Clare Mackintosh: Living in an Aga saga
- Credit: Bruno Mameli
In my favourite books, the warming oven would be permanently occupied by sickly lambs or labrador pups (or both)
I have always dreamed of having an Aga. Long before I reached an age where interior magazines and Cotswold Life subscriptions could have planted the idea in my head, I pined for a kitchen built around one of these classic beasts. Agas featured heavily in my favourite books — almost exclusively about ponies, or boarding schools (or both) — where the warming oven would be permanently occupied by sickly lambs or labrador pups (or both).
My fictional counterparts would wake early for pony club camp to find their jodhpurs warming on the rail; mine would be crumpled at the bottom of my laundry basket where I left them. By this stage the Aga had acquired such magical properties that I was able to gloss over my own contribution to such laundry fails, and instead point the finger towards my family’s shortsightedness in installing a modern kitchen. On visits to my friend Caroline, I would lean casually on her parents’ Aga, feeling the warmth through my school uniform and imagining curling up in an armchair next to it to do my homework. It would surely improve my concentration; my creativity; my ability to do long division…
As I grew up, my obsession waned to a more manageable level. I managed not to blame my lack of Aga for love, laundry or career fails, and when the time came for my husband and I to buy our first home, I realised swiftly that — in the Cotswolds, at least — the sort of house that came with an Aga was not the sort of house in budget for two public sector workers with a minimal deposit.
We bought a house. We bought another, two years later. Moved again, a few years after that. Still no Aga. I had put it behind me, just as I had put to one side other childhood obsessions such as My Little Pony, Top of the Pops, and a refusal to go anywhere without my own pillow (still a work in progress, that one). It wasn’t until I had children that my love for Agas blossomed anew, sparked by the sight of babygros drying on an airer suspended from the ceiling in the farmhouse kitchen of an NCT friend. Oh, if only I had an Aga! No more damp muslin cloths, draped over radiators. No more soggy bibs, waiting for the tumble dryer. I imagined the ease with which I could warm my baby’s bottle; defrost those tiny pots of pureed mush.
My idle online house-hunting expeditions began to acquire a new focus. I clicked swiftly away from any kitchen not sporting a cast iron cooker and cursed Rightmove for not offering a ‘Has An Aga’ filter option. Who cared about off-street parking, a fourth bedroom or semi-detached status? It was all about the Aga.
This focus was tempered slightly in the midst of last year’s Relocate to North Wales debacle (concluded last month — do catch up…), when simply finding a house (any house) became rather more important than what lay in the kitchen. As it happened, almost every property we viewed did indeed possess either an Aga or a Rayburn, and I began to get excited about the prospect of finally owning one of these classic British appliances. As we drew closer to moving into House Number Two, my mother bought me a beautiful cream Aga kettle. A week later, the purchase fell through. ‘Never mind!’ I said gamely, checking the instructions. ‘It’ll work on a gas cooker just as well.’ The kettle taunted me from the corner of our rented kitchen as we limped through the conveyancing process for House Number Three, but finally — finally! — the day came. The proud owner, not just of a house, but of an Aga. An Aga! I own an Aga! And oh my goodness, how I love it.
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The kettle was on within minutes, and (with a continual stream of renovation-related tradespeople) has been on ever since. My mug of tea is kept warm each morning, as I run up and down the stairs chivvying children into school uniform. Socks dry within minutes; a rack of laundry hangs overhead. I have become addicted to nightly hot chocolate, and gently warmed bread on a Saturday morning. I return from a swim in the lake and defrost by the Aga; sharing my space with the dog in her bed. It is everything I imagined it would be, and more. There’s just one thing: how the hell do I cook on it?
PS: Seriously, please email or tweet me your Aga tips. I invited friends for Sunday roast at 2pm last week. We ate at six.
I See You, published by Sphere is out now in paperback (and her third book is nearly finished - yippee!). For more information or more from Clare Mackintosh, visit her website or follow her on Twitter! @claremackint0sh