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

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...