Over and out

With lockdown restrictions easing (although who knows for how long), I’m going to wind down this blog for a bit.

Hairdressers are back in business, pubs have re-opened but life is not at all as we know it and probably won’t be for months and months – and maybe years – to come.

So keep safe, wear a mask when you need to and, by hook or by crook, let’s keep talking to each other.

That’s about it.

Love Maddie x

The village lockdown poem

Carved into a fallen tree at the entrance to Lewesdon HIll, early in lockdown. Picture: Karen Murphy

Some months into lockdown, I invited villagers to send me a couple of lines each to sum up their days.

I put the lines together and added a few of my own. This is the result:

BROADWINDSOR IN LOCKDOWN 2020

Nature, you were never lovelier,

when the world stopped, but the Earth kept spinning.

And then the world turned upside down, freedom could not be found

We all became experts at social distancing – no grandparents would be visiting.

Sunshine, birdsong, a much quieter life but life still went on.

Thursday night clapping for our hard-pressed carers,

a ripple of applause from one end of the village to the other.

The Sound of Music every day at one o’clock.

Business booms at the community shop

as sales of fruit, veg and alcohol go pop.

Takeout drinks from the pub

and Vikki’s quiche and coleslaw in the shop.

The Tuesday night chip van at Comrades Hall,

Friday morning Post Office, chairs six feet apart.

Anxiety calmed by WhatsApp and Zoom, meeting family and friends by the touch of a button.

People chatting with new friends while standing next to bollards in the shop queue.

Heart attacks, cancelled operations, masks, gloves and Perspex screens.

Food deliveries for the vulnerable.

Our church went blue for the NHS.

The Sound of Music every day at one o’clock.

And we had time to just be with the one we love without duty or obligation stealing the day.

Doing all that we can to keep a company viable,

sorting wages and furlough staff, all reliable.

Farmers cut the fields for silage and tractors trundled through the village.

Up on Lewesdon Hill, bluebells didn’t know about coronavirus.

VE Day flags and afternoon tea outside our homes.

Socially distanced wildflower planting – digging, sowing and watering.

A beautiful sight to welcome visitors to our village when all this has passed.

The Sound of Music every day at one o’clock.

Lock down with the family – fantastic at the start, learning through the struggles, stresses and worries, tears, laughter and love.

Dusting flour from my hands, I pick up my book;

to bake or read, my lockdown dilemma.

There’s only one village in the west for me, Broadwindsor is the place I love to be.

It’s music at one and clapping at eight to rid us of the virus we love to hate.

Virtual Bananagrams, with gin, on Skype; virtual birthday parties on Zoom; virtual running – for medals – on Strava.

Virtual life.

The village roads, now used much less, speeds traffic onward faster;

too fast for the slowworm outside the shop, who is now not just slow, but flatter.

The sun beckons and mocks. Enjoy what you have, count your blessings.

The Sound of Music every day at one o’clock.

The church buildings are silent, dusty, locked, empty, paused.

God is active, loud, renewing, unrestricted, present, recreating and filling us every day.

Time to listen to the birds, watch the flowers grow, to smell the air, walk up the hill and to be still.

The warmth, love and friendship uncovered and blossoming as we all work together through this strange, uncertain  time.

House quiet, headphones on, five laptops glowing, each immersed in our own virtual business and learning,

waiting for the next punctuation point in days we can’t name.

Then kettle on, frisbee out, meals prepared, conversation flows, reconnected again.

The Sound of Music every day at one o’clock.

Free loo rolls from the village shop. The kindness of strangers.

And then a huge blue ball hurtles down the road, like the ever-present Rover bubble in The Prisoner.

A small army of tireless volunteers, stacking, selling, delivering.

Painting, writing, reading, decorating – my furniture has never been so upcycled.

The village phone box becomes a book exchange, tales of a community bound up on donated shelves.

Take-outs from the pub, food and drink, got to keep it going.

The call of rooks from their satellite rookery at the Old George,

while the parish councillors discuss village affairs over Zoom.

The space station goes over, the sun’s fading light makes it glow for all to see.

Endless sunshine, we will never see this blue a sky again.

The Sound of Music on the World Service and Desert Island Discs.

Slippers or flip flops worn all day.

The garden glorious in all this sun.

A tank of petrol lasts for months.

A time of reflection for the things that really matter. The birdsong and beautiful countryside.

Teaching the children, online bitesize that doesn’t bite back.

A fish van arrives in the Square at half past eleven, a shoal of customers in single file down the road.

Gardens and allotments provide solace and colour.

The Sound of Music at one o’clock

Afternoon briefing, highlight of the day.

