Wednesday, 24 December 2014

Christmas greetings, wherever you are.

Well, Delia's ham is in the oven ready for glazing, Mr Grigg's making sweets and James Bond is on the telly.

Across the road, the church candles will soon need lighting for Midnight Mass as the village pub fills up on Christmas Eve.

We've had the church carol service - a great success - the fish and chip van had a bumper evening last night and the tills have been ringing at the community shop all day.

Personally, it's been an amazing year, with unexpected travels and new opportunities turning up left, right and centre.

I'm not quite sure how this blog - or my life - will rattle along in 2015 but I will be sure to keep you posted. In the meantime, a merry Christmas to you and yours and a happy, healthy and peaceful new year.

Remember, if you wanna do it, do it. If you don't, don't.

I was asked to write something to read out at the carol service on Sunday. So I turned to my journal from two years ago when I was home alone in Corfu with Mr Grigg.

Enjoy what you have, when you have it and where you have it. Seek out new challenges and interesting things. But remember, the grass is never greener. It's just a just a different shade.
A Greek Christmas

There was a chill in the air, as if the wind was blowing from the Russian Steppes or the Caucasus or wherever cold weather came from at this time of year. Piles of logs were stacked outside people’s houses and, in the afternoons, smoke rose from the chimneys as fires were lit inside. Those who visit Corfu only in the summer season would never believe how cold, damp and wet it is in winter. There is a reason why the island is so green.

We had been in Corfu for two months and, despite the beauty and magic of the place, I couldn’t get Dorset out of my head. There was a real ache in my bones and in my heart, in my whole being. I loved the Greek countryside but I longed to see the lush, slushy fields back home and walk through them with my grand-daughter. I really hadn’t thought I was going to feel like this and I was cross with myself for feeling so homesick. Here I was, doing something others would give an arm and a leg to do, living the dream, in a country where people were suffering, really suffering, and I felt sorry for myself because I didn’t want to be here.

It’s strange being in a foreign land at this time of year, especially when the native tongue is so hard to understand. I felt detached. I couldn’t understand the overheard conversations going on around me. For one of life’s eavesdroppers, I was lost. Any Christmas spirit in the air was going over my head. My modus operandi is usually ‘listen and observe’. My lack of Greek meant I could do only the latter.

Christmas, for me, is about family and friends and getting together in joyful fashion, giving and receiving. So, on the shortest day, we hosted a party for our new neighbours and friends. We had no idea how many people were coming and at what time, because my husband couldn’t remember if he’d told them two o’clock or four. By the end of the previous day, we’d prepared most of the menu: sausage rolls, stuffed dates, red pepper hummus, red cabbage coleslaw, mince pies, Christmas cake, kourambiedes biscuits and melamakarona cakes, pavlova, crisps, nuts, cheese, coronation chicken, devils on horseback, salami and prosciutto on pumpernickel, smoked salmon and horseradish, and melba toast and little tartlets filled with ratatouille.

The day dawned with a glorious burst of sunshine as we prepared our home for the party. House cleaned, food on the table, glad rags on, at one minute to two we were ready. Which as just as well because, at one minute past two, the doorbell rang, Betty and Antoni and their three-year-old daughter, Marie-Angela. Kisses. Doorbell rings. Labi. Kisses. Doorbell. Ilia, Koula and Little Ilia, aged six. A little later on, Gorgeous George and the serene Mrs George arrive, and then Yanni Pianni, flustered but here, after a busy lunchtime in the family taverna, and armed with a jar of preserved oranges made by his mother. 

All the Greeks were bearing gifts: copious bottles of wine, a large azalea and a present we were allowed to open only at New Year. They didn’t have much, these people, but we were discovered their generosity and hospitality was endless. There is a word in Greek – filoxenia – which means love, kindness and hospitality to foreigners, to strangers. 

That day, we grasped the concept of filoxenia first hand, by giving it and receiving it ourselves. 

The men went outside to smoke and then came back in to teach my husband how to play cards, dealing, as they always do in Greece, to the left. The children amused themselves with pencils and paper and the women nattered in gunfire-fast Greek to anyone who would listen. They wolfed down everything on the table, including my coronation chicken, made to a recipe by a retired chef from my Dorset village for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. 

And then, a few hours later, as quickly as they arrived, they went, one after another. The place was quiet now but there was an energy to the house I had not experienced before.

It had been a good day. The Christmas spirit had entered our home. And from that point on, I vowed, I’d live in the moment, lucky indeed to be living the dream and experiencing the power of filoxenia.

That's about it.

Love Maddie x

Wednesday, 17 December 2014

A Christmas tree in your underpants

The village square is looking very pretty this year.

There are lights on Christmas trees outside the houses and holly wreaths on the doors.

But this calm and peaceful scene conceals domestic turmoil going on inside.  Couples have almost come to blows about the appropriateness or otherwise of the lights they've chosen.

Should they be warm white, ice blue or multi-coloured?

The pub looks like something from Las Vegas but we're all delighted because at least it's looking cheerful. And none of the lights is flashing.
Which is just as well really, as the landlord's been told off about the Christmas tree above his door.

