Night Nurse, Old Ding Dong Daddy and all, old Ding Dong Daddy and all.

We took bets on how many times a drunken Manuel would say Hank Wangford, watched as Mr Loggins and Darling smooched to Wonderful Tonight, wondered if the forever young and funky Tuppence had a picture in the attic and cheered as Mr and Mrs Champagne-Charlie, Posh Totty and MDF Man came in at midnight after a hunt supporters' supper.

'You should have been there,' Mr C-C said to me rather too loudly.

'You would have hated it,' Mrs C-C said quietly.

At that point, Tuppence made an emotional speech, thanking all her family and friends for being there when she needed them. And she gave a special vote of thanks to The Enchanted Village.

We are all very different, but we are all here for each other.

We go on dancing anyway.

That's about it.

Love Maddie x

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Welcome to the world, not-so-little one

We're just back from the Ionian after the worst weather in 20 years and Number One Daughter decides to go into labour as my neighbour Mrs Bancroft gives us a welcome home party with five other blog characters. Our phone doesn't work, Number One Daughter has to call in the reserves for babysitting duty for Number One Granddaughter and then valiantly gives birth to the biggest baby I have ever seen.

'Golly,' my mother says. 'It's an elephant.'

Well, no, it's Tilly Honey, eight pounds and 14 ounces, with beautiful rosebud lips and a huge pair of lungs.

Big sister tomboy was disappointed - she'd wanted a boy so she could call it Ron Weasley. But we are all thrilled. Maybe this one will like pink.

That's about it

Love Maddie x

Saturday, 16 October 2010

Home is where the heart is

As my resourceful Odysseus - Mr Grigg to you and me - makes sure our boat is watertight,  I am longing to be home.

I am in the Ionian - see here - and the rain is pouring down like a patio water-feature set on high-speed. We have had thunder and lightning so loud and bright it could have been Zeus sending us a message from on high.

We have family who need us back home and I am desperately missing The Enchanted Village and all its comings and goings.

Even in paradise, things are not always as they seem.

'There is only one place to be when the weather is like this,' I say to Mr Grigg.

'Where's that?' he says, writing his daily log boat in the shelter of the cabin.


That's about it.

Love Maddie x

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Journey to the centre of the earth

Join me on a journey to the centre of the earth and a hymn to Delphi, ancient and modern. Visit my occasional blog, The World from my Porthole, for the latest leg of our Homeric voyage in the Ionian in which Mr Grigg meets a real-life Python.

I think you'll like it.

See you shortly.

Love Maddie x

Monday, 11 October 2010

Tales of woe from The Enchanted Village

Calamity and woe has hit The Enchanted Village in spades over the past few weeks.

My dear friend, Tuppence, has just come through a frightening experience and is thanking her lucky stars for the gift of sight, which she so very nearly lost. She has now been visited by a joyful army of ladybirds, late visitors to her garden, who have popped in to wish her well. Here's to a safe recovery.

Up the road, the partner of another dear friend is nursing broken ribs after a nasty fall. Down the road, Mrs Pope, that village stalwart, is painfully recovering from sciatica and has barely moved from her chair for the past few weeks.

Then there's Pelly Sheepwash, nursing a terribly bad back while her get-up-and-go has just got up and gone. I am hoping Tuppence will look out from her window and see Pelly's get-up-and-go safely returning along the lane, led by a battalion of butterflies. It will be arm-in-arm with Night Nurse's freedom-from-pain,which I hope comes soon.

And then the Logginses. The building of a log house does not run smoothly. But I predict good news will be on the way, as they have spent too long in temporary accommodation away from the village.

Meanwhile, Mr Grigg - who is well, I hasten to add - swore at me yesterday when I politely turned down an invitation from our neighbours, Mr and Mrs Champagne-Charlie. Mrs Bancroft taught me long ago never to turn down an invitation. But it was to the hunt dinner, and sometimes my principles just get in the way.

I am off to make offerings to the gods now. The village could do with more enchantment.

That's about it.

Love Maddie x

Friday, 8 October 2010

Picture this (and happy birthday Photobox)

More often than not, my camera is with me everywhere I go. Oh what images I could show you of The Enchanted Village: the Loggins’ log house as it takes shape, the Sheepwash abode, Mr and Mrs Champagne-Charlie playing croquet on their manicured lawn or Posh Totty's rear-of-the-year on a very fine hunter.
I know you were probably hoping for a picture of Posh Totty on horseback. But Mr and Mrs C-C's legs, croquet mallets and a small table of nibbles and G&Ts will just have to do. Only a toff could get away with trousers that colour.

I love taking photos although I prefer painting pictures in words. It’s what I do. The only tools I need are my little notebook, a pen and an eye for the absurd.

However, I was drawn to a photography competition advertised in a national newspaper. It was organised by Photobox and the theme was Around the World in 80 Days.

I’ve never entered a contest like this so I put in several pictures from my travels in Australia and New Zealand earlier this year. This one, a close-up of fabric at Eumundi Market in Queensland, was pretty simple, and didn’t stand up to much scrutiny against the others.
However, it was chosen as one of the finalists, one of only a few hundred out of 30,000.

The winning ones are spectacular, they really are. You can go to this link to look at them. Some fantastic landscapes and lots of wonderful, wise and knowing faces.

All the shortlisted pictures are being shown in the world's biggest walk-in photobook from 15 October at London's Old Truman Brewery Gallery, to mark Photobox's 10th birthday.

Here are some of my other pictures which didn’t make the shortlist, but I like them just the same.

