Friday, 29 December 2017

After the rain

The wind whistles and whines through the window, rattling the house and all who within her do dwell.

Across the road, Mrs Bancroft's Christmas tree is wrenched from its bracket on the wall above her front door. It is saved from rolling down the road by the cable of lights to which it is still attached. It's the second time this festive season that the blooming thing has tried to do a runner. You wouldn't believe the foul weather we've had since Christmas Day.

This morning, Arty and I leave Mr Grigg in bed. My cold is on the way out, although it's lasted nearly a month, and now he's got it. It's one of those nasty viruses that leaves you feeling weak, annoyed and grumpy as anything. Clearly, then, the best place for Mr Grigg to be is under the covers.

The sky looks pretty dark as the girl and I venture up the road, splashed by White Van Men whose vehicles roar through puddles at way over the 20mph speed limit. I swear out loud at these thoughtless drivers but then remember I'm just behind the vicarage. Luckily, the wind takes away my words. I hope the vicar didn't hear me.

In the field, the heavens open and we're pelted with hailstones. It's relentless. The dog yelps and I yelp. We squish around the fields as fast as our little legs can carry us and then head down through the fast-flowing ford and back to the warmth of our house where Mr Grigg is waiting with a lovely cup of tea.

I give the dog a good rub down and then go upstairs to peel off my sodden clothes. My legs are red raw from the hailstones and the biting cold. Even my knickers are wet. But how lucky I am to live in a nice warm house where being soaked on a dog walk is just a temporary inconvenience.

After the rain, here's to sunny winter days and a promise of spring.

To fill you with hope, I leave you with the mighty Dhol Foundation, who gave the darkness a good talking to on the shortest day on 21 December at the second Bridport Winter Solstice Festival. I could do with this joyous reel on a permanent loop inside my head to get through these dark days.
Here's to a happy, healthy and successful 2018.

That's about it.

Love Maddie x

Tuesday, 5 December 2017

Christmas is coming to Dorset

In the fields, the skeletal trees march along the hedge to tell us winter is here in Dorset.

There are children snaking their way up, two by two, to the village hall for their last rehearsal before their Christmas play tomorrow.

Cars, vans and lorries have to stop, just for a moment, to let the embodiment of our collective future walk across the road to the steps up to the village green. It's a lovely sight - the children, I mean, not just the halted traffic.

In the hall, the festive decorations have already been put up. And around the village, there are spruce trees above front doors, ready for the big switch-on at the weekend when the honours will be done by the vicar to a live soundtrack of Christmas carols before everyone packs into the pub for mulled wine and mince pies.

Choir practice is taking place for the church carol concert in a few weeks' time and the shop has had its Christmas shopping event. There's been a supermoon hanging low in the night sky. On TV, we've had The X Factor final and Strictly's is just around the corner. And I'm A Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here is in its last week.

But there's something missing. Ah yes, here it is. The Christmas Cold. Not quite the flu but nearly as bad. And I'm full of it.

That's about it.

Love Maddie x

Tuesday, 31 October 2017

A witch's tail for Samhain

It's Samhain, one of the most important festivals of the pagan year, and I'm up with the sunrise on the hill, hugging a tree, my face buried in the soft lichen enveloping its trunk, before looking out across the valley towards the sea.

There's no-one about and the air is still and clear. There are fairies up on this hill, although I've not encountered one as yet. However, it's the best place and time to breathe in the freshness, ever so deeply, and commune with nature.

Samhain is the highest holy day of witches. I'm a complete novice when it comes to witchery but I can relate to it far better than I can to Halloween, with its supermarket costumes and gummy sweets and cruel tricks on people who have the audacity not to see the cute side of children at their door demanding treats with menaces. 

Mind you, I do like the effect a lit pumpkin can have on a dark night.

And that's the point about Samhain. It's about passing from the light into the darkness, where the veils between the worlds are at their thinnest. This is the time to honour and offer hospitality to our ancestors.

So after a few words to the sons and daughters of the soil who have gone before me in years gone by, and some not that long ago, I walk around the top of the hill, scuffing through a pathway of fallen leaves, and watch how the shafts of sunlight come through the ancient beech trees.

