New Year happy thoughts from Martin, Maggie, Ella and Joe Joe who have just been on a whistle-stop visit to Yorkshire
Wishing you the giggles, frivolity and mirth.
In wishing you all a cuddly, cherry-topped Happy New Year we offer the following – a parcel of ribbon-tied happy thoughts that may help to keep us all afloat in this year to come.
And in case you think I'm a bit late, here in Catalonia, gifts are not given until The Three Kings roll up on Twelfth Night. We wish for everyone in Yorkshire the fully-inflated rubber ring of humour, and in doing so remind ourselves how vital it has been here on the farm with all its hues, heavy burdens and aches that are the common consequence of the tap-dance of modern life. As with the magnificent mirth-inducing musical raspberries that my 90-year-old father blows at anyone who has had their ready smile wiped from their hard-drive (or has had a common courtesy bypass operation) we have ways to dissolve the seriousness of existence into a fit of the giggles.
I don't know what it is about the farm, but people are induced to let their hair down and take a running, rip-roaring jump into our reservoir.
Wandering minstrels Michael Hatherly and son Jacob (they had just wandered up the track from the holiday cottage) tweaked the cord of merriment back in August with a guitar, tiny drum and precious little by way of clothing. Michael is my oldest friend. Jacob is my delightful godson. Their friendship is something to behold, unbelievably precious to share.
You will remember too, of course, Elvis in the olive grove. Then there was the nut bagging frivolity, as the task of weighing and preparing 100 kilos of almonds for sale became a game of hairnets. With us were Sophie and Steve from Brisbane Down Under, stopping off at Mother's Garden for four weeks at the end of their European tour.
They have been rays of light, and stayed with our friend Annie to hold the fort, feed the ponies and keep the home fires burning while we whizzed around England during the first two weeks of December.
As we trundled down the track 6ft tall Steve skipped alongside us adorning the hire truck with flower petals. Yes, we ventured north during the bitterly cold, snowy first two weeks of December. Brrrrr.
We are home again now, 4999 kilometres later (truly), having somehow made it from Kent to Oxfordshire, on to Yorkshire then down to Norfolk – ten book and olive oil events in 12 days – meeting hundreds of lovely people who ventured out to see us despite the deep bleakness of early winter. Bless you all. When the snow-white rather than normally off-white cliffs of Dover first came into view, the rank stupidity of what we were attempting hit us between the eyes. Every china cup and glass rattled dementedly as the old ferry shuddered to a stop. We crawled onto English soil and within the hour were stuck on a hill trying to get to my sister's snowed-in village near Canterbury. But Kirbys and Whitmans will not be beaten. Despite the onset of foul colds, snow storms coming in horizontally off the sea in Scarborough and ice on the inside of our otherwise reliable Fiat truck; despite pulling my back lugging olive oil boxes hither and thither, we got round, signing a very significant number of books, delivering new harvest olive oil and, generally, giving the tree of life a damned good shake.
Maybe you heard me making a fool of myself on Radio York. (I was breaking some teeth in for a friend). They allowed me to rattle on for an inordinately long time as we talked about this life, my new book and why people might want to dwell on the thought of moving abroad.
It would never have been remotely possible, of course, without family and friends and extra strong mints, so to all those who gave up their beds, cajoled others to support us, and who fed and watered us, we send copious quantities of love and hugs. Tina and Neal Boden and son Charlie literally gave up their beds. How kind they have been, what good friends they have become.
When we finally made it to Yorkshire, we met them at the roadside and they whizzed the children off to Leeds to see Madness in concert, while Maggie and I drifted on towards their Scarborough home, swinging by Castle Howard to see where Maggie's grandfather had been a groom. It was such a picture in the deep snow, as were all the Howard Hills and distant moors that, in the creamy rose light of sunset, they made us forget the bitter cold outside and between our ears for a second or three.
Then, that evening, while Maggie took to Tina and Neal's bed and tried to sleep off her influenza, I ventured out for a meal at the north end of Royal Albert Drive with our hosts and the children as more snow swept in, and we sang Baggy Trousers and talked of the beguiling character and natural beauty that is Yorkshire. I hadn't been to Scarborough for 30 years, on a much different summer weekend when the Foreshore Road pulsed with tourism.
At the Blake Head bookshop in Micklegate, York, I stood up to bang on about the new book and the charity we support called Imagine, with a medley of readings, anecdotes, coughs and splutterings, while Maggie and the children did a roaring trade in oil, embroidered aprons, nuts and my other books.
We had taken Ella and Joe Joe out of school because we wouldn't dream of leaving them behind and, well, the trip would be an education (in meteorology as it turned out). They also got to see Windsor Castle, Delia Smith, Stephen Fry and Norwich City lose 0-2 to Portsmouth.
Delia's Canary Catering chefs have been using our olive oil for years now, and she'd invited us to visit Carrow Road to watch a game.
So there I and the children sat, not sure at first if singing and shouting was acceptable behaviour in the directors' box. But I let rip anyway after a few minutes, genuinely oblivious to the fact that Stephen Fry, seated directly in front of me, was filming some sort of documentary.
Poor chap. I forced a copy of my English novel Moon Daisy on him. It had been 35 years since we'd last spoken (our paths crossed as teenagers) and he was utterly charming, but I'm not entirely convinced he remembered me.
Delia, too, was disarmingly real, warm and welcoming. I repeatedly heard her voice urging Norwich to take the game to Portsmouth, and she was clearly on the edge of her seat.
All of which left me, despite the defeat, with a rather warm glow about the spirit offootball. The ground was packed with people of all ages, and the Portsmouth fans served up song and spice to engage with Norwich's choir, although I still don't understand why it is necessary to be so rude.
That night we ate with our friends Les and Ness of Strattons Hotel, Swaffham, scene that morning of a bustling Christmas fair. Les and Ness invited us to stay in their boutique hotel which was a yummy treat, and then we were off to the family farm, for final olive oil stock checks and to stack the truck with all manner of our clobber that has been waiting for a decade in Maggie's mother's barn for us to move it far south to Mother's Garden.
We have, needless to say, returned with more than we left with, not least heads and hearts brimming with happy memories of eyes-closed bear embraces, beaming faces and the certainty that the vast majority of people are utterly gorgeous. Keep warm, keep well.
Sending all good thoughts from Mother's Garden for the year we will all share. Be happy. And a present of raspberries to those who refuse...
Shaking The Tree by Martin Kirby (ISBN 978-1903490594) is published by Pegasus
YP MAG 1/1/11