The neighbourhood

It finally happened! On April 1st he took possession of the keys to a house, and we were hot foot to see what he’d bought. Of course, we’d seen photographs and had a few expectations, but nothing compares with the pride and joy of owning your first home. A place you can put your stamp on. I remember it well from my own first venture, long years ago.

The property, in Chapel Allerton, had belonged to an elderly gentleman and had been adapted to make life easier for him, but looking at the steep curve of the stairs it was hard to see how he could have managed. It’s a house for a much younger person, with a family. There’s plenty of work to be done, but the rewards are visible in the handiwork of some of the neighbours. First job was to lift the living room carpet to inspect the floorboards. In good condition, it was decided to sand and varnish them. So easily said, but a lot of effort and choking dust. While much of this went on I took the youngster to explore the neighbourhood.

Naturally we spotted a few colourful electricity boxes. By my standards it was extremely cold, but the youngster skipped ahead, eager to share his findings. Spring was undoubtedly in the air, pink and white magnolia illuminating the skies. A swing dangled from one sturdy specimen, evidence of the young companions we hoped to find. On the High Street, planters dazzled, jewel bright, and a book shop promised hours of pleasure. At the supermarket we selected chocolate eggs, for that all important first Easter egg hunt in the new house, and returned to help with the work. Further down our street we spotted a ‘Peace’ tree, hung with small coloured eggs, and a gardening neighbour pronounced us ‘welcome to the street!’ A new beginning, full of hope. And a ladybird on a bedroom window.

A postscript : returning home, myself and husband have tested positive for Covid. It had to happen one day and I wouldn’t have missed the above for the world. We are fine and hope to be able to resume normal life at the weekend.

Temple Newsam : I love it when a plan comes together

It so very nearly didn’t! I wanted so much to weave some magic on Christmas Eve. I love a light show, and when I saw this one advertised, on the outskirts of Leeds… well, it was worth a try! We had been to Temple Newsam a time or two. Broad, open spaces… good trees for climbing… a lake, and a petting farm. A good place for kids!

We had to run the gamut of testing, and be pronounced fit to enter the UK. Not a problem! Staying fit enough to return to Portugal, from Leeds City Centre, was more of an issue. But there was no doubt in my mind that it was worth the risk, to see our son and family this Christmas. If the effectiveness of the vaccine was to be tested, so be it! And so we arrived on 23rd December, took the PCR test, and checked into our hotel. We already had a negative lateral flow test, taken in the Algarve on 22nd. Come the evening, a phone call from our son. “Someone in the youngster’s school class has tested positive. Quarantine until the result of his PCR comes through, hopefully within 72 hours, but it’s Christmas so who knows? He’s coughing a bit, but he’s mildly asthmatic so that’s normal at this time of year. He’s tested negative on 2 lateral flows and we’ll test him again in the morning.”

Waiting with baited breath, we also had our own issues. It seemed that yet another test was needed, to enable our return to Portugal. Though valid for the 72 hours of our stay, the PCR was purely for the UK government’s statistics, and didn’t provide a certificate as evidence of the negative test, required by the Portuguese government. More money in the coffers to be misspent, it seems. But the youngster’s health was of far greater concern to us. We took a further test Christmas Eve morning, also negative, but were still waiting to hear how he was. The verdict? “A third negative test, no temperature or coughing, but no PCR result yet.” Should we risk the light show? Of one thing I was sure. I was going to see the family, whether or no I courted Covid. Call me irresponsible, if you like! And so we bundled up warm, and set out into the drizzly night, with one super-excited youngster.

I said drizzly night, but in fact it didn’t feel very wet. Perhaps it was that Christmas magic I was looking for, because if you looked up at the lights you could see the fine droplets of water dancing in the air, but our clothes didn’t appear to be getting very wet. The shimmer of the damp snowflake on the path ahead made us all smile.

Of course, we were a little anxious. The car park had been almost full and we worried about the volume of people, but we were outdoors and masked and took care to maintain space. The youngster’s obvious enjoyment, and our own, soon made any misgivings fade. We passed swiftly through the arch of lights at the entrance. I hung behind to take just one shot.

Maybe we were a little reckless, but it was so nice to be a part of Christmas celebrations. The atmosphere was warm, despite the rain!

The field of balls glowed from red into violet and shades of blue, then faded to soft pastels as we watched.