I like colourful images and strong contrasts. But it can be very easy to be overwhelmed by the beauty of the scene laid out in front of you. It's impossible to take in all of it at once - I find I'm much better off just focusing on a fraction of it. I am fascinated by detail and looking at things from unusual angles.

For me at least, the small things speak volumes.

That’s about it.

Love Maddie x

Sunday, 26 September 2010

These boots were made for walking

Sea views, paper thin walls. A band of happy, suited and booted Baptists on a weekend away wander through the hotel. Fifty-year-old Mods zoom past on a scooter rally to Woollacombe. Fred Perry shirts, Doc Martens under half-mast Levi's. Long, wistful looks at Lambrettas and Vespas. Those were the days.

Mr Loggins and Darling, bodyboarding in wetsuits in between the flags on the acres-long shore of white sand. Mrs Sheepwash going into raptures at a springer spaniel puppy running and laughing along the beach, all the time looking back to make sure mum and dad are still watching.

This is The Enchanted Village annual outing. Some 32 people of us are on tour, Lush Places gone large. Out to settle old scores with a team from Trowbridge, Wiltshire.

Canteen catering, plenty for seconds. And thirds. Plates piled high.

Chips on the seafront, £4.50 for parking. Mr Grigg buys me new shoes because he's left my hiking boots at home. Or so he thinks.

A walk up the hill, Manual and Mrs Regal Bird stopping to give us a lift. Farmer Mayfield giggling along corridors, Mamma Mia putting my name down for every team game under the sun.

And in the afternoon, as Dorset play Wiltshire, Maddie Grigg goes up to the table skittles table and calmly takes the ball on a chain. She gently pushes it. She shoots. She scores. A heroine. All nine down at once.

Mr Grigg walks in slow motion across the bar .

'You're a star!' he shouts, as he engulfs me in a big bear hug. 'You got a flopper!'

A flopper. This is something I have heard talked about for over forty years, in the skittle alleys and around the table skittles tables all over the pubs of West Dorset and South Somerset and beyond. But until this moment, I never really knew what a flopper was.

I am on cloud nine, an imagined laurel crown around my head, borne on a chariot of invisible village menfolk, toasting my legendary performance.

And then we lose to Wiltshire 14-12.

And then this morning, a quiet knock on our hotel room door. I find a plastic bag on the floor, with my hiking boots inside and Mr Sheepwash creeping away. They've been in our friends' room all weekend.

Oh, the games people play.

That's about it.

Love Maddie x

Friday, 24 September 2010

Hoorah, it's the village outing

As I write, it’s a mad scramble to get things done before heading off on the annual weekend trip to North Devon.

In years gone by, there would have been a charabanc pulling up outside my house, filled with cloche-hatted ladies and men with moustaches and a kite-tail trail of freshly-scrubbed children flying (securely attached) in its wake.

But today we’ll be heading for the seaside under our own steam, with some taking their time while others - like me - will be rushing.

It’s the first time I’ve been to this weekend event, organised by Manuel and Mrs Regal Bird, and I’m not really sure what to expect. We’ve been told to pack our swimming costumes (striped, knitted bathing suits) and hiking boots (hobnails) and be prepared for fun and organised games.


I’m not much of a participant, more of a watcher, so this could be very interesting.

In the meantime, I will leave you with the following titbits that have come to me via the Enchanted Village’s jungle drums. Each of them could have made a blog post of their own. But time is tight, so you will have to weave your own descriptions around them:

1) The Over 60s trip to Bath when a head count at pick-up time revealed one of the elderly passengers was missing. After half an hour of high drama, involving the bus going round and round the city centre because it had used up its allocated parking time and then intense scrutiny of Bath’s CCTV footage by the police, the errant day tripper was traced and all was well. There is now talk of providing the entire membership with high-vis jackets and return luggage labels.

2) The brouhaha over a lemon meringue pie entered for the village flower and produce show. Simply the best, it was disqualified because the judge insisted it was too small although the rules stated it had to be ‘up to’ a certain size, so, in theory, it could have been as small as a biscuit. Only it wasn’t, obviously. There is now talk of a lemon meringue pie fight to thrash it out next year.

And finally, courtesy of my good mate, Tuppence, here is a genuine advert from our local paper about a property for sale in The Enchanted Village.

Lush Places: A very attractive newly built semi-detached house in this popular Conversation village.

Conversation? Now we’re talking.

That’s about it

Love Maddie x

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

Mushroom surprise: a cautionary tale

It's fungus foraging time in this part of Dorset, with crocodiles of woodland treasure hunters trudging up to Bluebell Hill armed with baskets, a reliable guidebook and a heart full of hope.

They are searching for the penny bun, the name we give to the Cep, that most prized of mushrooms, which lurks on the forest floor beneath ancient beech trees.

As country children growing up, my four siblings and I stuck mostly to field mushrooms on the farm, cursing the townies for getting to them before we did.

These days, the Sunday and Saturday supplements are bursting with tales of forages and forays, as if everyone's doing it. Last year, I was lucky enough to go with a friend on a fungus foray with Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's expert John Wright, who knows a thing or two about mushrooms. He wrote the excellent Mushrooms: River Cottage Handbook No 1. You can hear about our foray here.

John is as delighted with a close-up inspection of a tiny orange toadstool sprouting from a cow pat as he is slicing off a piece of beefsteak fungus from a tree trunk and then taking it home for tea.

He knows what he is looking for. He knows what is edible and what is not.

If in doubt, let it lie.

