Books that reawakened my love of reading

I believe that books are like music, deeply personal artefacts, which makes them difficult to recommend to others.  Yes, there are metrics that make recommendation easier – the quality of the writing, the style and of course the topic itself, but that’s just a small part isn’t it? Don’t you also have to throw into the mix your mood at the time of reading, your personal circumstances, your age, your attitudes, the current economic climate, current trends, etc, etc?

I’m going to list some books here that I rediscovered recently in the loft whilst looking for something else. I hadn’t forgotten these books, but I had forgotten I still had them, and upon seeing them I received such an instant rush of delight, such strong flashbacks to a time in my life when I actually remember very little, yet the reawakened memories from seeing these books invoked a real sense of nostalgia.

These books were all read by me between 1987 and 1990 (+ 1993) (aged 22-25 (+ 28)). I started my first job in London in September ’86 and finally freed from academic study, plus a commute down the northern line, I suddenly had time to read, not because I had to, but because I wanted to.

  • The Catcher in the Rye – J.D Salinger
    I bought this from a second-hand bookshop off Islington High Street in 1986. I can remember buying it, but I can’t remember why (probably because I thought it looked and sounded cool). I don’t remember that much about the book, but I do remember Holden Caulfield, and even though he was a 1950s kid growing up in America, I liked him, I identified with him. He found the world challenging and I guess as a young man living in a new city with few friends, starting my first job, I shared a few of Holden’s angsts. I look at the book now and I don’t think I could read it again, despite all those memories. I read it at exactly the right time, and that’s my point about books, you can’t recommend ‘feelings’.
  • The Cider House Rules/A Prayer for Owen Meany – John Irving
    July ’87 (I used to write inside my books). This was my second Irving novel after reading The World According To Garp (a book I think I gave away). I loved Garp so much I searched more from Irving and this happened to be next. John Irving was so good at creating characters and Homer Wells was no exception. This is a big book, one of those ‘life’ books that follows Homer throughout his life. Weird and wonderful (often unreal) things happen to Homer but it doesn’t matter, this isn’t a book about story so much as it’s a book about people.  I loved Homer Wells and I devoured that book on my commute – 730 pages – in just a few short days. I read ‘A Prayer for Owen Meany’ whilst inter-railing in 1990 and I consider Garp, Homer and Owen to be good friends of mine.
  • Success/Dead Babies/Rachel Papers – Martin Amis
    I felt I had to try British authors and stumbled upon Martin Amis, possibly recommended by a friend. I don’t think these three books were a trilogy, but I read them that way – all between ’87 and ’88 – they’re all published in the same style and all based around young people (my age), living in London (my new town). Amis was (is?) a brilliant writer and I loved the Englishness (perhaps after reading American literature it felt fresh and more closer to home). These books are about lives of young people living loose and fast. Drugs, sex and booze are rife, morals are dubious, far removed from my life (except maybe for the booze) and perhaps it was the escapism and naughtiness I liked most.  Rachel Papers made the most impact on me. I think I fell in love with Rachel, it wasn’t always an easy read. That’s what I remember, not the plot, but the emotion.
  • A Kind of Loving – Stan Barstow
    Not content with just going English, I went full Yorkshire in Aug ’89, availing myself of Stan Barstow. I absolutely loved Stan Barstow. His books were set in Yorkshire, in the 60s, often around a young man starting out in life and struggling to make ends meet. Vic Brown was the main character. Vic became a trilogy with Watchers on the Shore and A Right True End. I read them back to back. Barstow’s books (I read 6 of them in total) made me realise you don’t have to hide your roots, you can be proud of them.
  • The Crow Road – Iain Banks
    I’ve included this, even though I read it a little later (4th May, 1993, Euston Station). I include this because it’s probably the best book I’ve ever read. Prentice McHoan is Scottish and had a very different upbringing to me, yet it feels wonderfully familiar, not so much the scenes or the situations, but the way Prentice thinks, the emotions he feels. But I didn’t just love the character of Prentice, I loved the way Banks described scenes and I think this was the first time I deeply appreciated how wonderful description could also be. The Crow Road remains one of the most beautiful books to combine character, story and description in my opinion, and there’s one scene in the book that remains my most favourite scene I’ve ever read. I probably will read this book again one day with a fine malt.
  • The Wasp Factory – Iain Banks
    My other most favourite Iain Banks novel is The Wasp Factory (since lost and hence not pictured). I wanted my kids (my two boys in particular) to read that book as that also had a huge impact on me and I wanted them to feel some of what I felt. It failed badly, neither of them read it and I felt sad, but then realised what I said at the beginning – you can’t force books on others. The Wasp Factory wasn’t their book, it was mine. Hopefully they will make their own discoveries, and often it’s the discovery process that’s the most exciting.

