DJ Taylor: Graham Sanderson and his wife have one singular skill ... the ability to kill time


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With his leather jerkin, carroty curls – plus dreadlocked orange extensions – and substantial paunch, Graham Sanderson makes a conspicuous figure when seen out walking in the North Staffordshire hills or goading his battered Range Rover along one of the twisty inclines between Macclesfield and Buxton.

But the Sandersons have been here 30 years now, and the locals have grown tolerant. No one calls him "t' fat chap" or "him from London" any more; activists entreat him to sign petitions against wind farms and housing developments, and Mrs Sanderson – Carol – was recently elected secretary of the Leek Women's Institute.

The Sandersons came from London to North Staffordshire on a whim, when Graham's aunt died and left him half a row of terraced houses in Highgate; the interest on the capital sum realised by their sale has kept them going since Mrs Thatcher took on the miners. Before that, Graham worked in advertising, and not the least incongruity of the Sandersons' spacious five-bedroomed house, almost lost in a surrounding forest of Scots pines, is the number of photographs which close inspection reveals to have been taken on the set of early 1980s TV commercials.

A casual observer might wonder what the Sandersons do with their considerable leisure here in a world where the winter twilight settles in at four and local amenities are scarce. Three decades ago there was talk of "living the simple life", but Graham needed the Range Rover to take the children to school, and the septic tank that did service for sanitation when they arrived soon gave way to mains drainage. There was also talk of the novel Graham was going to write, one or two of whose creased fragments can still be found here and there in corners of the study.

In their late sixties now, and starting to show it, Graham and his wife have one singular skill: the ability to kill time. A shopping excursion to a Derbyshire market-town takes them a morning. The prospect of visiting friends guarantees a week-long planning frenzy.

If there is a drawback to this quiet, if rather desultory, existence, it is the slight estrangement from the children, for the junior Sandersons deeply resented being cut adrift from London and express their continuing displeasure by visiting as infrequently as possible. On the other hand, as Graham continues to assure himself, the views from Mam Tor are truly spectacular.