It has officially turned ‘autumnal’. Instead of the benevolent month’s grace we usually get in September – that last blazing jig of summer – we’ve had a sudden unceremonious chilling. It’s been a bit rude to be honest. Like a host chucking us out straight after dessert and lobbing the brie down the road after us; EAT YOUR CHEESE ON THE KERB, YOU LOSERS; I’M GOING TO BED. Why, the other day I was non-ironically wearing leg-warmers, and not because I wanted to feel like I was enrolling in a Manhattan dance class with a perm – but because I have been cheated of my usual bravado. It’s ruddy cold! I don’t normally give into unnecessary woollens until at least December, and even then I only allow myself a hat perhaps twice (and then it’s only in January when Christmas has abandoned us and it all gets mega grim and a hat feels sort of jaunty). Woollens make me feel claustrophobic. I once had half a panic attack in a loose angora polo-neck, which was a mistake in the first place – us big-shouldered girls have to beware of thick-knits in case we look like rowers on steroids. I’m not sure what I’ll do when I’m old and need tea-cosies for my eyeballs. Perhaps there’ll be a relevant Paul McKenna book out by then to help me: I CAN MAKE YOU LESS AFRAID OF WEARING SEASONAL-APPROPRIATE GARMENTS. (Guilty confession alert – I used to have a dirty crush on Paul McKenna. Until he started looking like an international fraudster/clumsy dentist.)
So. It’s getting pretty cold. And being British we talk about it constantly. And we can’t quite stop ourselves, even though we know it makes us a little bit dull. It is probably the oldest conversation in the world “Getting a bit cold isn’t it?”, “Yes. It is rather ‘nippy’. In fact I could cut hieroglyphs with mine. BOOM.” I suppose weather is our primal means of time management. It’s nature’s calendar. We had it before sun-dials and cuckoo clocks. Before Romans divvied up the year like time accountants, or pagans named things after feasts which got out of hand, or Christians made us all revolve around a dead dude’s diary. “Day 89, 33 The Year of Me. In a cave somewhere. Bit achey. Wonder when Dad will let me out.”
Sometimes autumn makes people sad. There’s not many people who don’t say they get a little down at some point as the year draws to a close and it grows dim and grim outside. We’ve even been given another label to cling to: Seasonal Affective Disorder. The quasi-medical condition for wishing it was ‘nice again’, which always makes me feel a bit bad for wind and rain; going about their business (as equally important as the sun), and bearing the brunt of a discontent more naturally constant than we’d like to admit.
I felt it myself the other day. That clutch of vague panic in my throat as I heard the dry patter of leaves on the pavement behind me. I felt sad, because the season’s symbols remind me of sad things. My Dad died nine years ago today. I remember the day, not only because it was a pretty big day dead-dad-wise, but also because I discovered the cheat’s way of doing toad-in-the-hole (grilled sausages and Aunt Bessie’s Yorkshire puds – 10 minutes, job done. You’re welcome.)
It’s always been hard since then; the 8th of October is frozen in autumn like a fly in amber. I didn’t get to eat that toad-in-the-hole in the end. That’s pretty sad. No one likes a wasted sausage. But this year, I felt a new ‘old’ thing as I crunched through the leaves.
I remembered the feeling of breaking in new winter shoes for school; hopping through piles of golden brown leaves in stiff black leather boats, a size too big. When my calendar was still unmarked by life. I’ve not remembered that feeling for ages; the ‘going back to school’ excitement; the exhilarating rush of having a pencil case full to bursting with new things from WHSmith. I feel a bit…’happy’ it’s autumn – about the colourful decay, the burnt night smells, the tinkling bells of Christmas in the distance. It feels ‘nice again’. It’s taken nine years.
It feels right to move on. To not feel sad. Autumn shouldn’t drag me back in time, but take me forward. The leaves which whirl by and crumble underfoot are never the same leaves, the chill in our cheeks is never brought by the same cold shard of air. It all moves on. It’s just particles, dancing. Nature’s calendar tells us where we are, reminds us of where we’ve been – but more vitally, encourages us to move on. Soon there will be bright shiny new leaves; fresh days for us all.