Autumn is finishing and Winter is beginning to close in. The sunny days of early and mid-November that highlighted the changing leaf colours have given way, in the last week especially, to grey murk, mist and damp. But, today is sunny and Christmas is coming and, beyond that, a chance to think about a new, hopefully less pandemic-ridden new year. I will have to start thinking about New Year resolutions and how well (or not) I did with 2020’s resolutions.
At the beginning of 2020 I set myself a target of reading 20 books in the year. To my disappointment and surprise, I am going to fall short of the target. Disappointment because I have consistently read 16 to 17 books a year since I retired and so reading 20 was only a small step up. Surprise because I enjoy reading a lot and would have expected to have found more time for reading in what has been a year of pandemic lockdown and, therefore, more time sitting around at home.
I would like to be able to say that the relatively slow pace at which I have finished books this year has been a function of those books’ complexity or length. But given that one was ‘How to Be a Footballer’ by Peter Crouch, I can’t get far with that argument. No; the real reason is that almost every time I pick up a book during the day – especially after lunch – I doze off.
A few weeks ago I cashed in a book voucher my mother in law had kindly given me for my birthday. As I carried the books home, I resolved to resist siesta time more determinedly. I have had partial success and am now embarking on the third of the books I bought. However, I think the only real solution is to when read standing up or while sitting stiffly at a table. I am still finding that trying to read on the sofa or in a comfy chair leads inexorably to a frittering away of retirement in a pleasant but wasteful snooze. I’m going to try harder.
The first of the new books I read was ‘Beloved’ by Toni Morrison. This is an intricate novel about, at its core, slavery and how ex-slaves and their offspring came to terms with their experience. It’s a brilliantly constructed book with fragments of the story, told by different protagonists, coming together gradually to create a whole. The presence of a ghost (as representation of guilt, memory or trauma – I’m not sure which) was a device I don’t normally warm to, but it worked here.
The next book in the new pile was ‘Always North’ by Vicki Jarrett. This was very different from Beloved. It is set in a dystopian near future, not the past, and is a fast paced climate emergency thriller. There are some parallels between the books though. They both describe a tragic environment and they both deal with the nature of memory and dreams. I thought that some of the ideas in Always North were only partly thought through. However, the excellent first section of the book describing a survey of the Arctic hooked me, the story unfolded quickly enough for me to forgive any logic holes, and I learnt a few things about likely climate change trigger points above the Arctic Circle.
The preoccupation of both books with memory and dreams links to some thoughts I have had about these recently. I have had a spate of dreams over the last few months that have had a corporate office work theme. There were people in the dreams from my previous work life. There were offices, deadlines, files and meetings.
I won’t relate what fragments I can remember of any of the dream sequences – I often think there is nothing more tedious than hearing about someone else’s dreams – but it is weird that they have cropped up over 3 years after my retirement. I read once that dreams are the brain’s way of flushing out information that is not needed anymore. Well perhaps my experience is bearing that out!
So, onwards into December… Long-Suffering Wife (LSW) and I are looking forward to Christmas despite the constraints on gatherings. I have issued a light and laughable survey to our sons asking them what sort of Christmas they want with us – what food, drink and activity for example – and that has helped to build up some excitement. Most of all, we are looking forward to some long chats around meals, during long walks and in front of the wood-burners, in advance of what should be a good and interesting 2021.
Already – and regardless of the pandemic – LSW and I can see the potential for big changes next year. The landscaping of the garden behind the house is nearly (and finally, belatedly) finished but will need planting and then we should decide what to do about the big crumbling stone wall in front of the house and the gently declining stables in the field. The Barbican flat in London is being vacated by Eldest Son and his girlfriend as they move to Edinburgh and so we have to decide whether to sell it. The tenancy of our Tin House in a neighbouring village is coming to an end so there needs to be some thinking about the future of that too.
Beyond the pandemic, there will no doubt be other opportunities and issues to confront. Not least we are keen to travel around the UK rather more – especially to Northern Ireland, now Youngest Son is settled there, and to Scotland, once Eldest Son and girlfriend have moved there. I will also visit my Mum and Dad again after a long break due to the lockdown.
The sun coming out today after four days of grimy, grey weather has made me feel optimistic again….. There is still some autumnal colour in the leaves on some trees, the woodland paths are gorgeously spongy with the recent leaf falls, fungi are thriving in the undergrowth and birds are still marking out their territories beautifully noisily. And a Covid-19 vaccine is coming….
There is much to appreciate and anticipate. Roll on Christmas and the New Year.