Happy squirrel days in a London October

We are stocking up for winter, pulling out woollens, keeping one eye on the football while stirring the first thick soup of the season Normally, I’m not a big fan of the autumn in England. Most years the summer that’s just ended leaves me with a feeling of having been shortchanged, of not enough properly warm days, of too much rain, and the fall weather that arrives feels like a debt-collector come to demand interest on a loan that you’ve used up without any pleasure or profit. Not this time, though. This year, the first days with a proper autumn bite provided extremely welcome relief from relentless heat. Even the first cold rain, normally about as welcome as a bout of flu, seemed to be a harbinger of some normalcy – maybe the glaciers were pausing in their melting, maybe the planet was righting itself after teetering on the brink. Of course, this was a fantasy – we now know that the ice caps, northern and southern, will melt in a race with each other, and various bits of continents will then behave with erratic incontinence, popping up or pushing down in ways that are completely unpredictable. But the morning weather in this London October helps you to stave off those dark, pessimistic thoughts. The air is what the French call ‘frais’, meaning fresh but also crisp and cold, something that opens up the atmosphere and provides a break from the sultry bubbledome of the hot season. Leaf and belief The trees start turning colour, some types always go first, already changing by mid-September, while others will hold on to their leaf and beliefs well into November. At the end of a neighbour’s garden, one tall tree – perhaps an elm, I’m not sure – is doing something strange. Strangled by the ivy on its trunk, it was late in flowering this year, and when the flowers did come they sprouted from only one half of the fan of branches. In another garden someone had lopped off a pine midway in a straight line, so it looks like a weird kind of mutation with an undulating platform of branches, sort of like one of those Premier League footballers’ haircuts. Talking about football, come October the fever of cricket recedes to other parts of the world and you can see it for the weird game it is: the Indians get back to doing their business on docile pitches; England travel to Sri Lanka, hopefully for a fearful drubbing from our southern brothers; this island’s Test venues are bedded down for the winter; and a proper game like football, short sharp and brutal, comes into focus. You know summer is really over when you see the small gangs of people huddled on the pavement outside pub windows, clutching their beer glasses, rain dripping from their cigarettes, staring at the TV inside, watching their team get a beating or managing to mug some other team of sub-millionaires. After a clanking, rusty start, I’m happy to report that Arsenal, a proper supporter of which I’m not allowed to call myself by close relatives, is doing reasonably, unspectacularly well: ‘we’ (or ‘they’ as I must call them in presence of family) have now won eight games in a row (in all competitions) and are chugging along in the slipstream of the five leading clubs above them. Hopefully there will be no November dive, and who knows, come end-season next spring, a sudden, possibly ridiculously undeserved burst that takes them near the top and leaves their North London rivals Tottenham Hotspur below them and their supporters seething with rage. Time for the ‘Full English’ The best thing about the onset of the cold weather is that different food comes to the fore. Gone are the salads and cold meals of the hot season. Those heavy breakfasts you’ve been avoiding since May now make sense again and it’s possible to justify some variation of the infamous ‘Full English’: eggs of your choice, bacon, sausages, grilled tomatoes and mushrooms, hash browns, black pudding (for those who don’t know, these are delicious biscuits made from pork blood, beef suet and oats or barley), and if you’re really feeling gluttonous this line-up can be followed by the appended ‘American’ of pancakes and maple syrup; coffee, of course (or tea if you must), and juice of some sort; all extremely unhealthy and satisfying. The lunch and dinner meals also now take on a different character with the markets filling up with the most colourful varieties of squashes and pumpkins, knobbly, ringed with veinous ropes or smooth and shiny. Onions also come into their own, garlic changes from its winger role in the summer dishes to become part of the central strike prong, recipes for meat, chicken and vegetable stocks, left dormant in the hot days, are now awakened to add to the soups, stews and gravies for the roasts.

Source : https://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-opinion/happy-squirrel-days-in-a-london-october/article25146910.ece

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