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

Welcome to limbo land

Having inadvertently published two blog posts within minutes of each other at the end of last week, I am now struggling to know what to write about.

It’s now a strange period in the lockdown. We are locked down but we aren’t, if you get my drift. Guidelines have been changed and some restrictions lifted. I could go eight miles to the seaside but I’m not going to. Not when every man, woman and child suddenly has the same idea. I’m much happier hidden in the folds of the Dorset hills.

This current phase in the lockdown is as if I’m in some sort of limbo, some sort of no man’s land, neither one place nor another. Does anyone else feel the same? My motivation has disappeared down the plughole. At the start of lockdown, I was writing, renovating furniture, coming up with (what I considered were) brilliant ideas and churning out columns and editing like it was my last day on this earth.

Now I’m in the slough of despond, not sure how to interact with friends and acquaintances unless I’m up in the window and at a safe distance. The new Project Fear. And it’s working.

As you know, I left the village for the first time in months last Thursday and just about remembered how to drive a car. Unlike our coastal resorts at the weekend, the town was deserted. If I’d seen vultures pecking on a carcass in the car park I wouldn’t have been at all surprised.

Mr Grigg and I ventured out a little further on Friday, to pick up shopping for my 94-year-old mother who lives in splendid isolation in the Blackdown Hills in Somerset.

I haven’t seen her since before Mothering Sunday. My older sister is popping in with shopping every now and then, and Mum’s neighbours have been brilliant, so all is well there. She’s confined herself to house and garden, getting through jigsaws and books like a dose of salts, and is planning on walking out to the postbox just down the lane this week.

It was lovely to see her and the fact I couldn’t hug her didn’t matter because we’re not a hugging and kissing family. It might be the new normal to squirm when anyone gets too close but I’ve always been like that, so it’s no big deal.

So this whole supermarket shopping thing is really doing my head in. The one-way system in Tesco worked well, as did their other social distancing measures, but I didn’t like it. Not one bit. The mask made by my friend was pretty but I saw myself in the reflection of the chrome bits on the chiller and nearly had another heart attack.

I stayed in the car when the husband then went into Lidl. It took him ages and by the time he came out, the battery on my phone had died because I was flicking through my Facebook and Instagram feed I was so bored. Usually I have a book in my handbag for such occasions but as I haven’t used my handbag for two months, I’ve forgotten what it’s for.

At one point in the car park, I sneezed in the car and, I kid you not, six heads from all over the car park turned away in the opposite direction. Mind you, my sneezes are loud enough to wake the dead.

If nothing else, this virus will have changed my shopping habits. I’ve never liked supermarkets in any case, unless they have a shoe aisle. So in future, I’ll be sending Mr Grigg out to get the provisions and just keeping it very local.

On another note, I’ve decided to close The Sound of Music Through The Square Window on 31 May, the day before some schoolchildren are due to go back. We’re beginning to get some semblance of normality although I don’t think things will ever be the same again.

I’m glad my children are grown up. I wouldn’t want to have to make the decision about sending them back to school. And, contrary to some stupid government bod who slammed such concerns as ‘middle class’, I think you’ll find working class people feel exactly the same.

Anyway, must dash. I have an appointment with Julie Andrews in an hour’s time. The hills are alive and all that.

That’s about it.

Love Maddie x

The return of the native

It’s beautifully clear up here on the hill.

Looking through the trees from Dorset’s highest point and out beyond the Vale, I can see the sea. There is a boat on it. I wonder where it is going.

There used to be a swing here in the trees, with the most glorious view. When you swung out on it, it felt like you were swinging with the world at your feet. But it was only the Marshwood Vale.

With just birdsong and the sound of the wind blowing through the beech leaves, there is a serenity to this landscape that warms me to the core. On secret paths, mystery, magic and a feeling of calm and oneness envelops me.

This is my church. Up here, on my own. Nature in May at its absolute finest.

In the fields below, the farmer has been busy cutting the grass for silage. From the gateway, I gaze down on the village. There is nothing to indicate that it is a community in lockdown. Nothing to indicate that lockdown in some shape or form is happening all over the world. Nothing to indicate that people are dying from a virus for which we have no cure.

I’m not eager to re-enter the real world any time soon. I fear I have gone native. I actually like the solitude, the decrease in traffic on the narrow lanes and aeroplanes up in the sky.

Going out walking with anyone other than the dogs fills me with a palpable dread. What will I have to say? Do I need to say anything at all? I’d much rather be in this gateway, looking into the folds of the landscape and imagining rather than knowing what is going on in other people’s lives.