What day is it, by the way?

The Sound of Music Through The Square Window: the video

This new video tells the story of how the sound of music every day at one o’clock helped a sleepy Dorset village get through 72 days of lockdown.

With thanks to Simon Emmerson for providing the sound system and making the film, James Dawson for the photos and Stornoway, The Imagined Village and Emma Gale for the music.

That’s about it.

Love Maddie x

Pin the tail on the donkey

I don’t listen to Boris Johnson at the best of times nor, as it happens, the worst of times (ie the times we are in now, although apparently things are getting better).

But my ears pricked up when I heard him talking about guacamole in his broadcast yesterday.

Guacamole? What on earth was he on about? And shouldn’t he be pronouncing it gwa-ka-MOH-leh or even wa-ka-MOH-leh? As any fule kno.

If you listen to his speeches, you could be forgiven for thinking our prime minister models himself on the Nigel Molesworth books.

This is Fotherington-Thomas, as narrated by Mr Johnson.

And then, this morning, I realised our esteemed leader hadn’t been talking about a Mexican avocado-based dip at all.

Johnson was saying whack-a-mole. It seems it’s his latest sound biting catchphrase which defines his approach to tackling local coronavirus spikes, as in the case of Leicester which is staying in lockdown this week.

I’d never heard of the expression whack-a-mole. But then I don’t have a croquet lawn.

I looked it up and it’s an arcade game invented in Japan. Who knew? (Probably everyone – I’ve led a very sheltered life. Seeing how whack-a-mole is trending on Twitter, just like ducks we have all been hooked And that’s the glory of a soundbite phrase. It’s an ear worm that stays in your head, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing and therefore a brilliant phrase because you can’t think of anything else.)

The allusion to a poor blind creature being whacked over the head was probably invented by a parliamentary adviser ridiculed for going out in his car for the day to test his eyesight. Take that, people.

Now, if Johnson had said splat-the-rat it would have been a much a better use of imagery. Rats are horrid, moles are sweet (unless they’re destroying the aforementioned croquet lawn or hollowing out the ha-ha). Splatting a rat is more beneficial to the community than whacking a dear little mole out of its blind and velvety existence.

But maybe the rat analogy is too close to home. There are a lot of them about.

I’m confused. Still, I’m looking forward to when all this is over and we can have a national game of pin the tail on the donkey instead of running around playing blind man’s buff.

That’s about it.

Love Maddie x

Too hot to trot

We’re having a heatwave. A tropical heatwave.

It’s currently too hot to trot. I’ve abandoned the weeding, I’ve given up on the ironing. I was going to read The Mirror and The Light in a shady spot outdoors but it’s too darned hot, even under a tree.

So, having done my writing, ironing and dogwalking, ranted at the Seasalt catalogue for using ‘comprised of’ when they mean ‘comprising’, I’ve retreated inside in the cool. I have my laptop on my lap but not for much longer as my knees are getting too toasty.

Still, as Terry Wogan used to say, mustn’t grumble.

Lockdown restrictions are being lifted as from 4 July, with holiday accommodation and pubs set to reopen but not swimming pools or indoor badminton courts. And still the crowds flock to Bournemouth Beach and Durdle Door. The roll call of rubbish left behind was nothing less than disgraceful.

As those of us who are alert are fully aware, the virus is still out there and it’s down to us to use our common sense. Sadly, many people don’t have any.

In other news, I’m back on social media, having realised if my 94-year-old mother is up to speed on family goings-on all over the world, then it’s a pretty poor show if I can’t be, too. Not being on Facebook also mucked up the Messenger facility on my phone although I’ve worked out how to solve that now.

I will be blogging in fits and starts but now that the strict lockdown is easing, I don’t have a lot to say and, besides, I want to keep the best bits for my People’s Friend column.

So, in the meantime, enjoy the sunshine, drink lots of water and keep washing your hands.

That’s about it.

Love Maddie x

Before the rain

The air is rich with the aroma of elderflower, roses and honeysuckle.

Foxgloves march across banks, sheep safely graze on the sports field and a young deer skirts its dense perimeter.

On the hedgerow, deep in one of Dorset’s holloways, a static serpent slithers around a tree trunk like a ship’s figurehead.

Bee orchids burst forth in the churchyard. Hidden red gems in strawberry beds reveal themselves daily as the sun beats down. Blackcurrants ripen on the stem, their gorgeous smell good enough to eat.

The blue sky is clouding over. There is humidity in the air. We are due a storm.

