Friday, 22 February 2013

When Cannabis met Daphne

Once upon a time in Lush Places, our village in Dorset, we grew one of these in our garden:

It was a complete accident, of course, popping up directly beneath the bird feeder. Next to it were two tomato seedlings which I hadn't planted either.

When friends came around, I would steer them out on to the patio and ask them what they thought it could be. My brother, a secondary school teacher, said he had no idea rather too quickly and a man whose wife put him forward as some kind of plant expert said no way was it cannabis.

I and the local social worker, however, knew exactly what it was. I had no intention of doing anything with it, except watch it grow. And then the dog started acting a bit weird and rather too laid back for a refined and well-bred English setter.

Hey man, the plant had to go.

But not before I imagined the whole of Lush Places with these things growing under bird feeders, the length and breadth of the village. WI meetings would be conducted on a ring of chaise longue, like Wild West wagons pulled together in a circle for safety. Despite the cold flagstones on the church floor, the congregation would be lying out in the aisle and the transept to form one big cross for Jesus.

The drinkers in the pub in Compost Corner would be looking at their pints of Taunton Cider and Vimto and Palmers Copper and thinking 'ere, this stuff be pretty strong. The shopkeeper would be giving away free lottery tickets with the groceries and three elderly gentlemen would be starting a conga in the village square.

Well, I think something like that is just about to happen in our Corfu village of Agios Magikades. We have felled the last of the daphne, which had become overgrown spindles desperate for light, pushing down the citrus trees like a gang of school bullies.

In a few days' time we shall put the branches on the bonfire and set light to the lot.

The very thought brings a smile to the face of one of our Greek friends.

'You know the daphne leaves were chewed by Pythia, the priestess at the oracle of Delphi, to put her into a trance?'

So if the wind changes, Agios Magikades could very easily look a little bit like this:
That's about it.

Love Maddie x

Thursday, 21 February 2013

My Post of the Week acceptance speech

Oooh, it's been a long time since I had one of these.
My thanks to Hilary at The Smitten Image for singling out Thunder on the Mountain for a Post of the Week Award for being 'just plain good'.

Keep an eye out for the book A Year in Corfu. Next stop, Booker.

That's about it.

Love Maddie x

Monday, 18 February 2013

What is this life if, full of care...

We fell in love with the Villa Oleander as soon as we walked through the front door.

It belongs to a writer's family and I hoped some of her success might rub off on me. Mr Grigg, meanwhile, saw it as a place to wind down into retirement.

'We're going to live here,' we said, when we saw the house back in June last year. 'We'll let our cottage in Dorset and have a gap year in Corfu.'

'Why?' asked our family and friends.

'Why not?' was the stock response.

I could spend the time writing and Mr Grigg, newly-retired, could do a bit of work around the house.

Part of the deal was to tidy the garden and spruce up the inside in exchange for a cheaper rent in the winter. It needed a bit of love, this place, a bit of love and a bit of life. The owners haven't been here for a while and it showed.

The first week we spent cleaning right through, wiping down mouldy window frames and chasing away the dust. And then the garden. Ah, the garden. It was lovely once, but bushes have grown sky-high to become trees, fighting the lemons and oranges for light and overcoming them into submission.
Now, however, after a lot of hard work, there is light at the top of the canopy.

With the garden almost sorted, it's time for decorating.
At the end of last week, we finally took delivery of emulsion, gloss, paintbrushes and rollers.
But before we get to the fun bit of painting, the preparation begins.
I am a rank amateur at this sort of thing, impatient to a fault. If I can't do something quickly or easily, I lose interest rapidly. When I eat an elephant, it has to be the whole thing or not at all.

But Mr Grigg is teaching me to take one bite at a time.

Siga siga as they say in Greek. Slowly slowly.

So we rub down the woodwork in anticipation of the painting fun to come. And in the afternoon, we will go for a walk.

When we moved into our house in Dorset's Lush Places (people have been Googling the location but it's a name I gave to the village after the nature column in one of my favourite novels, Scoop), I found an A4 sheet of paper attached to the garage ceiling. On it was a poem copied out by the previous owner. It's been done to death, but I think everyone should recite this poem by supertramp W H Davis at least once a week.


What is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.

No time to stand beneath the boughs
And stare as long as sheep or cows.

No time to see, when woods we pass,
Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass.

No time to see, in broad day light,
Streams full of stars, like skies at night.

No time to turn at beauty's glance,
And watch her feet, how they can dance.

No time to wait till her mouth can
Enrich that smile her eyes began.

A poor life this if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.

And even if you have only five minutes, take a look at the world from your window.

That's about it.

Love Maddie x

Thursday, 14 February 2013

Feel the Greek love on Valentine's Day

There is a power cut in the kafenion. The emergency exit sign throws enough light for the card game to continue, especially as the fitting's cover is broken to reveal just the bare bulb.

