Sounds of the season

The boiler has broken down. As I write I’m half-buried beneath a blanket with my laptop on my knees. Michael’s on the other sofa with a blanket of his own and, unless I miss my guess, a hot-water bottle under his feet. Annoyingly the engineer won’t be here until tomorrow afternoon; apparently they’re really busy…so I’ve been passing the time by reorganising my music files and trying to find some sort of common ground between Amazon music and Google Play. I don’t recommend it. Just for some light relief I sorted out new passwords for every account or app on my computer and or phone.

How do you decide that Autumn is over and Winter has arrived? When I was very young I assumed that the seasons were sorted by month: March, April & May were Spring; June, July & August were Summer; September, October & November were Autumn and Winter took up December, January & February. And it turns out I was right because these are basically the meteorological seasons – Winter starts on 1st December and finishes on the last day of February as these are the three coldest months of the year in the northern hemisphere. Astronomical Winter is different – it begins on 21st December, the shortest day of the year (for those of us who live north of the equator) and will apparently end on 19th March 2017.2016-11-30-11-02-11

It strikes me that both these definitions are a bit too rigorous. We all know when Winter really starts, and it’s not necessarily the 1st or the 21st December – it’s when the temperature drops and there’s a subtle but noticeable shift in the feel of the air. And it’s arrived. There are still some leaves attached to the trees, doggedly hanging on even though they’re brown and crisp, and there are even some flowers blooming. But the noisy leafblowers have been put away, only to be replaced by the grittier sound of chainsaws. For some reason bare trees become irresistible to would-be-lumberjacks.

We’ve had some snow on the hills, as I told you last week. That’s mostly disappeared but this week it’s been even colder and we’ve had heavy frosts. The earth really has stood hard as iron, the air has been freezing and the temperatures have plummeted to -7° C.20161201_103211

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But as ever once we reach this time of year there’s suddenly a whole flurry of events to distract us from the chill.

*

Last Sunday I went to a concert at the local church, all of 250 yards away. I went partly because it was free, to be honest, but also because I like live music. It almost doesn’t matter exactly what sort it is (though hip-hop doesn’t count because it’s not music and jazz is out because it makes me feel homicidal). Other than that, anything goes. Years ago we took Alex to Victoria Park in Cardiff on a Bank Holiday weekend, to listen to the Hennessys (she was about seven and too young to refuse). For anyone who hasn’t heard of the Hennessys, this is the moment when you will have your musical education enhanced. They’re a Cardiff folk-band and over the years they’ve come up with such gems as What Goes On In Cardiff After Dark, The Grangetown Whale and Billy the Seal. The last of these was written about a seal…yes, called Billy…that lived in a pond in Victoria Park back in the early years of the twentieth century. Billy died in 1939, when it was discovered that he was a she, and a whole generation of adults was left confused and traumatised. The thing is though, that Alex loved the music. She probably won’t admit to it now, but we actually had to buy the CD and for the next half a dozen holidays it came with us in the car. And I swear it’s all because she listened to it outdoors on a sunny day in the park.2016-11-27-15-50-41St Catwg’s church – spot the excited concert goers

Back to my concert; it was given by a group of wind players from the Brecknock Sinfonia. There were five of them: flute, oboe, French Horn (I’ve been a pushover for a French Horn since the Youth Orchestra summer courses at Ogmore-by-Sea in the early seventies, but that’s something I’m not going to say any more about), clarinet and bassoon. They played a selection of works based on folksongs and dances and I can literally hear the sound of your eyelids closing in boredom. It was pleasant and only lasted about forty-five minutes, but the best thing about it was the old lady who was sitting across the aisle from me. She’d been propelled into the church by two well-meaning younger women, who sat either side of her to prevent an escape bid. She, of course, was hard of hearing and so when the horn player stood to speak before the programme started , we were treated to the following:

“What’s he saying?”
“He’s just telling us what they’re going to play.”
A few seconds silence.
“I can’t hear him.”

Just then the guy sat down and the music started, and for ten minutes or so the situation was under control. Then the first group of pieces finished and the clarinet player stood to take over the commentary. He was more quietly spoken than his colleague and I don’t think the old dear even realised he was saying anything.

“It’s cold in here.”
“Shh.”

Now St Catwg’s is just a small church and there were 29 people in the audience (yes, I counted) and so you can imagine how well all of this carried. The musicians took it in their stride and just carried on with the performance. What it is to be able to concentrate and shut out everything else! I was more interested in the conversation going on across the aisle.

“What’s happening now, then? Eh? I said what’s happening now?”

What was happening was that the three children at the front were turning around and staring to see the cause of the commotion and a fair number of other folk were trying not to laugh. One of the old lady’s companions leaned closer and whispered something – which was a vain hope if ever there was one.

“Eh? I can’t hear you…what did you say?”

Finally the last pieces were played and we could all get up and give back the cushions to the well-meaning soul who’d handed them out earlier. I was almost tempted to stay for the usual tea/coffee/mince pies just in case there was more entertainment, but forced the idea away and went home instead.

By the following evening we were wrapping ourselves up and under no illusions that Autumn had gone. Clear skies over Wales meant sub-zero temperatures but also crisp blue gorgeousness above.2016-11-30-11-05-17

It also meant a fine, if chilly, evening for the annual Christmas market at Crickhowell, a great improvement on last year’s washout. Delightully, I was press-ganged into being part of a team taking part in the Christmas decorating competition.

The local tourist information centre & gallery hosted this and it certainly wasn’t cold inside with the number of people who turned up! There were twenty Christmas trees as well as plenty of mulled wine and mince pies on offer to anyone who dropped in. It was good fun and teams included the local panto group, police cadets, the choral society, the horticultural society and assorted scouts/brownies/guides etc. And of course, the most talented of the lot – the local civic society!20161201_165910.jpgThe magnificent winning entry in the Christmas tree decorating competition (by the local civic society)

Anyway, back to today and the sofa.  I’ve just returned from the ice-box that is the kitchen where I huddled around a hot stove and cooked a batch of meatballs in tomato sauce, so when we’re hungry enough we just need to reheat them. And without wanting to get too heavy here (always something I struggle with) I’m conscious that so many, many people out there aren’t as lucky. Quite apart from the tragedies being suffered in more distant parts of the world, there are innumerable souls in our own country who don’t have a roof over their heads or a hot meal to look forward to, who are sleeping outdoors in freezing conditions with empty stomachs.

And in Great Britain in the 21st century that is something to be deeply ashamed of.

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