Autumn, Anniversaries and Ambling (along hedgerows)
"Seasons of mist and mellow fruitfulness...". Okay, not really, I'm just kidding. Autumn is by far my favourite season, and October my favourite month, and I don't need to recite John Keats to help me explain why. Or at least, not yet, because so far I am only three sentences in. But if I get stuck, I can always reintroduce him just after the paragraph about a hundred and one ways to carve a pumpkin.
Spring is amazing, as the ground thaws and birds start singing, and narcissi and tulips vie for our attention and once again months of beautiful British flowers lie ahead of us. Summer is full of roses, foxgloves, peonies and heady scents, and all the family arguments that having three birthdays in July invariably seems to bring. But in Autumn, I feel like the pressure is off. As the weather cools, and I dig out my black opaque tights and big jumpers, and the logs go on the fire and we gather up the last of the dahlias and post them all over Instagram in one last flurry, I breathe a sigh of relief. I don't really know why. As the nights draw in, or rather start at 4.15 pm, it seems more acceptable to watch Miss Marple with a cup of tea and a dog on my lap. I still keep my toenails immaculately painted throughout the winter months, though. Somehow, this really matters.
But this year, October has been especially precious for me as we celebrated our first wedding anniversary. As we spent our entire honeymoon in Morocco counting down the days till we saw Hilda again, it made sense not to go too far this time, and to bring the tiny brown Schnauzer with us in order that she too could celebrate the anniversary of her legitimacy. As much of our courting was done in the Cotswolds, we decided to head down for a couple of days of dog walking and log fires.
It says a lot about my life these days that the top two items on my packing list are secateurs and dog jumpers. The third is my camera. My make up and round hairbrushes are virtually at the bottom. This is not on account of having finally settled down, and complacency setting in, but rather a reflection of my excitement of escaping London to do the things I love the most with the people I love the most.
A glorious sight awaits us as we draw up to our hotel in Northleach - the front of The Wheatsheaf Inn is absolutely covered in deep red leaves. I see families inside, finishing their lunches, watching me through the window as I photograph the foliage meticulously on both my camera and my iPhone, just to be safe. It takes a while as there are so many shades of red, and so many different sizes and shapes of leaf. By the time I am done, Charles has checked in, unpacked and is admiring all the shades of red behind the bar, and sampling a few of them. Plus ça change. I join in him for a drink but am already coveting the most delicate, mottled pale pink hydrangeas in a garden opposite the Inn. They make me think of Susanne (The Blue Carrot), and how well they would fit into her signature colour palette. With some lovely lime green foliage, ideally slightly decaying. Meanwhile, I consider a midnight heist on the hydrangea bush, but I know the flowers are not mine to take and I would be outraged if such thing of beauty were to grow in my garden, only to be liberated by a stranger in the dead of night. I resolve to take multiple photographs in the morning instead.
The next morning brings, amongst other things, a mild hangover, boiled eggs and soldiers. We eventually set off on what my husband tells me is a three to four mile flat, circular walk. I prove that a year of marriage has taught me very little as I believe him and eagerly set off up the steep hill after him. As it turns out, the next seven miles are full of nature at her best. My Mother in Law tells me that one of the reasons I am so good for her son (no, really) is that before he met me he was terribly impatient, whereas now he is much more relaxed. As I stop every ten to fifteen yards to photograph another rosehip bush, or some dead wild sorrel, or another some such texture as takes my fancy, I glance over to see what he is up to. Invariably he is playing with Hilda. The dog he absolutely didn't want. The one that would hold us back from getting on with our lives. The one I was too ill to look after (to be fair, I probably was when she arrived, I just had to get better quickly to keep up with her). When he acquiesced, grumbling loudly, he said if we were having a dog, it had to be a proper one, i.e. a Labrador or larger. I watched him last week on this walk, on his hands and knees, whispering and making growling noises into the ears of the 4.5kg Schnauzer. I used to be smug about how right I was, but increasingly I see it as a sign of how far we have both come in this year.
In fact, we have been through a lot - we got news of the unexpected loss of a dear friend whilst on Honeymoon. Upon our return from that trip I found myself being greeted by the crash team at A&E after my GP called me an ambulance following routine tests. All three parents have been hospitalised, my Mother in a coma for almost two weeks. There have been two redundancies, a fractured spine (Charles's), the sale of my home of 12 years and countless discussions on cost savings. And yet, I have never been happier. I put this down to three things - my husband, my dog and of course, my love of flowers and nature.
On our Honeymoon, I spent days in the souks of Marrakech acquiring beautiful kaftans and velvet Moroccan jackers to take back to the UK. For our first anniversary, my request was that we retraced some of our walk in the car so that I could forage for hips and haws and foliage. When we made a pitstop at Daylesford on the way home, I didn't head to the Bamford Haybarn for bath oils, I went to the garden room and bought two of the most beautiful amaryllis I had ever seen. They looked amazing with the pine branches I found at the side of some road I'll never find again.
And when I went to bed that night, it turned out the man who has always insisted I choose my own presents had in fact bought me a present for our first, paper, anniversary. It was a book. But it wasn't anything to do with Keats or any of the other Romantic poets. It was The Complete Secret Notebooks of Agatha Christie, published so recently I hadn't even got wind of them. What a lucky girl I am.