I’ve just written a piece for a magazine about some of the positives to come out of lockdown.
When it’s published, I’ll share it with you.
Along with the wonderful impact on nature and the environment, the thing I’ll be taking from all of this is that when I have a left-field idea, I’m going to run with it rather than ask what anyone else thinks.
The Sound of Music Through The Square Window has been a brilliant success, with people from all over the village telling me how it’s helped them through lockdown by giving shape and purpose to their day.
But rather than blowing that particular trumpet, I wanted to share this most wonderful video with you. My professional musician friend, who lent me his sound equipment so that the one o’clock music can be heard all over the village, has been just taken part in his first online Zoom festival.
He says: ‘The whole thing had the intimacy and interactive quality totally lacking in bigger corporate festival.
‘If this is part of the future of live entertainment in a post Covid 19 world then count us in. It was inspiring, magical and generated a very moving sense of togetherness and solidarity so needed in these dark and fractured times.’
I hope you find it as inspiring and joyful as I do.
It’s Oak Apple Day today, which commemorates the restoration of the monarchy in May 1660 and Charles II’s birthday.
Back in the day, it was a bank holiday. According to an entry in Samuel Pepys’ Diary on 1 June 1660: ‘Parliament had ordered the 29th of May, the King’s birthday, to be forever kept as a day of thanksgiving for our redemption from tyranny and the King’s return to his Government, he returning to London that day.’
The village has a special connection with the flamboyant king. He stopped here overnight in September 1651 when he was on the run from the Battle of Worcester. It’s the same six-week escapade that saw him hiding in a tree at Boscobel (hence the plethora of pubs called The Royal Oak).
Here, he found sanctuary in the top rooms of a pub (now a private house). But when the place was crawling with parliamentary troops, he managed to escape after a pregnant camp follower went into labour downstairs. There was such a hullabaloo among the local officials who didn’t want responsibility for the child’s upkeep that the young king was able to sneak away.
He spent nine years in exile on the continent before being invited back to England in 1660 following the death of Oliver Cromwell in 1658.
I’d forgotten that it was Oak Apple Day until I was reminded by a text this morning from a friend. It read ‘grovelly, grovelly’, the standard greeting between wearers of oak sprigs on 29 May.
The day is still celebrated in parts of England. I’ve long wanted to restore it in this village. I’ve had an Oak Apple Day supper more than once in my house.
According to Wikipedia, anyone who failed to wear a sprig of oak risked being pelted with bird’s eggs or thrashed with nettles. In Sussex, those not wearing oak were liable to be pinched, giving rise to the unofficial name of ‘Pinch-bum Day’. In Essex it was known as ‘Bumping Day’.
Here, however, 360 years on from the Restoration, we made do with a song for Charles II during the daily fun at one slot, The Sound of Music Through The Square Window. I chose King of Rock n Roll by Prefab Sprout. It was either that or a 1600s instrumental number called Johnny Cock Thy Beaver, and I wasn’t sure Lush Places was quite ready for that.
Some maintain that the eight o’clock ritual has become ‘politicised’ while others, including NHS staff, point to those taking part in the clap who then ignore pleas to stay at home and avoid gatherings, putting more strain on the healthcare system.
There’s been a lot of ‘clap shaming’ talk on the internet, some of it quite bullying, questioning whether saying a massive thank you across the nation is appropriate, particularly when politicians have been underfunding and disrespecting health and social care in this country for years.
‘You can keep your rainbows and applause. We’d rather have a pay rise and respect,’ was the gist of several articles I’ve read by some health workers. On the other hand, there are other carers who say it’s really helped them get through this crisis.
I don’t think it’s fair to make people feel guilty about thanking key workers. And we shouldn’t underestimate the weekly ‘feel-good’ boost for some communities which would otherwise have been cooped-up indoors.
But I do think it’s good that people are questioning the ritual and thinking more deeply about it. As I’ve said before, I hope the energy of the common people can be harnessed to fight against creeping privatisation of the NHS by the powers-that-be.
There has to be some positive action to come out of this pandemic. Maybe I am being naive but I am hoping we as a nation will be far more switched-on when it comes to what is happening around us and to never take things like our health service for granted.