As a final caveat I should add that I did successfully lend Amis’s Dead Babies to my daughter and she did read it in June 2013 – thanks for that Em, and thanks for also writing your name in the book and continuing the tradition 😉 x

Slade – How does it feel?

When I was 10 years old, I went to the ‘Pictures’ in Barnsley with my older brother to see ‘Slade in Flame’, a new film from the band Slade. It was 1975.
 
Everyone knows of Slade today because of that one Christmas hit, but they were more than that. The film had a depth to it that 70s Glam Rock didn’t. I wouldn’t have described the film as ‘poignant’ back then, but I would now, and on hearing this soundtrack of the film again today, it brought it all back.
 
So if you only know Slade for that one song, have a listen to this, written by a band who wanted to go in a different direction, but who were discouraged from doing so by a management who knew better.
 

Why Ed Sheeran is dead to me …

As a kid I quickly became fascinated by music. It was initially pop songs from the charts – The Rubettes, Slade, Abba – and then as a teenager my tastes morphed more into the ‘Rock’ genre – Rainbow, Whitesnake, Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin, Rush. I guess you could say I was a rocker, as were most of my mates. We conformed.

But then, in my late teens, I started to discover music for myself, my music, largely uninfluenced by my peers. I remember hearing U2 on late night radio around 1980 and being blown away by what I heard. It was way before the War album, even pre-October, perhaps just after Boy had been released, and the track I heard was ‘I will Follow’.

That moment changed me. The music was like nothing I had heard before; it was loud, energetic and rebellious, with lyrics to match, lyrics that seemed to have been written just for me.

And for a short period of time, between 1980-1982, U2 became my band. Of course they went on to become one of the biggest bands in the world and my particular hero, Bono, became the biggest dickhead in the world. I no longer buy U2 albums (nor listen much to what Bono has to say), but I still listen to those older songs because they’re in my DNA, an integral part of who I was.

When my mum and dad dropped me off in my student digs in Forest Road, Colchester in September 1983, I knew no-one. I was shitting myself, but under my arm I had two pieces of vinyl – U2 Boy and U2 October – and that made me pretty much invincible. As a northern lad trying to make it down south, I was that ‘Stranger in a Strangeland’ that Bono sang about … “Stranger, stranger in a strangeland, you looked at me like I was the one who should run”.

There are countless other examples of songs and albums that did for me in the same way. I used U2 as an example but I could have also talked longingly about experiences formed around Julian Cope, Lloyd Cole, Joni Mitchell, Neil Young, Led Zeppelin or Oasis songs.

As I grew and developed, my music came with, it became part of me, part of my fabric.  It wasn’t a cloak I wore on occasions, it was part of who I was, always, like DNA. I am who I am because I listened to ‘An Cat Dubh/Into The Heart’ on repeat throughout the night for several weeks in the winter of ’83. The way I reacted to that experience formed the person I became – it influenced my moods, my character, how I interacted with others.

