Notes on...

Autumn, season of conkers and new boots

The season’s bright brilliant days send the blood rushing through the veins

26 September 2015

9:00 AM

26 September 2015

9:00 AM

Each year when I see the first conker of the autumn I think: fire up the ancestral ovens! This incendiary thought comes from the Ronald Searle cartoon in Nigel Molesworth’s How to be Topp of a sooty retainer sliding a tray of the young master’s conkers into a brick oven. School cads, Molesworth tells us, ‘are inclined to cheat at conkers having baked them for 300 years in the ancestral ovens. These conkers belong to the National Trust they are so tough and if you strike one your new conker fly into 100000000000 bits.’ What do prep school boys do with their conkers today? Bake them in the ancestral Aga?

Autumn: season of mists and mellow pumpkin soups. Of new leather boots and sausages with red onion chutney, of sheepskin slippers and mushrooms mushrooming through the mulch. ‘So many of us! So many of us!’ Sylvia Plath had her mushrooms cry. So many of them in Kensington Gardens, where I take my morning walk. Leggy little ones with Peking hats and great flat ones for hookah-smoking caterpillars to sit on. Lewis Carroll’s Alice dares to eat her caterpillar’s mushroom, but I am not so brave. What would happen if I tried the Kensington mushrooms? Would I, like Alice, grow to horse-chestnut-height? Or would I just be very ill? I buy my mushrooms at Waitrose to be on the safe side.

The great discovery of this autumn is that it isn’t just hippies and stoners who call them ‘shrooms’. Here is Virginia Woolf in her 1918 diary: ‘I must go and pick ’shrooms, the sun being out.’

For all my cheerful talk of pumpkin soup, I am prone to glooms at this time of year. On a fine mists-and-mellow-fruitfulness morning, I am as high as Bertie Wooster waking up to ‘one of those days you sometimes get latish in the autumn, when the sun beams, the birds toot, and there is a bracing tang in the air that sends the blood beetling briskly through the veins’. But on a sodden, soggy afternoon when every conker and mushroom in the park is two inches under the mud, the blood does not beetle and efforts must be made to keep spirits up. Shopping for a new winter coat. Baked apples for tea. Book-buying sprees, laying in stores of reading for longer nights.

This year, I have returned to Lucy Maud Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables series, last read rapturously when I was seven. My memory of the books was that it was always autumn, perhaps because the Prince Edward Island maple trees lent themselves so well to the season. Anne is an autumn girl. ‘I’m so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers,’ she says. ‘It would be terrible if we just skipped from September to November, wouldn’t it?’ When Anne is driven home in an open buggy one chilly evening against a saffron sky, she thrills to the hot supper her adoptive aunt has prepared. ‘Marilla, a broiled chicken! You don’t mean to say you cooked that for me!’ That is what you need on a chilly October night: your own aunt Marilla, putting a chicken on to broil and baking a pumpkin and pecan pie in the mighty ancestral oven.

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  • Ian Beale Steeplecoque

    A conker in 100 trillion bits ,would be powder.

    • Kennybhoy

      🙁 …?

  • Kennybhoy

    Autumn is my favourite season, with Spring a close second. 🙂

    Ray Bradbury is my Autumn reading. “The October Country”, “Something Wicked This Way Comes”…

    “That country where it is always turning late in the year. That country where the hills are fog and the rivers are mist; where noons go quickly, dusks and twilights linger, and midnights stay. That country composed in the main of cellars, sub-cellars, coal-bins, closets, attics, and pantries faced away from the sun. That country whose people are autumn people, thinking only autumn thoughts. Whose people passing at night on the empty walks sound like rain.”

    ― “The October Country”

    ““For these beings, fall is ever the normal season, the only weather, there be no choice beyond. Where do they come from? The dust. Where do they go? The grave. Does blood stir their veins? No: the night wind. What ticks in their head? The worm. What speaks from their mouth? The toad. What sees from their eye? The snake. What hears with their ear? The abyss between the stars. They sift the human storm for souls, eat flesh of reason, fill tombs with sinners. They frenzy forth….Such are the autumn people.”

    — “Something Wicked This Way Comes”

    I’m a Celt, what can I say…? 🙂

  • trace9

    Well I trained a few lengths of bramble on a long Southerly windowsill. They bloomed white flowers against the panes & now every morning bunches of fruit can be ushered through open windows & eaten or added to a pot of white wine vinegar the scent of which is already overwhelmingly mouthwatering. But it’s not all Paradise; thorn-defying gloves must be donned – & today, on Skye, came the first, hard, shower of – hailstones..