Truly magical.

Back down the hill and I take the dog upstairs with me for company as I open up my laptop in the spare bedroom, choosing a suitable spiritual soundtrack on YouTube to cleanse my aura while I do some work.

As I awaken the goddess within, Mr Grigg crashes through the door yelling, 'rat, rat!' Because down in the kitchen, you see, a large brown rat has just brazenly walked out from behind the wood panelling to nibble at the insides of a pumpkin, reserved from last night's carving to make some soup.

In the kitchen, Mr Grigg is on the telephone to Nobby Odd Job, giving a running commentary of the events unfolding near the toaster. From the safety of the step in the hall, I can see the rat coming and going as if it's a rent-paying tenant, while our two cats - the laziest animals in the world - just carry on sleeping on the sofa.

'I'm getting a trap from the garage!' Mr Grigg yells, before I get the chance to ask if we possess a humane one.

Within minutes, the rat gets a little too close to the trap, and then creature and contraption hurtle high up into the air as Mr Grigg makes the sort of noise he usually reserves for a hat trick by his favourite Bristol City striker.

The dog is crying and I, too, am a bit worried. I might be complicit in killing a living being on Samhain, which surely can't be a good thing. A rat is a rat and I could have trained it to be my familiar, although I realise at this point I am being pretty fanciful.

'Take a picture, take a picture!'

It grieves me to say that I do, but I quickly delete it and decide not to post it here. I vow to make time in between tonight's Boden shopping party and a showing of The Shining at the village hall to light some candles to honour and remember the dead. 

And if I care anything about karma, I need to say a few words in memory of the rat. At least it died happy.

That's about it.

Love Maddie x

Thursday, 19 October 2017

Happy Diwali from India

An elephant pulls up alongside us at the traffic lights.

We're in Jaipur, India, and very much enjoying the Pink City.

We deliberately avoid riding on one of these noble creatures up to the Amber Fort though - much to the surprise of our lovely driver, Rajiv - because we're concerned about the animals' welfare.

Still, we see plenty of them, and lots of other things beside, on our Trailfinders trip to India's Golden Triangle - Delhi, Agra and Jaipur - and then on to Shimla on The Himalayan Queen 'toy train' up into the cool of the mountains.

So many stories, so many wonderful moments, it's hard to pick out just one highlight, because everything is so special. Mr Grigg and I will never forget our visit to Gurudwara Sis Ganj Sahibthe Sikh temple in Delhi, where hundreds of people are fed every day.

The Taj Mahal is more serene and jaw-droppingly beautiful than anyone could ever imagine, even with hundreds of people walking around the grounds. It changes colour according to the light.

In Northern India, there are ancient sites and temples wherever you look. Colour and noise and smells. Glorious chaos.
This is a country  of contrasts, dichotomies and ironies. It's where well-fed pigeons gorge on corn while, just steps away, young children weave their way in and out of traffic, tapping on car windows and beg for money.

Where there are cows wandering the streets along with monkeys. Tigers in the jungle and even this one in Shimla.

It's like nowhere else on earth.

Today is Diwali, the  festival of lights, which celebrates the victory of light over darkness, good over evil and knowledge over ignorance.
That's about it.

Love Maddie x

Tuesday, 26 September 2017

It's all in the detail

I've just been out for a morning walk with the dog. This landscape always fills me with such hope and promise. Especially when you look down or at eye level to see the smaller picture.

I've blogged about it here for A Dorset Year.

At the weekend I spied a dragonfly washing its face. As someone said after seeing this, if I'd had a more powerful microphone, you might have heard it singing I'm So Pretty.
That's about it.

Love Maddie x

Monday, 18 September 2017

Laying a hedge, Dorset-style

It's a blazing hot, autumn day and I'm out here in the sunshine, my best man by my side, and we're laying a hedge.

A hedge. Me laying a hedge. My farming dad and grandfathers would be proud of me. Well, maybe not proud of the way I'm struggling to swing a billhook into the stem of this hazel. But perhaps proud of me for trying.

