Thursday, 30 May 2013

The killer cat of Corfu

In Agios Magikades, there is clapping coming from the primary school playground as the teacher shouts out instructions.

Singing follows, then a motorbike buzzes by and there is a hubbub of voices in the garden next door as our neighbours inspect their vegetables for ants.

The air is warm and full of red dust.

I can smell the moussaka and pastitsada gently bubbling away in one of the village's three tavernas. The aroma wafts its way across from the plateia and over the rooftops towards the Villa Oleander.
A cockerel crows, sparrows chirrup, bright yellow butterflies flutter by and then a swallow does a body swerve as it lands on our washing line and checks the progress of its mate which is attempting to build a nest.

Our very own swallows. Oh, what fun.

There are swallows, swifts and house martins by the dozen here, chattering, laughing, zooming and hardly ever stopping. Swifts never land on the ground. Imagine how that must feel, always being on the go.

And in the square, they dive-bomb the village cat, the bug-eyed cat that was at death's door a month or so ago until a kindly English lady spent a fortnight giving her medicine from the vet and also paid to have her spayed.

Stray cats can be a nuisance here, feral and unloved, although their presence at the bins keeps the rodents down.
If I were a rat I wouldn't mess with that.

And now, after her treatment, the village cat, the bug-eyed cat, is as right as rain. At the last count, she has killed three swallows.
'She goes in to have surgery,' they say at the kafenion, 'and she comes out a killer. She is Terminator.'

I'll be back.

That's about it.

Love Maddie x

Sunday, 26 May 2013

A friendly Corfu welcome for our visitors

It is changeover day at the Villa Oleander.
Our second batch of visitors has just been and gone.

Mr Grigg's brother met his older double, Spiros Ron, with a kindly smile, a wink and a shake of hands in the plateia.

The visitors enjoyed some excellent food in the Agios Magikades tavernas and a panoramic view from the rooftop garden of the Hotel Cavalieri, a must-see for any visitor to Corfu.
Sadly, our visitors never had a chance to use the pool. The maintenance men have only just finished doing it.
We hope they're going to come back to take away the rubble.
The island is beginning to get busier now, as is our calendar of visits from family and friends. Many of the resorts are still very quiet, though. Early days yet. 

But hardly a day goes by without a cruise ship or two in the port.
And at the Hotel Telesilla, it's the start of the Greek dancing season for Mike and Jiannis. 
That's about it.

Love Maddie x

Tuesday, 21 May 2013

Find Maddie Grigg on Facebook

Back in Corfu, I'm working on a number of creative projects.

There's A Year in Lush Places, a 'faction' of the year 2010 and all my favourite characters. I'm putting the finishing touches to this because, a long time ago, a blogger called Dave Pie and Mash, along with a few others, told me I should.
I haven't heard from him since.

So a blog shout to Dave: I'm doing this for you!

Then there is my ongoing diary, Kalimera Kerkyra, about our grown-up gap year in Corfu. This will be out as a novel some time next year.

I'm also dusting off the first novel I wrote but never published. It's inspired by my days as a young newspaper reporter in My Kind of Town in the 1980s. I've persuaded two other creative types whose debut novels set in the same place remained, like mine, festering in a drawer, to bring theirs out at the same time. The three together will be the Bridport Trilogy. It might not win the Booker or even the Bridport Prize but I reckon it will be fun.
Picture by Tim Russ
There are also some other things in the pipeline, including this:
Picture by John Goode, Flickr
So watch this space. If I were Spike Milligan I'd be in my manic phase.

In the meantime, you can find me on Facebook for some irreverent and irrelevant nonsense. Just click on the symbol in the right hand column.

I'd love to see you there.

That's about it.

Love Maddie x

Sunday, 19 May 2013

Drama in Broadchurch Land

In Dorset, the A35 road sweeps up over Askers to reveal the most beautiful view of all.

After looking to the left and the sweep of the Jurassic Coast, the corner of your right eye is drawn to Eggardon and the lush hinterland, with Lewesdon and Pilsdon - the twin peaks known to sailors as the Cow and Calf - Coney's Castle and Lambert's Castle acting like pulsating echoes in the distance.

And the electricity pylons march like giants through Narnia, giving perspective to a landscape so dear to me I almost cry.

There is a sense of drama in the air.

And then down to West Bay, to check on the boat, a pizza to share at Ellipse and then a look at some of the locations for the hit ITV series Broadchurch as a real-life SoCo gathers clues next door after a drugs bust.
Waiter, waiter, there's a body in my soup.

