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10/12/18 The sound of tawny owls isn’t restricted to autumn, or even to night time. They are usually not far away at any time of year, and a few years ago there was a period when I would hear them in the garden more often at about 11am than any other time of day.
Recently I noticed I had been missing them. Autumn nights are not complete without that most magical of sounds: a sonic reproduction of alpaca wool. It is a sound I could snuggle in. What a contrast to the bird that produces it! Loose-feathered and beautiful as tawny owls are, I am under no illusion as to their cuddliness. One glimpse of those piercing eyes and deadly beak and claws instantly corrects any mistake on that front. Their babies are another matter, however. Perhaps the sound is of owlet fuzz rather than alpaca wool. It certainly has the same effect on me as looking at a photograph of a baby owl.
7/12/2018 Sometimes it can feel like a nuisance having to drive home in the dark as early as 4.30 in the afternoon. I don’t much like it, partly because so many people fail to dip their headlights that I often get home with a headache, not to mention experiencing several moments of panic as a result, when I can see nothing of the road in front of me.
But then I realise there is something I love about going home in the dark. Seeing the little windows of old Suffolk cottages lit up is delightful. They are better than any Christmas lights, and last all autumn and winter. The occasional glimpse of beamed walls and wonky ceilings inside adds to the treat. Although I am out in the dark, they remind me how snug I will be once I get home. And it also somehow makes me feel as though I am in a story, wondering what all those people are doing inside in the warm.
5/12/2018 It’s strange. I’m enjoying autumn more than ever, and yet of all the seasons this year, I am struggling to choose subjects to write about. I have had many ideas, but few have lodged in my mind.
I’ve been trying to figure out why. Since I got back from holiday, my autumn has been characterised by activity. A good proportion of it is seasonal – tidying up in the garden and lighting bonfires, splitting firewood, making jam, apple picking with goats (a sometimes inconvenient but certainly entertaining version of the activity), rushing to stew and freeze all the apples before they rot… Even those parts that aren’t exactly seasonal have benefitted from the darker nights and colder days: indoor activities such as planning refurbishments and repairs, decorating, tidying and sorting, finding time to work through an enormous pile of B&B ironing which I can never bring myself to do when the sun is shining (most days since late spring this year), and cello practice. There has been sociable fun too: concerts, meeting new people, going for walks with my neighbour, and inviting people round for tea or supper.
I had to make two trips in a day to the vet at Copdock to drop off and pick up my rabbit (thankfully nowhere near the scene of my Copdock church experience), and I thought this time I would finally visit Hintlesham church, which I had driven past countless times. My failure to do stop on any previous occasion had been caused, first, by the fact I hadn’t spotted anywhere to park (I should have looked right instead of left), and later by my experiences at Copdock and Bentley: I had been left with the impression that many churches in the vicinity of Ipswich kept their doors firmly locked to visitors.
I planned to visit in the afternoon, but decided to check if it was open on my way home in the morning, fully expecting it not to be. A sign in the porch stating, ‘this church is locked at night,’ raised my hopes, but it was not until I turned the door handle that I fully believed what the sign implied. I couldn’t resist a look inside, but I didn’t explore too thoroughly, wanting to leave the pleasure until later.
28/11/2018 This autumn has been a lot about people and activity as much as the season. I have had a strange but wonderful week of meeting people with round-about connections through friends or family, and of unexpected contact with people from more than 20 years ago. Some were initiated by me, some by others; some were pure chance, others prompted by dreams.
I have felt the last few years that my life is divided into two parts. So much so that I sometimes refer to the first part – half jokingly, half seriously – as my ‘past life’. Most of it I prefer not to think about. The second part is the life I have now, where I feel I have finally found my corner, and am in the right place doing the right things with the right people. My happier, more peaceful self.
26/11/2018 I have noticed how many stunning sunsets we have had recently. I am sure it is because there have been so many clear days this autumn that they are more frequently visible than usual. I think it is also likely that I’m more often outdoors at the right time, often squeezing in a walk or a garden job before the light disappears. And the autumn colours certainly enhance their beauty.
But when I stopped to think about it, I concluded there was probably a more scientific explanation too: the angle of the sun is different, and a greater slant must contribute to greater scattering of light.
St Peter’s, Great Livermere
Outdoor temperature: 12.1˚C; indoor temperature: 15˚C, humidity 68%
The day after returning from holiday, I attended the Suffolk Historic Churches Trust annual dinner. My neighbour at dinner was Tony, the rector of the Blackbourne Team, or Ministry, a description that I had hadn’t come across before. Looking it up afterwards, I found it was something larger than a benefice: it includes 8 parishes, of which 3 consist of more than one village. Perhaps the most surprising of the parishes was ‘Ingham with Ampton, Great Livermere and Little Livermere’. Ingham and Great Livermere both possess sizeable churches, and Ampton, though small, seems very much in use as a village church. Little Livermere, I discovered, is now a ruin.
St James’, Bury St Edmunds
It was the autumn equinox, and in some ways felt like the end of the year: my recital in St Edmundsbury Cathedral was the culmination of a season’s concerts, and a season’s cello practice. It was the end of a busy summer of B&B guests, and a few days after the recital I would go on holiday.
I had performed the first and last pieces of the programme before; but the other two – by Debussy and Martinu – turned out to be harder than I anticipated. Not technically or in terms of stamina – unlike the programme I had chosen last year when I started my church tour – but mathematically. Learning the notes and how the music went was the easy part, relatively speaking. Putting the pieces together with piano was much, much harder.
13/11/18 My choice of subject – after two weeks’ procrastination, changing my mind several times about what subject to choose – might seem strange, especially as a little over six months ago I was writing about precisely the opposite. But perhaps this is the glory of the seasons: without the contrasts, we would start to take spring and summer for granted, and life would be much duller. I experienced this first hand when I spent a year in the tropics: much as I love the rainforest and the tropical climate, I struggled with the lack of variation in day length, and the lack of seasons.
I am appreciating dark nights for a variety of reasons. The first is simply because it provides an opportunity to slow down my pace a little: to eat supper earlier, have more time to relax in the evening (with my indoor animals), and go to bed earlier. I spend most of spring and summer in a flurry of activity, and while there’s daylight and sunshine – of which we have had a lot this year – I find it hard to go indoors or sit down for any length of time. As a consequence, I eat later and go to bed later, barely stopping long enough in the evening to wind down before flopping into bed. Autumn and winter seem to be the seasons of the year to build up one’s energy reserves for the next year.
30/10/18 If I had to choose one thing that for me could represent – even conjure up – autumn, it would be the smell of quinces.
There is something about smells. They seem to possess a power that sights, and possibly even sounds, don’t. They can transport me instantly to a different time and place; conjure up feelings, scenes and situations vividly and sometimes unexpectedly.
Luckily there are few smells that do this in an unpleasant way – as dreams usually do, I find. Mostly smells bring good memories, or at worst nostalgic or curious ones. The smell of quinces not only represents for me childhood autumns in Suffolk, but is in itself intoxicating and addictive. I could put my nose to a quince and inhale over and over, all day long.