Each year, the Melplash Agricultural Society puts on the annual hedging and ploughing match. Next Sunday, it's at Chideock. It's a great day out for all the family. 

I'm taking part in a free, hedgelaying taster day at Mangerton Lane, near Bridport, where groups of up to four are being instructed in this age-old art by experts in the field.

It's a lovely part of Dorset, bordered by a line of beautiful, rounded hills running from Loders to Powerstock. It's an enchanted landscape where the swallows and swifts gather for the last hurrah before the long journey south.

A quick demonstration on the roadside hedgerow yields an empty vodka bottle and a wallet, filled with credit cards, a driving licence and mud. Later, I track down its (local) owner and promise to hand it over when they're back from holiday.

Then we're asked to follow an instructor and go and lay our hedge. We plump for Nigel, who's nearly eighty and been laying hedges since he was knee-high to a hazel sapling. I think it always pays to go with the experienced teacher when it comes to learning age-old rural skills.

Our stretch of hedge soon echoes to the sound of a chainsaw slicing through blackthorn. Nigel is something of an expert, making short work of branches that will yield to neither billhook nor axe.

Mr Grigg and I work as a pair on the middle part of the hedge while another chap lays a section at the front. He'd done this before, but in Surrey where they do it differently. Apparently, hedgelaying can vary from county to county. Who knew?

It's hard work but very satisfying. We're busy for nearly five hours.
The idea is that if we liked it enough, and maybe showed prowess, we might enter Sunday's competition as a novice pair.

I don't think we'll be much of a match for the hedgelayers of West Dorset and beyond, but, hey, we're going to give it our best shot. I've found out we even get a free ploughman's lunch. Can't be bad.

That's about it.

Love Maddie x

Wednesday, 6 September 2017

A pub with no beer

The village square is on its knees.

Tumbleweed drifts slowly by the old village stores, where the blinds have been pulled for a couple of years now.

Across the road, the shop last used a few months ago by the church on Saturday mornings, as a gathering place for coffees and a natter, has its windows whitened out.

The jackdaws gather. Ominously.

And not a drop of water comes out of the old pump under the signpost.

In a new development, the downstairs windows of the pub were boarded up on Monday. Six workmen waited outside for an hour until they could get in and seal off our hostelry from the outside world.

In the last sixteen years, I've never seen that happen in between landlords (and we've had nine of them in that time). Let's hope it signals a refurbishment and not closure.

We need our pub.

In the meantime, the community spirit that is so endemic in this village is alive and well and living in the village hall. There's all sorts of stuff going on here, including a pop-up bar three nights a week to bridge the gap.

But we need our pub.

Today, the Union Flag waves defiantly above the pub's front door. All pomp and circumstance, but signifying nothing.

There is a strange feeling of deja vu when I recall the village poem written en masse when the pub was between tenants five years ago. It was sent as a love letter to the brewery. Maybe we need to send it again.


In the bar the lion sleeps tonight
They say the White Lion roams on Lewesdon Hill
‘Is anybody there?’ said the traveller
The open pub will have to do good grub
I went there once and had a pie
One landlord with more than eyes for the ladies and another one who was as miserable as Hades
We need people to cheer where there is beer
Like Shipton Gorge’s New Inn, the Lion will be a-brewin
Ruling the world from Compost Corner
Warm and welcoming, friendly to dogs
T’was the White Lion in Lush Places where I did want to dine
Miss the hairy sofa
I have never seen a white lion
Fuggy, muggy air seeps through, contaminating passers-by
The Lion is closed, the Lion is dead, long live the Lion
Oh to be in the White Lion now that winter’s here
Endless possibilities
A warm glass of Chardonnay from a fridge too far
After a few wines I too roar like a lion
Don’t lean on the wall Fred
Come back John and Sue
An inviting place of comfort and warmth
I’d like ice with mine…
The White Lion has joined the other myths of Dorset, such as the black dog of Common Water Lane
Squishy, squashy dog-hair sofa. The pub with no beer or any other cheer
That Palmers is rank again, like making love in a punt – near water
The garden is full of frogs
Last orders…pleeease
Tricky Dicky and Domestic Pam
Please give us basic pub food e.g. local sausages and mash
The lion is white with fright at the beer here
We miss our pub which we should use for happy evenings, food and booze
Road safety, don’t tear round the White line/Lion
New Year conga round the village
All we’re left with is a lonely pub and no beer
‘What do you mean there is no Guinness?’
We miss the cheer. The clink of glasses – the bubble of voices
The White Lion lives with my husband under the kitchen table
Open again soon.
The White Lion, dream of the hunters? Where oh where is all the beer?
A giggling group gathered in Compost Corner. A pub of dwindling renown
Palmers, re-open our long dark pale pussy cat
The White Lion lost its roar and customers galore, smiling, laughter, no frowning or scowls.
The buzz and banter of a pub in the community
Come back, come back, the hunt is here
The weather vane on the roof spins round and round
Lots of jolly people, great expectations
We had a pleasant jar served up by landlord ex-QPR
The White Lion is closed
Will rise like a Phoenix

