Emma Samms: The Aga bites back

Emma Samms

Emma Samms - Credit: Archant

Hollywood star and Cotswold girl Emma Samms is our newest columnist. She explains some of the differences between life in LA and life in rural England - and how her slavish devotion to the cult of the Aga has left her battle-scarred.

Emma Samms

Emma Samms - Credit: Archant

I’ve been lucky enough to live in the Cotswolds for 19 years now, but whilst many locals would still describe me as a ‘Newbie’, I’d like to think that I’ve reached the apex of balancing the star-struck eyes of a tourist with a more realistic understanding of life in the countryside. I adore that my house is surrounded by fields and cows but wouldn’t dream of complaining of the stench and accompanying flies at muck-spreading time. Really, I wouldn’t. No, really. You don’t believe me, do you?

And I’m well aware that the stunning, Twitter-fodder fields of oil seed rape will make me splutter and sneeze for days, but just to look at the brilliant patchwork of fields, I think it’s worth it. And the countryside that stays green and lush all year round? There’s no downside to that. I revel in it daily.

I should explain that I moved here directly from Los Angeles, which, other than having a slightly similar language, couldn’t be more different. There, if you see a patch of green grass, it will be that colour because it has either been relentlessly and artificially irrigated, or, like a lot of golf courses, it will have been painted green.

So in order to provide a more sensible, balanced environment in which to raise my kids, (there was more to it than painted grass, but I’ll get into that another time) I moved here to the Cotswolds. And I did it properly. I found myself a 300-year-old house which according to my American friends looks “adorable” but which quaintly has no double glazing or, in fact, any ability to retain warmth.

The 50-year-old Aga in my kitchen is my salvation. As the cold winds blow outside (and inside) my house, I sit closer and closer to my Aga. I have been known, in extremis, to open the door of the bottom oven and insert various body parts briefly and carefully inside. I would not recommend this, however, as we all know that the Aga bites back, The scars up and down the insides of my arms, which in Los Angeles would be deemed evidence of self-harming, here are merely brands of a slavish devotion to the cult of the Aga.

I could move to a modern, comfortable, warm house, of course. I’m aware that the Cotswolds do offer such things, but despite occasionally having to wear five layers of clothing, gloves and a scarf whilst inside my house, I am not tempted. A friend of mine recently sold her beautiful Victorian, impossible-to-heat house and moved into a warm new build. I was outraged.

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With the zealous enthusiasm of the newly converted and with 13 years of living in another country to afford me the inevitable comparisons, I gush. I gush about the NHS, because despite its waiting lists and crowded Casualty departments, I’ve met too many American families who’ve suffered from the diagnosis of a terminal illness and the financial bankruptcy that so often follows suit. And children who suffer from asthma who don’t carry an inhaler with them, because their parents can’t afford one. So every time I pop in to see my gorgeous GP, or take my kids to the local casualty department, when the first question they ask you is not “Do you have insurance?” I gush.

I’m also a fan of the weather here. Surprisingly, I’ll give you that, after all the moaning about being cold, but believe it or not, the constant Californian sunshine gets a bit old after a while. It’s hard to appreciate something when it’s handed to you on a plate day in, day out and without any discernable seasons, the passage of time is a bit of a blur. Of course Christmas is just plain silly when it’s sunbathing weather outside. I’ve known Los Angelenos to crank up the air-conditioning to accommodate a festive log fire in their living rooms.

Another virtue of the constantly changing and frankly damp British weather is that along with irrigating our crops and gardens and usually providing an appropriately Christmassy Christmas, it serves another very useful purpose: It’s the perfect opener for just about any conversation. Imagine how tricky we British would find any queue, any waiting room, any appointment without that old stalwart of “Phew, wet isn’t it?” or “Lovely day, isn’t it?”. I fear our social interactions would be stressed to breaking point without the weather and its unpredictable nature to fall back on.

I hope I always retain my outsider’s grateful-to-the-point-of-gushing perspective. But at the same time I shall work very hard to convince you all that I don’t complain about muck-spreading and eventually, if I’m very lucky, lose the title of ‘Newbie’.


This article by Emma Samms is from the April 2015 issue of Cotswold Life.

For more from Emma, follow her on Twitter.