Tuesday, 10 December 2019

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 one of them goes too far and I have to break up the party.

It's recycling day today and the wind knows it, whipping up through the street into the square and down the alleyway from the church to present the village with a soggy mess of paper, cereal packets and plastic all along the side of the road, a twice-monthly confetti for the marriage of consumerism and environmental guilt.

You can tell a lot about people from what's in their rubbish. Forget about stealing ID, I'm talking about their character - where they shop, the type of people they are.

A small, white bottle with a label denoting that it's kefir, a fermented milk drink good for the gut, rolls around my doorstep. It's not mine. 

I pick it up to dispose of it and can feel there is still some miracle juice inside. It was clearly not to the user's liking. A fad, perhaps, to make up for the fizzy drink the previous week? Because, you see, there's an empty can of Coke a bit further down the road.

My mind wanders. I think of the television advert that implies we should forget Advent and the Bible story, it's the appearance of the Coca Cola lorry that really signifies the festive season has just begun.

So has the Santa lorry been and gone, with only a single can to remind us he was ever here? 

When the Coca Cola marketing bods sell us that clever piece of spin each Christmas, they don't show us the tin cans trailing from the back of Santa's sleigh like he's riding a honeymoon car. And that fairy-dust snow sprinkled in his wake? That's the sugar from more than nine-and-a-half teaspoons in each can.

Then I see a Method cleaning product bottle scuttling off down the road, as if it's on a mission to meet a mop, bucket and floor.

I wish it could put its environmentally friendly credentials to the test and clean up the mess at the side of the road while it's at it.

That's about it.

Love Maddie x

Thursday, 5 December 2019

Christmas preparations in my Dorset village

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas here in Lush Places.

The trees are up above our doors and the lights are due to go on officially this coming Saturday, although I've thrown caution to the wind and switched mine on already. 

The lights are warm white, more's the pity. You see, I have once again bottled out of following my non-conformist heart and gone for coloured ones. My lights may be warm white but in an act of quiet rebellion I've already got them on, several days before they are supposed to be.

On Saturday evening, the vicar will throw the switch of the giant tree on the village green and then all of us will sing We Wish You a Merry Christmas before scuttling out of the cold and into the pub for mince pies, mulled wine and Christmas carols. Meanwhile, my little tree, with its wispy tail of lights across the front of my house, will be saying triumphantly to the rest of the spruce bunch, 'well, I beat you to it. I've had a whole week to shine all on my own.'

Last week I dressed as an elf to be Santa's Little Helper. I watched with great satisfaction the look of pure delight (and sheer terror, in some cases) on the faces of the children who went into Father and Mother's Christmas's Grotto in the village hall.

This weekend there's another festive fair in aid of the three churches in Lush Places and its close environs. I hope to come out of it laden with festive goodies, having spent nothing on petrol or filled the pockets of corporate giants.

I'm hoping to do most of my shopping here in Lush Places and top up my gift pile with the odd jar of jam (very odd, as I made it) and small bottles of sloe gin and damson vodka.

It's not what you give, it's all in the giving.

I'm delighted the grandchildren can't think of what they want and the best they can come up with is an Advent Calendar. Oh to be so satisfied with the simple, little and inexpensive things in life rather than the latest electronic gizmo or festive fad.

Me, I'm after socks that don't grip my ankles too tightly and smellies from the ethical Lush or The Body Shop, just in case you were wondering what to get me.

In this crazy, capitalist, consumerist world, I'll leave you with this delightful advert for a Welsh hardware store.

That's about it.

Love Maddie x

Thursday, 28 November 2019

An appointment with The People's Friend

I've just had the most delightful morning at Cricket St Thomas, speaking about Maddie's World to People's Friend readers who were on a five-day break at the Warner's leisure hotel in Somerset.

Maddie's World is the one I inhabit in Lush Places and which I share news from each week in my column for the magazine.

I was hoping to take Mr Grigg with me but he's busy in France, although currently tucking into a rather nice pizza in the bar just down the road.

Pelly Sheepwash was otherwise engaged so I took The Angel of the North along for the ride as well as moral support. I introduced her several times as I got into my stride, telling my audience about myself and my family and pets, why I wanted to be a journalist (it was the film His Girl Friday and the character of Hildy Johnson played by Rosalind Russell. Who could resist her sense of style and wit?) and, then, what they really wanted to hear, all about Lush Places.

The burning question was where exactly is Lush Places. I swore them to secrecy but they all know now, so it's quite possible there were a few interlopers at our village craft centre this afternoon enjoying a cream tea.

Lush Places is the enchanted village where I live in Dorset, and named after William Boot's nature notes column in the comic novel Scoop by Evelyn Waugh. This 1938 book is a bit dated in these politically correct times but I still love it. The premise of a gentle nature writer being flung into reporting a civil war in Ishmaelia, a fictional state in East Africa, through a case of mistaken identity has never been bettered. It's a terrific send up of sensational journalism and foreign correspondents.

