My sister’s husband works for a pharma company, and don’t worry, I regularly harangue him on the evils his employers perpetuate, their cynical pricing and how in an ideal world we would all be going to the grizzled old wise man who lives by the stream on the moor for some concoction or other when our ill health demands it. (The only respite he gets when I visit my sister is to retire to the loo, ostensibly, to take a dump, but even then I’ve found standing outside and yelling through the locked door can be quite effective. No man must be allowed to hide from the truth.) He has been posted abroad three times, which means my sister and her family have spend around five years each time in Manila, in the Philippines, Istanbul, Turkey, and are within weeks returning from a stint in Warsaw, Poland.
Holding down the job he does, my brother-in-law is very well-paid (and it has to be said the Germans do look after their own), but their lifestyle in Manila was truly colonial, paid for, of course, by her husbands bosses: a guard at the gate (no doubt armed), a man to take care of the pool, a driver, a great many maids (I think eight in total, one for each bathroom) and a superbly uniformed major domo who had merely one duty, to stand by the door when guests arrived looking very grand (and my sisters tells me he was very good at his job).
My sister insists the set-up wasn’t quite as outrageously swanky as it seems and, anyway, her domestic arrangements were quite modest compared to those of others. She also tells me (and I believe her) that employing so many folk (I won’t call them ‘natives’ or else I’ll have the Guardian on my back) is a real boost to the economy and at least 12 Filipino families are supported who might otherwise have nowt.
Life was similarly pleasant in Istanbul, where the family, or at least those of her four children still at home, lived in a rather splendid palace on a hill overlooking the city with impressive views of the Bosphorus. Warsaw sounds less attractive, however.
But this entry is not about the why and wherefores, hows, whens, whatevers, which ways and whereforuntos of my sister and her husband’s gilded and unmistakably capitalist existence but - you guessed it, you are way, way ahead of me - seasons.
My sister (who like me is half-English and mainly grew up in England until she married at 22 and moved to Germany) tells me that what she missed most while living high on the hog in Manila were the seasons: spring, summer, autumn and winter.
There, she says, there were no seasons. The weather was the same throughout the year, hot and muggy, with the occasional muggy and hot interlude. There was no spring and twee poems from readers in the Daily Mail;s Peterborough column about the rebirth of Mother Nature, no summer with the endless chatter we are accustomed to here in Britain when a fine day makes it through to second and we all tell each other how splendid it is to live in Britain. There was no autumn and more twee poems in the Mail about rosy apples, hoary hawthorn and Mother Nature’s beauteous bounty. And there was no winter with poems about ragged Robin Redbreast pecking pitifully against the window begging for a scrap or two and when our transport infrastructure grinds to a complete halt and we all manfully struggle to work by foot through inches of snow. She missed all that (though she assures me, and on balance I believe her, that she was tempted to write a twee poem about ‘God’s glorious seasons’ only rarely and resisted the temptation each time).
Istanbul did have seasons, however, though a geographical oddity meant that in winter when her palace and its grounds on the hill were covered in a foot of snow, she could look down onto the bustling city itself where there was no snow whatsoever. Warsaw, it seems, also has it seasons like Britain, although the weather each brings, especially the winter and summer is pretty extreme: temperatures regularly hit -15c and in the summer hover at around 35c.
(She also tells me that about the only meat you can get in Poland is pork. The Polish eat pork several times a day, for breakfast, lunch and supper, and as soup, hors d’ouvre and for the main course. There are even some traditional desserts involving pork, she says, and not all of them are quite awful. On the other hand beef is rarer than a smile in Scottish kirk, though she did track some down a year or two ago, a restaurant in the red light district of Warsaw whose proprietor is regarded as decidedly odd by everyone else and, naturally, universally shunned. But this entry is about the seasons not meat.)
. . .
I mention this because we are officially now three days into autumn and it is quite noticeable. And here I should admit that autumn is my favourite season. I no longer care as I do in the summer when I sit outside with a glass of something and a Wilde Cigarros and shiver that the are is remarkably damp: after all, it’s autumn. You’re allowed to shiver - even supposed to - in the autumn. Down here in Cornwall, the autumn brings a marked reduction in the number of sodding tourists clogging up our very narrow lanes, although from now until the end of November we still get quite a few anglophile Dutch and the occasional German who arrive for a week or two because they ‘love Cornwall, we always have’ and want to ‘avoid the tourists’.
What are you, then? I always want to ask them. Seriously, if it wasn’t for the fact the Cornwall depends almost entirely on sodding tourists to provide work and keep widespread famine at bay for at least another year, there’s a good case to be made for erecting a barrier across the Tamar bridge at Launceston and turning back everyone who can prove beyond doubt that they are not a tourist and do have legitimate business in Kernow. Bloody tourists. I know for a fact that several magistrates here in North Cornwall treat with remarkable leniency anyone appearing before them charged with violence against a tourist.
Autumn also means the run-up to Christmas (although strictly a short part of that run-up is in winter, which officially begins on December 21), and the occasional bad weather is made a little more bearable because you have something to look forward to. And here in Cornwall October and November are usually very pleasant. OK, they aren’t warm and they bring a fair amount of stormy weather, but once you are holed up in a warm cottage with the woodburner on, it’s very pleasant to hear the wind howling outside and the rain beating against the windows. I have a theory that you prefer the time of year in which you were born, and my birthday is November 21, pretty much slap in the middle of autumn.
Anyhow, autumn is here and we should make the most of it before we have to soldier through the usually very dull and very trying months of January and February. Having said that, of course, it was even those nastier months which my sister missed when she still live in Manila. My cousin (I call him my cousin, but he is actually my stepmother’s nephew) lived in Taiwan for some time and once when he came back and we were sitting outside having a drink and it began to drizzle, he refused to come in but stayed outside to ‘enjoy’ the drizzle, because, he said, he had missed it so much while in Taiwan.
Here for those who like that kind of thing is an ‘autumnal’ photo, though a strongly suspect Mr Photoshop has had a strong input in this picture. Nothing’s that red.