Today’s Sound of Music Through The Square Window will feature a tune for staff and residents at our local care home. I’ll also be playing a song especially for Dominic Cummings, who I figure needs that little uplift only music can give.
I made the mistake of waiting for Dominic Cummings to arrive in the Number 10 rose garden yesterday afternoon.
He was thirty minutes late and he gave that rapid ‘sorry I’m late’ statement people say when they’re not sorry at all.
I was glued to the screen when he read page after page of convoluted explanation and justification and was about to turn off when he revealed why he had gone out on a sixty-mile excursion with his family to a local beauty spot, Barnard Castle, (apparently on Easter Sunday and also his wife’s birthday but that’s irrelevant, according to Michael Gove) when he should have been at home, which, incidentally, is in London and not Durham but then, his pals say, that was okay because childcare was involved.
Cummings has made a reasonable case, the closed-ranks cabinet members say today, urging us to now move on, as if this row were of our making.
For a media blamed by some as being at the root of all this, the press questioning in the rose garden of the power behind the throne was pretty poor. But Twitter was on fire.
What the public latched on to, apart from the fact that it’s one rule for the elite and another rule for the plebs and oh, how the powers-that-be are laughing at us, is the astonishing admission by Cummings that he and his wife and child went to Barnard Castle to make sure he was fit to drive home to London, as his eyesight had been playing him up.
Cummings’ dodgy eyesight is up there with Prince Andrew’s inability to sweat. A likely story. You couldn’t make it up. Although, clearly, they both did.
Three images have jumped out at me since that extraordinary sideshow at the back of Number Ten:
1) The idea of Johnson serenading his Svengali with I beg your pardon, I never promised you a rose garden and then immediately backtracking because that’s exactly what he did.
2) The Mr Magoo Driving Award should be presented to Cummings who drove to a beauty spot during lockdown to test his eyesight.
3) An astonishing story that Barnard Castle means ‘pathetic excuse’ in the local dialect. Check it out here. It sounds too good to be true.
The whole Trumpian shebang in the rose garden left me fuming more than ever. Luckily, the Dorset countryside did its best to calm and soothe me later, which will be the subject of a post for another day.
In the meantime, though, take a look at this glorious sunset from Eggardon, an ancient hill fort where the countryside lies out at its feet like Narnia. I even managed to get a Star Wars-style binary sunset.
I’m seething this morning at the news that Dominic Cummings, the PM’s trusted adviser, revered and despised by politicians in equal measure, is arrogantly unrepentant at breaking the lockdown rules. His acolytes in the cabinet continue to defend him.
Each time one of them opens their mouths they seem to dig a deeper and deeper hole, as if preparing for a post to support the metaphorical fence going up between them and the rest of us.
It’s a disgrace and it all stinks.
That’s all I’m going to say . There’s no point getting angry when it’s something I can’t do anything about. People like that always come up smelling of roses. Although I might write to my MP to complain, not that it’ll make much difference.
Stop it, I need to be positive and not sink into a negative swirl of cynicism. Illegitimati non carborundum and all that. Beat to your own drum and do the best you can. And most of all, be kind.
I’d made a pact with myself not to listen to the news and government briefings or get drawn into Facebook rants and conspiracy theories during lockdown. Life is too short to knowingly subject yourself to anything that triggers poor mental health.
Enjoy nature, enjoy the sunshine, enjoy video chats with your family or socially distant conversations with friends over the garden fence or through the window.
Mind you, even my granddaughters have gone feral, refusing to pose for a picture unless wearing a mask.
In other news, it’s bank holiday weekend and the sun is smiling down on us. This means that thousands of people have been heading for the Dorset coast to get up close and personal and then complain that nothing is open. Or whinge on social media that they’re never coming back because the locals are so rude to them on Facebook when they are the goose that lays the golden eggs.
For goodness sake, go home. We don’t want you or your eggs here yet.
It sometimes feels like I’m at the centre of a feel-good comedy written by Richard Curtis.
‘That song you played yesterday,’ Mickey Murphy said to me this morning as he walked up from the community shop and I was walking the dogs. ‘My wife thought it was for her.’
‘Not Doris Day’s Deadwood Stage?’
‘No, not that one. The Power of Love by Jennifer Rush.’