The same thought came to my mind on Sunday as Mr Grigg lay sprawled out on the sofa, going greener and greener. Let him lie, I said to myself, because there was no way I was going to move him without kicking up a stink. Earlier that day, he had tizzled himself up a nice breakfast of chorizo and slivers of giant puffball, an edible and unmistakable fungus.

'Would you like some?' he asked, wafting the pan under my nose.

The greatest of all my senses is smell, closely followed by taste (which, of course, is exquisite). I can smell milk that has gone off even before it makes the life-changing decision to give up being wholesome. I knew I was going to give the Puffball Surprise the cold shoulder after catching a whiff of it from 60 paces. Just the smell of it made me feel sick.

Which is exactly what Mr Grigg felt as we were heading up the motorway for a 90th birthday party in Bristol several hours later.

'I've got to pull over,' he said, leaping out of the car on the hard shoulder before he had even put the handbrake on.

Sick as a dog, his skin went alternate shades of green and yellow, he was hot and cold and his pulse was racing. We spent the next hour-and-a-half in the hospital accident and emergency department, in between the waiting room and the lavatory. I could picture him in there blowing up like a puffer fish or Violet Beauregarde from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory while the campfire song Green and yeller rushed around on speed inside my head.

As it was, he made a full recovery. But I am just so pleased he didn't have his puffball breakfast a day earlier. On the Saturday we had celebrated Mr Loggins' special birthday up a creek on the River Dart in a 12-man canoe.

Still, at least he wouldn't have been without a paddle.

That's about it.

Love Maddie x

Sunday, 19 September 2010

Red light means danger

As I gaze from my window across the square this morning, the white-sand 'beach' installed outside the village shop is blemished.

Splatters of scraped-up cow dung stand out like a pimple on a clear-skinned 90-year-old. Mixed in with tyre prints and oil from leaking radiators, the beach installed by the council to denote where cars can park could do with a tidy up. Luckily, today is the day of the Great Dorset Beach Clean. Unluckily, The Enchanted Village is just a bit too far inland. Eight miles too far.

This week the council came to paint a 'No Entry' sign on the junction outside the pub. Not to stop the boozers going in but to prevent vehicles driving the wrong way up the one-way street. The traffic lights secured for the occasion had been found in the props department of an Ealing comedy. When they were green, the cars came through from the other direction and when they were red you were expected to proceed with caution.

As one female driver waited patiently at the red light, the council workman waved his hands and shooed her on.

'What is it with these people?' he yelled to no-one in particular. 'Can't they see that red means green? Bloody women drivers.'

That's about it.

Love Maddie x

Thursday, 16 September 2010

The Tamara Drewe Circus comes to town

When we got wind that a major film was being made in west Dorset last year, it was the talk of The Enchanted Village.

We were to be the epicentre, twixt Yetminster, Salway Ash and Blackdown where many of the scenes for Tamara Drewe were filmed.

A house we passed every day suddenly had a new fence. Not just any new fence, but a wibbly-wobbly, rustic-style fence. It looked like something from Babe.

‘Why would anyone put up such a stupid, hideous fence?’ my friend Pelly asked, before we realised this was the location for the ‘writers’ retreat’ run by central characters Beth and Nicholas Hardiment.

And then the trailers began to arrive. Cars and vehicles parked under an electricity pylon in the middle of a field. The Tamara Drewe Circus had come to town.

There was money to be made, deals to be struck. Celebrities wandered through Beaminster, flash cars drove through our lanes and a catering truck paid to park on the village allotments. There was swooning from period drama fans because Dominic Cooper was within range. Was it possible to cycle past the set, perhaps, and feign a puncture in the hope he might dash out to give his assistance?

Posters for the church fete bearing  the strapline ‘film location for Tamara Drewe’ attracted visitors by the thousands.

And now the film is out. Not surprisingly, the star of the show is the Dorset countryside.

There is no trace of My Kind of Town's rural Lidl in Frears’ rural idyll. Hell, even the electricity pylons look pretty. The wooded top of my beloved Bluebell Hill dominates long shots and you can almost feel the lush grass and smell the cows’ milky breath as the camera pans across the field.

The thought of even more self-absorbed, middle class people simultaneously romping around the luscious Dorset countryside and being up their own backsides fills me with dread: the people who complain about the long-established kebab shop next door to a newly-opened boutique hotel, the self-styled literati who condescend at the drop of a panama hat, the Badger Brigade who put a stop to housing developments and curse the farmers for wanting to cull dear old Brock for infecting cattle with TB.

When a woman reviewing Tamara Drewe remarked on Radio 4’s Front Row that the properties in Dorset looked so beautiful she wondered if any were for sale, the whole village heard my scream.

‘But, lady, the bloody cattle, ’I yelled. ‘They’re beasts.’

And do you know, I think I heard a heifer softly mooing in agreement, before being overrun by badgers.

That's about it.

Love Maddie x
PS An edited version of this appeared in The Guardian's G2 today.

PPS Tamara Drewe receives a gala showing in Bridport, Dorset, tomorrow night, when director Stephen Frears and writer Posy Simmonds will be among those attending, along with the local literati...

Saturday, 11 September 2010

Up the workers

On the afternoon walk, there are shiny conkers on the ground, disinterested sheep in the field and shots being fired across the valley.

The dog limbos under the gate to greet three walkers by growling and barking at them. This is unusual, because Bertie is usually quite polite. Then I recognise the rabbit-in-the-headlights look of one of the trio and realise the last time we met he was canvassing for my vote in the General Election.

It is Oliver Letwin, closely followed by a tall friend down for the weekend, who is trying desperately to get his phone to work.