The introvert part of this extrovert has been having an enjoyable time, thank you. There is not a day that does not go by when I don’t thank my lucky stars that I live here, far from the madding crowd, quietly getting on with a life that was not that different before lockdown was imposed all those weeks ago.

Back in the village, the fishmonger arrives in the square with an array of fresh produce lying out on ice in the back of her van.

In a socially distant queue, I say hello to neighbours I usually only wave to from my window for the one o’clock Sound of Music.

There is fresh crab, wriggling lobster, mackerel, John Dory, Dover Sole, Brill, the noble Gurnard, its medieval head peering out from under the ice, great big sea bass, scallops and squid.

Tonight we will feast like kings and queens, thankful for the bounty provided by our local fishermen and women, hoping that when this all over they will continue to come to our square once a week.

That’s about it.

Love Maddie x

Lockdown poetry please

There’s been a bit of a mixed reaction to Boris Johnson’s televised speech yesterday evening on what happens next in the country’s fight against coronavirus.

And when I say ‘the country’, I mean England. The other three nations that make up the UK have already decided to stick to the ‘stay at home’ message, fearing it’s too soon to dismantle the lockdown and maintaining that the ‘stay alert’ slogan adopted by our government is confusing.

The prime minister’s speech was a bit of an anticlimax for some and lacking in clarity for many others. On Facebook last night, this meme fell into my lap:

Lines from Prefab Sprout’s classic song King of Rock ‘N’ Roll. Perfect. The new slogans make just about as much sense as this wonderful lyric.

Any road up, it got me thinking about words, their meanings and turning things into catchy sound bites. There must be a whole team working on that at Number 10. Or perhaps not.

With that in mind, I had an idea. It’s about time the village had its own Lockdown Poem. A few years ago, with the help of performance poet Matt Harvey, the village came up with The Ode To The White Lion when our pub was shut and we wanted it back.

Here are two of my favourite lines:

The White Lion lives with my husband under the kitchen table

A warm glass of Chardonnay from a fridge too far

A few years later, we had the Village Poem, written for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, which summed up how we all felt about the place where we lived.

Here’s two sample lines from that poem:

Friends on our doorstep, people you can rely on for support

There is often some fog, and there is often some mist

The thing that linked both of these poems was that residents were asked to each come up with two lines, which were melded together to create the whole.

The lines didn’t need to rhyme or, like the Prefab Sprout lyrics, make sense. So I’m now looking for local readers to submit up to two lines each to sum up your lockdown life in this village.

Your lines could be about things we miss during this crisis or that which is keeping us going. Or strange or joyous happenings. Your lines can be as sad, funny, banal or interesting as you like. The lines won’t be attributed to individuals so you can say what you like, within the confines of decency and taste.

All I ask is that you send them to me, either by email or direct message me via my Maddie Grigg Facebook page so I can put them together into a poem.

And then, when this is all over, as well as a playlist curated by you from the requests from our one o’clock Sound of Music Through The Square Window, we’ll have the Lockdown Poem to entertain us at our village party.

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 fish man cometh

When I was a child in the 1960s, we used to have weekly visits from the fish man.

I think it was a Tuesday. Or maybe a Wednesday. What I do know is that it always seemed to be the same time as Animal Magic was on. The television our babysitter, my older brother would be doing his usual thing of torturing me while my mother and father were out milking the cows. The sound of the fish van coming down the road past the backdoor was a signal for my brother releasing me from the late afternoon headlock to fetch my mother.

Not surprisingly, in my mind I mixed up ‘Fishy’ Carbin with the TV show presenter Johnny Morris. They were both smiley, avuncular types. The only difference I could see was that one was on television and the other was at the back gate with his van.

I can visualise Johnny Morris now, in his zookeeper’s uniform, feeding fish to the sea lions at Bristol Zoo. And I can picture ‘Fishy’ Carbin, in a light grey or brown coat, beaming over the array of fish in the back of his van as my mother decided what to buy. He would spread his arm across from left to right, like the weather forecasters do now on the telly.

Every time the fish van came, we always seemed to buy kippers. That can’t be right, though. I can’t believe that all we would choose when confronted by a cornucopia of fresh fish would be kippers. I don’t remember eating them but then it did coincide with a childhood phase in which the only thing I ate was chocolate teacakes and raw sausages.

The reason for all this nostalgia is because the memories came flooding back this week when the village had a surprise visit from a fish van. It was stuffed with fish and seafood of all varieties, freshly caught. John Dory, live lobster, crabs.

