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.