Anyway, as usual, I digress.

It was a wonderful morning with some very nice people, including staff from D C Thompson who publish the People's Friend (and also The Beano!), the world's longest running weekly magazine for women. My audience of readers was a delight, asking me some very interesting questions and then coming up for a chat afterwards.

'It was lovely seeing in your slideshow a picture of your dogs playing in the kitchen,' one of them confided. 'The best thing was seeing your kitchen. It wasn't spotless. It was sort of lived in.'

Some people might have taken that the wrong way. But not me. It made me appreciate one of my readers felt quite at ease telling me that, as if she were an old friend.

So thank you, People's Friend, for asking me to write a weekly column on the strength of this blog. And thank you to the loyal readers of this remarkable magazine.  I really feel part of the family.

That's about it.

Love Maddie x

Friday, 1 November 2019

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 parents, waiting in the shadows.

The theory is that if we get any fancy-dressed callers, then Mr Grigg can deal with them while I'm out.

I'm off to Dorchester to see Doctor Sleep, Stephen King's follow up to The Shining. I enjoyed the book but it's nowhere near as focused and tight as its predecessor, which I've also read, so I'm interested to see what the film is like.

To be honest, I'm not a fan of horror movies. Why pay to be scared witless or to have sleepless nights for days to come?

But it's only a 15 rating, so it can't be that bad.

My brother and sister-in-law pick me up and we make our to way to Dorchester, the mist a-swirling and the rain a-drizzling, perfect conditions for the witching hour.

We enjoy a great pizza from the wood-fired oven of Basilico, a new, unpretentious and independent restaurant just up from the cinema. And we chat about the film and why we are coming to see it when none of us likes scary movies.

I saw The Shining only a few years ago in our village hall, on a similarly wet and windy Halloween night, with about five other people. Having read the book, I was prepared for what was to come, although Stephen King apparently didn't like director Stanley Kubrick's take on the novel.

It's now considered a classic film, with the mania of Jack Nicholson's character becoming ever more sinister as the creepy Overlook Hotel weaves its spell on him, his wife, played by a perpetually terrified Shelley Duvall, and their little boy, Danny, to whom the evil spirits of the hotel are attracted because of his psychic powers.

At the Plaza, members of staff are wearing Joker faces to suit the occasion. This place is the most brilliant of picture houses, being old, independent and very cheap - (comfy) seats are just £3.50 during the week - with all the latest films on show.

We snuggle down in our seats with gummy sweets and watch the adverts and trailers, taking note of Le Mans 66, which looks worth watching.

And then the film begins, following the trajectory of the now grown-up Danny, played by Ewan McGregor.

My sister-in-laws spends most of the time with her head down, not looking at the screen. She would be scared by a paper bag popping. My brother quickly nods off, and I'm left thinking, this is incredibly like the book but it's, well, a bit all over the place. Frankly, it's a bit boring.

I'm rather taken with the character Rose the Hat's hat, but that's the only thing so far that's grabbed my interest. I'm a little confused because actor Rebecca Ferguson looks like Trinny Woodall and I keep expecting Susannah to walk in stage left to suggest to Ewan McGregor that he could do with a change of clothes to improve his image.

The film goes on, and on, and completely lacks the suspense, chills and screams of The Shining. There are too many characters and no sense of place. It's only in the last half hour of a very long film that the mood changes when the location switches to the The Overlook Hotel in the snow.

And then there is a moment when my brother and I shudder in unison. What dreadful terror has caused this? An axe-wielding vision of Jack Nicholson smashing through a door?

The sinister twins in blue dresses at the end of a corridor?

Or the hideous ghost woman in the bathroom of Room 237? 


It's a fluorescent light switching itself on in the hotel.

The film reaches its predictable conclusion in the snowy maze, we sit through the credits and then we make our way home, to sleep, nightmare-free.

That's about it.

Love Maddie x

Monday, 28 October 2019

A reunion of hacks

Forty years ago (I can't believe it's forty years ago), I entered with great trepidation the Portakabin of Life as part of the Mirror Group Newspapers training scheme in Plymouth.

I was eighteen and rather nervous. I didn't really feel like I belonged there, alongside clever graduates from Oxford and similarly lofty establishments. I was a comprehensive school girl from Somerset.

But English was the only subject I was ever any good at. And since the age of about nine or ten, I'd wanted to be a journalist. I put that down to having watched the wisecracking Rosalind Russell in the 1940s film His Girl Friday.

I wanted to be like her - smart, sassy, witty, independent. I also wanted to wear those suits. And maybe catch the heart of Cary Grant.

