Thursday, 29 April 2010

The first cuckoo of spring - and it's not Gordon Brown

The world rushes on around me. We have Indiana Brown on his Last Crusade dealing with the fallout from his very silly 'bigoted woman' remark (only the penitent man will pass Gordon, and you've still got the leap of faith to go), and politicians of all sides queuing up to have a pop at the weary leader. Meanwhile, in Greece, the economy is in tatters and Germany holds the purse strings.

But as I walk my dogs this morning, a sound fills me with such joy I know that, whatever happens, all is well with the world. The unmistakable voice of the cuckoo. Her call has not been heard here for years. It makes me smile.

The cuckoo flowers are washing the fields with drifts of pink, the bluebells are coming out on the banks and in the woods. And the swallows and house martins dart in and out of the square, chattering as they go. A pair of Brent geese flap by, pointing out places of interest along the way.

All we are waiting for is the ceremonial unveiling of the bronze nymph who welcomes people to our village. Her dad, who drives a vintage tractor with silk sunflowers stuffed in the grille, says it is still too cold for her at night. So when the poncho comes off, we will know summer is just around the corner.

That's about it

Love Maddie x

Monday, 26 April 2010

Noises off

The sound of church bells echoes out across the still, evening air. The six bells break out into a run of Whittington, named after the call by Bow bells to the medieval merchant, Dick Whittington: 'Turn again Whittington, Lord Mayor of London...'

It is bell ringing practice night in The Enchanted Village and the novices are improving. I was one once, and never really progressed from call changes. The weight of the bell terrified me as did its potential to inflict huge damage. I had visions of the bell crashing down through into the ringing chamber and enveloping me for eternity.

But I did like being in direct touch with history, making a sound with an instrument hundreds of years old.

Now, though, I am content to hear the ringers from the safety of my own home, listening through the world from my window.

The sound is different from yesterday, when a steam engine trundled through after stopping at the stream outside Posh Totty's house to take on water. The noise was enough to drag Number One Daughter's child from playing with her Transformers on our kitchen floor. She rushed out to the front door and yelled: 'Look granny, it's a train going through the village.' As a descendant of George Stephenson - he of the Rocket fame and known as the Father of the Railways - she knows what she is talking about. She is four-and-three-quarters (the three-quarters is very important) and has announced she wants to be a mechanic.

And this morning another sound. The eight o'clock bus does its usual reversing manoeuvre in the square. 'Peep, peep, peep,' it shrieks. Suddenly, there is an angry 'honk, honk, honk,' almost in retaliation. It is the alarm on Mr Grigg's Freeloader, which is parked outside. The bus has reversed into it.

Mr Grigg is working from home. But, as he is sitting at his laptop with nothing on apart from a large towel, he sends me out to inspect the damage. The bus has sped off sharpish up the road, with a sneer, a dust cloud in its wake and several bemused public schoolchildren gazing after it as they wait for their minibus.

But all is well. Even though the bus is probably a robot in disguise.

That's about it.

Love Maddie x

Sunday, 25 April 2010

They're under starter's orders...

I don't believe it. Me, a one-time-almost-hunt-saboteur as a teenager, in the sponsors' area at the annual point-to-point races. We have a stunning view of the racetrack, the paddock and it's just a short stroll to the bookies' stands.

I am not quite sure how I managed to get into this ringside position, with the hampers and champers, picnics and shooting sticks. The toffs' trousers - red and calf-scour yellow - the Dubarry boots and the ties and pullovers. It's not what you know, it's who you know, and with Mr and Mrs Champage-Charlie as chaperones, no-one bats an eyelid.

The point-to-point, you see, is run by the local hunt. I am a rural child but I am not a hunt fan, although my views have mellowed over the years, partly in reaction to an urban government imposing its will on its country cousins. So I justify my attendance as an observer, aided by my camera and notebook rather than aniseed spray.

On the first race, I place a very small bet on Tell All, a feisty little creature, while Mr Grigg put his money on Wilde Thing, a horse so laid back it could be a deckchair. The odds on Number 11 go up as an attractive, black stable lass helps lead the horse around the paddock.

