Sunday, December 27, 2009
One of the few disappointing aspects of life in Southern California, where I spent half the last decade, was the absence of seasons. The weather went from hot to stifling and back again; roses flowered in the garden most of the year and we wore shorts almost every day.
Admittedly, every August brought terrible bush fires; desert winds whipped up the flames, brought out the news helicopters and sent clouds of black choking smoke into our back yards. Then, just when we feared the fires would consume entire communities, the October rains would come: three weeks of continuous downpours sent homes cascading down hillsides in giant mudslides. Those were our three seasons: Heat, Fire and Mud. How I longed for good old English spring. Even a few days of our chilly, wet summer would have been welcome; snow would have been miraculous.
When I returned to London, though the leaves came and went, the warmth from the city’s pollution somehow disguised each season’s true identity. We knew it was summer because there were hosepipe bans; every October our basement would flood in the storms. Even when we moved back to Northumberland, we were surprised by how mild the seasons were; we had precious little snow for the first two years.
That’s why I find this long cold spell particularly gratifying. It’s the first time I can remember waking up to a white Christmas, in a proper winter: everything lying dormant and waiting for the warmth of a fresh start. What more appropriate way to start a new decade?
I greeted the last one with feigned celebration in an absurdly opulent overpriced hotel in Mauritius. Despite it being the dawn of an entire millennium, I sensed no particular global optimism or sense of renewal. It was the most anti-climactic page turn, from one image of certainty to the next.
What a difference a decade makes. From the moment the twin towers collapsed, the safe, overindulgent world we knew began to fall apart, ending with the disintegration of our financial system and the exposure of our politicians’ greed and corruption. The long summer of confidence became an autumn of insecurity and fear. Now, though, things appear to be in stasis. It’s time for reconstruction.
I find myself anticipating 2010 with confidence. Even though, thanks to a combination of the stock market and my own profligacy, I have rather less material security than in 1999, I am seriously looking forward to the “tens” (please, let’s not call them the teens).
As I write, one cause of my optimism has just crawled under my desk. If, ten years ago, when I was 47, I’d been told I’d become a father again, I’d have laughed at the absurdity of an unnecessary distraction to my comfortably materialistic world. Now I have a wonderful giggling daughter who celebrates her first birthday next week. I race to her bedside each morning to catch her first smile; I savour every milestone. On Christmas Day she stood for the first time.
This morning I took Izzy into the garden to show her the birds eating the seeds we put out yesterday. I pointed to the snow covered ground. “Look, Izzy, snowdrops”. The new shoots are already poking through the melting snow. By the time they flower she’ll be toddling. When the roses bloom she’ll be saying “Daddy”. Next winter we’ll build a snowman together.
But my sense of optimism springs from more than just my own transformed life. Our world has changed forever and we now have a chance to make it a great deal better. My hope is for a new order in which family values and local community are placed alongside mutual respect and social responsibility; a less selfish, more concerned decade. Well, that’s my seasonal wish, anyway; and with it, my very best regards to you all.