A busy day for bottle recycling…

A clink-clank-clinking of glass echoes across the fields as the recycling lorry does its fortnightly collection.

He’ll be busy today. The bottle boxes outside people’s houses are overflowing.

It’s the same all over the village.

Mr Grigg and I have started enjoying sundowners in the Shed of Dreams at five-thirty, just the two of us, as we video message friends doing the same.

The diet’s gone out the window, the amount of cake being consumed is criminal and we’re gorging on chocolate as if there’s no tomorrow.

But most of all, we thank our lucky stars we’re living in splendid isolation in a caring village set in the most beautiful countryside.

Not for us a trip out in the car to the local beauty spot for daily exercise, risking the wrath of the police for making unnecessary trips. The local beauty spot is on our doorstep, and it won’t be long before it’s pushing up bluebells, which is much more positive than pushing up daisies.

This morning, I do my best Julie Andrews impression as I run down the hill, dog in tow, bag of poo in one gloved hand, flexi-lead in the other.

Luckily, no-one can hear me, although I did put yesterday’s effort, Don’t Fence Me In, on my Facebook page. But it just didn’t sound the same without Two Tarts and a Vicar singing alongside me in harmony.

Today, I’ll be mostly cleaning the conservatory windows, making a carrot cake, creating a curry out of a butternut squash and a can of chickpeas and then grooming the dogs before the one o’clock Sound of Music Through the Square Window. Today’s request is rather an upbeat number chosen by Muriel across the road.

Then this afternoon, I’ll put a couple of hours into writing the novel. I have absolutely no excuse now not to finish it. To be honest, I’m loving being able to time travel into the late 17th century to escape an uncertain present.

That’s my day planned – how about yours?

That’s about it.

Love Maddie x

On the street where you live

Five minutes early, the church clock strikes one and the tumbleweed rolls through the village square.

As I open the bedroom window, wondering if, actually, this daily request slot, Through the Square Window, is making any difference to anyone except me (it makes me feel like I’m connecting to my community), Mr and Mrs Prayer stroll by with their dog.

The birdsong from The Sound of Music theme tune powers up and they look up and wave. They’ve timed their daily exercise to coincide with the music.

Mrs Bancroft’s head pops out from an attic window, the pub curtains twitch and DJ Landlord walks out the front door. Muriel, meanwhile, is at her bedroom window, while husband Bing and son Jack loiter outside the house.

Gracie, the pride of our alley, sways at her front gate while Monty Chocs-Away grins as he chances upon this bit of village absurdity on his way to the shop, where Mr Grigg is doing a four-hour shift behind the counter.

Today’s request is from Mata Hari who, on hearing the dulcet tones of Nat King Cole from inside her home, comes to her doorstep, clutching herself against the stiff breeze blowing through the square, as we all sing in unison.

With the news that the lockdown is likely to last months rather than weeks, I think we’re going to need a bigger playlist.

That’s about it.

Love Maddie x

Every day is like Sunday

On my morning dog walk, there’s not a soul around.

There are no church bells ringing, no cars driving by. Nothing.

We’ve all put the clocks forward but you wouldn’t know it. That annual sinking feeling, when you know you’ve got an hour less sleep than usual, just doesn’t register in the time of coronavirus. It really doesn’t matter what time you get out of bed or whether you’re in your pyjamas all day.

I’m one of those people who has to have a routine, otherwise I can quite easily wallow in laziness. If I’m not up and out with the dogs by a certain time, it affects the rest of my day. This free spirit needs structure, and that probably applies to most of us now more than ever.

With all the days merging into one, here in the Grigg household we’ve tried to do something different at the weekend, just to mark it as a weekend. But it’s tricky, because our weekdays now consist of gardening, reading and eating – all the kind of things we’d be doing on a Saturday or Sunday.

Except we’re not going out socialising, or to the cinema or out for a meal or up to visit my mum, 94, who lives in splendid isolation in the middle of nowhere but, luckily, has the most marvellous and caring neighbours my family could wish for.