'Oooh, I'm backing thic one there,' chorus a group of Young Farmers, wearing sweatshirts carrying various double entendres about squirrels, nuts and bushes. Classy.

Tell All runs out at the first fence, last seen nine miles down the road at Axminster. Wilde Thing comes in third, Mr Champagne-Charlie's horse, Twiggie, is still putting on the wrinkle cream in the M&S changing room, and his wife's steed, also backed by Mrs Bancroft, comes in first. The ladies are just raking it in.

A long refrain of what sounds like a horse breaking wind comes over the public address system, followed by a hectoring rant by the commentator to get the punters to vote Tory on May 6. A child locks himself in a four-by-four and plays a very noisy tune on the vehicle's horn while mummy, daddy, grandmama and grandpapa sit braying around the picnic table, drunk and oblivious.

The final race is sponsored by a firm of funeral directors. At the end of it all, Mrs Bancroft and Mrs Champagne-Charlie are £20 in pocket. Both Mr Grigg and Mr Champagne-Charlie have had two respectable wins. And me? Nothing. Not a bean. Too busy looking at everything else around me when I should have been studying form.

Through the champagne haze, a poster on the other side of the race circuit has been puzzling me for some time.

'Sexhausts and shocks' and then a number advertising a 24-hour service.

In a moment of revelation, I suddenly see another word at the beginning of the sentence. It now reads: 'Brakes exhausts and shocks' and is advertising a local garage.

That's about it.

Love Maddie x

Friday, 23 April 2010

A thought for St George's Day

One of our village luminaries, Ding Dong Daddy, has just been interviewed by Channel 4 News. It was a pretty terrifying experience, he says, but sometimes passionate people just have to do these things.

Bizarrely, he was sitting in front of a cake shop, the sun's rays bouncing off his head, and a scarf wrapped tightly around his neck. He was talking about Folk Against Fascism, a very visible and vocal campaign to kick into touch that political party of hate, the BNP.

Because, even more bizarrely, the BNP is claiming folk music as its own. BNP leader Nick Griffin claims to be a Kate Rusby fan and last year the party used a song called Roots as a soundtrack to a video on their website. It was written by Steve Knightley, who used to be a school teacher in Beaminster and is now one half of the folk duo Show of Hands. He was not amused.

Neither is another West Dorset-based musician, Billy Bragg, whose home town of Barking is being hijacked by the BNP.

So now, with the General Election coming up on May 6, the folkies have organised a village fete on London's South Bank on May Day bank holiday Sunday to show the world what we think about fascists. We no like.

My folk-singing uncle, the late George Withers, who I wrote about when he died last year, was an Englishman to the core. His renditions of old Somerset songs have been recorded for posterity. He would have firmly turned his back on the BNP, although he wouldn't have made a fuss, banged a loud bodhran or marched in a parade.

He was a tolerant, kind and understanding man. And he also very much believed in a diverse folk music scene.

Eddie Upton, from Folk South West, says: "George was a great upholder and advocate of traditional song, but he never felt that traditional songs were to be preserved in aspic."

A bit like the old image of England, one that never really existed. For centuries, this country has evolved, with settlers from various lands coming into this green and pleasant land. None of us can really claim to be 'pure' English. We are all a mish-mash, and all the better for it.

I know my uncle George would have heartily approved of Ding Dong Daddy's band, The Imagined Village. They recorded their album here right here in The Shire, in Ding Dong Daddy's garage, As their website states: "The sleepy village soon got used to seeing a turbaned Sikh percussionist, a female sitar player and folk dignitaries wandering about the place."

Here on this blog, so far the political shenanigans in The Enchanted Village have been lighthearted. I am hemmed in by Tory posters and the UKIP van drives by more often than Mr Whippy, but we should think ourselves lucky to have decent people, on the whole, standing to represent our very special corner of this sceptred isle.

So happy St George's Day, whatever your race, colour, creed or country of origin.

Incidentally, I think the dragon in this illustration was probably a fascist.

That's about it.

Love Maddie x

Thursday, 22 April 2010

The garden of delights

Hop, skip and jump across to my other blog Manor from Heaven. This glorious slice of Dorset has won fourth place in a top ten list of great British gardens.

