Time passes quickly when you’re enjoying yourself, or working, or both. For most of the year regular routines keep me ticking over. Choir practices, meetings, exercise sessions, my book club and writers’ workshops, all of these mark out my days and evenings in the way that work did before I retired. Add to that the household chores, gardening, and greenhouse, and there’s little time left. I wonder now how I managed to complete my MA (in 2 ½ years) and get a decent grade for it. Probably by staying up till all hours to get essays done – my best working time is evening, and when I’m in writing mode I often creep out of bed at 2am to write down ideas and finish stories (to the annoyance of Cat, and sometimes Him Outdoors).
Summer is a different space. In the UK everything seems to pack up from mid-July to early September (except in Scotland where the holidays come earlier). Adult classes shut down, and clubs and choirs often have a break because the schools and Universities are on vacation, although many clubs and groups are populated by seniors who prefer to stay at home during this expensive holiday time. Nevertheless the 6 week gap is a breathing space and this year I’ve looked forward to getting on with my own creative writing and catching up with other things of an intellectual sort.
Big mistake. When one job’s done there are always 3 more loitering on the to-do list. I look round and see paint peeling, outdoor shed bulging with rubbish and spiders, the garden furniture rusting and rotting, even the front railings crying out for restoration to Victorian glory. There’s fruit to be picked, jams to be made, and gherkins to pickle. I can’t resist. A day or two of nice weather and am I to be found reclining on a sun-bed, reading a good book and nursing a well-iced Pimms? What do you think? The work ethic never fails. In a kind of desperation I even found myself picking lavender and making plaited ‘wands’ (designed to keep moths out of wardrobes) a skill taught to me by an industrious aunt many years ago. There I was weaving ribbon round lavender stems, a process both fiddly and time-consuming. My family can’t understand why this is important to me. I don’t know why either, as I didn’t really like that particular aunt, but the smell is delicious. A few positives though – I sat on a sun-bed to do the job, topped up the freckles on my back and shoulders, and not a single moth came near.
So now it’s the end of summer. Another nice day and I’m trying not to feel guilty for sitting in my little office writing. September has ushered in the cool breath of winter. Early autumn can be pleasant but for me it heralds the long dark days. It’s the time when the summer birds are booking their flights to the sun. I was reminded of this at a story-telling event recently, where Horatio Clare was talking about the winter low which hits some of us. I don’t know whether he uses a daylight lamp – I certainly swear by it, but also by having lots to do, Keeping Busy.
This I certainly will be, now I’ve signed up for my PhD – in Creative Writing. No more lavender, paint-brush cleaner, hot vinegar and bubbling jam. The hardly-used sun-beds will be covered over, and the cushions tucked into hibernation in the nice clean shed. The glossy garden furniture and front railings will resume their mission to dissolve into rust in the winter gloom. And I will be up half the night writing essays and working on my historical novel. The smells of wood smoke and slow-cooked casseroles will mingle with the odour of printer ink. Will I be happy? Who knows. But at least our wardrobes will be moth-free and H O will have jam for his toast. Shame he’s not keen on gherkins.