Up on the hill, a lone cyclist wakes in his tent to birdsong. Of course, he shouldn’t be here. Lockdown rules have not been lifted yet to allow overnight stays. However, tucked up here, in Dorset’s most isolated spot, he is probably less a risk to others than the sardine sun worshippers legitimately flocking to the beaches and the queues of people queuing for the supermarket.

Maybe he is up here for an eye test.

That’s about it.

Love Maddie x

Under darkening skies

We’re still very much in lockdown although restrictions are slowly beginning to be lifted.

That elusive light at the end of the tunnel doesn’t seem to get very much closer, though, does it?

The summer is laid out before us but none of us knows what it looks like. It’s as if it’s been covered over by a shroud. We can make out what the various lumps and bumps might be underneath but we can’t see the whole.

None of us can make any firm plans, we just have to go with the flow. And it’s frustrating.

Discussions are currently about heavy stuff, dominated as they are by the devastating impact coronavirus is having on all our lives, along with worldwide race protests which have prompted conversations about subjugation and leading a good life as well as ignorance, hatred, misunderstanding and deliberate antagonism.

It’s good to talk but not to rant.

Be kind is an oft-heard mantra but there doesn’t seem to be much of that going on in the lives of some. People are quick to judge and be mean, without seeing the whole picture. Yet on the other hand, small and big acts of kindness are going on all over the world.

Yin and Yang.

Sometimes, though, it can seem that the balance is out of kilter if you’ve been exposed to too much yin and not enough yang, or maybe excess yang and zilch yin. That’s why I’ve deactivated my Facebook account. I do that from time time. For me, there’s just too much noise at the moment. There are some very intelligent discussions and conversations going on but too many nasty memes and ranting, along with the daily diet of boasting. 

Nature, meanwhile, is benefiting from a few days of rain, with the sound of thunder here and there making a change from the sun with its hat on, shining all the time.

Thankfully, there is still joy to be found in the great outdoors, in the hedgerow, in the fields and in the garden, even under darkening skies.

And the wildflower verges in Lush Places, masterminded by my friend The Angel of the North, will soon be an absolute picture.

That’s about it.

Love Maddie x

Thank you for the music

As I thought it would be, it was a very emotional day in the village yesterday.

The very last Sound of Music Through The Square Window. Tears were shed. And not just by me.

You can see the final requests and selections, in reverse order, here on the village website. The final playlist is more than nine hours long. You can find it on Spotify here.

The sun shone on us yesterday as we socially distanced danced on pavements, the village green, windows and doorways. Hats and colourful clothing were in abundance and the village people came into their own for The Village People’s YMCA.

It just had to be done.

The songs over the last 72 days have been pretty eclectic but they’ve all been enjoyed immensely. Thank you to those who made suggestions, gave me requests and then waved and danced at home and abroad.

Thank you for your thank yous yesterday, including a spirited rendition of Thank You For The Music sung a cappella with accompanying placards and a signed copy of The Sound of Music poster.

And then a bottle of wine and card from Connor and his family, who have so enjoyed the one o’clock sessions every day.

I don’t think I’ve cried so much.

Just as I was wiping the tears from my eyes, Simon Emmerson thrust a copy of The Sound of Music on vinyl at me from a distance, with the instruction to ‘smash it up’. I can’t bring myself to do that, Julie Andrews has been such a steadfast companion these past ten weeks, although the suggestion of tossing it out of the window like a clay pigeon might feature in the fictionalised account of this wonderfully uplifting village story.

I will leave you with Simon’s Pilsdon Pen, which was part of the final set.

That’s about it.

Love Maddie x

A time for reflection

Things are slowly getting back to some sense of normality in the village. The noise of a few more children in the school playground is a wonderful sound for sore ears.

It’s too early for things to be as they were – if they ever are again – but at least we can meet friends and family in gardens, the six of us keeping our distance. No-one in Dorset has been impressed with the scenes on our beaches, with daytrippers packed in like sardines just because they have an urge to see the sea and a lifting of lockdown restrictions allows them to do so.

There is a real fear that the county, which has done reasonably well up until now, could be facing a second wave of the virus.

In other news, the cat went to the vet this week. Nothing serious, just preparation for a pet passport in case we are able to travel to France later in July. It was a surreal situation, with customers waiting in their cars for the masked vets to come to them.

At our local hospital, which I had to attend midweek for a medical procedure postponed when lockdown happened, the corridors echoed with the lone footsteps of patients making their way to long-awaited appointments. Doctors and nurses in personal protection gear, perspex screens around the receptionist, and social distancing notices everywhere.

Yesterday, the dogs finally got the haircut they were due on the first day of lockdown. The little one is now more like a sausage with a head than a gundog. I knew she was thin but even I was shocked. I shall redouble my efforts to fatten her up with potatoes.

