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

A time for reflection

Things are slowly getting back to some sense of normality in the village. The noise of a few more children in the school playground is a wonderful sound for sore ears.

It’s too early for things to be as they were – if they ever are again – but at least we can meet friends and family in gardens, the six of us keeping our distance. No-one in Dorset has been impressed with the scenes on our beaches, with daytrippers packed in like sardines just because they have an urge to see the sea and a lifting of lockdown restrictions allows them to do so.

There is a real fear that the county, which has done reasonably well up until now, could be facing a second wave of the virus.

In other news, the cat went to the vet this week. Nothing serious, just preparation for a pet passport in case we are able to travel to France later in July. It was a surreal situation, with customers waiting in their cars for the masked vets to come to them.

At our local hospital, which I had to attend midweek for a medical procedure postponed when lockdown happened, the corridors echoed with the lone footsteps of patients making their way to long-awaited appointments. Doctors and nurses in personal protection gear, perspex screens around the receptionist, and social distancing notices everywhere.

Yesterday, the dogs finally got the haircut they were due on the first day of lockdown. The little one is now more like a sausage with a head than a gundog. I knew she was thin but even I was shocked. I shall redouble my efforts to fatten her up with potatoes.

The weather has changed, the wind is blowing clouds across the sky but the view from the hill is reassuringly the same. It pays to find solace and escape from it all and reflect on life. A fool, alone on a hill.

My very own desert island.

Which leads me very nicely into the fact that I can breathe out now my Desert Island Discs debut has aired this morning. My bit was a light interlude in a programme full of moving stories.

You can listen to the programme here. I’m on at 32:20.

Time and time again, the programme and theme being broadcast throughout the day on Radio 4 illustrated the power of music. Whether it’s in times of reflection, celebration or just a change of mood, music has the ability to move even the most stone-like of souls.

It’ll be my last Sound of Music Through The Square Window this Sunday, and I’ve put together a finale which I hope will capture the fun-filled spirit and creativity of this community.

I’m hoping people who are socially-distancing dancing in windows, doorways, on pavements and the village green will wear a hat, something colourful and maybe sparkly shoes. As the weather forecast isn’t great, it could be sou’wester and galoshes but as long as they’re bright and cheerful, that’s fine.

I’ll be letting you know how the last day goes. And now that the people aren’t staying at home, I might close the window for a bit until I have something else to write about.

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

You ain’t no friend of mine

Arty off the lead on a previous walk…

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.

That’s about it.

Love Maddie x

Back in the driving seat

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.

That’s about it.

Love Maddie x