Friday, 25 August 2017

Celebrating my birthday with iPod roulette

It's my birthday and I wake up today with the words of Tina Turner rasping in my ears: "Women of a certain age..."

I get up later than usual, because of the occasion and because I can, and take the dog out on a long walk across the fields, to a hamlet where I often think I'd like to live, because it's got a tucked-away church, a farmyard full of stuff and the smell of cow dung is never far from my nostrils.

The sky is a beautiful blue, made even more blue by my camera's new polarising filter, and I am loving the light, the definition in the landscape
Thankfully, Tina Turner has wandered off stage and out of my head (and I say, bloody good riddance, I like you Tina and all that, but, frankly, I'm more of a Nutbush City Limits-type of girl and I Don't Wanna Lose You gets on my nerves). And Leonard Bernstein, with whom I share a birthday, don't you know, floats by on a low, wispy cloud and I hear him singing the words 'there's a place for us' in a very sweet voice and I join him in the harmonies of Somewhere, much to the amusement of a farmer leaning against a gate, who tells me to hurry up along the lane because he wants to move his cattle.

By the time I get up the lane, the cattle are moving themselves, quite happily, across the road. A little red car goes by and the female passenger makes a Wallace face as if to say, 'eek, cows in the road.'

I like cows. If it weren't for the caste system, I often think I should be a Hindu.

I walk down into Lush Places, thinking I am so lucky to live here, in this beautiful part of Dorset where the tourists don't often venture. Not for me the delights of the Jurassic coast and overpriced, ponced-up food that laughs at your gullibility as soon as it arrives on your plate.

I had been planning to go to Thomas Hardy's birth and deathplaces today but then think better of it because it's the start of the Bank Holiday weekend and the A35 will be heaving.

So I put the towels in for a wash and stick my iPod on shuffle. I love music and, besides, Tina Turner has just come back to pay me a visit as I've just I've opened my daughter's giant card which says HAPPY BIRTHDAY GRANDMA in 72-point typeface. 

I want something hopeful ringing in my ears.

I open my friend's card which says If The Music's Too Loud, You're Too Old. It's never too loud for me, which is probably why I have tinnitus.

The iPod shuffle is working its magic. I am so energised by the random things coming through my headphones, I reckon I'm all set for a great day. The first five are How I Got Over By Reef, You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real) by Sylvester, What You're Supposing by Status Quo, Wham and Baby I'm Your Man and then Don't Stop Me Now by Queen.

Great stuff.

And then Mr Grigg comes in to the room, overworked and angry after a cock-up by BT and hands me the telephone because he's waiting for a phone call and can I take it (not even a please!). My birthday bubble bursts.

So I take off the headphones and get Lou Bega and Mambo Number 5 coming out of my laptop.

And it was all going so well.

I give it one last go and get Take Me To The Clouds Above by LMC Vs U2.
And then The Liquidator by Harry J All Stars.  Things are looking up. But still no call from BT.

I'm reckon I should quit this game of iPod roulette while I'm still ahead.