It's a strange experience, because not long ago this was my manor.

We wind our way back to Lush Places, that Brigadoon village in Jack and the Beanstalk land twixt Cow and Calf. The place I love.

It is overcast but the flowers are out on Bluebell Hill.
And what is this? More drama, right in the heart of the village. The sheep have escaped to a place where they may not safely graze. They have taken over the village green.

A large and skittish ewe is seen eyeing up the play fort. What fun. And then the farmer arrives to round them up.
Two circuits of the village later, with cars stopped and residents lending a hand, the sheep are back where they belong: the churchyard, where they are making a jolly good job of keeping the grass down.

The farmer waves at us through the tell-tale hole, the signs of sheepness right there on the wire. They can't wriggle out of this one. Their wool is there for all to see.
So the local accountant fashions a barrier out of a nearby road sign and places it in the hole until repairs are carried out. The sheep look at us, disgusted, before going back to their nibbling.
Ah, Lush Places. Such drama, such high drama. Never a dull moment.

'Do you like it out there, then?' the farmer says from behind the churchyard railings, as if he's talking about us standing in the road rather than our decision to jack it all in for a big fat Greek gap year.
We tell him that we do indeed like being in Corfu, although I admit I am homesick.

'Well,' he says. sagely. 'I've been around the world a bit. But I don't think you can beat it here.'

After dinner for thirteen at the Putters, surrounded by my friends, and then a party in the pub where Mamma Mia's husband is taught how to use a set of golf clubs, I'm inclined to agree with him.
I even manage a hug with Posh Totty. I have not seen her for a hundred years.

My brother and sisters, my parents, my children, step-children, grandchildren. We're a big family and I miss them all.

It is with heavy heart I board the early morning plane for Corfu, brought forward to avoid getting tangled up in a strike by Greek air traffic control.

And then we are back, back in the sunshine of Agios Magikades to a chorus of kalimera, welcoming smiles and an amaryllis on the balcony.
There is our neighbour, Spiros, with a new puppy no bigger than his thumb, waiter Spiros calling at our door to pick up the boots we have brought him from England, and Paleos Spiros on his way to the kafenion for fags and stopping off for an ouzo with us.

A whole host of villagers welcomes us back with open arms and phone calls.

'Is everything all right? Have you had a good time?'

Yes, we have but it's good to be back. So many mixed emotions.

But that's another story.

That's about it.

Love Maddie x

Wednesday, 15 May 2013

Reasons to be cheerful: Maddie's wedding

We are back in the Shire, in England's Green and Pleasant Land, for a family wedding.

My namesake niece married her military bandsman in a lovely little church with box pews, reclining ruff-collared effigies next to the altar and a Methodist-style gallery where one of the groom's colleagues played a flawless Trumpet Voluntary. The rousing hymns - Lord of All Hopefulness, Dear Lord and Father of Mankind and Guide Me O Thou Great Redeemer - and the recessional organ music of William Walton's Crown Imperial were British to the core and wonderful for it.

Earlier, as the relatives shuffled in after a quick stop at the famous Petersham Nurseries, they gazed around in wonder at the church's quirky interior. There were garlands of flowers and leaves above us, as the bride and groom came into church side by side, a Georgian tradition the priest said, and reminiscent of a scene from Jane Austen.

Number One Grand-Daughter followed, a small blonde vision in a wispy aquamarine dress, holding hands with the matron of honour. It was some feat as, at seven-years-old, she had no inclination to wear a dress at all and would have been much happier wearing the Darth Vader outfit she had been given as a thank you present.

So the bride reached a compromise and fashioned a Jedi light saber in white chrysanthemums sprayed light blue.

Later, a wedding guest recounted the Georgian tradition of not only the bride and groom entering the church together, and, not realising the significance of the 'bouquet', talked confidently about the little bridesmaid carrying a hollyhock pole just like in Pride and Prejudice.

The force, indeed, is strong with this one.

From the church we walked up across Richmond Park, looking back at the bridal party against a backdrop of the vast plain of Surrey and the Thames Valley, with lots of green trees, dotted with clusters of houses and a few tower blocks and then an aeroplane flying by.

For us country folk, more used to the landscapes of Dorset and Somerset, and some of us from oop north, it was a scene to behold, both ancient and modern. It would have been relished by my favourite aunt, the bride's grandmother, had she still be with us.

