The village lockdown poem

Carved into a fallen tree at the entrance to Lewesdon HIll, early in lockdown. Picture: Karen Murphy

Some months into lockdown, I invited villagers to send me a couple of lines each to sum up their days.

I put the lines together and added a few of my own. This is the result:

BROADWINDSOR IN LOCKDOWN 2020

Nature, you were never lovelier,

when the world stopped, but the Earth kept spinning.

And then the world turned upside down, freedom could not be found

We all became experts at social distancing – no grandparents would be visiting.

Sunshine, birdsong, a much quieter life but life still went on.

Thursday night clapping for our hard-pressed carers,

a ripple of applause from one end of the village to the other.

The Sound of Music every day at one o’clock.

Business booms at the community shop

as sales of fruit, veg and alcohol go pop.

Takeout drinks from the pub

and Vikki’s quiche and coleslaw in the shop.

The Tuesday night chip van at Comrades Hall,

Friday morning Post Office, chairs six feet apart.

Anxiety calmed by WhatsApp and Zoom, meeting family and friends by the touch of a button.

People chatting with new friends while standing next to bollards in the shop queue.

Heart attacks, cancelled operations, masks, gloves and Perspex screens.

Food deliveries for the vulnerable.

Our church went blue for the NHS.

The Sound of Music every day at one o’clock.

And we had time to just be with the one we love without duty or obligation stealing the day.

Doing all that we can to keep a company viable,

sorting wages and furlough staff, all reliable.

Farmers cut the fields for silage and tractors trundled through the village.

Up on Lewesdon Hill, bluebells didn’t know about coronavirus.

VE Day flags and afternoon tea outside our homes.

Socially distanced wildflower planting – digging, sowing and watering.

A beautiful sight to welcome visitors to our village when all this has passed.

The Sound of Music every day at one o’clock.

Lock down with the family – fantastic at the start, learning through the struggles, stresses and worries, tears, laughter and love.

Dusting flour from my hands, I pick up my book;

to bake or read, my lockdown dilemma.

There’s only one village in the west for me, Broadwindsor is the place I love to be.

It’s music at one and clapping at eight to rid us of the virus we love to hate.

Virtual Bananagrams, with gin, on Skype; virtual birthday parties on Zoom; virtual running – for medals – on Strava.

Virtual life.

The village roads, now used much less, speeds traffic onward faster;

too fast for the slowworm outside the shop, who is now not just slow, but flatter.

The sun beckons and mocks. Enjoy what you have, count your blessings.

The Sound of Music every day at one o’clock.

The church buildings are silent, dusty, locked, empty, paused.

God is active, loud, renewing, unrestricted, present, recreating and filling us every day.

Time to listen to the birds, watch the flowers grow, to smell the air, walk up the hill and to be still.

The warmth, love and friendship uncovered and blossoming as we all work together through this strange, uncertain  time.

House quiet, headphones on, five laptops glowing, each immersed in our own virtual business and learning,

waiting for the next punctuation point in days we can’t name.

Then kettle on, frisbee out, meals prepared, conversation flows, reconnected again.

The Sound of Music every day at one o’clock.

Free loo rolls from the village shop. The kindness of strangers.

And then a huge blue ball hurtles down the road, like the ever-present Rover bubble in The Prisoner.

A small army of tireless volunteers, stacking, selling, delivering.

Painting, writing, reading, decorating – my furniture has never been so upcycled.

The village phone box becomes a book exchange, tales of a community bound up on donated shelves.

Take-outs from the pub, food and drink, got to keep it going.

The call of rooks from their satellite rookery at the Old George,

while the parish councillors discuss village affairs over Zoom.

The space station goes over, the sun’s fading light makes it glow for all to see.

Endless sunshine, we will never see this blue a sky again.

The Sound of Music on the World Service and Desert Island Discs.

Slippers or flip flops worn all day.

The garden glorious in all this sun.

A tank of petrol lasts for months.

A time of reflection for the things that really matter. The birdsong and beautiful countryside.

Teaching the children, online bitesize that doesn’t bite back.

A fish van arrives in the Square at half past eleven, a shoal of customers in single file down the road.

Gardens and allotments provide solace and colour.

The Sound of Music at one o’clock

Afternoon briefing, highlight of the day.

What day is it, by the way?

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

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

#DesertIslandDiscsChallenge

This coming Friday morning on Radio 4, there’s a special Desert Island Discs featuring the music that is helping people through lockdown.

And the village’s story of The Sound of Music Through The Square Window is included in the programme.

I can say this because several people have already told me they’ve heard my voice on one of the radio trailers, which means my interview hasn’t been left on the cutting room floor

This fills me with relief because talking to Lauren Laverne was a bit nerve-racking, mostly because I worship the ground on which she walks. Also I had severe feedback in my headphones. This was so discombobulating it led me to declare that the village sits beneath the lowest point in Dorset when I meant the highest.

Still, it was lovely to be able to share the tale about the daily request slot and how the theme tune to one of the famous film musicals of all time became the most played song in the village. To see folk on the green socially-distanced dancing every lunchtime, along with neighbours waving from windows and people on pavements pogoing, has been a tonic for this close-knit community.

We’ve felt a part of something, even though we can’t be together.

I have only one tune in this programme but you can guess which one it is. Didn’t have a choice really.

In the build-up to Friday’s programme, which features some emotional interviews with listeners all over the country, the BBC has launched the Desert Island Discs Challenge.

To take part, you have to:

  1. list your top eight pieces of music, starring your favourite
  2. add a book and a luxury (don’t forget you already have the Bible and the complete works of Shakespeare)
  3. include the hashtag #DesertIslandDiscsChallenge
  4. tag eight friends to join in the fun

It might seem easy but it’s really quite tricky – the songs shouldn’t be your eight favourite pieces of music but those that mean something to you, maybe jogging a particular memory. You can find guidelines on how to choose your list here.

This is my list of tunes and the reasons why I chose them:

  1. When Will I Be Loved, The Everly Brothers (my older sisters singing in harmony)
  2. Sugar Sugar, The Archies (performing it at the primary school social)
  3. Jupiter from The Planet Suite (as a child I imagined it being played when on a family visit to Tarr Steps, Exmoor)
  4. Rock Your Baby, George McCrae (blackcurrant picking in the summer with the sun on my back and earning 35p a bucket)
  5. What Do I Get, Buzzcocks (teenage angst)
  6. Cars, Gary Numan (being teased about my Somerset accent when I started my journalism training)
  7. Jackson, Johnny Cash and June Carter (singing this with Mr Grigg on our 10th wedding anniversary)
  8. To Build A Home*, The Cinematic Orchestra featuring Patrick Watson (because I love it so. I got soaked walking back in the rain to our accommodation after seeing them at The Roundhouse, London)

Actually, scrub that. It’s just too sad. I think I’ll go with Rock Your Baby instead. I smell blackcurrants every time I hear it.

In any case, it might take me a while to get the hang of my luxury item to play a bit of Mrs Mills, which I’d need to cheer me up if I chose that Cinematic Orchestra track as my one and only desert island disc.

You can see how difficult it is now.

For my book I’m having The Complete Illustrated Guide to Practical Witchcraft and Magic (I might be able to conjure up a rescue vessel or make myself disappear).

And my luxury is a piano. (I had lessons as a child but didn’t have the patience to practise. I figure if I’m on the island long enough, I might become proficient to at least play one tune from beginning to end).

I’ll be posting a short version of my list on social media but, in the meantime, why not give it a go?

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

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