Tag Archives: winter

Ticking On

Recently, I had a birthday. Not a significant one (insofar as anything as ephemeral as a day can ever be significant – but you know what I mean); it was just another day, here one moment and gone the next. I’m lucky insofar as I was born at my favourite time of year (I wonder if the two are connected? Hmm) and I love these days and weeks of change, when autumn becomes winter, leaves begin to brown and fall, and the days grow short. There are those who believe that the lack of light during the darker months can lead to mental health problems and depression – a condition called S.A.D., or Seasonal Affective Disorder – and, while believing absolutely that such a condition exists and can be hugely debilitating, sometimes I feel like I have its exact opposite.

Long summer days make me anxious. The encroaching cold darkness of winter, however? That I love. Does it make me odd? Well. Maybe a little.

A few days ago, I bundled the baby up and out we went for a walk, a lung-and-leg-stretcher, and it was beautiful. I took a few photos of our surroundings, because I thought the trees looked particularly pretty. Of course, the version I managed to capture didn’t do justice to the light-filled, colourful mess that appeared before me in real life; it serves to remind me, though, of a moment that has now passed and will never be experienced again. The baby will never be exactly that age again. Neither will I. In fact my age differed by a whole digit when these photos were taken. This day will never be lived again.

This season – the one we’re starting into – will only happen once.

Time ticks on. Over the past few weeks the world has become a darker place for some, including me. I am dismayed by the turn world politics has taken into a harsher, colder regime, and I am fearful for the future. Every generation has something which scares it: for me, as a child, it was the threat of nuclear war. It seemed nebulous from my perspective, but from my parents’, it must have been horrifying. My father remembers a vivid dream he once had, in which he roused the whole house, urging my mother to get us children dressed and ready to run for the hills, because the ‘enemy’ was coming. The bomb had been dropped. The tanks were rolling up our street.

Of course, it was only happening inside his mind. But, thirty years later, he still remembers it.

Thirty years have passed, and now I am the parent. Now, I am the one who has a child to dress and care for and who has to worry about the world changing dangerously out of my control, and who doesn’t know how to keep this child safe in the face of what seems like an inescapable darkness. So I walk, my baby safe in a sturdy pram, wrapped in blankets and muffled in a hat, tiny fingers pointing and a little voice calling ‘Birdie! Tree! Wow!’ and I tell myself: time ticks on. This day will pass, and the next, and the one after that. With luck, time will bring me and my child with it, twigs in the flood.

When my child is the age I am now, another threat will be facing the world. Another darkness will be enveloping us. My child may have children by then; I may be living, or I may not be. Either way, the dark seasons will keep returning.

Time will keep ticking on.

The leaves will keep turning brown, and falling, and regenerating the soil.

Days will shorten. Then, they will grow long again, only to grow short once more.

And all we can do is keep our children safe, remember that love is stronger than anything – including death – and that all will pass into history one day, including the tyrants and despots who sell our future for profit, who bluster and blast their way into power simply for the thrill of being there, and who gamble with all our lives.

I hope things will turn out for the best. I hope the world I hand to my child will be better than the one my parents worked to hand to me. I hope, and time ticks on, and that is all anyone can do.

canal-bank1

Autumnal Walk Photo credit: S.J. O’Hart

 

 

The Kraken, The Weather, and Me

Well, somehow it’s managed to become Tuesday again without my noticing it. I hate it when it does that.

I spent a lot of yesterday reading – which will come as no surprise to most of you, I’d wager – and I’m finding myself engrossed by China Miéville’s ‘Kraken’. Like all of Miéville’s novels, this one is so imaginative that it leaves you breathless as you read, asking yourself ‘did that just happen? How did that just happen?’ The plot asks us to imagine that someone has stolen a massive specimen jar from London’s Natural History Museum – a specimen jar which contains the preserved body of a giant squid, Architeuthis. The jar is so large that it seems impossible, at first, to imagine how (or why) it has been taken, but it soon starts to become clear to our protagonist, Billy Harrow, that strange things indeed are afoot. He is faced with a succession of strange and creepy Londoners on his quest to find out what happened, and some of these characters are among the most interesting I’ve ever met. I’m particularly fond of Collingswood, the smoking, foul-mouthed and wisecracking young PC (who is also gifted in extraordinary ways) who begins to crack the case. I’m not finished the book yet, but I have enjoyed what I’ve read so far. Miéville’s style can sometimes be complex, with a lot of neologisms and complex (and unexplained) jargon which we just have to do our best with; it’s a bit like jumping from one stepping stone to another across a wild, rushing river. It’s worth the effort, though. The setting for ‘Kraken’ has been compared to Neil Gaiman’s ‘Neverwhere’, and I can see why – it’s about an alternative London, it’s peopled with strange and weird creatures and magic crackles between the paving flags of the City. I love ‘Neverwhere’, and I do think ‘Kraken’ borrows some ideas from it, especially the fact that it also features a pair of sickeningly evil characters who go about together, one of whom is silent and the other extremely talkative – reading Miéville’s Goss and Subby is the same as reading Gaiman’s Mr Croup and Mr Vandemar. But, that said, I definitely have room in my heart for both these books.

Reading it has set me off thinking about the Kraken again. I say ‘again’ because I used to be obsessed with it as a child.