‘I will Follow’ isn’t a great song in its abstract form. It’s not particularly clever, nor is it even very original. It’s just another 3 1/2 minute guitar song like all the others, but to me it’s the song+memories+emotions. And that’s why I can never recommend that song to anyone else, because it’s not just the song I experience when I hear it, it’s the whole package, and that’s not what’s on offer.

The blissfulness we all experience through music is much more than just the song we hear, it’s an evocation of an entire chapter of our lives, and therefore by extension it’s as unique as is our own fingerprint.

The almost 40 year old ‘An Cat Dubh/Into The Heart’ still stops me in my tracks even now. It’s so beautiful it makes me want to cry, particularly the transition from An Cat Dubh to Into the Heart – I can’t put it into words how I feel at 1min 40s into Into The Heart when Bono cries those melancholy words Into the heart, into the heart of a child, I can go back, I can stay a while‘ whilst The Edge’s guitar gently weeps over the top, before swirling round the back and straight through the middle of those aching lyrics mourning the loss of childhood (my God, just typing that makes me weepy).

It’s special to me because I remember the very real fear I had of leaving home for the first time. I remember being genuinely scared of being alone, of having to grow up, not having the faintest clue what my future would look like. That song evokes that time, but if I play it to anyone else it’s just a song that draws a rather awkward, blank stare. I’m trying to share a 3-dimensional experience through 2-dimensional soundwaves.

And for similar reasons, it’s also utter folly to try to like other people’s music. Ed Sheeran is popular in these modern times and I’ve tried ever so hard to like him so I can stay in the game, stay relevant, but I think he’s just a bit shit. I find his music soulless and banal, sorry Ed, it’s not personal.

The truth is, Ed writes for a different audience, for people that are still growing, still forming themselves. He writes for students being dropped off by their parents in September 2019, not 1983, students who are also shit scared of what the future holds, students who are carrying (albeit in digital form) Ed Sheeran songs to comfort them to sleep in the wee small hours.

And so modern day kids will grow up loving Ed or Jay Z in pretty much the same way as I loved U2 and Julian Cope, and that’s OK, it’s not a competition and there should be no league table. We shouldn’t try and sell our music to others because it’s not the music that’s on offer, it’s something much greater, something less tangible, something non-transferable.

Shakespeare said ‘Let music be the food of love’, but I say let musical-experiences be the food of the soul. Your soul. Music is an object, but music plus memory becomes a lifetime and the two should never be conflated.

No one song beats any other song. ‘My’ music wasn’t the best, but it was, and still is, ‘mine’. My music became part of my stories and my stories became my life. In the same way, their music will always be theirs and your music will always be yours.

So sing your Ed Sheeran song, sing it for you and rejoice, but for the love of God turn that dreary racket down, I can’t hear myself think.

Long lost summer …

It’s nearing the end of the summer, always a time of reflection and of change. The holiday to Spain is very fresh in the memory – that heat, those breathtaking views, cathedrals and palaces, the food. And of course there’s the friendships, camarderie, shared laughs, the holiday jokes. And last but not least, Graeme the Swan(n).

But summer wasn’t just about the Spanish holiday, it was also about those long summer days at home – about opening all the doors and windows, about barbecues and village fetes. It was also about long, hot runs through the countryside, about cooling showers, about cricket, not football. About sleeping on top of the duvet, not underneath it.

It was also about perspectives, a time to reflect on what has been and what is still to be. And new perspectives make for new promises. Changes aren’t just the preserve of the new year, they’re for the beach too, a time we naturally carve out space to rethink our priorities, to readjust, to recalibrate.

And, soon enough we are back at work. It’s always an odd feeling to put on your work gear after weeks of wearing nothing but shorts, t-shirts and sandals. The socks feel weird, the trousers feel a little tighter, but at least you have a healthy tan, for now.

Logging on to work for the first time is a challenge – forgotten passwords, long lines of unread emails demanding your attention and messy problems that you blithely brushed under the carpet back in July are still there waiting, still unresolved.

