From frost to frogspawn... the things that can turn each day into a delight

Sixty years after JB Priestley championed the perfect gin and tonic and reading detective stories in bed, today's authors, broadcasters and political commentators reveal their Modern Delight.

JB Priestley knew what made him happy.

While the Bradford-born author may have been a self-declared grumbler, he was also a man who found pleasure in the smallest things in life. In 1949, he decided to share with his readers the secret of hi contentment.

Published under the simple title of Delight, the collection of essays detailed everything from the joys of a perfect gin and tonic to the unbeatable sound of football and the pleasure of smoking in a hot bath. With the austere times in which Priestley wrote, recently making an unwelcome return, his original book has just been republished and as antidote to the present gloom, today's writers, politicians and celebrities have also been persuaded to follow in his footsteps, revealing the people, places and events which never fail to make them smile.


Richard Benson

One sunny July afternoon a few years ago, I met a Yorkshire farmer at a country show and made the mistake of trying to engage him in small talk about the weather. "Lovely day," I said.

'"Not for me," he said.

"Oh," I said. "Why's that then?"

He looked at me and then looked up to scowl disgustedly at the innocent, cloudless blue sky.

"Over hot for me," he said. "To be honest" – he leaned in conspiratorially, and came quite close to smiling – "I'd sooner have a frost."

It seemed a perverse preference at the time, but when I thought about it later, I realised he had a point.

Landscapes might look good in the sunshine, but under frost they are sublime, glittering spectacles. Fresh snow is beautiful, but it obscures, whereas the thin white ice-crusts gild. And frost creates what are by far the best conditions for walking; sounds ring clear in the air, hedgerow scents seem sharper and the chill makes your face feel clean.

This may sound ridiculous, but I particularly enjoy the feeling you get in the soles of your feet when you hobble over the iron-hard rutted mud in lanes...

For those tempted to try a frost walk for the first time, a few quick words on details. In my opinion, the best time is first light in November or December. The ideal footwear is a Wellington boot with a flexible sole and a wide leg, preferably a basic Argyll three-quarter knee.

And if possible, take a flask of tea. A cup of hot, strong tea on a crisp white morning, watching the first crows wing across the pale pink sky – well, that is a another delight all in itself.

Richard Benson grew up on a farm in the Yorkshire Wolds. He later became editor of The Face magazine and is author of The Farm: The Story of One Family and the English Countryside.

Charity shops

Marina Lewycka

Shopping in charity shops is always an adventure. When I enter a normal high street shop I usually have some idea of what I'm looking for. But in a charity shop I might go in thinking of a nice warm, woolly jumper, and come out with a Victorian tea-set or a spare set of shower curtain hooks. Clothing which would seem too risque, if you were paying the full price, becomes a challenge when it's priced at next to nothing. Would I ever wear that pretty purple dress with the bordering-on-indecent neckline? Would I be able to totter downstairs in those strappy fake-snakeskin high-heeled shoes? Well, at 5, why not give it a go? It could be pleasantly surprising.

And if it turns out to be a mistake, you can always take it back next week, with a pleasant glow of satisfaction that you've donated to a good cause and maybe brought a bit of delight into someone else's life.

Marina Lewycka lives in Sheffield. Her first novel, A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian, has been translated into 29 languages and her latest book, We Are All Made of Glue, was published earlier this year.

Leaving the cinema

Tom Priestley

Quite difficult to choose a single delight; after all my father allowed himself 114, but then it was his idea. However, after trying to pick one plum out of the pie, I suddenly remembered a rare but special delight.

Just sometimes after seeing one of those remarkable films which totally absorb like a vivid dream, I come out of the cinema and for a moment find the world has changed. The atmosphere of the film, it's particular ways of selecting and presenting images, perhaps the view of the characters, all linger in my imagination, and I look at the outside world as if wearing tinted spectacles. Everything has changed, and is fresh and unusual. For a magical moment I have escaped the mundane acceptance of the everyday, and have entered a new and wonderful place. For that moment – great delight! But it fades too soon.

Tom Priestley, a retired feature film editor and lecturer, is the son of JB Priestley

Frog spawn

Jeremy Paxman

We used to be given a milk pudding at school which we called frogspawn. It was a lot less interesting than the real thing. The first inkling usually comes in February or March when you suddenly notice the generally stagnant surface of the pond has started to explode in a welter of bubbles. Look closer and you might see a couple of heads sticking out of the water, each trying to keep its nose above water when they're both much more interested at what's happening at the other end of their bodies...soon the edge of the pond is carpeted in jelly, each bubble of which holds a potential frog...Now is the time that children descend on the pond with jam jars, cans and their mothers' mixing bowls. In the next few weeks the little black blob at the heart of each globule expands, grows first a tail and then legs. Soon there will be dozens of tiny froglets leaping around the garden. Or around the house, if the parents haven't been quick enough off the mark....Houses burn down. Governments, jobs, even friends and relatives come and go. But each spring the frogs will be down there in the pond, copulating and spawning in a frenzy. They'll be at it long after we're completely forgotten.

Born in Leeds, Jeremy Paxman studied at Cambridge University before joining the BBC in 1972.


Philippa Gregory

The duckling, rescued by me from certain death, is five days old today. He sits on my desk in my study beside my laptop, dwarfed by the telephone, warmed by the dappled sunshine streaming in from the window. I cannot look at him without being filled with tenderness and delight at his very being. He is neat and perfectly shaped, like a toy duck or a cartoon duckling: his little face striped in yellow and black, a dark line like kohl across his eyes, the duck bill like a smile, a pettable tiny head no bigger than my thumb. Reassured by my stillness he sits down suddenly, plop on the desk and closing his eyes, lolls his head on his soft back. Trustingly, as if the world is a safe place for tiny ducklings, he abandons himself to sleep.

Philippa Gregory, author of The Other Boleyn Girl, lives on the North York Moors.

Drying Buster

Roy Hattersley

Theses days, Buster and I take four short walks each days. Once upon a time there was a long walk in the morning and one at night, with nothing in between.

But time has taken its toll – more of Buster than of me. So although I long for the hills, of which I am just still capable, I just wander round our village. But taking four walks a day does have its advantages.

It increases the chance of Buster and me getting wet in a Peak District shower. I do not mind the rain. And drying Buster is one of my delights. It is one of his too. I doubt if, even in old age, he cares very much about his brindle coat being damp.

But when he is being dried, he is the centre of attention...The real delight is being able to "look after" him without being accused – by word, gesture or glance – of over-indulgence. I am particularly careful to dry where his front legs join his barrel chest. He likes it and, I tell myself, it is an area which – if let wet- could easily induce pneumonia.

Former deputy leader of the Labour Party and lifelong Sheffield Wednesday fan, Roy Hattersley.


Alan Plater

I love the accents that give poetry and music to everyday speech around the British Isles...

The great Tyneside writer Tom Hadaway said accents were a way of proclaiming tribal allegiance, while stopping well short of declaring war on other tribes.

By comparison, standard BBC or Royal Family English has the fatal flaw that it inhibits emotion. A posh person trying to sound emotional merely sounds silly, while a Northerner can reveal a whole range of passions with the use of the word "aye".

All that being so, in my world, both personal and professional, the ayes have it.

Playwright Alan Plater grew up in Hull.

Delight, by JB Priestley, published by Great Northern Books, 9.99 is available to order through the Yorkshire Post Bookshop on 0800 0153232 or online at Modern Delight published by Faber & Faber, 9.99, is available exclusively at Waterstone's and all profits will be donated to Dyslexia Action and the London Library.