At the moment, Mr Grigg is wandering around the supermarket, wearing mask and gloves. I’m at home, listening to BBC Radio 6 Music, the cat curled up next to me and the dogs asleep in their beds. I’m in the ‘at risk’ category as I had a heart attack four years ago, so I’m not going anywhere.

At one o’clock, though, I’ll be up in the spare bedroom, for The Sound of Music through the Square Window. Yesterday it was Bruno Mars and The Lazy Song, just for Mrs Plum, the pub landlady.

And then later, if Mr Grigg has found anything in the supermarket, we’ll have a roast – just like any other Sunday, although it’ll only be the two of us to eat it.

That’s about it.

Love Maddie x

You are Number Six

I’m sitting up in the spare bedroom, plugging in the laptop and Bose speaker. The village square is eerily quiet.

I put the speaker on the window sill, press the ‘play’ button on the laptop and the prelude to The Sound of Music begins its slow rise into Julie Andrews’ singing at the top of her gorgeous voice the hills are alive…

It’s the Square’s call to arms. The One O’Clock Music Slot is on its way.

Bellows’ wife cycles by on her way from the village shop and gives a cheery wave to Mrs Bancroft across the road, who has jemmied open her Juliet balcony to listen to the music in the warmth of her own home rather than the doorstep.

And then there’s Gracie, the pride of our alley, walking to the shop and wondering what all the fuss is about.

Through the magic of Spotify, Julie Andrews does her bit and then it’s Elton John’s turn, belting out I’m Still Standing for the benefit of Randy Munchkin, who probably can only just about hear it down the street.

DJ Landlord climbs on the cellar roof and gives a long distance thumbs-up while Mrs Plum emerges from the closed-up pub to sit on the seat outside.

Mata Hari emerges from her front door and begins to dance to the music.

The scene is uncannily like something from that 1960s TV classic, The Prisoner, with me alternating between the bewildered Number Six and the sinister Number Two, while Lush Places doubles up as Portmeirion minus the Italianate architecture, a propped-up penny farthing and psychedelic hydrangeas.

I wouldn’t be at all surprised if any minute now a large white bubble floated up the high street to keep us all in check.

Absolutely anything could happen. It’s all bonkers.

It’s the strangest thing, this virus, this lockdown. I keeping thinking it’s all a dream and I’m going to wake up, go to the bathroom and find Bobby Ewing in the shower. Which would be kind of awkward, to be honest. I barely know the man.

Ludicrous conspiracy theories abound on social media about how it all began and why – although no-one has suggested it could just be a massive April Fool’s joke or a drill to see how easy it is to keep the masses in their place.

The number of cases is soaring, and even the Prime Minister has it.

Wall-to-wall news about coronavirus increases anxiety levels. I don’t know about you, but I go to sleep thinking about it. I’ve started dabbing lavender oil on my forehead and temples in a bid to stop my dreams becoming re-runs of science fiction disaster films like The Day After Tomorrow.

Although I do have a notepad and pen beside my bed in case a gripping plot emerges for a bestseller. The trouble is, we’re already in it.

Each morning, before I’m fully awake, there is now a split-second where daylight comes in and all seems normal. And then I remember the reality and a feeling of nausea wells deep inside me and threatens to engulf my soul.

Thank goodness for the sunshine and the great outdoors of Lush Places. At least that blue sky and nature going about its normal business is giving us hope.

That’s about it – and, as they used to say in The Prisoner, be seeing you.

Keep smiling.

Love Maddie x

Thank you for being a friend

All around the country, people came out of their houses at eight o’clock last night to stand on their doorsteps and open their windows to clap for the NHS.

It was a massive show of appreciation for people on the front line in the fight against coronavirus.

Here in Lush Places, we all joined in, little pockets of applause, with cheering, banging of saucepan lids and Andrew Gold singing Thank You For Being A Friend.

Shortly afterwards, we joined in a record-breaking virtual pub quiz via Facebook. At one time, there were 91,000 other people online doing the same. We even saw Mrs Read’s name pop up as one of the participants.

Friendship and community connections are even more important now we can’t be physically close. We’re all in this together.

The village shop continues its sterling work, with manager Mr Costner and volunteers really stepping up to the mark, although at six feet distances apart.

