Happy New Tier

‘It’s like the Last Supper,’ Spanish John said behind his mask as he passed our table at a safe distance.

We’d booked into the Lush Places pub at the last minute for a meal yesterday after hearing the Prime Minister’s announcement that by midnight, Dorset would be moved up from Tier 2 to Tier 3, scuppering New Year’s Eve parties everywhere.

It’s hugely disappointing although inevitable. We’ve all got to do our bit for the greater good. But I feel so desperately sorry for local, independent businesses which are in danger of going under.

And all those schoolchildren and teachers, not knowing their arses from their elbows.

Here in Lush Places, we’ll support the pub as best we can by ordering takeaway meals. It’s the least we can do, until we perhaps go up a tier or there’s a national lockdown.

I was all set to take the dogs to the beach this morning until it dawned on me that this pleasure is now restricted because everyone in Tier 3 needs to stay within their own community.

So the girls and I set off up the hill until I made the mistake of letting Ruby off halfway up. She was gone for forty minutes, chasing pheasants and squirrels in the undergrowth on the common, with occasional forays around the field where I was standing just to let me know she wasn’t far away.

She finally came back, tail wagging and teeth chattering. It’s cold out there today. The upside is the countryside looks beautiful.

Tonight, as the church clock strikes midnight and everyone would usually be coming out of the pub in a conga to join hands and sing Auld Lang Syne in a big circle and then kissing friends and neighbours, Mr Grigg and I might just go out in our masks and pyjamas and say a quiet hello to the Cold Moon as it wanes its way into 2021.

Happy New Year everyone. Here’s to better times on the horizon.

Keep safe.

Love, Maddie x

Time to put my head in order

In those in-between days, the days in that week between Christmas and New Year, nothing much happens.

The virus romps along like a puppy on roller skates, acquiring new powers from the Acme store on the corner as it continues its Looney Tunes journey at an ever-increasing pace.

A Brexit deal is done but is worse than the deal we had as a member of the EU.

And all the while, the rich get richer and fatter and the poor get poorer, the children developing eating disorders and all of us becoming used to staying at home or in bubbles.

So with a new year just days away, we all hope and must work for better times ahead, where kindness, forgiveness, the Covid-19 vaccine and a positive outlook overpower all the bad things in life.

Never have open spaces like the hill at the foot of which Lush Places sits or the winter beach stretching out along the wonderful Jurassic Coast seemed more appealing.

My daily music ritual has come to an end, the mixing desk and speakers in the hall awaiting collection after one hundred and twenty six days of use this past year.

My Advent window is about to be dismantled to let the light in and floors vacuumed for dog fluff.

And then, once I’ve tidied my desk and put my head in order, I must settle down to a new ritual and write at least one thousand words a day and stop making excuses for my lack of creativity. Although it might just have to wait until New Year’s Day.

The muse comes not to those who sit and gaze out of the window, waiting for her to land on their shoulder. The muse is there, and just needs to get into the habit of popping out and reintroducing herself when she is least expected.

As Ernest Hemingway says in The Old Man and The Sea: ‘now is no time to think of what you do not have. Think of what you can do with what there is.’

Have a Happy New Year. Here’s to good things in 2021.

Love, Maddie x

Merry Christmas Everybody

If Lush Places in Lockdown were a film or a book, this would have been its finale.

With so many Christmas plans in tatters, thanks to coronavirus and an eleventh hour decision by the government, it was just what the village needed to bring us all together in seasonal song and celebration, physically distant but socially close.

The vicar had chalked hearts on the pavements and placed paper crosses on the village green so everyone knew where to stand.

Mr Loggins and Darling brought picnic chairs, there were stewards in high viz tabards and Santa hats, and dogs with flashing collars. Children whizzed up and down on the swings on the green as Hark The Herald Sing reverberated around the Square.

Among those singing behind their masks were Mr Costner, the shop manager, and wife Whitney, DJ Landlord and Mrs Plum, Ding Dong Daddy, The Parson’s Daughter, Mr Brogue Boots, The Angel of the North, Mrs Let’s-Get-Busy and a dear little spaniel puppy, Randy Munchkin, Bellows, and Mrs Remington resplendent in Santa hat and a great big smile.

And in between the telling of the Christmas story and prayers by the vicar on my doorstep, tractors towing dung-spreaders roared by, the drivers giving the 70-strong congregation a cheery wave.

Our outside carol service, with me at The Square Window decks controlling the vicar’s microphone and crashing in with the carols, was twenty-five minutes of sheer Christmas joy.