The weather has changed, the wind is blowing clouds across the sky but the view from the hill is reassuringly the same. It pays to find solace and escape from it all and reflect on life. A fool, alone on a hill.

My very own desert island.

Which leads me very nicely into the fact that I can breathe out now my Desert Island Discs debut has aired this morning. My bit was a light interlude in a programme full of moving stories.

You can listen to the programme here. I’m on at 32:20.

Time and time again, the programme and theme being broadcast throughout the day on Radio 4 illustrated the power of music. Whether it’s in times of reflection, celebration or just a change of mood, music has the ability to move even the most stone-like of souls.

It’ll be my last Sound of Music Through The Square Window this Sunday, and I’ve put together a finale which I hope will capture the fun-filled spirit and creativity of this community.

I’m hoping people who are socially-distancing dancing in windows, doorways, on pavements and the village green will wear a hat, something colourful and maybe sparkly shoes. As the weather forecast isn’t great, it could be sou’wester and galoshes but as long as they’re bright and cheerful, that’s fine.

I’ll be letting you know how the last day goes. And now that the people aren’t staying at home, I might close the window for a bit until I have something else to write about.

That’s about it.

Love Maddie x

#DesertIslandDiscsChallenge

This coming Friday morning on Radio 4, there’s a special Desert Island Discs featuring the music that is helping people through lockdown.

And the village’s story of The Sound of Music Through The Square Window is included in the programme.

I can say this because several people have already told me they’ve heard my voice on one of the radio trailers, which means my interview hasn’t been left on the cutting room floor

This fills me with relief because talking to Lauren Laverne was a bit nerve-racking, mostly because I worship the ground on which she walks. Also I had severe feedback in my headphones. This was so discombobulating it led me to declare that the village sits beneath the lowest point in Dorset when I meant the highest.

Still, it was lovely to be able to share the tale about the daily request slot and how the theme tune to one of the famous film musicals of all time became the most played song in the village. To see folk on the green socially-distanced dancing every lunchtime, along with neighbours waving from windows and people on pavements pogoing, has been a tonic for this close-knit community.

We’ve felt a part of something, even though we can’t be together.

I have only one tune in this programme but you can guess which one it is. Didn’t have a choice really.

In the build-up to Friday’s programme, which features some emotional interviews with listeners all over the country, the BBC has launched the Desert Island Discs Challenge.

To take part, you have to:

  1. list your top eight pieces of music, starring your favourite
  2. add a book and a luxury (don’t forget you already have the Bible and the complete works of Shakespeare)
  3. include the hashtag #DesertIslandDiscsChallenge
  4. tag eight friends to join in the fun

It might seem easy but it’s really quite tricky – the songs shouldn’t be your eight favourite pieces of music but those that mean something to you, maybe jogging a particular memory. You can find guidelines on how to choose your list here.

This is my list of tunes and the reasons why I chose them:

  1. When Will I Be Loved, The Everly Brothers (my older sisters singing in harmony)
  2. Sugar Sugar, The Archies (performing it at the primary school social)
  3. Jupiter from The Planet Suite (as a child I imagined it being played when on a family visit to Tarr Steps, Exmoor)
  4. Rock Your Baby, George McCrae (blackcurrant picking in the summer with the sun on my back and earning 35p a bucket)
  5. What Do I Get, Buzzcocks (teenage angst)
  6. Cars, Gary Numan (being teased about my Somerset accent when I started my journalism training)
  7. Jackson, Johnny Cash and June Carter (singing this with Mr Grigg on our 10th wedding anniversary)
  8. To Build A Home*, The Cinematic Orchestra featuring Patrick Watson (because I love it so. I got soaked walking back in the rain to our accommodation after seeing them at The Roundhouse, London)

Actually, scrub that. It’s just too sad. I think I’ll go with Rock Your Baby instead. I smell blackcurrants every time I hear it.

In any case, it might take me a while to get the hang of my luxury item to play a bit of Mrs Mills, which I’d need to cheer me up if I chose that Cinematic Orchestra track as my one and only desert island disc.

You can see how difficult it is now.

For my book I’m having The Complete Illustrated Guide to Practical Witchcraft and Magic (I might be able to conjure up a rescue vessel or make myself disappear).

And my luxury is a piano. (I had lessons as a child but didn’t have the patience to practise. I figure if I’m on the island long enough, I might become proficient to at least play one tune from beginning to end).

I’ll be posting a short version of my list on social media but, in the meantime, why not give it a go?

That’s about it.

Love, Maddie x