The school's careers adviser said journalism was a competitive business and I'd be better off in retail management or train to be a librarian. I can't sell anything for toffee and I'm not particularly quiet, so neither option seemed suitable.

I carried on writing letter after letter to try to get into journalism. I was thwarted at every turn, until my letter to a Mirror journalist in Bristol bore fruit. Up until then, my fallback position was a Youth Training Scheme course in film editing that one of my older sisters had found. I often wonder what might have happened if I'd done that instead. I like to think I'd be working on the latest Wallace and Gromit movie.

Anyway, the Bristol journalist suggested I try the Mirror's training scheme, which was based on weekly newspapers in Devon and Cornwall. I'd never heard of it, but it was worth a try.

I didn't hear anything for months and then I had a dream. I was being interviewed in very cramped conditions, speaking really quietly in a room where lots of other interviews were also taking place. The next morning, I told my mother about my dream. She dismissed it and told me not to get my hopes up.

That day, I had a call from the Mirror Group. Apparently, I had been on a reserve list, someone had dropped out and could I come for an interview the next day.

I stayed with an old boyfriend at Plymouth Poly who gallantly slept on the floor and gave me his bed. We went to see the band Dr Feelgood while I should have been prepping for interview.

The next day, he dropped me off on the edge of Plymouth to a dingy old industrial estate. I made my way around the back of the drab building to a Portakabin at the rear. And here, in cramped conditions, there were whispered interviews going on with the various editors of the weekly local newspapers in the Mirror stable.

Incredibly, I got the job and, for the next two-and-a-half years, I learnt the trade, including studying newspaper law, public administration and shorthand. We had a bit of 'block release' in the Portakabin and were then let loose on local newspapers like young children in a fun factory.

My year comprised eight school leavers with A levels and Westcountry roots rubbing shoulders with bright graduates who went on to greater things. Many of the school leavers did, too.

I'm still in touch with my fellow trainees and we've just had a reunion.

I remember so many details - such as exactly where I sat in the Portakabin and who was sitting next to me - which the others have long since forgotten. I remember a wild party in Truro (of which the host now has absolutely no recollection) and hitchhiking around Cornwall with my flatmate and waking up on a cliff edge, having pitched the tent in the dark. My flatmate doesn't remember a thing.

It was a brilliant way to learn. I still feel like I got the job by default and I'm very privileged to have had such practical, good quality training, which has stood me in good stead over the years. Our training manager, Jim Dalrymple, was a legend. We've had some tantalising glimpses of his movements since then but we're still none the wiser. You'd think that one of us, as journalists, would have been able to track him down.

That's about it.

Love Maddie x

Sunday, 20 October 2019

Blessed be the fight: a view from the march

I went on the march yesterday.

It was an early start, driving into Bridport accompanied by Tony Blackburn on Radio 2 to catch the seven o'clock bus to London, and then back home again at ten at night to Craig Charles's House Party.

In the interim, my friend won a 'I'm one of the Liberal Elite (apparently)' T-shirt in the raffle on the coach and I acquired a Union Jack-meets-the-EU-stars flag as we waited for the march to set off.

It was the first time I've been on a mass protest since 1983.

In a country torn apart by Brexit, it was the most positive many have felt in a long time. Surrounded by people of all faiths, colours, creed, all united for a common cause. We, the forty-eight percent, others who have changed their minds in the last three-and-half years and those who, in June 2016, had been too young to vote.

There were teenagers, old people, the middle-aged, millennials and children. There were dogs and unicorns, masses of drums and big, bold disco music coming from a giant speaker on a trailer towed  a bike-riding Rastafarian.

There were librarians against Brexit, NHS workers for Europe and Tories for Remain. Liberal Democrats, Labour, Greens and grannies, care workers, ramblers and rabbis. There were farmers and factory workers, all of them not wanting, to quote the Dominic Cummings mantra, to get Brexit done at the cost of selling the country down the river to the financial elite and little Englanders whose standard response to the people who want to stay in Europe is 'you lost, get over it'.

At the statue of Achilles, the ancient Greek hero of the Trojan War on Hyde Park Corner, we shared a laugh with a British Asian carrying a Dorset flag. He was holding it aloft on behalf of  his friend from west London who declared it the best county flag in the country. It stood out beautifully in the sunshine against a clear blue sky.

Earlier, as we listened to impromptu speeches from our Dorset contingent, in the manner of a service at a Friends Meeting House, a mother whispered to me that her tall, teenage son was the one who had placed a 'Bollocks to Brexit' sticker across Achilles's fig leaf-clad privates.

'I think his grandfather would have tutted but secretly he'd have been very proud of him,' she told me.

We gloried in the brilliantly witty placards carried high above the crowd as it snaked along in baby steps from Park Lane to Parliament Square. We chatted with people who came from all over the country to be a part of this, passionate people who cannot believe the country is doing this to itself.