It had been Mr Loggins’ choice. But, apparently, when Mickey’s wife asked the question with a doe-eyed look on her face, he claimed this belting power ballad as his own. It’s not to my taste but his wife was delighted. Little does she know he’s really asked for Will You by Hazel O’Connor.
Nothing to do with the words. He says he just loves the saxophone solo.
In another comedy moment, I had a message via Facebook from the late Prince Buster’s son in the United States, asking me to write about him and his music. I’m not sure my readers are quite ready for that.
‘Who’s Prince Buster?’ Mr Grigg asked.
With a look that could wither an arm at fifty paces, I informed him that Prince Buster was to ska what Bob Marley was to reggae and Buddy Holly to rock and roll.
‘Maybe you can get him to come and play at the village hall,’ someone else suggested. Who knows? Nothing ventured, nothing gained. Like Prince Buster’s son is ever going to come over from America to do a gig in the hidden Dorset hinterland.
Still, it could happen. As readers of my People’s Friend column will know, it’s surreal here in Lush Places at the best of times. But now, at the worst of times, it’s got even weirder. It was only a few weeks ago I was chased by a large blue ball reminiscent of Rover from The Prisoner.
My feeling of oddness is accentuated by my daily retreat into the spare bedroom every lunchtime to set up the playlist, speakers and mixing desk for The Sound of Music Through The Square Window.
‘You’re famous,’ someone commented. ‘A legend in your own lunchtime.’
Slave To The Rhythm has just come on 6 Music as I write this, which seems rather appropriate.
‘Let’s go and see your mum,’ Mr Grigg said last week.
‘Well, it’ll have to be after one o’clock,’ I replied.
‘Ah yes, how could I forget?’
There have been days since 26 March, when I started playing requests from the window overlooking the village square, where I could have quite easily have assaulted Julie Andrews if I’d seen her running down the street, arms outstretched, singing that song.
I mean, I could have chosen Count Basie’s One O’Clock Jump as the theme tune to my daily music slot.
Still, after two months of playing the same song over and over again, anyone would get mighty sick of it. Although I don’t think I’d have ever got sick of Count Basie and His Orchestra.
I’m sorry to say I’ve gone through a period where Julie Andrews has just a little bit slightly got on my nerves.
But then, as I come down the slopes of Dorset’s highest hill each morning and start singing ‘the hills are alive’, well, like Baby Bear’s porridge, the words seem just right.
My heart is never lonely when I go up into the hills. There is something about the climb to reach the top where you’re rewarded with a beautiful, detached view before the glorious descent.
Who wouldn’t break out into that song running down these fields?
And now Talk Talk’s Life’s What You Make It has just come on the radio, and it’s a maxim that, on the whole, I tend to agree with.
Having previously said I’m going to close the window on the one o’clock music slot on 31 May, I’ve decided to extend it by a week to what would have been our village fun weekend. I’ve so many songs still to get through that the finale will be on Sunday 7 June, which I’ve discovered is the vicar’s birthday.
The big community party won’t be for sometime as none of us wants to get anywhere near each other. But I’m looking forward to some socially distant dancing in windows, doorways, pavements and the village green, with perhaps a few comedy moments thrown in for good measure.
Having inadvertently published two blog posts within minutes of each other at the end of last week, I am now struggling to know what to write about.
It’s now a strange period in the lockdown. We are locked down but we aren’t, if you get my drift. Guidelines have been changed and some restrictions lifted. I could go eight miles to the seaside but I’m not going to. Not when every man, woman and child suddenly has the same idea. I’m much happier hidden in the folds of the Dorset hills.
This current phase in the lockdown is as if I’m in some sort of limbo, some sort of no man’s land, neither one place nor another. Does anyone else feel the same? My motivation has disappeared down the plughole. At the start of lockdown, I was writing, renovating furniture, coming up with (what I considered were) brilliant ideas and churning out columns and editing like it was my last day on this earth.
Now I’m in the slough of despond, not sure how to interact with friends and acquaintances unless I’m up in the window and at a safe distance. The new Project Fear. And it’s working.
As you know, I left the village for the first time in months last Thursday and just about remembered how to drive a car. Unlike our coastal resorts at the weekend, the town was deserted. If I’d seen vultures pecking on a carcass in the car park I wouldn’t have been at all surprised.
