Tuesday, 31 December 2013

Jump up and down and wave your hat or knickers in the air for New Year

It's New Year's Eve, and this year I'm spending it in Lush Places.

Not for me a pomegranate smashed near the door to spread the seeds of good luck on New Year's Day.
I don't think they stock them in our village shop. In any case, last year, back in Corfu, it took us ages to get the stain out.

Tonight, we'll be hanging out in Lush Places, where the Dorset villagers will be dressed in 70s and 80s for a vinyls night in the local pub and we'll be noshing on a bring-something-to-the-table get-together for thirteen, or, as I'd rather call it, twelve and one for luck.

Superstitious? Me? Of course I am.

And then we'll all get together for a few drinks in the pub before spilling out into the Square for Old Lang Syne, random kissing and a game of Let's Stop The Traffic.

Before that, I need to decide what hat to wear tonight after rashly sending out an email saying our theme should be Get Your Head In Gear For The New Year (as mine most certainly should and will be, you mark my words). I got very excited about it but no-one else has replied and it could be just me.

Lucky I didn't call it Get Your Arse In Gear For The New Year, otherwise I might be the only one wearing knickers over my tights.

Although they could end up on my head instead. Because tonight I will be drinking for Dorset and Corfu put together.

It's Dry January tomorrow. Here's to a happy and healthy 2014.

Wish me luck.

That's about it.

Love Maddie x

Friday, 27 December 2013

There's more than One Direction at Christmas

Well, back in Blighty and the weather vane is toppling over.
When it spins round it's like when Hitchcock met Dali.
It's like a metaphor for my life at the moment. Even before the winds and gales started up, I was confused about which way to go, what with one foot in Corfu and my heart in England.

You see, while the children and grandchildren talked about One Direction over Christmas dinner, for me it's more like every which way but loose. The reason I haven't blogged for ages is that I just don't quite know where I am.

Still, the New Year and 2014 holds lots of exciting things. Maybe more books, certainly more Corfu and maybe a new job, if anyone will have me. Who knows? It's best not to plan too much. The main thing is I am healthy, if not wealthy and wise.

In the meantime, I am soaking up the good old English weather - literally - and all things Westcountry.

Across the UK we've had floods and gales. My friend Tuppence's barbecue took off and was last seen heading off downstream beyond the culvert.There's two tiles blown off our roof, the aforementioned weather vane is finally fleeing the coop and there's a shed overturned on the allotments. The Aga's blown out six times, the Christmas tree outside our house has fallen off twice, together with the metal bracket, and we've had a number of power cuts.

This was the scene from our front door on Monday night, before the tree came down.
Down the road, Mr Sheepwash has been using his new torch like a Jedi knight with a lightsaber as he checks out the river levels. The mornings are just so dark.

Our Landrover is going nowhere after the clutch decided to pack up on a hair-raising journey back from Taunton on Christmas Eve. Hats off to Mr Grigg for travelling seventeen miles and traversing half a dozen junctions without stopping. Now that's what I call a white-knuckle ride.

Yesterday, our new neighbours' car wouldn't start just as we - and they - were about to leave for Boxing Day celebrations with our respective families. My son split his new jeans climbing over into the driver's seat as they attempted to jump start their vehicle.

And the Peppa Pig knickers I gave to my great-niece ended up on her head. She's only two, after all.
Back in Lush Places, the church flagpole flaps on the tower and the Christmas tree lights on the village green play tricks on the populace by switching to flashing and chasing sequences on a whim and then go out on one side altogether.

'Those lights are a traffic hazard,' I heard one local person whine. For goodness sake, woman, get a life. Lighten up. It's Christmas. Why can't you just say it's lovely to see the square looking so pretty?

But, in among all the Christmas chaos, there is joy in the world. It's the details that matter, such as a sweet rendition of a school carol version of The Last Farewell by the tomboy eight-year-old, in an angel's voice, or overhearing a child talking about Marks & Spensive.

