Liam Farrell: Nostalgia just ain't what it used to be

The season of mists and mellow fruitfulness is upon us again. Like the American essayist Garrison Keillor, my great sin is nostalgia - my lesser sins include lust, envy, and sloth, but they hardly count, every Tom Dick and Harry has them - and so autumn is my favourite time of year.

I can stroll contentedly through woodlands, looking smugly at the trees, savouring the wistful beauties of the season, the leaves fading to brown and red, apples and chestnuts falling, and think to myself in a satisfied manner, 'things used to be much better' and 'I knew this would happen'.

All the things we planned to do over the summer and didn't get around to, we can now put away until spring, heave a big sigh of relief and sit inside by the fire, watching TV and eating toast, enjoying what Mr Toad described as 'mid-winter's homely comforts'.

The great poets, Keats et al, also preferred autumn, but for less venal reasons; it appealed to their greater-than-average disposition toward melancholy.

If cognitive behavioural therapy had been available, we might have been deprived of some of the great works of English literature. But there would probably have been a waiting list of a billion years, so maybe not.

When I was young I had a venerable senior partner who believed that the autumn was a perilous time for the elderly. 'Ah, the fall of the leaf,' he would say sadly, as yet another senior citizen shuffled off their mortal coil and joined the choir invisible.

He had worked in a logging town in northern Canada for years, and every autumn would consult with the local mayor as to which members of the community were likely to die over the winter. This was necessary because, once the freeze set in, digging graves would be impossible and, if the graves were not ready, the corpses would have to remain in storage until spring - an extravagance the town could not afford, plus there was always the danger of them attracting hungry polar bears. This all had to be done in total confidence, of course.

He may have been making this up, but when we are come to the waning of the year we need good stories to keep us going through the long dark nights. And we can recall Dryden's Juvenal 'What crowds of patients the town doctor kills/Or how, last fall, he raised the weekly bills'.

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