Wednesday, 3 November 2010

Darkening days, random thoughts…

How quickly winter comes upon us. With the changing of the clocks autumn seems on her last legs. I don’t much like this time of year; these couple of weeks where autumn drops her skirts and winter’s skeleton begins to show. The darkening days bring random thoughts, taking me on the strangest journeys. If we still had a Town Crier he’d be wandering down the street clanging his bell and proclaiming "Oyez, Oyez, Oyez! Winter’s coming, winter’s coming, Jack Frost’s only just around the corner, snow and ice and dark and sleet, Oyez, Oyez, Oyez!

'Oyez', old English for 'Listen'.

Shhhhhhhh! I used to spend hours in the library as a kid on long, cold, winter evenings; looking up this, finding out that - scribbling it all down in my exercise book, then walking the mile and a half home in the pitch black sleet to the relative cosy safety of my bedroom; getting on with my homework, ready for the next day. Sometimes, near to Christmas, I’d collect holly from the holly hedge above the library wall and take it home to make decorations. Nobody does that any more. These days kids just go online, EVERTHING is there, all the answers, all the thoughts, even virtual holly – they just have to copy and paste. And as for holly as a way to deck the halls, keep out the dark, it’s all fibre optics and laser ropes. The libraries are empty, so empty that the powers feel safe to talk about closing them.

Listen, Listen, Listen! Soon last few leaves will blow away, as nights grow long with the shortening day, the winter wind, flat skies of gray, to fill our souls with melancholy.

It gets some people more than others, this winter darkness. Scandinavian countries have a hard time of it; long nights, very short days. In Norway, the suicide rate is approximately one-third that of Denmark and Sweden even though all three countries are very similar both ethnically and culturally, but it’s still number 37 in the suicide chart death-pickers. Sometimes walking home from the library I’d get this crazy idea that something was following me, a demon or a devil. My friend Ju-Ju used to laugh at me saying that I shouldn't be silly, that there was nothing there. And then, what wasn't there got him one day and he was gone. He was living in Norway, and then he wasn't. I’m not sure where I stand on Seasonal Affective Disorder, but something dark seems to creep inside at this time of year. Call it what you will but it seems to me to be a demon.

On the plus side it is the time for roaring fires, fireworks, Christmas just around the corner with lights, and trees, and holly decked halls. My daffodil bulbs are already beginning to poke through the soil in my pot of hope, the sweet peas I planted a couple of weeks ago have sprouted green and strong with the promise of spring and the long, perfumed, summer nights that will follow. Just the long dark nights and short gloomy days to get through, and through, and through. Spring will soon be here as my mother mutters endlessly throughout the winter.

I bought some second hand books on the market a couple of weeks back, nothing very intellectual, just a few novels, paperbacks, and three for a fiver. One of them, ‘Her Fearful Symmetry’ by Audrey Niffenegger, author of ‘The Time Traveller’s Wife’, is a book that I’ve been meaning to read for a while. I didn’t notice at the time, but when I got it home and opened it, written on the page facing the title page, underneath the list of ‘other novels by’, were these four lines written in blue fountain pen ink in a wonderful flourished script – To dearest Julian – God save us from the winter night, God save us from our shadows, God save us from ourselves.

Spring may soon be here, but it can’t be soon enough for me. I’m going to light a fire to keep away the demon.


  1. I love the thought of autumn dropping her skirts. We've had some lovely sunny days recently making the autumn colours spectacular but now the winds are stripping the trees and it will be all bare and bleak soon.

    Still, as you say, plenty to look forward to all the same!

  2. Yes it is a miserable time of year. The leaves are wet down by the river and the grass is turning to mud.

  3. Scott Mitchell commented on Facebook:

    Cheers Andi... the demon feels pretty close right now

  4. I always like finding messages inside books...

  5. Yes I found one once that said 'Kill Julia'. Thing was there was no character in the book called Julia. On the last few pages I found bloody thumb prints... it made me wonder.

  6. 'Soon last few leaves will blow away, as nights grow long with the shortening day, the winter wind, flat skies of gray, to fill our souls with melancholy.'

    ... almost Shakespeare.