On the weekend before Christmas we had the Symondsbury Mummers performing at the village hall...
...and we had time for a quick bite and drink (you can guess which is Mr Grigg's) during a shopping expedition on Sunday...
..where we stopped to listen to some amazing young carol singers...
And then on Christmas morning, there was a surprise visitor on the doorstep of our other neighbour, Champagne Charlie.
Which may account for why these two sleighs made as table decorations by my clever daughter didn't get much further than the grandchildren's mouths.
It's been a non-stop fest of eating and talking and opening presents. Madness inside and out and things going wrong left, right and centre. It's home and I love it.

So here's wishing you a peaceful, healthy and happy festive season. And if you want it, may you find a new direction, even if it's just the one. But always watch out for a dodgy clutch.

That's about it.

Love Maddie x

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Corfu, now and then and Then and Now

I'm here in Corfu trying to write a book about our big fat Greek gap year.

It ought to be easy. I've lived it, taken a whole host of photos and made note after note after note. Hades, I've written some of it already. But it isn't easy. The problem is that so much happened in the last twelve months, I almost don't know where to start.

Maybe the beginning. That's as good a place as any.

I need to stop editing as I go along and just do it. Then I can edit afterwards. But it's easier said than done.

My mind wanders to what's going in the book and what isn't. There is enough material for a sequel already, and maybe another one.

I think about Corfu and how much it has changed over the years. And also how much it hasn't. There are some views of the island which haven't changed very much at all. And then some which have changed completely.

This was brought home to me when I saw the cover of a book designed by a friend of mine, Jiannis Mourmouras of Fingerprints, featuring the photos of Michalis Kokkalis.

Jiannis has cleverly melded two pictures into one, with a only a tear of paper separating the two.
Inside, are images of Corfu from years ago looking out across the facing page to the same scene in the present day.

You can take a look at some of them on the Images of Corfu website here. The book costs £25 (plus £5 postage in UK and Europe) and is available from Corfu bookshops. You can also get the book by emailing imagesofcorfu@gmail.com specifying Then and Now in the subject header. They will send you a PayPal email payment request where you can pay using a secure payment system.

And, in the meantime, while I wait for my copy to arrive, I must stop procrastinating and get on with my own book.

That's about it.

Love Maddie x

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

It's chilly in Corfu but the welcome is warm

We're back in Greece now after a few weeks in England where we caught up with family, friends, Dorset and a book signing or two.
After a bit of a party in Lush Places, no sooner had we disrobed from our Poseidon and Medusa chitons (the Greek forerunner of the Roman toga), with a trail of wigs, rubber snakes and seaweed in our wake, then it was up in an aeroplane and a turbulent landing at Athens before a six-hour wait for a plane to Corfu.

Back in Agios Magikades, one of dear friends had put in a few welcoming touches to the house.
Freshly picked clementines and Christmas decorations. Lovely.

We had a coffee with our neighbour who showed us his new fire and then settled down to a roaring log fire and The Lincoln Lawyer, an American film on television with Greek subtitles.
This morning, the sun takes its time to climb up over the mountain. There is a chill in the air and a strip of mist poised at the bottom of the valley. The sound of dogs barking ricochets around the hills, the geese start honking, the turkeys gobble while they still can and the children stroll by, heading for school.

In the plateia, the sun struggles to get over the church roof. We enjoy a coffee and a chat outside with the friend who left us the clementines. Nothing has changed, there are cats everywhere, the same people are sitting outside the kafenion and the mini-market and the poster outside the hall is still advertising a blood donor session in August.
The mini-market proprietor takes a long look at Mr Grigg and his 'hey Gringo' moustache, which has not been shaved since Movember.

'You look like Zero Zero Seven,' he says. 'You know, Son Connery.'

The tune playing on the radio is the latest Christmas advert for Jumbo, the store where you can buy anything. It's a Greek version of My Favourite Things from The Sound of Music. Our very own Matt Monro joins in the chorus and then asks us when we arrived back in the village.

Our Greek is still pretty bad.

'Tomorrow,' we say. He buys us a cognac to go with our coffee.

And then, just as we are thinking about our friend Canadian George, he appears behind the wheel of his car, makes as if to steer into us, stops and gets out for a hug.

