Saturday, 30 April 2011

Mad hats, union flags and afternoon tea: a very English royal wedding

The union flags fluttered in the breeze as Champagne-Charlie walked into the village shop for dog food and a paper.

He doffed his top hat at the shop assistant, who minutes later was serving an equally elegant Mrs Bancroft and the fragrant Mrs Putter.

We watched the wedding in between mouthfuls of bacon and scallops and sips of champagne. The Archbishop of Canterbury looked like the holy goat and the trees were brought into Westminster Abbey for Prince Charles to talk to.

We loved the kiss on the balcony but there were gasps at the hideous kinky sisters, Beatrice and Eugenie, who had come as pantomime dames for the day. Timmy Mallet and Christopher Biggins had never looked finer.

'What has she got on her head?' Champagne-Charlie said. 'It looks like something I shot in Africa.'

It knocked all of the creations at our afternoon tea party in the village hall into a cocked hat.

There were multi-coloured stovepipes, Carmen Mirandas, union flag bowlers and tiaras. But nothing topped what Beatrice was wearing. Talk about Emperor's New Clothes. I can only think they did it deliberately, knowing they'd be sitting behind the Queen so made a fashion protest at not having their mother there.

They should have taken some style advice from Champagne-Charlie's wife, Bubbles.

We waved our flags, ate our dainty sandwiches, guessed whose wedding dresses were hanging up around the hall and then tucked into wedding cake.

A splendid day. How was yours?

That's about it.

Love Maddie x

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

A right Royal knees-up

A nation holds its collective breath as one half of the country is gripped by Royal Wedding fever and the other decides to use the extra day off work to go shopping.

It’s a bit like that in The Enchanted Village. There will be those of us who will ignore all the fuss this Friday and instead climb up to Bluebell Hill. Our souls will vacuum up the carpet of loveliness in between the beech trees. And then we'll gaze out from the Scots pine to the sublime view across vale and sea.

I’d like to think that would be me: free spirit, free thinker and not even a conservative with a small ‘c’. But that’ll be the Sheepwash household then. A family of principles and no time for tosh.

And then there will be others, like the Griggs, the Bancrofts, the Champagne-Charlies and the Putters who will be rah-rah-rah-ing it in the village hall in the afternoon. We’ll have bunting, union flags and jelly and ice cream.

We’ll drink from pretty teacups collected by the elfin Tuppence, using teapots provided by Mr and Mrs Pope. There will be hats, mad hats, and general frivolity. Posh Totty ought to be there, in killer heels and a frilly frock, Mr St John in freshly-pressed shorts and Mr and Mrs Loggins in matching cummerbunds.

There’ll be a raffle with prizes provided by me – a bottle of Lambrini, fridge magnets, Easter eggs and commemorative mugs, including this little beauty, below, on the left.

Look closely...’s showing the wrong prince.

I’d like to say I’m above all this royal-ness. I not too keen on the privileged few and certainly don’t like the hangers-on and have absolutely no time for silver spoon mentality.

However, this mad hatter’s tea party is actually my idea. I love any excuse to get people together, and Mr Grigg rises like a colossus when the word ‘party’ is mentioned. He is the host with the most.

And whilst I’ve been convincing myself I actually won’t be watching the Big Event in the morning, I shall be taking a sneak peep every now and then. I shall tell everybody I’m not that interested and only watching it to spot the dress made by my brother-in-law for a very important guest and seeing if I can make out my dear niece’s boyfriend banging on a side drum with the regimental band in the courtyard of Buckingham Palace.

But everyone loves a good wedding, don’t they? And this is history in the making.

So mad hats off to Wills and Kate. The cast of The Enchanted Village wishes them well.

That's about it.

Love Maddie x

Friday, 22 April 2011

Only connect

As the church strikes eight o'clock across a still village square, the blinds come up on the shop window and customers line up on the pavement outside to get their Good Friday paper. Even on a bank holiday, there is not much time for a rest for the shopkeeper and his little band of helpers.

Dandelion clocks breeze across the fields, much too early for this time of year. We are living in a hazy heatwave this past week, summer has arrived and it is still only April.

On the church tower, the union flag is still flying to mark the Queen's (real) birthday yesterday. Hot cross buns are waiting in the wings to come out at The Enchanted Village hall a little while later. We will gather and natter, have tea and coffee, sitting out at tables and chairs arranged in the car park and soaking up this glorious weather.

And we will say: 'I just can't believe all this sunshine. Isn't it wonderful?'

This morning we emerge from the hovel after a surreal night on the tiles with Mr Grigg's skittles team.

Rewind to last night at the annual prizegiving dinner at a holiday camp down by the sea, when the country's second richest woman next to the Queen hands out the prizes to the predominantly farming fraternity.

There are no prizes for our table apart from Manual, who walks away with a wooden spoon for the lowest score.

Meanwhile, I have a running commentary on my left as one of Mr Grigg's skittling colleagues tells me who everyone is and their complete family history. The narrator in my ear is perfect. I am fascinated by the connections in the farming world, fascinated by people in general.