She would certainly have loved the bride's shoes.
We strolled by the Reasons to be Cheerful bench, installed in Poet's Corner in memory of that great pop music poet, Ian Dury, and then up to Pembroke Lodge, the former home of the Russell family. What a glorious spot. As the children played in some rare sunshine among the trees, this England seemed very real and special to a couple of temporary ex-patriots.

And then the reception with its simple floral arrangements in jam jars and milk bottles, and book cover place settings.

And then, in the evening, Darth Vader on the dance floor and small children break dancing and sliding across from one side to the other on their knees.
Oh, nothing beats a family wedding.

That's about it.

Love Maddie x

Tuesday, 7 May 2013

Corfu: what a way to spend Easter

Easter in Corfu is the most incredible thing.

In our eleven years of visiting this island, it is something we have been told about many times.

'You must come to Corfu at Easter,' our friend Jiannis told us. 'You will not believe it. The Greeks are famous for Easter but in Corfu, it is the best.'

And how right he was. Words cannot describe the spectacle. Photos do not do it justice. You really have to be here to understand. A strange mixture of ritual, devotion, celebration, tradition, noise, ceremony, moving music, lots of eating and lots of fireworks combine to create a heady experience on a massive scale, with some poignant moments of detail in between.

This is the place and time to come for an unforgettable long weekend break.

All week, Corfu's famous bands have been at the forefront, along with the island's mummified patron, Saint Spiridon, who is paraded through the streets on Easter Saturday on one of his four outings a year.
In the town, the celebrations are enormous. Little sign of austerity here.
Pots are hurled from the windows to great cheers from the crowds who, at the end of it all, scrabble around for a piece of broken shard for luck. For days afterwards, the red dust of shattered pottery is scattered through the town's streets and pavements.

And, at night, a candelit vigil waiting for the moment that Easter Sunday arrives, accompanied by a fanfare of crashing band music, choral voices and great rockets and firecrackers in the sky.
In the village, the drama unfolds at a more leisurely, intimate pace.

Services in the church, a sombre, candelit procession to the cemetery with a coffin covered in red and white carnations on Good Friday, while on Easter Monday the villagers make their way up to the cemetery church with an icon of the Virgin and Child, draped in red velvet and pinned with gold necklaces, bracelets and earrings.
Along the way, there are deep booms that crack through the village and beyond as mortars are let off by the local builder. And then there is our own Spiros, strong as an ox, carrying the twenty foot tall banner at the head of the parade.

And sandwiched in between, feasts up and down the island, lamb and goat roasted on the spit, hard boiled eggs dyed red (or, in our case, multi-coloured and decorated, thanks to our half-Polish neighbour from Lush Places, Mrs Champagne-Charlie), salad, wine and great big desserts.
Our Greek neighbours did us proud with a leisurely lunch fit for royalty, their own animals cooked on the barbecue, their own cheese and their own wine. It didn't matter that we had three friends to stay.

'You must bring them,' our host insisted. 'You are all most welcome.'

And he meant it.

As we sat overlooking the hills and valleys of Corfu with these lovely people, we thought to ourselves, this is something very special.
The Greeks are famous for their filoxenia, a generosity of spirit and kindness to strangers. We have encountered this here in spades in Agios Magikades. The warmth and hospitality of our new village friends has been overwhelming.
And the highlight for us, apart from the fireworks, candles, singing and all, was an Easter egg hunt we organised for our new Greek friends' two small children.

Their joy in finding the chocolate eggs hidden in their great-uncle's garden was matched by ours when they promptly hid them all again for us to find, before the brother and sister then alternated between hiding and finding. Their pleasure was in the game rather than the chocolate.

This Greek gap year has already been a surprising experience. The heartache of homesickness does not abate, for me at least, although it is more bearable as the warm weather soaks into my bones.

But is something we will not forget in a hurry, that's for sure.
That's about it.

Love Maddie x

PS Since publishing this piece, I have been taken to task for the use of the word 'mummification' in relation to the body of St Spiridon. No offence was intended. As the Metafysiko website makes clear, according to the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches, incorruptibility differs from mummification (the artificial technique of preserving the dead body that was used by some ancient civilizations, like the Egyptians). Please see the website for more information.

Saturday, 4 May 2013

Crackpots: Easter in Corfu

Easter in Corfu. Moving and bonkers.

Here's the bonkers bit:
And then a mad scramble to pick up the broken pieces after the Easter Saturday pot smashing in Corfu Town is all over.

We took ours home and put them on the mantelpiece as an offering to Hestia, the goddess of the hearth and home before a siesta and the evening festivities to come.

That's about it.

Love Maddie x

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