The man who compiled the list must have visited on a day I wasn't manning the till, otherwise he might just be complaining to her Ladyship about being overcharged...

That's about it.

Love Maddie x

Monday, 19 April 2010

Oliver Letwin MP on my doorstep

Bugger me, that nice Mr Letwin has just knocked on my door, asking for my vote. Does he not know I've been accused of sedition by one of his most ardent supporters in this village?

'Hello, I'm Oliver Letwin,' he says.

And I nearly say 'Yes, I know, although you look different without the horns, moustache and specs.' But I don't. Obviously.

'Can I count on your vote?' he says.

'Well, at least one half of the household,' I say.

'Your husband? Are you wavering?' he says.

'You could say that,' I say, and then blurt out: 'I think you're a great constituency MP' as if I've got George Clooney on the doorstep.

Mr Letwin smiles sweetly. He is a very nice man, even if he did write the Conservative Party manifesto.

I shuffle, we both look embarrassed, the clock strikes thirteen and a tumbleweed blows past. Just as I wonder what to say, the frozen-moment chasm is filled by the UKIP ice cream van going by, flags-a-waving, a military march-a-blaring.

That's about it.

Love Maddie x
Publish Post

Friday, 16 April 2010

A real whodunnit as election fever rages

It's election time and the West Dorset countryside is awash with huge blue posters for our incumbent Tory MP, Oliver Letwin. Here and there, you see the odd splash of orange - a quiet, polite hoorah for the Liberal Democrats - but nothing at all for the others. I don't even know who our Labour candidate is. I'm aware, though, that our local Green Party candidate is a very gentle-looking Mrs Greene from Sherborne, who will probably get my vote for having the most appropriate name.

Politics is a personal thing. In the Grigg household, we don't talk about it much, as Mr Grigg and I sit on opposite sides of the fence, waiting for it to topple over.

He has never forgiven an old flatmate who completely ruined his Edward Du Cann sign by altering two letters in Cann and then stuck the poster in the window. Mr Grigg was nearly done for obscenity.

Over the years, there have been some inspired defacing of political signs. Oliver Letwin became LetwinD and outside the railway station, just over the border into Somerset, I see the Tory candidate's features have been removed to make him totally faceless.

In a nearby village, I saw two signs for what I thought were the Lib-Dems, only to find they were advertising llamas.

We steered clear of politics at the safari supper last week. But the subject reared its ugly head on Wednesday when Nobby Odd-Job, a retired policeman, announced he was conducting an investigation.

It appears one of the guests defaced an election leaflet in his study, giving that nice Mr Letwin horns, spectacles and a twirly moustache.

'That's sedition,' he said, sending Mrs Bancroft and me running to her dictionary to look it up.

'I have eliminated several suspects,' Nobby said, glaring at me intently.

Of course, I denied everything. What ever happened to innocent until proved guilty?

This morning, I receive an email:

Lengthy investigations reveal:
'The journalist with the pen in the study' to be the main suspect'

A minute later, the UKIP battle van pulls up outside my house, with flags a-waving and loudspeaker a-hailing.

While the driver goes to the shop for his Daily Mail, I am half tempted to stick a banana up the van's exhaust pipe. But I think better of it. Would I get legal aid for a charge of sedition? Probably not.

That's about it.

Love Maddie x

Thursday, 15 April 2010

The Candy Man Can't

The washing machine repair man came this week to fix the Hoover, one-year-and-one-month-old and out of warranty.

Parts are free for five years but labour is not, so when the thing suddenly sounded on the spin cycle like the Hadron Collider, we made some calls. As the one-year warranty was up, the only thing we could do was take out insurance there and then, at a cost of around £130. This, we were told, would pay for the labour, call-out and also protect us in future.

It took nearly three weeks to be fixed. In the interim, I have been running across the road with baskets of dirty laundry, diving into my neighbour's house to use her machine while she was away. But there are only so many times you can avail yourself of such kindness. So, in the meantime, the washing has piled up. And this week, the Grigg household resembles a Chinese laundry.

