Martin Newell’s Joy of Essex: Hoping for an Indian summer but please turn the wind off

The Spoils of Autumn - but will we still get an Indian Summer?

The Spoils of Autumn - but will we still get an Indian Summer? - Credit: Archant

And the days dwindle down...” as we say in musical circles. We go blackberry picking on an early autumn morning, my first free weekend for some weeks. Stepping firmly onto territory more usually trodden by my learned colleague Peggy Cole, I’ve decided to reacquaint myself with my old country ways.

It used to be said that the Devil put his foot on the blackberries by September 23. Well I reckon he’s been out in his stilettos a bit earlier this year. On the slopes above the marshes, I discover that the blackberries, while still plentiful, are smaller and less juicy than in past years. It can’t be lack of rain, I reason.

It must, therefore, have been what the Met men call those ‘disappointing’ temperatures which we’ve been experiencing for most of the summer.

I’ve also had a poor year with my hops. Readers with keen memories, may recall that I cultivate a hop plant outside my back door, chiefly for decorative purposes. Each year, I encourage it gently to grow along wires on the weatherboards above mine and my neighbour’s back doors. By early September, it’s usually dripping with plump green-gold hops. This year it was about four weeks late in springing up from behind my recycle bin, where it skulks all winter after being cut down. It’s been late to flower and although we’ve now got a good few trusses of hops, as yet, they’re not quite as oily as of recent years. Like blackberries, hops will do reasonably well, even with little water, but they do like a bit of warmth and humidity to help ripen them.

All recent signs too indicate that the autumn’s coming in early. It feels like we’ve been swizzed. The spring took a long time to get itself into gear, the summer was, let’s face it, a bit pallid and now that we’re into September, the hops are late and the blackberries are almost over. I was banging on about the cold wind, the other evening in the pub. “You know what it is, don’t you?” I said to an environmentalist. “Go on.” he said. “Global warming!” we chorused.

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One hedgerow species which has done quiet well, is the blackthorn. It was late to flower this year but it’s made up for it in sloes, which are now thick on the branches although without yet that lovely dusty bloom which they take on in October. Despite my increasing years on this earth, and being almost obsessed with the subject, I still have no idea what all these signs augur in terms of the winter we might expect. I’ve learned only one thing about the British weather upon which I’ll risk my neck when it comes to predictions. Our weather seems roughly, to be a matter of borrowing and lending. When we’ve had a very tough winter, for instance, the resultant, spring, when it finally breaks, will be more verdant and rich in blossom.

When we’ve had a very good summer, which does happen once in a while, the autumn will often be windy, rainy and over before rapid transition to winter. When, therefore, we’ve had an indifferent summer such as this last one, which knocked off early before bank holiday had even started, then by rights, we should be due a pleasant autumn or, even, an Indian summer. I wouldn’t stake my life on it, mind, but I think there’s a good chance.

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I don’t know whether anyone else has noticed but 2015 has been an exceptionally windy year. With, by the end of July, only eight windless days to its credit, 2015 was reported to be shaping up as Britain’s windiest year for two decades. Now I don’t mind a few gales, say, in March or mid September. I’ve always thought of such gales, rather romantically, as seasonal stagehands, shifting the scenery around between the main acts. This year, however, the winds have hardly stopped.

Even during the few sultry summer days which we had, there were those winds, blasting away like mini-mistrals, wrecking garden parties while tugging at hats and newspapers whenever you sat down for a minute. Now, I know that at present there are large numbers of people trying to get into our fair land. I’m also aware that many of them have their reasons. Based purely upon our capricious meteorology, however, if I were the government I’d erect big neon signs at all the UK entry points, reading simply: “Are You Absolutely Sure About This?” Because I love this place, and I hate the palava of having to travel abroad. But even I sometimes arrive at the point where on certain mornings I wake up, look out of the window and think, “Bloody hell. I couldn’t half do with a couple of weeks on the French Riviera.”

So here’s the Old Newell’s Almanack seasonal wish-list: I’d like a long languid autumn through to St Martin’s Little Summer (November 11). I’d also like the next ten weeks to consist mainly of warm, hazy days with still, misty evenings and a whiff of garden bonfires. I’d like a slow turning of the leaves to flame and the hedgerows dripping with wild-fruit bling. Coming up to Bonfire Night, I want misty mornings and a red-gold forty-watt sun breaking through, say, round about mid morning. Also, can we please turn the wind machine off until at least January?

Great. Roll those skies.

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