It might seem strange to write about winter on one of the sunniest and warmest weekends to hit these parts for months (if not all year) but the truth is that winter is weighing on my mind and to me at least it has already started. The road to winter is long and drawn out and bar a few bright spots is generally downward trend.
The days started shortening almost 3 months ago and soon we will hit the autumnal equinox and the days will be shorter than the nights. As I get up about 5.30am every day I get up in the dark from late August until sometime in March/April and so having been getting up in the dark already for a few weeks in some ways I am experiencing one of the worst aspects of winter that are still months away for others. Thankfully it is still light when I go to work but all ready the car headlights are on in the morning and soon the long journey to work will be made more depressing by the only visible light belonging to the idiot behind me and the sea of red light in front. It’s always a bad sign when you see the red lights brightening miles ahead of you as that is chaos ahead and a slow moving one at that.
We noticed last week that it was only 8pm and it was pitch black outside. Where did those long summer evenings go, light until after 10, not dark until 11 or so? Once the cold sets in, it will be curtains closed at 5pm and daylight will be a thing I see on television and on those few weekends when it isn’t pouring down outside and the night sets in soooo much earlier.
For many others the winter starts when the clocks fall back an hour and any pretence that Autumn isn’t that bad disappears in 1 day when it is dark before 6pm.
The next shock for the system is the frost and ice. Living in a relatively green area and not being to park my car in the garage or even on a driveway my car always gets ludicrously iced up especially at 6.20am. There is always that morning when the first frost comes and after the initial shock comes the relief that if you can wipe it off with your hand then the wipers will get rid of it too. One day though the ice will come for real and that is first day of dozens where the drive to work starts with some real hard scraping, de-icing , pulling of frozen leaves and tree twigs and finally sitting in a freezing car waiting for the misty window to clear.
Do not think that lovely Hertfordshire is like this for everyone. If I only had either a shorter commute, a drive-way or garage or a decent car then all of this would be solved or at least pushed back until December.
I become slightly obsessed with weather forecasts as most people in Britain are. Sunny weather means heavy frosts, windy weather can stop that but being first out in the morning means that you have to dodge the large plastic wheelie bins that can get blown into the road and aren’t obvious in the dark when they are all grey/black.
Heavy rain keeps the ice away but makes driving hell and after a few weeks my car interior is so damp and misty that it can develop its own eco-system of miniature spiders, flies and other buddies who like to keep me company. The damp interior also means that when the frosts return the car pedals are icy and so are the speedometer. I just love that.
I won’t even mention snow on work days.
There is also the office bad colds to endure. I work in village called Stokenchurch, it is a pretty place and a very wet place on the highest hill in Buckinghamshire but my particular open plan office is on the top floor facing north and has tiny ill-fitted windows that I have my back turned to so I get no natural light and lots of natural draughts down my neck. I have asthma too which makes me pre-disposed for bad colds and chest infections. I don’t normally get the cold from myself or being outdoors but from a few colleagues who splutter their way through the winter. What for them is just 2 days of coughing and sneezing then turns into a 3 or 4 or 6 week period when I am unwell myself only much worse than they ever are and this can happen several times between now and April, indeed I am 2 weeks into a spell now, traced directly to when I had a sneezing visitor sat opposite me for 1 day.
By the 3rd week of December after months of this stuff I am totally ready for the quietest and warmest Christmas I can have. Oh did I mention Christmas? It’s too early to blog about Christmas per se but in the last few years GB has become obsessed about the commercial bits of Christmas. Eating and drinking too much, ever more tacky decorations and Christmas presents. I have already bought 50% of my presents so to avoid the awful queues and promotions and the Christmas music in all the shops once Halloween has been and gone. Luckily for me I can and do watch mostly BBC television which has no commercial breaks but woe betide anyone who strays onto the 200 commercial channels. They must be starting their perfume adverts about now.
Reading this it might seem that I don’t have anything good to say about the slippery slope ahead. There are nice things about Autumn and winter too of course. The leaves on the trees changing colours, the return of hot foods and Sunday roasts, the freezing cold walks I do early on saturday and sunday mornings where the frozen soil and grass cracks under my feet.
My wife and I often go for walks in the evening in Autumn after spending summer evenings in the garden where possible. It’s nice to look at the stars or feel the wind for a few weeks at least until it does just get too cold. No matter how good exercise is for you, there are limits right?
The march to Winter does at least allow everyone to wear wintery clothes and it may just be me but I think that often people look nicer in winter clothes. It doesn’t matter if you are fat or thin or just ugly everyone can look nice in winter in ways that they don’t wearing skimpy summer wear. I do like wearing my gloves and scarfs and my coats. The full length black one that makes me look like a Chicago gangster, the leathery suede one that looks vaguely Battle of Britain pilot gear and not forgetting my green soldiers uniform. Not that it is a uniform but it is dark green and has lots of buttons so that is what we call it, vaguely World War 1 looking but if that is not your scene then it doubles as The Beatles coat. Finally the Camel Coat, very warm and far too posh looking for me or my locale but I waited 30 years to get one and last year I finally got it and I love wearing it.
I always find the end of October and early November strangely entertaining for such a gloomy time of the year. Halloween is fun and I love ghost and horror stories at any time. Then as the saying goes “Remember remember the 5th of November” for Guy Fawkes night (bonfire night) and looking at all the fireworks. Of course these days it is swamped by Divali but fireworks are fireworks! Then Armistice Day on November 11th which over the years I have noticed hardly even gets rained on.
Then there is central heating which is a bliss. Trying our best to save the planet and our wallets we try not to put the heating on until November and even then only for an hour or two in the evening and at weekends so early mornings are always chilly as are the evenings. We go through several weeks of wearing woolly clothes and fleece jackets and even have sofa blankets to keep warm in the autumn evenings. Putting on the tumble-dryer machine and also using the oven are ways we warm up the house for a few hours when it all gets too much but then the day comes when we can’t take it any longer and on comes the heating. A nice 20 degrees, maybe 21 or 22 for a few hours on the coldest days. The warmth is magical and for the first day somehow the radiators give off some sort of indescribable paint smell as they heat up in the first time for 8 months.
Television is also at its best in Autumn, a lot of the best shows are about to start. Dr Who is already under way and no doubt there will be surprise hits and series to brighten the dark nights. For someone who was only about 6 when JR got shot, I enjoyed the first episode of the new Dallas (oh and it always sunny there) and it is only 1 week to go until Downton Abbey starts. Whilst others have X-Factor, Strictly Come Dancing and other celebrity nonsense I have Downton Abbey which is something to look forward to every Sunday night from September until Christmas. This programme has everything I love about television, history, no blatant sex and violence, no celebrity or reality culture just old fashioned stories plus beautiful old houses, pretty ladies in beautiful dresses and men in smart suits and uniforms. Every one speaks correctly and even the servants have nice managers. I know servants had it bad but in some ways I don’t think we are doing much better than them, at least they didn’t have to de-ice their cars and drive for hours each day before and after work and instead just walked up the stairs.
Despite these positives I’d still rather skip over the next 6 months. Maybe if the summer had been better I wouldn’t feel so short changed. Maybe one day my life circumstances will change so I can enjoy autumn and winter as everyone else does but for now there is no getting away from it the next few months won’t be fun. If this sounds too negative don’t worry, no-one looks forward to spring more than me. Don’t think I don’t notice how the days are 20 minutes longer on the first day back to work in January than they are on Mid-Winters day!