Sunday, September 23, 2012

Hello Autumn!

Kew Gardens, from
Until now, I would have described myself as one of life’s self-confessed sun worshippers - I live for sunny days and balmy evenings.

But this year, after an even more elusive British summer than usual, I feel strangely excited about everything that Autumn 2012 will bring. At least I know what to expect; fresh foggy mornings walking through Hyde Park on my way to work, the smell of pine cones and conkers and the sparkly, dewy grass.

Already, change is in the air - the breeze feels fresher, the colours deeper - as though we are on the cusp of a very different London. And far from being bleak, there’s actually rather a lot to look forward to...

1.  Apple Day
We've all heard of Halloween, Thanksgiving, Bonfire Night and Diwali. But there's a new kid on the block, a lesser-known festival, dedicated to the humble fruits of Autumn - yes, its Apple Day (21 October). Apple festivals in London tend to vary in terms of their dates, but the main ones seem to be at the National Trust's Red House on 14 October and the Camley Street Natural Park on 7 October, which features live acoustic music, cider tasting and, of course, London's finest apples.

2.  A new ‘back to school’ wardrobe
Is your wardrobe ready for Autumn? Mine certainly isn't - apparently summer dresses worn with tights and ballet pumps just won’t cut it once October hits. Finding my shiny new uniform of a ladylike coat, wear-forever boots and the holy grail of a cosy-but-flattering jumper requires an exciting, back-to-school shopping excursion. Autumn doesn't have to mean dowdy - the shops are currently bursting with gorgeous brocade fabrics, rich wine colours, equestrian shapes and lots of black lace and leather. Once you're kitted out for the season ahead, it will leave you with all the satisfaction of arriving at school armed with the coolest Woolworths stationary. The trick is to buy your essentials now before the cold really kicks in and all the good stuff's gone!

3.  Autumn picnics in Richmond Park or Kew Gardens
There’s something quite romantic about an off-season picnic on a crisp autumnal day in a deserted London park. Choose somewhere surrounded by majestic golden trees, such as Richmond Park or Kew Gardens, where you can snuggle up in plenty of blankets and nestle amongst the crunchy leaves. Bring some home-made pumpkin soup or pie, and a flask of hot spiced cider. And may I recommend you head to a bar afterwards to warm up.

4.  Halloween parties
What better night to venture into London's underworld than on Halloween? (And by that I mean the hedonistic, glamorous pretend underworld - I'm not suggesting you seek out London's charming hidden crack dens). Last Halloween, we indulged our inner goths, donned corsets and chokers and headed to the Belle Epoque Party. But with this being The Year of 50 Shades, I wouldn't be surprised if we see a plethora of fetish nights in the capital using Halloween to capitalise on people's sudden desire to shed their inhibitions and explore their freaky side... 

Belle Epoque Party, from
5.  Bonfire night in Lewes
If you are yet to experience the bonkers, raucous, riotous Bonfire Night street party in Lewes (apparently the biggest in the country), get it in your diary now. But don't expect hot chocolate and lacklustre fireworks in family-friendly parks; this is not for the faint-hearted. There's a sense of joyous anarchy as more than 60,000 people throng into the Saxon streets of Lewes, chucking firecrackers at alarmingly close proximity and watching the processions of Romans, warriors, pagans, burning effigies and everything in between. Expect lots of fire, lots of alcohol and lots of people. What could go wrong?

Lewes Bonfire Night 2010, before it all got very messy

6.  The return of good TV
If you're exhausted after all that partying, you're in luck... After the wasteland that is summer television, all the good TV is returning this Autumn (some might argue I play it fast and loose with the term 'good TV'). New seasons of Homeland, Dexter and Made in Chelsea - nearly everything I watch - will all be back to warm those after-work nights, along with the relentless, three month, love-to-hate marathon that is The X Factor. True, this series has got off to a dreadful start but I'm hoping things improve in time for the ritual of having people over for dinner and 'live show' viewings.

7.  Seasonal cooking - not just pumpkins!
Autumn might just be the best season for foodies. Hit up your nearest farmer's market and make the most of the perfectly ripe butternut squash, blackberries, pears, sweet potatoes, figs and walnuts. I'll be making my favourite comfort food recipes, such as blackberry crisp with a fudgey flapjack style topping; Cajun spiced butternut squash and sweetcorn salad; pear, walnut and fig salad with blue cheese; and chilli con carne with baked sweet potatoes. 

Blackberry crisp, from

At this time of year, I will also allow myself to buy caramelised chestnuts from a street vendor on a cold night. You know you're tempted every time the breeze blows that sweet, nutty warmth in your direction - now its Autumn you have every reason to stop and buy some.

8.  Atmospheric historical London
Ye Olde London’s attractions become more atmospheric, and less crowded, at this time of the year. I hope to finally get round to a candlelit tour of the John Soane's Museum, a misty ghost walk through the old city, and a wander round the overgrown Highgate Cemetery - three things I've wanted to do since I moved here. (Sounds a bit morbid as a collection of activities, now I think about it!).

9.  Rugby matches in cosy pubs
Huzzah! The rugby season is here. I can't pretend to be an expert on the finer rules of the game, but I appreciate a rugged rugby player as much as the next red-blooded woman, and after an amazing season of sport in London, the prospect of joining patriotic fans in merry pubs on a cold afternoon is rather appealing.

Ben Foden,
10.  A last minute Autumn getaway
Summer is but a distant memory and it's ages til the holidays, so this is the perfect time to book an impromptu long weekend away. Last year, a friend and I flew to Kaiserslautern, a somewhat unlikely holiday destination in Germany which, as it turns out, was quite the place to party, populated with students, footballers and Americans. We took our chances on the frankly terrifying autobahn, discovering that rural Germany is simply stunning in the Autumn, with golden fields and Hansel & Gretel villages dotted along the Rhine. There are also plenty of beerfests, Reisling wineries and stodgy foods to warm your cockles. 

Frolicking in the leaves near Kaiserslautern, Germany
One thing I will not be doing is using the C-word (the other one!). The C-markets, the switching on of the C-lights and pre-C sales are all rather exciting but have somehow seeped into my consciousness over a month before we've even reached Halloween - plain wrong. It's far too soon to even menton C. So I won't.

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