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..