The repair man came from Hoover Candy on Tuesday. He was very sweet, with a lovely Westcountry accent and one of those rotund bodies only a Weeble wife could love. He took an-hour-and-half to do the job and at one point the washing machine was an empty shell. He told me I'd been given a new front and had about £300 worth of parts. He said it in a way that made me feel like I should be grateful.

It would have been more cost effective for the Hoover Candy people to give me a new washing machine.

When I asked him what could be done about the slight damage to the outer casing just below the door, which was caused by the bolt shearing off inside, he just shrugged.

"The protective coating has started to chip off and I'm worried it might go rusty,' I said.

'It won't go rusty,' he assured me, cheerfully. 'Only if it gets wet.'

It's a washing machine. Wet things come out of washing machines.

'Have you got any white nail varnish?' he said.

Do I look like a Chav?

'Well, paint, then, or Tippex, that should do it.'

The thing I am most annoyed about is not how I blithely said: 'Oh, um, OK then', but what happened next.

On his way out to the van, he pointed to the doorstep.

'I've left a big load of cardboard there, is that all right love?' he said. 'I can't carry it in the van. Oh, and yes, a piece of concrete.'

'Thanks very much,' I said, with no hint of sarcasm.

If I'd had quicker reactions, I would have picked up the ruddy concrete block, hurled it at him like a boomerang and knocked the bastard out.
But then Weebles wobble but they don't fall down.

That's about it.

Love Maddie x

Tuesday, 13 April 2010

Round and round the spin cycle

I am still smarting at today's visit by the washing machine repair man. When I get over my quiet rage, I shall be blogging and then naming the post The Candy Man Can't.

In the meantime, please hop across to Manor from Heaven for pictures of Dorset gardens in early spring.

That's about it

Love Maddie x

Sunday, 11 April 2010

Something for the weekend

A young man in a suit supervises the children in their pretty dresses and best trousers. They screech around the village green, jumping on and off swings, rattling through the play fort and whizzing down the slide. The bells ring out across the square and the sun beats down as people go to the shop for their papers and lottery tickets while guests in their glad rags get out from their cars to go to church.

A village wedding, and everyone has a spring in their step.

Super Mario paints the outside of the shop, where the 'for sale' sign still hangs ominously on the corner. Mr Grigg and Mr Loggins drive by with Nobby Odd-Job's trailer, fetching bits of wood from the Love Shack demolition site. At the village pump, the long-lost figure of Larry the Landlord, now in exile in Sherborne, gossips with Ding Dong Daddy, he of the Imagined Village fame. Ding Dong's arms flail around wildly as if he is an orchestra conductor.

In the evening, a safari supper around six houses, a gastronomic tour of the village where, as well as good food, we discover secret gardens and staircases.

This morning, a lie-in and two freshly-gutted rabbits in a bag on the doorstep. It's been a good weekend. How was yours?

That's about it.

Love Maddie x

Saturday, 10 April 2010

Manor from heaven

Hop across to Manor from Heaven for the latest update on glorious Mapperton. And if you could find your way to being a follower, I'd be eternally grateful. It may even mean a pay rise.

That's about it.

Love Maddie x

Friday, 9 April 2010

The four seasons, by Land Rover

The sun is beating down in Mu Mu Land, bathing The Enchanted Village in bright light and glorious heat.

I drop off Number One Son at the railway station with a snowboard the length of the Panama Canal under his arm. Cruising home in the Freeloader, driving through country lanes to avoid the main road and its stationary cars, The Mamas and the Papas are singing 'It's gettin' bedder..' while I do accompanying yelling on harmonies.

A large Landrover Discovery approaches but doesn't appear to be slowing down. The driver seems to be an upper class twit in a flat cap.

We edge past each other in the narrowest part of the lane. We are just about to do synchronised growling through open windows when I realise it's Mr Champagne-Charlie.

'I didn't think you were going to stop,' he says.

'I didn't think you were either,' I say. 'I thought you were...'

Mrs Champagne-Charlie's voice pipes up from the passenger seat: 'An ass in a hat?'

Not only my next-door neighbour but telepathic too.

