We were back in England for a while, getting our house ready to market. Those TV makeover shows have got a lot to answer for. It’s no longer enough to do a bit of casual dusting. We de-cluttered surfaces, touched up paint, knocked the garden into shape, and even gave one room a total makeover (‘People are so thick’, advised one chap who’d come round to give us an estimate for removal. ’Just because you’ve got that room organised as a study, they won’t be able to see it as the house second bedroom. If you can, get rid of all those books, and set it up as a bedroom’). So we did. We boxed up several hundred books and put them in the garage, then covered the dark green walls in restrained buttermilk paint, and popped in a spare double bed we just happen to have, a chest of drawers, a bedside light or two. Add an artificial orchid from Habitat, et….voilà…one genuine bedroom makeover. And then we had to live in, and keep up with, all the unaccustomed tidiness. We hated it.
But we did love being in England. At least I did. Here are my 13 reasons for happiness. Definitely NOT in rank order
- Harrogate in crocus and daffodil season must be one of the loveliest urban sights in Europe. The Stray, that splendid open parkland which girdles the southern part of the town, was all but submerged in a sea of purple white and orange crocus, gradually opening to reveal saffron coloured stamens as the sun teased the flower petals apart towards midday. The crocus fade away to be replaced by an equally extensive display of daffodils. They were only just reaching their best as we left town, but we did at least see them.
- Radio 4. I had it on constantly. From Our Own Correspondent, Paul Merton on Just a Minute, Daniel Corbett’s animated and informative weather forecasts, Gardeners’ Question Time….. all to help the day go by as we scrubbed and polished
- Spending time with those fantastic twin boys, the grandchildren, as they discovered the new adventure playground in Harrogate’s Valley Gardens.
- Nidderdale LETS. What a great bunch of friends. We’d organised a Task Force of willing members to tackle the overgrown jungle that was our garden. Naturally it rained on the day. So everyone turned to in the house. They scrubbed paintwork, wrapped ornaments, painted the above-mentioned bedroom, hoovered…And we all had fun, and lunch together. How do people manage without LETS, or SEL as it’s called in France?
- Friends. We had little enough time to socialise, but those hours spent sharing time at our house, in Ripon, in Huby, and in various spots in and around Harrogate were all very special
- Charity shops. Whenever I’m in England, I spend time combing through the stock of books in all our local charity shops. With everything from the latest Man Booker winner to little-heard-of classics all going for anything from 30p. to a pound, why wouldn’t I want to stock up? And this time, we off-loaded quite a few things too
- Freecycle. The amount of stuff that Harrogate Freecycle keeps out of landfill must be quite phenomenal these days. And its members seem to be amongst the nicest people in town. So we were glad to pass on some stuff to various happy recipients.
- Pontefract cakes. Nothing else quite hits the spot. Oh, except perhaps luxury-end crunchy hand-cooked crisps from Marks and Spencer or Waitrose. Chilli flavour.
- Power walking in the Valley Gardens, 8.30 a.m. Sunday morning, with Angela and Chris. Best start to the week. Not sure we really ought to call it power walking any longer though. Power chatting maybe.
- Hot cross buns. When I was younger, Good Friday was the day of the year when we ate hot cross buns. Maybe for a day or two after as well, but no more than that. Freshly toasted and dripping with butter, the sugary cinnammon smells wafting through the kitchen, they were one of the food highlights of the year. Now they’re available all the time, they don’t seem half so special. But during this last English fortnight, Good Friday or no Good Friday, Malcolm and I made sure we got quite a few hot cross buns under our belts.
- Indian take-away. After hard days spent painting and cleaning, few things are more reviving than a good Indian take-away. Hot, pungent, spicey, sour, the vivid flavours cheered us up and brightened our mood. The French don’t know what they’re missing!
- Guardian and Observer. I know I could read Polly Toynbee, Nigel Slater et al on line. But it’s really not the same, is it?
- Talking in English. The sheer relief of being able to chat, chunter, chew the fat, confide, discuss, digress, argue, amplify, explain, entertain, without pausing to consider whether I’ve chosen the right gender, the right word, the right ending. Yes, perhaps this really is so precious it really needs to go right up to the top of the list at number 1.