Today’s the day the world recognises the onset of autumn via the arrival of the September Equinox; at one (brief) time it also marked the start of the French Revolutionary Calendar, though that hasn’t had any relevance for over 200 years. Most of us here tend to associate the end of summer with the changing of the clocks, even if we don’t return to Greenwich Mean Time until the end of October. By then, the ‘Indian Summer’ we often enjoy at the beginning of September (and we’ve certainly experienced with record temperatures this September) is being slowly ushered away by the chilly autumnal breezes that scatter the leaves and necessitate the hibernation of the summer wardrobe.
The changing of the seasons as we approach the back-end of the year is usually greeted in Britain by ‘senior citizens’ with resigned shakes of the head and accompanying pessimistic observations uttered in a dismal, Eeyore-like tone, as though the transformation from one season to another was a newfangled innovation like decimalisation. ‘Ooh, it’s getting darker on a night now’ or ‘Ooh, I had to put the central heating on, it was so cold last night’ or the classic ‘Ooh, it’ll soon be Christmas.’ But this is always a curious juncture of the year, when the football season is well underway yet the cricket season is still active, if drawing to its conclusion; and because the clocks have yet to be put forward an hour it still has the feel of summer.
Admittedly, it does often seem as though the last three months before ‘Christmas Month’ are ones the country yearns to speed through, as if everything the year has to offer is already over and done with. In many respects, the great events that mark the calendar year generally tend to take place before September, so it’s no wonder that is the impression given. With the possible exception of February, October and November are the most overlooked of months and ones it feels like everybody views as unnecessary inconveniences they just want to get out-of-the-way. The retail sector certainly does its utmost to bypass them; bar the brief interlude of the newly-Americanised institution of Halloween, Christmas is shoved down the shopper’s throat from almost the very moment August has evaporated. We have to be constantly reminded how we’re inexorably careering towards December 25, though I can’t quite fathom why anyone over the age of ten would give a toss.
Perhaps the problem when one has lived long enough is that certain times of the year inevitably retain the associations they had when we were children; and yet they are utterly illusory now. Whenever we reach autumn, I find it hard not to anticipate its arrival as it was back then, even if virtually all of those archaic associations are long gone and redundant in 2016. Belated realisations that the pleasures derived from what once constituted autumn are pleasures I can no longer access possibly generates the aforementioned Eeyore response in those who experience a similar disheartening sensation. Autumn therefore becomes little more than an ominous prelude to the bleak winter of astronomical fuel bills and freezing water pipes – hardly something to celebrate.
There are somewhat negative connotations within cultural corners too – ‘the autumn of my years’ being a term signifying the beginning of life’s slow descent into reflection, regret, senility and death. Frank Sinatra sang of himself as being at that stage of his life in his finest late recording, ‘It Was a Very Good Year’, yet he lived for another thirty years after committing it to vinyl. Few would want to volunteer for the dubious accolade of being in ‘the autumn of my years’, however; it suggests surrender, raising a white flag rather than raging against the dying of the light, a mournful, terminal train ride towards a destination with a longer stretch of track behind it than in front of it. What a depressing thought.
Jeremy Paxman’s recent spat with the OAP population of this country was portrayed as the deliberately offensive Clarkson-esque rant of a man in denial of his own advancing years, though I understood to a degree where he was coming from. As with every age group from teenagers onwards there is an assumption that ‘we all want the same thing’ and that we will adhere to the portrait of us painted by the advertising industry, which not only simplifies everything to the lowest common denominator cliché, but assumes that everybody belongs to an easily identifiable demographic. Passing 60 being summed up by images of stairlifts, walk-in baths, Werther’s Originals, slippers, cardigans and chunky sweaters is indeed appalling and unappealing. That to me was what Paxman’s rant was about, the apathetic acceptance of someone else’s ideal of maturity rather than having a go at oldies in general. With life expectancy longer than it has been in living memory, falling back on those outdated images and implying the last (potentially) thirty years of life will look just like that is enough to provoke a rush of flights to Switzerland.
Overseas autumn holidays are now quite commonplace, with October in the sun viewed as a preferable alternative to October at home. Yet, October in the sun is much the same as April in the sun or August in the sun; it’s the bloody sun. A country with a climate that doesn’t alter from one season to the next, certainly not in the dramatic manner with which it does here, just wouldn’t feel right or as rewarding to me. The bliss of one is a reward for the hardship of another. It’s almost as though the welcome gift of spring, for example, is earned as opposed to given. But maybe that’s simply due to us being on an island and we enjoy/endure the island climate.
It’s all-too easy to dwell on the downside of autumn and what it represents in purely climactic terms; and yet, I spy with my aesthetic eye the most visually rich of seasons when autumn transforms the landscape. The bruised fruit ochre shades of marmalade make a walk in the park an atmospheric excursion through the shifting carpet laid by the wind from the dry-roasted crispy cast-offs of the trees. Nature can always have the power to marvel if we raise our heads above the parapet of concerns imposed by man and machine.
© The Editor