Magazine article The Spectator

Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Autumn This Year

Magazine article The Spectator

Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Autumn This Year

Article excerpt

The last match of the season is over.

Cricketers oil their bats thoughtfully and ponder, `How many more in my time?' The paunch is a little rounder, the joints a twinge stiffer, that big throw from the on boundary a bit feeble, was it not? There is much tidying and locking up at this time of year beach huts, summer houses, delectable cottages in the high hills. Climbing-boots are cleaned and put away lovingly along with huge, thick-ribbed, brilliantly coloured stockings and hardy breeches of Bedford cord. Maps are folded and returned to the shelves. The sun slants generously on bare boards and invites one to linger longer, but it is deceptive, the summer is gone. The rucksack is packed finally - not with the method and eagerness of spring, but crossly, hurriedly, cramming clothes in regardless, crushing and creasing them as though these poor inanimate things can be blamed for the fatal passage of time. Then it is hoisted on to reluctant shoulders, and a last look back fixes in the mind the beloved, moss-grown stones before one takes the first steps down the steep, rocky path towards mechanisation and urban destiny.

I like resorts at fin de saison. The days shorten, the breezes are less kindly, the waves break with a touch of anger in the foam, the beach thins out, there are fewer ankles amid the surf and only one or two heads bobbing in deep water. No donkeys now, the deckchairs are stacked, the icecream man calls it a day and drags his cart up the old lifeboat slipway till another year. For the first time in months you can smell the ozone as the cloying niff of popcorn and chip fat dies away. I walk the front at these times, conscious of a new air of possession of empty spaces, long greying horizons uninterrupted by human forms. The children are safely back at school, their mothers bemoaning their fate elsewhere. The old folk fear the faint nip in the air and youth has fled to more exciting places. The gulls are hungrier now the summer profligacy is over, and it is their angry clamours that fill the thin air with sound. The ocean is a shade darker, even in mid-afternoon, with strips of silver where the sun, lower on the horizon, falls slantingly through the scudding strips of cloud. The tone is silky, almost satiny, the colours subdued, the mood elegiac. There is a solitary fellow-stroller, quite unknown to me, whom I greet like a friend. `Summer's over.' `Yes, thank God.' Well is he right? I think so. I like all seasons in their turn, welcoming them, bidding them a fond but not tenuous farewell.

In our London garden I gather leaves and vegetable detritus, including fallen pears bird-pecked, wasp-spoiled - to throw in the new patent composter which stands, like an unarmed Dalek, by the far wall. I pluck two dozen big pears from the branches, before the greedy doves and blackbirds get them, to lie on the windowsills of the storeroom. This year, the vine has produced an unprecedented mass of foliage which has climbed up the back of the house to the topmost balcony, so that the whole of the garden is a deep green den, an urban Amazon. But of fruit there is little - what there is, green and tiny - so the invading starlings have gone away hungry. But there are still plenty of flowers, and the sun, though low, bravely gleams, so I am reluctant to put away the garden chairs and the cushions around the hospitable oaken table, for the last time. In my studio is a good haul from a fitful summer - 40 or so watercolour sketches, some of them finished and frameable, others with ideas to be worked out in the chill months ahead. …

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