Sunday, 27 January 2019

A monumental week in Athens

On Thursday night in Athens I watch live webcam footage of Syntagma Square from our Airbnb, just a few streets away.

Protesters are demonstrating about the Greek government's plans to approve a name change for the neighbouring country of Macedonia (Greece has a region of the same name. There's a lot of history and fears tied up in all of this). 

From the balcony, we can hear the chanting in the distance. But we are safe and cosy up here on the top floor. Snug as bugs in rugs.

The apartment is clean, convenient and cheap. It's a brilliant location for exploring the centre of this sprawling city. You can book it by visiting this link.

When we arrived in the Greek capital on Monday evening, I nearly cried when I saw the view from our roof terrace. The acropolis was lit up like a Christmas tree. 

In Athens in January, there are oranges and lemons on the trees lining the streets. The traders in the market tempt you with fresh squid, John Dory and fish-like-a-bream. There are heads of sheep a-plenty and bits of animal you never see in the shrink-wrapped section of supermarket chillers. 

The glossy colours of aubergines, olives and tomatoes in the fruit and vegetable market cheer up a grey winter's day.

In the Mr Zoo pet shop window, there are puppies for sale. I want to buy them just to free these dear little creatures from their prisons. But I can't.

There are sales in shops all over the city. It's a great time to buy winter boots.

Men in coffee-coloured overalls unload sacks of coffee beans into the grinder.

The Evzones change guard with precision and elegance on the hour, every hour, outside the parliament building and the tomb of the unknown solider.

Athens is an edgy city, full of ancient history and modern magic, and well worth a visit. But Pericles, its famous leader during classical times, would be hard-pressed to recognise the place today.

The open-topped bus takes you here there and everywhere. It's a great way to move around with ease and get a handle on this vast place. We take a trip out to Piraeus, the biggest port in the Med, before heading back into the city again.

Museums are not to be missed, especially the archaeological museum, with its jewellery, statues and pottery.

On Friday we trundle our hand luggage suitcases across a rain-soaked Athens city centre, our underground station at Syntagma closed because of the demonstrations.

The vote was close and the protesters were not happy.

That's about it.

Love Maddie x

Wednesday, 23 January 2019

Monkeying around on the way to the airport

We're on the M5 when we pass a bus chuntering cheerfully along on the inside lane. It bears the livery of Gibbons Coach Holidays.

As we drive by, I peer as best I can into the windows, hoping to spot a posse of long-limbed monkeys swinging down from the luggage rack, and swiftly mooning in unison from the back window.

In my head I can hear the lar gibbons that used to sing and whoop, whoop, whoop across the courtyard and valley at Cricket St Thomas in the good old days when it was a wildlife park.

But we overtake before my imagination overtakes me. The next coach is Hatton Premier Class Travel and I envisage sedate, upmarket passengers, all wearing tiaras and monocles.

At the airport, I'm flabbergasted not to be searched, as, usually, I set off every alarm going. My laptop takes an age to come through security and I have a minor panic attack fearing that all my writing and photos have been wiped from the hard drive during the scanning process.

We weave our way through Duty Free, find a seat in the departures lounge and gather our thoughts. Over the tannoy, the announcer invites a Mr Routledge on the 1pm flight to Athens to check-in desk number twenty-one. And then I see a man who says he's Mr Routledge with Mrs Routledge (who sadly is not Patricia), at the information desk, asking what they should do as they've already come through the gates of hell that is security, had their bags checked and don't want to go through the trauma of it all over again.

Mr Grigg treats me to the £3.99 Meal Deal at W H Smith rather than pay an arm and a leg for something soft and unappetising on the plane. Customers are looking at the chill cabinet, mouths agape like confused gibbons. Calories are uppermost in my mind following the excesses of Christmas but I reject anything with chicken in it (probably factory farmed and pumped full of rubbish), ham (ditto), tuna (endangers dolphins), salmon (farmed and fed on a diet of chemicals). I think about egg and cress but it's not free range and, even if it were, an egg sandwich is not the most sociable thing to take on a plane because the smell of the pack being opened is like someone passing wind. There is no salad (probably sprayed with pesticide in any case) so I go for Wensleydale cheese and pickle, figuring that at least if it's a named cheese it might be made to a certain standard and with care.