'Fat chance, mate,' I say in my head. 'The Enchanted Village is a signal-free zone, as any fule kno.'

I then realise the very tall man is no fule, he is Charles Moore, one-time editor of The Sunday Torygraph, The Daily Torygraph and The Spectator.

I smile because I am more civil than my dog, which jumps in the stream and then comes out shaking water all over them.

Just up the lane, I spy Pelly Sheepwash through her window. She's on the computer.

It transpires that as a union member, she is online casting her vote for the next Labour leader.

'I've just voted for Ed,' she says and I say, 'that's nothing, I've just seen a brace of distinguised Conservatives up your lane and there's someone up there with a shotgun and do you think before they get shot we ought to buttonhole them about the burst water main that's been spilling down the road for the last fortnight and have a whinge about the new bollards and streetlights and, while they're at it, they could have an ice cream on the new village beach?'

'Uh, no,' she says. And then a look of mischief passes across her face as she spots the Letwin-Moore wagon in her parking space.

'I'm going to get my workers' rights poster and stick it on their windscreen.'

That's about it.

Love Maddie x

Friday, 10 September 2010

Pretty in pink

I am turning into a girly-girl. This is worrying, because for as long as I can remember I have been an ardent feminist. I used to get very indignant as a child when the rag doll Looby Loo secretly cleared up after Teddy and Andy Pandy had retired, knackered, for a sleep in the picnic basket. Why would she even think of doing that?

A few years later in the 1960s, however, I was a real Miss World fan. In our tiny primary school, we used to play Miss World in the playground. I was always a Scandinavian contestant who, although blonde and beautiful, disgraced herself by tripping over. I thought it added a bit more character, a bit more interest, to the role.

I didn’t think the two viewpoints were mutually exclusive. You could have beauty as well as brains and I always went for the underdog. Girl power. What I didn’t like was the traditional perception that a woman’s place was in the home where she looked after the children and did the housework. And nothing else.

That independent spirit has been with me throughout my life. I’ve always worked and my heavily pregnant daughter has inherited that same work ethic and, to be honest, I wish she would slow down. Mr Grigg calls it our stubborn streak but I like to think that - heaven forbid - we could survive if we had to.

So here I am, juggling a full time job with three part-time ones and do you know what’s really exciting me right now?

There is a package at home just waiting to be opened.

It’s a new vacuum cleaner.

What makes it even more exciting is that it’s a Hetty. Strong, tough, pretty…
And pink.

She has arrived courtesy of a villager who works at the Numatic factory in Chard. She’s cheaper than usual because she’s not Grade 1 quality (hoorah for the underdog). I am hoping this means she'll have a lop-sided smile or is cross-eyed. I like character in a vacuum cleaner.

I can't wait. Get the apron out of the drawer. Housework here I come.

That's about it.

Love Maddie x

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

One of those nights

This evening, I tear in from work, take the dogs for a tour around the maize field, stop off to give Pelly Sheepwash a cashmere scarf of turquoise blue, then ring Mrs Putter (a new face on the blog) about a book club she and I are going to run this autumn.

Both book lovers, but nothing too heavy (War and Peace brought me the onset of early labour resulting in Number One Son 21 years ago), we've decided to experiment with the circle of six. The rest of the club consists of dear Mrs Bancroft (I love her), Pelly (of course), Darling Loggins (who scares me, just a little bit) and Mrs Champagne-Charlie (who, I hope, will be in charge of liquid refreshments).

So Book Club begins next month but not before Mrs Putter and I get together to discuss ground rules later this week. It is our idea, after all, so what we say goes.

Anyway tonight, Mr Grigg comes home from work, accompanied by Mr Loggins whom he has found loitering outside. I have no time for chit chat, there is a pan of brown rice boiling on the stove and a washing machine full of whites ready to go. So I strip Mr G of his work shirt while he is in deep conversation and then, when the doorbell rings, dare him to answer it half naked because I know it will be Mrs Bancroft to collect me for our new singing group, my latest Big Idea.

This is the new choir set up after a drunken conversation between Caruso and me in the pub at Dudley's wake a few weeks ago. We are going to the old people's community hall to learn folk songs. What my fellow songsters do not realise is that there is to be a public performance at Christmas in our village hall, at an event featuring Mr Loggins and his merry band of Mummers and Mr Folk-Record-Producer, aka Ding Dong Daddy.

Mr Grigg goes to the door shirtless and then heads upstairs with what sounds like Champagne-Charlie. I waltz off through the front door with baritone Mr Loggins and then turn tail when I realise I have forgotten to take the washed towels upstairs. I get upstairs to find Mr Grigg, belly-a-all-hanging-out, discussing the new flooring with the carpet fitter.

Embarrassed, I mumble something about taking the shirt off Mr Grigg's back so as not to waste the washing machine water and then head off into the darkness with another man. It all sounds a bit odd. The carpet fitter, understandably, looks a little confused and keeps a respectable distance away from the Shirtless Man. He's heard all about village people.

Up at the communty hall, Caruso leads a group of 15 (not bad, for a drunken suggestion) in a collection of English folk songs.

It starts well, with Dashing Away with the Smoothing Iron, an apparently Somerset folk song I know from school, and then deteriorates into a litany of ditties mostly about nagging wives beaten into submission by their so-called better halves threatening them with a damn good yoking.

The faces around the semi-circle start to frown: Night Nurse scowls, Mrs B mouths the upper class equivalent of 'WTF?', Mamma Mia is thinking Abba songs would be much more fun, and my singing partner Mrs Regal Bird drops the song sheet in a coughing fit. At the end of the last verse where I am meekly meant to be singing 'cooks' I say 'cocks' by mistake. 

