Tuesday, 26 June 2018

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away...

As far as Star Wars goes, I nailed my colours firmly to the mast by declaring my faith as Jedi in the national census of 2011.

There were 176,632 of us nationwide and 344 of us in West Dorset that year, including seven in my own village. I don’t know who they are, which is odd as I ought to be able to feel their presence.

The Charity Commission subsequently rule that Jediism ‘lacked the necessary spiritual or non-secular element’ it was looking for in a religion.

It said there was insufficient evidence that ‘moral improvement’ was central to the beliefs and practices of Jediism and did not have the ‘cogency, cohesion, or seriousness’ to truly be a belief system.

The lack of fun and imagination of public bodies never ceases to amaze me.

You see, much to the disgust yet amusement of my intellectual friends, the first Star Wars film – A New Hope – is my favourite movie of all time. There is something about its simplicity, its escapism and the fact that it’s a right rollicking adventure story, with good triumphing over evil, that fills me with deep joy.

Call me shallow, but the film captured my heart.

When Carrie Fisher died at the end of a particularly tragic 2016, I wept for hours. Losing her and George Michael in the space of a few days over the Christmas holiday was too much to bear for a pop culture child like me.

At our village fete this year, I did the DJ set dressed as a poor imitation of Princess Leia. My brother actually believed I had headphones built into the buns on the wig I purchased on impulse from the wonderful Instant Redress in Bridport.

John Williams’ score is one of the most wonderfully evocative pieces of modern classical music I’ve ever heard. Each time I listen to it (which is fairly often) I can picture myself in the cockpit of the Millennium Falcon and hurtling through space at full light speed, bound for new lands in the fight against injustice. Or having a beer in the wonderfully edgy Mos Eisley Cantina on Tattooine.

And this is why I’ve booked tickets to see the film in concert at the Royal Albert Hall in November, with the London Symphony Orchestra taking me to places I can only dream about.

I was never that keen on the Star Wars follow-ups, though, particularly the prequel trilogy. But for me, Star Wars got back into its stride with The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi, even though Daisy Ridley reminds me too much of a young Keira Knightley, complete with annoying mouth.

I can’t wait to see the XI movie next year, but unless I can time travel, I’ll just have to. (I had hoped to pick up a few tips at a meeting advertised in West Dorset but I manage to turn up late every time).

In the meantime, there is always Solo, which appears to be the first Star Wars film to flop at the box office. Despite positive reviews from the critics, its 10 day opening gross performed massively under expectation.

According to the NME, perhaps people don’t care enough about Han Solo, the arrogant scallywag and reluctant warrior for justice who was played in the earlier films by Harrison Ford. There are lots of other reasons apparently. But it’s no good. I’m going to just have to go and make up my own mind.

I’m going to book seats for the 5.15pm showing this week at the wonderful Plaza Cinema in Dorchester. Any excuse to sink myself into the Star Wars story once again.

In the meantime, I'll make do with the trailer:

Help me Obi Wan Kenobi, you’re my only hope.

That's about it.
Love Maddie x
[This was first published on Bridport Life and Times' The View From Here column]

Thursday, 21 June 2018

Here's wishing you warmth and light on the summer solstice

It's the longest day today, the summer solstice, and I'm in a field of wheat  making my way up towards one of my favourite places.

I never wear headphones on my walks because I enjoy listening to the natural sounds around me: the song of the skylark, the wind in the hedge, a tractor starting up on a nearby farm, a collie dog barking and a mole rustling at my feet.

And then I hear, in the distance, the train going up to Crewkerne and then on to London and I think to myself, I'm so glad I'm out here in the wide open countryside, with just the dog for company.

Give me land, lots of land, under starry skies.

Or Dorset blue ones in this case.

And then Julianna Barwick's wonderfully evocative, choral loops just enter into my ears, as if by magic.

The grass has been cut for hay so we can walk down to The Wishing Tree without getting wet to way past our knees. The dog and I march along the striped carpet underfoot, which is not unlike something I've just ordered from the Axminster factory shop for the spare bedroom.

We reach The Wishing Tree and I stand with my back up against it. I gaze out across the field, to the squat church tower, the familiar  farmstead and then the layered landscape beyond, which takes me from deepest Dorset to the Neroche Forest in Somerset, the trees at Windwhistle pointing the way.

