My favourite memory of autumn will always be of walking my dogs in and around our local woods, kicking up the leaves, and picking some late blackberries off the brambles in the late autumn sunshine. I never get tired of the ever changing scenery on our regular walk near our home and my children always say they will be scattering my ashes on my dog walk when the time comes for me to cash in my chips, as it is one of my favourite places.
On a typical sunny autumn day, I stop every few yards to take a photo of the awe-inspiring pageant of autumn colours: lime green, golden, orange, russet, scarlet, crimson, and magenta leaves, all woven into a vernal tapestry decorating our little part of the world. Meanwhile, my two hooligan dogs are scouting around looking for squirrels or rabbits to chase, not realising that all the likely wildlife has heard them coming crashing through the woods earlier, and has taken refuge in the trees, or in their burrows.
However, as I wander rustling amid the leaves, I drop into a reverie of memories of my childhood. Some fifty odd years ago I used to walk through the woods on the way to and from school, kicking up the leaves, looking for conkers to hang on a string ready for conker contests at school the next day. But my dream was to find a big fat spiky conker case, freshly fallen from a chestnut tree, with a big fat shiny brown conker just emerging seductively from it. I would keep this on my dresser to admire each day, along with my collection of fallen leaves, which I would pick up and press dry between sheets of blotting paper, folded into the heaviest book I could find. I had intended that, when the leaves were fully dried and pressed, I would try to paint a still-life collage of them, with the big fat conker in its case, and a few other autumnal objects like some fir cones I had collected. Of course, I never got around to painting the picture; I wasn’t that good at art.
Autumn in those days was a good time of year, as it heralded lots of exciting events, like Halloween parties when we would dress up as witches or ghosts, and play tricks on each other. In those days, we didn’t go knocking on neighbours’ doors begging for treats like kids do these days. But we had a good time carving lanterns out of pumpkins, apple bobbing and telling scary stories. I remember at one party we had a competition to identify different tastes wearing a blindfold. That was exciting to us kids, and there were some nice tastes, like strawberries or blackberries, but I’m afraid some of the boys put in some rather nasty tasting substances for us to taste, like mustard and pepper.
A few days after Halloween would be Bonfire Night. We would collect as many small fallen branches and large twigs as we could find to take back home for a bonfire in my friend’s back garden. We would raid our parents’ rag-bags for our dads’ old clothes and stuff them with newspapers to form a body for our ‘guy’. An old stocking begged from our mums would be stuffed to form a head, on which we would place a cardboard face that we had drawn. An old mop head would serve for his unruly hair, topped by one of our dad’s old caps. We would then sit our ‘guy’ in an old push chair and trundle him around the neighbourhood, asking any passers-by for ‘a penny for the guy’. In those days people used to give generously: a three-penny bit or a sixpence, if we were lucky. When we had collected enough money, we would get one of our older siblings to buy our sparklers, and a few pretty fireworks. The boys, of course, would buy bangers or jump-jacks, and then let them off behind us girls to frighten us. Come Bonfire Night, we would mount our ‘Guy Fawkes’ on a stake in the middle of the bonfire, and our friend’s dad would ceremoniously light the bonfire, while we all lit our sparklers and waved them around making pretty patterns, until there were just red glowing stems remaining.
Our firework displays were nothing like today’s magnificent shows. We just had a few little rockets that we would stand in milk bottles. They would go ‘whoosh’ up into the sky, and that was it. We’d let off a few pretty ‘silver fountains’, then some ‘golden rain’, a ‘roman candle’ or two and some ‘Catherine wheels’ would complete our display. The whole party probably only took about half an hour, before ‘Guy Fawkes’ was reduced to ashes, but by that time we would be looking forward to our hot cocoa and crumpets, toasted in front of the embers on long handled toasting forks. Sometimes our friend’s dad would give us some hot chestnuts he had roasted in the fire.
Ah, those were the days. We had simple pleasures.
Back to the here and now, in the autumn of my life. Because I have chosen to be buried in a ‘green’ woodland cemetery after I have gone to meet my Maker, perhaps my children could hold a bonfire party near the woods where I live, and ceremoniously burn an effigy of me on the fire, then scatter the ashes of that around the woods I have loved walking my dogs in so much each autumn.
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