Monday, 28 October 2013

Blowing in to Dorset and going down a storm

As the clocks went back, so did we.

A wild old ferry crossing was predicted as we headed across the English Channel back to my beloved Dorset after twelve, adventure-filled months in Corfu.

I felt like Odysseus. Would our friends in Lush Places be held captive by new 'suitors' eating them out of house and home? Would Mr Grigg lash himself to the mast as he listened to the Sirens' song?

Would we have to go through various tasks before being accepted as the rightful heirs to our home?

No Scylla or Charybdis crossed our paths on the journey home from Corfu. No cyclops outwitted us, no witches turned those close to us into pigs, although on Calypso's Isle we were tempted to stay for more than just a year.

This time, it was an interesting, but, thankfully, uneventful trip home.

We stopped in Italy outside Faenza...
In the Italian Alps...
In France...
At an old school friend's...
And not far from the ferry... 
And then we came home to a hurricane, lucky to be on the last ship out of Ouistreham. We rocked and we rolled, we passed the time with on-board quizzes and tried desperately to connect to the internet.

From Portsmouth to Dorset, there was rain, surface water and cars driving too fast and cats eyes glimmering too low.

And then we got home. In the dark, we didn't appreciate this. (For A Year in Lush Places readers, note the ginger wig hanging from the hanging basket bracket).
And as Champagne Charlie escorted us into the house to investigate the Aga which had blown out, we walked in through the door to find a host of fairy lights, delightful homemade decorations and friends jumping out saying 'Surprise!'.
What a homecoming.

That's about it.

Love Maddie x

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Twelve months in Corfu: our big fat Greek gap year comes to an end

After the mother ship's arrival on the quayside, I am sitting on a Superfast ferry, ploughing through the Adriatic towards Ancona, Italy. It might be superfast but it will still take seventeen hours to get there.

Luckily, Mr Grigg upgrades us from aircraft seats to a proper cabin. Nice one.

Our big fat Greek gap year has come to an end, our last day spent in the village watching the world and his wife go by.

Our ox-strong neighbour is chopping wood, Canadian George stops for a chat with a scrumped bag of mandarins. And the Albanian handyman gives us a salute as he strolls by with his strimmer.

The purple school bus 'Michalis 1' disgorges its secondary school passengers as a new stray dog trots off to sit near some English people who are eating at a taverna table.
We tuck into village sausage, moussaka and Greek salad at Elizabeth's as the  accountant comes home from work in his big four by four, the errand boy shuffles past in bright green trainers and the painters and decorators unload their gear before heading for a siesta.

A van full of winter coats for sale is parked in the plateia. An English couple from an animal rescue charity walk with purpose and with funding, looking for cats to neuter.
And an old, gold Volvo estate carrying a coffin heads for the church, the bell tolling mournfully for a funeral later in the day.

Life, and death, go on.

And as the sun sets over Corfu Town, we feel a little sad as we look out from the stern of the ferry and see what we're leaving behind.
But the sadness is momentary. We will be back.

We're renting the house for another year.

That's about it.

Love Maddie x

Monday, 14 October 2013

A big fat Greek wedding

So we joined a convoy of cars, hooting and tooting down from the village, out along the main road to Corfu.

We passed the hospital, honked the car horn loud enough for great aunt to hear and wound through the narrow lanes, tooting as we passed joggers and receiving waves and shouts from people in their gardens.

We were part of a wedding - a real, big fat Greek wedding - and it was the experience of our year. We've been lucky enough to have been 'adopted' by a wonderful family in our Corfiot village and for this we'll be forever grateful.
During these past twelve months on this grown-up gap year, we've missed two big weddings of friends back home in the UK in Lush Places.

But we made up for it at the weekend.

First, there was the traditional party on Thursday, where the newlyweds' bed was strewn with rice, rose petals and, more importantly money, to the sound of gunfire outside. And then we danced.

And then on Saturday we put on our glad rags, and like one of the Ugly Sisters, I eased into shoes too high and a dress too tight and we joined in the wedding day celebrations.

The bride glowed, the groom overcame his nerves, and our friends - the groom's family - looked wonderful. We ate, we danced, we ate again, we drank.

And then we danced.
And the next day, the mist hid the view of the mountain from our window and I found my shoes cuddled up to the buttonholes and sugared almonds.
And, gosh, didn't my feet half hurt. That comes of dancing all night.

That's about it.

Love Maddie x

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

A Year in Corfu: and what a year it's been

I can't believe how quickly the year has gone.

This time twelve months ago we were stuck in the mist in Jura, France, waiting for a spare part to arrive to mend a broken-down car. I argued with my insurance company which claimed I had no breakdown cover and I argued with my husband. I felt like I was on the road to nowhere.
I hated my car, I hated my husband and, most of all, I hated myself for ever thinking a grown-up gap year abroad could ever work.

