Never was a cloudy day

by Steve

At the start of the year I decided to keep a diary. I challenged myself to write something, anything, for every day of the year.

I’ve thought about describing this as prescient, but of course I didn’t know in late December 2019, early January 2020, just what was about to follow. I guess I could describe it as lucky, if you can describe the perverse sense of good timing in documenting such a year as “lucky”.

My diary may not hold up as a document of the times, of my times, either. I suspect when I read back there will be lots of entries stating “Went to the shops today”. I know it took me a while to reference the current pandemic, that I was thinking about it and worried about it well before I acknowledged any of that on paper. But I suppose the reality of this year has been the banality amid the horror. And I think I’ve got the former covered.

The diary I bought is very handsome. The cover is a lovely pillar box red colour, with a woven-effect that is very pleasing to the touch and suggests an artefact that is much older than it really is.

A quick online search reveals it is described as a “perpetual week-to-view diary” – essentially there are no dates within, but for each two-page spread there is a gap to write the month and year, followed by spaces for Monday through to Sunday.

I realised in May that for the previous 10 weeks I had been writing “March” every week under the “month” heading. A perpetual week-to-view indeed. The long March.

Time blurred and bled. I had lost all sense of where we were in the year. Lockdown obviously did that sort of thing, as well as how unseasonably warm and sunny it was. It was disorientating, and even a diary didn’t help. I guess because I was writing my own time.

However, now I feel absolutely alive to the time of year. We are already a few weeks into meteorological autumn. We are on the cusp of astronomical autumn and the autumnal equinox. There is a palpable sense of it being a turning point of the year. A day and night of equal length. One to start getting shorter, the other longer. A sense of an ending, also a sense of a beginning.

There was a lovely mist this morning, a lovely sunny day to follow.

I once didn’t enjoy the autumn. I suppose this was a hangover from it marking the end of lovely summer holidays and the start of nerve-wracking school terms. Now I welcome that feeling of a new start. It might be harder to feel that sense right now, in the current circumstances, but perhaps in some way it makes the current uncertainty a tiny bit less daunting. It matches the season. This was always an uncertain time.

Autumn feels the best time of year to undertake new projects, or to try out a new outlook on life. The best time to re-engage in the world, or with yourself. It is the time of the great feast days and holidays. The road from Halloween to Bonfire Night to Christmas. A time of cosiness, warmth, of crisp, blue-skied days outdoors and lazy, rainy days indoors. It might all sound a bit clichéd and tired, but then so am I.

I will no doubt regret saying this, but if we face more time hunkering down at home, and only socialising outdoors (if at all), then this is the season for it.

It is a time for new beginnings, but also for the potency of nostalgia. The pensive days and longer nights invite it. And nostalgia feels particularly potent (and no doubt, in its way, dangerous) now. It feels entirely human to want to look back to simpler, happier times, or at least to times that appear simpler and happier in hindsight, even if they didn’t feel that way then.

The past is a more secure vantage point than the future. Once “the future” was a time of hope, change, excitement, all tin-foil and trips to the moon. Now there is uncertainty at best, certainty at worst – around climate, politics, health, everything.

And when I think back, it feels like so many of my memories took place in this kind of eternal autumn. Maybe more happened in those months than others. Maybe it was just generally grey and a bit chilly year-round, so just always felt autumnal. But when I think back to, for example, my teens, I think of an overcast morning wandering around record shops, all now long gone, or afternoons taking shelter from the cold in a football stand, long gone too. I’m riding home on the bus in the twilight. Making my first ventures into the pub with bonfires in the air outside, and inside little signs promoting Christmas lunches.

Apparently there was no significance to the date 21st September for Earth, Wind and Fire. However, it feels like absolutely the right date, beyond it scanning better than any other date would. The song September asks us “Do you remember?”, and it feels like just the kind of time you would look back to wistfully (It is easy to overlook the song doesn’t actually take place in September – “Now in December, found the love that we shared in September”).

September not only evokes the kind of nostalgia of the season, but is just the kind of song that was probably playing in the background of those memories, or in my idealised versions of those memories. It is the kind of song that has always just been there. It was playing at those family gatherings on dusky autumnal nights, playing from the fairground at the fireworks display, at the local carvery as we settled in for a Sunday treat.

It is an invitation to revel in memory, and to also create new ones. If the verse is the jogging of the memory then the chorus is the sheer joy of remembrance. It is bursting at the seams somehow – the horns at the end pushing themselves into near-distortion and dissonance, the sheer wordless abandon of the Ba-dee-ya-s, because some feelings are beyond articulation, that also allows us to project whatever we want onto the song.

It is beautifully overwhelming, much like memory, and much like when you are in the moment, creating that next memory, dancing to Earth, Wind and Fire or doing whatever else, and looking around at your loved ones and thinking I’ll always remember this.