Thursday, 22 December 2016

Here's to a peaceful, happy Christmas, wherever you are

Back from Colombia, weary, jet lagged and minus a suitcase, we pay a fleeting visit to North India, courtesy of a Bollywood Night at Bridport Electric Palace with the mighty Dhol Foundation.
It's the launch of the town's first-ever Winter Solstice Festival, which I've helped to organise. Tonight, it's Billy Bragg with Grace Petrie and Whatever Happened to the Protest Song?  It's sold out, so I hope I can get in.

The loud and joyous music of The Dhol Foundation is a tonic to the ears and tired bones. There is nothing to do but smile and dance and show off a henna tattoo I had done on my hand by a very beautiful and gracious young lady in the foyer. I'm fifty-five and have never had a tattoo, henna or otherwise, in my life.

I like it.

Mr Grigg and I must visit India next. And get tattoos.

It's been a busy old year, travel-wise, with trips to Budapest, Madeira, Iceland, Dublin, Corfu, Sicily and Colombia. Phew. In hindsight, it was too much really but I've become addicted to travel. So it's probably a good thing I've been very busy work-wise, to pay for it all.

They say travelling broadens the mind. It does indeed. But it also makes me realise how lucky I am to live in this wonderful part, the best part, of Dorset.

A woman travels the world over in search of what she needs and returns home to find it.

Despite the travels, I'll be glad to see the back of 2016. Personally, it's been the worst year of my life, losing three close members of my family, suffering a heart attack as Brexit became a reality and then international events conspiring to make my little world a whole lot worse.

On the strength of this blog, I've been invited to apply for a part in a reality TV show about the supposed division between young and old. After much soul searching (about five minutes), I turned it down. I'd get angry and emotional with bigots of any age, which would make great telly but would be terrible for me.

Next year has to be better. It's got to be. All I can do is be kind to others, embrace the beauty in the details of nature and beat on, boats against the current. I do believe in Gatsby's green light, even if in reality its promise does not exist.

This year and next, I'm supporting Water Aid and The Woodland Trust. Not instead of sending Christmas cards but as well as. I'd hate it, in this internet age, if greetings cards became a thing of the past.

So this year, I hope you have the Christmas you would like to have. May 2017 be healthy and full of joy.

In the meantime, you'll look back with laughter on those little moments of Christmas Chaos, just like I did when I failed to surface until Boxing Day...

Here's a leaflet about it. One of my stories is in it.
That's about it.

Love Maddie x

Saturday, 10 December 2016

Wake up and smell the coffee in Colombia

It's morning and the town square is buzzing. Not as much as it was last night, mind you, when there were stalls, music and plenty of rain.

Today, there is a large cockerel crowing in the ramshackle garden next to my hotel. A caged bird sings five notes, over and over again, and not necessarily in the right order. The smell of coffee wakens visitors from their slumber. A new day begins.

Here in Salento, Colombia, the town is making the most of Advent. At night, this little place west of Bogota, on the verdant coffee growing slopes of the Andes, literally lights up. There are candles in the most inspired cardboard holders in front of shops, bars and houses. Strings of white lights delineate doors and window and a decorated palm tree stands in the middle of the square.
In the church where I light a candle for family I have lost, the nativity scene is resplendent with sparking lights, a little town of Jerusalem covered in tinsel.

Christmas is coming.

Out in the hinterland, Willys Jeeps take hikers to their starting point, below the tall wax palms, the national tree of Colombia. Cows graze on the lush, green grass.

While the rest of our tour slogs through the beautiful scenery of the Los Nevados National Natural Park, Mr Grigg and I soak up the atmosphere of Salento, preferring to make a more leisurely acquaintance with this country which, for so many years, was a no-go area. Parts of it still are, and don't get a mention in the Lonely Planet guide because they are not safe.

Its capital, Bogota, I did not like.  Busy, edgy and sleazy, smelling of urine where men line up to do their business against graffiti walls. Streets bustling with people, night and day, and yellow taxi after yellow taxi plying their trade.