The noisy chatter is quieter now the National Geographic channel is silenced and the card players no longer have to compete with the sound of lions mating.

Then the batteries run out on the emergency exit sign and the card game is plunged into darkness.

Half an hour later, as one of the card players walks back in through the door, the lights flash on and the television springs to life. He bows to the applause at having restored the power just through his presence.

There is almost a fight at the till as a church elder and a waiter from one of the tavernas in the platia argue over who was there first. Both of them want to buy us a drink.

The country is in crisis and they don't have much, these people.
But they are more generous than anyone we know.

There is a big smile from Spiros Ron, whose nickname was coined by us because he looks like Mr Grigg's brother. There is a pat on the back from Turkey Spiros (so called because he breeds turkeys) and there is a cry of 'yamas' from Paleo Spiros, who works in nearby Paleokastritsa.

After three months of sitting in the corner like the barbarian Medea in a room full of strangers, I can safely say we are in.

That's about it.

Love Maddie x

Friday, 8 February 2013

Thunder on the mountain

Dawn attempts to prise her rosy fingers apart through the morning sky.

But it is no good. 

We count the seconds in between the lighting and the great cracks of thunder. It’s getting closer.

As the rain starts to fall in gentle drips and then a great torrent, Mr Grigg and I sigh. It’s raining again.

The water will be burbling through the streets of Corfu Town, chasing itself along shiny pavements and down into storm drains and then up again in a never-ending game of tag.
Today in Agios Magikades, we will be confined to indoor jobs as we hanker for the sunshine we had earlier in the week.  I felt guilty on Monday when I grabbed half an hour after lunch to read a book in the garden. But, hey, we should all make hay while the sun shines.

And up at St Simeon on its precarious perch on the side of a mountain, the wind gusted through the Sunday Name Day ceremony, threatening to topple the congregation right over the edge.
But these Corfiots are made of strong stuff. As the service went on in the tiny church, outside there was chatter and tsipouro as the assembled villagers celebrated, making sure they kept the right side of the newly-painted white lines to avoid eternal life below.

A head popped up from behind a rock. ‘Would you like a whisky?’
Who could say no on such a day?

Even the rocks here were designed as cup holders.
When the service ended and respects had been paid to the church and to the saint, great mattresses of sweet loaves and tubs of seeds and nuts were brought down and handed out as the people made their way back up the rocky path.

They wound their way home along the donkey track, destined for Sunday lunch and more celebrations. Car horns tooted and a shaft of light hit the priest as he drove by with his radio inadvertently tuned to the pop channel.
That's about it.

Love Maddie x

Friday, 1 February 2013

Corfu versus Dorset: a sense of place

Funny thing, homesickness.

Back in Lush Places, the soggy, syrupy mist swoops down all of a sudden and I want to grab hold of it. It's my security blanket, wrapped around me, as I gaze at water droplets on sodden and bare trees and rotten cider apples lying on the ground.

I love this place.

And the sunlight bounces off the bantams' backs as we pack up and get ready to go back to Corfu.

Even in winter, when Dorset's Enchanted Village is up to her neck in fog, in my head it's the theme music to A Summer Place.

'Who do you miss the most?' my friend Tuppence asks.

I have to think. My family, my friends?

But, no, it isn't a single person. It's the place.

For the first three months of living in Corfu, guilt has picked me up and dropped me down again as I fight the urge to go home. Who wouldn't be happy in this lovely place, this lovely island of Corfu, with its beautiful, kind people and wonderful scenery?

'It's just the way you feel,' said Tuppence, like the wise and patient Penelope she is. 'Guilt is the most destructive thing. Don't feel bad about feeling bad. Just accept it and then enjoy what you're doing and what you've got.'

So this morning now we are back on this Greek island after two weeks away, I wake up with a knot in my stomach, thinking about my dear new grand daughter and her sisters. I think about my old dad in Somerset, sitting in his chair next to the Rayburn and my mother bustling about as twelve inches of snow melts outside.

I think about my Lush Places friends around a dinner table enjoying good food, wine and company. I think about singing Drink Up Thy Zider as the Bristol City fans danced at a 2-1 win over Ipswich last Saturday. And I don't even like football.

But the whining has to stop. It truly is not in my nature.

We've narrowly missed an earthquake in Corfu and the news that land near Kassiopi has finally been sold off by the state for development by the Yanks. (That the two are connected has, of course, crossed my mind).

And then today, as I look out the window, the sun is shining over the mountain and the mimosa has burst out into brilliant yellow droplets while we were away.
And then the theme tune to my favourite television series of my childhood, The Virginian, comes on my iPod and I can take on anything.

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...