Before the rain

The air is rich with the aroma of elderflower, roses and honeysuckle.

Foxgloves march across banks, sheep safely graze on the sports field and a young deer skirts its dense perimeter.

On the hedgerow, deep in one of Dorset’s holloways, a static serpent slithers around a tree trunk like a ship’s figurehead.

Bee orchids burst forth in the churchyard. Hidden red gems in strawberry beds reveal themselves daily as the sun beats down. Blackcurrants ripen on the stem, their gorgeous smell good enough to eat.

The blue sky is clouding over. There is humidity in the air. We are due a storm.

Up on the hill, a lone cyclist wakes in his tent to birdsong. Of course, he shouldn’t be here. Lockdown rules have not been lifted yet to allow overnight stays. However, tucked up here, in Dorset’s most isolated spot, he is probably less a risk to others than the sardine sun worshippers legitimately flocking to the beaches and the queues of people queuing for the supermarket.

Maybe he is up here for an eye test.

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

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

Welcome to limbo land

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.

That’s about it.

Love Maddie x

The return of the native

It’s beautifully clear up here on the hill.

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.

That’s about it.

Love Maddie x

The dog poo picker-upper

It’s occurred to me that during the lockdown, many of us of have turned into different people. NHS and carers are heroes and angels, keyworkers are now essential. People who still have to go to work are doing their bit and are out there. Volunteers are vital. Parents at home have become teachers to their children.

Me, I’ve become that woman who plays The Sound of Music everyday at one o’clock to her village through a loudspeaker. I was trying to get across to a local radio presenter this morning that this track is not all I play. Now that would be a bit sad. And mad.

As it is, I climb into bed with the opening bars on a loop inside my head before it lands on the pillow, my arms outstretched like Julie Andrews running down that hill.

I stressed to the radio presenter, who clearly thought I was bonkers, that the daily requests after the call to arms theme music will become the playlist for our celebration once lockdown is lifted and it’s safe to party. (You can catch up here with the requests and who the songs are for.)

As well as the Square DJ, I’ve also become the dog poo picker-upper. I picked up three bagfuls this morning and they weren’t even from my dog. Now that people’s movements are restricted, it doesn’t seem to be stopping the dogs’ movements, which are happening all over the village.

These are the dogs whose owners under normal circumstances probably take them to other people’s streets and fields to do their business. You dirty people. Pick it up, now!

So what’s the answer? I’m not one for naming and shaming. I don’t like that kind of mob culture. It never works. It just gets people even angrier and makes keyboard warriors of us all.

Maybe the village needs to get behind some sort of concerted campaign to stamp it out. Some kind of campaign to celebrate our love for the place we live.

And now I’ve become that woman who complains about dog poo. Heaven help me.

With only boredom to cope with during this lockdown, I think myself lucky to be living in such a beautiful part of the world rather than being stuck halfway up an inner-city skyscraper with three children. Even down in delicious Dorset, though, there are people living in fear of domestic abuse or with much-loved relatives in care homes or undergoing serious medical treatment or waiting for hospital departments to reopen again for vital diagnostic tests.

And there are people who have died in this county from coronavirus, although thankfully not as many as in other parts of the country.

The lockdown is different for all of us, wherever we live.

I guess we just have to get on with it and get on with ourselves, grabbing whatever joy, creativity and positive energy we can along the way to see us through until that light at the end of the tunnel.

That’s about it.

Love Maddie x

You were never lovelier

I’ve lost track of the weeks, let alone the days.

Is it three weeks or four? I don’t know, I’m completely befuddled.

The Sound of Music Through The Square Window continues every day with more and more requests coming from villagers now that we have a massive set of speakers in my spare bedroom.

I was on local radio talking about it yesterday. The WhatsApp call dropped out only once, which is not bad if you compare it to some of the interviews on Radio 4’s Today programme at the moment. Their best fail ever was yesterday when an interviewee started talking about the importance of mindful pauses only to be closely followed by a mindful pause. We thought it was part of his witty delivery but actually the technology wasn’t working.

You can hear me talking about the village’s one o’clock request show here, at about 1:13:09.

The telly is now very interested in featuring us, so I’ll keep you posted. I’ll probably end up on the cutting room floor like my late uncle, the Somerset folk singer George Withers, did in the British historical drama, Comrades, about the Tolpuddle Martyrs. Apparently, all you could see were the tops of his shears cutting the hedge.

Today I went for a long walk up the hill to enjoy the bluebells before anyone else was up, which was just as well because eighteen never-seen-before people were spotted walking along the lane towards it in the space of fifteen minutes this afternoon.

I’ve never seen so many people I don’t know walking through this village. Are they hikers from neighbouring communities or second-home owners who’ve moved down just before Easter when they shouldn’t have?

It still sticks in the craw when we’re all staying away from family and friends down here and abiding by the rules. A local village for local people.

Still, rather than getting angry, I’m trying to be creative. I’ve painted three three lots of furniture and gardened for England but to say the words of my novel are floating in stagnant waters would be an understatement. The muse seems to have fluttered off somewhere else, despite me allocating two hours a day for the task. I’m doing an online masters degree in creative writing but all that’s doing currently is filling me with self-doubt. I know I’m not rubbish at writing but it sure feels like it.