I was homesick as anything from day three and I hadn't even gone through the Mont Blanc Tunnel.

Still, after a few glasses of local wine, a nice meal and a good soak in a hot bath, I was ready for anything, particularly when VW Heritage came through with a new dynamo and the insurance company admitted it was in the wrong.
Since then, Mr Grigg and I have continued to argue with each other, patched things up and struggled with our lack of Greek. We've made friends and no enemies, we've laughed, cried, swum naked and got up on our feet and danced the night away at our local panygyri. We've been entertained at an olive press, listened to Corfiot mandolins, the island's choir and the country's orchestra.

We've become hooked on The Closer, NCIS and Greek adverts, we eat well and have had plenty of sunshine.

Our village neighbours have been the most generous and kind people you could meet. We've fallen out with the village priest, watched the pots being smashed in Corfu Town for Easter and entertained thirty visitors. I've had a quick go at snorkeling but still have to overcome my fear of jumping feet first into the water.

We've decorated the entire house, cleared the jungle of a garden, seen the sights, snuck off to the mainland for a week and visited the UK three times. I've written a few things for The Ionian magazine, taken a whole heavenly host of photos, gone down the chutes at Aqualand a few times and perfected a tiramisu made from kumquat liquor.

I've read seventy novels, completed three of my own, become a Saga top blogger and had three Dorset businesses approach me to do some freelance work when I get back, and all without having to lift a finger. They came to me. How good is that?

I've encouraged two old friends to publish debut novels via the about-to-be-launched The Bridport Press, registered the name of a website after having a Richard Branson lightbulb moment and am really excited about collaborating on plans for a children's book written by a very talented young woman from Dorset who died tragically almost twenty years ago.

Truly, I've been blessed these past twelve months. My muse has been working overtime. The whole year in this literary house will make a great book. A kind of My Family and Animals (without the family) meets Eat Pray Love without the praying and whining and A Year in Provence only funnier.

And I have a lovely Corfiot writer who is happy to write the foreword. All I need now is a publisher.

In less than two weeks we'll be on our way home to Dorset. And, guess what? I'm thinking do I really want to go home to the cold, the dark nights, the wind and the rain when I could stay another year?

Well, to be honest, it's all of the above here in Corfu right now. We've had wind, rain, dark nights and mornings and, for the first time in ages, I snuggled my feet into my Ugg boots as I sat at the computer this morning.

And, yes, I do want to go home. And, yes, I do want to stay here. So I'm trying for the best of both worlds. Watch this space.

But before then, we've been invited to a Greek wedding at the weekend, and it's the Corfiot family who we have come to know and love. I couldn't have planned a better ending.

That's about it.

Love Maddie x

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

A tale of three little pigs

Over the years we've lived in West Dorset, we've very often come home from a day out to find a pheasant or two hanging from the front door knob or a couple of freshly gutted rabbits lying on the step.

Bags of beans, courgettes, apples, plants, jars of produce - what goes around comes around. A case of share and share alike.

In our Greek village it's no different, even though we're still new here and the economic crisis is biting hard. We're given bags of produce, eggs, fruit, grapevines and cactus plants. We've been treated like royalty at the panygyri, with food and wine brought to us on plate after plate. A fight's almost broken out in the plateia over who's going to be the first to buy us an ouzo.
The generosity of our neighbours at home and abroad never ceases to amaze me. That's the way of village life, although there are those who insist you reap what you sow. It's about leading a simple life and doing as you would be done by.

Over the past year, we've been saving our food scraps and vegetable peelings and leaving them out for collection to feed the hens and the three pigs.
We've had bags of eggs left on the front door on a regular basis.
Our garden's been rotavated. 
We've had bags of vegetables left in the porch, we've had our trees cut, been given pruning advice and had cheery waves and toots of horns every time we venture outside the house.

This week's been no exception. Two great slabs of lean pork, ten thick chops and a dozen big slices of belly pork were delivered with a fag-in-the-mouth smile to our door.
My sister-in-law, who is staying with us, is not too fond of pork so we've put it in the freezer.

And then we have an invitation to supper next door. It's only a pig's head sizzling away in the pizza oven.
I'm not sure about it myself. I'm a farmer's daughter but, every now and then, a bit squeamish. However, it's a darn sight better than something pale and anonymous and shrinked-wrapped in a supermarket chiller.  At least we know where it came from and it had a good life.

Still, with plenty of garlic and roast potatoes, a whole load of ribs and feta in the oven, we might just get away with it. Although maybe not.

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...