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

#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

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

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

The spirit of friendship

It’s been a funny old Bank Holiday weekend and we’re only partway through it.

Usually, the village would be alive with traffic and people and things going on to mark the 75th anniversary of VE Day yesterday. It’s been glorious weather and, while I always stay at home on public holidays, fearing the crowd at the best of times, many friends and neighbours would be heading for the beach.

But not today, although there are reports that visitors have tried coming down this way, including cars full of people from London and other coronavirus city hotspots. Please stay away. We don’t want you here yet.

There’s due to be an announcement tomorrow from Number 10 about this ‘road map’ for the country to navigate its way out of lockdown. But already, people are thinking the light at the end of the tunnel is closer than it probably is. Even I’m a little bit guilty of this, having just run through the final numbers for my one o’clock music slot, The Sound of Music Through The Square Window.

It’s dangerous thinking because we could end up lifting our guard far too early and then going through this all over again, with more deaths and more misery for those on the front line.

Lockdown is not going to be a distant memory for some time, despite garden centres probably being allowed to open next week and outside exercise allowance being upped from once a day to twice daily. I am going to be playing Julie Andrew’s rallying cry ‘the hills are alive…’ for a little while yet. There is no way I am going to let down my social-distancing guard after all these weeks in the house and garden.

I haven’t been anywhere, apart from walking the dogs every morning and one socially-distant visit to the Post Office outreach service in the village hall. I deliberately avoided the potential scrummage for plants that day when a green-fingered resident brought along annuals and perennials she’s been growing for the now-cancelled village fun day in June.

Since we went into lockdown, I think I’ve gone out through the front door three times. I haven’t even used my handbag. My shoulders are rejoicing over the weight that’s been lifted from them.

Yesterday, on the 75th anniversary of VE Day, a small, socially-distanced crowd gathered in the village square to listen to the choice for music from the loudspeakers. This village is a very tight-knit, fun-loving community. The occasion needed to be marked but I didn’t want it to be some flag-waving, jingoist allusion to our current woes. I wanted people to reflect and empathise with the terrific relief our parents and grandparents must have felt knowing that Hitler had been toppled and world peace seemed to be just around the corner.

So instead of daily The Sound of Music theme tune as our call to arms, we had Richard Dimbleby’s commentary as Winston Churchill gave a speech to the crowds in London. It was incredibly poignant, giving us a palpable glimpse of what it might have been like on that day in 1945.

There followed Glenn Miller’s In The Mood, Flanagan and Allen’s Run Rabbit Run and then the inevitable rendition of We’ll Meet Again by Vera Lynn.

In our village square, there was a party atmosphere as people danced far apart and popped open the sparkling wine. It was strange, weird and odd but reassuringly village-ey, without descending into jingoism. For me, it felt like the spirit of friendship.

Later, in front gardens and on the sides of their streets, folk had picnics within shouting and waving distance of their neighbours. There was a sense of belonging and ‘meeting’ new people rather than the usual cliques, which would probably have happened had a formal event been able to be organised.

And we will meet again. I’m looking forward to the final songs I’ve got planned for the last day of lockdown and then the people’s playlist at the celebration party when this is all over.

In the meantime, we’ll just hunker down and get on with life as best we can. It’s all we can do.

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

If the music’s too loud, you’re too old

I’ve had a complaint about the music.

‘That music you’re playing in the square,’ one man said, as he walked with his wife along the High Street.

‘Yes…’ I said, with trepidation. There was bound to be that one person who didn’t ‘get’ The Sound of Music Through The Square Window, the one o’clock music slot I’ve been doing every day from my spare bedroom two days after lockdown started, ostensibly to lift people’s spirits but also to stop me from going mad.

‘Well…’ he began to say, before his wife beat him to it.

‘It’s not loud enough – we can’t hear it where we live.’

So what to do? Luckily, there is a professional musician and record producer who lives in Lush Places. He founded Afro Celt Sound System and folk music project The Imagined Village. And guess what? He has two great big speakers and a mixing desk.

I’ve used the equipment before, a few years ago, when he and I ran the New Year’s Eve disco at the pub. I’ve also had the pleasure of doing the music for several village fun days so am familiar with the kit.

But I wasn’t sure how loud to turn it up for The Sound of Music Through The Square Window. To misquote The Italian Job, I didn’t want to blow the bloody windows off.

So, after I’d set up the kit in the spare bedroom and made sure it was working, by playing Clair de Lune very quietly, it being a Sunday morning and all, Mr Grigg was instructed to go up the road with his phone just before one o’clock.

He was to go past the house of the couple who’d complained they couldn’t hear the music and ring me to let me know if I needed to turn it up.

The trouble is, once Julie Andrews got going, I couldn’t hear Mr Grigg on the other end of the phone. Nor could I see out very well above the speaker to wave to my neighbours, Mrs Bancroft, DJ Landlord and Mrs Plum from the pub, and the Bings across the road.

Picture: James Dawson

Still, I could just about see Nobby Odd-Job who’d wandered down for his daily exercise to hear his chosen song, You’ll Never Walk Alone. It was an appropriate track, particularly in honour of Captain Tom Moore, although I didn’t play his version as I’m not keen on Michael Ball. (Sorry Michael.)

And then when I saw the video footage I almost cried.

That’s about it.

Love Maddie x

Let’s see what the Earth has to say

It’s raining heavily as I write this.

And even though I’ve come in from the daily dogwalk absolutely soaked – as have the dogs – I don’t mind. We’ve had some glorious, unseasonal weather in this lockdown which has made it so much easier to bear.

And besides, the garden needs it.

I’m halfway through treating the garden table and chairs with Danish oil. It’s my project of the week. If I get it finished by end of play on Sunday, I can tick it off my list, along with the jobs I’ve already done, including painting four garden chairs and table with Hammerite and upcycling the coffee table.

Three more weeks of lockdown were announced yesterday so I’m going to need to find other constructive things to do. The devil makes work for idle hands.

So far, the dining table is lined up in my sights for the upcycling treatment, as is the dresser in my Shed of Dreams if the three weeks turn into something longer, which wouldn’t be at all surprising.

The Sound of Music Through The Square Window is still happening here in Lush Places every day at one o’clock, with requested songs played on my laptop through a speaker in the spare bedroom window.

People come out from their doors and poke their heads out of their windows when they hear Julie Andrews singing her little heart out, followed by the tune for the day. Yesterday was Bill Withers’ Lean On Me for Spanish John, who is called that not because he’s Spanish but because he lived there once.

It’s likely that more of the village will soon be able to hear their requests because once it stops raining I’m going to pick up a couple of speakers and a mixer from professional musician Ding Dong Daddy. So put that in your window and play it.

If the music’s too loud, you’re too old.

Age hasn’t stopped 99-year-old war veteran Captain Tom Moore from raising more than £18 million for the NHS by completing one hundred laps of his garden before his 100th birthday.

He only set out to raise £1,000. What an absolute hero. It shows how one person can truly make a difference.

It’s heartening in a situation where some dismiss as dispensable many of those who have died from coronavirus because of their age or underlying conditions.

It gives me faith in humanity that so many of us are saluting this old man for such an outstanding achievement.

In other news, my friend and former NHS colleague Emma Gale has been inspired by the lockdown to release her very first single today, which you can buy if you follow the video link.

It’s lovely.

That’s about it.

Love Maddie x