A little while later, we walk around the olive groves and breathe in clean air and the scent of orange blossom. We call in, unannounced, for a cup of tea with an English friend and are given a slice of banoffee pie to go with it.
And, when we get home, we're presented with two bags stuffed full of vegetables.
It's like we've never been away.

That's about it.

Love Maddie x

Friday, 29 November 2013

About last night...

After last nights's launch of The Bridport Press, I'm steering you towards a post I've just written for their website.

Normal service to be resumed as soon as possible.

That's about it.

Love Maddie x

Thursday, 21 November 2013

New book! New book! The muse has been busy.

This past year in Corfu, I've had the time and discipline to get on with various writing projects which have been languishing around for far too long.

And those characters who have lain abandoned like the toys in Toy Story, with bits of things missing, back story only sketched, motivation and desires just outlined, have at last taken on a life of their own.

Earlier this year, I was able to bring out my novella, A Year in Lush Places, a light-hearted, affectionate look at English country life based on an election year's worth of blogging from Dorset. Sales are going well and the reviews on Amazon have been lovely, thank you.
And now there's A Town Like This, a comic romp inspired by my early days as a local newspaper in small towns in Devon and Dorset.
Likened by one reviewer to Porterhouse Blue in places, the novel is being launched alongside two other debuts by West Dorset writers.
You can read more about that on The Bridport Press website, where you'll also see Q&As with the three of us.

At the moment, I'm practising my signature in readiness for a launch party next week and a signing at Waterstones, Bridport, between 10am and noon this Saturday, 23 November.

It's all go here. I'll be glad to get back to Corfu for a rest. Oh, I forgot, I've got to get my first draft up together of Kalimera Kerkyra: A Year on a Greek Island as part of NaNoWriMo.

Better get my skates on. Ah, that sounds like a cue for my favourite chase sequence of all time.
That's about it.

Love Maddie x

Monday, 18 November 2013

The pointlessness of blogging or tweeting when you're angry

There are a number of things you shouldn't do when you're angry.

Writing a resignation letter is one of them. I once knew someone who did that in a fit of pique. They wrote it, seemingly with their own bile, posted it, immediately regretted it and had to camp out on their employer's doorstep in the hope they might be able to prise the letter from the postman's hands over the next few days.

It didn't work and they were out of a job.

Blogging or tweeting in anger is not to be recommended either. That's why I've waited several days to post this.

At the weekend, Mr Grigg and I drove up to Bristol for the south west heat of the Great British Care Awards. We had nominated my autistic stepson's carer, a 24-year-old with the calmest, most respectful attitude you could ever come across, as a carer of the year. He and we were chuffed when he was shortlisted. This young man is a diamond, he really is.

He didn't win but he shared in his colleague's joy when the latter picked up an award in another category.

There were around four hundred people at this event and if you multiply this by the number of regional heats, even if, like me, you're not very good at maths, you'll see the awards involve thousands of carers up and down the country.

It's an opportunity for people like us to say thank you, an opportunity for excellence to be celebrated. And it's an opportunity for carers to let their hair down and have a good night out. There were people there from charities like Scope, the Leonard Cheshire Foundation, council departments and old people's homes. The thing they all had in common was what they did for a living.

Caring is not a job for the faint-hearted and you need to have a special aptitude for it. It doesn't pay well but there are some people, like my stepson's carer and one of my sisters, who are very good at it. Good carers make a real difference to the lives of vulnerable people. They are all winners.

And that especially includes ordinary, untrained people who care for family and friends without getting a bean. But that's another story. Don't get me on that one.

There are awards evenings for all sorts of professions, industries, trades and vocations - film and television, housing, nursing, journalism, house building and accountancy. 

This one was slick, professional and well-supported. And as the staff at my stepson's home enjoyed a night off, I, along with others, tweeted about the event.

I posted a picture of those who had been shortlisted, with the caption: They're all winners.
Among the Twitter replies was this, from a community video organisation:

be a million times better if they got paid a decent wage. No carer does the job for awards, so really is a pointless pr stunt.

