A central capital diary: autumn
Under the governance of the earth element, late summer is the season of fruitfulness, plump plentifulness, harvest, the gathering in of produce, following the growth of spring/wood – and the maturing thereof, through the summer/fire.
Symbolic of the rotting and ripening process of the breaking down of food experienced daily in the stomach, this late summer time is preparation for the refining process that autumn/metal is responsible for – taking through to winter/water the essence – only that which can sustain and be used most effectively.
In the street market I see crates of Victoria plums, Bramley cooking apples, desert apples, gooseberries, blackberries, late strawberries with dozy wasps hanging over them.
I live in very central London, close to London Bridge. The temperature is always several degrees higher, especially in the summer months, the buildings, en masse, absorbing and reflecting the heat. But come evenings and early mornings, the lower temperatures are noticeable – once the sun has weakened, the temperature drops quickly, that distinction between sun and air.
The air also sometimes feels denser, thicker, heavier at both these times. In the early morning I can smell the dampness (humidity) suspended in the air… as sometimes, I can smell rain approaching…
I associate late summer with a change in wind direction – it seems to come from the west predominantly, almost heralding the transition in its clear message… there’s a clarity and coolness to it – an indifference to pushing summer away, to closing down the party… the canny power of moving to the next season.
When the wind is in the west, I can hear the sonorous striking of Big Ben… and the chimes of St Paul’s Cathedral. When it’s in the east, London City Airport flights fly directly over my building, four minutes from landing, scrawping the sky raw in their steep, tilted path to the runway.
The sun rises and sets later and degrees shorter, not making the same, high arcing trajectory of glorious summer, but falling much lower, over Westminster and not, as in peak time, on the Southbank. The quality of light is denser, thicker, as though the brick buildings are leaching their colours into it… the Shard and other glass buildings of the city reflect back an opaque, less brilliant light, with less heat… and from lower down their structures.
An estimated 8.4 million trees across the capital make it the world’s largest urban forest. They are usually the first to sprout – tender, gossamer thin, verdant, vibrantly green – and the last to give up their leaves, falling brown/orange, curled, dry, onto pavestones, clacking in the wind, their chorus of autumn… no reabsorption into mother earth here.
Being so central, it’s a surprise to me to have bird life – apart from the ubiquitous town pigeons, there are wood pigeons, finches, blue tits, magpies, seagulls and a murder of crows, territorial and most voluble in the spring when they are establishing their nesting rights. Young crow fledglings have been known to get stranded on the pavement next to the park, to the consternation of their noisy parents.
Blue tits have nested in a box on the five-storey building I live in. Finches snaffle lavender flowers from my balcony planters. Bees suckle the blossoming geranium and planter flowers. Squirrels scamper twitchily across the streets – even up sheer brick walls to the roof on floor five! And skanky, discoloured, anorexic foxes skulk surreptitiously in the back streets, under the cover of dark, though not always – desperately sniffing out food.
From my fifth floor balcony I have a panoramic skyscape of 180 degrees, facing directly south. I can see weather patterns coming… and going… rain sliding sinister and silent eastwards… or covering the entire sky on its trajectory north.
Away from nature, other signs of the autumn arrive. The start of the academic year and the return to schools and universities is very evident where I live, surrounded by five schools as well as the Southbank University and London School of Economics, both with their student accommodation. And the ever present tourists; fewer of them with children now but bundled up expecting poor weather, such is the UK’s reputation.
How I yearn for the countryside on many evenings in peak summer, marooned here in the constant noise of central London traffic, emergency vehicles, commuters, footfall, tourists, school children, Heathrow and City airport flight paths, helicopters, nocturnal drunks…
Robert started adult life training to be a classical ballet dancer; after a 10 year career working in Austria, France, Canada and London’s West End he retrained as an acupuncturist, graduating in 1992 from where he set up his practice in a Buddhist run practice in London’s East End for the next 30 years. He also worked in the Admissions Dept at the British Acupuncture Council for 17 years alongside his practice.