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

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...