We have arrived at the most demanding part of the year, late January through February. The dinginess out there is so ingrained it’s like you’re looking at England through a dirty window. In point of fact I am looking through a dirty window. I need a better window cleaner. But the weather is so depressing I can’t summon the energy to get one. It’s always like this around this time of year. The winter has been going on so long I can’t remember it ever having been summer, nor is there any prospect of spring. Yes, there are freak buds on the lilac tree. But I think we’ve seen this too often to be taken in by it. Buds come out for months before anything of consequence happens. There’s all of February and most of March before the trees get leaves. Spring is still going on in the middle of May, for goodness sake, when the year’s almost half over. Yes, if June 1 is the first day of summer, you realise there are only three weeks to go before the days start getting shorter. My coping strategy is to search the Internet for houses in France. It’s not just the benign environment of France, nor just the attractive and personable French that make this dream so comforting. No, it’s the price. Country houses there are a tenth of the price of houses in England. The French just don’t like living in big country houses. France is twice the size of England, with the same sort of population size. They’ve also got vastly more houses for sale out there in la France profonde.
Here’s a chateau in Brittany, close to its wild south-west coast. Fifty acres, fairy-tale towers, several barns, cottages, and pigsties thrown in And a lake, of course. You need a lake. How much? If you had a Victorian semi in Central North Oxford (we’re not talking Summertown, obviously), you could have two of them. It would be impossible to buy such a place for under £3 million ($4.2 million) within a hundred miles of London. Having said that, Brittany is not of a latitude to heal your seasonal depression. For the shirt sleeves in the middle of the day, for the lunchtime suntan weather, you have to go further south, and you get price spikes round the south. The Dordogne has been overdone. Provence is out of the question. But there are places in the Languedoc that are still undeveloped by real estate agents, places that have these eye-watering opportunities of 18th-century houses with woodlands and wild boar; a fast stream with rock pools and swimming holes; all under those indescribable skies. It’s what we all want, and with a bit of help from English holiday makers renting in the summer, most of us could afford. So why don’t we do it? Come to that, why don’t we all go to New York for the weekend, on a £99 ($140) return flight? Travel no longer costs anything, so why don’t we just leave? The answer is not to be found in the fact of our children or jobs. It’s just January, and nothing is possible. It’s too hard cleaning the windows, let alone buying a mansion in France.