End Of The Season

A friend took this photograph of the last leaf clinging to a tree near his place of work.

He wrote of Autumn, still hanging desperately on at this late hour, before finally conceding to the inevitable winter.

The symbolism is obvious, but to me it reminded me of another liminal point. My Mum, suffering from Alzheimer’s, is nearing the end. She is still hanging on despite a possible chest infection. A stab in the dark Hail Mary, she is receiving antibiotics to counter any such infection, with the hope of an improvement over the next 48 hours (I’m writing this on the Saturday).

If that doesn’t materialise then end of life care will begin.

To be honest, I kind of hope it isn’t a chest infection. What is the point of coming back from the brink for further struggle? A struggle she won’t even be aware that she’s in. A struggle she cannot win.

The irony is that for a while now my wife and I have been administering medication and calorie-providing drinks to prolong what she didn’t want prolonging. To keep her where she didn’t want to be. (Such is the nature of her illness that, even though she is still here, I speak of her wishes in the past tense.)

But it’s not for us to decide the hour. A ‘time for all seasons’ and all that. At least not until we react to her failing heart and begin the end of life care.

Maybe the leaf in the photograph can also stand for one final moment of clarity, glimpsed among the fog of confusion, where those clouded eyes show recognition, and the lips twitch in that old grounded humour.

But I fear that is wishful thinking. The leaf is hanging on but, despite those blue skies, there’s a cold breeze blowing now. The natural order cannot be defeated. One season is giving way to the next.

November Nights

The strong wind came in as forecast. In my town centre, it was as if it had swept away most people along with the litter and leaves. Darkness fell at the same time as the storm.

Gloom and mood in tandem, the Autumn ‘fall’.

My house is on an estate at the top of a hill. The house on the hill. Sounds familiar. The hill hangs over this town centre. Half way up is a line of trees that have often served as refuge when caught in a sudden deluge. (And also a veritable bounty for kids filling their pockets with conkers.)

The rain followed faithfully the wind, but this time I didn’t need refuge. Modern man has a weather app, you know, and everything else at his nimble fingers. Sometimes I feel we’ve been robbed of the element of surprise, often exchanging wonder for knowledge. But if I really felt so strongly about it, I’d discard all oracles and take every day as it comes, wouldn’t I ?

Still, there is some wonder, even if, beneath this hooded, waterproof coat, there are no surprises:

I do love this time of year.

Sir Perceval Of Pumpkins

We always leave it too late. Every single year. October 29th, October 30th, I, like Manchester’s answer to Sir Perceval, trawling fruitlessly around all of the local stores on a vain last minute pumpkin quest.

Not this time, I thought. October 28th. Not too soon for them to go rotten, not too late for them to sell out.

Leave it to me this year, dear family of mine, Halloween is safe in my hands.

(And no, it’s not that I have giant hands.)

Falling Into Fifties

I’m long past that awkward, self-conscious stage.

I was never fashionable and so never had any street cred. But still, being around twelve or thirteen, I would steer my Mum away from the Oxfam window she was about to look in, lest any school friend should see us.

“Scav!” would be the gibe.

Thrift shops I think the Americans call them.

At what point do your scruples change?

Last week I got a pair of jeans for £3.50. I’ve also picked up a jacket for £7.00.

Is this my market now? Falling into my fifties.

It also seems appropriate that I’m mulling this over while passing through a late autumn afternoon, dappled fields lost to a host of daddy longlegs and spiders; ground conceded to the worms of the earth.

Hobbit in the Habitat? Not Quite.

I have a few projects at the moment that have been put on hold due to a local oral history project that I volunteered for. This has taken precedence because, sadly, some of the people that I was due to speak with died before I got the opportunity, and I have also been to the funerals of two people whose stories I have managed to preserve.

So the clock is ticking. Talk about a deadline. Literally.

In pursuit of finishing this endeavour, I was due to catch a train to interview a Bishop who lived on my estate in the 1970’s.

“Who are you going to see this time?” my daughter, Millie, asked.

“I’m going to see a Bishop. And guess what my first question is?”

“What?”

Is it true that you can only move diagonally?”

Long pause. “I don’t get it.”

Things didn’t fare any better with my older daughter, Courtney. She asked me “Where is it you are getting a train to?”

“Chapel-en-le-Frith.”

One of those pauses again. Must be a family thing. “What does that even mean?!’

“It’s a place,” I explained, deciding to slip back into English. Historically it was the upperland area between Saxon land and Viking land, and I love that kind of stuff.

But I didn’t go there (metaphorically speaking). I had a train to catch.

Peak as in ‘Peak District’

At Manchester Piccadilly, I made the fatal mistake of looking at books in WH Smith, something that is always liable to distract me. It was only when I saw some bottles of Buxton Spring Water on a shelf that I suddenly remembered why I was there.

“BUXTON!”

That was the destination my train was heading for, with my stop coming two stations before. It was, dare I say it, divine intervention of my dawdling. And off I dashed.

In short: I made my train, on disembarking was met on the platform by the Bishop (“Jack?” “Andy?”) and was charmed over lunch by both him and his wife. Not realising on my arrival just how close to the station that they lived, I declined the offer of a lift back to the station, insisting that I’d like to walk. I am an ex-postie after all.

And who doesn’t love Autumn in Derbyshire?

However, quaint though the local train station was, what I didn’t realise was that trains to Manchester ran only once every hour, and I had forty minutes to wait.

Just as the rain came in with a dampening down of mood.

I’m sittin’ in the railway station . . .

There was a shelter on the opposite side of the tracks, (the Manchester side), so I could sit down and take in the setting. There was nobody else around. Windswept and empty, it was obvious that the locals were all au fait with the timetable.

The type of rain that Peter Kaye made famous.

At first glance, looking to the opposite platform, I thought that this said ‘Home of Frodo’.

Ferodo is a brakes company.

A friend later told me that when she was there she’d thought that the sign said ‘Home of Freddo’.

Hobbits/Chocolate . Maybe chocolate hobnobs?

In the autumn chill I was pretty sure that at least some of the locals were snug and warm.

Snug as a, well, you know.

I couldn’t help but contrast my surroundings with this welcoming depiction of the town. I think a bit of artistic licence had been used, especially with the climate. I could just feel that heat. Almost.

Looks lovely, doesn’t it?

The time soon passed, (with still not a living soul arriving to keep me company), and my train rolled in to puncture this almost picture-portrait of times past. But not before the clouds broke and I was given one more contrast before my departure.

Chapel-en-le-Frith by sunshine.