At half time, we gorge on Caruso's melting moments and Mr Putter starts singing Donald Where's Your Troosers? Then it's all off down the pub for a quick drink. 'Your usual?' the landlord ask me, as I pretend not to frequent the place now I'm with The Putters.

So after one glass of my own special wine, I make my excuses and leave. And then I realise Mr G has the house keys. And he's up at Nobby Odd-Job's, watching England playing Switzerland.

Just as I ring Nobby's doorbell, I can hear Mr G yelling as Switzerland score. I have jinxed the game. So I head off into Nobby's kitchen for a glass of wine and an opportunity to pore over the forbidden fruit of the Daily Mail and remind myself why I never read it.

So that's my evening. How about yours?

That's about it.

Love Maddie x

Sunday, 5 September 2010

Welcome to Lush Places-on-Sea

From my window, you can see the village square. It isn't typically English in the traditional sense - there is no market cross in the middle. But we have a village pump that people gossip around, a shop, a pub, a red telephone box and a village green behind a picket fence.

The square is bounded by old cottages, mostly dating back to Victorian times but, in the case of the Grigg hovel, the crick frame inside indicates its 16th century origins. There is a plaque on a cottage wall commemorating the visit in 1651 of a king on the run from the Roundheads.

It is an interesting square, a focal point, and many of the buildings are listed. You have to jump through various hoops in triplicate before you are allowed to carry out alterations. And quite right too.

However, if you are the county council, you can do what you like. In recent years we have had modern street lights that look like the monsters from the War of the Worlds movie. The lamp posts start in the square and then march down the road.
Two weeks ago, black plastic bollards appeared from nowhere and were put on the pavement in front of a handsome stone house - ostensibly to stop the owner parking on it, although a quiet word would have done the trick.

And now? Oh, you would not believe it. A white crescent of sand has materialised in front of the shop. It is meant to delineate where cars can park. But the talk in the pub is that the village has been taken over by the bureaucrats, whose standard response to the question 'why?' is 'Safe Routes to School'.

There is also a crescent of the same white sand in front of the house next door where cars can't park and then a long sandbar down to the school in lieu of a pavement.
Villagers want to set up a beach volleyball team to play on the sand under the floodlights. They want to get a photo of themselves in deckchairs, sunglasses and knotted handkerchiefs and send it to the Daily Mail.

No-one disputes the safety of children is paramount. But there are ways of doing things. And the way this saga has unfolded in the Enchanted Village is a prime example of how not do it.

'How dare they spoil our village,' said one.

'They don't have to live here,' wailed another.

Meanwhile, up the road on the village outskirts, where Bellows and his community-minded team have restored an unloved football field, the story is the other way round. The children, quite naturally, use a shortcut to get to the field. So Bellows and crew have carved out steps so they can still come and go. His team of parents has put up a wooden fence 'crash' barrier to stop the youngsters running out in the road and being flattened by speeding cars.

The same council has come down on them like a ton of sand. The fence is too close to the highway, apparently.

The reaction here? Bollards.

Pass me the bucket. I'm going to make a sandcastle.

That's about it.

Love Maddie x

Wednesday, 1 September 2010

Amaizing encounters

As the swallows preen themselves, making last minute preparations for their flight south, the water gurgles and burbles down the street. A burst main, ignored by the water board.

Across the road, the new water feature behind the gated gravelled drive of Monty Chocs-Away echoes in frustration on its endless, tinkling cycle. It yearns to be free like the youthful tributary in the road.

I walk through the hayfield and pick up the last hay of the season, freshly turned. I put it to my nose, breathe in deeply and smell the last days of summer and the early days of my childhood.

In the next field, the maize is as high as an elephant's eye and the path through it is unfamiliar, sinister, until you see the light at the end of the tunnel, the gateway down from Bluebell Hill and beyond. Every which way but loose.

It is a like a scene from Hitchcock's North by Northwest. Any minute, I expect a crop dusting plane to appear from nowhere as Cary Grant and Eva Marie Saint burst through the maize across my path.

'Oh, it's Roger Thornhill,' I will say and Cary will sweep me off my feet and kiss me, and Eva will look put out, because I am the first person in the whole film not to have mistaken him for CIA agent George Kaplan.

I emerge from the maize disappointed, only to find some nonchalant sheep grazing in the evening sun.

I pass a young man with a ring through his eyebrow accompanied by two giddy schoolgirls on their way up to the maize field.

'Awryte?' he says. He is no Cary Grant.

I make my way back up the road. A giant wooden toadstool put out for the rubbish men by Ted Moult and Jamie Lee gathers fungus outside their front gate.

And still the water burbles and gurgles down the street.

That's about it.

Love Maddie x

Monday, 30 August 2010

Smile, though your heart is aching

We arrive back in The Enchanted Village as night falls. Along the way we see wisps of woodsmoke and take in its lovely autumnal smell as it rises up out of clusters of chimneys. It has been another night of hospital visiting. Things are slowly improving, a fleeting smile on a face where before there was only terror. I will write about it some day. But not here, that is for another blog.

As we draw up outside our house, the church bells are ringing down after the weekly practice meeting. I meet Champagne-Charlie and his dog in the square as they come back from supper in the pub. Mrs Regal Bird is chatting to another bell ringer and Mrs Bancroft comes down to my doorstep bearing a tub of clotted cream for late night scones.

Mrs B is on a high. A first in the 'buttonhole for a gentleman' category at the village show. All I managed was a highly commended in the photographic section, an official 'well done for trying', for the most boring of all my pictures.

