Category Archives: Philosophy

Winter is coming, but first…

2015-10-27-09-13-03

Taken at a reunion of friends at Ullswater, October last year

Spring may be the time of rebirth and renewal but I always find autumn is when I am most likely to hoy myself off my ample backside and crack on and DO stuff. I suspect it is a hangover from 16 years of full time education and the whole “new academic year”, fresh start thing which became ingrained in my psyche. I always feel a restlessness and an urge to plan ahead, tidy and clean everywhere, turn a new leaf etc. Toes tap, fingers twitch and brain works at 19 to the dozen. I am at my most productive, focussed and creative as the leaves turn gold and the days shorten.

A new academic year was always a chance to wipe the slate clean and to try harder, do better. I have to confess that my enthusiasm at school wasn’t always sustained beyond the October half term but as an adult I feel energised in the run right up to Christmas. I have been lucky enough to have this past week off work and it has been a luxury to have the time to tackle some of the a million and one jobs that need doing in the garden at this time of year. I have written before about the pleasures of gardening in autumn and the weather has been great this month so I have loved all of the pruning, clearing and planting of spring bulbs that I have managed to tick off. But I have also managed to clean my venetian blinds, paint the garden fence, catch up with two friends I haven’t seen for ages (years in one case), go for a run twice and finally complete the blog post that I started last December. Ok so I admit it…by going for a run I mean wheezing while I jog for 45-50 minutes on the treadmill (long enough to watch a full episode of “The Sopranos”) but hey – it’s more than I’ve done for six months so I’m feeling smug.autumn-clean

I think perhaps there is something more primitive driving my activity levels at this time of year too. Maybe the fact that autumn is a season of change has a subconscious affect, making me want to change with it. The drop in temperature and light levels give me a sense of urgency. I want to get things done before the onset of winter when it will be so dark and grim that I know all I will want to do then, is hunker down in front of the TV with the fire on and a mug of tea in my hand. Winter is coming and I might not survive ‘til spring so I’d better get a wriggle on and do all of those things I’ve been procrastinating about for months. And if I do survive I need to make sure I’m on the front foot so investing time in tidying the garden now will make it easier to manage come March. Why do I feel the urge to reconnect with friends in the autumn? Is it because my inner Neanderthal thinks I might need my buddies to see me through the hard times to come? It’s a weird thing your sub-conscious…well mine is anyway. Still, my autumn mania has at least it chivvied me into writing again so I am not complaining.

Perhaps there is a biological explanation rather than a psychological one. Like birds knowing it’s time to migrate or leaves to change colour, maybe the reduced hours of daylight  affect my own diurnal hormone levels which in turn affects my behaviour? Although I guess if that’s the case then everyone would feel the same way come October (in the norther hemisphere at least) and I’m not sure they do. I wonder if there is any research on the matter…hang on… (returns ten minutes later)… nope. My Google search reckons people feel more depressed and fatigued in the autumn, mourning the departure of summer and dreading winter. So it’s just me then and a personality quirk rather than a natural biological instinct. Well that’s a shame and I am sorry if autumn is not your thing, it really can be stunningly beautiful, as the photo I took this time last year (at the top of this page) will testify.

autumn-lawn-careRight – less philosophical rambling next time and more substance Trowers. Until then, stay cheery my friends and enjoy the “season of mists and mellow fruitfulness” however you choose. I recommend catching the last of the year’s sunshine in the garden or on a country walk, with a beer at the end of the day to reward your labours.

Advertisements

Living in the Past

rose-tinted-specsNostalgia is a bittersweet thing. Sharing happy memories  and sighing wistfully about simple pleasures which we seem to have lost over the years, is undoubtedly a pleasant and entertaining activity, particularly when undertaken socially with friends or family.  We all enjoy looking back fondly at our childhood or youth when things seemed simpler, free-er and less stressful.  Being able to play outside unsupervised by adults,  until the street lights came on; eating sweets and fizzy drinks without an accompanying sense of guilt; never even thinking about wearing sunscreen or worrying about  paedophiles. And later as students with all of the carefree optimism, energy and idealism of youth, skipping lectures to spend the afternoon in the pub, or in bed with a lover. Staying up to the wee small hours talking, drinking, listening to music and still being able to get up and go to tutorials the next morning with only the teensiest hangover. Ok, so I lied about the last bit… I meant the next afternoon.  But you get the picture and it is one best viewed through spectacles of the rose tinted variety. This is the fun side of nostalgia.

The not so fun side of nostalgia is that invariably when discussing the past with other people, the conversation moves from  how great things used to be to “what is the world coming to” and tut-tut-ing about “the youth of today”.  The whole sentimental yearning for times that have long gone tends to focus the mind on what has been lost rather than what has been gained and a lot of people seem incapable of looking back without complaining about the present.  I am as guilty as the next person of mourning the loss of certain aspects of my past but I refuse to succumb to the “whatever happened to the good old days/the world is going to pot today” philosophy.

For every moan and groan about the state of the world today I can think of a dozen more reasons to be grateful.  I feel sorry for those people who are so obsessed with the things that we can no longer do (or at least feel that we can no longer do – and there is a very real difference) that they are blind to the many things that have improved.  As a small example, had I been born a hundred or even fifty years earlier than I was, into similar circumstances in a small northern town, I would not have had the opportunity to continue my education beyond 15 and social mobility would have been nigh impossible. I would probably have died from the appendicitis that I experienced aged 37.  My Dad would not have recovered from his heart attack and my sister would also have died as a consequence of the difficult birth of her daughter.  Even if, by some miracle I had managed to escape a life of working class drudgery, I would not have had the same career opportunities and would have been paid less for doing the same job as my male colleagues.  Within living memory prejudice and sexism were far more overt and widespread than they are today.  Three things I remember from my late teens:

  • Whilst shopping in the local market with my Mum, just before I left home to become a student, the stall holder tutted and told us what a waste of time and money it was letting girls go to university because they only got married and pregnant anyway (!)
  • I was advised never to use “Ms” as my title on job application forms because it implied I would be a bolshie feminist trouble-maker and that it would go against me (!!)
  • A friend of a friend was discouraged from going to university by her family because they said that not only would she be left on the shelf and be too old to marry by the time she graduated but that men didn’t like intelligent girls anyway (!!!)

The fact that we no longer have to put up with shit like that is reason enough to not be too nostalgic for the past and to be more grateful for the present.  I would not want to turn the clock back. My son may not have some of the freedoms that we had as children but he is growing up in a world which is more open, diverse, tolerant and where he is likely to live a longer, healthier life.  He is not being forced up a chimney or to work in a mill for 12 hours every day for a start.

Of course we have a long way to go before everyone feels these benefits globally but I truly believe that the world is a better place today than it was a hundred, fifty, even twenty years ago. By all means reminisce about your happy, carefree past but wear those rose-tinted spectacles with caution and remember…

“The reason people find it so hard to be happy is that they always see the past better than it was, the present worse than it is, and the future less resolved than it will be”  Marcel Pagnol.