Every year, I say that we really ought to “do” autumn better in the UK. I usually say it on the day of the Tatton Park harvest festival, because that’s always lovely and I wish that there were more events like it. But it was cancelled this year. And the Heaton Park bonfire’s been cancelled as well. I’m quite keen on Bonfire Night, because we’ve lost so many traditions and that’s one that’s still going. Also, it gives me an excuse to lecture people on Stuart era history 🙂 . But the idea of autumn bonfires goes right back to Celtic Samhain celebrations, we think. And autumn *should* be celebrated, rather than the supermarkets putting the mince pies and Christmas puddings out in the first week of September! I love seeing the autumnal displays you get in the US at this time of year. OK, putting a load of pumpkins outside probably works better in Texas or South Carolina, where it’s still hot in October – I once went to a “harvest home” celebration in South Carolina in mid-October, and I was wearing a T-shirt and thin cotton trousers – than it does here, where the rain’s liable to turn them to mush, but we can use pinecones and conkers and so on!
I love conkers. So bright and shiny! I love pumpkins too, because they’re nice and bright and orange. OK, I know that, if we’re talking about making lanterns from hollowed out fruit or vegetables, it’s traditional to use turnips, and I’m usually a great advocate of tradition, but pumpkins are so pretty! Today, I went to the pumpkin festival at Kenyon Hall Farm: it’s been going for a few years now, and is becoming a bit of a tradition in itself. Yes, I know you can buy pumpkins at Tesco, but it’s far more fun to pick your own. I love seeing things growing. The virus can’t stop that.
So, a big thank you to everyone involved in bringing in the harvest. Here’s to pumpkins. Here’s to bonfires. Here’s to parkin buns and apple bobbing and Bonfire toffee, and hot drinks with whipped cream on the top. Here’s to poems by Keats, and harvest hymns … and I would say songs by Justin Hayward, but that song’s actually pretty miserable! There’s a Van Morrison song about autumn, which is more cheerful, so here’s to that one instead. And to rustling through piles of leaves, which you probably shouldn’t do because it makes a mess, but the rustling noise they make is very satisfying, somehow.
We’re hearing a lot at the moment about Christmas. It’s heartbreaking to think that we won’t be able to have big get-togethers with our families and friends this year. No definite decision on the Christmas markets yet, but I can’t see how they can go ahead: most places have already cancelled theirs. The Christmas lights switch-on’s been cancelled, and so have all the local pantomimes. Jokes are doing the rounds about whether or not Father Christmas and his elves will be allowed into the country without quarantining: if you didn’t laugh, you’d cry.
There’ve been worse years. In the week leading up to Christmas 1940, a wave of Luftwaffe bombing killed 684 people in Manchester and Salford and 395 people in Liverpool. Thousands more people were injured, and many more made homeless. The cathedral, the Free Trade Hall, the Royal Exchange and many other of our most important buildings were damaged. My school was blown to bits and had to be rebuilt. There always used to be a story that German POWs were made to build the home economics room. I’ve no idea if it’s true or not. Why the home economics room?! But there have been worse years. This is going to be a pretty weird one, though.
But, as the saying goes, it’s better to light a candle than to curse the darkness. I’ve got my pumpkin, and I’ve got my conkers. And I’m going to rustle through piles of leaves even if it does make a bit of a mess. Well, the wind’ll mess them up anyway! I might even get a toffee apple. The virus can’t take everything. It hasn’t taken autumn.