When I was young, about 7 or 8, Sunday night was the most bittersweet time of the week, and the space in our living room behind the far sofa was my favourite place in the house. Against the wall on the right hand side was a writing bureau that Mum and Dad had bought at an antique shop (at least that was the story we were told, knowing my mother I suspect she picked it up at a charity shop for £1.75). The bureau locked with a little key that Dad kept, and it was an item of untold mystery to me. In reality, I’m pretty sure it contained nothing but my parents’ will, and was locked in order to prevent my sister or I accessing said will and scribbling each others’ name out, thus becoming sole beneficiary to my parents’ vast collection of old spoons and Ercol furniture.
The back wall was a huge window looking out onto our garden, and to the left of the window was a battered old brown leather chair that spun around and smelled of my Poppa. Every Sunday afternoon while Mum was cooking the roast (apparently I grew up in a Bisto advert), Dad would sit in this chair next to the hifi, listening to the top 40 on the radio and hitting REC every time a song came on that he liked. It was a serious personal challenge for him to hit REC at exactly the right spot to maximise the amount of the song recorded but minimise the DJ’s chat, and resulted in mix tapes with tunes of such calibre as Eternal Flame, Orinoco Flow, Land Down Under and Real Gone Kid. It was a weekly family ritual, and one of those stupid little memories that make my eyes burn with happiness.
While Dad was sat leaning forward with his finger hovering over the REC button, ready to pounce as soon as the DJ’s voice (Simon Mayo? The now-disgraced Dr Fox? Terry Wogan?) started to fade, I would sit on the floor next to him pressed against the radiator looking out into the garden. And my favourite time to do THIS, was Autumn (you might start to see where I’m going with this).
There is, and always has been, something about Autumn that is like a physical sensation for me. I’ve been reminded of it the last two days, waking up to mist covering everything, and the sharp smell of cold when you open the window. It’s the feeling of dread mixed with cosiness mixed with sadness that the wild freedom of summer is over mixed with excitement that Christmas is around the corner. It’s an incredibly childlike reaction of insecurity because it’s getting cold and dark, mingled with joy at all the memories of Halloween and Bonfire Night and fires and being bundled up and cuddled.
And it’s something else this year too. Due no doubt in part to my eternally-pessimistic husband, who insists on regularly pissing (not literally) all over my joy and wonder at the world. Walking along the river in Putney yesterday, me trilling on about beauty and splendor, he reminds me that Autumn is about death. Decay. Decomposition. The end of sunlight. As an aside, it’s really a miracle he hasn’t given up on life altogether, given how depressing he clearly finds it all.
But interestingly, this is what came back to me this morning, as I sat scratching away in my final notebook stolen from my last Proper Job. Autumn IS about death, decay, decomposition, and the relentless march of time. WHICH IS A GOOD THING. Because if old things don’t decay, new things can’t grow. Change and progress and new growth is going to happen anyway, inevitably, regardless of whether I desperately try and force it or desperately try and prevent it. So I’m going to just go with it, kicking the leaves and wrapping up warm. Join me.