Saturday, 28 April 2012

Lush Places: why I love where I live

This is the piece I read out on World Book Night for the new book Dorset Voices:

Let me take you now to Lush Places, an enchanted village where the luvvies seldom venture, where the mist swirls around and around the top of Bluebell Hill like a maelstrom.

Just down the road is that well-heeled, genteel little Dorset town whose name all non-locals mispronounce.

‘We love Bee-minster,’ they say, their unintentional mistake instantly revealing that they are not of this county.

They don’t see the bored youngsters on a Saturday night, the sad, drug-taking loser in a dirty flat, the lonely old lady living on her own, and the couple yelling at each other in front of their children and a blaring television.

‘And we just love Bridport,’ the incomers say. It’s so arty, so Bohemian, so cosmopolitan.’

And as they venture through the artists’ quarter, picking up pieces of distressed furniture for next to nothing but making a tidy profit for their owners who bought it from Lawrences’ auction, they make their way to Waitrose for some figs and Parma ham and a bunch of flowers from the stall outside.

They wander along the street market, picking up pieces of junk and muttering that they used to have something like that and should never have got rid of it.

They walk by the Big Issue seller and the man with the tattooed neck, the woman with a large behind who is wearing leggings and a snotty-faced child who still has a dummy at the age of four.

They don’t see the shoplifter hovering around Frosts, the deals going on up narrow alleys or the mad woman made mad by the man who abused her.
Likewise, Lush Places, does not appear on the incomers’ radar. It ducks it, scrambles it or does whatever it needs to do to avoid detection. It limbos under the Beautiful Bar and if you ever find it, it will be purely by chance.

And if you go back to try to find it again, it won’t be there, it will have disappeared. While the sun beats down in upmarket Beaminster and glows along Bridport’s South Street like a blazing spacehopper, Lush Places quietly gets on with everyday life, unhindered by tourists, the crowds and even people who just want to get away from it all.

It is protected by a bubble of mist and reveals itself only when it knows the incomers have gone home for the day, or are safely tucked up in their boutique hotel beds and quaint B&Bs.

This is the place where I live, the place I love, where three-legged cats go hunting at night, gutted rabbits are left as gifts by a gamekeeper in the morning and an unhealthy interest is taken by the neighbours in other people’s recycling.

It’s where when my washing machine and tumble dryer break down, I can rely on a neighbour to not only provide me with an alternative but to offer to do the ironing too.

It is a place where when a Londoner scrapes my car while doing a U-turn and then says this kind of thing happens all the time in Highgate you can be sure that three people have clocked his registration number and a fourth has offered to rearrange his kneecaps.

It is a place where when I fall off my bike into a hedge after too many drinks at a party down the road, a passing policeman tells my husband who is cycling ahead that he has just seen me crash, but can’t stop to help because he’s looking for poachers.

It’s a place where we take direct action against obtrusive street lighting, which pokes its beams into our bedrooms in the name of Dorset County Council improvements, by getting licensed deer stalker Mr Champagne-Charlie to take each one out, individually, with a well- aimed rifle.

It’s a place where the drinkers keep on drinking, yet the publican doesn’t have enough trade to keep him afloat. It’s where the Jehovah’s Witnesses arrive en masse, determined to shake up this godless place once and for all.
It’s the place where when a door-to-door salesman makes an unwanted call on an elderly neighbour, the village folk step in and direct him to Beaminster. Where when a man trips over the kerb, six arms reach out to break his fall.

I see a lot of things.
That's about it (although there is more, as you'll find out if you get the book)

Love Maddie x

Sunday, 22 April 2012

The Open University: open to all

I stood at the side of the stage. A woman in a gown a bit like mine and a very cheery face whispered: 'Don't worry, you'll be fine.'
And then my name was read out, there was applause and I walked out across to the pro-vice chancellor of The Open University. He congratulated me as he shook my hand.

'Was it an enjoyable experience?' he said.

'Fantastic,' I said.

'What next?'

'I think I'm going to cry.'

'Ah, best not,' he said, as he squeezed my shoulder and sent me on my way.

There, in the audience, was my sister, my brother-in-law, my parents, my friend Pelly and Number One Son. And there in the aisle to greet me, camera in hand, was Mr Grigg.

'I'm so proud of you,' he said. 'Well done.'

And that nearly set me off again.

The audience fanned themselves with the OU programme, which gave details of the honorary degrees being conferred this year. Among the recipients are physicist, television presenter and former rock star Professor Brian Cox, singer Annie Lennox, photographer David Bailey, science fiction novelist Cory Doctorow, child-protection campaigner Sara Payne and sportswoman Dame Mary Peters.

