Susan Hill Susan Hill

The joy of a modern house

We have been in our new home for four months and although getting here was hell, the living is almost heaven. I am rather surprised to be in a modern house after 40 years of living in ones built centuries ago. How would I feel without any nooks and crannies, twisting staircases, elm floors and beams, not to mention the Aga? Well, how do I now feel without the draughts, rattling windows, uneven floorboards and energy bills the size of the national debt that come with every old house, plus the responsibility of too much land? We have only moved five north Norfolk miles but into another world, nearer the marshes, sea and seals, under vast skies in a light-filled house. We left a river valley for 500ft above sea level where it is several degrees colder with noticeably clearer, saltier air. Loud skeins of geese fly over morning and evening. At low tide we see oystercatchers, dunlin, godwits, redshanks, curlews and snipe, with huge murmurations of starlings rising and turning, falling and skirling. Biggles the border terrier has the runs of his life, leaping across the springy marsh, over, and occasionally into, pools of muddy water. At the top of our cul de sac, we hear no traffic, just the church clock chiming the quarters and the babble of children’s voices from the village school playground. Without street lamps our nights are starlit and Bible black.

Making a new garden is life-enhancing, possibly even life-extending. Dozens of bulbs, mostly tulips but the usual snowdrops, crocuses and alliums, have gone in, as have plants, plus too many roses. Madame Alfred Carrière is going up flint and brick walls, with her friend Madame Cécile Brünner, and among the Gertrude Jekylls, Ispahans and Gentle Hermiones I have planted Campanula persicifolia, an ace tip given to me years ago by master gardener Robin Lane Fox.

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