Yesterday evening I was standing damp-soled and damp-souled in a self-effacing park in Beckenham (don't ask) when, in the words of Elizabeth Jennings' wonderful poem: I said autumn, and autumn broke. It literally broke upon me, in that moment. Cotton-vested, bare-armed, residually brown, I looked down at the Soho fag ash and rain stains on my white summer plimsolls, and up at the ash tree bordering the fragrant tarmac (its bark whorled like prune-fingers in the bath; its leaves broken, brittle, given-in). And I Fell. Mulchmud and leaflitter; pale swollen-bellied sky; the smell of new-term pencil sharpenings and the diffuse halogen halos of streetlights on greyly layered 8pm dark: how had I not noticed until now? Or had it all suddenly coalesced, just then, into a story, ready to be read?
There was still lingering warmth, but inescapably thinned with untrustworthiness. The rainy torrents, which had initially foxed me with their canicular glamour, had by now given way to that most familiar, most autumnal, and most English of phenomena: dripping. Everything, but everything, dripped. The drips, oversaturated, dripped. The bin dripped and the waxy yew hedge dripped and the rosehips dripped and the soil-streaked patch of grass dripped and the woman in the purple cardigan and trainers dripped and her yellow-snouted Yorkie dripped so much that his rheumy eyes ran.
What an innocent I was, yesterday afternoon. Now I've named it, there's no turning back.