The nights are pulling in and the temperature is dropping. After almost six years of never dreaming of doing such, Boudicca has started clambering into bed for brief snuggles, and is also clearly stocking up on food for the winter to come.
In just over a week, we’ll hit Halloween, with Guy Fawkes shortly after on 5 November.
I may put on Mussorgsky’s Night on a Bare Mountain or the fifth movement of Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique – the deliciously evocative Songe d'une nuit de sabbat (Dream of a witches’ Sabbath.
Or perhaps it’s time to pull down MR James’s ghost stories or some Stephen King – or even scour my DVD collection for something to make the spine tingle pleasantly.
Winter days might be shorter, but autumn nights seem to be the darkest in other ways.
I always loved autumn. It was the time when the football season started again, when the new school term finally ended lonely summer holidays and when the darkening, cooling days made it easier to hide beneath layers of clothing.
Brought up, as I was, in a religious environment, it almost goes without saying that we had no Halloween celebrations. Indeed, for many years, I really believed in witches. One summer, holidaying in Cornwall, the entire family visited the Boscastle witch museum. I remember finding the atmosphere dreadful. My father gave me his little olive wood cross to hold – because I was threatening not to go much further than the threshold and my entrance fee had been handed over.
Not, of course, that there were any spectacularly horrible exhibits or anything particularly sensational that I can recall. The sensation that day was my being allowed to have a half pint of scrumpy – proper Cornish cider – with my lunch after our visit.
It was a childhood – in theory at least – dedicated to keeping us in the light and away from the shadows. The dark was the devil, witchcraft – sin. But the dark, as the last decade has revealed to me, can be fun. And without the dark, the light becomes unrelenting and boring.
Come to think of it, ‘sin’ is rather fun too.
After spending so long trying to keep the dark at bay, I embraced it. Sometimes it can be a forbidding place inside me; even a little disturbing – but that is, as much as anything, I think, the result of that process of thinking. And when there was nothing but trying to keep the dark at bay, I hardly thought at all.
But often it’s a velvety darkness. The pleasure of ‘unconventional’ desire, say. Of wanting to whip or be whipped. Of wanting to hide in the shadows and watch.
And autumn seems to bring an itch for that. Or rather, the darkening seems to increase the itch that is always there.
I want to dip my toes in the darkness. No. I want to dive into it. And every time I do, I swim further and further from the shore that was my parents’ idea of light and dark, sin and goodness. And in doing so, the guilt of years spent in fear of not being good enough is washed further away.
Welcome autumn. Welcome the dark.