I’ve removed myself from ranter and banter groups on social media because I’m fed up with the rude and ignorant idiots who seem to populate these sites more than ever at the moment.

And I’ve stopped watching the news at ten o’clock to try to put a stop to the nightmares I’ve been having. I’m lucky in never having had a problem sleeping before now but I am currently waking up every morning at about four o’clock in a cold sweat after dreaming about dead people.

Yesterday I learned that a GP with whom I once worked – a man the same age as me who was well-loved by his patients – has just died from the virus.

This bloody thing is a real and present danger. The NHS and other key workers are risking their lives every day to keep us safe. All we have to do is stay at home.

In other news, one grandchild has learned to ride a bike and another is sleeping in a proper bed at last, so I’m thankful for small mercies.

I will leave you with today’s song request, which I dedicate to myself because I love its upbeat message and I particularly like the video.

It’s Fred Astaire and Rita Hayworth in the 1942 film You Were Never Lovelier.

Hold that thought.

That’s about it.

Love Maddie x

A new perspective

It’s as if people have discovered the countryside around them – and nature – for the very first time.

Anyone who is anyone is out and about for their daily exercise, which means many of them are going up the hill where I usually walk the dogs every day.

As a result, I’ve changed my route, wanting to avoid fellow walkers and the gates they’d touched. I’ve become more anti-social than ever, the Grigg side of me in its element during lockdown in such a wonderfully beautiful place.

I’ve been a worshipper at the altar of nature for many years now. I was born into it, really, growing up on a small farm less than ten miles away as the crow flies. I’ve always felt very at home in a field, under a big sky, next to a river and walking through woods.

But even children of nature need a routine to keep them on the straight and narrow. Me, I live for lists so I can tick off tasks as and when I’ve done them. It makes me feel anchored, safe and secure, as does staying at home in this crisis. It makes me feel like I’m in control.

So starting my day by going up the hill has always helped set up my day. When I don’t go up there, I feel like something is wrong, as if I’ve forgotten to brush my teeth or put my earrings in or put on one black shoe and one navy one.

Sometimes, though, it’s good to change your perspective. I’ve been looking at the hill from entirely different viewpoints lately as I find alternative routes for my daily exercise.

And today’s viewpoint, well, I reckon it will be a good place to set up an easel once all this nonsense is over.

That’s about it.

Love Maddie x

Happy Easter in lockdown

What a way to spend Easter.

While the country is stuck at home, the waves still roll gently on to the beach from an incredibly calm sea (according to the photos on social media I see from my coastal friends).

Here in Dorset, the hedgerows are bursting with flowers – wood anemone, bluebells, primroses, stitchwort, celandine, dandelion and wild garlic, with gypsy lace and campion just waiting in to the wings to join in the chorus.

Birdsong is all the more poignant in the days of coronavirus. A robin is making a nest above the workbench.

And above the highest point in Dorset, the sky, that wonderful sky, is full of little fluffy clouds.

I hope, wherever you are, you can at least take joy and sustenance from an unfiltered sky, in all its ever-changing moods.

Enjoy your Easter as best you can. Let’s raise a glass to being with family and friends when the lockdown has passed.

Happy Easter.

That’s about it.

Love Maddie x

The view from here

I’m out with the dogs bright and early-ish this morning and Mr Grigg is in the shop.

I cross the road to avoid The Charming Old Gentleman with his little Westie and greet him from a safe distance .

Strange times.

The village is almost devoid of traffic. Usually, at this time of day, it would be White Van Man City, with tradesmen roaring through at breakneck speed. Teenagers would be gathering on the village green waiting for the bus. Little ones would be walking down the road, hand-in-hand with their mothers, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed in readiness for school.

Today, the only people I see are The Charming Old Gentleman, Our Lovely Vicar – who is out for a jog before keeping the faith with a prayer with her congregation over Zoom – and Mr Brogue Boots on his way back from the shop, balancing precariously on The Angel of the North’s bicycle, a two-litre container of blue-top milk in the basket.

On the grass triangle opposite the old pub, Celebrity Farmer has left a trailer for the verge planting event scheduled to take place this weekend.

It’s still going ahead but only one household will be able to take part in pre-booked time slots at any one time. They have to bring their own tools with them.

In the months to come, we’ll be able to enjoy the wild flowers growing there. It will be wonderful to be able to do that en-masse, but who knows how long this lockdown will last?

I’m not even sure we can come up with a tune a day for the next three months for the Sound of Music Through The Square Window.

In the corner of the fields I can see there’s been a hard frost this morning, which is being blasted out of existence by the heat of the rising sun. I wish the sun could do that to coronavirus.

Up on the hill, there is no-one about and the only sounds are the heavy knock-knock-knocking of a woodpecker, a trilling blackbird, a few wood pigeons and the mechanical whirring of pheasants in the undergrowth.

We reach the top and look out onto a world unchanged but changed in so many ways.

I briefly sing ‘I can see the sea‘ because I can, do a circuit of the hill top and then head down into the woods, through the time portal gate and back down into the enchanted village.

That’s about it.

Love Maddie x