Today was the first morning of this autumn with signs of frost on the ground. I sat down at my desk and saw the roofs across the street fringed with white at the edges of the tiles, as the sun rose in a clear blue sky. Winter is coming, and our Hallowe’en pumpkins are in a dark corner of the garden for the local slugs and snails to eat. A robin fluttered around the garden, getting ready for all the Christmas posing; I doubt they go for pumpkin. In the summer the garden was full with house sparrows, as nearly every house in this street has a few sparrow nests under the eaves; but now they are quiet and are staying inside.
A month or so ago, I talked about how awful the world of politics is, too awful to want to write about. This morning, with the results of yesterday’s American presidential election still entirely up in the air, that seemed still very true. This evening, the results of yesterday’s American presidential election are still somewhat up in the air, but not quite as awful. We can but hope.
Since the clocks changed it’s dark now before I leave my desk in the evening, and on nights with clear skies, at the moment, I can see Mars rising, the first “star” visible above the roofline on the other side of the road. It rises above them just as dusk falls, visible already as a dim orange pinprick whilst the sky around it is still blue. Over the course of this year I’ve come to know the roofline opposite my window intimately. I feel like I know all the cracked tiles and broken patches like the back of my hand; I’ve watched the missing tiles on a house down the street get worse as the year has gone on and wonder how the residents cope in rainstorms, and I’ve watched a house a similar distance up the street slowly have its roof replaced, its chimney repointed, everything tidied and neatened and primped. Winter is coming, we are a third of the way through the final quarter of the year. After that, though, things will be brighter again.
The last blue skies of 2017 are outside my window; dusk will come shortly.
In line with the idea of starting 2018 off right, I’m volunteering on the railway tomorrow. Hurrah!
Yesterday, the sky was black with cloud, wind driving rain through the city all day. Storm Imogen, apparently. I’m not sure I like this new idea of naming all our winter storms like hurricanes: Imogen is the only one this year so far to have made an impression on me, watching the black bare branches of trees thrashing wildly outside the office window. Before that, even: yesterday morning I was woken by thunder and lightning at 5.30am. Two hours before dawn seems like a very strange time of day for a thunderstorm.
Today, though, the skies seemed to be positively springlike, clear and blue, and I could get on with work without worrying the house would be blown down. I’m not sure work wanted to get on with me, though, as I spent a few hours chiselling away at a strange problem and making no headway at all with it.
So it didn’t snow. I was back on the railway yesterday, and everything went rather well. None of the equipment failed, I didn’t do anything stupid, and I didn’t drop any tokens, which is always my biggest worry. It was a relatively quiet shift; I sat in the big armchair with the coal stove roaring away next to me, handwriting a diary piece about how sitting in the big armchair with the coal stove roaring away next to me and the clock ticking on the wall reminded me of visiting my grandmother’s house on winter Saturday afternoons when I was small. I was the first person to arrive at the station; and by the time I left all the station staff had already locked up and left too, it was getting dark, and all the lights were on. Although it didn’t snow, it felt all day as if snow was potentially on the menu.
I do wish the children could come with me to the railway, but I doubt that getting them in the same room as a cast-iron coal fired stove is a good idea: it would result in severe burns and trips to casualty, if not a full-scale conflagration. It is a shame, though, that I spend all day working on the line and then am not home until after they’re in bed.
Today, well, we have a strict no-romance-on-the-14th rule in this house; so instead of doing anything special we went into town and did the usual mundane weekend shopping: new gloves for the children, some stuff from the craft shop; a new USB cable. The Child Who Likes Fairies has learned the word “gouache”.
Most of the intractable problem I was slowly chipping away at at work was solved, today. I suddenly realised that the vast majority of all my unsolved problems - and another, urgent problem, that an outside contractor had asked me for help with - were in all likelihood all just different facets of the same thing. It wasn’t, it turned out, the sole cause of all of them, but it was enough of a hint to clear most of them and give me the boost of encouragement I needed to sort out the rest.
I don’t mean to bang on about the weather, but I’ve been warily watching the forecast all day today. On Saturday I’m due to go and work on the railway, and to get there I have to drive 90 miles ending in a good mile of steep, twisty country lane. Saturday is forecast snow. I really don’t fancy driving there in that weather, and I definitely don’t fancy the risk of getting there, the snow starting, and being unable to get home again. Still, even if it does snow, it should be too warm and wet for the snow to stick.
Lots of wind and rain today, rain being blown hard, the sort of rain that seems to be in your face whichever direction you are travelling in.
Went into town with the kids to do various dull things, like go to the bank to pay the bills, and pick up some firelighters ready for a turn on the railway next week - being February, I will probably want to get the stove going. The regular busker who only seems to play Nirvana and Green Day was in the Podium again, and as usual The Child Who Likes Fairies approved: “Like it music!” She has started introducing herself to other children when playing.
The temperature was minus 4 when I left the house today: not cold by global standards, but cold by my standards. When I left work to come home again it had risen to plus 3, but most of the buildings around, especially the big dull office buildings, had roofs still covered in rough, powdery frost.
The rest of the country has snow, apparently, and we have drizzle. I consoled myself by thinking that, by 10am, everything elsewhere was slushy and grey.
I took the children up to the Ponds, and back home again. It’s not the most exciting walk: straight and tree-lined. On the way back I passed a family with the dad telling a young girl: “steam trains used to come up here.”
Today, we were up in Worcestershire; and as we drove home down the dark motorway, we watched rockets flying up into the sky, from all the towns and villages along the way. Strensham, Tewkesbury; Gloucester and Stonehouse.
Back at Symbolic Towers, we have a tiny little pocket garden, almost all of it rather flammable. Now, if you read the instructions on a box of fireworks, you’re supposed to leave more space between firework and buildings, firework and burnables, firework and yourself, than we ever have any chance of having behind our house.*
Despite that, when we got home, we went through to the back of the house and stood out in the garden, the air damp and smoky, and listened to the sound of Bonfire Night. Living in a city, the dark evening was a constant bubble of crackles and bangs, deep bass thumps and high-pitched, tense rattles. Every now and then the sky would flash; every now and then there would be a rocket close enough to see. We stood out, until it got too cold, stood still, sniffed the burning in the air and listened to the noises of the fireworks. The noises of winter starting.
* Of course, the same applies to the vast majority of gardens, because you’re supposed to leave a huge amount of space for safety. But that doesn’t really alter the fact that, if we were to try setting off a rocket from our little patch of land, we – and the garden – would end up rather singed.
All that snowy weather we’ve been having – almost all gone now, apart from the enormous pile of snow cleared from the office car park – reminded me of the holiday we took a couple of years back, to Rīga, Latvia. “Make sure you wrap up warmly,” said The Mother. “Get proper thermals. Lots and lots of layers.” “You’ll need to take sunglasses, too,” said Dad, “or you’ll get snow-blindness.”
All of which we ignored, fortunately, because we’d have looked bloody silly. Rīga in February was not too dissimilar from Britain in February, being grey, damp, and largely snow-free; it shouldn’t really have been surprising, because it’s on about the same latitude as Dundee. We took plenty of photos; but for some reason they never appeared on here.*
* Unlike the above anecdote about the snow-blindness, etc, which definitely has.