I felt a tear roll down my cheek as the enormity of this worldwide crisis and the resilience of ordinary people in places like Lush Places kicked in.

We will beat this, tomorrow the sun will be shining and, with the Winter Solstice, the countdown to longer days begins. Community and comradeship are everything.

And then Slade came in and we were up there rock and rolling with the rest.

Merry Christmas Everybody.

That’s about it.

Love, Maddie x

In my dreams

As we hurtle towards spreading good Covid this Christmas (I wish we’d had no relaxation of the coronavirus rules over the festive period but there you go, these decisions are taken by people on a much higher pay grade than me) and run with open arms, headlong into the cheer of Brexit (don’t get me started on that) and the prospect of chlorinated chicken and beef pumped up with growth hormones on the near horizon and the end of free movement into Europe, my dreams are getting darker.

Yesterday, after a day spent indoors, the rain battering and swirling as The Beverley Sisters’s sang Little Donkey for the latest window in the Lush Places’ Living Advent Calendar which no-one could find, the aforementioned animal obviously having legged it after getting wind of coronavirus and Brexit, I settled down to a few chapters of my book before bed.

Mr Grigg was ensconced in the front room watching the final episodes of MasterChef: The Professionals. I had taken my leave before any of the judges tucked into the sweetbreads, not able to stomach Gregg Wallace’s eating-with-his-cheeks-full-Mockney proclamation which was likely to follow.

So I snuggled down to the latest Louis de Bernieres novel, which, being a reviewer for the Historical Novel Society, I get to read before it hits the shelves. I’m hooked, but more of that another time.

After a disturbed night’s sleep, I was woken by the whistling car that goes by at between six o’clock and six-thirty most mornings. It makes a distinctive, high-pitched but rather friendly squeal as it goes around the corner.

I sat up, trying to remember why I hadn’t slept so well and why I had a funny taste in my mouth.

And then it hit me. It was another dream.

This time, my dream me had eaten some really stringy, dry beef and it was threatening to make me gag as I walked home in the dark from Yeovil. I was aware I was being followed by an older man with whom my dream me had earlier carelessly flirted.

I looked back over my shoulder to see a black suited and booted Joe Biden jogging along behind me. His teeth were gleaming. He looked kindly but dream me knew he wasn’t. I tried desperately to ring for a taxi on my phone but they were all out picking up people from Christmas parties.

Photo credit: SAUL LOEB/AFP/GettyImages)

From Haselbury Plucknett to Misterton, Joe Biden was gently calling me, and all the while I had this stringy beef in my mouth.

I finally ducked into a primary school and made my way through the gym, which had been laid out as an agility course for guinea pigs. I balanced on the bar, wheedled my way through a long and winding tube made of yellow fabric and then found myself up on the dado rail looking down on Joe who was now in a white tracksuit and looking a bit like Morgan Freeman’s God in Bruce Almighty.

And then the actual whistling car roared by and I woke up, trying to take the taste of stringy beef out of my mouth.

I went downstairs, greeted the dogs, lit three positive vibes joss sticks and thanked my lucky stars that the dream me was at least being chased by Joe Biden and not Donald Trump.

That’s about it.

Love, Maddie x

Office politics

The dream was turning into a nightmare.

Not only was I working in a rabbit warren office with narrow corridors radiating from one central hub, which was lined with desks of dark brown wood, and sitting in between twins I remembered from school who were accusing me of copying, there was the malign presence of Dominic Cummings roaming the creaking floorboards.

On my way to deliver a typewritten memo, he brushed up against me in the corridor. There was a flash of pointy teeth and satanic-looking eyes as he pinned me to the door frame.

If only I could make it to the door at the end, where the nameplate said: “Queen Elizabeth II”. If I could get past him I could burst through to her room, fall at her feet and ask for a transfer.

And then, the next moment, I was on the top road near the old BBC World Service transmitting station at Rampisham, in the back seat of car with Cummings, Matt Hancock and Mr Loggins, a friend from Lush Places.

I could see in the rear view mirror (the car was being driven by Slimer from Ghostbusters) that a large truck, with a grinning grille and headlights for eyes, was rapidly approaching us from behind.

I screamed, the truck missed us but rammed straight into a car coming the other way. Bodies were flying, children were curling up in craters and I shouted that we needed to stop and help, especially as Mr Loggins had a first aid at work certificate.

But Cummings declared that it was none of our concern and put his foot down, having taken the wheel in place of Slimer without anyone noticing.

This morning, I woke up in a cold sweat, not because the car-wreck was clearly a dream interpretation of the Brexit talks running out of road but because I remembered my dream me found Dominic Cummings faintly attractive.