We did the actions to YMCA in the pouring rain, heads covered in flags or makeshift, pink poster headgear which looked like the bonnets from The Handmaid's Tale.

Praise be.

Great cheers rippled through the crowd as the news came through from Parliament Square that the amendment put forward by my MP Oliver Letwin - who is viewed in this constituency as a dishonourable disgrace or a principled hero, depending on your point of view - had been passed by 322 votes to 306 at Saturday's 'super sitting'.

Stuck in the middle of this one million-plus throng, we peeled off at Duke of York Column from Waterloo Place down to the Mall where we made our way to Parliament Square to listen to the tail end of the speeches before getting the bus back home, tired but inspired.

Today, listening to the news that the prime minister is determined to get out of Europe whatever the arguments against this act of mass suicide, did the march make any difference? Only time will tell, but sometimes you just have to stand up for what you believe in, however rude, offensive and vitriolic those who disagree with you may be.

Blessed be the fight.

That's about it.

Love Maddie x

Tuesday, 24 September 2019

Lanny by Max Porter, an extraordinary novel best read in splendid isolation

I’m on the Isles of Scilly with friends, the weather’s been glorious and there’s been lots of walking, paddling in the clear waters and spirited conversation.

But the thing I’ve been most looking forward to, ever since I discovered a cairn at the top of the hill behind the house we’re staying in, is to take myself off for a couple of hours to read in complete solitude. Not just any book, though. The novel is one in which I’ve wanted to immerse myself ever since I ordered it.

After it arrived, it sat on the chest of drawers next to my bed, on top of David Nicholl’s Sweet Sorrow, John Lanchester’s The Wall, and Stephen King’s The Outsider. I’d been given a book token and went a bit mad.

My literary tastes are somewhat eclectic but a good friend tells me the common denominator is the quality of the prose.

‘You like good writing, don’t you?’ she said.

I hadn’t actually thought much about it before but she’s absolutely right. I wince at adverbs (Stephen King hates them) but my heart soars at lyrical prose. Okay, King’s prose is not very lyrical but he writes like a dream – and dispenses invaluable advice to aspiring writers in his memoir, On Writing.

The book I’ve been saving myself for is Lanny by Max Porter.

I’ve not read Grief Is A Thing With Feathers, his first novel which won him the Dylan Thomas Prize and the Sunday Times/Peters Fraser and Dunlop young Writer of the Year Award, both in 2016. It’s since been adapted into play with Peaky Blinders star Cillian Murphy.

But I’d read about Max Porter. And when I heard he was coming to BridLit, I knew it was time I ordered Lanny. The style of writing described in the blurb appealed to me. The small stuff, the rural undercurrent that builds into a torrent. Village life, the mundane and magical, the ordinary and the extraordinary.

A bit like Jon McGregor perhaps. (I suggested Reservoir 13 for my book club. I sunk into that novel like the bog I once got stuck in under Lewesdon Hill, while others perhaps just didn’t get it. And McGregor’s If No-one Speaks of Remarkable Things has stayed with me since reading it when it came out in 2002. I can’t tell you much about the plot, just that the writing was like a breath taken and held and exhaled in wonder. If that sounds like I should be in Pseuds Corner, the so be it. I can’t think of any other way to describe it.)

So I was looking forward to Lanny, having convinced myself that Porter would be along the lines of McGregor.

Wrong. But not in a bad way. Oh no. Not in a bad way at all. I don’t think I have read ever read anything quite like it.

Lanny tells the story of an extraordinary little boy in an ordinary little village. And then, one day, Lanny goes missing.

As I sat, spellbound in a cleft in the rocks overlooking the harbour on Tresco, the book just took me over, like a spirit seeping into my soul. There is humour, there is joy, there is beauty, there is magic and a dreamy feel that put me on automatic pilot as I devoured the prose.

The first part was pure Under Milk Wood. The lyrical, poetic rhythm swoops and swirls, as does some of the text (literally) when we hear the overheard lines of conversation from the people who live in Lanny’s village.

The shapeshifting Dead Papa Toothwort, a sort of ancient Green Man-type figure but devious and cruel, haunts the pages as he comes and goes about his business, which centre on the special child that is Lanny.

The tricky middle is taut and full of recriminations and soothing words and this reader just hoped all would turn out well, for the best. For lovely Lanny, a boy as old as time but as young and new as an emerging leaf on a hazel tree.

There is a scene towards the end that I think the Guardian reviewer found too wacky but, believe me, the village hall raffle is staple stuff for any self-respecting rural community. In my village, we’re fully expecting a raffle to be held at the next wake.

And then the ending. There’s no spoiler alert from me but suffice to say, I got up from my cleft in the rock with a sore backside but a rich satisfaction in one of the best hour-and-halves I can honestly say I have ever spent.