A woman has complained that the tree looks a bit like a...



...a penis.

Between all us villagers, we've seen a few knobs in our time. I'm told some look like parsnips, bananas or even anteaters' noses.
But, honestly, a Christmas tree?

We're trying to find out who the woman was who complained. We want to take a long, hard look at her husband's crotch to see if there is anything spiky poking out. Or possible a bauble or two.

Imagine it. A Christmas tree in your underpants.

In the meantime, we've taken to walking up and down the road past the pub's Christmas tree to try to make sense of this novel description.

We're hoping it will be like one of those pictures which at first sight appear to be a load of dots until, if you stare at it long enough, it suddenly jumps out at you.

Or perhaps not.

What do you think?
That's about it.

Love Maddie x

Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Christmas wishes from Lush Places

In Lush Places, the village square is beginning to look a lot like Christmas.

The are festive trees above the houses of doors and a big conifer on the green now has a pretty coat of sparkling lights.

Over at the pub, now resplendent with a cheery and professional landlord and landlady and roaring fire (it's three times the place it was a few months ago. It's been dire. We even got to the point where Mr Grigg and I thought about running it ourselves...) the stag's head has a red bauble for a nose and there's tinsel everywhere.

There's three words, 'HO' 'HO' and 'HO', on the shelf below the menu boards. And, inevitably, they keep being turned round by the customers when the landlord's not looking to read 'OH' 'OH' 'OH'.

And today, colourful, twinkling lights went up on the pub's tree above the door and a string of purple criss-crossed its way along the front wall.
Tonight, the ladies from the fish and chip van will be wearing reindeer antlers and jingly bells for earrings as they serve the long queue of hungry folk from the village and beyond.
We've had a Christmas bazaar up in the village hall with holly wreaths a-plenty and the school children have been rehearsing their end of term production.

Up at the old people's community room, practising has been going on for the church carol service in two weeks' time. We've been hitting high notes and singing descants, having a go at rounds and singing alleluia while the vicar puts us through our paces with piano accompaniment.

Out in the fields, the badgers have been digging, the catkins are beginning to emerge and the red berries on the holly are fast being consumed by the birds. According to the papers, we're in for a chilly blast of ice and snow.

There's no place like home at Christmas.

That's about it.

Love Maddie x

Friday, 5 December 2014

With love from The Lady Shed

I'll be posting here soon but, in the meantime, here's a link to my latest post on a new website in which I'm involved.

That's about it.

Love Maddie x

Tuesday, 2 December 2014

We made it! Machu Picchu or bust

The baby of our party to Peru says a huge thanks to Saga Travel, the Telegraph newspaper, our tour manager Jose (what a star), our guides and my fellow travellers.

That's about it.

Love Maddie x

Thursday, 27 November 2014

The colourful land of Peru, courtesy of Saga Travel and The Telegraph

It's been non-stop on this colourful trip of a lifetime to Peru, which I won in a travel writing competition run by The Telegraph and Saga.

You'd think a Saga holiday might be a bit slow for a woman approaching fifty (albeit from the wrong direction).
But I don't think I've been on the go so much since a press trip to the Falkand Islands in 1987.

I've seen some wonderful things.

We've been here, there and everywhere, on dry land and on Lake Titicaca, by plane and by bus and on foot. The sights, sounds, smells, taste and the feel of things has been incredible. There is lots to tell but I'll just let the pictures do the talking.
There's been sunrises...
...and sunsets.
There's been altitude sickness, discovering your fellow travellers know people you know (it's a small world, after all) and a few coca leaves to chew every day.

But the best is yet to come. Machu Picchu. Today.

That's about it.

Love Maddie x

Saturday, 22 November 2014

A Peruvian wedding

There's a wedding today in Arequipa, Peru.

As in countries the world over, little boys still in nappies dress up as men in stiff suits. Women who should know better squeeze into outfits that should have been left on the hanger in the shop.
 There's a family photo before the bride arrives.
 Some glamour as one of the bridesmaids turns up.
 Small children play with grass clippings while they wait for the service to begin.
At last, a classic car pulls up at the church gate.
Dad gives his daughter a hand with the train.
And then an old lady who was just passing by steps in to help.
But the veil won't stay on. Where are those bridesmaids when they're needed? Flirting with the best man and ushers inside. The bride is not impressed.
They respond to the bride's call and try to secure the wayward veil.
That'll do. The flower girl signals their impending approach.
The procession makes its way to the church door as the runaway train escapes the bridesmaids' clutches.
Just as the organist starts to play The Wedding March, the train detaches completely.
A few bars in and they're still trying to fix the blessed thing to the bride's hair.
 Phew, all is well. For now.
A shout goes up in the crowd outside as a hundred chocolate coins and sweets are thrown into the air for luck. There is a mad scramble by the onlookers desperate to get their fair share.
 The doors of the church shut tight and the wedding car waits outside.
And then life goes on as normal in Arequipa. Cars and taxis roar by and children, as they do all over the world, eat ice creams, play with siblings and chase pigeons in the park.
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...