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

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

Music in lockdown

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.

That’s about it.

Love Maddie x

Happy birthday Charles II

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.

That’s about it.

Love Maddie x

Last clap finale?

Tonight’s Clap for Carers will probably be the last time we stand outside our houses on a Thursday night to give our key workers a round of applause for their work in the battle against coronavirus.

Annemarie Plas, the woman who came up with the idea, says it’s the right time for her to stop, although she’s not telling other people to do so.

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.

That’s about it.

Love Maddie x

I beg your pardon

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.

That’s about it.

Love Maddie x

Another brick in the wall

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.

That’s about it.

Love Maddie x

A legend in my own lunchtime

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.

That’s about it.

Love Maddie x