And then I think, just one more.

I don't believe it. 
Love is the Drug.

It ain't no big thing to wait for the bell to ring
It ain't no big thing the toll of the bell

And BT still don't ring.

Then I think, well, one more track won't hurt and Born To Be Wild comes on. That's it, I'm off to get my motor runnin'.

Have a great day, wherever you are.

That's about it.

Love Maddie

Friday, 18 August 2017

An unkindness of ravens

There seem to be an overkill of ravens croaking high above the fields in this part of Dorset right now.

Has anyone checked the Tower of London lately, to see if the ravens are still there? The story goes that if the Tower’s ravens are lost or fly away, the Crown will fall and Britain with it.

Whereas I used to hear the ravens’ call only up on Bluebell Hill, they’re now lower down, closer to the village although flying high, solitary, in the sky on their way to somewhere.

Their call is so distinctive. Unmistakable.

Swifts have returned to the village square, nesting under the eaves of a house down the road, undisturbed by building work going on.
To see these birds swooping in and out, well, they’re a joy to behold. It’s great to have them back, even just a few of them. It makes a change from the blessed jackdaws, although I suppose everyone has to live somewhere. But preferably not as close to me as this lot have been of late.
The swifts seem to have such fun and they’re so fast. If only their swallow siblings would come back and chatter on the overhead lines outside my house, like they used to.
I love swallows.

Down the lane, the British Isles trees, on the edge of the hedge, still stand, although I can’t check if any other bits have fallen off – other than Wales and the West Country and parts of Scotland and Ireland, which disappeared months ago.

I can’t really see the trees any more because they're surrounded by a sea of maize.
The British Isles. In a maze. Nature is full of signs and prophecies.

But after the rains and the bad news all around us, it’s so good to see blue skies and green, green grass in amongst the mud.

That's about it.

Love Maddie


Tuesday, 8 August 2017

Didn't we have a lovely time, the day we went to Sidmouth?

It's that time of year again when the genteel seaside resort of Sidmouth opens its doors to folk fans and performers from around the world.

There's been a folk festival here in the first week of August every year since 1955. Tens of thousands of visitors flock to this part of Devon for it. 

The esplanade is full of morris dancers and solitary buskers. Girls are doing jigs and reels. The pubs are full of musicians just picking up their instruments and going with the flow. There are ceilidhs in halls and pub patios, workshops in community halls and vocalists in the gardens.

And much ale and cider is consumed.

And then there's the paid-for gigs all through the week, with artists on the multi-faceted bill including Show of Hands, Oysterband, Ralph McTell, Seth Lakeman and his father, Geoff (who I remember from the days when he was the Daily Mirror's man on the spot in the West Country). 

And much ale and cider is consumed.

Still, we're here for just the day, on a coach trip organised by Mr Grigg. Thirty-nine of us look at the gorgeous Dorset countryside before slipping into Devon and down to the red cliff coast.

For the next nine hours, we wander the streets (and pubs) of Sidmouth, stopping wherever anything takes our fancy. Comedy duos performing on the streets, bearded collies parading along the seafront - the wind whipping through the hair - a woman playing the penny whistle while her Mohican curls up in big rollers on top of her head. These are the sights we see.

And much ale and cider is consumed.

Back on the bus and we sing everything from traditional West Country folk songs to Abba and The Wurzels. For some reason, none of us can string two verses together, let alone carry a tune.

Didn't we have a lovely time, the day we went to Sidmouth?

That's about it.

Love Maddie x

Tuesday, 1 August 2017

A free woman in Dorset

The thing about so-called 'portfolio careers' is that, sometimes, an important document - which you've worked hard to produce - falls out of your metaphorical ring binder.

That's just happened to me - by choice - but it's still pretty strange not to be doing that particular job, which is one I've actually enjoyed very much.

Still, times change and we move with them, or risk being left behind.

So I hand in my keys and laptop and literally (yes, really literally) feel a weight lift from my shoulders, which is probably because I am always carrying said laptop in a tote bag over my right arm. At last, my posture comes back. I can walk again.

Onwards and upwards.

