Northern Light

I’m back home in Harrogate for a few days.  It’s been quite a surprise.  I left Carcassonne airport in bright hot sunshine, and arrived at Leeds/Bradford to….bright hot sunshine.  And so it continued.

I spent a happy afternoon dealing with Weed Management and Invasive Plant issues.  It was very satisying.  Instead of grubbing about clearing a weed here, a weed there, I was able to sweep up vast armfuls of unwanted plants off into the compost bin, and create an instant impression that only the frogs, undisturbed for weeks now, failed to appreciate.  If only I’d taken some ‘before’ and ‘after’ shots.

Most surprising of all has been the day light.  I’d quite forgotten.  Last night, I was still reading without having a light on at 10.00 p.m.  9.30 would have been more like it in Laroque.  But it was this morning when I really realised I’d travelled north.  The light was pouring through the bedroom window so brightly I sprang up to begin the day.  And then realised it wasn’t even 4.30.  Mornings here begin a full hour and a half earlier than in the south of France – though there is the hour change to take into account.  I do sort of regret that I went back to bed, instead of taking an early morning stroll down to the Nidd Gorge.  Maybe tomorrow.

An English Interlude

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

  1. 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.
  2. 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
  3. Spending time with those fantastic twin boys, the grandchildren, as they discovered the new adventure playground in Harrogate’s Valley Gardens.
  4. 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?
  5. 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
  6. 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
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. 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.
  11. 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!
  12. 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?
  13. 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.

The Big Snow: Chapter Two

Another day, another freeze.  The other evening, we were with some friends.  We watched the 10 o’clock news and saw satellite images of a totally white UK.  Then a friend in the Ariège told us that the snow’s reached there too – not sent from our end though, but driven northwards from Spain.  By lunchtime, the news on the French channel TF1 had made the snowy Ariège its special feature.

 We might as well stay here then.  The papers and radio repeat regular warnings of the ‘is your journey really necessary?’ variety, and they’re probably right.  With grit and salt in short supply, the roads aren’t getting any easier, and the temperatures are dropping.

 Here’s a miscellany of Harrogate photos: the town centre, chilly allotments, chillier birds, snowmen and similar, icicles….all a record of this extraordinary January

The Big Snow

‘Christmas shopping in the snow. A white Christmas. A whiter new year. Christmas in the Ariège? No, apparently not. It was mild and sunny there. Instead, this was Christmas and New Year UK style. The days in England were very odd for us. We’d wake up to glittering, powdery snow on the streets, and hungry birds scavenging for crumbs. We’d fail to drive the car up the road, because we live at the bottom of a hill, and the poor thing couldn’t get a grip: 4x4s, usually so derided in our urban setting, had the last laugh, because only they could go anywhere much.

From our window.....

 

Visits to friends were cancelled. Their visits to us were abandoned. All because of the snow. It wasn’t so very deep, admittedly, but in urban and suburban England, we’re just not geared up to dealing with it. No snow chains on the cars, not enough grit, not enough salt. And it’s not so surprising we were unprepared. Until last year’s freak snowstorms, many English children had only seen snow on skiing holidays or Christmas cards, so why would local authorities plan for anything worse than the occasional sleet shower?

So here are some pictures of life in cold and snowy Harrogate. Emily and I even made a mini snowman. He’s mini because making him was like trying to model something in very cold granulated sugar. The snow wouldn’t stick together. We had fun trying though, and though he was very small, he was a little monster’

All that was written before The Big Snow. The Big Snow suddenly descended here sometime after 4.00 a.m. on Tuesday 4th January, the day we were due to set off back for France. The Big Snow decided otherwise. Harrogate; like much of Northern England, was closed for business. No buses, no schools, few people at work …. but lots of snowmen suddenly populating the streets and gardens –even an authentic looking igloo in the next street along. It was fun at first, and lovely to look at. Then reality began to bite. Slogging to the distant shops through 8’’ of snow, with streets and roads ungritted isn’t much fun. Not everybody can work from home, and too many of those who couldn’t get to work, either had their wages docked, or had to take a day from their annual leave allowance. There’s still a bit of a holiday atmosphere, but the novelty’s worn off, especially as the Big Snow has become the Big Freeze and is going to continue, it seems.

Franklin Road, Harrogate

When will we be able to leave for France? Who knows. The South has taken over from the north as Snow Capital of the UK, and we’ve been very firmly advised against travelling (anyway, we still can’t drive the car up our hill). From what we can see, northern France is a winter wonderland as well – with added fog.

I’d like to add more photos – I will later.  But I’m working with a dongle, and if you’re geek enough to know what I’m talking about, you’ll know it’s not ideal