The biggest prize, though, came this evening when I thanked the hospital patient for my birthday money.

'I've bought a dress with it,' I said. 'Another dress.'

There were three rings of a breathless laugh from the bed and a squeeze of my hand.


That's about it.

Love Maddie x

Sunday, 29 August 2010

Somewhere over the rainbow

As I prepare my photographic entries for the village show tomorrow, I can see from inside that outside there is a rain soaked sky beginning to turn blue. The phone rings. It's a neighbour.

'Go outside,' they say. 'There's a rainbow.'

'And?' I reply, pretty non-plussed.

'It's upside down.'

Sure enough, there is a prismatic smile overhead.

So what's all that about?

That's about it.

Love Maddie x

Saturday, 28 August 2010

Party on with the village people

Mr Grigg has has a bad day. One of the people he loves most in the world is very ill. He comes home, weary after hours of sitting helplessly next to a hospital bed.

This evening, he is due to be main man at the party our fund raising group holds every year to say thank you to all our helpers. He picks himself up, dusts himself off and starts all over again.

It is the best tonic ever, and no gin required. As we sit around the hall, wearing sparkly outfits, pens and bingo cards on tables, Mr Grigg walks in with a pair of black, glittery wings strapped to his back, a present that had been set aside for the grand daughter. Tonight, Matthew, he becomes bingo caller for the evening, operating a very noisy toy machine made from plastic.

'On its own...16,' he calls from the stage, much to everyone's confusion.

'Two fat ladies...76.'

'What?' yells Mamma Mia from the back.

'Top of the shop...soixante neuf,' Mr Grig shouts, with a schoolboy grin. The vice-chairman of the parish council nearly falls off his chair.

'House!' Manual shrieks, and is promptly presented with the top prize of a lettuce.

It gets better. One table wins ice lollies for a line and the Parson's Daughter is told off for cheating in musical chairs after doing a scissor jump to an empty seat on the other side. The crowd walks casually along the line of chairs to The Who's My Generation. Monty Chocs-Away, with moustache waxed just for the evening, walks backwards and trips over Night Nurse.

Our dear old former neighbour, Gandalf, sits in a chair at the edge of the hall, looking very wise and thanking his lucky stars he moved out of the village last year.

Bellows gives a very sincere vote of thanks to the group, saying ours is the most important in the village.

'You're the lifeblood,' he says. 'You bring everyone together.'

I almost cry.

At the end of the evening, we clear up and Bing Crosby's dulcet tones come across on my amplified iPod, singing Don't Fence Me In. The Andrews Sisters are joined on harmonies by me, Mrs Bancroft, Night Nurse and The Loveliest Lady in the Village, who earlier I had made sure won musical chairs because I was doing the music.

And then Jailhouse Rock comes on and Mrs B starts playing air guitar and I dance around the room, jiving with a chair.

What we don't appreciate is that Mrs B's son-in-law is filming the entire thing on his phone.

That's about it.

Love Maddie x

Wednesday, 25 August 2010

Happy birthday to me

It’s my birthday today and it’s raining. It never rains on my birthday. There’s a time and a place for everything.

The seagulls are swirling inland, caw, caw, cawing, far away from stormy waters. The rooks dive-bomb a hovering buzzard and a passing car crunches an ambling snail.

My mother recalls this moment 49 years ago when she went out to the cowstalls at six-thirty, to take my father his morning cup of tea. A short while later, she bedded down in our front room and gave birth to me, the youngest of five (and only one of them a boy) at a quarter to nine.

When my father came in for breakfast the midwife told him he'd had another daughter. Family folklore says he turned round very quickly and headed back to the cowstalls.

But I was the youngest and spoilt rotten. Brown eyes like coal and nicknamed ‘Sausage’ because I was so deliciously fat. I was a terrific sulker who would dive under the nearest table if I didn’t get my own way. I once poured milk into the Roberts wireless because no-one was listening to me.

It still happens now occasionally – the table trick, I mean. I’m tempted to do it this morning in protest at the rain.

After opening my cards (with an especially slushy one from Mr Grigg) I drive along the top road next to the BBC World Service masts. But I give the radio a miss, listening instead to my birthday CDs, the Incredible Bongo Band and funk and soul classics from the 80s, the water spraying in my wake as I bellow to Chaka Khan .

It can rain all it likes. Today is a good day.

Saturday, 21 August 2010

It never rains but it pours...

A blanket of mizzle smothers The Enchanted Village.  Pairs of grumpy jackdaw babies, feathers ruffled, huddle on chimney pots. Swallows, trying desperately to be cheerful, swoop low to the ground in search of food. They dart in and out of the damp cattle, attempting to stir up some frivolity in the misty rain and peasouper fog.

Along the road in Trumpton, the weather has washed out fun day. It is doubtful the Red Arrows will be seen in the greyness, even if they miraculously managed to put in their planned appearance.  Down in My Kind of Town, carnival organisers are looking to the skies in advance of tonight's procession. Their hands are outstretched. They are saying 'why?'

Over the hill, Doc Martin and Men Behaving Badly star Martin Clunes is anxious for tomorrow. For the past year, he and his family have been planning their horse and dog show at Buckham Down. It raises thousands for the local hospice and comes complete with funfair and squid tent run by the Riverside Restaurant at West Bay, where Mr Grigg is planning to take me for my birthday next week.

Clunes has secured the most wonderful publicity for his fair, both locally and nationally, with page leads in the local papers and a front page feature in today's Daily Telegraph's Weekend section.  He's even got AA yellow signs pointing to his event.