Max Porter will be at BridLit on Tuesday 5 November, speaking in the Bull Ballroom at 4pm.

That's about it.

Love Maddie

Sunday, 22 September 2019

A new, creative, Open University year begins

The school holidays have come to an end, with children already hunkered down in the new school year.

University students are settling into their accommodation before the studying begins, and college kids are getting used to a different routine every morning.

I love autumn and that change in the seasons, from the hurly burly of summer to a more contemplative, meditative time of year.

New beginnings and all that.

For me, that means returning to that wonderful place of learning, The Open University, where I'm just about to start a masters degree in creative writing. At fifty-eight, it was now or never because my eligibility for a student loan runs out at the age of sixty.

As soon as I discovered that, the choice was already made. It was, in an expression I absolutely loathe, a no-brainer.

My degree years with the OU from 2007-2011 were among the most creative I've ever experienced.  The culture of supportive learning was a real tonic and stood me in good stead. I'm hoping for good things from this course, not least the joy of studying with like-minded people.

In the meantime, I've been reading my socks off, immersed in fiction and enjoying it as much as a bath in ethical bubbles from The Body Shop.

This represents some of my summer reading pile:

My copy of Sweet Sorrow by David Nicolls - which left me bereft when I finished reading it because I loved it so much - is currently out on loan to two good ladies from Lush Places, as is Once Upon A River by Diane Setterfield. I adored both of these books for different reasons.

Of the pile pictured, Circe by Madeline Miller was particularly superb, and so much better than her The Song of Achilles which I didn't like much at all.

My read of the year has to be Lanny by Max Porter, which I devoured in one sitting on a rock overlooking the harbour at Tresco on The Isles of Scilly. The beauty of the writing and setting stirred me to my bones.

I'm lucky enough to be blogging for this year's Bridport Literary Festival at which both Nicholls and Porter are appearing. I can't wait.

In the meantime, suitably nourished by all these books, I am now all set for my two years of study at The Open University.

Wish me luck.

That's about it

Love Maddie x

Tuesday, 3 September 2019

News from The Shed of Dreams, or words to that effect

On Sunday morning, there are two sheep sauntering in a very confident manner down the street.

Unfazed by the local peloton of cyclists zooming past in formation, the sheep look right, look left and then look right again before crossing the main road, heading in the direction of Lyme Regis.

They'll be corralled in a garden soon, way before they have the chance to place their towels out on the sand or frolic about with buckets and spades. Their adventure will probably be over within minutes.

But they're out there, giving it a go.

I am out here too, with two little girls laden with sweets from the village shop, each one far exceeding their £2 allowance, Young children are canny like that. They knew I'd lose count once the liquorice bootlaces and fried egg candies started going in the basket at speed. There were just too many figures to add up in my head.

Unlike the sheep or indeed their grandmother, who got a grade three CSE in maths three times (even with private tuition), these children are not stupid.

This afternoon, we will be mostly painting pebbles.

It is nearing the end of the school holidays and the children have run out of interesting things to do. They're with me for the weekend and I rashly suggest covering the kitchen table with newspaper and getting out the acrylic paints.

The third girl has now graced us with her presence after being in bed until nearly lunchtime. Well, I tell the others when they wail that it's not fair and shouldn't they wake their sister up, it's what teenagers do. Just as plants need water and light to photosynthesise, teenagers need sleep in order to grow.

'But we need to grow, too, Granny,' the little one says. Which is true and I am unable to counter this argument. These days, what with Brexit shenanigans and age making my brain turn to mush, I've given up arguing and any rational thought. I just go with my heart.

So I distract them by getting out the pebbles I collected when I was last down at the beach.

There is a fight over who has the best-shaped pebble and then a fight over the two paint brushes. The middle sister discovers that painting with fingertips is actually better and another one elects to use a sponge, which leaves a brush for me and the third sister to use.

My own pebble was selected long ago and was used as the sign for my writing shed. It bore the words The Shed of Dreams (if you think it, the writing will come), lovingly crafted in red and purple. Over the months, though, the name has eroded along with my creative writing output. The Shed of Dreams has become The  hed of  reams, then The   ed of   eams before making absolutely no sense at all.

So while the girls are absorbed in their handiwork, I repaint the pebble with new colours and design.

And I am very pleased with it, particularly the little fluffy clouds.

Until one of them says: 'Those clouds look just like sheep, Granny. And what's a Srea of Dreams?'

Oh dear, back to the drawing board.

That's about it.

Love Maddie

Tuesday, 27 August 2019

We're going on a book hunt

I'm back in my old haunts, up on the hill, dog walking when I make an interesting discovery.

I haven't been up here for months but I vow to thee my country that I'll get back to my old routine and do this early morning walk at least three times every week. At 28 kilos, Arty certainly needs the exercise. And me, at ahem I prefer not to mention but said quickly in imperial measures is at least a stone too heavy, well, I need to exercise too.

