Walking down the embankment four days after the clocks went back I heard Big Ben ring out. My mood was the colour of the murky waters to my right. And as the sounding gong rang out across the evening, I had a thought. An enormous barman in the sky was ringing out his bell. Last call for drinks. Donnng. The shift from autumn into winter was real, was kicking everyone out into the cold.
The summer of 2022, the great pub session of all our lives, had come to an end.
I always thought I liked the slingshot into winter.
The dark, the twinkling lights, the water vapour breath. I liked to sit on Monmouth St around half six as the coffee joint was closing its doors. Watch the ladies go by. Lurking in the shadows obscured from the pools of lamplight, taking cover behind the rising steam of a double ristretto, warming my eyes on the female form. If my stars were aligned I’d get a lucky dip into the polythene bag of excess pastries discarded at the end of the day. I’d make it count, passing up a macaroon in lieu of an all-butter croissant.
But evidence would suggest otherwise.
Last month predictably my mood began to nosedive.
Mucho the tequila bigger the headache. Cause and effect. When I’d spoken in the summer of an unquenchable energy, of feeling supercharged like a firefly was shining its light out of every pore, a mate had told me ride it to the last stop, but mind the dismount. I’d taken the first bit of advice, less the second. In fact I’d missed my stop altogether. I’d woken up in the bus station, cold and alone.
SAD people yelled at me.
No need to spell it out. No, Seasonal Affective Disorder. Oh. Still I protested. I’d be damned if I was going to let a seasonal shift affect my disposition. I was no fairweather fool, some simp needing said-hours of daylight to keep my mood in check. Besides I hated the sun. But I also hated feeling like shit. So I did some maths and sprung for a lamp.
There is no bigger vibe-kill than owning a SAD lamp.
Sitting there on my bedside making me feel exactly what it said on the tin, it occurred to me the ‘sunrise effect’ could be achieved by switching on any light whatsoever, and mulling over a scathing Amazon review I couldn’t but cast my mind back to the halcyon days of summer when all was alive and in bloom and a good mood required no work on my part whatsoever.
I thought back to the great barman in the sky. It made sense. The reason this mood had taken me down is because I just wasn’t ready for it. I’m no fan of a party ending. And the summer energy is so palpable, so full of itself, it stays there inside you even when summer has left the building. Like the love that remains after the lover has shut the door behind them.
In essence, autumn is one big warning sign. Guys, you know what’s coming don’t you. Death darkness and hibernation. But there I was out on my bike, enjoying the pale light, moaning over the beauty of the leaves, and before you know it the clocks go back and you’re a mess.
The Pagans arranged their year into eight separate celebrations, denoting the morphing of the outside world. Samhain, the most recent, Halloween’s predecessor, marked the descent into the darker months. That way the ancients kept a marker on the rhythms of the sun, the light dimming or amping up, the solstices. An active way to participate in the great breathing in and breathing out of the seasons.
To anticipate the change before it sucked the life out of you.
So there I was feeling like a baloney sandwich, systematically getting out of social engagements one after the other as they reared their heads. Little things were five times harder. They required five times more willpower. Just going to the shops was like taking on Ivan Drago in the twelfth.
One afternoon Chloe texts. I’m with the kids in a pizza joint. I can handle that I thought. I cycled down, spent an hour with them, talking football cards with kit and magic with nell. I got back. Texted Chloe. Asked how bad it was. If I looked weird, smelt funky, seemed off.
You’re better than you think you are.
That was good to hear. It was a kernel.
Stem the flow. Pick up your worn-out tools. Write it out. Position it outside of you. Admit to yourself you’re not doing superbly. Then you can act on it to remedy it. Baby steps. Contrary action, like they say in AA. You can’t think your way into better action, but you can act your way into better thinking.
Besides winter had only just begun. I couldn’t lay down my cards now. I was jumping the gun. I was on a February tip in mid-November. I mulled over seeking out an endless summer like those surfer dudes in the 60s, chasing the earth’s tilt across its surface in search of the perfect wave. You don’t like sun and you can’t surf bruh.
So what to do. Lean in. Get medieval.
In the depths of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer.
I didn’t need an invincible summer. I needed an obscure pale ale, some free-range humous, a brace of corn cakes and a fucking backbone. I needed Gregg Wallace gurning at the mere mention of a calvados and dark chocolate parfait with a treacle and coconut tuile.
Rachel, a best pal of my then-girlfriend, sent me something once which I always remembered. While it’s good to look after ourselves, she said, sometimes we need to not be always holding ourselves together perfectly, if that makes sense. That was huge. Merciful. I thought about it often. Holding space for the juggernaut of life to hit us head-on, without getting too overawed by it. Without letting it run us over.
Just because you’re not feeling great, doesn’t mean your life is a shipwreck. Paying dues to the spectrum of mood that isn’t superb, and isn’t terrible, that welcomes you to sit with it a while.
When you have a spectacular run of fine feeling, the one this summer of all summers had imparted, you almost lose that muscle that can combat bad moods, you’re out of practice. I was out of practice. One can’t expect fine mood to shine down on you like some Sunny D ad. Like Chlo had said. You’re better than you think you are. A lot closer to feeling alright again than your addled brain can at times do its damndest to convince you.
Show up every day. Take it from there. Be grateful for the flaming miracle of everything. Know that people are fighting far harder battles than you. Stem the flow. When it gets bleak, stick some Axl on.
Hear him croon.
Cos nuthin lasts forever, even cold November rain.
Pull your hood up, go for a brisk walk around the Downs. Like you’re a character out of Hound of The Baskervilles. And if it’s really bad. Know it might not be tomorrow. And if it is, channel your inner-grizzly. Remember the birds get out of Dodge til spring. Get inside. Crack a can. Raise a toast to the great barman in the sky.
Stick some Jehst on.
Ride it out.
I hibernate through tha winter, and wait for tha summer madness.