Beyond the field, shadows made ghostly patterns on the trees. Turning a corner the air was pierced by laser beams, sparkling green through a fine mist. On the path, a Celtic knot glowed. At just this moment an email arrived. His PCR test was negative.

I won’t pretend that we weren’t greatly relieved. With light hearts we carried on, around the lake with its beautifully illuminated boats. Happiness was complete when we came upon a stall selling marshmallows, for toasting over a charcoal fire.

I hope you managed to find a little Christmas magic, and that the year to come will be kind to all of us.

Wishing you all good health and happiness as we sail forward into a new year.

Street art suburbia, Leeds

What are the odds? For some time my son has been trying to find an affordable property to buy in Chapel Allerton, Leeds. The search has proven fruitless so far but, determined to remain upbeat, he took us for a look round the neighbourhood. And what should I find but those self same electricity boxes I was smitten with in parts of the Algarve. We have tried to dissuade him. There are cheaper, less desirable places, but you can’t blame a lad for trying, can you? And I have to say, I liked it too!

Now, does anyone have a house to sell in the area? It’s worth a try, don’t you think? Happy weekend, all!

Harewood House, West Yorkshire

Like all such national treasures, and there are many, Harewood House in West Yorkshire has to earn its keep. The list of events and things to see and do has multiplied since I was there last. Craftmaking workshops and demonstrations are now part of the experience. You can practise calligraphy, learn to weave willow, or make wreaths with dried flowers., Rounded off nicely with afternoon tea, but none of this compulsory. You can still have a great day with just the basics. I wish I’d paused to visit the exhibition Harewood on Film because the house and extensive grounds have taken a starring role in many a drama. My chief purpose in being there, however, was to entertain an 8 year old. You can imagine that the adventure playground and petting zoo had prior claims on our attention.

Nevertheless, it was hard not to admire the beautiful gardens, though some of the statuary caused rolled eyes. The times were very different. The finest craftsmen of the day were employed when Edwin Lascelles started building his new home in 1759. Locally born architect John Carr, popular interior designer Robert Adam, renowned furniture maker Thomas Chippendale, and landscape gardener extraordinaire, Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown, all combined their expertise to magnificent effect in creating Harewood.

After scrambling and tumbling in the playground, we set off to explore the grounds, following the edge of the lake to the Himalayan Garden. The plants were waist high and above. Huge gunnera rippled in waves down to the stream, which you could cross by means of stepping stones. The garden must be stunning in May-June, when the rhododendrons are in bloom. Stopping to pay homage to the Stupa, we climbed back to the top of the gorge, and spent a happy 10 minutes sending leaves plummeting down the cascades to join the stream, far below. Simple pleasures.

Some of the trees were amazing in girth. One or two were home to fairies. And another, potentially good for climbing. We arrived at the Walled Garden ready for a hot drink. Not the warmest of days and we were consigned to outdoor picnic tables, but the cheese and ham panini hit the spot for the youngster and my cherry bakewell slice was divine. There wasn’t even a crumb left to photograph! Healthy looking plants marched across the lawns in an orderly fashion while the borders harboured some beautiful specimens. We were a bit disappointed to find that the promised boat ride across the lake wasn’t operating, but he’s young and fit and we were back round the lake in no time.

Flamingos stood to attention on one leg, while the aviary showcased birds of every size and description. The penguin pool wasn’t so easy to capture on camera, but I did manage a kookaburra and a snowy owl. And a shaggy goat story! The house was open by this time, and I was anxious for a bit of warmth. And we certainly received a warm reception. The staff were knowledgeable and happy to chat, and I couldn’t help but be impressed by the opulence and sheer wealth on display. Ill gotten gains, and definitely over the top by today’s standards, but beautiful.

Back in the fresh air a glimmer of sunshine persuaded us to take the North Park walk to All Saints Church. An exhibition of stained glassware by Chris Day referenced the slave trade, which contributed to Lascelles enormous wealth.

Exiting through a secret tunnel brought us to a maze filled with willow creatures in a woodland play area, and the adventure was over. A good day’s entertainment, I thought, and only a bus ride from Leeds City Centre.

I haven’t yet finalised my Christmas plans, but I could be tempted by Upon a Christmas Wish. I might even wish for a little snow to enhance the experience. But not yet awhile!