It's late summer and the children are still on holiday but ready to go back to school soon, with new uniforms, shoes backpacks, sandwich boxes and pencil cases all to shop for this week. 

(It always irritated me immensely that high street stores insisted on 'Back to School' displays as soon as the children broke up for the summer. How dare these commercial types spoil the magic of holiday time. Talk about pressure.)

This morning, it's quiet on the hill until the rain starts dropping in ever increasingly large splats on the beech leaves, after a beautifully hot bank holiday weekend when the world and his wife came to Dorset to have fun.

Fortunately, Lush Places generally slips underneath the tourists' radar so that this time of year it's best to stay put to enjoy the delights of village picnics, neighbour's parties, Mr Grigg's strawberry milkshakes, the children's playground and the annual flower show. This is what country life if all about.

Up here on the hill today, the rain is refreshing after the heat and almost good enough to dance in. 

I flit around the ramparts, pretending to be an ancient Briton, a Roman or Vilia the witch of the wood. Frankly, she is more my style.

There are squirrels darting around, pigeons coo-ing, earth balls nestling under the trees, and brown leaves underfoot. There is a new swing up here.

And then I find what looks like someone's school project propped up against a tree. 

Only it is isn't.

It's We're Going on a Bear Hunt, which has been hidden by Ryan and Lewis and needs to be read and then re-hidden as part of Dorset Hidden Books.

I get rather a strange look from a cow as I make my way down the hill with the book under my arm.

And then I find another book.  

There's yet another book outside the village shop.

And I discover that more were found on the children's play area over the weekend.

Ryan and Lewis have been busy. 

Two of the books are destined for my two littlest Dorset grandchildren, who will read them with me and then hide them again. I left the third one for someone else to find.

What a great idea.

That's about it.

Love Maddie x

Wednesday, 7 August 2019

All the fun of the fete

It's the height of fete time here in France, with the weirdest, wildest, wackiest festivals you could ever imagine.

Most of them involve eating and drinking, which is perfectly fine if you're into that sort of thing. Luckily, I am.

I think I'm going native.

August is the time to have fun with friends. However old or young you are.

I could be here for some time.

This one involved rows of mussels in soaked paper and then straw put on the top and set alight.

Seems rather a convoluted way of cooking mussels en masse, but ho hum, why keep things simple?

Later this week we'll be enjoying an omelette made with two and a half thousand eggs.


Porquoi pas.

That's about it.

Love Maddie x

Wednesday, 17 July 2019

I see the moon, the moon sees me

So there we were, enjoying France at its liveliest when someone pointed to the sky.

The moon.

There was a great chunk missing from it, as if it were made from fromage and someone - or some thing - had taken a bite. A clanger maybe. (I love The Clangers. Here they are on my windowsill at home, courtesy of the good knitters of Lush Places WI).

We sitting outside at a village marche gourmand when we witnessed a partial lunar eclipse. What made it even more exciting was that we'd had no prior knowledge it was going to happen. This is because I've stopped listening to the news, too depressed by the whole Brexit debacle, the state of the world in general and the idiots who run it.

It's almost fifty years to the day that Neil Armstrong took that one small step and a giant leap for mankind. Back then, I was coming up to nine years old. The moon landing filled me with awe and hope, hope for the bright future that surely lay ahead of all of us.  I still love the idea of space travel, science fiction and astronomy, gazing at the night sky and inwardly soaking up those glorious constellations.

I see the moon, the moon sees me, 
God bless the moon, and God bless me. 
God let the light that shines on me, 
shine on the one I love.

Mr Grigg has just bought me a telescope as an early birthday present. I should have used it last night to get a close-up view of the moon, but we were too busy enjoying what the French do best - sitting outside in the evening sun and eating and drinking.

Food stalls circled the car park, like wagons stopping overnight on the pioneer trail, protecting row upon row of people-filled tables. There was beef, lamb and duck, prawns and pate and salad and truffle ice cream, along with two stalls selling crystals. Gorgeous.

Lots of smiling, three kisses, deep joy and short sleeves.

The week had already kicked off in grand style on Sunday with fireworks to celebrate Bastille Day. As my French friend from Lush Places said when I posted the video on Facebook, Allons enfants de l'Europe!!

And, later,  as we sat gazing up at the moon, surrounded by French and Brits, once again it crossed my mind that we have more in common than that which divides us.

Vive la revolution!

And today I have dreadful wind.

That's about it.

Love Maddie x

Friday, 12 July 2019

Horrible handbags at the ready

There is a welcome breeze in the French air today, after more than a week of sweltering temperatures. It's warm but not as crazily hot as the last two weeks.

A day without sweating is a day to be savoured, as are the early types of fruit from the purple-leafed plum trees encircling the village. In the garden, there is a Mirabelle and the fruits are delicious lightly stewed and served with ice cream.