And still they filed across the stage. Young and old, able bodied and not so able bodied. A man who looked like he was Edward and James Fox's older brother picked up an MA in art history. A woman with painted nails the length of Italy, a chief executive of a care home business and a music teacher who winced when the brass band hit a bum note collected BAs in English literature, nursing studies and modern languages.

A man with a long, blond pony tail and a guide dog, a young lady with a terribly long-winded name, several women with newly-cut bobs, a car salesman, a girl who looked little more than a child, someone's uncle, brother, father and someone else's mother, best friend and daughter picked up BScs in environmental studies, geoscience, information and communication technology, molecular science, mathematics and statistics and engineering.

There were shouts of: 'Well done Mum!' and whoops and hollering and posing for the cameras. There were tears, claps and wolf whistles.

And then a standing ovation from the graduates to their family and friends, without whom the long road to an OU qualification would not have been possible.

So here's to you. Take a bow.

That's about it.

Love Maddie x

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Hats off to Mr Grigg

Once upon a time we were newcomers to The Enchanted Village.  The Queen celebrated her golden jubilee and Mr Grigg made a name for himself.

The computer screen swirls as I take you back in time to June 2002.  The village square is packed for a massive street party. There is standing room only in the pub, where the bar is three punters deep.

I am sitting on a high stool next to a woman from the wrong end of the village. We are both a little worse for wear, weary after high tea, high jinks and line dancing in the street to the theme from The High Chaparral (or was it Telstar?)

Out in the square, the disco is building into a frenzy. We've had Hi-Ho Silver Lining, Oops Upside Your Head, the Macarena and Mambo Number Five ('a little bit of Rita's all I need'). And then the Tom Jones version of You Can Leave Your Hat On echoes across the ley lines, hits the grassy slopes of Bluebell Hill, ricochets off the church tower and sends a fleet-of-foot messenger scurrying into the pub.

'You'll never guess what. There's only a couple of blokes out there doing The Full Monty.'

The lady vicar slams her whisky chaser onto the billiard table.

'This I've got to see,' she says, elbowing her way out of the pub, trampling over several elderly passers-by in her bid to get to the front.

'Don't look, Ethel,' yells Mr Bancroft to a bemused Mrs Bancroft.

But it's too late. She's already been mooned.

At the bar, I look at my companion and ask her if she's going to come out with me and see what all the fuss is about. And then we suddenly realise our husbands are nowhere to be seen.

You can guess the rest. The lady vicar is in the mosh pit yelling off, off, off as two middle aged men with moustaches, who look like the Super Mario brothers' older siblings and portly enough to know better, strip off to whoops and hollers and wolf whistles.

Tom Jones comes to a climax and the sychronised pair are each wearing a pair of socks and a plastic bowler hat emblazoned with a Union Jack.

I put my hands over the eyes of Mr Grigg's impressionable young daughter.

You can leave your hat on indeed. I wish they had.

That's about it.

Love Maddie x

Monday, 16 April 2012

Why I'll be celebrating World Book Night

It'll be World Book Night in a week's time and I'm getting excited because I've just been notified my books are ready for collection.

Twenty four copies of Stephen King's Misery will be winging their way to the unsuspecting. The book features just two characters but is one of the most powerful stories I've ever read. It's tense, intense, chilling and thrilling. It's electrifying.

King's prose is crystal clear, stripped bare and straight to the point. None of that cockadoodee nonsense for me. No siree. Hell, I'm his Number One Fan.

I'm giving it away to some of the snobbier members of my book club, who dismiss Stephen King as 'that horror writer', and via the mobile office of an organisation whose customers might well have seen the film but never read the book.

World Book Night will also be a bit of a celebration for me. I've had a piece of work chosen for Dorset Voices, a new collection of prose, poetry and photography by people in this fair county. HRH The Prince of Wales wrote the foreword, which was very kind of him.

It's being launched at the Bournemouth Festival of Words on Monday 23rd April. And I might be doing a reading.

That's about it.

Love Maddie x

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

In memory of a gentleman

My old art teacher died last week.

He was kind, intelligent, sensitive and a real inspiration. And I am so glad that, three years ago, I decided to write to him to tell him so.

So, in memory of a lovely man, I am reprinting part of the blog I wrote at the time. God bless you, sir.

Have you had a teacher who has really inspired you? I'm sure we've all had someone in our school lives who has made a real difference to how we turned out. Me, I went to the school of hard knocks in the town otherwise known as the Birthplace of Powered Fight. It was not until the sixth form that my teachers took any interest in me. I am from the great Comprehensive-experiment era, the youngest of five whose siblings all went to grammar school. I passed the 11-plus in the early 1970s. But I declared to my parents I would run away if I was sent to the grammar school or boarding school threatened by my mother. I wanted to be at the same school as my classmates.

