Thursday 14 November 2019

It's time to feel the cosy embrace of autumn

The change of the seasons was that bit harder this year, but now it's time to settle into the darkness, writes Brendan O'Connor

Lough Gill, Co Sligo. Picture: Getty
Lough Gill, Co Sligo. Picture: Getty
Brendan O'Connor

Brendan O'Connor

I went to the lake last week. It's not something we tend to do in Ireland. The sea is all around us, so we go there. But actually it was nice to kick off the autumn at the lake. It was raining when we got there but we jumped in the lake anyway.

The part of Lough Ree on which Wineport sits was wonderfully fresh and clean. It was actually a pleasure to accidentally swallow a mouthful. And it had that great peatiness that lakes can have. We stayed in a bit too long but we fixed it quick with hot port and an outdoor hot-tub session. Then we drank golden beer and red wine, and ate lots of meat and root vegetables.

In the morning we opened the curtain to find the lake outside transformed. It was one of those incredible bright, clear, sharp autumn days. And there was a painting outside the window: greeny red reeds, the glassy surface of the lake, grey in the sharp autumn light, a guy slowly swimming the length of this section of the lake, his mate chugging along in a boat next to him.

There is a light you get in autumn that you never get in summer. It is probably all the sweeter for being rare. But when you do get those glorious, sharp, clear days, the sky impossibly blue against the reddening landscape, it makes you fall in love with autumn.

The change in the seasons hit everyone a little hard this year. We didn't get much of a summer. August was especially disappointing, with many people realising they were actually holidaying in the autumn. And with that foolish sense we have that there is some justice in the world, we decided that because August had cheated us, September would come through for us. It didn't.

The seasons marched relentlessly on and still managed to surprise us. Is it always this dark in the mornings in September? Does it always get this chilly at night? It must do.

We just weren't ready for it. Summer had passed us by. The paddling pool that was up all August in our house last year never went up this year. The screams of water fights in the garden were rarely heard. And when we never got that deep hit of summer, it was hard to accept it was over. Another one bites the dust.

We clung on hard as autumn came in. We waited for the Indian summer - if you can call it that anymore. We clung on to any few hours of sunshine, thinking it was a last hit of summer. But of course it wasn't. It was just a nice autumn day. But still we cling to that light, that shines brighter in the darkness, that is clean and dry.

Did you find you got hungry a few weeks ago? It came at the same time as the first colds of the season. For the last few weeks I could have eaten and eaten, and I wasn't alone. Everyone was saying it. We were hitting the comfort food before August was out. We had barely got our bodies beach-ready, and we were already wintering again.

It's important now to remember that the transition is always the tricky bit. We should know this by now, but still it takes us by surprise every year. And every year we imagine it's worse. Before the warning came from Australia that the flu is going to be a doozy this year, and before they started emptying out the hospitals in the UK for the expected flu victims, it felt like the doses the kids brought home from the first week of school were a bit worse this year.

The lack of acceptance, the feeling that we were still owed some weather, didn't help.

The resurgence in staycationing meant that many hadn't got any weather all summer. As much as we all cheerfully tell each other that we spent a week in Galway or Wexford or Kerry in the rain, but we had a great time, and sure "you don't go there for the weather". And as much as we swear our resilient kids were as happy in the rain in wetsuits on the beach, a little something in us dies each time we open the curtains to another grey day on our Irish holidays.

This year unpredictable weather all over Europe meant people had been drowned in the South of France and Italy as well.

So we've been hurt. And we feel hard done by. It's hard to accept the winter half of the year.

But autumn has its consolations. The first being that at least we can stop expecting fine weather now. If we get any, it's a bonus. We can also start dressing for the weather with reasonable certainty.

It's not quite time to wrap up warm, but it's time to get out your coat properly, to start feeling the comforting hug of a bit of wool. Autumn is when we get back into clothes that are smarter and sharper, more structured and more luxurious.

In a strange way, autumn gives us an excuse to slow down a little too. Summer is a flibbertigibbet of running round and skitting off here and there, and sociability and never being at home, or never having the house to yourself. In autumn we can turn in a bit again; less of that relentless pressure to be out and about doing things, especially at night.

As the darkness comes in there's no pressure to go anywhere. The kids go to bed that bit earlier, the regular stuff is back on the telly, there are box sets to be binged on, books to be read. There's a bit more time to reflect, a bit more stillness.

We get a bit of freedom from the passions of the summer, from the incessant activity and comings and goings. There's time to potter, do those bits and pieces around the place you were meaning to do all summer. Maybe get a leaf hoover in Aldi or Lidl. There's a different energy, a different vibe, and once we get over that rocky patch of the transition, we are ready for it.

And of course it's time now for deeper, richer food, for vegetables from the ground, for mashed things, for butter, for things that ooze, for things from the oven, things with cheese melted over the top. Nigella got a lot of grief last week for including a toasted ham and cheese sandwich in her new book.

But really, is there anything more perfect on an autumn day?

And around us there is the fruity sensuality of death, the russet colours of rotting leaves. But we know this golden decay is only temporary, part of the constant regular churn. So we are free to have a little death ourselves, to embrace a bit of hibernation, the comfort of dull routine.

Sometimes you imagine it would be nice to live in eternal summer. But that, in it's own way, would drive a man mad. Time now to accept the lull, to embrace it, to start wrapping up and recharging. It's nice to travel. But there's no place like home.

Sunday Independent

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