I had to pop my head out of the front door – which I only use currently on Thursday nights for the weekly clap for carers – to see it for myself. It could just as easily have been a cart of gold bullion, I was so excited.

We plumped for a dozen scallops in their shells for a fiver, later raising a glass to our good fortune at this surprise visit, which is apparently going to be the same time every week.

What with that and our community stores, and the fortnightly fish and chip van, we’re not doing so badly here at all.

I’m enjoying the solitude and time to think. I just wish the pub could re-open.

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

This is the BBC World Service

The village’s one o’clock Sound of Music Through The Square Window is being heard far and wide. Farther than ever, thanks to the coverage on our local BBC station, Spotlight, at the end of last night’s show, as well as Radio 5 Live this morning and the Newsday programme on the BBC World Service.

You can catch me on the latter at about 1801 here.

I was really made up by being interviewed by The World Service. I remember going into the heart of Rampisham Trasmitting Station before those idiots demolished the masts without planning permission. They were like giants rising up from the landscape, speaking to the world.

(I think there are only two masts now left on the site. They could be seen for miles, even at sea. Maybe some considered them a blot on the landscape but I thought them beautiful.)

It was stunning to go inside the vast hall to hear a Tower of Babel voicescape coming through the machinery.

I recorded some audio as part of a project about the Wessex Ridgeway and would have included the link , but there don’t appear to be any on Dorset’s Council’s website.

Anyway, as usual, just like Ronnie Corbett, I digress.

The Through The Square Window request show and the publicity around it has somewhat taken up my time of late and I shall be following it up with new, associated developments. But I don’t mind, it’s keeping me focused and I love coming up with off-the-wall ideas. I especially like all kinds of music and the spoken word.

Radio is probably my favourite medium. So if you want an internet broadcaster please get in touch!

In other news, the village phone box could well be taken over by the community after BT picked up the story on my blog a few weeks ago.

The red kiosk in the middle of the square has become a temporary book exchange. I’m loving all the titles I’ve been reading – and giving away. I’m currently nearing the end of Middle England, which I’m going to post to my big sister when I’ve finished it.

I’ve parcelled up five other books I now want to pass on. I’m sending them to relatives and friends so they get a nice surprise during lockdown. It will also give a small bit of business to our now once-a-week post office in the village hall, which is doing a brilliant job despite social distancing.

I’m still having vivid dreams and will be compiling some of the brilliant ones you’ve so kindly sent me for my new Dreamcatcher page, which will be going live soon.

In the meantime, stay well and safe and happy in difficult times.

That’s about it.

Love Maddie x

And the clock struck thirteen

Well, the songs continue in The Sound of Music Through The Square Window and, with all this talk of lockdown locking itself in a safe and throwing away the key, there’s going to be a fair few more requests to come.

I’ve had some lovely feedback from locals plus more song requests, as well as a plea from a motorist for people to keep to doorways, windows and the sides of the road. It’s time to face the music and dance, but without touching anyone or slowing down the traffic, although some drivers have stopped and swayed along to the music, as well as clapping for our carers every Thursday night.

The picture outside my window just after one o’clock each day is something to behold. And it seems fitting that, in these times when none of us know what day of the week it is let alone the time, the church clock is striking the hour before the previous one.

So at one o’clock, just as Julie Andrews starts chirruping through the massive speakers like an enormous Tweety, the village clock strikes twelve. I’m rather hoping I’ve miscounted and that the clock is actually striking thirteen, which would be far more appropriate, just before tumbleweed slowly rolls up the street towards the church.

I know the words to The Sound of Music theme tune now by heart. I sing along to it, out of sight in my spare bedroom, arms outstretched. The hills really are alive here in this part of Dorset.

Yesterday was like that classic scene in Ghostbusters II where the slime is defeated by the collective love of the crowd and a kick-ass Statue of Liberty. I almost expected the naked nymph statue in the garden up the road to sashay down to the square, closely followed by Betty and Bob, the pub’s two ornamental gnomes, along with the landlady’s newly-painted plaster wombles and the fairies from Bluebell Hill bringing up the rear.

Now that would have brought traffic to a standstill.

If The Ghostbusters can do it, I’m sure as hell that we can, although it’s going to take more than Hollywood special effects, great comic actors and sparkling script to see this thing off for eternity.

It’s Friday tomorrow (I think) when thoughts turn to what we’re all doing at the weekend. I’m going to be visiting a garden. Mine.

How about you? Planning anything special this weekend?

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