Motoring up the M1 heading for Malton with Chris Rea’s Driving Home for Christmas on the CD player was a festive tradition that Shirley and Bob Hookway looked forward to.
The destination was Shirley’s mother’s house close to the market town and the rewards for the long trip from Reading were the comforting Christmas rituals of catching up with family, woodland walks and cosying up to the log fire.
When her mother and step-father passed away she couldn’t bear the thought of selling a property that held so many happy memories, so she and Bob made a life-changing decision to uproot.
“We rented the house out at first but it got to the point where it desperately needed renovating. The agent said: ‘you’ve either got to do it up or sell it’ but I couldn’t sell. Even though I had moved from the area in 1977 and our friends were all in Reading, we decided we would live in it. It was a massive wrench but that’s how much I love this house,” says Shirley.
The single storey lodge dates from the 16th century and had been extended to provide three bedrooms. Although much-loved, it was in desperate need of an update and it took the Hookways about a year to renovate. They installed central heating, put in new glazing, new floors, reconfigured the space to create an enormous sitting room and added a conservatory that over looks countryside.
“It was a massive job and almost everything went except the Aga,” says Shirley.
They moved into their warm and cosy country home in 2004 and have never regretted the life-changing decision. Bob now works for the Castle Howard estate and Shirley has found her dream job managing Malton’s new Interiors at Nine to Eleven shop for Sarah Clark, who also owns nearby soft furnishings store Stitches.
“I’m quite old so I’ve waited a long time for my dream job managing a beautiful interiors shop. It just shows that you should never give up hope,” she says.
The role suits Shirley’s creative nature and interest in interior décor, though it does present temptation.
The sofas in her large sitting room are from Nine to Eleven, as is the stunning glass candelabra and she has spent a small fortune on Christmas decorations.
“I love Christmas. It’s my favourite time of year, so I do go to town,” she says. Every room has a festive feel, with the fireplaces draped in greenery including pine cones from the woods and holly fresh from the garden, the furniture is festooned with fairy lights and there are candles everywhere.
Almost everything she has bought recently is from Malton, which has a wealth of wonderful independent shops.
The tree is from nearby Castle Howard and is decorated with baubles collected over the years.
“I buy new ones every year to add to what I already have and so the look is very eclectic. I think that’s what trees should look like. Sometimes I load it with tinsel too.”
Thanks to her friend and colleague Barbara from Stitches, who provided some twisted willow from her garden, she has created an alternative “twig” tree that is tied together with wire, rooted in a brass coal bucket and decorated with fabric birds from Nine to Eleven.
Then there’s the tea light tree, the crystal tree and a pre-lit tree along with a nativity, an army of Father Christmases and several Christmas stockings.
Even Bob and Shirley’s much-loved rescue dog Bess, better known as Bessie Boo, has her own stocking.
The Jack Russell/Parsons terrier cross was found wandering the streets of Scarborough three years ago and spent six months in the care of Ryedale Dog Rescue until Shirley brought her home.
This year she’ll have plenty of people to fuss over her as Bob and Shirley’s friends come over for open house on Boxing Day.
“My friend comes up for Christmas Day and last year we did a Jamie Oliver Christmas. We had the laptop on the kitchen unit trying to follow his gravy recipe, which was fun.
“This year we’re having a goose because Kate down the lane has some free range geese,” says Shirley.
“Boxing Day is open house for around 15 people. I light the fires and all the candles and we’ll play, scrabble, charades and pictionary using a flip chart. It’s usually boys against girls.”
Last year there were 18 inches of snow though the cold snap did have its uses. The icicles were used in the gin and tonics.
This time of year also brings back fond memories of Christmas past.
“My mum loved Christmas too and she used to get all sorts of treats in that we weren’t allowed to eat till the day. It was wonderful,” says Shirley, though Bob reminds her that every year they had the same argument.
“Oh yes,” she says. “Mum and I liked to open our presents at midnight on Christmas Eve, especially when the wine had been flowing. Bob always got quite cross at that because he said there was nothing to look forward to on Christmas Day.
“We compromised and just opened one or two.”
When the festive season is over, Shirley complains that the rooms look bald without the decorations.
“I’d like it to be Christmas all year round,” she says.
“Mind you now I am working at the shop we have Christmas trade shows to go to in January, so it will be Christmas again for me next month. I can’t wait.”
Interiors at Nine to Eleven is at 9-11 Market Place, Malton, www.ninetoeleven.co.uk