A leaf attacked my face this morning. Because my hands were in my pockets I shook my head about, but this didn’t shift it. I can’t tell you what kind it was – I’m tempted to say maple because it looked, at very close quarters, like the one on the Canadian flag – but it was undeniably a leaf: I could tell by the waxy smell and the fact its stalk was in my mouth, clamping my tongue.
I needed both hands to prise it from my face and throw it down; even then it whirled a bit, as if sizing me up again for attack. I stamped on it then kicked it in the belly; I turned to watch it blowing wounded down the street and to make sure no-one had witnessed the fracas.
I was in the clear, but obviously shaken. I crossed the road, as far from any flora as I could get, but there were other leaves in gangs and sodden clumps, russling dryly in doorways or flapping furtively in the drizzle. Little bastards.
This and the fact I’m in a stand-off with my central heating, hiding my goosebumps in case the boiler gets any funny ideas, makes me think autumn has landed. I’ve been stroking my selection of scarves in the wardrobe, knowing it won’t be long until we’re reunited. I zip my coat tighter, pop the buttons. The sky is closing in – sweet Christ, oh Lord, please save us – but, hey, no, it’s fine.
The other harbinger of autumn, at least for me, is that my social life returns from the dead. Not for the first time I’ve spent a long summer fretting over the fact no-one likes me and telling myself I should take up lawn bowls or zumba dancing. I’ve no idea what my pals do in summer – only that it doesn’t involve me.
But when the crap weather descends it’s all systems go. Occasionally this means invites to go magic mushroom picking, but mostly it’s low-key birthday parties.
It seems an inordinate amount of my peers are the product of Hogmanay and houghmagandie; even into late January and February their parents must have been going at it hammer and tongs – how else to explain all these September and October birthdays?
Even pets ... My cat’s big day was last week; I know two Virgo dogs; my neighbour’s gerbil is a textbook Libra. There’s clearly more than one way to heat a rabbit hutch in winter. Consequently, I’m spending too many of my lunch breaks in queues fantasising about a huge supply of cards and a rubber stamp that says: HAPPY BIRTHDAY FROM PAUL. REALLY LIKE YOU xxx.
Doing it piecemeal is expensive and makes me resent the eventual recipient. If you’ve received a bogging card with a sailboat and gold writing this year, that’s why. Still, it’s a season I love, or at least did before becoming a survivor of leaf-in-the-fizzog abuse, for which I may need special counselling.
Until now, there was nothing I enjoyed more than coming home through the park from a friend’s birthday party half-cut, playing in the autumnal leaves. I’d run and dive; I’d lift them in both hands and let them rain down on me; I’d march through them like a soldier, laughing; sometimes I’d lie down for ages under a dry leafy quilt, just my eyes peeking out.
But there’s always some some party-pooper ready to take umbrage at a 34-year-old lone male behaving this way. You end up running from the park warden, ducking behind bushes, and have to hide away for the next 12 months.