Copyright © 2005 Martin Newell
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Because, it's end of summer and I'm busy figuring out how to run this year's Golden Afternoon, which is a scant month away, I haven't been keeping this journal up very much lately. Here, though, in response to Ruth's comment on the message board, is another excerpt from my weekly writing for the East Anglian Daily Times, the world's finest regional daily...
Autumn With Malcolm
I have a very good friend called Malcolm. Years ago, following the collapse of our respective relationships, he needed to make up the mortgage and I needed a place to live. I moved in on the top floor of his house. Originally meant only as a few months stop-gap, the arrangement lasted three years. We became an Essex version of The Odd Couple. Apart from a shared love of Led Zeppelin, The Stones and repairing to the pub to commiserate with each other about our disastrous love lives, we couldn't have been more different. He was urban south of county and I was country north. He was casually messy and I was neurotically tidy. He drove cars, whilst I rode bicycles. I christened our accommodation Bachelor Central. If the state of things really got to me, I'd spend a long morning blitzing all three floors, only to have Malcolm come in, plonk a four-pack on the table, switch the TV on and then proceeed to empty the cans whilst filling all the ashtrays. Occasionally, when a rare female visitor arrived and asked how often he tidied the place up, I'd yell from the kitchen: “Once a girlfriend!” A Jewish-Italian hybrid, Malcolm's wit was sharp and left-field. He came home from a training course in London one day and remarked: “Hey, you know Schindler's List? Well, I was in Schindler's Lift today.” There really is a firm called Schindler who make lifts. Well, you had to be there really.
Malcolm hardly noticed the passing of the seasons – a thing which I was always very aware of.I'd notice in autumn, for instance, that the hedgerows were dripping with sloes and elderberries. He'd only notice the resultant purple action-paintings left by the birds on the washing line. I would notice, in late October, that next door's birch tree leaves looked like gold ingots. He might notice, eventually, that his shed had blown over in a gale. I'd be curled up reading Betjeman. He'd be studying the scheduled TV films, and quality-checking them in a copy of Halliwell's Film Guide. I'd be in the local woods, walking the dog and watching the lost summer shot down in flames. He'd be watching a film. I enjoyed the keener air. He turned the central heating up. I observed that the climber-rose by the front door had produced a late flush of blooms. He noticed that its overgrowth was tapping at his bedroom window in the wind and keeping him awake. My walks ranged through woods, fields and along the river banks. His ranged between an office around the corner, a shop up the road and the pub.
One year in the mid-Nineties, however, a year which was meteorologically, similar to the one we're now in, the autumn really took off. The segueway from summer was seamless. We'd had a dry, almost windless September of the type that we sometimes get on the Essex coast. When October snuck in through the picket gate, the nights gradually got chillier and damper and yet, the days remained warm. The woods were tinder-dry, the fields were full of horse-mushrooms and autumn hawkbits flowered at the edges of playgrounds and on the street verges. With colder nights, the leaves began slowly to turn but mostly, remained on the trees. Drinkers sitting outside the quayside pub watched a rouged sun sinking wantonly down in the west, with a few raiments of purple-brown clouds draped on it. All the big chaps who like to dress as giant American children, with those strange, three quarter-length multi-pocketed trousers, still felt warm enough to continue wearing them. An early morning rail journey to London was a pleasure to do – especially with the low mists across the fields and the stunning colours on the trees by Ingatestone.
Now, there's one thing that I remember about living in a male household. When someone suggests going for a pint, with no women around you can be out of that door in a shot. In a routine which only involves grabbing your keys, your fags and some money, two blokes can be throwing their jackets on while they march down the street. There's no fiddling about with dresses, make-up, hair or handbags. Oh, actually, in these newly-empowered times of ours, I've heard that this may have altered in some areas. It wasn't the case with the boys of Bachelor Central, though. Our average time from “Locked doors? ” to “What's yours?” was usually about three minutes.
One Friday evening that particular year, as we ambled down the road, past an overgrown abandoned shipyard, I observed that the leaves on the trees across the river at Fingringhoe seemed to be aflame. The gardens which we passed were a symphony of loveliness. It was like walking through a Thomas Kinkade painting. A low-flying skein of geese went honking through the still sky above us. With a sweet waft of an autumn bonfire in the air, the season had really outdone itself. It was, for that brief moment, perfect. We got to the pub and ordered the first round. After taking a good draft of his beer, Malcolm looked seriously at me and said: “It's giving good autumn this year, isn't it?” That was about as poetic as it ever got during those three years. He was right though. And with luck I reckon we could be in for a similar sort of thing this year. Golden days.