In an attempt to get that horrid vision out of my head, here’s a picture of my dog asleep.

Sweet dreams.

That’s about it.

Love, Maddie

Blue skies and winter days

There’s a crisp frost on the grass this morning. It reminds me of brilliant white sheets on a line, rigid as a board, caught in silent protest at being left out overnight.

Up on the hill, there is a mist in the valley through the trees as the sun begins its ascent into a winter sky. The beech nuts crunch, the cattle exhale steam through their noses and the dogs pick up the scent of a squirrel.

It’s glorious up here, just glorious, and it’s the best-ever tonic for anger, frustration and depression, as long as you can wipe your mind clear of such pointless feelings and soak up the beauty around you instead.

Cattle mooch beneath the hillforts, in a perfectly-layered Dorset landscape.

And the sky has just been given a watercolour wash of cobalt blue.

There’s a pink glow all around and the individual blades of grass are upright with frost, knitting a crib blanket for the field as the earth lies beneath it, curled up and sucking its thumb.

It’s like walking through a Christmas card.

Back in the village, I inspect my neighbour’s Advent window in the cold light of day to see how she’s done it. There is a standard to keep up here, and I don’t want to be be the one who lets the side down.

With two dogs tugging on my warm woollen mittens anxious for their daily dental sticks, I turn the corner for home.

That’s about it.

Love, Maddie x

On the move

And as the raindrops gripped on for dear life to the underside of the gate, the distant hill brooding and unapproachable in the biting wind, something began to happen.

Snow.

Big blobs of it fell on to the soggy ground, desperate to take hold but failing miserably, until the fields became a sea of slush.

Down in the lane by the stream, a removals lorry was parked at an angle in the driveway of a house. From the outside looking in, the rooms had been stripped bare with only the light bulbs remaining.

Two sets of lives going different ways. One leaving the village and the other relocating within it.

For sale signs line the streets of Lush Places like flags outside the United Nations building. People are on the move.

Long-standing residents are moving out and moving on. New people take their place in this never-ending circle of village life.

In times of coronavirus, this is as good a place as any to relocate – not too far from the coast and the charming market town of Bridport but far enough inland to avoid the crowds. We have the twin peaks of our stunning ancient hillforts to explore and a community with a shop, church, village hall, primary school, pub, restaurant, baker, hairdresser, nail bar, dog grooming salon, crystals shop, an upholsterer, sports field, playground and hard-surface games area.

Not surprisingly, buyers are snapping up houses for sale left, right and centre.

Clearly, no-one has told them about the fog. When the rest of the world is in bright sunshine, you can bet your woollen mittens that Lush Places will be enveloped in a cloud of mist. You won’t see that in an estate agent’s brochure but it does help to engender a kind of martyring community spirit.

In other news, the village’s Living Advent Calendar continues to brighten these dull days of December. I’m posting the pictures on Instagram and my Maddie Grigg Facebook page after each one is unveiled at four o’clock.

That’s about it.

Love, Maddie x

Don’t stop thinking about tomorrow

So that’s it, that’s the last Sound of Music Through The Square Window.

Unless we have another lockdown.

I hope we don’t, not just because I don’t think I can stomach Julie Andrews for much longer but because I fear the relaxing of rules over Christmas will lead to a pretty dismal start to 2021.

I like to think of myself as always a glass half full kind of woman: upbeat and optimistic. But, realistically, I’m more of a glass half empty because I know I can just top it up with more once I’ve sunk into weary cynicism and passed the halfway mark.

Keep on keeping on. It’s what we have to do. Live for the moment but don’t stop thinking about tomorrow. It’ll soon be here. Not just the end of the second lockdown but that day when the light at the end of our collective tunnel is so blinding we’ll need to wear shades.

So the last song today was Fleetwood Mac and Don’t Stop.

I took the song title as my cue not to stop. As I said goodbye to The Sound of Music Through The Square Window, I said hello to The Lush Places Village Advent Calendar.

Organised by the vicar, a different window in the village is lighting up, on a Christmas carol theme, at four o’clock each day until 24 December.

The musical call to arms is Prokofiev’s Troika, known to many as Sleigh Ride, which I’m playing from my window overlooking the village square, before launching into the Christmas Carol of the day.

Today’s carol was The Angel Gabriel From Heaven Came, sung beautifully by Barbara Dickson and depicted in the window by (rather appropriately), Mr and Mrs Prayer.

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas.

Season’s greetings.

Love, Maddie x