I go into WH Smith and get myself an academic diary (which runs from July 2017 to the end of August 2018) so I can turn over a new leaf. I want to start on a fresh page.

I shop in Waitrose for what probably will be the last time for a while and restrict myself to buying biodegradable dog poo bags and two lots of £1 pink grapefruit shower gel from their Essentials range. If nothing else, I'll be doing my bit for the environment when I take the dog out on the long march and smelling nice while we're walking.

In the alleyway outside, a girl with a guitar and a sweeter-than-sweet voice is strumming along nicely and sings the line 'you don't know what you've got till it's gone', sadly a song by the gravelly Cinderella and not my musical heroine Joni Mitchell.

Being one for signs and omens, the line could be a reference to the missing document in my portfolio ring binder or a challenge to get on and do what I can to keep them from paving paradise.

I turn back and give the busker a pound coin just to be on the safe side.

And then I get in the car and Simply Red are on the radio singing 'Holding Back The Years'. And I reckon my omen radar is way off beam and it's more to do with my taste in radio channels than a sign, because I don't want to go back there, no siree.

"The way I see it," he said, 
"You just can't win it

Everybody's in it for their own gain 

You can't please 'em all 
There's always somebody calling you down 
I do my best 
And I do good business 
There's a lot of people asking for my time 
They're trying to get ahead 
They're trying to be a good friend of mine."

There are storm clouds on the horizon but the sky's the limit.
That's about it.

Love Maddie x

Thursday, 13 July 2017

Monmouth: a great story well told

On a balmy summer night, we pootle down to Lyme Regis and manage to find a space in the car park near the Cobb.

We don't want to be late because we understand a certain gentleman is due to arrive, along with a small band of supporters.

We're here to see Monmouth, the Lyme Regis community play and we want to be in on the action, right at the start. You see it was here, in June 1685, that the Duke of Monmouth landed, intent on gathering a rebel army along the way to seize the throne from his unpopular uncle, James II.

The Monmouth Rebellion, which I've written about before, led to the last battle on English soil, some thirty four years after the English Civil War. 

It could have worked but, for many reasons, it didn't. It was a sad episode in our history. And the bloody aftermath was shocking, with the notorious Judge Jeffreys ordering men to be hanged, drawn and quartered, left, right and centre, their remains displayed around villages and towns to act as a warning against future dissent.

Others were transported as slaves to the West Indies. I'll never really be sure what happened to my ancestors who were caught up in the Rebellion.
Monmouth director Clemmie Reynolds. Picture: Simon Emmett
And when Alice, the central character in Monmouth played by a mesmerising Anne King, asks the audience who would have stayed to fight such a hopeless fight, it was a poignant moment. How many of us would really give up our lives for such a cause? Wouldn't it be easier to keep our heads down and say nothing and try to get on with our lives as best we can?

In Andrew Rattenbury's play, there are many moments which resonate with the happenings in today's troubled word.

But from the start on the beach to the procession along Marine Parade behind the enigmatic Duke (an incredible debut performance by photographer Nick Ivins), with assorted members of the cast giving lofty proclamations along the way, to the play itself at the wonderfully-located Marine Theatre overlooking the sea, the production is an absolute joy to the end.

Some incredible performances and a great story well told by Rattenbury and director Clemmie Reynolds make this an unforgettable event.

Don't take my word for it - read this review by Gay Pirrie-Weir in the Fine Time Recorder and another review by writer Sophia Moseley to find out more.

Monmouth's last night at Lyme is on Saturday but the production will tour Dorset, Devon and Somerset in Autumn 2017:

Wednesday 13 September – Regal Theatre, Minehead
Thurs 14 September – Phoenix, Exeter
Fri 15 September – Bridport Arts Centre
Fri 29 September – Shelley Theatre, Bournemouth
Sun 8 October – Dorchester Arts Centre
Sat 11 November – Beehive Honiton

Be a part of it.

That's about it.

Love Maddie x

A horror film for Halloween

On Halloween, I head out under the cover of darkness, a tub of sweets by the front door for young trick or treaters on the prowl with their ...