I drive on to the top of Loggins Lane, where the Love Shack used to be. The only thing left now is a solitary chimney and fireplace, a monolith surrounded by wasteland, with one of the best views in Dorset.

A 'proper', old-style Land Rover chugs up the hill. I come to a halt and as the driver passes, he waves like the Queen to thank me for stopping. It's Celebrity Farmer.

Around the corner, Nobby Odd-Job's Range Rover gleams as it stands in his driveway.

Four four by fours. Have a happy weekend.

That's about it.

Love Maddie x

Wednesday, 7 April 2010

Welcome home Mrs B

Down in the woods, the rooks are flocking around penthouse nests high in the trees. The muddy ground is covered in sloppy bird droppings and the spaniel hares off after a pheasant in the undergrowth. Across the field, the sheep huddle in one spot with their lambs, the chiffchaff chiffchaffs merrily and there is a great pile of badger's poo next to a goalpost on the sports field.

The weather is spring-like today, which is a lucky omen for my friend, neighbour and wise counsel Mrs Bancroft. She arrives home today after a five-month trip taking in Hong Kong, Australia, New Zealand and America. The front of her home is alive with tulips, narcissi and violas.

It could have been so much different. Mr Grigg was planning to put up a To Let sign outside the house while I constructed a requisition 'letter' from the Home Office to attach to Mrs Bancroft's front door. But the road to hell is paved with good intentions, and it certainly is down this street. We simply ran out of time.

So the homecoming is not quite as planned. But she will find a vase of tulips indoors from Nobby Odd-Job and a balloon-modelled flower created by Number One Son and placed in a Starbucks mug on her kitchen table.

We thought about blowing up a long green balloon and sticking it in her letterbox with a note to say the Martians had landed. But she needs to be eased back into village life gently. At least for a bit.

That's about it.

Love Maddie x

Friday, 2 April 2010

For Enchanted Village read Llareggub

Last night, I went to the Marine Theatre at Lyme Regis to see Guy Masterson's show Under Milk Wood. It was a wonderful one-man encapsulation of the comedy, sadness and lyrical beauty of Dylan Thomas's radio play. The dreams and nightmares of ordinary people in a small town, wishes that will never come true and memories of the long-dead.

It is a book I remember well from school, where we read it in class and I was always cast as Polly Garter, with her dress up over her head having babies. It has been in and out and around my brain for years: 'And before you let the sun in, mind it wipes its shoes.'

My own Enchanted Village is a bit like Llareggub, with its own versions of Ocky Milkman, Dai Bread and his two wives, No Good Boyo, the Ogmore-Pritchards, Organ Morgan, Willy Nilly the postman (he knows the contents of all the letters he delivers) and the long-suffering Mr Pugh, who fantasises about murdering his dreadful wife.

As I write this, Mr Grigg has just popped next door to invite Mr and Mrs Champage-Charlie to supper. He has been gone for three-quarters of an hour. It won't be tea he's drinking. I have some arsenic waiting for him if he's there for too long.

Earlier, a cast of characters gathered for hot cross buns and cups of tea in the village hall. The rain lashed down heavily, choir practice ended early - they're martyrs to that church - and there was a smell of wee on the stage.

Celebrity Farmer just drove by in his tractor - the Porsche might come out on Easter Sunday -and a for sale sign has gone up on the shop. And in the hall, Nobby Odd-Job was in charge of the raffle, Darling Loggins sulked because she didn't win the chutney and the Sheepwash children and Number One Son never turned up because they were still in bed.

Up on the hill, Mr Loggins bashed down the Love Shack until only a Parthenon gable remained.

'Someone's coming to take the windle,' he said. I think he meant window. He said 'chimbley' in the next sentence.

Down by the sea, walkers at Lyme Regis mooched along the Cobb.

The steps known as Granny's Teeth gleamed in the sun.

Waves lashed the end of the Cobb.

Drenching silly passers-by.

While, down the coast at West Bay, the sun came out.

And the golden cliffs waited quietly on the eastern wings.

Happy Easter weekend, wherever you are.

That's about it.

Love Maddie x

Batten down those hatches, it's recycling day

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