Tag Archives: Autumn

The end of the year

Back in Manchester, the year ended on December 31st – with a bang, not a whimper. Fireworks, drinks, celebrations, clocks striking midnight. And that’s that. It’s over. New year starts. Resolutions are made. Nothing much changes. It might snow. It might blow a gale. There might be gallons of rain. But October looks like November which looks like December and January and February.

It gets darker, sure. The clocks go back and evening sets in earlier. But cities are good at creating an artificial sense of time. In Japan, the emperors cut down the cherry trees so their blossoming did not remind them of the passing of the seasons. Really, they should just have moved to the city. Thermostats and central heating and all-year-round tomatoes and oranges mean that it gets a little difficult to feel the seasons.

Here, it was warm yesterday afternoon. It’s been dry and the grass has finally given up. Apparently rain is due next Friday, but I’m not holding my breath. But in the morning, there’s a definite nip in the air. My bedroom temperature this morning finally dropped under 16 degrees. I’ve remembered a lot about how houses used to be cold.

My brother and I used to sit around this strange hot-air-blowing-vent-thing in our house of a morning. We ate our cereal sitting cross-legged by the hot air. Double glazing hadn’t been invented yet and my mum was frugal. It taught me valuable lessons that I think our children won’t know – what it means to have to put on another layer – why you need to wear pyjamas to bed – the glory of a hot water bottle – why double glazing was the best invention ever. That was the expansive 80s – yet when I talk about it, it seems as far away as toasting bread on an open fire, kippers for breakfast and Queen Victoria’s mourning.

In reality, the year goes out with a whimper, not a bang – like a balloon slowly deflating rather than popping. Each day gets a little shorter. Each morning gets a little later. Each day is a little colder. By this time last year, we’d had our first frosts. It’s been a little too warm for that yet, even though it’s the middle of October.

The poplars are now bare; the vine leaves are changing colour slowly. The plum trees in the garden are turning. I spent yesterday raking leaves to make for leaf mulch. I might have been sweating, but the world knows something I’ve not registered properly yet: it’s the end of the year.

We’ve not had a fire yet – though I suspect the day isn’t far off when I beg Steve to make one (man’s job. “I am man. I make fire.” says Steve. “I am woman. I do everything else.” say I.) and last night, I dug out my pyjama bottoms and a long-sleeved top. I’ve already put the blankets back on the bed.

Last year, we had oil for the central heating, but going through €50 of oil a week isn’t my idea of sense, so this year, we’re oil-free. Not only that, but our mighty burner has not got a thermostat, so it’s impossible to regulate. It’s off when you need it on. It takes hours to warm up. We have to go outside to switch it on. I might be regretting it later, but the thought of spending €1000 on keeping the house warm is enough to put off those regrets. Steve’s chopped wood (okay, so he does two jobs) and I might splash out on some electric blankets – maybe. The bed feels damp when it’s cold, and sometimes, March feels a very long way away when it’s 10 degrees in my bedroom.

Right now, the mornings are cool. I’ve shut my shutters and they’ll stay that way til March. I’ve a hole in my window frame that I’m going to plug up with mastic. I think a new window is in order next year. Maybe a double glazed one. How utterly luxurious!

The problem is that the day heats the lean-to and thus the house, which means that in the afternoon, the house is roasting. So if you light a fire in the morning, you let it go out in the afternoon because it’s warm and then spend all the afternoon in a warm haze with the doors open, wasting all the residual heat from the fire.

I love autumn as it finally gives way to winter. I love frost on berries and edging leaves. I love the crisp crunch of leaves underfoot, and the crisp grass (not that we’ll have much left by the end of the year!) I love hats and scarves and gloves and knitting. I love jumpers and coats. I love cold blue skies and pink cheeks. I love the low sun and the warm afternoons and I love having blankets on my bed. I love pyjamas and hot chocolate and hot water bottles. I’m glad the countryside year fades rather than pops. I love this rest time and the time to contemplate next year’s growth, planning out what I’ll do and where. I love these long, dark evenings and the time to rest. The world slows down. There’s less to do. I’m now only doing two hours in the garden each day, not three. It’s nature’s way of giving me a rest after the heat and hectic pace of summer. I like to think that the natural order of things is how it should be.