In the markets, the fruit and vegetables are equally fresh. It’s a joy to wander around, soaking up the sights, sounds and smells of the rural French way of life.

In the supermarkets E Leclerc and Carrefour, the fruit and veg sections groan under the array of melons, lettuce by the yard and apricots, lots of lovely apricots, and nectarines.

The fish counters are works of art and the cheese section has me salivating at the choice laid out before us. Prices are not cheap – this is not Spain – but the quality and freshness is most excellent.

There is a promotion on in Leclerc at the moment for Tupperware. Collect enough stamps and you can purchase an abundance of items for which plastic was made for.

Remembering the parents of friends' Tupperware parties of my childhood, the prospect of getting my mains on one these containers begins to excite me until I remember we’re in the age in which the love of plastic is akin to devil worship.

At the till, our trolley groaning with products, we are offered stamps for the latest promotion. Hey, Tupperware, lead us not into temptation.

But then I don’t have to resist it, as the cashier tells me the Tupperware promotion is over and gives me a brochure detailing the latest offer.

I leaf through to see UP TO SIXTY FIVE PERCENT OFF handbags and purses, apparently designed by sisters Kendall and Kylie Jenner. (I have recently learned these two young women are famous for being famous.)

Their faces peer out at me from the pages, like two vacant, vapid sex dolls, with lips parted and pouting a la mode, and eyes that wish they were somewhere else . They stand together, in an incestuous, slightly girl-on-girl pose, the brunette holding the blonde one’s jeans together and the blonde one's hand on her sister’s tummy.

The blonde one looks very uncomfortable, as if she is about to break wind and is worried the button of her jeans is going to blow off in the process. The brunette appears to be saying through gritted pout: 'Just wait for the photo to be taken and then you can go to the toilet.'

I have no interest in celebrity culture and only know the two of them are Kardashian relatives after watching the television series about OJ Simpson in which Friends star David Schwimmer played the lawyer with the Mallen streak.

I looked up his character on the internet (I’m a Google and Wikipedia junkie in my search for useless bits of information, which will never be of any value apart for winning the trivia category in the village quiz), and discovered the Kardashian and Jenner cult of which, up until that point, I had not been aware. 

I don’t get out much. Tabloids pass me by, along with glossy magazines. The things inside them are mostly hateful, pointless or made up.

So, anyway, I leaf through this brochure with the sex dolls - sorry, the Jenner sisters - to find the most hideous merchandise I have ever seen with their names plastered all over them. Why would anyone collect vouchers for this crap, let alone pay full price for it?

When did the public get sucked into all of this rubbish? And when did the sex pout become fashionable? And why? I swear in thirty years' time, kids will be looking back at their parents and grandparents' photos and laughing like drains.

So I politely decline the stamps we are about to pick up with our shopping and resolve to make a point of shopping in the street market next time we need anything.

Handbags at dawn, anyone?

That's about it.

Love Maddie x

Friday, 5 July 2019

Tales from a French heatwave: the Boris who came to tea

It’s morning and the sun is streaming through the windows. It’s early but it’s light as anything out there and in here. And cool, at least for for the moment.

We both wake at the same time, the disturbed look on Mr Grigg's face reflecting exactly how I am feeling at this moment. I’ve just had a very strange dream.

Remember, we are in south west France in the middle of a heatwave.

Oddly and as if on cue, he says: “I had a really funny dream last night. We were hosting a dinner party. But it was a disaster.”

“That’s odd,” say I, barely able to lift my head from the pillow it was so hot last night. “So did I.”

 “Really? Well, I dreamt I’d invited someone you really didn’t want there as a guest.”

“An ex-wife?”

“No, worse than that.”

“I don’t know,” I say. “Give me a clue.”

And he tousles his hair and makes an idiot face.

“Not Boorish Johnson?” I am intrigued.

“Exactly him.”

I sigh with affront and turn over to look at Mr Grigg as he goes into great detail.

“It was terrible” he says. “It was obvious you were really angry I’d asked him to dinner, because you were refusing to serve him.”

Actually, I’m steaming just thinking about it.

“What about your dream?” Mr Grigg asks.

“Well, I was catering for lots of people, almost feeding the five thousand. And I had so many helpers dishing up the food, we were getting in each other’s way. And  I'd overcooked the roast pork so much it was carved up into thin sheets of steel accompanied by metallic gravy.

“And then I brushed past one of the diners with my backpack as I presented his with his meal, cutting off some of the fronds of his broccoli. He was furious.

“It was someone from the public health department who in real life a year or so ago interviewed me for that job I didn’t get because. well, you know I interview so badly.

“In the dream, the nightmare dinner was so awful I flounced off out into an adjoining atrium where I sat on the floor and had a nervous breakdown.”

