I don’t know if it’s just me, but for the last few years, I’ve forgotten how old I am. Because I spend so much of the year pessimistically rounding up, I’m rendered unsure by the present state of affairs. When the inevitable question comes, from a doctor or someone else official, a few embarrassing seconds tick by while I’m forced to do the math. This morning, I woke up to realize that, despite it being my birthday, I’ve actually lost a year of age. Not a bad present, that.
The latter half of November is always my favorite time of year. My birthday and Thanksgiving fall in the same week, giving a glimmer of excitement and occasion to my life against a backdrop of autumn color, dark mornings and nights, the snap of cold against my skin. From the garden, we harvest pumpkins and squash, withered apples, sweet potato, kale, quince, crabapple, the last of the bolting autumn lettuces. A crop of Christmas potatoes and parsnips awaits in the damp earth, and we cloche the over-wintering patch of cauliflower, broccoli, kalette, broadbeans and peas (but leave the garlic to fend for itself). I snip the final few roses to unfurl indoors, find unoccupied space in the ground for yet more tulips and daffodils (violating some arcane law of physics in the process), and force narcissus bulbs in the garage.
In dripping local woods smelling of moss and loam, we gather fallen sweet chestnuts, carefully extracted with a boot toe from their lethal acid-green cases, and roast them over the fire. The solar panels no longer produce surplus energy, the hens lay fewer eggs, and our bees slumber in their hive, much missed. Richard’s amazing homemade eggnog develops in the fridge, soon ready to be served with freshly grated nutmeg.
Out and about, London has long since succumbed to premature festivitis and is decked in Christmas lights, with boughs and wreathes up in St Pancras International station. The commuting capital teems with life, as if the pandemic were a long-ago nightmare, and at night, as we go to the theatre or dine out, the joy of life is almost overwhelming. My lost youth is out there in the revelling crowds, just around a corner, shivering in the queue of some club in heels and inappropriate clothing. Truth be told, I’m far happier at home, on the sofa under a blanket with candles as the rain and wind pound against the bay window glass. The joys of middle age are definitely underrated.