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Autumn or Fall or whatever you want to call it. In England this week and somewhere else next

'Summer has o'er-brimmed' and we find ourselves in Keats' 'season of mists and mellow fruitfulness.'

Of brambles, apples and crumble.

Of falling leaves.

Long shadows

And flaming sunsets

'Autumn settles in the way an old friend will settle into your favourite chair and fills the afternoon with stories of places he has been and things he had done since he last saw you.'
Stephen King 

Stories ... 

We find stories everywhere. And if we don't find them, we make them up. Stories for ourselves and stories for sharing.
Usually, they are good stories. 
But sometimes they are bad.

Bad stories make me feel uncomfortable.

And this autumn, I am a little uncomfortable.

No, I don't mean a little uncomfortably shivery around the edges? It's not a the-nights-are-drawing-in-and-we're-holding-out-like-we-do-every-year-til-November-to-put-the-heating-on seasonally induced uncomfortable.

Nor is it uncomfortably starting to count down the days to Christmas and dreading the what-on-earth-do-I-get-for **** insert name of the person you find it hardest to buy a present for *** angst.

Nor is it the woodsmoke down the chimney that gets up your nose and reminds you that you forgot to call the sweep.

Nor is it the uncomfortable feeling that dozens of small whiskered faces are watching our every house-bound move, eager to see if we drop any crumbs or fail to sweep up the drifting dog hair that will line their mouse nests for the long chilly we-don't-waste-the-heating-by-having-it-on-all-day winter nights that are coming soon.

No. It's the autumn television schedule; specifically the glossy series filling Sunday evenings, like visual hot chocolate and treacle pie and wooly socks and takeing-us-gently-into-the-winter television schedule. Does anyone else feel a little uncomfortable watching Tutankhamun?

We were an arrogant, expansionist, greedy, self-serving and imperialist race. Weren't we? What did we think we were doing? What would our response have been if Egyptian archaeologists had come here, bossed us about, treated us like the mud on their shoes, looked down their noses at us, ignored our centuries of scholarship, pillaged our land, abused our misplaced hospitality - and if, having had the inspirational idea of digging in Suffolk, had discovered Sutton Hoo. And then having dug it up, had packed it into crates and shipped it back to Egypt? We would have had something to say then about finders not being keepers. And about the found belonging the the state from whose ground it was taken. Yet, put the shoes on the feet of history and our forebears clearly thought it fine to move in, conquer, belittle and steal. 

Forget the fact that the cast are all rather nice to look at; Howard Carter would have been particularly flattered that Max Irons is playing him, given that Carter was short and squat while his acting double is altogether more dashing. The cast are highly accomplished actors all. I just can't get the bad taste out of my mouth.

Something about the discomfort sits worse, when I remember that Howard Carter and Lord Carnarvon et al were alive in living memory. There are those alive now whose grandparents might have known them. That closeness feels like a hand-shake away, a simple arm stretch across history. I remember my grandfather. I remember his tales of colonial Africa. I remember him as a good man. But I am pretty sure that he would have held the views of his time when it came to race and empire. Perhaps, that those were the views of his time is almost an allowable excuse. Perhaps, I would have learnt to think that way too, had I lived then. Nonetheless, those views were wrong and to most of us today are deeply offensive. At its simplest, the story of adventure and discovery of the boy king's tomb is a good one. It is its setting that turns it bad; that makes me feel uncomfortable.

Stories that we tell ourselves. 

Stories that we tell ourselves to make the world a better place. Be blind to colour. No - don't even see colour. See the person not the colour of their skin. Where we don't and where we get the story wrong desperate things can happen. Fear of the black man behind the wheel of a car. Fear of the middle-Eastern business man getting on a plane. Fear of the tattooed youth smoking outside the newsagent's. We see, we judge, and we invent a story. If we are going to live together, we need to learn to invent good stories. We need politicians who tell us good stories too; not ones whose stories give us nightmares about murdering immigrants, and encourage us to see women as less strong, less talented, less intelligent and less in control of their bodily functions. You know which story teller I'm referring to. What a story teller! Watch this lady's impressive, eloquent quashing of his stories, NEWSFEED.  We need honest stories! Not stories that beget injustices.

I'm on a roll here - rant, rant, rant ... and hop, skip, jump to another injustice. Another story. Imagine for a moment that I have an uncle and that he and his partner were convicted in their twenties for committing same sex offences. Now, imagine that one of them died last week; after a lifetime of being an excellent and generous uncle, the sort that takes you out to tea and dainty sandwiches and pink cakes when you're little and takes you to Harrods to buy a tiara when your nearly old enough not to need one and gets you champagne with Wimbledon tickets when you're older. He can now be pardoned for living his life as the man that he was. His partner can't be. Because he lives.


Because the private member's bill to pardon living homosexuals has failed to progress through parliament. Both of my (fictional) uncles were alive last week but only one - the newly dead one - is pardoned. What a punch in the chest to the living. Your criminal record - c-r-i-m-i-n-a-l record - still stands. What you did in the past before it became legal will still hang round your neck; a historical conviction from a dark time. Shame on all of us for doing that to you.

Sometimes we meet people who make us smile. For whom we think, 'this is what makes life good.' I met one yesterday, aged ten who had the fragile seed of a fashionable-hat-wearing, arty, cultured, Gok Wan-like self-confidence that was lovely to notice and that I hope no-one knocks out of him. He was funny and different and intelligent and full of character. It was a pleasure to meet him. I hope society is kind to this different little boy. I worry that it might not be.

As procrasti-rambles go this one has been quite a ramble. A bit ranty, a bit dreamy, a bit it's time to wrap myself in a duvet, pull up the long socks and sip hot chocolatey. 

Autumn; a time to think, perhaps?

A time for two more quotes - for the first, think long walks in air cleared by the first frosts, along footpaths cleared of leg snagging crops, and next to hedgerows cleared of swarms of biting beasties.

'It was one of those days you sometimes get latish in the autumn, when the sun beams, the birds toot, and there is a bracing tang in the air that sends the blood beetling briskly through the veins.' PGWodehouse

Nora Ephron asked, 'Don't you love New York in the fall?'

... I don't know. But I'll tell you next week ...


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