Belfast Telegraph

How the warm days, cool nights and gorgeous ambers and browns make me fall for autumn

Forget the delights of spring, summer and winter, this time of year is the real season to be jolly

By Gail Walker

The nights are drawing in. The sound of disgruntled children in department stores as they say "Muuummm! I can't wear flares/straights/pleated/non-pleated trousers. I would look such so uncool." Good programmes starting again on the TV (even the ridiculously-named Rowling detective Cormoran Strike is shaping up nicely). All those glossies advising women how to put the Sizzle Back into Summer (basically wear something wispy and throw your arms up in the air for no apparent reason) are vanishing from the newsagent's shelves. Sniff... nary a woodsmoke barbeque to be had. And, joy of joys, look there are the Thinsulate woolly hats starting to appear in corner shops! Soon, the Ferrero Rocher will be causing the shelves to buckle in all-night petrol stations.

Everything is pointing to one thing - can't be long now until the autumn. To which I suspect the majority of us will raise a silent hurrah.

Silent because autumn never gets a fair crack of the whip. Spring is - cue Vivaldi - "full of hope". All that "the world is renewing itself" nonsense, and the only known use of the word "gambol", as lambs go into training for the abattoir.

Summer - as we all know because it is rammed down our throats at every opportunity - is "fun". It is compulsory to love it and approve of the whole country becoming a vast holiday village where you can't move for all the FUN, FUN, FUN things happening all day every day for eight weeks (it is the new orthodoxy. As soon as you suggest you don't like suntans or sandals or that beaches are... well... not that great, just watch the dark clouds of disapproval gather).

Summer is yet another topic of conversation where anything less than full-on, turned-up-to-eleven enthusiasm is taken as an insult to those who enjoy it, or say they do.

Winter? Welcome to broody moodiness even with the full-on heroin of Christmas lavished in the middle of it.

But autumn? It's the middle child of the bunch - sensible, easily-pleased, unambitious, chilled-out. It doesn't demand our attention continually and just seems happy to go its own level-headed, pragmatic way. Neither too good nor too bad.

Which is another way of saying "just perfect".

Unlike the show-off of summer - all promises, promises - autumn never lets you down.

Summer, as we know too well, so rarely delivers wonderful days. The last few weeks have epitomised again how much we crave blistering heat, sweat patches, wet seats on the buses and grotesquely blotchy complexions - and then how often we end up with all the above but without the sunshine. It's been humid and soggy when it hasn't been dank and cool.

This mania for the sun must be a legacy of Seventies package holidays, though at least back then everyone knew you had to travel abroad to get proper summer weather. No one expected that summer weather to take a package holiday to visit us. Now, it's all moans about rain and dullness - as if our summers were ever any different. They weren't. They aren't. They won't ever be.

By contrast, though, autumn under-promises... and always delivers. September is a gorgeous month - warmth (not heat), a cooling breeze and a fabulous colour palette of ambers and browns.

Autumn is especially wonderful if you are female. You can ditch the girl-child outfits, the achingly faux naivety of sandals, and get back into boots, tights and big woolly jumpers - all hiding a multitude of sins. You can wave goodbye to the false hope of a bikini-ready body.

Talking of which, now is the time to dump all those salads and smoothies and get back to proper food - spuds, stews and every other variety of slow-cooked comfort food.

Comfort. Now, there's autumn's ace in the hole. No need to pretend to be perfect. Nope, just flop out in your sweats and when some busybody suggests a quick jaunt somewhere to "get some air about you", you can snuggle deeper into your sofa and say: "Nah, let's have a comfy night in."

But it's not all sloth. You can feel all virtuous by taking brisk walks in the crisp morning light. Hopefully, the trees will have shed their amber, red and orange foliage to create gorgeous piles of crunchy leaves for you to walk through and kick up into the air like Audrey Hepburn.

But take that walk quickly because the clock is getting its act together and soon proper order will be restored where it will be light during the day and dark at night. Simple. Uncomplicated. And so, so right. Olivia Newton John and John Travolta may have celebrated summer nights, but, for most of us, going to bed in daylight - as if you've been transported back to being a child - is just plain weird and unsettling.

Let's be honest, the city can be beautiful in autumn: the shop windows lit, the languor of summer replaced by hustle and bustle, even the blinking red lights of traffic jams look magical. Walking night-time suburbia, hand in hand, glimpsing the glowing firesides and lamps in the houses as you pass by. And wondering about other people's lives.

You see, that's autumn - putting the world back to normal and restoring order after the free-wheeling chaos of summer. Breathe deep and relax. True, autumn is a kind of slow decay, the waiting room to winter. By its very nature, it is a harbinger of loss. But even that can have a certain melancholic beauty, an acceptance that all things must pass. And doesn't that bring its own kind of rueful contentedness?

But we are not there quite yet. Let winter look after the harsh and brutal truths for real. For now, we know that autumn will break the news about the futility of it all to us oh so gently.

Another reason we should be glad to live in a world with autumns.

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