Now the only thing that could improve it would be to have a great Galway pub down the road, one with a roaring fire, a sad-eyed guy playing a guitar and all my friends and family in there. Winter evenings are meant for company. We tend to our roots.

Welcome to Autumn

Autumn has been long in the coming. The first leaves started falling in mid-July. You don’t notice how early Autumn starts when you live in the city. It’s definitely the season of harvesting.

French people are all ready for Autumn. I saw my first scarf-wearer in the supermarket in the tail-end of August when it was still 27 ° out there. Their logs are all collected and chopped, and I smelled my first wood fire in the air the other evening. Hopefully, they were just testing. Our fire hasn’t been lit since March and I don’t want to light it until September is out. We’ll see, though.

The preparations are underfoot to get all the grapes in (I’m making juice concentrate to freeze this year… a lot of effort went into the wine harvest last year, and to be honest, whilst the wine was potent, it tasted like anti-freeze) and to prepare the garden for Winter. You might laugh. It’s only just September and it was 25 ° yesterday. Steve chainsawed the big beech hedge. I pruned the little bits. The hedges in the garden are now done, the soil has been dug over once – though I’ll do it again and then rotavate it before Winter really gets here. Pots are being emptied, the compost heap is at full capacity and I’m thinking about bonfires. Any wood we prune goes to kindling.

I battled yesterday with the bittersweet nightshade that seems to have sprung up from nowhere in a patch I cleared in April. It’s not quite as toxic as deadly nightshade but it can still give you a good dose of poisoning and is toxic to many animals. If Steve goes missing, you know how I killed him. What amazed me was that the chickens – ever interested in whatever is being dug up – were pecking around, missing the berries and finding the insects. Even they know. I worried about them getting paralysed or hallucinating (not sure how one would know that a chicken was hallucinating though!) but they seem fine and are all present and correct this morning. The Cicely M. Barker Flower Fairies illustration for deadly nightshade was always one of my favourites – he was a Middle Eastern boy with a purple and gold turban – and I think it’s always been instantly recognisable to me because of that drawing.

After I’d reduced the size of the patch quite considerably, I decided it was about time I cycled somewhere. I’ve been so busy it has escaped me. It was early evening by the time I set off and I did a 20km circuit in the most pleasant of circumstances (except the for the bit where I cycled into a cloud of insect and I accidentally ingested some). It was warm and the cornfields smelled like breakfast cereal. The best time for everything smelling like breakfast is in May, when all the wheat and corn are ripe. It’s amazing. It smells like warm cereal – none of the yeasty smell of bread – but it’s gorgeous. There are a couple of innocuous, tiny peach trees about a kilometre from here which I could smell from a good 100 metres away. In fact, I could smell the peaches before I even knew the trees were there. In many other places, the smell of fermenting fruit left to rot is boozy and thick in the air. Pears are the strongest. Then in other places, there’s a grapey, clean smell – hard to explain, but I know precisely which type of grape it is. We have some that smell like that too. And late cow parsley adds to the scented melange.

I cycled past hedgerows almost devoid of blackberries, and some still with fat, huge blackberries waiting for someone to come along and harvest them. The sweet chestnuts are starting to fall, and their lime-green armour litters the floor. Walnuts are everywhere.

As I cycled back, the sun had sunk on the horizon and the sky was all shades – dark blue, indigo, lavender, lilac, soft pink, muted oranges. The moon was up already, ghostly and ephemeral, but it was still warm and the last downhill stretch coming home was delicious.

I guess that’s what I’m living for these days. How I love Autumn.