‘When a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight,’ said Dr Johnson, ‘it concentrates his mind wonderfully.’ We have longer than a fortnight, and the issue is not hanging. It is moving house. But it is wonderful how it concentrates our minds.
We have lived at Saling Hall for 42 years. The house and garden have that familiarity which is easy to identify, or perhaps confuse, with love. You notice the slightest change in the loved one’s features or demeanour and find, or try to find, an explanation. The return of honey fungus or a blocked drainpipe is easy to diagnose. But the whole person, the whole place, remains mysterious. Its dimensions are easy, its spirit is elusive. You cannot stand outside yourself.
So we are to move. Before Easter when the garden will be full of buds. Our first instinct is to list the plants and objects we simply must keep hold of by taking them with us. There’s a game for the long dark evenings ahead. Our second is to speculate about the garden: what will happen to it? How soon will our vision be overlaid with novelty, with neglect (unlikely in this case, I’m happy to say) or just by changing priorities?
We are incredibly lucky: our successors here are already friends, who know the house and asked if they might buy it. Our luck is even more incredible because this is the second time the same friendly arrangement has happened. When we sold our farm in the Bourbonnais eight years ago it was to the godson of a friend. Somehow continuity seems priceless. It was, of course, the rule in the centuries before estate agents existed. We may have no influence on what our successors do, but it is reassuring to think in terms of a baton being handed on.