I first came across pictures like this one in books and encyclopedias when I was very young, and I never quite shook the fascination with these gargantuan kings of the sea. I used to imagine the heart-shredding terror of being on board ship as tentacles the size of giant redwoods started to wrap around the vessel, and the sheer helplessness of knowing there was nothing you could do about it. I tried to picture the Kraken and the Whale, locked in their eternal combat, and even tried on several occasions to draw my own version of the battle between these two sea-giants. It has always interested me, so much so that when I first tried my hand at writing a book, over a decade ago now, I featured the Kraken as a character. Or, at least, I kept mentioning the Kraken all the way through the book – but he/she/it never actually made an appearance. This glaring omission did not occur to me until I’d finished the book, and was reading back through it. It made me wonder how on earth I’d managed to bring one of the most compelling creatures in fiction into this story of mine without actually remembering to feature it at the story’s conclusion.

There may be a good reason why this story has never seen the light of day.

Some years later, I started a new story, also featuring the Kraken, but I haven’t yet managed to finish this one. It’s on the back burner, and as soon as I have time to get back to it, I will. Reading Miéville has renewed my interest in the Kraken, and it has also reminded me of the lesson I learned all those years ago – don’t keep mentioning something in a story if you have no way to bring it in, properly, to the plot. It’s like the dramatic principle described by the playwright Anton Chekhov – if you feature a loaded gun on stage in Act One, it must be fired by Act Three; if not, it has no place on the stage to begin with. I hadn’t intended to create a huge red herring through my (mis)use of the Kraken in my first book, all those years ago – it was merely a rookie mistake, but a valuable one. I promise to feature the Kraken the whole way through my new story – may I be dragged beneath the waves by a giant tentacled arm and drowned if I don’t!

As for the weather – well, I’ve learned a lesson in self-pity lately, all because of the weather. I’m really beginning to feel the needle-teeth of winter here, and people are starting to speculate about whether we’ll have a ‘hard’ winter, i.e. whether the very bad snow and ice we’ve seen in recent years will make a comeback. I was beginning to feel very sorry for myself at the prospect of facing into that sort of hardship, when I turned on the news last night and watched the coverage of Hurricane Sandy. I was taken aback by the scale of the thing, and a friend of mine (whose parents and other relatives live in Connecticut) told me that her family have had to furnish their basements and bring their generators down there in order to prepare themselves for the next few days. Apparently, as ‘hardy New Englanders’, none of this is new to them – but I felt very small for being afraid of the sort of weather we’re likely to get here. It reminded me how lucky I am to live in Ireland!

So, I hope you have a snow-, ice- and Kraken-free day, wherever you are. And if you’re in any way affected by the Hurricane, my thoughts are with you. Fingers crossed it won’t take too heavy a toll.

Changes…

I promised yesterday that I’d blog about the weather today, so here goes.  It doesn’t hurt, of course, to have a David Bowie reference (sort of) in the title of this post, either!  Any excuse for the Thin White Duke.  As I write, it’s dull outside, and the trees at the end of our garden are waving, quite pleasingly, in the breeze.  It’s a cool day out there, too – you can feel the teeth of winter starting to tighten over our little part of the world.

And I couldn’t be happier.  I love this time of year.  For a person who doesn’t deal too well with Change (Capital Ch… Ch… Ch…) I am obsessed with the times of year when the seasons begin to melt from one into another.  My favourite time of flux is this one – late summer to autumn to winter.  I spend all year looking forward to those days when you can walk out the door and be kissed with that particular, refreshing, brisk air you only get when winter’s coming, and go for long walks wrapped carefully in your woollens.  I love scrunching through piles of leaves, and not only because it makes me feel like a little girl again (but mainly, that’s the reason).  I love the colours at this time of year – the reds, oranges, yellows and golden-browns speckling the trees like a pointillist painting; the low, honey-coloured sun which seems so much brighter now than it ever did in summer; the particular slate shade of the sky.  I love the feeling that the world is beginning to pull its blanket over its head, ready for its long hibernation.  It makes me feel like everything has a cycle, and so it’s okay for me to sometimes feel tired, or in need of renewal.  Strangely, though, even though I know that nature is preparing for its time of rest, the whole world seems so alive and invigorated, to me, at this time of year.  Perhaps its the chill in the air which gets the blood moving that bit quicker – I don’t know.  I just know I can’t wait for October and November.

The love I have for this time of year might be something to do with the fact that seasonal change is completely outside of my ability to control, but it does feel as if someone is looking after the whole show.  The gradual swing from season to season is going to happen whether I like it or not, and all I can do is sit back and watch it, marvelling at how well organised the whole thing is; it’s like a perfectly controlled orchestra, whose conductor is out of sight.  Change, as manifested in the average human life, is sometimes quick, unexpected – even painful – and it can seem sometimes that no-one, and nothing, has any control over things that happen to people.  I, personally, find changes in my life very frightening, and I hate the feeling of not knowing what’s going to happen, so it soothes me to watch seasons change, knowing that it’s all unfolding just as it should.

I hope you get out in the weather today (well, those of you in the Northern Hemisphere, at least!) and take a wonderful, refreshing breath, and revel in the changes being wrought by the onset of winter.  Whatever you do, enjoy yourself.