And in that pointless meeting on your first day back, your mind wanders, you open your wallet and find a receipt from the coffee shop in Andalucia and you’re fleetingly back in Spain, which suddenly feels a very long time ago indeed.

What a difference six years makes …

We were on a family holiday in Spain for the London 2012 opening ceremony on 27th July. I’d never been a fan of such ‘spectaculars’ in the past, but we watched this one, gathered round a small TV in the sticky heat of a Spanish summer evening, and right there, right then, I was bitten by the London 2012 bug which ignited the most beautiful two weeks I can remember.

Not only was the sport breathtaking, the organisation fantastic, the drama unending, but much more than that was the feel-good factor that permeated the entire fabric of Great Britain.

There were the volunteers of course, the games makers, who were heroic. Visitors (guests) were welcomed at airports and guided across London, nay, across the whole country, to their sporting event of choice. Cultures mixed, laughed and cried together.

It might have only been two weeks but it felt like an entire summer. TeamGB exceeded all expectations, but the real heroes were the men and women who made it all possible, the Great British public and the millions of overseas visitors. During those two weeks Britain was a truly magical place to be. People smiled, helped, supported, cared, cried and celebrated together. We were a truly united nation and pride dripped from our shores.

Six years on from that opening ceremony and look at Britain now – a broken, dispirited nation divided and fractured by Brexit. Politicians on all sides placing personal interests before their country, and all sense of community, one-nation pulling together, has evaporated in the dry, oppressive heat of the summer of 2018.

Chris Hoy, Mo Farah, Bradley Wiggins and Jessica Ennis-Hill have been replaced in the headlines by Jacob Rees-Mogg, Boris Johnson, Nigel Farage, Theresa May and a disappointingly recalcitrant Jeremy Corbyn.

Community seems to have been replaced by disunity, pride by shame. Hatred is the new currency.

Bar-room talk these days isn’t of success and gold-medals, but about stockpiling medicines and food, of mile long queues at Dover, and instead of reaching out to visitors, welcoming them, helping them, our 2018 games makers are closing our doors not opening them. Visitors are no longer welcome and they’re beginning to understand – ‘they’ being the rest of the world, bar Donald Trump.

I want the spirit of 2012 back. Perhaps football didn’t manage to come home this summer, but maybe the pride in our nation can. Not the ugly pride of fascism, but rather pride borne from openness and collaboration.

The European Union is a coming together of countries which share common interests – a continent first and foremost, but also a union that strives to work together, to solve problems collaboratively, not to create more of them.

Six years on and I want my country back. I want to feel like this again.

Kid thinking …

I remember once, when I was around nine or ten years old, being told that dogs can only see in black and white. We were in the park, the ‘wreck’, or ‘welly’ as we called it, and we were playing football when someone (I forget who), made the pronouncement.

‘How do they know?’ I asked, feeling rather puzzled. And us kids, using kid thinking, concluded between us that they must have cut a dog open, climbed inside and looked through the dogs eyes.

Then we carried on playing football.

But that assertion troubled me, I wasn’t happy with that answer and I carried that with me for quite some time after. Firstly, cutting a dog open isn’t very nice. It’s definitely unkind. Secondly, was the dog dead first? If so, would you still be able to look through their dead eyes? Because if you could, perhaps it looked black and white because the dog was dead, like the power had been turned off. So you would have had to look through the dogs eyes whilst it was still alive, but how could you cut it open and keep it alive?

And what troubled me most of all was that you would be looking through human eyes that already see in colour. A dog doesn’t look through human eyes when it sees, it looks only through dog eyes. And it doesn’t have a human brain to process what it sees, it just has a dog brain. So even if you could cut a dog open, and somehow keep it alive whilst you climbed inside its head, you would then have to look inside and see what it sees without somehow using your human eyes or your human brain …

In other words you would have to be an unopened, alive dog to really know whether a dog sees in black and white or not, and us humans could never really know, and so I decided it was all bullshit.