So I spent five miserable years in a school where I was average because I didn't want to come across as a keenie. If I'd been rubbish I would have had special attention but I would have been bullied mercilessly. If I'd been exceptional I would have had special attention but would have been bullied mercilessly. So I played the average card, desperate to fit in after jumping from a country primary school of 19 to a town secondary school of 1,200. I was bullied, mercilessly.

School life only ever became enjoyable for me in the sixth form. During those two years, I had two inspirational teachers, my English teacher and my art teacher. But, according to one of my old school friends, my English teacher only spent time on me because he fancied me. I would dispute that. However, I do recall his rather poignant presentation of a dogeared copy of The Great Gatsby on the day I left. My art teacher, however, is the one who sticks in my mind. I wasn't particularly good at art but I was passionate about art history. And I could write about it.

I well remember going on an art trip to The Smoke. My fellow students missed the train and I ended up going around The National Gallery on my own with my art teacher. It was one of the best days of my school life. I had a one-to-one tour of the paintings, courtesy of my art teacher who could have been Tony Hart's more pedantic brother. A gentleman, an enthusiast and an inspiration.

Tony Hart: not my teacher, but an inspiration, even though he didn't return my painting from Vision On
So when I was talking to my old friend about inspirational teachers, I told him I had always meant to write to my art teacher. To tell him what a difference he had made to my life. How I could never pass a church or a cathedral without dragging poor Mr Grigg and the family inside to marvel at the ecclesiastical architecture.

So what did my friend do? He found my old teacher's address for me.

So I wrote to the teacher. Two days later, a beautifully written envelope, in copperplate, italic, fountain pen handwriting, dropped through my letterbox. Now in his 80s, my old teacher was thrilled to receive my 'very flattering comments' and intrigued to hear about how my career had progressed. He well remembered our trip to the National Gallery.

'That is how visits to galleries should be,' he said.

He was keen to know more about a book I had published and wished me well for the future. I almost cried when I read it. I bundled up one of my books and sent it off to him, with the appropriate fine arts card and a personal message.

I have just received another letter, with a £10 note attached, thanking me profusely for the book. I have sent back another card, a detail of a Charles Rennie Mackintosh painting, along with the £10 note. I had sent the book as a gift. I had been thinking of writing a dedication inside but thought that would be pretentious.

The moral of this blog posting, though, is: don't just talk about it, do it. I have long been meaning to write to this lovely man, this Tony Hart of my schooldays, but I have never done it. But now I have. And I'm so glad I did.

So if you have the chance to write and say 'thank you', just do it. Now.

That's about it

Love Maddie x

Friday, 6 April 2012

Some sad news for Good Friday

It's Good Friday, a day to be sombre before Easter Sunday jumps out at us in all its glory.

We're in the Enchanted Village hall, selling hot cross buns and coffee to raise fund for our jubilee celebrations in June. In come the church choir, fresh from a church service, processing slowly and with sadness on their faces.

It had to happen. We'd gotten away with it for far too long.

Thieves have just stripped the lead off the church roof.

That's about it.

Love Maddie x

Monday, 2 April 2012

Mrs Bancroft and the forty rum babas

It seemed like a good idea at the time. As Mrs Bubbles Champagne-Charlie sank her teeth into a rum baba at an Edinburgh restaurant, she made the most dreadful face.

'This,' she said, in between grimacing, looking like Delia Smith with constipation, 'is not what a rum baba should taste like.'

So as we toured around the Scottish capital in an open-topped bus with the Putters, the Champagne-Charlies and Mrs Bancroft, the Enchanted Village Rum Baba Contest was duly launched.

And here we are now, at Mrs Bancroft's, with a raft of rum babas to test. I haven't entered the competition because my competitiveness is such that I won't enter anything I don't stand a chance of winning. So I've done pears in cider instead.

At our blind tasting, the fragrant Mrs Putter's rum babas stand head and shoulders above the rest, as far as looks go. We have a nibble on Pelly Sheepwash's entry and then try the ones made by Bubbles.

And then Mr Grigg's. To die for. All that time slaving over a hot stove was worth it, I tell him. We'll be eating rum babas for the next six months.

He is crowned the Rum Baba King and then we all settle down to watch Homeland and I resist letting slip the ending, having succumbed to reading the plot synopsis on the internet. Only six more episodes to go. And a rum baba with each one.

That's about it.

Love Maddie x

A horror film for Halloween

On Halloween, I head out under the cover of darkness, a tub of sweets by the front door for young trick or treaters on the prowl with their ...