Why I‘m Not Mourning the End of Summer

Woodburner smallI work in a sector where the colder days and dark nights are a cause of dread.  If you suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), or depression of any sort, the cold gloomy days ahead can seem interminable, and the fact that we’ve had a good summer this year seems to make it worse, by highlighting the contrast.

I’m the last person who would trivialise peoples’ anxiety about winter, especially those who have mental health issues, but I’m one of those people who are lucky enough not to suffer from SAD, and can see the benefits that the cooler days bring. 

For a start, I love the autumn colour: Glen Affric in the autumn is a delight, particularly if you get one of those cold bright days, which we sometimes do.  Who doesn’t like crunching about in autumn leaves and collecting conkers?

Admittedly I don’t like the cold – not one bit- so living in the northern most part of the British mainland may seem like an odd choice, but as Billy Connelly said, ‘there’s no such thing as bad weather only inappropriate clothing’, so as long as I can wrap up and keep warm I’m happy to engage with the colder weather on my own terms!  I love putting on my winter woollies, which my mum knits, and walking on a deserted beach; I actually really like seeing the first snow fall on the mountains, and watching Ben Wyvis, which I can see from my utility room, turn white at the summit.  I even love crunching the white stuff underfoot and building snowmen (well, snow pigs in my case, but the point is the same).  Also, I am in love with my wood burner.  There I’ve said it!  I will be delighted with the new opportunities this season presents to stoke up the fire.  There’s something magical about being toastie-warm in front of a real fire, whilst it’s blowing a gale outside.

There are many other seasonal benefits to be had – the darker night skies provide much better opportunities for stargazing, and if like me, you’re lucky enough to live in a ‘dark sky’ environment you’ll appreciate the clear night skies at this time of year.  The northern lights (Aurora Borealis) are also only really visible in the autumn and winter months, and although I’ve not yet had the privilege of seeing them, the north is one of the best spots in the UK to do so.

Food is always a pet subject of mine, and at this time of year there are plenty of seasonal delights from blackberries and other hedgerow food, to chestnuts, game and stews.  Gone are the summer salads, in is hearty, wholesome, warming grub in extra big portions to give me energy for keeping warm: steaming piles of fluffy creamed potatoes, soups of every kind, stodgy puddings, and back on board are the lovely shellfish too.

I enjoy getting out and about, but the cold short days are also a good excuse to curl up on the sofa, in front of the fire, with a good book, or a good film, and not feel guilty.  I do miss the exercise I get in the summer from gardening, but I can sit inside smug in the knowledge that all the tending has been done and my sprouts are doing their thing in time for Christmas.

I said the ‘C’ word.  I’m aware it’s not something that sets everyone’s heart alight, but I do love Christmas and all the traditions associated with it:  Candlelit carols, wrapping presents, sending cards, visiting friends and family, and all the food sights and smells that go with this time of year –the Christmas cakes, pickles, hams, cheeses, mulled wine, and all the Christmas spices.  And let’s not forget the start of the citrus season too!

There are lots of things to enjoy as we move towards cooler weather, and of course, there’s always the spring to look forward too!  Would we appreciate it as much, do you think if we didn’t have autumn and winter?




The Power of a Smile

Smile small Intuitively we all know that smiling is good for us, and good for the wider world too – don’t we?  It costs so little – the energy required to turn the mouth upwards- a few muscle movements less than a grimace, mere seconds- and yet it can mean so much.

A cheeky boy who I’d never seen before, sitting on the station platform as my train passed, raised a hand at me and smiled.  He winked too; it was a mischievous gesture, but it still made me smile. I laughed out loud in fact!  I was coming home from work, moody and half asleep, but a smile from a stranger made me laugh!

A smile can be so many things: conspiratorial, affirming, sympathetic, friendly, or simply joyous.  It’s an exclusively human facial gesture and something we should do more of in my view.  Making the effort to smile at another human being, engaging a stranger, or even a familiar face, can be very life-affirming.  Not only does it benefit the person receiving it, but it benefits us too.  It’s hard to be crabby when your face says otherwise!

Psychotherapists tell us that what’s inside affects what happens externally, but a smile can turn that wisdom inside out.  Wearing a smile instead of a scowl can actually improve how we feel inside.  Go on, give it a try! May be it’s because we have to make a conscious decision to do it.  Smiling may not change our circumstances, but it shows we can change our attitude to things by choosing to be more positive.  I’m not talking about a false, sycophantic, half-hearted for-the-camera effort here, but genuine warmth of feeling that we can display on our visog with a tiny adjustment of muscles – and attitude!

Such is the power of a smile, telephone sales technique trainers insist that you can ‘feel’ someone smiling at the other end of the phone.  Science also tells us that laughter can improve the outcomes for patients being treated for cancer, so the old adage about laughter being the best medicine isn’t far wrong.

Give it a try, what have you got to lose?  You may not cure the world of all its woes, but you may make someone’s day, even your own!

Is anyone out there? Why I’m still Blogging

Blog imageMy blog is like public transport -British public transport anyway – nothing for ages, and then 3 articles come along at once!

My writing life is like that too: it’s all or nothing.  I go for a while without writing a thing, and then dash out a story or a few poems, almost fully-formed; scribbled into life in a creative rush. 

I’ve always got ideas on the go, milling about in the creative ferment that passes for my brain, and perhaps this is the reason why there are gaps.  May be the pieces need time to coalesce from the primordial creative soup, forming into something coherent and concrete that can be expressed in language.  May be.  It might also be that I’m lazy and disorganised, and can’t be bothered to order my private thoughts into something articulate on a regular basis.

Whatever the reality, I am still writing my blog, 2 years after starting it.  I have no evidence that anyone reads it, other than spammers and lonely-hearts, but it is a beacon to myself nonetheless: a personal reminder that I have things I want to say; things that matter to me as a journeyer through this amazing, frustrating, capacious world.

Perhaps they will strike a chord with someone somewhere, but if not, I will still write them.   I’ve always written in this self-possessed and questioning style, long before blog-writing gave me the opportunity to broadcast my private musings in a public arena, and I’ll likely continue till the lights go out  (mine or the net, whichever comes first!)