They’ve even started a ‘guess the customer’ competition, photographing whoever is standing on the big red cross next to the drinks cabinet, cropping the picture so it’s from the chest down and then putting it on the shop’s Facebook page. Yesterday it was Joe Le Taxi in wellies, fresh from taking his dog, Badger, around the fields for his one exercise of the day.

Yesterday also saw the launch of the Lush Places One O’Clock Singalong courtesy of a loudspeaker (although not loud enough) on the windowsill of our spare bedroom.

Each day, I’ll be playing requests to follow our theme tune of The Sound of Music.

There were just a few of us for the first session (as it should be as we’re all social distancing). Across the way, I could see Mrs Bancroft doing her best Julie Andrews impression, while Mata Hari stood behind her car and belted out the chorus to My Favourite Things.

From the bedroom, I could see two hands pressed against the glass of the pub window, alternately waving and doing enthusiastic thumbs-up. It was DJ Landlord and Mrs Plum, so we send them virtual kisses across the Square.

The idea is that at the end of all this nonsense, we’ll have a lockdown playlist we can use for the celebration party. It’s going to be epic.

That’s about it.

Love Maddie x

Seeking sanctuary in times of strife

It’s good to get out. It’s only once a day, this outside exercise we’re allowed to have during the lockdown. And who knows how long it’s going to last?

The pubs’s stopped doing takeaways, the church is closed even for private prayer and the shop is dealing with one customer at a time.

I’m making the most of my exercise while I still can, up bright and early with the dogs to a place where ancient Britons sought sanctuary in times of strife. Luckily, it’s within walking distance, even though the National Trust say it’s the remotest spot in Dorset.

For the first time in days, I saw vapour trails in the sky above the hill. But also, reassuringly, an angel’s wing.

Yesterday, I saw a small boy, aged about five, with his mother in a field, sword fighting an invisible enemy. This morning he was wearing a storm trooper outfit. From six feet away, I could see the Force was strong with this one.

Listening to the news is limited to just once a day for me, as well as spending less time on social media. It’s great to share love and understanding with friends on Facebook and video message the family on WhatsApp. But I’m fed up with ridiculous conspiracy theories and crackpot suggestions on how to combat this terrible virus.

Although I do admit to wearing my Star Wars T-shirt as a form of talisman, topped by a Bristol City hoodie, even though I can’t stand football.

During my once-a-day visit to Facebook yesterday, I saw some wonderful 3D images of tigers and pandas in friends’ front rooms. Having a go with this technology, I spirited up a huge wolf in The Shed of Dreams.

It sprang up on the chair and stared out the window, obviously looking for Mr Grigg who had come in the day before and rearranged my writer’s adjective board because he was bored.

Never fiddle beneath. That’s his new motto.

That’s about it.

Love Maddie x

Lockdown

And now the country is in lockdown.

Our physical interaction is restricted. The message is clear: stay at home, at least for the next three weeks.

It’s about time. We knew it was coming.

Government advice is that we should leave our homes only if we’re shopping for necessities (ideally one person and not as a family); doing one form of exercise per day on our own or as part of a household; medical reasons; travel to and from work if we must.

But even today, people are flocking into a Bridport shop to buy compost. What are people like? Perhaps they’re going to eat it.

Whilst the current situation is bringing out the best in so many people, it’s also bringing out the worst. In Lush Places, the man who everyone knows as the rudest, most ignorant and selfish inhabitant has not got any better, storming from the community shop because his usual bread is not available, deeming it ‘ridiculous’. This is the shop that has volunteers at its core. Stick that in your pipe and smoke it, Mr Nasty.

On social media, foul language is being sprinkled around like fairy dust to the point where I’m not going to follow those pages any more.

The best thing we can all do is stay at home and be kind. We’re all in this wobbly boat together, patching up the leaks and baling out the water as and when it threatens to engulf us.

Currently, I’m making the most out of the daily exercise rule while I can, knowing from friends in France and Greece that you need a validated permit to even visit the village shop.

This morning, the dogs and I went up to Bluebell Hill. We strode out in the sun under an absolutely clear blue sky, with no vapour trails kisses because no-one is flying any more.