Mr Grigg and I ventured out a little further on Friday, to pick up shopping for my 94-year-old mother who lives in splendid isolation in the Blackdown Hills in Somerset.
I haven’t seen her since before Mothering Sunday. My older sister is popping in with shopping every now and then, and Mum’s neighbours have been brilliant, so all is well there. She’s confined herself to house and garden, getting through jigsaws and books like a dose of salts, and is planning on walking out to the postbox just down the lane this week.
It was lovely to see her and the fact I couldn’t hug her didn’t matter because we’re not a hugging and kissing family. It might be the new normal to squirm when anyone gets too close but I’ve always been like that, so it’s no big deal.
So this whole supermarket shopping thing is really doing my head in. The one-way system in Tesco worked well, as did their other social distancing measures, but I didn’t like it. Not one bit. The mask made by my friend was pretty but I saw myself in the reflection of the chrome bits on the chiller and nearly had another heart attack.
I stayed in the car when the husband then went into Lidl. It took him ages and by the time he came out, the battery on my phone had died because I was flicking through my Facebook and Instagram feed I was so bored. Usually I have a book in my handbag for such occasions but as I haven’t used my handbag for two months, I’ve forgotten what it’s for.
At one point in the car park, I sneezed in the car and, I kid you not, six heads from all over the car park turned away in the opposite direction. Mind you, my sneezes are loud enough to wake the dead.
If nothing else, this virus will have changed my shopping habits. I’ve never liked supermarkets in any case, unless they have a shoe aisle. So in future, I’ll be sending Mr Grigg out to get the provisions and just keeping it very local.
On another note, I’ve decided to close The Sound of Music Through The Square Window on 31 May, the day before some schoolchildren are due to go back. We’re beginning to get some semblance of normality although I don’t think things will ever be the same again.
I’m glad my children are grown up. I wouldn’t want to have to make the decision about sending them back to school. And, contrary to some stupid government bod who slammed such concerns as ‘middle class’, I think you’ll find working class people feel exactly the same.
Anyway, must dash. I have an appointment with Julie Andrews in an hour’s time. The hills are alive and all that.
The dogs are making enough noise to wake the neighbours.
One starts howling and the other is barking incessantly. It’s walkies time and, girl, do they know it.
Unlike my previous blogging platform, the Google-owned Blogger, it appears that I can’t simply upload a video to this website without paying WordPress extra, which seems a bit harsh. Instead, I’ll refer you to my Instagram page and you can hear the little buggers darlings there.
We’re off early out in the fields and up the hill, an easy enough jaunt now that the farmers have obligingly cut and cleared the grass for silage.
As usual, I keep young Ruby on a lead but Artemis, the older one, is pretty good. She’s skipped on ahead but I know she’ll come back when I call her. She’s got arthritis in one of her back legs which restricts her speed somewhat.
And then she turns around and shoots by me like a racehorse on speed. I have never seen her move so fast. She flies through the field and into the one we’ve just come through and roots around the hedge like a snuffling badger. I call and whistle to her but it doesn’t make a blind bit of difference.
So, with Ruby in tow, I turn around to find out what all the fuss is about. Arty has her head down and is eating something. I’m carrying a bag of dog poo so I throw it at her as a distraction.
It misses and she shoots past me with a freshly-caught rabbit in her mouth. She zooms up into the big, wide open space of the biggest silage field, well out of my reach. I pick up the poo bag, turn around and try to catch her. It’s no good, she’s not interested and heads off every time I get close until she has devoured the rabbit in its entirety.
And then she comes when I call her, licking her lips. I can’t be too cross because she won’t know what I’m cross about – although I’m sure she does know. I put her on the lead and think about abandoning my head-in-the-clouds walk around the hilltop. But I know that if I do, I’ll be angry all day.
So with a dog on each arm, as if I’m a canine cross-country skier, I head for the hill and try to breathe in the beauty and serenity to calm myself down. It does the trick, even though I refuse to let Arty off on the entire journey back.
When I get back, I give Ruby her dental chew but I don’t give one to Arty because she’s been so naughty. I love my dogs but there are times when I absolutely hate them. Arty gazes at me through her fringe with the intense stare of a gorilla. I think the feeling is mutual.