Of course there wasn’t Google in 1975, but it turns out I was right after all, even if my reasoning was a little … unscientific:
It’s untrue that dogs can only see in black and white

When we were young …

This amazing photograph, titled “Kids jumping onto mattresses” was taken by Tish Murtha in 1980, and rather beautifully encapsulates life growing up in urban Britain in the 70s/80s.

Youth Unemployment in Elswick

image by Tish Murtha © Ella Murtha, All rights reserved.

Notwithstanding the kid in the foreground holding the ventriloquist’s dummy (wtf?), the rest of the scene could have been from any summer in my early youth growing up in  an industrial corner of Yorkshire. We did that kind of thing to entertain ourselves – we climbed trees, rummaged through quarries for pram wheels (with which we would make and then race trolleys), and we played in and around abandoned, or semi-built, houses and burned out cars.

02_Elswick-Kids-SuperMac-1978-840x560

Elswick Kids, image by Tish Murtha © Ella Murtha, All rights reserved.

How times have changed. No longer would such a derelict house or rusty old car be left so blatantly abandoned and accessible like that. And no responsible, modern day parent would ever dream of letting their children loose, especially unsupervised, in such dangerous environments.

Through modern eyes, and with seemingly ever increasing levels of paranoia, we can see nothing but danger and neglect in these scenes, but with our 70s outlook we can see only fun, excitement, camaraderie and danger.

Back then, we climbed and fell out of trees, we played football on fields laden with broken glass strewn with (white) dog shit. And we jumped out of abandoned or derelict houses onto filthy, disgusting mattresses, before returning home, scruffy, scratched and grazed, starving hungry and totally and completely knackered. If it was Saturday we may have had a bath, otherwise our mums reluctantly washed our faces with a flannel, fed us a jam sandwich and sent us to bed. The next morning we would wake up, hurriedly get dressed and repeat it all over again, for six glorious weeks throughout the summer.

Should we return to those days? Of course not, that’s a bygone age and we have moved on. But looking back, none of us died, yet we did have immense fun and learned ever such a lot about the harsh realities and dangers of life, something I wonder if kids today in their sanitised, indoor, digitised cocoons, will ever get to experience?

 

Twenty Eighteen …

So here we stand at the start line of a brand new year, a time when we both reflect and look forward. We ask ourselves what went well last year, what made us unhappy, what made us smile, what made us sad?

We plan, we want less of that, but more of this. We all make our own lists, at least in our heads, even if we don’t always write them down. Human nature means we all want a better life, somehow – whether we want to turn ‘bad’ into ‘manageable’, ‘manageable’ into ‘good’, or ‘good’ into ‘very good’, we all want to see some form or progress along our own happiness scale.

And if I’ve learned anything over the years, it’s the importance of planning wisely. I’ve learned not to be too ambitious, but most importantly, I’ve learned to stop chasing the wrong things.

I’m never going to write a novel, but I can always write. A marathon is a tough ask that’s fading quickly, but jogging needn’t be a lost hope. Hiking Kilimanjaro takes a lot of time, money and planning – all in short supply – but walking every day takes very little whatosever.

Quitting drink by throwing myself into Dry January hasn’t worked in the past and it’s unlikely to work now. Veganuary is laudable, but is it realistic? Mightn’t it be better instead to just cut down on midweek drinking? To introduce meat-free days into the weekly calendar?

Lofty, worthy, ambitious goals are exciting, but they’re also disheartening when you inevitably fail to climb their long ladders. And that’s why my resolution this year is not to make any grand claims, but rather to focus simply on what’s next. Instead of trying to win the war right now, I’ll just focus on the next battle.

