The colours of the trees round the Milngavie Reservoir yesterday were bedazzling. It’s a beautiful time of year. I am determined to relish it and in particular to ignore my two least favourite festivals of the year, Halloween and Guy Fawkes. When I was wee me and my pals, we would dress up on Oct 31 and go round the tenements of Glasgow G11 trawling for swag. We knocked on the door of a second floor flat on Randolph Road. A grumpy man said, “What do you want?” I recognised him. He was the newsagent at Broomhill Cross.
“Please can we have wur Halloween?” (We’d never heard of “trick or treat”.)
“Can you sing a song?”
“Well don’t bother. Here’s threepence.”
I have turned into that man. The clock jiggery-pokery on Sunday morning has put me into a mood.
So I intend to ignore all these foul fiends and flibbertigibbets. I will spare a thought for Martin Luther on the eve of All Saints Day. It will be 500 years to the day since he pinned his 95 theses to the door of All Saints Church, Wittenberg. 95! That’s a lot of bullet points. It rather reminds me of these inquiries that take place following the uncovering of poor standards in an NHS hospital that needs to be placed into “special measures”. Some retired judge comes out with a fantastic number of recommendations like three hundred and fifty seven or so, and you get the sense that, whatever the problem was, he has missed the wood for the trees.
Hard on Halloween, the whizz-bangs start to go off. Why on earth would you celebrate a plot to blow up the Houses of Parliament? Is it in truth a celebration of the fact that Mr Fawkes came to a sticky end, hence a celebration again of Luther’s 95 theses and the dawn of the Reformation? It wouldn’t be so bad if the racket was confined to the evening of November 5th, but it starts early and goes on and on seemingly only to be silenced by Armistice Day. Now I’m all for Remembrance Sunday. I cherish two minutes of blessed silence. But two minutes is quite enough. The people on the BBC have already been wearing poppies for days and it’s still October. Is this what is meant by “virtue signalling”?
Then, just when you think it’s all over, the shops start banging on about Christmas, and we’re off into the six weeks’ hysteria of the advent to Saturnalia. Count me out.
But I mustn’t make my alternative universe sound so wintry. It is, in fact, autumnal, and autumn is the most poignant season. It is the season of Rachmaninoff’s last piano concerto, his fourth. I heard Peter Donohoe play it in Perth on Thursday night, with the St Petersburg Symphony Orchestra. The orchestra’s timbre seemed to me to be of a bygone era. They might have been accompanying Rachmaninoff himself. As an encore, Mr Donohoe played the Prelude in D, Opus 23 No 4. There is a secret that those of us who are in the autumn of our lives should really impart to the young. It is that, when you realise that every day is a bonus, everything becomes infinitely more precious, the colours brighter, literature more profound, music more deeply moving, the natural world more awe-inspiring, ideas more intriguing, women – am I allowed to say this in the current climate? – incomparably more beautiful.