But there is solace in the main city square, Plaza de BolĂ­var, and serenity on the Monserrate mountain that overlooks this sprawling capital.
Back in Salento, men play a form of bar billiards where the tables have no holes. An exceptional bongo player outside, who is too loud for these streets, is moved on by police.

(Visit my Maddie Grigg Facebook page for video. I can't seem to upload it here.)
A black storm cloud hovers over the town.
And the beat of Salento goes on throughout the day.

I like it here.

That's about it.

Love Maddie x

Monday, 21 November 2016

Out on a limb in a post-Brexit landscape

It's a strange day today.

Black as the inside of a bag and raining like billio.

I don't like it.

We had snow last week. Just five minutes of it, but snow nonetheless.

It's as if the natural world is protesting at what's going on in the unnatural world. Refugee crisis, terrorism, Trump...

Don't get me started.

And since my Brexit heartbreak, the landscape has been changing.


Here's a couple of trees whose progress I've been following since the summer. (Excuse the quality of the photos, they were taken on my phone. I blame Brexit). Indulge my flight of fancy, but I think they look like the British Isles. I am always seeing symbolism in nature.

This is what the trees looked like in the early summer. Scotland was a big dodgy and the west and south east coasts of Ireland weren't quite right, but you can see what I mean, can't you?
Fast forward to the late summer/early autumn.
Wales has dropped off but Scotland, surprisingly, is still holding firm.

By the time we get to winter, there are rooks roosting in the Highlands and the Westcountry has joined Wales in falling off the face of the earth.

I dread to think what might happen next.

So here's a couple of pictures of my dog in a turnip field.

Because, while all the world around you has gone mad, a dog is a dog.

That's about it.

Love Maddie x

Saturday, 22 October 2016

A weekend break in an Airbnb in east Cornwall - proper job!

We're walking down a wooded lane, Arty the dog and I. There's a high estate wall on one side, a long bank on the other. We crunch through leaves and step on chestnut husks.

She's on the extendable lead as a yappy little dog roars up around the corner. Arty bounces, a bit, to one side, an incomer in a new place. The other dog sniffs his approval and then trots back to his owner.

'It's a lovely morning,' the woman says. 'There's no-one about. You can let her off the lead.'

I explain that as we're only staying here a couple of days, I want to see the lie of the land first before allowing the girl to explore unfettered.

We leave the lane and enter a large, sheep-free field. A short walk through the grass, around the bend and then there's this...

We meet another friendly dog walker, who directs us up some steps and through a wood. We emerge onto a quay and I can look at the viaduct from a different direction.
Wow again.

We're in St Germans, a village in a tucked-away part of east Cornwall, just across the Tamar from the metropolis that is Plymouth. We're staying in a small but cosy cottage, a barn conversion in someone's garden. We found it through Airbnb and it's brilliant. We'll be back.

I've not felt so strongly attracted to a place in years. Even passing teenagers smile and say hello without any trace of sarcasm. There are lots of trees and creeks. There are rolling hills and views out across to Dartmoor from the top of them. There's a community shop, a pub, a village hall, a school, a station, a stately home, an antiques shop, a gallery and cafe.

'I could live here,' I say to Mr Grigg.

He glowers. The last time I said that we ended up renting a house in Corfu for a year.

Vapour trails cut across a clear blue sky, as aeroplanes bound for faraway lands pass by a daylight moon. Trains heading for Penzance hurtle across the viaducts and bridges.

On nearby beaches, dogs play in the waves while people grab a cup of tea and a bite to eat from the pink van that is the Travelling Diner, one of the best little food places for miles around. Street food not fast food, with as much choice for the vegetarian as the meat eater, along with banter from proprietors Emma and Andy. 

On days like these, who'd want to be anywhere else?

That's about it.

Love Maddie x

Sunday, 9 October 2016

Chard Carnival 2016

Yet again, the stops are pulled out. There are bells, knobs and whistles, and music with a bass line to make your rib cage dance.

