Switching off at Marco Pierre White's woodland hideaway - Christa Ackroyd

They say no news is good news, but never in 40 years have I felt so out of touch. And I like it. If last week was a post lockdown detox of the fridge (which is going really badly by the way), this week has been a detox of the mind as we are holed up in deepest Wiltshire at a hotel which seemingly and deliberately doesn’t offer access to the outside world.

The Box Tree, Ilkley, in 2012. Picture by Bruce Rollinson.
The Box Tree, Ilkley, in 2012. Picture by Bruce Rollinson.

There are no newspapers unless you take the car down into the village. There are no televisions in the bedrooms and none in the lounges, which instead are crammed full of the most eclectic objects, including numerous crazy paintings and the biggest and strangest examples of object d’art among which are several crucifixes, jars of pickled snakes, ancient toys and what appears to be a sculptured depiction of a ham shank. All of which forces you to look up and around instead of down at our phones, which I have to admit I spend far too much time doing.

This is not a sleepy out of touch place. Instead, it is a reminder that there are other things to stimulate the senses rather than a daily diet of other people’s happenings.

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And so for the first time in a long time I am almost totally unaware of what is going on in the outside world. And it has been bliss even if for the first day or so I was left feeling, to use a favourite childhood word, rather discombobulated. Instead of watching other people’s lives we have actually been forced to pick up a book or, shock horror, make conversation, which even after 14 months of lockdown together has been quite a novelty. I was almost unaware of how much of what we say to each other is done in front of the telly. What’s more I have also switched off my phone (well, for most of the day) which never happens, though I rather think it should.

The truth is I am a self confessed news addict and take it from me it is something my family have had to learn to learn to live with. Our youngest daughter’s first full sentence was “Ssh it’s Michael Buerk” referring to my insistence on watching the six o’clock tea time bulletin. I think she was three at the time.

Even our middle granddaughter now asks why we have to watch the news every day as I interrupt her enjoyment of Willy Wonka, or Mary Poppins. Because it’s important I tell her. And it is, though it is not the be all and end all, even if I live my life as though it is vital to my very existence. I awake to the news and I go to bed with the news. I have several newspapers on my phone, including this one of course, and the ping of a breaking news alert echoes throughout my day. And when I can’t sleep I switch on a news channel which doesn’t make for a restful night and is definitely not good for the soul.

So now after a few days without it I understand why more and more people are saying to me they have stopped watching the news. It’s too depressing, they say and it worries them. And in a way they are right. I certainly feel I have given my head a break from the Cummings and goings of government which I am sure is dominating this week’s newspapers. Though I don’t know for sure. I haven’t seen one for a few days. What’s more, if I really think about it, why get enraged about a man who was one of the first rule breakers and now acts like a person scorned. I won’t say a woman scorned because I like to think my gender has more dignity.

So who has persuaded me for a few nights at least to embrace the blissful world of ignorance? There are many clues. The whole place is furnished with the famous little Yorkshire mouse carved into seasoned oak for generations by the Thompsons’ of Kilburn. On the menu which by the way is simple and unadorned (or as he puts it does not involve the need for tweezers) are references to Yorkshire’s first Michelin starred restaurant, The Box Tree, at which he trained. And then there is the famous portrait of the man with the curly hair naked with just the largest of fishes covering his modesty. Yes, we are at the country house in the woods owned by the former wild child of cooking Marco Pierre White, who as I type is somewhere in the gardens tending his fig trees which he grows not for the kitchen but for wildlife to eat. And before you start writing it must cost an arm and a leg, Marco, the lad from Hunslet in Leeds who rose to become the first celebrity chef, decided during lockdown he wanted to be full for reopening, and he is thanks to some tempting short term offers. Now you will understand the eclectic collections that only a crazy genius would consider putting together.

I write, with Clive the lurcher at my feet, not to boast of where I have been but to remind myself that a change is as good as a rest. And that means a rest from technology, a rest from my obsession with news. And why are we here? Because three years ago just as I had begun writing this column my husband suffered a life threatening illness which meant it was touch and go. And now thanks to the brilliance of the NHS he is sitting opposite me reading a book with a wooden statue of a fairground pugilist behind his head.

It is so easy to be swept up in the big issues of the day without living each one for each other instead. I am very lucky. I hope you are too. It’s just that sometimes we forget to take the time to appreciate it. This weekend we will spend time, for the first time, with our newest granddaughter who is over from America. Only then will life feel back to normal. And only then will I fully appreciate how fulfilling normal now feels. I will rejoin the world next week. Until then I am going for a walk in the woods.