There must be something biological about the universal popularity of this time of year. Chalking it up to thinned veils fails to account for the fact that even the most self-involved pseudo-skepdick will declare Autumn his favourite season by some margin.
The world feels more world and you feel more you in Autumn. I presume it has something to do with the ambient temperature being the most comfortable for warm blooded creatures and the fact that light outerwear provides the maximum opportunities for covering and/or flattering imperfect bodies. Even if that is ‘it’, that is also not it. If these are indeed the factors that contribute to a boost in a generalised background enjoyment of life, that is just Autumn’s launching pad, it is not its rocket.
Little moments of delight like encountering the first pub fire of the season or setting off to work and noticing your billowing breath-steam build into a feedback loop of increasing amor mundi that elevates the autumnal experience above singular, physical explanations.
Which is inevitably when western liberal guilt sets in. Mexico isn’t having a great Autumn. Neither is Chris. And it will only be a matter of days before the first snow starts to fall on Syrian tent cities in Germany. The half-phrase “then the terrorists win” was used by Bush II at the end of sentences so absurd that it is still a fairly common, and often funny, joke today. There is a more mature variant that allows us to recalibrate seasonal enjoyment on a planet that really isn’t having a great time at the moment. “Then evil wins.” If I fail to delight in the blood and gold tree explosions in west London then evil wins.
There has to be a way of enjoying life because the ever-present subtext of this time of year is that it ends. I can just picture my grandmother narrowing her eyes in icy judgement the way she used to if I show up in the afterlife and tell her I was too busy tweeting hashtags to enjoy Hyde Park’s colour changes in her very favourite city on earth. There would be no un-living with her after that.
My maternal grandmother is on my mind this weekend because my partner is sick so I am on full hausfrau duties. I cook shepherd’s pie and to do it properly it takes half a day. It is a triumph. Better than my grandmother’s.
But the act of slow cooking the lamb, onions, herbs, etc, then peeling potatoes, then boiling them, then mashing them, then assembling and baking the whole thing reminds me of her. My mother the psychonaut never made it. Despite being a voracious, nigh-on-uncontrollable potatophile, she’s never liked mashed potato. Plus her mother put peas in the shepherd’s pie which is MMTP’s kryptonite. I skype her and ask if that’s why she never made it. Her answer: “Yes. It was also quite tasteless.” Which it was. It was an Edwardian imperial recipe. That’s why God invented tomato sauce, something else my parents would strictly control. (Which is why God also invented grandparents.)
One of the things that puts the ‘shit’ in my rented west London shithole is that the kitchen extractor fan doesn’t work and I don’t want to call the landlord lest it remind him to put the rent up. This means I spend half the day in the kitchen with the door to the yard open, I can smell the gentle rain and the dying leaves in olfactory lulls in the kitchen smells. With a mountain of ‘imminent books’ admin, work exploding back into Game of Thrones and little things like, you know, this blog to think about, my weekends tend to be quite frenetic. (If one can use that word while wearing sweat pants.) I briefly consider bringing the laptop into the kitchen so I can multitask but what I actually need is a pause button for the world. So I don’t.
Instead I cook and think about cooking. And seasons. And dead things. And absence. And harvest. And leaves. And rain.
And so the veil thins.