So I work out that one elderly gentleman is my uncle's cousin. I introduce myself to an almost blind 87-year-old who still manages the occasional flopper (for the uninitiated, this is when you knock down all the skittles with one ball).

'I don't have to worry about drinking and driving,' he says. 'Because I can't drive.'

Then an ebullient woman I have never met comes over and hugs Mr Grigg.

'I didn't recognise you!' she says.

He turns to me and says: 'This is Nurse Gladys.'

'What, the one who gave you the rectal examination?'

Mr Grigg gulps and nods, all at the same time.

'No wonder she didn't recognise you,' I say.

That's about it.

Love Maddie x

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

The Pyjama Game

On Bluebell Hill, the fronds of ferns are beginning to uncurl. The bluebells are beginning to burst into bloom and the hill is beginning to come alive with the sound of walkers.

Mr Grigg, on two weeks' leave, decides to have an early morning route march up and over the hill during the next fortnight, to reclaim his once-trim figure. He wants it back, you see, and the daily brisk walk up Bluebell Hill is the only way to achieve it.

I found this commitment highly commendable, until I accompanied him at the weekend.

We walked past Tuppence's house, where the petite householder was busy pushing a flymo up and down the grass, like a dolly trying to manhandle a supermarket trolley. As she paused for breath, Mr Grigg went by and did his jaw-dropping-to-the-floor stare.

She was wearing the sort of skimpy shorts I last saw on a savvy and provocative fifteen-year-old.

He complimented her on her attire.

'Oh, these are my pyjamas,' she said.

Now he's talking about doing the route march twice a day. I really can't imagine why.

That's about it.

Love Maddie x

Friday, 15 April 2011

The Enchanted Village does the royal wedding

The cuckoo flowers are in drifts across the fields There are dandelions, nettles, honesty. Bluebells line the banks and a new baby is born to the Sheepwash household. Welcome to the world, little one.

In The Enchanted Village, the lovely Mrs Bancroft and I are planning a mad hatter's tea party to celebrate the impending nuptials of Prince William and Kate Middleton. My friend, Tuppence, has helped me collect lots of pretty china and we'll dot it around long trestle tables lined with union jacks, jelly, sandwiches and cake.

As I showed Mrs B the poster I had prepared for the event, she said: 'Yes, it's very nice. But you haven't actually mentioned the royal wedding.'

'Oh, do I have to?' I said like a petulant teenager.

I, you see, am by no means a monarchist. I get tired of all the hangers-on, the cap doffing, the cow-towing. But any excuse for a party and I'm right there in amongst it all. Any excuse for the village to get together and have a good time on an extra bank holiday.

And it's not about the Big Society, hijacked by the Government as if it invented community spirit. It's about people doing things together, in a spirit of oneness, cavaliers and roundheads alike.

So we're looking forward to a village party, where we can all bring food to share and marvel at our millinery magic. Although I wouldn't be at all surprised if Mr and Mrs Champagne-Charlie have been invited to the real deal.

That's about it.

Love Maddie x

Sunday, 10 April 2011

Something to celebrate

I am sitting here, sipping champagne as Mr Grigg does some DIY in the garage just before the sun goes down.

Forgive the decadence, but if you read my last post, you'll understand why I'm celebrating. Not only did my knitting Land Girl colleague and I win the best exhibition stand, we also had a visit from a certain former MP.

Yay! Here he is trying to put the country's economic woes to rights by having a go on the roll-a-penny, which my dear old aunt made before decimalisation.

From those dizzy heights, it was off to Maiden Castle, near Dorchester, where the grandchildren, Mr Grigg and I played Ancient Romans.

'Not sure you did very much,' Mr Grigg said, weary after all that marching.

'I had a very important job,' I said. 'I was giving out the orders. My name is Maximus Decimus Meridius.'

And today, as the sun beat down on our backs, they were under starters orders for the annual point-to-point races just a hop, skip and a trot away from The Enchanted Village.

The horses were so well dressed, they were all wearing Boden.

And with my hosts, Mr and Mrs Champagne-Charlie, there was only one thing we could possibly put in our glasses.

So there we are, back to the beginning.

That's about it.

Love Maddie x

Thursday, 7 April 2011

Keeping the home fires burning

The world from my window is very different this evening. Instead of looking out on to the village square, with its red telephone box, pub, corner shop and parish pump, I'm gazing out across the sea from the South Devon Riveria.

It's a warm and balmy night and the sea is like blue mercury, still and silent. I can hear birds tweeting and the television in the room upstairs where my colleague is putting her feet up after a long, hard day.

Mr Grigg is keeping the home fires burning while I am in Torquay, staying at the hotel that inspired John Cleese to write Fawlty Towers. Honestly. Although the view from my hotel room is absoluletly stunning. If I squint my eyes a bit I can just make out a herd of wildebeest sweeping majestically across the plain.

This evening we will be putting on our posh frocks and dancing shoes for a gala dinner before retiring sensibly to prepare ourselves for another long day tomorrow manning an exhibition stand.

