I have just finished writing my monthly column for the excellent Expatriate Lifestyle magazine, and it is on the subject of Winter. It brought to mind one that I wrote before, on the very different, and for me much more pleasant subject of Spring. Here it is. It was published in April 2010 …
Ah, April. “April brings the sweet spring showers, on and on for hours and hours,” to quote the late, great Michael Flanders. But this month’s mellow column merely smiles fondly at Flanders’ cynicism. The even later Robert Browning said it better, although admittedly less amusingly; “Oh to be in England, now that April’s there,” and who could argue? It’s my favourite month, because here in England – and indeed the whole UK, as Browning would no doubt have mentioned had it scanned properly – it is spring, with all its new life, new hope, and new colours.
Carpets of bluebells, daffodils, and crocuses burst forth in parks, brightening up the “Do Not Walk On The Grass” signs no end. Lambs gambol about in the fields, and give us writers an excuse to use the word ‘gambol’, which we only ever do in spring. Fledgling birds take their first tentative steps from the nest and perch, unsteadily, on the branches, trying to muster the courage for their maiden flight. My cat sits expectantly on the ground beneath them with an evil smile on his face, and, not uncommonly, a feather poking from the side of his mouth.
Reawakened life as well as new, as hibernating animals stir from slumber. Like tortoises; except for that time when my childhood pet, Percy Bysshe, decided, according to my mother, to have a lie-in for an extra year. I forget what happened to him after that … But, anyway, those that do wake up blink in the unaccustomed light, and, endearingly, are not in the least surprised that there is a fresh crisp lettuce leaf waiting next to their bed. Or perhaps they are; how would you tell?
The clocks have just gone forwards, pushing sunset past 7.30 pm and encouraging people to take the year’s first opportunity to sit outside of an evening in pub gardens, where they sip their drinks and say things like “My God it’s cold out here! Can we go back in?” But it’s the promise that’s the important thing. The assurance that this is a new dawn, that the future with its unsullied opportunity is finally here, consigning to the past the short dark days of winter. Short, dark days which hid the true state of the house, now revealed in all its shabbiness and crying out for the spring-clean.
The cricket season starts. To be honest, it rarely does so with anything like serious intent, because the games are four-day affairs, and there are not many Aprils which contain four consecutive days of cricketing weather. Intrepid teams are out there nonetheless, wearing enough sweaters to re-stock a sizeable branch of Marks & Spencer’s, and performing to a crowd of two men in balaclavas and a dog who didn’t have a choice of the day’s activity. But oh, the greenness of the outfield. If it doesn’t snow.
Talking of sport, for me it is at this time of the year, with the brightness of the sunshine and the freshness of the air reinvigorating both mind and body, that I retrieve my golf clubs from the attic. I did so just last weekend, and noticed that my pitching wedge had a slight bend half way down the shaft. That recalled the ultimate round of last year, when the early season enthusiasm had long since been submerged in a dank pool of despair, continually topped up by my inadequate performances. It was just short of the eighteenth green when the end of my tether snapped, culminating in an attempt to wrap the club around, if I remember rightly, a small and inoffensive sycamore. The fact that the wedge is still in my golf bag is testament that I even failed to do that. But that was last year, and this year will be different. Look around; how can it not be? Those white fluffy clouds and the lush green grass of the first tee wouldn’t lie to me. They all but guarantee that my swing will somehow have metamorphosed during the winter, and will be a thing of grace, precision and reliability, no longer resembling a gibbon being tasered.
Ah, April in England; new life, new colours, new hope; same old fool …