The birds were singing, the woodpeckers drilling and the dogs rolling in badger poo just like usual.

This is a spot I love. I never fail to appreciate its beauty.

Even more so today, on the day the country went into luckdown. I am so very lucky to live here.

Keep safe everyone – and wash your hands.

That’s about it.

Love Maddie x

Happy Mother’s Day

It was a Mothering Sunday like no other.

No bells ringing in the village, no posies being handed out in the ancient church because there were no services to hand them out at.

Mother’s Day at a distance – gifts on doorsteps, greetings through car windows and over fences.

Waving across the fields and streets, walkers in single file keeping their distance from one another.

Birds singing, the sun beating down, blossom blossoming and flowers blooming. Dogs happily play fighting, cats stretching out on warm garden walls.

For some – the lucky some – this social distancing is a time to reflect, be creative, find ourselves amid the chaos, breathe in the air of the great outdoors, marvel at the wonders of nature, which is oblivious to the dystopian sci-fi story playing out on the human stage.

For others like the elderly and the vulnerable, only the kindness of neighbours and the local community will keep their boat afloat.

Self-imposed exile means households are already at breaking point. Stroppy teenagers confined to their rooms, younger children fighting with their siblings while mums and dads do their best to work from home amid the mayhem.

The novelty of self-reliance and making do is already wearing thin.

But we have to get on with it, for the sake of our population, for the sake of our health service and for the sake of light at the end of the tunnel.

Here, in the beautiful West Country, there are further concerns as people from who knows where head to the coast and countryside, convinced this virus has nothing to do with them because they feel fine.

Just like the Government banned pubs and clubs from opening, so must the tourism industry be ordered to shut down. Snowdonia, for example, experienced its busiest-ever visitor day in living memory yesterday.

It’s got to stop. Now.

We have to take this seriously. Our very lives depend on it.

The bare necessities

Good news stories are emerging bit by bit within communities as the newspapers and websites peddle a never-ending story of doom.

On Bothenhampton’s main street, they’re all doing The One O’clock Wave. At the allotted hour, residents pop out of their front doors, waving and calling to each other as far as they can see along the high pavement and across the road.

Joyous and full of long-distance love, according to my self-isolating friend.

Meanwhile, as the schools and colleges close, younger people are stepping up to the plate to help their communities.

Like many community shops, ours relies on its volunteers. But more and more are having to self-isolate, classed as vulnerable because of their age or underlying health conditions. It could lead to the shop closing, or at least operating fewer hours.

One local teenager has already come into the shop asking how she can help. As she’s over eighteen, she’s being trained next week. She’ll be a huge asset, especially if she can persuade others of a similar age and enthusiasm to join her.

At a time when swarms of panic buyers are depleting the supermarket shelves of stock (such as this Where’s Wally in fully kitted out in hazmat suit and gas mask operating in stores in neighbouring towns), the hunt goes on for supplies for our little village shop. Never has there been a time when the shop is needed more.

Some 76 ordered items were not in the latest delivery from wholesalers Bookers.

If only people would buy just what they need, then there would be something for everyone. The Bare Necessities. On that note, here’s something cheerful for the weekend. I’ll be teaching Mr Grigg the words so he can sing it behind the till at the shop.

That’s about it.

Love Maddie x

Nice weather – but not for ducks

The gorgeous coast road between Bridport and Weymouth is misty with mizzle this morning as I take the granddaughter to her work experience.

She’s lucky it’s this week and not next. Schools across the country will close their doors tomorrow until who knows when.

May blossom is beginning to burst from the trees. Glossy green wild flowers that look like angelica line the verges. Nature goes on, as does life – although not as we know it.

In front of me a white van ploughs through a group of mallard ducks minding their own business on the road just outside Portesham. A female duck is wiped out in an instant as her confused friends fly off in all directions.

The sight upsets me greatly and I begin to weep.

The van just carries on ignoring the 50mph speed limit and I realise that, despite this new-found kindness many people are showing to others, there are still some morons out there.

I tune in to a Spotify playlist created by a funny friend with impeccable music taste and wish it would all go away.

Any road up, here it is for you to enjoy. But you’ll need Spotify to access it.