2018 will be about taking small steps, but well intentioned ones. In 2018 I aim to chip away at ambition, but not attack it. Health, financial security, relationships, friendships and general happiness are still as important as ever, but they’re not giants to be slayed. These aims and aspirations should be free to roam unbounded. These dreams, hopes and aspirations are organic, wandering free, sniffing and scratching the earth, interacting, learning, maybe even evolving themselves. There’s nothing wrong with next year’s goals being different to this year’s, so long as we can adapt, so long as we are clear where we are heading.

I don’t believe happiness can ever be conquered. Happiness, contentment, health, financial security – these mighty beasts will never be tamed, they’re simply beacons that should light our way.

All we need is the foresight to see them. And then all we need to do is take small steps.

Happy new year.

The best playlist of my life … and maybe yours too?

I’ve always enjoyed compiling music. In the old days it was recording from vinyl onto cassette tapes, or recording songs from the radio where you had to try and stop the recording just after the song ended, but before Tony Blackburn or Simon Bates spoke and spoiled everything.

I used to compile tapes for friends (for friends read girls). They took ages to compile, each track carefully chosen, sometimes with accompanying lyrics handwritten out of sheer love and desire.  I would sometimes have to post the tapes in the mail in the hope she would receive, listen and come running.

It never really worked but it was immense fun. These days it’s much easier with Spotify, Apple Music or any other streaming service where 30-million tracks are just a click away, in high fidelity, with no DJ interruptions. And so it is that old fashioned, analogue compilations have now given way to digital playlists.

I tend to build playlists these days principally for me rather than for girls, but it’s still a great way to gather together certain genres, or composers, or songs from a particular decade, songs for dinner parties, songs for house parties, songs for flying, songs to run along to, songs to cook with, songs to sing along to.

The options are endless, but my most recent playlist has undoubtedly been the most fun to compile, and I wanted share this with you because it’s something you might want to try.  Mine’s called ‘Andy’s life playlist’, but you might want to give yours a different name.

Here’s how it works:

  1. You must add a song to the playlist if, and only if, it was a significant thing for you, at some stage of your life. It might be something you fell in love with, obsessed over, or just something that is so significantly memorable that it transports you back to a very specific place/time/age. Terry Jacks – Seasons In The Sun was the first 45/single I ever bought from Casa Disco. I was 9yrs old and I fell in love with music. I was on the way to becoming me.  So that’s in.
  2. It MIGHT be a song you didn’t particularly like, but which is so strongly associated with a specific life event that it has to go in. When our first child was born, I remember returning to the car bleary eyed and emotionally punch drunk, turning on the radio when ‘Sleeping Satellites’ by Tasmin Archer came on the radio.  That song will forever be associated with my wife and our son, and whenever I hear it I am immediately transported back to Milton Keynes Hospital Car Park in the autumn of 1992. So that’s in too.
  3. You MUST NOT exclude a song because you now find it cheesy, facile, simplistic or juvenile. This is just your 2017 self filtering and tainting your thinking. You loved that song back then when (and because) you were pure, you were untainted by other opinions, politics, self awareness and snobbiness. You just reacted biologically to the words, the beat, the harmonies, the chord changes. It affected the real you, it was you. I remember singing with a hairbrush into my bedroom mirror miming and dancing to ‘I Can Do It’ by The Rubettes. I was Alan Williams, I even had similar hair. So that has to be in, whether I like it or not.
  4. You CANNOT add a song that you like now, but didn’t like at the time, just to try and make yourself look cool. Stop playing these games. Just because you should have liked The Jam doesn’t mean ‘Going Underground’ should be on the playlist.
  5. Certain songs evoke memories of life events like nothing else can, and that’s what you’re trying to capture here. On the first anniversary of my dad’s untimely death, I remember I felt miserable all day. I was working in London and can recall coming home on the train that evening. It was a hot summer’s evening as I stared out of the window feeling bluesy when ‘Warning Signs’ started to play through my headphones. And when Chris Martin said “... and the truth is, I miss you, yeah the truth is, I miss you … so“, I started to cry, and I cried all the way to my car. But I felt happy, I felt connected to Dad somehow. You could be forgiven for not hearing that ‘so’ at the end of that line, but I don’t, and I never will. I don’t understand how all this stuff works but it’s very powerful, and that song evokes memories of my Dad and specifically his loss, like nothing else ever can. I often cry when I hear it now, and whilst Chris probably wrote it about Gwyneth, or some other lover, to me it’s it’s about Dad. It’s between me and him. That’s the kind of stuff that has to go in.
  6. And it doesn’t have to just be old stuff, you CAN add new songs to the playlist. If a song affects you in 2017, it’s just as much a part of your life playlist as the song that affected you in 1973. You might discover a song from ’73 that you hear for the first time in 2017, so that’s fine to go in too, but you CANNOT add a ’73 song you didn’t ever like or have no connection to, but you now wish you had (see point 4 above) – that’s one for your fake public playlist.

