Posted in Events, Personal life

A Not So Indian Summer

a tree with leaves turned the colours of flame
Autumn colour at Westonbirt Arboretum, just down the road from me

My column from the October 2019 Hawkesbury Parish News

It’s a truth universally acknowledged that autumn begins the day after the Hawkesbury Village Show. This year cooler autumn weather arrived right on cue on 1st September. A couple of weeks later, with chestnut leaves already starting to turn bronze as I write this column, we’re basking in an ‘Indian summer’.

Or so I thought, until I decided to investigate what actual Indian summers are like.

It turns out they’re nothing like this at all. Having never been to India, I had no idea that their summers can bring winds so strong as to be fatal and thunderstorms accompanied by hailstorms. And once they’re over, there’s a four-month monsoon season to look forward to.

It turns out that what we’ve been having is a Native American summer.

Nineteenth century settlers coined the phrase ‘Indian summer’ to describe the unseasonably warm, dry spells in the fall which the indigenous people (termed Red Indians by European immigrants) favoured for hunting.

Outside of the English language, different terms are used for this phenomenon. Germans called it ‘Altweibersommer’ which means ‘old wives’ summer’, as do Eastern Europeans in their own languages. I’m not sure why. Perhaps because the elderly find a less aggressive heat of a good autumn easier to bear than high summer?

The concept can also be used metaphorically. In the English translation of Boris Pasternak’s Dr Zhivago, the term Indian summer is used to describe the run-up to the October Revolution: the calm before the storm.

Given the current political climate, I prefer a more soothing philosophy. This autumn, whatever the weather may bring, I’ll be bearing in mind that optimistic closing line from Shelley’s Ode to Autumn: “If winter comes, can spring be far behind?” Let’s hope so.


PS For a more seasonal read for October, you might like to try the second in my Sophie Sayers Village Mysteries, Trick or Murder?, in which a village finds itself divided by a conflict between Halloween and Guy Fawkes’ Night. Read the first chapter here for free.


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Posted in Family, Travel

Flight of Fancy: A Cautionary Tale for the Summer Holidays

If you’re off travelling this summer, be careful who you sit next to on the plane. You never know where it might lead. Here’s a cautionary tale from my pre-Hawkesbury days.

Geneva Bound

Lake Geneva (Lac Léman) with Jet d'Eau, Geneva...
Sailing close to the wind on Lake Geneva (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In my 20s, I worked as a journalist for a trade magazine in London, often travelling abroad on business. When going somewhere new, I always tried to add in a day’s holiday for sightseeing. One Sunday on a flight to Geneva, I opened the novel I’d brought with me: Boris Pasternak’s Dr Zhivago.

“Oh!” said the middle-aged businessman next to me. “What a coincidence! I’ve got that book in my bag too.”

So began a long conversation that lasted till we touched down and ended with us arranging to share a boat trip around Lake Geneva that afternoon. He seemed pleasant enough, and after all, we had something in common – Dr Zhivago.

The sun was shining, it was a glorious trip, and we followed it up with a drink in a bar, where he asked if I’d join him for dinner. All of a sudden, I started hearing what he was saying as if through the ears of my fiancé back in London, who would certainly not have viewed this man as a platonic friend with no ulterior motive.

I made a transparent excuse and declined. The man gave me a wry smile, we shook hands (our only physical contact all day) and parted forever.

Falling to Earth

Doctor Zhivago
The enigma of Doctor Zhivago (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Only later that evening, alone in my hotel room, did I begin to wonder whether I’d been hoodwinked. Had I just been the victim of a well-practised chat-up line, an opening gambit honed by years of business trips? Suddenly I realised: I never had seen his copy of Dr Zhivago. I suspect now it didn’t exist. And I never did tell my fiancé.

So, wherever you’re going for your holidays this summer, have fun, take care –  and don’t talk to any strange men!

Boris Pasternak during the First Congress of S...
I blame you, Boris Pasternak (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If you enjoyed this post, you might like these other tales of troubled travel:

Travelling Light – how to cope with your husband’s packing deficiences

Have SatNav, Will Travel (Less)  – skirting danger on the roads of Bristol

Nous Sommes En Panne – The Tale of Our Luxembourg Camper Van Crisis

With thanks to intrepid traveller and writer Laura Zera, whose call for stories of interesting people met on planes triggered this long-suppressed memory. Laura writes a fabulous travel blog too: www.laurazera.com. This post also appears in the July 2013 edition of the Hawkesbury Parish News.