The pur­suit of hap­pi­ness

Plan for your one wild and pre­cious life

Country Life Every Week - - Contents - Carla Carlisle

Carla Carlisle plans for her one wild and pre­cious life

IAM stock­pil­ing an­tibi­otics for the apoc­a­lypse, even as I await the blos­som­ing of pa­per­whites on the win­dowsill in the kitchen.’

I’d say that’s a pretty good first line. Not so much a sign of our times, but a line of our times. I could have writ­ten it my­self, but, in fact, it’s the open­ing line of Anne Lamott’s new book, Al­most Ev­ery­thing: Notes on Hope. I bought it in Ann Patch­ett’s book store in Nashville in Novem­ber, but didn’t get around to read­ing it un­til the dreamy lull be­tween Christ­mas and New Year.

I feel kin­ship to the writer’s anx­i­ety for many rea­sons. For a start, I have those bridal nar­cis­sus called pa­per­whites in my kitchen win­dow, also the din­ing room, the hall and all the un­heated spaces in be­tween.

And, like Miss Lamott, I have a pri­vate stock­pile. Not an­tibi­otics—al­though that’s a thought—but an anti-vi­ral called Tam­i­flu.

I ac­quired it in 2006, when we were warned that the bird-flu pan­demic cir­cling in the skies above us would kill up to 750,000 peo­ple in Bri­tain. We were also told that Tam­i­flu, ex­pen­sive and in short sup­ply, was the most ef­fec­tive treat­ment. I was about to buy three pack­ages and save my small fam­ily, but my Chris­tian con­science kicked in: I or­dered enough to save ev­ery­one who worked on the farm, putting more than £1,000 on my Master­card. But what the heck—it gave me peace of mind, which, as the ad says, is ‘price­less’.

That the Tam­i­flu, bought on­line from a Cana­dian com­pany and made in Malaysia, ex­pired in 2007 and that bird flu and its pesti­len­tial se­quel, swine flu, have not wiped out half the world’s pop­u­la­tion might make you ques­tion my ex­pen­di­ture—espe­cially as nu­mer­ous re­ports since have in­di­cated that Tam­i­flu is no bet­ter than parac­eta­mol, doesn’t pre­vent the spread of flu and side ef­fects in­clude ‘se­ri­ous psy­chi­atric and meta­bolic events’. The com­mu­nity I sought to save could now be fat and crazy.

Mean­while, my un­grate­ful fam­ily snorts when­ever they come across my out-of-date stock­pile. In my de­fence, I point out that the Govern­ment spent £473 mil­lion on Tam­i­flu.

I can de­fend my in­vest­ment. Bad news is eas­ier to be­lieve than good. The prophets of doom have bet­ter gram­mar and sound far more se­ri­ous than the op­ti­mists, who, with the ex­cep­tion of Matt Ri­d­ley and Steven Pinker, sound slightly sim­ple-minded.

If you wake up to Farm­ing To­day, have your first cup of cof­fee with To­day and have enough stamina to read a morn­ing news­pa­per, you will have been threat­ened with cli­mate warm­ing, Trump lu­nacy, Brexit grid­lock, NHS wait­ing lists, China, Rus­sia, Face­book, Saudi Ara­bia, wild­fires, Ama­zon, moped gangs, knife crime, gam­bling ad­dic­tion, home­less­ness and plas­tic (oh God, plas­tic) all be­fore you’ve let out the chick­ens. You have to be a fool to be light-hearted.

All the more rea­son to sur­round your­self with pa­per­whites, sym­bols of pa­tience and hope. It mat­ters not that they grace us with their beauty and glo­ri­ous scent but briefly, then wither and smell of cat pee. Watch­ing them peek out of their mossy grave, wit­ness­ing their diminu­tive flow­ers emerge from their slen­der green stems, then swoon­ing with each whiff of their heady per­fume, it’s like the hap­pi­est bless­ing of all: a re­minder that, de­spite the news of the world, some things still work.

It’s this lit­tle patch of eu­pho­ria, the white hope that graces the win­try sills as one year closes and a new one be­gins, that al­ways re­minds me of the poem by Mary Oliver that ends: ‘Tell me, what is it you plan to do/ with your one wild and pre­cious life?’

My plans for 2019 are mod­est. I’ll try to sleep more. No news af­ter 10pm, be­cause lis­ten­ing to the World Ser­vice in the dark is like sleep­ing with one eye open. I’m con­sign­ing all tow­els that have my hus­band’s name tags from his school­days to the dog pile in the boot room and buy­ing lux­u­ri­ous new ones. I’ll use the good china and sil­ver ev­ery day and put it in the dish­washer be­cause my beloved heirs do not wash by hand.

This is the year of less ra­dio, more CDS: Nina Si­mone, Keith Jar­rett and Bach. I’m stick­ing with Michael Berke­ley’s Pri­vate Pas­sions on Ra­dio 3, but de­fect­ing from Desert Is­land Discs. Ditto The Archers, which has be­come even gloomier than Woman’s Hour. Enough is enough.

I’ll book in ad­vance the show­ings of live per­for­mances at the lit­tle Abbey­gate cin­ema in Bury St Ed­munds. It is pure hap­pi­ness for us coun­try folk. I’ll write my Christ­mas cards be­fore Epiphany (I hope) and take my boxes of Tam­i­flu to the surgery for dis­posal, leav­ing be­fore the phar­ma­cist looks in­side the pa­per sack.

The prophets of doom have bet­ter gram­mar and sound far more se­ri­ous The bridal nar­cis­sus pa­per­whites re­mind us that, de­spite the news of the world, some things still work

One more thing. The late Anne Wright was my first sub-edi­tor at COUN­TRY LIFE. Warm and fas­tid­i­ous, Anne was also wise. In his eu­logy, Michael Hall de­scribed an ed­i­to­rial meet­ing at which a mem­ber of staff brought up the need for the mag­a­zine to ap­peal to younger read­ers. ‘Why should we do that?’ asked Anne. ‘Older read­ers are so much more in­ter­est­ing.’

Much hap­pi­ness de­pends on the Anne Wright Prin­ci­ple. In her hon­our, this is the year that I’ll get around to writ­ing to the Na­tional Trust, Ra­dio 4, Tate Bri­tain, the Bbc—the list goes on—and wage a pri­vate war against the creep­ing in­fan­til­i­sa­tion of our cul­tural uni­verse.

I’m not say­ing that the apoc­a­lypse isn’t around the cor­ner. I’m not even say­ing that I won’t be tempted to stash an­tibi­otics, al­though I be­lieve that noth­ing en­hances our im­mu­nity like dif­fi­cult, or­di­nary hap­pi­ness. But hap­pi­ness re­quires tend­ing; even pa­per­whites need stak­ing with twigs and twine to stay up­right. We only have one wild and pre­cious life. We should strive to make it happy.

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