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

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

Carry on screaming

It’s one of those days already.

I’m on the phone to my bank again, and, after pressing all the buttons and then a hashtag over and over again, I’m told by an automated voice that my call will be answered by an operator in approximately ten minutes.

It’s on loudspeaker as I type this at the dining room table. The jaunty music is getting on my nerves. The good thing is that I am moving further in the queue.

It’s times like these when my inner Victor Meldrew kicks in.

Although I’m feeling guilty because at the beginning of the call, the deadpan, North Country voice (I’m with the Co-op) announced that I should only phone if absolutely necessary because they’re overwhelmed by coronavirus and if I have access to my account digitally I should do that and stop bothering them.

Those weren’t her exact words but that was the gist.

Trouble is, I would if I could but I can’t. The online system won’t recognise my user name. Maybe I’ve forgotten it? I haven’t forgotten it. I’ve already followed the appropriate prompts to have my user name emailed to me just in case it had slipped my mind. Nope, it’s the bloody one I’ve been using for the last fifteen years.

Four weeks ago, I set up a savings account with the same bank but, stupidly, the bank left off one of my initials and now it won’t marry up with my current account online. And now I can’t get into the bloody current account in any case.

I’m not usually one for swearing but this morning I sound like Hugh Grant at the beginning to Four Weddings and A Funeral.

During my wait, Mr Grigg nuzzles up to me, having spent more than two hours on community shop business, and says, ‘I love you baby’. They say you hit out at the ones closest to you, which is exactly what I do by telling him less than politely to go away.

It’s not fair and he huffs off in a storm of righteous indignation. But at this point in time, all I want is for the problem to be solved without endless bloody phone calls and waiting in a queue. I want my bank to employ some joined-up thinking because the left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing, but that could be because they’re immersed in hand sanitiser.

The morning started badly in any case. I discovered on my daily dog walk that my favourite tree of all time in the village has died. All those hundreds of years of growing only to die before the spring. And then I saw a flattened grass snake in the lane, which had shuffled off its mortal coil.

And, of course, the thing uppermost on everyone’s mind is that the world’s been hit by a global pandemic.

And now, I’m finally through to a very nice man at the bank who tells me computer says no.

There appears to be no user name registered with the bank account, the one I’ve been using for the past fifteen years.

I actually mutter ‘FFS’ in full before he puts me on hold again with that bloody music and then comes back on to tell me there’s an IT problem which probably won’t be resolved until next Monday.

I explode – not at him but at the bank whose staff and computer system have decided to self-isolate from each other.

I thank him for not being able to help me. He thanks me for my patience, I put the phone down and scream very loudly before putting this on at full volume.

That’s about it.

Love Maddie x

For locals only

It’s Good Friday and the Prime Minister appears to be on the mend. He’s out of intensive care although he’s not out of the woods yet.

I was in the woods this morning, bright and early, with the butterflies, bees, blackbirds and buzzards. Surrounded by all this natural beauty but still pondering on today’s headlines.

They’re burying people in mass graves in New York. Hastily dug mass graves. In America. It just doesn’t seem possible.

And then the story about the communities minister who drove 150 miles from London to Herefordshire to be with his wife and children in one of their several homes. It is reported that he also popped over the county border into Shropshire to check on his elderly parents who, apparently, have neighbours doing their essential shopping in any case.

This is the same man who earlier this week was interviewed on Radio 4’s Today programme talking about the vital need to observe the lockdown restrictions.

We’re doing our best here to observe the law, separated from elderly parents, children and grandchildren who live in other parts of the country. The volunteers at the community shop are giving their all to keep us supplied with produce. Mr Grigg is doing a five-hour shift today.

Deliveries are being made to the vulnerable and self-isolating. We’re working together to get through all of this as best as we can.

So it grates when people are seen arriving at their second homes as if this were a normal Easter. It isn’t.

It’s understandable that families might want to flee from the coronavirus capital to the safety of the countryside. I mean, if we were in a disaster movie we would be doing exactly the same. I can’t imagine Keanu Reeves or Dennis Quaid staying put. Where would the story be in it that?

But this is not a story, it’s real life. The rules are very clear. We don’t want you here, at least not yet.

This, from Dorset Police:

Essential travel does not include visits to second homes, camp sites, caravan parks or similar, whether for isolation purposes or holidays. People must remain in their primary residence.

We’ve been given additional powers to fine those refusing to follow Government instructions so please stay home, protect the NHS and save lives.

You might stay indoors in your second home for two weeks but what if you’re already infected and need treatment? Our local hospital is already full of Covid-19 patients.

I wouldn’t say the pitchforks are out yet, but it won’t be long.

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