The comfort of simple pleasures
As autumn prepares to give way to winter, Debora Robertson reflects on a peculiar season and how, in these socially restricted times, we may best see it to its completion. The key, she reckons, is to hold on to the little everyday rituals Which Make life better
This is a year which has sometimes felt like the Christmas holidays on repeat — that is, frantic activities and anxiety followed by arbitrary Tuesdays, Wednesdays, whatever-days, seeing older movies in pyjamas while eating cheese.
This can be the year when spending hours obsessing about food where we might buy it and exactly what we’d do with it once we got it home — filled with the openings where our social lives used to be. And due to the walks, and also the silent, and the slower pace of life enforced upon us, a lot of us became attuned to our environment. Sunsets and sunrises felt intense and striking somehow, perhaps because we had time to check at them.
Among my joys every morning was seeing the sparrows in the lime trees in the front garden. I was quite overcome with joy Once the swifts returned,Yelling, to nest in the eaves at the trunk.
I sat at my desk each day looking out at the bare branches of the cherry tree, and then the leaves, then the blossom. Whenthe blossom fell, the roses started to bloom. Thus, even though I wasn’t sure if it was Friday or Good Friday, in this mad, silent year I had a larger feeling of the subtlety of these seasons shifting than previously.
Now the swifts have gone for another season and winter is before us, I’m considering how we indicate this time this year, when so a lot of our traditional markers are denied us. No buckets of sweets from the hall this Halloween…
Ordinarily for me, November means bundling up within my thick scarf to visit the soccer, housefuls of people for raucous Friday night beverages or extended Sunday lunches, nights at the theatre, going to discussions and lectures (I’ve never really shrugged off the push for selfimprovement; I’ll be a swot until the day I die). It means parkin and playful bonfire parties. And this season, I suppose, not.
All around the planet at this time of the year there are customs, ceremonies and rituals attached to the passing of the seasons, from American Thanksgiving (which turned into such a massive vacation in part since the Puritans didn’t believe in celebrating Christmas) into the Thai festival Loi Krathong, observing the Goddess of all Water, Korean Chuseok (literally,Fall eve), the Mexican Day of the Dead and Diwali.
While these celebrations differ enormously in their own development, what they have in common is collecting with your loved ones, remembering people who have died or who are otherwise absent, with special foods, music, lights, candles, and at times fireworks.
Looking back this season will be especially hard for a number of us. Many have dropped much during this odd time, and all us to a level have lost our sense of certainty about which our lives could be and what they’d look like. I’m very much a the-morethe-merrier type when it comes to observing, and it’s been my tremendous good fortune to indicate every thing from Passover to Eid and Nowruz together with my neighbors and friends.
This season, I will stretch every sinew, every memory of seasonal pleasures and rituals beyond, to mark the late fall season, albeit without the typical parties and parties.
Of course, I’ll go heavy on the hygge.
It’s fashionable now to roll your eyes at this newly much-commodified idea of enjoying simple pleasures. But let us just not shall we, for a minute? We are too tired to be so vogueishly ennuyé and, to tell the truth, it seems just a little out of step with the times.
It’s important to shrug off any notion that you want a certain cashmere blanket or a candle that costs up to a coat, for a start. There is nothing hygge about that whatsoever.
At its origins, it’s a way the Danes created to get through the long, dark, dull winters, and also to conquer the unrelenting sameness of short days and chilly nights. It merely requires producing little daily rituals of pleasure, of appreciating the current and nurturing contentment.
For me personally, that is enjoying my favourite Ethiopian coffee (Yirgacheffe) each morning from a sun yellow Wedgwood mug my husband purchased for me at the Chelsea Flower Show two years ago, reading one of many books I purchased during lockdown, taking a bath in the afternoon instead of a fast shower, sitting on the sofa daydreaming, with my puppies warming my toes, or needlepointing at a comfy chair by a sunny window.
Your listing will look different to minebut you should definitely have a list. In fact, write one now, just down it and do not think too hard about it. Attempt to perform
A minumum of one thing from the list every day and let us all see how we get on.
BIG UP THE LITTLE THINGS
This Guy Fawkes Night, I’ll still make parkin and revel in it with our (max four) neighbours, even without the typical bonfires and fireworks. We’ve shared such a lot over these past months, from grocery orders to lettuce seedlings and geranium cuttings, sharing parkin feels like a suitable punctuation point to mark the turn of the seasons.
I will slosh more brandy than usual in the puddings and cakes on Stir-up Sunday — 22 November this season — as goodness knows we all deserve it, and certainly this Christmas calls out to be especially indulgent, even if it’s quieter than normal?
I will seize a bright day to clean up the backyard a bit and take note of the veggies and herbs which did well this year, and look sternly at those that may be allowed one last opportunity to thrive next year. I’ll plant bulbs, because there’s nothing I am more grateful for when spring rolls around, so it’s worth a back-breaking afternoon, trowel in hand, in the watery November sunshine.
I shall occupy a project, to compensate for absolutely no lectures and discussions. Having spent far too much time with my sourdough starter this year, I think that it’s time for us to start seeing different people, and perhaps to take a new challenge.
Looking at the new books, I am most drawn to The Pie Room by Calum Franklin, the hot-water pastry king of Holborn Dining Rooms who featured in the last issue of tasty. His pops are profoundly beautiful and glistening, and we could all do with a little of that right now, and carbohydrates. And in an effort to eat as much fall produce as I will get in my head, I am enticed by Italy: The World Vegetarian by Christine Smallwood, who promises in this volume such ideal autumnal comfort foods like mushroom gnocchi and pasta from walnut sauce — dishes worth staying for.
I believe what I have heard most this year is patience, that isn’t something that comes naturally to me. I am always racing onto another thing, another piece of work, another book, another dinner, another holiday or occasion.
Years ago, during quite a stressful period, I composed a message on a Post-it and stuck it on my noticeboard. It said,”Do everything you’re doing,” an entreaty to myself to focus on one thing at a time, not get distracted or overwhelmed.
Eventually, the tacky backing dried up and it fluttered to the floor like a fall leaf without me learning that lesson.
It required, well, this all, for me to know there’s a profound beauty and relaxation in the everyday, in growing where you’re planted, and flourishing on your own, homemade, ground.
I expect that in this last portion of the year we can all do that as lightly as we possibly can, and with as much joy and parkin as we can muster.