I know I’m usually quite the grouch, going on about how much I hate everything and how I don’t understand anything, but I love autumn in England. It’s not something I look forward to; I’m usually too busy treading water to look where I am being dragged to. But when it lands, when that nip of crisp air tugs at my nostrils, I feel a true spring in my step; a real joy for the now and the hence.
The crisp air; the piles and piles of leaves on the ground; the fact that it gets dark earlier, which I know depresses so very many people; the fact that I can wear a fleece as a top layer again, or that I can wear a coat without boiling to death. The lights seem warmer, and the night is filled with glow. Being cocooned indoors is such a hyggeligt joy; stepping out in to the cold air clears the mind.
I know what is to come, too: Autumnal food, autumnal drink; rich stews and sloe gin; hearty soups and mulled wine; Brussels sprouts, beetroot, parsnips and flagon after flagon of rich, buttery cider. I love the sudden crash of darkness after the clocks go back, and the lights which begin to punctuate the evening air. Fireworks and things which flash in the night, entertaining child and adult alike.
And then winter comes, and spoils it all, as it was always destined to. It is unavoidable; it spreads across the land like a malaise. The naysayers tell us that it is only temporary, that there is more fun to come. The joy of the nip in the air has been replaced by a chill to the bone which never leaves.
Is it winter, or is it that autumn has dragged on too bloody long? Is it that the once crisp and joyous leaves have gone soggy, and collected in the gutter? Is it that I’m sick of the cold and the wind and the rain? Is it that I am sick of having to wear a coat all of the time? That my fleece is hiding the cool t-shirt I have on. Does the fact that there are now only three hours of certified daylight bother me?
I have a name for the sensation: Novemberish. I could probably do better, but I’m too busy tucking my thermal trousers in to my socks, for added protection from the air. Deep down I know that the sensation has not changed; it is me that has changed; it is my perception. Rather than acclimatise to the darkening chill, I have succumbed to its gloom; I think it is innate in humanity to cower from the darkness which winter forces upon us. That is, I think, why we have imbued Autumn with giddiness.
Hallowe’en can fuck right off, however. Today, zombies ran at my four year old, while she was on a Hallowe’en train: she cannot currently sleep, and her grandmother is hiding behind a large glass of wine: a talisman to ward off the evil spirits. Although she did the same the previous night and there had been no chasing by the undead then. So much use her talisman is. I won’t tell her if you don’t.
I do not understand it anymore. My understanding of Hallowe’en has always been that it was a celebration of all things scary. How is dressing up like Sheldon and Amy from The Big Bang Theory scary? How is dressing up like Superman scary? Why on earth would you dress up like a pod of peas for Hallowe’en? I don’t understand the way Hallowe’en has gone, and I’m pretty sure I’m not alone.
My childhood memories of Hallowe’en are of school discos, bobbing for apples, and being reassured by my mother that they weren’t really eyeballs in slime. I remember watching great TV about awful witches, and I remember hiding from trick or treaters. Now, all I see is people being excited in ways I do not find familiar: I have never seen candy corn, let alone eaten it; I do not enjoy parties. At all.
Yet, still, I absolutely love Autumn in England. I say in England, because I know it is very different elsewhere. I couldn’t deal with the heat of an Australian Autumn, for instance. In England the season is wrapped up in the rituals and the events to come – yes, including Hallowe’en. Next on the list is Guy Fawkes’ Night, or Bonfire Night, whichever you prefer: Thousands of tonnes of gunpowder are blown up to celebrate a much smaller quantity of gunpowder which did not blow up. Either way, it is a way for the community to come together and stand like penguins, looking up at passing planes.
Autumn feeds me in a way that Spring and Summer never have. There is a quality to the light – it is diagonal – that I find very pleasing. Spring and Summer light are perpendicular: winter light is so low in the sky as to be parallel to the ground we inhabit. In Autumn it is perfectly possible to have a cold, beautifully crisp day and still have a sky clear of clouds: in Winter it will be raining; in Summer it was offensively hot. Autumn nights are welcoming in a way that Winter nights never could be: their nip is gentle. The smell of cold air, deep in to an Autumn night is truly unique: if I could bottle it, I would.
The love of Autumn is a pleasure taken in the simple things of life; an understanding that joy need not be derived only from the big hits of the heatwave or the thrill of sliding down a snowy bank. A hot cup of coffee in a hot coffee cup is like nectar for the soul. The blueness of the late afternoon gloom, watching the night wake up and the day go to rest: that is the epitome of Autumn to me.
To me it feels like Spring and Summer are the seasons where humanity goes off in search of its fortune, in the fields, at the coasts. Autumn is when the flock returns: the gathering commences, and its momentum carries us on through to Winter, to the culmination. Autumn is a convergence.
Point of Order: Fall, some people say. I had always assumed that it was an American invention. No stigma attached; American words to describe American concepts seems perfectly valid to me. Then I found out that I was wrong, and that my assumption had been derogatory. Fall is old; older than the country I had assumed that it had originated from. Its origins are slightly opaque, but it tends to be assumed that it refers either to the fall of the leaves or to the fall (end) of the year. Mea culpa.