“That’s dreadful,” Mr Grigg says. “Do you know what Boris did in my dream?”

I imagine Boris Johnson lifting the lid off a silver dish to see the disembodied head of the United Kingdom in map form with a poisoned apple in its mouth.

Or hurdling over huge Irish borders placed between the place settings.

Mr Grigg is clearly upset about what Boris did next.

“He got up on the table. He got up on the table.”

“Not the lovely walnut table we picked up for a song at the auction and then paid rather more to have expertly restored?”

“The same one entirely.”

“He didn’t dance on it, did he?” I can feel myself sweating, and it wasn’t even my dream. “You're telling me that Boris Johnson danced on our antique table?”

If I’d been angry at hosting a dinner party to which the country’s prime minister-in-waiting had been invited without my knowledge, I’m incandescent at the thought of Boris Johnson’s trotters plonking up and down on our beautiful piece of furniture.

“No, he didn’t dance on it,” Mr Grigg says. “He got up on it and prayed.”


“I asked him what he thought he was doing and he said he just wanted to say a few prayers at the table.”

At that point, a bird in the garden cries out “cuckoo, cuckoo” in French. Which is rather appropriate, really.

That’s about it.

Love Maddie x

Wednesday, 3 July 2019

Baking in the French sun as the Brexit temperature rises

It was the bagpipes that did it.

I was feeling pretty emotional in any case, as the cavalcade trundled by, its Europeans theme reflected in some of the floats and marching bands.

It was a balmy summer’s night in a small town in France, the swallows flitting overhead, laughing at and weaving in and out of the tremendous shifting shapes of sparrows roosting in the trees.

A hound on a lead was howling like it belonged to the Family Baskerville. People dangled their feet in a fountain. It was gone ten-thirty and the bridge over the Aveyron was still too hot to sit on.

This canacule (my newest French word) was going on for far too long. It was time the heatwave turned to dust before we did. The day before, I had melted in forty-two degrees.

The carnival queen and her attendants were ultra cool, though, dancing on their tiny float and surrounded by the flags of Europe, including our own Union Flag, all fluttering alongside each other.

And then there were funky trumpet bands from Eastern Europe and lots of excited jigging around. Poland and Slovakia were out there in the intense heat, which showed no sign of abating even at this time of the evening.

And then the pipes began to call and the kilt-wearing members of the City of Bristol Pipes and Drums made their way up the street, stopping right in front of us with a rendition of ‘Sailing’.

It was too stirring, too haunting, too beautiful. The tears welled up in my eyes.

Here in south west France, I feel desperately sad that we seem to be careering out of Europe in a handcart pushed by incompetent clowns. I bloody love Europe. The union has its faults but we should be fighting from within, not throwing the baby out with the bathwater just to honour the decision of a small majority of those that voted in a referendum three years ago, which has been shown to be embroiled in the lies of careerist politicians and charlatans.

And then the pipes moved on, wailing up the street, to be replaced by a jostling brass band from Limoges, closely followed by a giant Tintin, Snowy and a rocket, grown up majorettes, Mickey and Minnie Mouse, a massive white cat with pink ears, a Lego castle and, finally and inexplicably and much to my delight, Homer and Marge Simpson bringing up the rear.

That's about it.

Love, Maddie x

Friday, 31 May 2019

A funny thing happened on my way around the hill

Up on the hill early one morning this week, I was walking quietly around, minding my own business, when I noticed a billycan hanging from a tree trunk.

'Ooh, that's nice,' I thought. 'Someone's been up here with the children during half term and had a barbecue. But they've forgotten to take their rubbish home with them.'

I was just about unhook it off the tree when I turned the corner and noticed a tent in the shadows. And then a solitary, male figure emerged from inside, stretching his arms up to the sky as if he'd just got up.

I'd only that moment been thinking about an idea for a short story which had come to me after its fantastic title was kindly provided by the dictation facility on my phone's WhatsApp. This had completely misheard me when I said 'cattle escaped'. I'm not going to tell you what it typed, as I don't want you to use that as as the title for a short story which goes on to be the basis of a bestselling novel. That would never do.

Anyway, I was just thinking of how the story might progress when I saw the billycan, tent and then the stranger.

And it felt like one of those moments in a scary film where you just know that the next thing your leading character does will start the engine of the plot.

Don't do it, you say in your head. Don't be curious, don't stop to find out what it's all about.

But the characters in the scary drama - and they're often a lone woman - decide they must do just that, while you, the viewer, are shrieking inwardly turn around, don't do it! as you grip the edge of the sofa and hide behind a cushion.

And this action is the pivotal part of the whole plot. If the character didn't stop to find out more, there wouldn't be a story. You wouldn't be watching it. Because nothing would happen.

So what did I do?

I turned around and legged it with the dog.

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...