Usually at this time of year I’d be gardening in long trousers. I’d have a t-shirt, sweat-shirt and fleece gilet on, a neck-warmer and a beanie, and I’d be quietly swearing at Eva Cassidy for having sung such a beautiful version of Autumn Leaves – when very clearly she had never had to either rake, or collect millions of the little bastards in her mower box !
I struggle to have my emotions stirred by them quite the way Eva did. In my experience, if autumn leaves are even the slightest bit wet they stick to the grass or gravel and refuse to be parted. Scraping them up whilst trying to leave some gravel on the drive-way is time-consuming and physical, and a sure way to need to take off, at the very least, my fleece-gilet. On the other hand, if they’re beautifully dry, they impale themselves on my rake tynes, demanding to be hand-picked off and time-consumingly placed into a large, square gardening bag, whose sides collapse inwards the moment I approach with my rake-full. God forbid a slight breeze should blow, scattering my painstakingly raked piles across the now-pristine-looking lawn! A simple leaf-collecting job that should take me half an hour could risk lasting way past my coffee and dried apricot break.
So is it surprising that this Autumn I have been very creative, and some may say ‘over the top’, in my leaf-avoidance tactics? This year, on the 16th of September, Nick and I flew to Japan to cheer England on in the Rugby World Cup. Arriving too late for cherry blossoms and too early for mountain-sides covered in fiery red Aster leaves I have had a welcome change of focus.
I didn’t even pack a fleece-gilet for the trip – and have spent most of September and October in a t-shirt. I have swapped isolated rural french gardens for packed streets whose buildings are covered in neon-light advertising that makes it feel like daylight at 11pm. I have swapped eating every part of a duck you could possibly ever imagine for noodles swimming in various flavoured soups, deep-fried octopus balls, raw fish and A LOT of seaweed. I have swapped living somewhere with practically no rural public transport for a country where moving around is the easiest thing to do – buses, trains and subways are spotless, on-time and have fabulous loos.
Japanese loos. They deserve a paragraph all to themselves because, though I’m not entirely sure why, once I passed 50, I became uncharacteristically interested in how easy it was going to be to find a public loo when going out for the day. Whether it happened because I turned 50 in France, where public loos are not always to be celebrated, I’m not sure. But anyway, if you want a totally stress-free, terrified-the-loos-will-be-disgusting life, then move to Japan. Their public toilets are magnificent. The cubicles are large and each one has a peg to hang a bag on. The sit-down toilets are surprisingly big, with heated seats, piped music and a bidet option. Every single time I have visited one I have had a jet wash and blow dry whilst listening to a recording of a babbling mountain stream. I will miss them.
I have dressed-up in England colours and laughed and sung with many different nationalities, and converted one or two Japanese into England supporters. Today is semi-finals day. We play New Zealand. I’m feeling confident.
I still have Borneo to visit before heading back to my gardening jobs in France at the end of November : hopefully after some-one else has picked up all the bloody autumn leaves!