Friday, 29 August 2014

Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Greek hospitality and birthday surprises

A smell of garlic began to make my nostrils twitch. I was inside the house, the shutters were closed to keep out the sun and mosquitoes and I didn't know where it was coming from.

The aroma grew stronger and stronger until it became overpowering. Like some bloodhound, I tracked it all through the house, to the utility room and out through the other side to the home of Spiros, our neighbour.

'You want some skordalia, Margarita?' he said, rhythmically mashing boiled potatoes with a cup full of two bulbs of pureed garlic and lashings of lemon juice. He added some olive oil, potato water and more lemon juice.

'You try,' he said. It was smooth, spiky and pungent. There was no way a mosquito would touch me now. In my skordalia armour, I was invincible.

It was on, then, to Gialiskari, a secluded beach near Pelekas. It's one of our favourite spots, the beach now replenished naturally with sand after last year when shingle and rocks took over the small cove for twelve months.
A lunch of grilled prawns, marinated anchovies, taramasalata and rocket salad, accompanied by a nice white wine, and then it was down to the beach, to lie out under an umbrella and grab a few pages of The Goldfinch before sleeping off the food and then cooling in off in the sparkling sea.
Back to the house for battered plaice, skordalia and boiled greens, which my neighbour had thoughtfully set aside for us, before flitting off into Corfu Town, the place buzzing with young people, vibrant and happy, for an expensive cocktail (a Margarita, of course) on the top of the Hotel Cavalieri.

And then a walk along the beautiful Liston.
Talk about being spoilt. It was an indulgence but I could handle it. After all, it was my birthday.

'Aren't the villagers having a party for you?' Number One Son had asked, when I Skyped him that morning.

'As if that's going to happen,' I said.

At eleven-thirty that night, as I sat on the bed in my birthday suit, Mr Grigg rushed downstairs to answer his mobile phone.

'They're only coming over to wish you a happy birthday,' he said as he tore back up to put on shorts and tee-shirt.

'They've got a cake and everything.'
So, hastily clothed, Mr Grigg and I sat outside, eating our wonderful ice cream cake, drinking beer and wine, listening to our friends gabbling in Greek, with the cicadas engaged in a similar sounding conversation. And with skordalia pouring out of our pores, the mosquitoes kept well clear.

Greece. There is nothing quite like it.

That's about it.

Love Maddie x

Saturday, 16 August 2014

We are Happy in Lush Places

Back in Lush Places, a new video has just been premiered on the village website.

It might be old hat but we thought we'd get in on the act.

Because, you see, we are Happy.

Here's the film on my YouTube channel:
It's a varied village, a lovely and lively village, with lots going on. Heck, even the horses are musical.

And for my next trick, I'm going to try to persuade our Greek friends in Agios Magikades to do something similar...

That's about it.

Love Maddie x

Thursday, 14 August 2014

It's party time back in Greece, the land that invented hospitality

I'm up here in shorts, a floral top and Birkenstocks. New shorts and bright pink Birkenstocks, it's true, but I'm feeling rather under-dressed.

Up in the plateia, in this heat, this death/life defying heat (it's said Greece will reach 42 degrees at the heatwave's peak on Saturday), and the women are dressed up to the nines. Immaculately coiffured hair, sleek and shining, teetering in strappy sandals and glammed up in off-the-shoulder dresses.

Beside me, the village president tops up Mr Grigg's glass with retsina, while my husband queues at the barbecue, desperate to buy some souvlakia to repay the villagers the hospitality we have been shown since arriving in Corfu late the previous night.

Plates of souvlakia, feta cheese and briam are plonked on the table in front of us.
'Go on,' the people say. 'You eat.'

Xenia is a concept from Greece's ancient past. And it's still practised to this day.

And you can never, should never, outdo a Greek when it comes to giving gifts. If they present you with a gift, just accept it with a gracious efharisto poli. Don't try to top it. It's not a competition. And if it was, you'd still never win. The Greeks will always have the last word. Whatever you give, they will give you something bigger, and better.

It's festival week here in the village and the plateia is packed. We've only just arrived and already we're made to feel like old friends.
'Where you been? On your holly-days?' says Nikos the Dancer, resplendent in Che Geuvara T-shirt.

The musicians play Zorba's Dance and he's off.
And then the young boys and girls dance in friendship around him.
Oh, those Greeks.

That's about it.

Love Maddie x

Thursday, 7 August 2014

All aboard the Sidmouth Special

It's ten thirty in the morning and a bus pulls up outside our front door.

All aboard for the Sidmouth Special.

For just £9 a head, we weave our way out of Lush Places through narrow lanes, high up as anything and looking out over the hedgerows to the hills and views beyond and into people's back gardens.

And then we cross the border into Devon and make our way to the elegant seaside resort of Sidmouth, where, for the past sixty years, the renowned seaside folk festival clatters, tinkles, strums, beats, sings and dances its way through the crowds.

Usually, the town is home to some 15,000 souls, sixty percent of whom are over sixty five. But during Sidmouth Folk Week, the population soars and takes on a life of its own. My uncle, George Withers, sang in the pubs here for many years.

Today, there are tickets to be bought for those who want them and street performances for those who are quite happy to potter around and see what turns up. The esplanade, with its genteel, Regency buildings looking out across the stalls, is full of morris dancers and people soaking up the atmosphere.
A puppet spies a gap in the strolling legs and dances for money.
Musicians gather together on the seafront and play a tune.
And then a raucous band, Phat Bollard from Cornwall, strike up in the town and people of all ages and backgrounds dance to the catchy tune and sing along to the jaunty lyrics.
Several decades ago (I don't know when, exactly), one of our Greek friends performed here with a group of Corfiot folk dancers. People come from all over the world, to take part and to enjoy.

Our day done, we head back over the hills in the bus, the only ones singing in the back seat.
 What a day.

And then when the week is over, Sidmouth will go back to being genteel again.
That's about it.

Love Maddie x

Saturday, 2 August 2014

There's nothing quite like an English village fete

There's been rain for the first time in weeks in this long, hot summer.

This morning, it belted down on the conservatory roof, filled the sides of our Dorset roads with streams and lashed the hanging baskets.

And then the sun came out.

Which was just as well because it was Loders Fete.
Set in the gardens of the lovely Loders Court, this typically English event feels like slipping back through a time warp into the fifties, sixties and seventies.
With a nostalgic soundtrack featuring Spanish Flea, Danny Kaye singing Thumbelina and the music for Muscle Man, the grounds are alive with shrieking children, ice creams, stalls selling bric-a-brac, antique valuations, Otter beer, teas, plants and a horde of home-made cakes.
There are racing ferrets, a woman dancing with fire, a fancy dress competition, a bouncy castle and three balls on the coconut shy for 50p.

The cars keep on arriving in the car park hours after the fete opens.

'It's a popular one, this,' says a lady as she crosses the ha-ha and pays her £1 entry, with her Panama-hatted husband by her side.

It's the quintessential English country fete, the backdrop for a Midsomer Murders scene and it's not changed a bit since the music on the playlist was first popular.

England at its best.


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...