Just remember, this playlist is designed to be a musical portfolio for your life, not for anyone else’s. Build it for you. You won’t be able to do it in one go, just keep it running in the background and add to it whenever and wherever you remember a song. There’s no limit, it can be as short or as long as you like.

Also, please note that your playlist must never be shared. Once you know you might share you will start to filter, and it will no longer be your pure playlist, but rather a modified playlist you’d like others to think was yours. This is very important.  I have some right shit on mine, stuff I’ll never admit to in public, but it’s part of me, no one will ever know, it’s my little secret, it’s my life playlist.

And finally, but just as importantly, you must edit the title and append a number to each song title, e.g, ‘Seasons in the sun’ becomes ‘9_Seasons In the Sun’, ‘Hold me now’ becomes ’18_Hold me now’, ‘Linger’ becomes ’28_Linger”, and so on. This number is the age you were (or as close as you can approximate) when you connected with the song.

And this is the special bit. When you now play your playlist where the songs are ordered alphabetically, you now get to listen to the soundtrack of your life.

Belinda

 

The two faces of an English September …

It’s September and it’s a bit shit outside. This is England and our lousy summer is over.

A summer that started so promisingly, with BBQs firing and drinks fizzing as far back as May. And back then we all thought this was it, this was going to be just like the summer of ’76 – that sizzling, scorching, dream of a summer when us kids played out for six long, glorious weeks, from dawn until dusk.

We think of ’76 every year, but like every other year, this one wasn’t to be. June was hotter than average, but wetter than average too, and this pattern repeated through July. August was cool and wet. Rain never seemed far away these past months.

And so here we are, the week that children, teachers and MPs return to school and work, the week our roads and public transport networks regain their familiar bloated, unkempt and overcrowded personas.

After a summer of over indulging, it’s time to can the booze, time to wheel out those empty promises of healthy eating and regular exercise in the safe knowledge they will be long discarded once again before October is out.

The clouds are forming, the first leaves are falling alongside the raindrops and the central heating is starting to creak and burp into life.

Deep breath ladies and gentleman, here we go.

Janus, the god of beginnings, transitions and endings. September is Janus with two faces, one looking back, reflecting on the summer that’s gone, one looking forward, excitedly planning for the autumn and winter to come.

Less than four months to Christmas, initial plans are afoot – who should we invite? what days shall we take off? what about new years eve?

Is that boiler actually working?

It’s time for jumpers, time for soups, casseroles and stews. Time for hot brews, time to snuggle down and watch TV, time for good BBC dramas, time for decent films at the cinema.

Sod the boiler, it’s time for log fires. Put the lawn mower in the shed, get out the rake. Time for rosy cheeks and wellington boots, time for long walks in scarves and gloves. Look at those leaves turning brown and gold. Let’s make a fire!

It’s September and it’s a bit shit outside. This is England and our beautiful autumn is just beginning.

autumn2