The theme is Opportunities in The Time of Austerity and my granny's old china has been dusted off and knitting needles brought out as my colleague and I, dressed as Land Girls, make do and mend and smile bright red lipstick smiles at all who pass by. To demonstrate value for money, we have recycled last year's stand and added to it, with a vintage roll-a-penny board (made by my late aunt), and a table set for tea for two, with photos of our sweethearts, ration books and a spotter's guide to bombers interspersed among the cupcakes.

We have become known as The Knitting Ladies as we sit in our tartan rug-covered chairs click-clacking away as we pull in the punters to take part in our games.

I swear my colleague will punch someone if we do not win the prize for the best stand. I'm not worried about that - my aim is to catch the eye of guest speaker Michael Portillo as he walks around the exhibition hall in the morning.

He will make a beeline for us, pick up our dropped stitches and then pose for a photograph, as the company logo hovers just above his head.

That's the plan, at least.

That's about it.

Love Maddie x

Sunday, 3 April 2011

Put the kettle on, it's Mothering Sunday

This morning we scrabble around for the electric kettle after turning off the Aga.

This might not seem a very exciting first sentence to a blog post but there is a point to it, believe me.

Mr Grigg finds the lead, sprays me with water as he attempts to fill the kettle up at the sink while I'm peeling potatoes and then goes off in a huff to see his dear old mum with an orchid after I tell him off for whistling tunelessly to the theme from Gladiator.

Peace at last. I contemplate a pottering kind of morning, preparing a family buffet while listening to music as loud and tuneful as I like.

Today it is the stirring tunes of Hans Zimmer. It is Mothering Sunday, it is my day and I get to choose the music.

'My name is Maximus Decimus Meridius, Commander of the Armies of the North, General of the Felix Legions, loyal servant to the true emperor, Marcus Aurelius. Father to a murdered son, husband to a murdered wife. And I will have my vengeance, in this life or the next.'

I put the kettle on, promising myself the reward of a nice cup of tea after I've polished the table.

The phone rings. A Welshman, whose accent is so strong I can only decipher the word 'car', rambles on.

I realise he enquiring about my ancient VW Beetle, my pride and joy, my primrose yellow cabriolet peril, my 1969 bundle of loveliness, which I have just advertised for sale.

'What can you tell me about it?' he says (well, I think that's what he says).

'What do you want to know?'

It goes on like this for a bit longer and then the doorbell rings. I get to the door, can't find the keys and look out the window. It is Celebrity Farmer's mother. I knock at the glass and indicate that I can't find the keys and I'm also on the phone.

I rush off to get the keys while the Welshman in my ear says: 'Well, what's your best price?' and Russell Crowe says with a laugh: 'You knew Marcus Aurelius?' and Oliver Reed says: 'I did not say I knew him. I said he touched me on the shoulder.'

I think in my head that the man from the Rhondda Valley is actually meant to haggle and then I'm thankful Mr Grigg isn't here because he'd charge double the asking price just because the man is Welsh.

I find the keys, struggle with the lock and open the door.

Celebrity Farmer's mum says something about the church boiler not working and the congregation needing a kettle for the Mothering Sunday service.

Still on the phone trying to do a deal, I gesture to her to follow me to the kitchen where I hand over the kettle.

She goes out, saying : 'Thank goodness for the Griggs', the Welshman rings off and I'm desperate for a cup of tea. But there's no kettle.

The phone goes again, it's Mrs Bancroft ringing me by mistake but before she can put the receiver down, I yell out: 'Can I come over and get a cup of boiling water?'

'Yes, but you'd better be quick,' she says. 'I'm off to church.'

I dash out in my friesan cow-print pinny, carrying pink spotty cup aloft as the bus does its peeping three point turn around the square.

I come back, settle down to write this blog, cup of tea in hand, and then the doorbell rings again.

'Bugger off,' I say out loud. 'It's Mother's Day and I'm not in.'

Then having visions of the Interflora man turning away with a huge bouquet because he can't deliver it, I get up, only to find an ex-neighbour at the door with a dozen posters advertising a Hot Cross Bun morning in the village on Good Friday.

So now I'm finally sitting down, with cup of cold tea. It could be worse. I could be in Elysium, and already dead.

That's about it.

Love Maddie x

Friday, 1 April 2011

One fine day

No sooner is the cherry blossom out then down comes the wind, swooping off the mist-encrusted top of Bluebell Hill, down, down into The Enchanted Village.

At the front of Monty Chocs-Away's house, the blossom forms a carpet of pink, blown up like confetti by the breeze, swirling around in ever decreasing circles.

Down the road, Bellows Packman's goats bleat and the sheep in the field call out. A woodpecker rat-a-tats and a jackdaw dives down Champagne-Charlie's chimney with a large twig in its beak.

Past Tuppence's house there is an exotic smell of patchouli. In the Sheepwash pond the frog spawn is holding its breath before bursting into life.

The village is a tableau, poised, ready and waiting for something to happen.

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...