Reasons to be cheerful – 1, 2, 3

I’m wearing my Converse baseball boots today, the ones I was given by my son and his partner for Christmas.

They’ve got glittery rainbow colours on the side and they’re fab. Reasons to be Cheerful #1

It’s all too easy to work from home in ‘loungewear’. I’m not on trend like my old friend who runs the Is This Mutton fun and fashion blog. I mean, this girl is Glam with a capital G.

However, I always make a point of changing out of my dog walking clothes each morning into something I wouldn’t mind being seen dead in. Especially the shoes. I love my slippers but they’re not exactly suitable for work.

Reasons to be Cheerful #2 is the weather here today. It’s one of those crisp, winter’s days when the morning sky is pink and the coldness makes your cheekbones tingle.

Who could fail to be moved by this glorious scene? Even better is that both dogs had a brilliant run and are now curled up at my feet in The Shed of Dreams where I am pulling up my novel in progress by its bootstraps and tackling some fundamental issues head-on.

And I’m winning, enthused once again by the tale I started spinning some months ago and also inspired by the delightful Marian Keyes and her free, online writing class. I’m currently doing an MA in creative writing with The Open University, which is great but I’m so wrapped up in the academic side of it I’d forgotten how much fun writing should be.

But, best of all, here’s Reasons to be Cheerful #3. My 95-year-old mother had her Covid vaccination yesterday, after a week in which I was waiting for a promised call from her local hospital that never came.

So, after plucking up courage to phone the doctors to find out what was happening, her surgery then called me in the car at 5.15pm, about quarter of an hour after I’d left her house, asking if she could come into the surgery at 7.30pm.

So I drove home and fed the dogs and went back to her house, picked her up and waited with about four other people at the end of a mass vaccination session.

We had to wait a little while because they had to open another phial. But who cares? By eight o’clock, it was done. And with the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine too.

Huge thanks to the NHS staff up and down the country in getting us closer to the light at the end of the tunnel. And well done to the volunteer stewards who are helping things run smoothly in difficult times.

Last night, I felt a weight lifting, which wasn’t helped by a delicious takeaway king prawn bhuna which has just put the weight back on again.

Still, we’ll get through the darkness, all of us, together.

That’s about it.

Love, Maddie x

Under pressure

I’ve lost count of what day it is in the UK’s Lockdown Number 3. And, frankly, I don’t care.

I was going to say one lockdown kind of blends into another, but that’s not true. This one is boring, unsettling and oppressive although, in my opinion, the restrictions themselves aren’t oppressive enough, especially when yet again it’s one rule for those in charge and another for the rest of us lower down the food chain.

This time around, the lockdown is like someone putting pressure on your shoulders after they’ve already been pushed down as far as they can go.

I’ve given up the Sound of Music Through The Square Window, my daily song request slot for the village, because I needed the time for myself. I’d done it for more than 120 days and it’s worn me out.

And then I see on the news that a little boy has been sleeping in a tent in his garden since the first lockdown and feel bad for being such a lightweight. I know the daily music helped a lot of people and, to be honest, they could probably do with it now more than ever.

But it’s cold outside, not like the novelty of the first lockdown when it felt like we were all being given a holiday. Who wants to time their daily exercise with a walk through the village square at one o’clock in this weather?

Much better to be watching reruns of Midsomer Murders or NCIS.

I think we’re all feeling fed-up, disjointed and angry and longing for it all to stop. I cannot begin to imagine how it is for people on the front line, like NHS staff, teachers and other key workers.

Teaching my children at home while working from home would send me completely round the bend. Thank goodness they’re grown up and being sent around the bend themselves, although Number One Son has only a large cat and a tiny dog to educate, so not all bad there.

This summer, we’re going to have a great big party, assuming we’re allowed to do so. There will never have been anything quite like it. And these are the things we must look forward to.

In the meantime, while my trips to the beach with the dogs are on hold (although if I were Boris on a bike I’d be pedalling off to the coast like a demon) I’m making the most of the beauty on my doorstep.

That’s about it.

Stay at home.

Love, Maddie x

Books I like

I’m not a great one for New Year’s resolutions, especially when they’re about giving up something.

Giving up anything, especially in the black hole of a pandemic, is never easy. Far better, I think, to take on something instead, as well as appreciating just what we have and making the most of it. If nothing else, the virus has taught us to be thankful for the good things in life, such as nature, family, friendship and dogs.

I’m currently more than halfway through a two-year master’s degree in creative writing with The Open University. I did really well in the first year but there’s no way I can maintain that standard, especially as I have begun to realise that the more I learn, the less I know.

Earlier in the week, I tinkered away in The Shed of Dreams to get my writer’s eyrie all clean and tidy. I hadn’t been able to think for clutter. I’ve moved some of my pretty (but useless) china from the dresser to give the books a chance to say ‘hey, look at me!’ instead.

