Serendipity: the recipe for happiness

Happiness has simple ingredients – good food, a bit of luck and, apparently, lots of rosy sex

I’m living in a Victorian house of ill repute. Well-buttoned whaleboned Victorian energies were channelled into breeding some very sexy roses – wanton voluptuous fragrant old roses, that lean unbuttoned and bawdy on walls, tumble into hedges, and grope at passers by.

The roses have staid names: Mrs L D Braithwaite, Brother Cadfael. If I was Mrs Braithwaite’s husband, I would have been quite worried about what association of ideas could have prompted this honour for my wife. Maybe Mr Braithwaite bred roses; maybe he wasn’t a cuckold.

I thought that my garden would have a “harvest” this year. I imagined boxes stuffed with produce, spilling like cornucopia over the kitchen bench. On the cusp of summer, “gleaning is more like it: to obtain information in small amounts over a period of time,” “to go over a field or area that has just been harvested and gather by hand any usable parts. Sweetheart-shaped blood-crimson strawberries. Curly baby lettuces. A couple of handfuls of peas. A boysenberry.

I planted beans, corn and pumpkins, peppers and tomatoes. They’re sitting, thinking, muddled by the stupid weather. My neighbour down the road says winter is coming early and there will be frosts in March; when I was out the other day, he replenished my firewood.

That doesn’t bode well but, lugging horse shitty bags to cheer up the tomatoes, stepping in chooky ordure, it’s good to remember the poetry – how the plum trees always blossom in the first week of August, and old roses are lascivious in the last week of November. Asparagus’ yummiest friends are its September fellows: eggs and lemons, the asparagus sauced with hollandaise, with a dessert of lemon curd perhaps. And so on it goes, throughout the year: bucolic metre and rhyme.

As the berries ripen, milk gets its fresh summer icecream-making flavour. Braised lamb and spring vegetable recipes use green beans and peas, not asparagus – by new potato time, asparagus is a tangle of fern. Peas are ready when mint is lush; tomatoes and sweet basil grow together. Autumn is for pig killing and apple picking, roast pork and apple sauce, cream of pumpkin soup.

This is what it is, to be both cook and gardener.

In autumn, I spent a happy day raking ankle-deep leaves into woolsacks, crunching foraged wild apples. Last weekend, not quite accidentally, I managed the same trick again. I found old roadside pines clinging to crumbly cliffs, generous gutters beneath. I wandered along in the gutters, summer breathing on my neck, filling sacks with grand-daddy pinecones, and filling the car with my sacks.

I baffled for a while with the economy and ethics of buying kindling from the local sawmill, versus a petrol-powered trip for pinecones. But whatever. I was happy. As the hills faded behind rain curtains, and rain drummed on the roof, I thought of buying a sturdy basket and filling it with my cones. I stacked logs on the porch, and brought the best ones inside. The house smelled like Christmas.

It was a jigsaw puzzle piece; another snippet of a House and Garden picture in which rustic simplicity and function meet comfort.

The sun circles all day in summer, and light filters through leafy shade. It is very quiet. There’s vintage fabric, a ticking clock, books and papers, beeswax candles; in the bedroom, a ewer and basin; in the kitchen, a working kitchen, pots and utensils within arm’s reach; in the garden, tomorrow’s dinner. Tonight’s dinner is served on Paul Melser’s local pottery bowls. How do you do? Very nicely, thank you.