The day is dark and November-heavy. There’s no milk. I search through the window for a breath of beauty but there isn’t any. It’s wet, and last week I left my umbrella in a John Lewis changing room. I went back but it’d gone and I was cross because it was a pretty one – small with a leather handle and a black frill – the umbrella, not the room. I imagine a John-Lewis-type discovering it, in her underwear. I am not a John-Lewis-type. Shops like that scare me. I only go in there for sales and curtain material (or coffee).
Anyway I’m going off shopping, big-time. It makes me want things I didn’t know existed – like headphone earmuffs or a cashmere hot water bottle (I don’t even have any headphones.) Also it’s draining and makes my feet hurt. I wish I lived in the country where there are no shops and you can smell soil and hear rain on leaves. London is drab in winter – wet or foggy and grey with sky like a scowl. The suburbs are concrete slabs with beds on. They have no secrets and no soul…
But it’s Friday so I can be slow, and there’s my Kindle and coffee and the local paper. The rain stops. Through the window, birds, a tiny rosebud. It’s a bit battle scarred and sad, but it’s alive, tight as a fist. All the other branches are dead, stems shrivelled, making the bud stand out, all yellow and hopeful like a smile.
The rain’s brought out colours. Across the garden raindrops shiver from trees, there are berries and die-hard poppies. I like the way they just stand there, not caring that they’re a mess. Look, we didn’t expect to be here, in November, okay?! It’s a bonus. Enjoy it while it lasts…. I hope I’m like that when I’m old – bright, dishevelled, grateful… I don’t want to be a sour old woman, seeing the worst in everything and everyone. Life can do this to you, if you don’t pay attention, if you stop looking…
What’s happened to me? I used to love autumn. All that shrugging on coats and scarves and easing conkers out of spiky shells. And a new hat – always a new hat for winter. I’d forgotten.
I go for a walk and see that God, who does autumn every year and knows what works, has tossed gems through south-west London. Behind cars or concrete – bush-low berries, coy trees on brick. Through bare branches, glimpses of pubs or backs of houses. Late roses and leaf art on pavements. And holly.
When it’s grey, don’t forget to look for signs. Panning for gold is a way of life. And the bleaker the day, the more they stand out. If you’re looking right.
I take photos, go shopping and buy a hat. From a shop.
From the bus there’s a sea of umbrellas and fine spraying rain. But I’m happy because of the hat and a horse chestnut which hammers the top of the bus with fists full of conkers. And on the walk home, there are berries.
I think of the John-Lewis-type, (bold, confident, matching underwear), and wish her joy with her new umbrella. And hope the stray spoke doesn’t have her eye out…