Gold


The day is dark and November-heavy. There’s no milk. I search through the window for a breath of beauty but there isn’t any. It’s wet, and last week I left my umbrella in a John Lewis changing room. I went back but it’d gone and I was cross because it was a pretty one – small with a leather handle and a black frill – the umbrella, not the room. I imagine a John-Lewis-type discovering it, in her underwear. I am not a John-Lewis-type. Shops like that scare me. I only go in there for sales and curtain material (or coffee).

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Anyway I’m going off shopping, big-time. It makes me want things I didn’t know existed – like headphone earmuffs or a cashmere hot water bottle (I don’t even have any headphones.) Also it’s draining and makes my feet hurt. I wish I lived in the country where there are no shops and you can smell soil and hear rain on leaves. London is drab in winter – wet or foggy and grey with sky like a scowl. The suburbs are concrete slabs with beds on. They have no secrets and no soul…

But it’s Friday so I can be slow, and there’s my Kindle and coffee and the local paper. The rain stops. Through the window, birds, a tiny rosebud. It’s a bit battle scarred and sad, but it’s alive, tight as a fist. All the other branches are dead, stems shrivelled, making the bud stand out, all yellow and hopeful like a smile.

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The rain’s brought out colours. Across the garden raindrops shiver from trees, there are berries and die-hard poppies. I like the way they just stand there, not caring that they’re a mess. Look, we didn’t expect to be here, in November, okay?! It’s a bonus. Enjoy it while it lasts…. I hope I’m like that when I’m old – bright, dishevelled, grateful… I don’t want to be a sour old woman, seeing the worst in everything and everyone. Life can do this to you, if you don’t pay attention, if you stop looking…

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What’s happened to me? I used to love autumn. All that shrugging on coats and scarves and easing conkers out of spiky shells. And a new hat – always a new hat for winter. I’d forgotten.

I go for a walk and see that God, who does autumn every year and knows what works, has tossed gems through south-west London. Behind cars or concrete – bush-low berries, coy trees on brick. Through bare branches, glimpses of pubs or backs of houses. Late roses and leaf art on pavements. And holly.

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When it’s grey, don’t forget to look for signs. Panning for gold is a way of life. And the bleaker the day, the more they stand out. If you’re looking right.

I take photos, go shopping and buy a hat.  From a shop.

From the bus there’s a sea of umbrellas and fine spraying rain. But I’m happy because of the hat and a horse chestnut which hammers the top of the bus with fists full of conkers. And on the walk home, there are berries.

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I think of the John-Lewis-type, (bold, confident, matching underwear), and wish her joy with her new umbrella. And hope the stray spoke doesn’t have her eye out…

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