To be honest, I'm still concerned about the Routledges as I make my choice, which probably explains why I pick up a packet of cheese and onion crisps with no thought to what's gone in them or how they've been made. And then I'm dumbfounded by the range of drinks in plastic bottles which, if they're not full of sugar, are instead stacked full of aspartame which more than likely will cause me to behave like a gibbon on the plane.

By the time I've chosen, Mr Grigg is already in the queue but my own purse is deep within the recesses of my hand luggage so I do the family whistle, he turns around and I'm met with sighs and a stern face when I ask him if he can take my selection as well. A twinkly old man who is two behind my husband in the queue smiles at me and winks.

At the self-service till, Mr Grigg is laden down with two lots of meal deals, an extra bottle of water, a newspaper and no bag. There are no manned tills and no space to put the goods before scanning. There are bloops and bleeps and Mr Grigg is still there when the twinkly man walks past me as I guard our hand luggage in an aisle featuring those toilet seat-shaped travel cushions. He gestures with his head towards Mr Grigg and says 'still grumpy'.

We stop for a coffee and go to Starbucks because there are no independent retailers from which to choose. The list of drinks is as long as a gibbon's arm. I go for a flat white and then change it to breakfast tea because I haven't yet had my morning cuppa and it's fast approaching lunchtime.

"And which tea would madam like?" Mr Grigg says.

And I don't know why but I'm tempted to whoop like a gibbon or at least laugh like Cheetah the chimp from Daktari and request PG Tips, in homage to my favourite adverts as a child but which these days would never be allowed.

Next stop, Athens. I'll keep you posted.

That's about it.

Love Maddie x

Monday, 14 January 2019

Happy 150th birthday to The People's Friend

150th souvenir issue, 12 January 2019
It's the 150th birthday of the longest-running woman's weekly magazine in the world.

Take a bow, The People's Friend.

I have the joy of writing the Maddie's World column each week from deep in rural Dorset. It's lovely to be able to share the goings on in my very special part of the world with 400,000 'Friend' readers all over the globe. 

When the 'Friend' was looking for a new columnist  four years ago and found me through this blog, I had to re-read the editor’s out-of-the-blue email to me at least three times. 

'For some time now, we've been mulling over the idea of introducing a weekly columnist, but we haven't been able to settle on the right person,' she said. 

'However, having looked at your blog, I think you might just be the writer we've been looking for! I like your ability to write with humour about the minutiae of daily life, but with a touch of emotional depth, too.'

If I had been able to do cartwheels, I would have also have done back flips all across the floor.

'I can hardly contain my excitement!' I told her. 'Of course, I can do a weekly column for you.'

When celebrity codswallop threatens to engulf our daily lives and parliamentary procedures fug up our brains to the point that we inwardly (or outwardly in my case) scream 'enough is enough!, the 'Friend' is a beacon of kindness in an often grim world.

So it's appropriate that the magazine is celebrating its 150th birthday with gusto.

The first issue, 13 January 1869

As I write this blog post, the 'Friend' editor, Angela Gilchrist is being interviewed on Radio Four's Woman's Hour. And this piece on the BBC's website gives a fascinating insight into the history of the grand old lady that is The People's Friend.

I love writing for The People’s Friend. I’ve been a writer all my life in some shape or form, having trained as a newspaper journalist after doing my A levels in 1979. 

To be able to write about the Dorset and the people I love for such a special magazine is a real privilege, and getting feedback from readers is just wonderful. When I started writing my columns, it was like being shown around one of those cosy, warm houses in lush countryside that you see on television programmes. It felt like I’d found my writing home. 

Many happy returns, The People’s Friend. Long may your warm words of wisdom continue.

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...