Monday, 11 October 2010

SHE STOOPS TO CONKER




Autumn is easy to love: I think it's the slight faded quality the pale ochre light gives everything, as if in a thoughtlessly hung picture, colours all bleached in the sun. I like the quick sharpness in the air, and the hint of bonfire that uncurls itself the minute dusk falls.

Most of all, I love the way autumn is packed with oddly pagan rituals, so deeply embedded in the folk memory it doesn't matter they've long since lost their meaning - Hallowe'en in our family involves chiselling out swedes rather than pumpkins for lanterns (try it - you can't get a fabulously Papua New Guinean shrunken head look with a pumpkin), drowning for apples, and candle magic, and much as I grew up in the country, there's an odd disconnect between celebrating Harvest Festival in West London and your actual proper 'plough-the-fields-and-scatter' harvest. Don't even get me started on Guy Fawkes - much as we've reinvented it as bonfire night, scratch the surface and it's hardly the most ecumenical of celebrations, as anyone who's been to the November 5th activities in Lewes will attest.

But anyway, my delight in autumn lies not so much in the big events but in the tiny quotidien joys - the glorious scarlet of rosehips against a miserable grey sky, finding a recipe for rowan jelly on this lovely website, making jam with the glut of plums in my parents garden, and laughing and laughing with my children, whirling around trying to catch leaves falling from trees to make a wish.

And of course, there's the endless trips to the park to collect conkers: they're so pointlessly beautiful - the gorgeous burnt sienna glossiness lasts about four hours before they start to lose their lustre. Every year we bring a bagful home and put them in a bowl to admire them - only a few every find themselves strung on a string for a conker fight - and within days they're all shrinkled. It's a shame.

This year, I've started to over-identify with the poor conker : the notion that I'm now autumn, and no longer ripe with the bloom of summer, has hit me rather hard. I seem to have developed a deciduous quality and I don't like it at all: One minute I was all shiny, happily passing for thirty seven, then I woke one morning to discover a chill in the air, my bloom dulled, and I looked every one of my forty three years. I do love Donne for writing 'No spring nor summer hath such grace, As I have seen in one autumnal face' but I stare at myself in the mirror and think he must have been blind.

And it's not just about railing against the physical changes that age brings, or at the invisibility of no longer being exactly young, it's also about the way my head won't adjust to being a proper grown up. And where does this idea come from that one's possibilities contract as one's days shorten? There are still twenty four hours - they are simply differently apportioned - and longer nights mean more flattering lighting, after all - but somehow the idea has taken root. I urgently need to find the notebook in which I wrote the list of people who had come up to the boil after forty, after a long and interminable simmer. I don't want to always be the watched pot.

As I look at the conkers gathering dust on the kitchen table, and at the autumn-hued leaves and berries Trefusis Minor has gathered for his school project, I try to summon up a sense of resolve: Autumn, with all its small pleasures and curious celebrations, must become my favourite time of life, as well as my favourite season..

19 comments:

Christina @ Fashion's Most Wanted said...

Dear Mrs T, what a lovely and thought provoking post. I totally understand the "Autumn of life". I find plenty of highlighter and blusher is helping, I try not to look at myself without make-up as it's too dreary. Apart from the looks thing I find pretty much everything is much more fun.

The Papua New Guinean shrunken head swede sounds hilarious, much more challenging than a pumpkin!

Good to see you back. And I've learnt a new word - ecumenical. I never was very good at listening in church. Have a wonderful week xx

~Tessa~Scoffs said...

As I sat at a desk, filling in for she who got the job, the weak autumn sunlight beamed through venetian slits and a slightly dirty window. Is that light bothering you? she asked as her typewriter clacked. I'm grand, said I and the light in my face made me happier than I'd been in years. Me with my new seasonally orange cardi and sunburst flower brooch cluster.

MTFF said...

You and I are on the list, my dear. You and I
xo

@Angpang said...

Ah! What a beautiful post that reflects my feelings in so many ways.

I also love autumn, collect conkers in a bowl, hate how quickly they shrivel and ponder at my position in the 'year' of life.

And congratulations on the best blog title ever!

Knackered Mother said...

Lovely post. Ah, Autumn. Time to light fires in the evening, make the odd slow-cooked stew and - best of all - move summer clothes to the back of the wardrobe and bring out the jumpers/cardigans/boots. I suddenly realise how much I've missed them!

soleils said...

Oh... this is beautiful.
I get very moved by autumn. There is a serene quality to it, after the brashness of summer. And a quiet promise.
I will try to envisage my own autumn with more wisdom, hope and benevolence. Thank you, Mrs Trefusis (I am glad I found this post, it's just what I needed today).

Linda in Chile said...

Dear Mrs Trefusis, I sometimes scare myself first thing in the morning when I catch sight of myself in the bathroom mirror - the harshness of the light does me no favours. Still becoming a woman of a certain age does have its own advantages: I care less and less about how I am perceived. At this rate, I shall be quite unstoppable by the time I am seventy...

Justine said...

That really put into words something I have been struggling with. Thank you.

Genuine Lustre said...

I certainly understand. Autumn feels like a drawing down to me. With half of my children grown, I"m starting to feel the inevitable - that life will go in without me someday. Rather melancholy, and yet, my favorite season.

shayma said...

really beautiful writing. i love the prose and the delicate words you use. obviously i am biased because i love ya', m'dear friend- i dont see anything but beauty on your face- dim lighting, or not.x shayma

Siobhan said...

This is beautiful and with a great title. I am, for the time being far from autumn in my life, but have always loved autumn as a season in the year. I feel it is less a time for things falling down, but more a time for quiet, for reflection and for nurturing oneself. Hopefully (though I don't know) the same can be said for the autumn of our lives.

Blighty said...

Wonderful writing Mrs T, just excellent! I always used to hate autumn, as the bit that come before winter which I dread; but over the past few years I have really started to love it, I think it is now my favourite season; I don't mind being older, being young was very tiring! But I often get shocked at how old I actually am, i still think of myself as 30!! i think that's called denial. Loved your title too - puntastic, so jealous I did not think of it! Great to see you blogging again, hope all well with you and yours xx

Lucy Pavia said...

Love this. I'm always partial to a bit of John Donne, as I am for a well placed title pun. Thank you!x

Clare said...

Such a beautiful post Helen, sums up exactly the way I'm feeling... x clare

Lady Jennie said...

I so thoroughly enjoyed this post. I also love Fall. I can also relate to the faded bloom.

I just launched my new blog (formerly Perfect Welcome) with wedding pictures plastered all over it in honor of our upcoming 10 yr wedding anniversary and I can't help but relive the glory of my thirty-year old self, instead of my nearly 41, slightly more wrinkly, and largely more matronly self. I prefer to stay in fantasy land for the moment.

And maybe then take up jogging.

Jane said...

A beautiful post.
Sums up so many of my own feelings at this time of year and this time of my life.
Thank you.

Anonymous said...

great post thanks

Alison Cross said...

Loved this post - you're such a fab writer!

We used to carve out swedes for Hallowe'en up here, but a pumpkin is just soooo much easier on the hands!

Ali x

angie said...

"shrinkled" - how fab, am definitely going to use it!