Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness and aching joints.
When I was younger I used to find Autumn a depressing time of year. As I get older I have come to love it more and more. In fact I am pretty obsessed (there’s a word I can never spel) with the seasons. I think part of it is because I grew up on the edge of a North Yorkshire town.
I had access to large woods, into which my friends and I would wander on long walks. In the woods there was a flooded quarry with broken fencing around it, another disused quarry cut into the side of a hill, a disused railway viaduct, mud, mud and more muddy bogs, and an old clay pit which made an excellent roller-coaster bike track.
My brother who is older than me has since told me there were men hanging around, although we never noticed any. And the flooded quarry in hindsight was lethal.
I grew up in a cul de sac, along which most houses (semi-detached, built in the early 1960’s) had children living in them and so I had a golden childhood of constant outdoor play and ever-evolving socialising with the other children. Our parents had no idea what we were up to.most of the time. My best friend was Andy whose house had a huge tree in the back garden from which was attached a tyre swing. Even now, if I see a tyre swing I have to get on it. All the houses had medium size gardens of various design, and although superficially the houses looked the same, each one was different.
At weekends my parents would drive into the countryside. My Mum loves flowers and my Dad birds, so I grew up knowing a lot about nature. But I never thought about it. It was just life.
I don’t mind London but I miss the seasons here. Signs of each one are around, and London is so fortunate to have so many green spaces. But so many children have no where to play, no where to run and just be children. Robert Macfarlane’s Landmarks, which I read last yea,r is a series of essays about (rather obsessive, strange ) writers who wrote again and again about a specific part of the British landscape. As he remarks, the more you look at something, the more you see, which is why their writings remain fresh. Familiarity does not breed contempt. Children love to be read the same stories over and over, and yet we never have the time to read a book, see a film or look at a painting more than once. As I get older I find I love routines in my home and work life because I find them safe, and yet I still want to go out an explore. There are so many countries I want to visit, indeed so many places in the UK I want to see. My parents took me to many places on our summer holidays (which in my head were filled with constant sunshine, but I am sure were not) – east coast resorts, the Lake District, southern counties, Scottish cities, North Wales and more I forget.
The one different essay in MacFarlane’s book is about an academic project undertaken in a Cambridgeshire school with a Reception class (4/5 year olds), who were taken one morning a week into a wood and basically let loose to run, climb, build; to do whatever they wanted. In the afternoon they were given free play back in class to explore and represent their woodland experiences. The result was that the children’s vocabulary and imaginations developed unexpected riches, alongside them becoming more physically confident. One child worked out that water disappearing underground was linked up to a place where it appeared again, and so in his own way realised there was a underground stream. This is quite extraordinary developed thinking for a child of this age. The academics and teachers in charge also noticed the children were fascinated by natural portals in the wood that they then created in their heads into imaginative hidden worlds. So many classic children’s books involve portals – Alice’s rabbit hole, Narnia’s wardrobe, Harry Potter’s Platform 9 3/4, the Darlings’ bedroom window, Milo’s Tollbooth and so on.
Compare this with Macfarlane’s observation that a new Oxford Junior Dictionary’s
deletions included acorn, adder, pasture and willow… the natural displaced by the indoor and the virtual. For blackberry read Blackberry.”
The seasons are ingrained in me. I love the colours of Autumn, the lowering temperature, the darkening days. I’m not talking about Hallowe’en when I say that soon I will be able to close the curtains and shut out the world with hot chocolate, slippers, ghost stories and horror films.