Thursday, October 28, 2004

Justin Hayward. A man whose features are so large and craggy, they could be hewn from the side of Mount Rushmore. He is primarily known for being the vocalist of your grans' favourites, the Moody Blues. There is some excellent footage of them doing their classic "Nights In White Satin" on ropey old German pop show the Beat Club. Unfortunately, the haunted quality of the song is somewhat undermined by the fact that they are performing infront of a sign that says "P. P. Arnold" - they were directed to the wrong stage! It was even worse for P. P. Arnold - she had to give her all singing "The First Cut Is The Deepest" infront of a backdrop featuring the words "Rolf Harris" ...

Then, in the late seventies, Justin briefly rose again to prominence doing a song from the soundtrack of Jeff Wayne's "War Of The Cotswolds".

"My life will be forever autumn. Cos you're not here" claimed Justin, no doubt trying his best to make his bird, suitcase in hand, feel sorry for him and have second thoughts. And no wonder, because autumn is always more crap than you think it will be.

The cliched image of autumn is that it is a fine season of mellow fruits, golden leaves and cool, bracing sunny days, but this has little bearing on the lives of anyone who lives in a town or city. Mind you, we all seem to head towards winter with a vague and displaced sense of enthusiasm.

This may have been instilled into us from very early school days. It must be difficult for teachers to re-adjust the outlooks of 7 and 8 year olds after a blissful summer of long hazy days, particularly after the joy of 6 whole weeks of not being in school. Hence teachers always make an effort to suggest that the months September to November inclusive are really interesting, with all the changes in nature - animals hibernating, the red and russet hues of trees and plants, and most of all, the harvest festival, an event which you never have to deal with ever again unless you become a parent yourself, when you will have to dig around the back of the cupboard for rusty old tins of peas and cling peaches, to be donated to the poor of the parish who will end up with some disease last known of in Britain in the 16th century.

Anyway, all of the supposedly positive aspects of autumn are dragged up by us as September kicks in. This is all part of the mind's self-protection against dreary reality. I'm sure it's a hormonal reaction, rather like the one which, after the horrors of childbirth, leaves a mother forgetting the excruciating pain almost straight away until the next time she's screaming her head off in the maternity ward. There you have it - the need for the species to survive leaves us open to all sorts of agonies. How many of us would otherwise top ourselves at the thought of getting through to winter, with only the two hours of "daylight", having a hacking bronchial cough until March and our parents or in-laws saying "have you decided what you're doing for Christmas yet?" incessantly for weeks on end.

Here are some of the things which happen every autumn, as part of the miraculous cycle of life:

At regular intervals, you will overhear pensioners saying to their friends "have you had the 'flu jab yet? I'm going for mine on Wednesday."

All women's magazines will have a feature declaring "the big fashion news this autumn is that berry shades are in!!" You might even imagine as a woman that you'll look particularly chic on one of your smashing countryside walks, in your chunky burgundy cardie (w. fake fur trim), kicking the leaves in your plum suede boots. Forget it - don't even think about buying suede boots as it will be raining continuously until May. You will end up wearing jeans, a hideous fleece and skanky trainers every day until then.

You will always see a toddler's mitten stuck on the end of a fence post. Is this a reference to the brutal ancient practice of sticking enemies' heads on spikes during religious conflicts? After all, modern law means that it is now not permissable to put the head of a particularly annoying two year old onto the spike of a fence. Unfortunately.

Autumn is the season when children can get their revenge on adults, i.e., they can act in the same spiteful and obnoxious manner they normally only reserve for their own age group. The best way of doing this is at Hallowe'en when they can terrify pensioners and everybody has to spend the evening with the lights off, bumping into things indoors as they unconvincingly pretend to be "out" when the endless succession of brats knock at the door. The "trick" part of the "trick or treat" demand ought to allow children's supposedly active imaginations to run riot as they conjure up exciting new forms of revenge. However, as most children have little or no imagination, they have resorted to throwing eggs about. Although the one year we had some dogshit left outside the front door, which was nice. The other way in which children can be annoying is by letting off fireworks anywhere or at any time from September to Christmas, often at 3 o'clock in the morning.

Every autumn there is a horrible sinking feeling which occurs as the days get shorter. More and more, you realise that you are no longer able to compensate yourself with the boredom of impending winter by "treating" yourself to cd's, DVD's, clothes, or whatever interests you. Oh no, you must spend your hard earned on Christmas presents for other people, who always say "I'm not bothered what you get, you know me". So they'll get expensive presents which they won't even appreciate. Every year this becomes more and more like climbing Mount Everest in your slippers.

The concept of "comfort eating" comes into its own in autumn. Hearty casseroles, chunky soups and old fashioned crumbles and puddings involving stewed pears and syrup become inexplicably appealing. This is tied in with suddenly developing a huge appetite, again a biological reaction. Yes, we are eating to lay down fat to protect ourselves during the cold. Well, bollocks to that. Who lives in a cave nowadays? In which case, why do I need to have such a huge arse?

I ought to conclude with something more upbeat, a way of softening the blow, highlighting the nicer side of autumn. But Justin Hayward was right. It's grim. Through and through.

I'm writing this the day before the clocks go back. Get yer Matalan fleece on and get on with it.

Thursday, October 14, 2004


I have been away.

I have taken my annual sojourn (this is a word I have frequently read, but, thankfully, I have not had to pronounce it infront of anyone, yet).

The sunsets from the balcony of my rural Spanish retreat were amazing, as ever. We mingled with the locals who are now oh so familiar and have taken us to their hearts. We drank that dodgy cheap wine which is akin to beetroot juice and has negligible alcohol content. We danced like social workers at WOMAD to the gypsy music into the early hours, clapping our hands and cheering the guitarists on in a vile, patronising manner. Hah! We would not rise until midday, as the sun baked overhead. Most importantly, we dared to venture several miles to the local bakery: thus, every day we ate Local Bread dipped in olive oil; thus, we were at one with the local peasant population.

But now - o woe! - I have returned to Britain with its drab skies, its bland chips and gravy diet, its striking coalminers, yet another energy crisis and Mike Yarwood "doing" Mr Heath and Brian Clough on the telly. How colourless and unchanged is this sceptred isle. A pox on this slovenly, apathetic nation ... um, hold on a minute ...

Bollocks. During the journey back home, I appear to have travelled back in time to 1973. AGAIN.

Bloody RyanAir.

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