I went to bed in summer and woke up in autumn. It really does happen that quickly. I’ve gone from open-toe sandals flashing browned toes and pink polish and vest tops to cuddling up in a cardigan and wearing two pairs of socks in the evening. It seems so frivolous and pathetic to put on ones heating until 1st October at the very earliest, but I am like a lizard and feel the cold dreadfully – even on a beach in the mid-40s I start shivering and complaining if a breeze gently whispers past me (and don’t even get me started on CLOUDS in midsummer Greece).
Autumn also brings spiders. Bloody big ones. Do you see flies that big? Not in this country – which means there is simply no need for spiders of such a ridiculous size. I am pleased with myself for finally getting the courage to put a glass over these monsters and chuck them out of the window, but my creeping dread of putting my feet into my slippers without shaking them thoroughly first has never died. I have however made friends with one smaller spider. (Perhaps friendship is too strong a word and it is more a truce a la Christmas Eve in the trenches.) He was making a web on my window, and I went to get rid of him before an odd thought struck me. It’s cold. If I throw him outside, he’ll get cold. And some odd, soft part of me has let him stay where he is.
We have lived together for a week now in an uneasy camaraderie. I don’t know where this sudden fellow-feeling with the little arachnid has come from, but it does help that, striped black and white, and small, he is prettier than his furry-legged giant relatives. (Being pretty, he is most likely to be poisonous – just my luck!)
Anyway – autumn is in the air, and despite the chill I feel energised. On Friday, the most autumnal day yet, I felt almost ridiculously excited. By what I had/have no idea, but it felt like Christmas Eve used to. Like a balloon was being expanded in my chest. It would probably be deflated by a couple of good old reliable valium, but I actually liked this feeling. This was good anticipation, rather than the anxious dread that I normally suffer (dread of what I have no idea, but it feels so bad, whatever it is it must be something Awful).
I have tried to think of what it is I am looking forward to and I suspect it is:
– coming home from a cold evening to a warm, cosy little flat (as of October 1st anyway) and curling up with a warm drink
– the smell of bonfires in the air; autumn is technically the death of the summer, but it’s actually the birth of one of our more beautiful seasons
– cooking stews, and roasting vegetables, and making blackberry-and-apple to have with custard
– Guy Fawkes’ Night (even though I always have to wear earplugs, and I always feel a bit bad for Guy)
– Halloween – possibly the third most exciting night after Christmas Eve and ones birthday, although I don’t get many trick-or-treaters in my area (nor ghosts come to think of it)
Rather than have a favourite season I am a (wo)man for all … each of them bring different experiences and foods and sights and smells to enjoy. One may mourn the passing of summer, but we really don’t have proper summers anymore, so you might as well look forward to the future rather than getting depressed over it.
I have had a virus this week which laid me low without there being anything wrong with me aside from melancholy a la Keats and extreme tiredness. I set myself a challenge: to go to bed early every night and eat healthily and not do anything in the evenings. Which means that I got through several books, and I felt quite refreshed (let’s not think about how much weight I’ve put on as I normally hit the gym six days a week).
I like Hislop’s books because of their historical interest rather than her skill as a story-teller. She’s not a bad writer, but her stories are formulaic and the dialogue is sometimes clunky; nonetheless the books are immensely readable and interesting because she delves into history that most people don’t know anything about. Her first, The Island, was about a leper colony set on a Greek island, and The Thread is about Thessaloniki during World War 2. I had no idea about how the people of Greece had suffered during the war and the book made for fascinating but harrowing reading. The tentacles of anti-semitism stretched much further than I had realised and than is broadcast. Greece is my favourite place in the world and I feel fond of Hislop because of her love for it too.
Stories of those left behind in World War 1 – the families of the soldiers who never returned. I found this book much more accessible than The Beauty and the Sorrow which I polished off a week or so ago, and I’m not sure why – I think the former simply narrated the stories and his characters were two-dimensional albeit real people, but in this book the author gives the stories flesh and makes the characters human. I actively wanted to pick it up and read it, learned a lot from it and found it painful to read; all of which tend to be signs of a good book. van Emden also wrote about Harry Patch which is the first of his I read and he is one of those rare writers who has the gift to transport the past into the present. Such books should be made compulsory reading for students of WW1 – lest we forget, indeed.
Oscar Wilde and the Candlelight Mysteries – Giles Brandreth
This was an odd one. It saw Oscar Wilde joining forces with Arthur Conan Doyle, to try and solve a shocking murder. As I am a fan of both these gentlemen I looked forward to beginning it, but ultimately found it unsatisfactory. Rather like the large Rowntrees Pick & Mix bag I have sitting next to me on the desk, I found a few things I liked in it, but it hasn’t sated my hunger and I feel a bit odd as a result of it. Oscar Wilde, whatever you may think of him personally, was both a gifted writer and really rather funny with an acerbic wit which Brandreth brings out in his text, but Wilde’s character is diminished by his infuriating refusal to divulge any of his guessings, detections or theories. Whenever he comes up with a good idea or a Hunch he metaphorically taps his nose and jumps on a train or hails a hansom and disappears – infuriating for the narrator who is a friend of both men, but also for the reader. I won’t be seeking out any more of these mysteries, mainly because I felt like dispatching Wilde myself before the murderer was uncovered.
Next: Maine by Courtney Sullivan. I have no preconceptions of this, nor have I heard of the author, and I like it like that. I like approaching a book fresh, like a first date almost. Opening one from a favourite author is like pulling up a chair to sit down and chat with a good friend – perhaps not as exciting as a first date, but (in my experience anyway) ultimately more enjoyable and requiring significantly less preparation.