But even he can't control the weather.

The British summer. Don't you just love it?

That's about it.

Love Maddie x

Thursday, 19 August 2010

Move over Ratzilla, there's a capybara on the loose

A rat the size of a bulldog has been shot dead on a Bradford council estate. Word is, the creature - dubbed 'Ratzilla' by The Sun newspaper - could be descended from the coypu, a large rodent native to South America.

I'm sorry Bradford, but we've got a rat the size of a flat-coated retriever  in The Enchanted Village. It's more like a capybara than a coypu. And it's getting bigger by the day.

Champagne-Charlie has been lying in wait for the monster from the safety of the garden shed while he keeps watch over the Sheepwash hens.

Mr Grigg and I dismissed the tale as something told by a big game hunter who's had one too many gins.

But C-C is adamant.

'It was about this long,' he said, doing an impersonation of a coarse fisherman who's narrowly missed landing a 5ft pike.

'Not only that, it had three little babies trailing in its wake.'

Not just a capybara, then, but a bloody pied piper.


That's about it.

Love Maddie x

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

It's just a complete load of bollards

There are a few things I dislike in life. Bureaucracy, bad manners and the destruction of natural beauty and the built environment are three of them.

I am a girl in love with her surroundings. It wounds me deeply when things are changed and not for the better.

Well my three pet hates have just happened here in The Enchanted Village, right under our noses. One day, while no-one was looking, two council workmen turned up and installed six bollards in front of the listed building next door. It now looks like a mini-version of Avebury. But unlike the mysterious stone circles of that famous Wiltshire village, this one is a semi-circle of the black plastic variety.

This is a village square with historical features that include an old pub, a commemorative plaque, a village pump and a red telephone box. It is quintessentially English.

Mrs Champagne-Charlie, who is so lovingly restoring the house, wailed: 'I can't believe they can just do that without telling anyone. If they had to do it, you'd think they would put in something more in keeping.'

She's right, although the plastic bollards seem to cower in an act of worship to the modern grey metal lamp post that sprang up outside the house a couple of years ago. The council apologised for putting this War of the Worlds monster in the pretty village square. Upholding an official complaint penned by yours truly, they said they'd learned valuable lessons about consulting the people.

Yeah, right.

That's about it.

Love Maddie x

Thursday, 12 August 2010

Stars in our eyes

The Perseids meteor shower - here's how it went. The link takes you to my friend's Real West Dorset website, where I have blogged under the Lush Places banner.

How was it for you?

That's about it.

Love Maddie x

Wednesday, 11 August 2010

Something wonderful this way comes

Today as I walk the dogs, there is a real what I call ‘a Melplash Show morning’ feel to the air.

Our local agricultural show is always at the end of August and it coincides with the slight chill and morning dew that signals the onset of autumn. The hedges are damp and smell of vegetation, decaying yet fruiting all at the same time. There are muddy puddles that sparkle with a splash of anticipation as the sun comes up. A hot air balloon drifts slowly, noiselessly, effortlessly across the Enchanted Village.

It is a Ray Bradbury story, but not Something Wicked This Way Comes. It’s called Something Very Good Is About To Happen.

I love the summer but I don’t mourn its passing. I embrace the autumn, the change in the seasons, the constant life cycle that reminds us it’s good to be alive. We are here only fleetingly but we are stardust. We are golden.

Tonight and tomorrow I will be trying to persuade Mr Grigg to come with me for an evening of adventure that will start just after midnight. I want to go to Dorset’s highest point and lay the blanket on the ground and look to the skies.

For this week, the Perseids, that most heavenly of meteor showers, are upon us. Astronomers say it could be the best show in years. Up to 80 meteors an hour whizzing through the night sky.

Bring it on.

That's about it.

Love Maddie x

Saturday, 7 August 2010

A toast to Dudley

As I sit here, the most beautiful piano music is coming from the stereo. I wish you could hear it: it's got a gentle, rising melody, sad chords and builds up to a hopeful and happy ending. It sounds like a film score.

It was composed and played by Dudley, who was buried yesterday in the village churchyard. As the many mourners filed out behind his coffin, I picked up one of his CDs that his family requested people to take.

They were astounded at the turn-out of villagers.

'We didn't realise he knew so many people,' his cousin said. 

It was a typical Enchanted Village day, with that misty mizzle swirling through the rooftops and in and out of the church gates.

'Do you know?' I said. 'He had his problems but we all loved him. He was Dudley. We'll miss him.'

The church was full of the great and the good, villagers, eccentrics and even a tramp, who had scrubbed up well for the day. He looked bewildered as he gazed out across the pews but here he was an equal. Behind me, an elderly gentleman with a big bushy beard pulled out a tie and belt from a small white suitcase and proceeded to change and comb his hair.

Night Nurse, behind him, was fascinated.

'He had lovely hands,' she told me later.

I looked around and everyone was there: Mamma Mia, Celebrity Farmer, Mr F Word and Camilla, the Popes, Hawkeye, Dudley's dear pal Caruso, Super Mario and Princess Peach, Manual and Mrs Regal Bird and two sets of ex-publicans. There would have been more there but Pelly and Mr Sheepwash, the lovely Mrs Bancroft and Nobby Odd-Job were all away.

In the pub afterwards, Mr Grigg drank so much he fell over and crashed into a table. A combine harvester went the wrong way up the one-way street outside the window. The village shop where Dudley used to go in early and do the papers, because he couldn't sleep, was closed while our shopkeepers attended the funeral. 