The Wishing Tree's bark feels rough against my fingers. I turn around to face it and the trunk comes into contact with my cheek. I close my eyes and make a wish. 

I can't tell you what I wished for because then it won't come true.

But here's to warmth, light and peace, on today of all days.

That's about it.

Love Maddie x

Monday, 4 June 2018

Drink your big Black Cow and get out of here

Late one summer Saturday morning, Mr Grigg and I - along with Nobby Odd-Job and Spanish John - venture out from Lush Places for an ‘experience day’ at Black Cow Vodka.

It’s approximately eight minutes by car from the village, but we still manage to get lost, deep in the Dorset hinterland.

“I thought it was this way,” Mr Grigg says to our good friend and neighbour, Mrs Bancroft, who’s agreed to drive us there and pick us up again three hours later.

“And I thought it was this way,” I respond, pointing in the opposition direction.

Spanish pipes up to save the day - and our marriage. He connects to the map app on his mobile phone, which politely directs us on our way. And then it blots its copybook by suggesting we go on the road to nowhere up an unmade track.

“I don’t think it’s up there,” says a cautious Nobby Odd-Job. “We should just follow the lane.”

Round the corner and there’s a Black Cow sign. At last we’ve made it - but with only minutes to spare. And then Mrs B remembers she has her own sat nav on the car in any case.

We say goodbye to Mrs B and find ourselves in a swish, converted outbuilding next to an ancient manor house. We’re greeted by our hostess, Rebecca, who mixes us an espresso martini at the crisp, white bar while she tells us, in honeyed, sing-song Irish tones, the company’s story.

Her chat is accompanied by a smooth soundtrack featuring the appropriately-named track, Black Cow, by one of my all-time favourite bands, Steely Dan.

This unique spirit is made from milk, hence its name. It was invented by a local dairy farmer with a long love of vodka and hatred of waste. His family makes cheese, a process that produces an excess of whey, which has always been undervalued and much of it gets thrown away.

Well, Mr Black Cow was in conversation over the supper table with a Polish friend about the dairy industry's problem child. Lo and behold, they came up with the idea of making vodka from the discarded whey.

The beauty of Black Cow is that it's really smooth, its softness retaining delicate flavours. And, apparently, it doesn't give you a hangover when you drink it.

It’s been an incredible success story, with the Black Cow brand being seen in all the right places, with fans including locally-born chef Mark Hix, actor Orlando Bloom and film director Ridley Scott.

It’s a marketing person’s dream. Moo-sic to our ears. You can drink it till the cows come home. You get the gist.

After another cocktail, a nibble on some beautiful Black Cow cheese and a bit of locally-smoked salmon, it’s off into the distillery. We marvel at the gorgeous bit of kit that performs the magic and turns whey into vodka.

Like something from inside Jules Verne’s head, this copper machine looks like it could tell tall stories. Her name is Ermintrude, after the cow on The Magic Roundabout. She’s lovely. We all raise a glass to her.

And then it’s into the bottling section, which is staffed by two ladies who do all the work by hand. We see a batch of miniature bottles which Rebecca tells us are destined for Mongolian Airlines. You couldn't make it up.

The whole thing is a bit like a mini, alcoholic version of Willy Wonka's chocolate factory. I tell Mr Grigg not to get too close to Ermintrude in case he gets sucked up her pipes and ends up pickled.

It’s back into the bar for another cocktail or two and then the most wonderful, Hix-inspired lunch of English asparagus with a Black Cow cheese fondue, scrumptious scallops and a buttermilk pudding with rhubarb. Thank you, Rebecca.

I’m fit to burst. We all are.

We have a coffee and a long, vodka-infused summer drink and then Rebecca opens the shop – a nifty little sidecar attached to a Harley Davidson.

In the words of the song, we drink our big Black Cow and get out of here, arms full of cheese, vodka and T-shirts.

Back in the car, we get halfway home when Spanish realises he’s left his jacket behind. Mrs Bancroft takes us back to Black Cow, only for me to be stung by a bumble bee, which was obviously unhappy about not being part of the distillery tour.

So it’s home again, home again, jiggedy-jig, back into Lush Places where we have to wait while the cattle are moved to new pastures.

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...