Wednesday, 31 March 2010

When the wind blows

The wind is so strong it blows the catkins from the branches. They lie there on the ground, miniature lambs' tails discarded in muddy tracks.

The wind is so cold, so bitterly cold, it hits your cheekbones like a sinus infection.

Up at Mapperton, the wind whooshes through the trees and it feels as if the corrugated roof of the Pot Shop might just take off. In the stone passageway to the office, the gardeners are in formation, amateur sleuths in heavy boots following a trail of footprints. They are trying to track down the person who removed one of the large stones at the top of the driveway in the night. Next to the spot was a single footprint, with a pointy toe and stiletto heel.

They see me and look accusingly at my feet. Fortunately, I am wearing big, fat Ugg boots - the ones I vowed never to wear out of the house because they are so unflattering. They are called Ugg because they're ugly. They are also very warm.

The gardeners march on and try to find more clues.

Meanwhile, a real thief is accosted in the churchyard, where the only grave belongs to a former lady of the manor. The gardeners think there has been a flurry of fluffy, white snow. Closer inspecton reveals a sparrowhawk blatantly plucking the feathers from one of the doves that last week was tapdancing on the Pot Shop roof. Challenged by the handyman, the sparrowhawk takes off with his still-warm prize. It is looking for a good place to eat.

Talking of which, the cafe is finally due to open in time for Easter, following refurbishment and a change of management. Now watch the crowds descend like sparrowhawks on this magical place. No more book reading behind the counter for me.

I'll keep you posted

Love Maddie x

Wednesday, 24 March 2010

Water, water , everywhere

Rain pings on the corrugated iron roof. The bantams cluck, a cockerel crows and an Indian Runner lets out a loud cackle. Nice weather for ducks.

A pheasant shrieks his metallic cry, a robin chirrups in the hedgerow and an unseen aeroplane high above brings back Brits from faraway lands.

The visitor count to the gardens is slightly up today, in spite of the showers. I have managed to master the staff discount button on the till - yet another reason for me to get things I neither really want nor need. But my father's birthday is coming up and also my sister's. I wander around the shop, wondering what I might buy them, while rearranging leaflets that have curled up in the damp.

Should I go for shiny, shiny Fair Trade things from India or a locally-turned yew-wood toadstool as my very own talisman or a greetings card of an old oak tree?

Meanwhile the visitors wander around some of the most important and distinctive gardens in Dorset. Gardens famous for their romantic setting, varied planting and tranquility.

The peace is shattered by a fight among the bantams. The handyman comes in and asks for a wire coat hanger. I bristle, thinking he might be wanting to shut those hens up for good.

But he's trying to find a buried water pipe and needs the coat hanger for dowsing.

Oh, the joys of country life.

I'll keep you posted.

Love Maddie x

Wednesday, 17 March 2010

Nothing can be finer

Through the swirling mists, you can just about make out the vague shape of tall, twisted chimneys and the snarling face of an eagle on top of the gatepost.

The start of the season is quiet, so very cold and only the crocuses and snowdrops shout out above the still, fog-bound air.

I busy myself by rearranging the exquisite Emma Bridgewater pottery and colour-co-ordinating the tea cloths on the clothes horse. I am pleased I finally bowed and became a slave to fashion because my Merino Ugg Boots keep my feet warm against the freezing flagstones and my pink Musto jacket makes me feel as snug as a bug in a rug.

I dust along the shelves in the children's section and accidentally set off two clockwork donkeys and a springy-octopus. I spill my coffee from my Thermos all over the counter and use up my tissues trying to clear it. In the afternoon, my nose is running for England and I apologise to the head gardener for using my sleeve.

Not the best look for the front of house of a manor house declared as the nation's finest four years ago. And you can read here why Mapperton is a cut above the rest.

Incidentally, I am not being paid to write this blog, much to Mr Grigg's annoyance. I am doing it because I love the place and can't get enough of it. The combination of the beauty of the setting, the formal gardens fighting off the advancing encroachment of the ancient Dorset landscape beyond the walls and the harmony of architectural styles is good for the soul.

And besides, I get staff discount working in the Pot Shop. Which is what I point out to Mr Grigg when describing some of the beautiful items for sale.

'There are some lovely doormats up there,' I say.

'Yes, you,' he replies.

I'll keep you posted.

Love Maddie x

Friday, 12 March 2010

Manors maketh woman

After spending the winter working from home and in the corridors of power on the council Death Star, I realised if I didn't get out more I was going to go quietly insane.

Which is exactly what Mr Grigg called me when I declared I was going to take a job for one day a week in the gift shop at a local stately home at the minimum wage. Not just any stately home, though. This is Mapperton, heaven on earth, the best little manor house in Dorset in the most beautiful countryside in the world.

Two Facebook friends said they loved it too - and working in the gift shop was their first job at the age of 13. You've heard of career progression? Well this is career regression in my case.

The lady of the manor thought I was mad too.

'Are you sure there's nothing else you should be doing?' she said with a shrug (or it could have been a trug), hastily adding: 'But we'd be delighted to have you.'

So last week I started my first day in the Pot Shop, rearranging the products on sale and making conversation with the punters. Of which there were two. And even they came in on a special two-for-one deal. Like stately homes all over the country, the season has just begin. Business is slow.

'You just wait until the coaches start coming,' said the handyman, sending the fear of God up my spine because I am rubbish at maths. I have a till to help me, but I usually break all things electric, and the thought of hordes of tourists talking at once and flashing fivers began to send me in a spin.

I managed to get by without completely wrecking the till and this week we had more customers. Three to be precise. There was also an Indian runner duck that struck up conversation with me and a party of doves that spent the morning tap dancing on the corrugated iron roof above my head.

Life doesn't get much better than this.

I'll keep you posted.

Love Maddie x