I was going to list here the top five novels I’ve read in 2020 but, unlike 2019 when Lanny by Max Porter and Once Upon A River by Diane Setterfield raced in as joint winners, both with five of my stars, there wasn’t one book I read that really stood out for me. This is despite (or perhaps because of) reading everything I could get my hands on from the telephone box library in Lush Places and from the three shelves in the post office in France, where I was lucky enough to spend three months last summer.

So instead, I’m listing five of the books on my Goodreads bookshelf to which I’ve given five stars in recent years. It’s a funny old site, Goodreads. I haven’t used it for years but have turned to it again. It’s great when you find ‘friends’ with similar tastes in fiction and you can see what they recommend.

So, in no particular order and excluding what I consider classic authors like Thomas Hardy, F Scott Fitzgerald and Ray Bradbury, here’s my top five:

To Be Sung Underwater by Tom McNeal

Circe by Madeleine Miller

Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout

The Secret Scripture by Sebastian Barry

If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things by Jon McGregor

I’m not reviewing them here but just to say I thoroughly enjoyed all five of these books (seven if you count the wonderful Lanny and Once Upon A River) and if you enjoy good writing, then you might too.

But read the Goodreads reviews in the linked text rather than take my word for it.

Happy reading.

That’s about it.

Love, Maddie x

Caught short in Lockdown 3

So now there’s another national lockdown.

Not the best of days to have your car serviced an hour’s drive away in Exeter, especially when the Fiat dealer doesn’t let me have a courtesy car but instead gives us two free bus tickets to the city centre.

Which is nice, but after a freezing cold fifteen-minute walk to the park and ride facility and watching all the Stagecoach bus staff get on the bus without masks (to be fair, they do put them on once the engine is running, but that’s not the point) both Mr Grigg and I are busting for a wee.

By the time we get into the town centre, groaning over every bump in the road, the hunt is on. But, of course, it being the start of a new lockdown, everything is shut. Coffee shops and cafes are doing takeaway service only and we can see from the doorways that the ‘rest rooms’ inside are roped off.

No chance of the loos in John Lewis or even Wetherspoons being open. I’m not a Tim Martin fan but a toilet’s a toilet, wherever it is.

Full bladders don’t respect lockdown. I’m not sure how long I can last.

‘How about my brother’s shop?’ Mr Grigg says.

So we pootle up Gandy Street, which is said to have been J K Rowling’s inspiration for Diagon Alley in the Harry Potter books. We don’t expect Mr Grigg’s brother to be there but someone might be, even if it’s only to put the shop to bed for its enforced slumber.

But the shutters are already down. Tumbleweed rolls up the narrow street.

‘What about the station?’ I suggest, hopping from one foot to the other.

So we walk briskly to Exeter Central only to find the loos are on the other platform, which we can access if we buy a train ticket.

I decide to ask Siri to find ‘public toilets near me’.

She does and we follow our little blue pulsating circle on my phone as it makes its way in a circle of its own, beyond the cathedral and the shopping arcade. We turn the corner. The loos are shut.

Up through another empty arcade, dodging the ‘wet floor’ notice (which doesn’t sound very promising – you can guess what I think might have caused it) and in and around Sainsburys, peering into corners marked ‘staff only’ and getting odd looks from the store detective.

‘Fancy a coffee?’ Mr Grigg says as we walk up through the arcade like a pair of masked gunslingers.

Coffee? The very thought of it makes me thank God for pelvic floor exercises.

Desperate times call for desperate measures. I picture myself on the local BBC Spotlight news later this evening as the mysterious woman caught with her drawers down on Cathedral Green.

And then a very nice lady comes to our aid. I won’t say who she is because she probably isn’t allowed to help us out. What I will say is that I would thoroughly recommend the delicious carrot and orange soup with focaccia and the joyous polenta cake from Eat On The Green. We will definitely go back, once lockdown is over.

We eat lunch sitting on a bench overlooking the cathedral’s west front where we are promptly accosted by a drunk clutching a full bottle of red wine.

In formation, Mr Grigg and I whip on our masks while I shriek something about being vulnerable. The drunk is visibly shaken by the encounter. He makes his apologies and leaves.

‘Let’s go to Wilko,’ Mr Grigg says, knowing how to treat a girl, especially a low maintenance one like me.

So we go a bit mad and buy a couple of cut-price Toilet Ducks, a scrubbing brush and four roll-on deodorants.

Back on the bus and then a brisk stroll back to the garage, Mr Grigg jaywalks across the roundabouts of the trading estate to accompanying beeps of horns and outstretched middle fingers from the drivers.

It feels like crossing Times Square. (It doesn’t, but I’ve always had a vivid imagination.)

Back at the Fiat franchise I am delighted to find my car has been cleaned inside and out. But then at £350 for servicing a two-year-old car, it is the least they can do. It’s a shame they didn’t open the boot and clean that out as well.

As we exit the bright lights of Exeter to the tune of Bob Marley’s Exodus, an idea pops into my head. Never mind crossing Times Square or the roundabouts of Marsh Barton, I’ve crossed the Rubicon.

I’m going to give up the car completely.

Well, it’s not as if I’m going to be going anywhere for the next few months.

That’s about it.

Love, Maddie x