Editor: Dear Vardhan, please tell us where you’d like to go this year.
Me: Easy. On an island, far away from humanity. But with invisible servants to do all the actual work.
Editor: I see. Would you like fries with that?
Me: Certainly. A selection please, from golden-crisp to those slightly soggy, thick-cut, comforting ones. Don’t forget the invisible servants.
Editor: Nice try, Calypso, but be more original.
Me: (Channelling my inner 14-year-old girl and rolling my eyes) Fine. Northern England, then.
Editor: Of all the… of all the damn world open to you, from Antarctica to jumping into volcanoes, you choose… Northern England?
Me: Put down that knife, please. Let me explain.
For reasons best kept secret, I once wanted to be a veterinarian. Hey, you get to be around animals, you get to cure them and drown in grateful drool, and you can bill the humans—who wouldn’t like it? My decision raised the usual amount of alarm, and to help me figure out what a vet’s life would really be like, I was given the books of James Herriot, who wrote about being a country vet in 1930s and 1940s Yorkshire. And somewhere in between descriptions of him having his arm up a cow’s backside and getting chased by murderous pigs, he talked about his commute across the Yorkshire Dales, and I fell in love.
This sounded utterly beautiful. Early morning drives into frosty valleys, walks across sunny hillsides with no one else in sight, pub talk with gruff farmers over freshly made ales and pork pies. Fresh air. The lovely little castle at Richmond and the prettiness of Harrogate. Waterfalls and country lanes, and no city offices. Hares in the springtime, stags standing in foggy woods in the autumn, lit up by slanting shafts of sunlight. Castle Bolton and Wensleydale cheese. Lonely little B&Bs meant for people who only want to walk around, returning at regular intervals for a pint. Chuntering around market towns dating back to the Middle Ages, driving up to York to see that spectacular cathedral, going to a cold but rather lovely seaside at Scarborough and trying to get that earworm out of your head. It sounded bucolic, charming and utterly peaceful.
Sure, it wasn’t all honey cakes. Winters sounded extremely bleak, with cows doling out ice cream and ancient-looking farmers nodding at gale-like winds and going, “Aye, it blows a bit thin this morning.” If you were a vet, you could count on never being able to pry your money out of the Yorkshireman’s famously tight fists, and they did things to peas that should not happen to innocent vegetables. And well, to some extent, you were in the north of England, instead of on a blindingly white beach in Tahiti.
But still, it drew me. I eventually dispensed with the idea of being a vet, realising I could not be responsible for someone’s dog, and so the Herriot books stayed on the shelves. However, I was learning a bit more about this strange corner of the world: from Top Gear, I learnt about the wonderfully named Buttertubs Pass, one of the greatest driving roads you could find. From Bill Bryson, I learned about Durham, a little city with a terrific cathedral.
And finally, there was the Lake District, miles and miles of ‘Waters’, ‘Fells’ and ‘Pikes’, great country to look around even if all you could manage was a few wheezy steps around your car (and after all those pork pies, who could blame you?). If you could avoid the Beatrix Potter tourism industry at least, it looked magical. It meant something, I decided, that so many places I liked were in such a relatively small area. It was, I knew, a sign. Could I go live there? Well, just possibly the world of James Herriot had been replaced by a 21st-century one, but heck, at least I could get myself a convertible, put on a thousand sweaters and go take a good look around.
This, then, is my plan for the summer: while the rest of you are on a beach in Thailand, getting massages, or in Antarctica, pestering the penguins, or in better-known parts of Europe, sitting in sidewalk cafés, I shall be, like the pioneer I am, sitting eating mushy peas and drinking warm beer on a windswept hillside, watching my nose turn blue. Even as I write it, it sounds a little odd, I agree, but hey, why not? At least I’ll have a story to tell.