Autumn has thudded into northern Europe this weekend: grey skies and rain, dark until 7 am and cold at noon. It’s sudden, last week I was enjoying coffee and conversation in shirtsleeves at Branksome Beach, now it’s a hearty pasta casserole out of the oven. I’ve started dreaming of half-term trips to warmer climates and got bookings in over the weekend – ‘better to have something tangible to look forward to than to sigh over the changing seasons.
We’re in a particularly intense period of work at the moment, fundraising and preproduction, clinical trials and commercial agreements. It’s keeping me pinned to the desk working the phones and emails for long days, most weekdays.
I still get up (too) early to do the household things, get out to shop and exercise midafternoon, spend time writing friends and cooking in the evenings, but it’s really not the change of scenery that my mind and body need to stay healthy.
Enter the weekend, and the Thames Path.
The Path is a national trail, extending from the Cotswalds to Greenwich along the Thames River. ‘mostly flat and meandering from village to village, it scenic and not too challenging, a great way to find pubs, watch boats, and enjoy the changing colours in the trees and skies.
Conversations often meander like the path, a discussion of ‘wizened’ (‘creased with laugh and wisdom lines’ or ‘wrinkled, shrunken, and desiccated’) or ‘resilience’ (better to be able to bounce back by virtue of experience, positive attitude, and problem-solving ability, or to arrange a ‘peaceful’ life so that there’s less need to call upon it?).
Other times it might be speculation on whether UK license plate numbers have any meaning (they do, but the Dutch don’t) or why we embrace end-item-testing in education (comprehensive exams) when most production systems have abandoned it as a way of ensuring quality.
And they invariably lead, not to attainment of a waypoint, but to a sit by the river and a shared drink and nibble, watching the boats and swans, speculating about the people at the next table.
The right tonic for a busy week, passed, and to mark the passing season.