It’s like in that movie Almost Famous – thousands of miles up in the air and I feel I’m about to die. No, they haven’t asked me to pay for my drink, nothing so extreme as all that. But it’s occurred to me that I’m bidding adieu to the sun. It’s autumn now in the land of my birth.
One week away: it was nice. No, it was better than nice – once again I thought to myself
“Bryson, why d’you live in the UK? It is warmer here on the continent; the food is better and cheaper too. Why, from 1 shiny 5 Euro note one can procure a packet of cigarettes, an ice cold lager and a cup of coffee that bears only the slightest resemblance to that filth they serve in Blighty. Add in some bacon for another Euro and you’ve covered the British-standard four food groups (alcohol, nicotine, caffeine and processed meat). One demurs at the thought of paying for the soothing balm of an afternoon in the arms of a representative of the oldest profession, but no doubt the kneecapping lawyers are less costly here too.”
Crass generalisation time, but no one worships the sun like a Brit. We whine about the weather: it’s too cold, it’s too hot, will this rain never end, drought warning. What can I say – we like to have our cake and complain about it.
But take your average Brit, stick him or her in a climate most would consider cool-to-moderate, and they’ll be out of their clothes quicker than you can pour their drink, fanning themselves ostentatiously and becoming irritated at the low standard of English spoken by the locals.
Variations on the theme of heavy cloud and ill wind – that’s what we know – insubstantial light. The meteorological equivalent of a shrug. But there’s one thing we traditionally have going for us. We have seasons.
I’m a big fan of seasons, or at least the start of them, ringing the changes. Winter is a time for heavy coats and natty jumpers, fires (which means splitting logs, one of my few ‘man’ skills) and euphemisms – ‘cozy’ being predominate amongst them.
Round these parts winter tends to hang on a little too long, although contrary to popular opinion January is in fact the bleakest month, not February, which is more like a houseguest that refuses to take the hint. But when winter fades, the world comes alive again and we rediscover an emotion that other cultures refer to as optimism.
Mornings come with a dawn bombardment of birdsong, flowers happen and it’s lamb season, which is great for those who enjoy a side order of cruelty with their gastronomy.
Then at some point we all agree that it’s summer, ie it starts raining more heavily but us Brits are under starters orders to get out there in our shorts and undercook sausages in a perverted facsimile of a BBQ. Summer is my favourite season, even if on average only about 2 weeks of it counts.
Or is it? Because then there’s autumn. Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness as Keats would have it. Before the leaves change colour when the UK is all lush greens – the one upside of our damp little climate – there’s a slight chill in the air, but nothing to get upset about. There’s the smell of it, especially as the leaves start to change and then fall. Regular season sports kick off in anger; school picks up again (ha ha, suckers). Everything’s a little more alert, a little less sleepy before the long winter nap.
Autumn is traditionally associated with a kind of melancholy, with ageing; the possibilities of summer fade, and the depths of winter appear on the horizon. There’s a final blaze of colour before all turns to greys and browns. The nights draw in while the world packs up its things and turns in on itself. Moody introspection rules the day.
Also, it’s back to school.
Personally, I don’t find it melancholy – that comes later when stepping on the scales in the post-Christmas period. I’d hate to admit it, given my feelings towards the man’s predilection for the rhyming dictionary, but I’m with Keats on this.
For those who like their trivia trivial, autumn is the more modern word, not fall. A certain type of Brit enjoys getting sniffy about American intrusions into ‘our’ language, ignoring the heavy influence of French, German and the like on modern British English. Our rucksack is probably derived from a German word that is itself a conjunction of back and bag. Other words we’ve purloined from abroad: disgust, manage, formidable.
As for autumn, there are some instances of its usage in the 12th century (it’s likely Latin in origin via old French), but it became popular in the 16th and 17th centuries. Up to that point the most common word for the season August-October was harvest, similar to most of the rest of Western Europe. The other word used was likely Norse in origin, via an old English word feallan, meaning to fail or decay or… fall.
But whatever one chooses to call it, and however others might choose to characterise it, it’s a fantastic (French via Latin) time of year (Old High German).
And I have a hunch that parents might agree.
PS: My word it’s my hundredth post. What have I learned? Nothing.