It’s my first time behind the wheel of my car in two months. I drive in too low a gear and the thing sounds even more like a sewing machine than it did back in the middle of March.
Up until now, Mr Grigg has been doing our essential shopping and I’ve stayed at home. But I realised today the longer I did that, the less likely I would ever leave the house again. I have become the archetypal hermit and I am loving it.
Today, I’m off over the hill to the nearest town to pick up some medication and some dog food. I might also call in at the garden centre to pick up some lavender plants and compost, now that I’m allowed.
At the doctor’s surgery, a female patient six feet in front of me clutches a large bunch of flowers. She got an appointment with the nurse and is planning to show her appreciation.
I wait until it’s my turn and I’m called forward, so I adjust my Buff snood over my nose and mouth with gloved hands. There are big screens to protect the receptionists and signs everywhere. A big ball of metaphorical tumbleweed rolls through the waiting room and out the back door. Bar the flower lady and myself, the place is absolutely empty.
Back in the town, I pull up outside the pharmacy for some aspirin and razors. There is plenty of parking in a street where almost no shops are open. Outside the pharmacy, there is a man sitting on bench one side of the door and a woman on the other, talking to a friend with a dog. It’s not a very interesting conversation which is a shame because, as one of life’s eavesdropping prospectors constantly panning for nuggets of dialogue, I can hear it loud and clear because they are so far apart.
The town is dead. The postmaster next door is standing on the doorstep looking lost and I feel guilty that I haven’t brought a parcel to post, just to give him some business. I venture into the pharmacy after reading the sign saying only two customers allowed in the shop at any one time and do my socially distant and masked transaction as if I am a bank robber.
Up at the garden centre, the place is heaving with cars. People seem to be observing the social distancing requirements but I don’t look too closely because I decide to turn around and go home. I don’t need compost or flower seeds badly enough to wait with all these people.
On the way home, I pick up two bags of dog food from the agricultural merchants in a swift and painless transaction at the door, followed by a socially distant chat with the manager.
Heading home and listening to Steve Wright in the Afternoon, it has all been most peculiar. The main thing though is I’ve remembered how to drive a car.
Looking through the trees from Dorset’s highest point and out beyond the Vale, I can see the sea. There is a boat on it. I wonder where it is going.
There used to be a swing here in the trees, with the most glorious view. When you swung out on it, it felt like you were swinging with the world at your feet. But it was only the Marshwood Vale.
With just birdsong and the sound of the wind blowing through the beech leaves, there is a serenity to this landscape that warms me to the core. On secret paths, mystery, magic and a feeling of calm and oneness envelops me.
This is my church. Up here, on my own. Nature in May at its absolute finest.
In the fields below, the farmer has been busy cutting the grass for silage. From the gateway, I gaze down on the village. There is nothing to indicate that it is a community in lockdown. Nothing to indicate that lockdown in some shape or form is happening all over the world. Nothing to indicate that people are dying from a virus for which we have no cure.
I’m not eager to re-enter the real world any time soon. I fear I have gone native. I actually like the solitude, the decrease in traffic on the narrow lanes and aeroplanes up in the sky.
Going out walking with anyone other than the dogs fills me with a palpable dread. What will I have to say? Do I need to say anything at all? I’d much rather be in this gateway, looking into the folds of the landscape and imagining rather than knowing what is going on in other people’s lives.
The introvert part of this extrovert has been having an enjoyable time, thank you. There is not a day that does not go by when I don’t thank my lucky stars that I live here, far from the madding crowd, quietly getting on with a life that was not that different before lockdown was imposed all those weeks ago.
Back in the village, the fishmonger arrives in the square with an array of fresh produce lying out on ice in the back of her van.
In a socially distant queue, I say hello to neighbours I usually only wave to from my window for the one o’clock Sound of Music.
There is fresh crab, wriggling lobster, mackerel, John Dory, Dover Sole, Brill, the noble Gurnard, its medieval head peering out from under the ice, great big sea bass, scallops and squid.
Tonight we will feast like kings and queens, thankful for the bounty provided by our local fishermen and women, hoping that when this all over they will continue to come to our square once a week.