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

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...