Hawkeye proposed to his long-time girlfriend and the ornamental hunting horns were taken off the ceiling with the usually shy landlady leading the bugle call as she galloped around the bar.

In the corner where Dudley once sat, the high-backed chair remained empty.

Caruso sang a song and we each raised a very large glass of Grand Marnier to Dudley's memory.

Here's to you Dudley. God bless.

That's about it.

Love Maddie x

Tuesday, 3 August 2010

Of august lineage

Even on the wastelands there is beauty to be found. The bindweed weaves its way up through a chain link fence, its tightly clasped flowers ready to unfurl into great white trumpets. Up above, a nodding bramble bears blackberries of green, red and black.

Down on Mr Grigg’s plot, there is fruit to be had. Blackcurrants in abundance, their smell on being picked taking me back to the 1970s when I earned 35p a bucket during the summer holidays. Crushed purple blackness on dextrous fingers.

The gooseberry bush with fruits we have missed – skeletal branches with fat and spiky globes hanging like pendants – and the odd raspberry, just one each, as a mouthwatering precursor to the harvest ahead.

August, the month of the long school holidays, daily plant watering, haymaking and my birthday. Perfect.

That's about it.

Love Maddie x

Thursday, 29 July 2010

Please vote for me...

I feel a bit of a sneak because I've pinched the idea from Milla, over at Country Lite. However, if you really do think I'm sexy or, more importantly, you like my blog, please click on Cosmopolitan magazine's link below and cast your vote in the 'lifestyle' section.

I'm not usually one for self-promotion but, honestly, your vote really does count.

I thank you. (And so I don't feel too guilty, maybe you could consider nominating Milla as well. But not at my expense, obviously).

That's about it.

Love Maddie x

Tuesday, 27 July 2010

Seeing red in The Enchanted Village

Colour prejudice isn't something we usually tolerate in The Enchanted Village.

The occasional odd remark in Compost Corner might sometimes go unchallenged in the pub. But more often than not the speaker will get the cold shoulder or be left out of the next round of drinks.

We’re used to seeing all sorts of people in the square, after Ding Dong Daddy, a purveyor of world music, moved here. In the shop, waiting at the bus stop or going for a walk up Bluebell Hill. Men in turbans and women in saris, children with dreadlocks. It’s all part and parcel of our global village.

But The Enchanted Village is beginning to see red. And it’s all to do with the traffic calming scheme, still unfinished after two years.

The road has been narrowed and the speed bumps are in, with street lights more like the aliens in War of the Worlds than the lamp posts marking the entrance to Narnia. When the county council threw the light switch, it was as if Dr Frankenstein had breathed life into his monster. The light was blinding.

There was pub talk of having a five-a-side football match in the square as a public protest at the new 'floodlights'. But the council got away with it. They said they were sorry they inflicted the lights on us without consent and 'lessons would be learned'. Which means the lights continue to glare away like evil eyes along a flight path while the boy racers take off over the speed bumps. And the modern lamp posts still visually slice attractive listed buildings in half.

The kerbless pavements have yet to be colour-coded, as originally planned, to separate the traffic from the pedestrians, leading to an interesting mix during term time when the children skip to school.

However, about six weeks ago, a man with an aerosol can of white paint and a high-visibility jacket sprayed the word ‘Buff’ on various parts of the pavement.

Villagers imagined a creamy off-white colour to complement the mellow stone listed buildings, or even a pale yellow-brown colour, like a biscuit. The sort you might dip into your tea while you were sitting on a rickety chair next to Aga. Our county councillor thought the same.

But on quizzing several council officials, the word on the street is that the colour buff is actually red.

So not content with littering the centre of The Enchanted Village with hideous 21st century lamp posts, interrogation lamps and a plethora of signage, it seems the powers-that-be intend to turn it into Red Square.

Our only hope, Obi Wan Kenobi, is that this idea will be part of the council’s £40 million budget cuts to reduce costs because the country is in the red. Or maybe that should be 'the buff'. And while it's there, can someone please turn out the lights?

That's about it.

Love Maddie x

Friday, 23 July 2010

The day the music died

A grey mist hangs over The Enchanted Village. It is not unusual, but it feels chilly, like an overcoat left in a cold hallway and then put on bare arms.

A tramp is booted out of the church after a lady doing the flowers discovers him relieving himself behind the organ. The incident leaves a blemish both physically and emotionally. It is not very nice. No gentleman of the road is he.

But the greyness seems apt for the news that greets me when I come back to the village this afternoon. One of my blog characters has to be removed from the cast list. Poor old Dudley, he of the Grand Marnier, red wine and Guinness, he of the magic musical fingers and beautiful mind, the organiser of jazz concerts in the church and in the hall.

Dudley was a troubled soul who everyone knew but no-one really knew very well. He was part and parcel of everyday life in The Enchanted Village, even though he would leave us for weeks on end to get away from it all.

The last time I saw him to speak to, he was in good spirits. The two of us were deep in conversation outside the pub while he had a fag and I escaped from the World Cup. He was looking forward to a new life in the Malvern Hills - a pipe dream, maybe, who knows - but he kept expressing his gratitude for the friendship he had found in The Enchanted Village even though sometimes being here was just all too much.

I understood his need to escape and was pleased to see him looking so happy and making plans. He had a new spring in his step, at least for a while. I thought at the time his move would never happen. And it never did.

Sir Edward Elgar, that most English of all composers for whom the Malverns were such an inspiration, said “My idea is that there is music in the air, music all around us, the world is full of it and you simply take as much as your require.”

Rest in peace Dudley, The Enchanted Village will miss you.

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 ...