It's carnival time again in south Somerset and I love it. The gaudy costumes, the bright lights, the majesty and the humour, they all combine to make a magical evening.

Next stop is Taunton on Saturday 15 October.

That's about it.

Love Maddie x

Saturday, 1 October 2016

Saturday in Sicily

There's a wedding today in the heart of Ortygia, Sicily.

Women in high heels and expensive dresses stand at the door of the imposing Duomo. Every few minutes, men glance at their watches.

A busker changes instruments and the sweet sound of lute is replaced by swirling bagpipes. Three cyclists, in tight, bright Lycra, do figures of eight in the piazza.

Guests begin to spill out from the cafes in which they have been waiting, as an advance party comprising photographer and video cameramen announce the bride's imminent arrival.

A sleek, black car pulls up outside the church, an old man gets out and two women fuss over the bride, who towers over them all as she emerges, wearing shoes the height of Etna and a bun on top of her head.

There is applause from the watching crowd as father and daughter walk, arm in arm, up the steps. The doors are shut and the people in the Piazza del Duomo disperse.

That's about it.

Love Maddie x

Monday, 5 September 2016

The sequel to our Greek odyssey in Corfu begins

It is morning on Nikiforou Theotoki Street in Corfu Town and someone is playing a clarinet. They're high up in one of the tall, Venetian buildings and practising their scales, the notes rising slowly and then falling again, up and down, up and down.

The smell of garlic wafts down through the street from the Restaurant Rex. It's early September and the shops are full of cut-price summer sandals, on sale now that the season is coming to an end.

A new pair of shoes is just what I don't need, having bought a pair of shoes every week for the last six weeks as a bizarre way of coping with my grief.

Mr Grigg shares a surreptitious rice pudding with Gorgeous George and then he meets Eleni on her fruit and veg stall. A friend in the market is better than money in the purse.
'Why you been away so long?' she says.

Back in the village, a swallowtail butterfly flaps by and lingers, lazily, on the cerise bougainvillea that spiders its way along the front of the syllagos, where just a few weeks ago they were mixing the sperna for the annual feast day on August 15th, the national and religious holiday that marks the falling asleep of the Virgin Mary.

The chattering swallows are still here, but printing their boarding passes for the long flight ahead.
A moth takes a rest on a mosquito screen outside Dukas taverna and reveals a scary face on its body and wings.
Pavlos and Vasso put on pork in the oven, just for us.
It's ten months since we've been here in our village, the place where we spent a year away from home. Locals walk through the plateia and nod a greeting and then do a double-take and come back for kisses and hugs when they see who it is.

'You been away too long,' says Canadian George.

There are hugs and commiserations from Betty, a trip to The Three Brothers at Astrakeri to give Yianni Pianni sheet music for Side Saddle, with the instruction that he must learn it by the time we come back next time. And in the kafenio, the men still play cards.

On hearing my sad family news, white-haired Maria, who speaks no English and communicates with us by the use of facial expressions, hand signals and our smattering of very poor Greek, breaks down in tears.

She lost her husband sixteen years ago.

'She is still sad but you have to be strong,' Kiki from the kafenio says.

I tell her about my broken heart, for which I needed hospital treatment.

'You have the memories, Margarita. Now you must travel and see many things.'

In my book, Kiki is likened to Athena. She has a wise head on young shoulders.

Meanwhile, Mr Grigg is told by the proprietor of the kafenio, eager perhaps for another coffee sale, that he has the skin of a thirty year old.

Filming is just about to start in Corfu for a second series of ITV's The Durrells and actress, producer and singer (and Tom Hanks' wife) Rita Wilson is one of five prominent Greeks of the diaspora to be honoured by a new stamp.

And then there's my book.

'Paw, paw,' Kiki says. 'My sister-in-law has read it. British people have read it. They like it very much.'

'Yes,' says an English woman. 'And now you must hurry up and write the next one. We want to see what happens next.'
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...