Why thank you very much. What a completely fatuous, glib comment. Pointless really. Of course carers deserve more money and of course they don't do it for awards - does anyone in any job? But why, just because carers in general are undervalued by society, shouldn't they have an awards ceremony? Why dismiss it as a 'pointless PR stunt'?

I was so cross until I saw on the organisation's website that at least one of the film makers involved had won international awards. That's probably why he got into film making. For the awards, I mean. 

As if. 

That would be just pointless.

That's about it.

Love Maddie x

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Pink pig racing in Dorset

Back in the Shire - for a while at least - we get quickly back into the swing of things.

A  night out at a local village hall where the smart money was on pink fluffy pigs.
Mad really. Only in Dorset.

And in the final race, our table of twelve turned to Nobby Odd Job. He had been winning all night. We needed a hot tip.

'Perky Rasher,' he said. 'Put your money on Perky Rasher.'

So we did.

Dear old Perky came in at a cracking pace and outperformed his rivals by a curly tail and a trotter. And then Nobby won a prize on the raffle.

There were snorts all round as Nobby (now known as Perky Rasher) brought back his prize of a pink and fluffy wind-up pig and sent it shuffling and snuffling along the table.

And lots of money raised for Movember.

That's about it.

Love Maddie x

Monday, 11 November 2013

Blog visitor from Boise, Idaho: who are you?

Hey, blog reader from Boise, Idaho!

Are you a real person, a cyber stalker, a spammer or a computer programme that's got stuck?

According to my Feedjit live traffic feed, you've visited this blog I don't know how many times, over and over again.
I want to know who you are.

A publisher maybe, a film director (please, oh, please) or an American lady who just likes reading about English and Greek village life?

I asked on Twitter and someone suggested you might be the Morning DJ at WOLD.
Go on, tell me who you are. I'm intrigued.

That's about it.

Love Maddie x

Thursday, 7 November 2013

Competition winners

I've just wrapped up two copies of A Year in Lush Places to send off to the winners of the Smitten by Britain competition.

One's heading to Houston, Texas. I do hope the winner sends me a picture of herself reading the book wearing a Dallas-style cowboy hat or at the helm of the space centre and about to launch a rocket.

The other, unbelievably, is in the same county as me - Dorset - but at the eastern end. Right where those Turberville tombs lie in the church and inspired Thomas Hardy to write Tess.

Maybe the local winner will oblige by sending me a Dorset-themed picture of herself, A Year in Lush Places and a sheep.

Or maybe not.

That's about it.

Love Maddie x

Tuesday, 5 November 2013

Back home on the Lush Places roundabout

We've only been home in Dorset a week and my feet haven't touched the ground.

There's been the surprise party, a midweek grouse or two, a book club meeting, a village fete meeting, a big band spectacular, afternoon tea and a re-run of the harvest supper video, trips into Bridport, Beaminster and Sherborne - three lovely Dorset towns - and a meeting of The Bridport Press to discuss an exciting new venture.

There have been haircuts and dental appointments, a car to service and a falling out with and then a falling back in with a village stalwart when she and I realised we were talking at crossed purposes.

There has been freelance work to do, two business meetings and an outrageous, laugh-a-minute Sunday lunch with two old friends.

There have been family and friends to catch up with, children to hug and animals to stroke. There have been waves and smiles and kisses. There has been a fantastic local reaction to A Year in Lush Places, the novella based on the Dorset part of this blog, as well as non-plussed feedback.

And a cuddle and a kiss from Posh Totty at a chance meeting in a car park and an offer of an evening get-together over a glass of wine. No mention of being duffed up at all.

There have been packing cases to collect and sort through, a house to tidy up and enough washing to hang on the Siegfried Line if only we had one. But with no washing line or tumble drier there's laundry everywhere and boxes upon boxes still to unpack from the store after taking our house back from the woman who rented it while we were away on our big Greek gap year.

I miss that Greek washing line, that Corfu drying weather.

But do you know the best thing so far? On our first morning back in England, I was so excited, I crept out of the house at a quarter to seven and went for a walk on my own.
But this feeling will wear off. And then which direction to take?
That's about it.

Love Maddie x

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