Fall in New England (versus) Autumn in West of Scotland.

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I’ve never witnessed it first hand, but I believe New England is absolutely glorious in the Fall. It would certainly be hard to argue otherwise, given the images we here in Scotland see via television movies and the like.

Glasgow is some 13 degrees further north than Boston. It sits on roughly the same latitude as Novosibirsk Oblast (Russia) so perhaps I shouldn’t be so surprised by the contrasting perceptions of the year’s third season.

But it doesn’t stop me feeling a tad jealous.

Here’s how I see it:

New England - Fall - bridgeNew England: couples walk romantically hand in hand through the woods. They scatter the dry, brightly coloured leaves as they walk, kicking them into the air for the gentle autumnal breeze to cushion their fall back to earth.

West of Scotland: couples walk hand in hand through the woods. The word ‘romantically’ is omitted, for they are merely providing ballast to prevent the other from slipping on the soggy, rain-soaked leaves.

New England: on a bright, sunny day, a happy, smiling middle-aged man contentedly blows the brittle leaves into neat, uniform piles on his manicured, picket fence surrounded lawn. He then effortlessly lifts them into the appropriate refuse bin, which he places on the sidewalk for collection by the local  waste collection agency.

Houston - Autumn - drabWest of Scotland: on a dreicht, overcast and damp day, a miserable, brow-beaten middle-aged man loses the coin toss / argument / will to live and his wife sends him into the overgrown garden. He accidentally bends the leaf-rake on the second sweep of the heavy, sodden leaves. For the next hour he pushes the leaves into little manageable bundles with his feet, which he then stoops to lift into the appropriate refuse bin. He finally risks a hernia by dragging to the pavement for (eventual) collection by the local council.

New England: little mammals take advantage of the new, insulated and warm sanctuary created by the recent fall of leaves. They are pictured in various wildlife journals all cute, curled up and comfortable.

West of Scotland: little hedgehogs and other small mammals form an orderly queue at the local housing offices, citing the damp, cold and drab conditions they are expected to live in. They are pictured in various daily newspapers brandishing placards and threatening legal action.

FireworksNew England: having served notices of eviction to the adorable little mammalian tenants, happy and excited families from the street gather round the residual piles on Bonfire Night. A match is placed under the leaves. They ignite almost instantly, spreading a cozy glow across the garden that warms the feet of those attending the fireworks display, and now busy toasting marshmallows in the fire’s periphery.

Bonfire smokeWest of Scotland: a boxful of spent matches lie strewn on the ground beside the slimy, wet pile of leaves. That brow-beaten, middle-aged man again loses the the coin toss / argument / will to live, and is supervised by his impatient, irksome neighbour as he siphons a litre of petrol from his car into an empty bottle. Having splashed this over the sodden leaves, he flicks the flame of a disposable lighter onto the musty mound. It ignites. Eventually. But there is no immediate, spreading warmth.

There is smoke. Lots of smoke. It brings tears to the eyes of those trying to quickly retrieve their still cold potatoes from the base of the supposed fire, before the litre of ‘unleaded’ permeates the skin.

The  kids from the street have lost interest and are now indoors playing Xbox. The wives are now in the kitchen and on their third bottle of red. One of the husbands has gone home to check on the dog. Another excuses himself on the feeble excuse of having office work he should be doing.

The brow-beaten husband waits with the irksome neighbour for the smoking stack to extinguish. There is silence in the garden. A heavy, damp silence.

 

And the winner is …………

Bring back queues. Please.

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Social media has come a long way in recent years.

Remember the time you’d receive, through the post, a quaint little invitation, hand-written on rose-bordered notepaper bought from the ‘three for two’ bucket in WH Smith.? It would request the pleasure of your company at a friend’s fondue party, organised as an excuse to show off the new eighteen inch, colour television set.  

Oh dear God! The sheer terror! Your mind would immediately click into excuse mode, but you were fresh out of dead grannies and if the kids were sick any more, you’d be reported to the Children’s Panel.

Nowadays though, it’s possible to ‘virtually’ attend such a party from the comfort of your own armchair. No longer need you fret over being polite to the host when they ask you to comment on their newly wood-chip and emulsion decorated home.

Of no concern either, is that irritating know-it-all who’s experienced everything you have, only longer, better or in the case of ill health, worse.

And, while the host is able to give you a flavour of the party as they Face-Time you around selected guests, what they are entirely unable to do, is  pressure you into sampling the culinary non-delights of salmon and cucumber on a rye crispbread.

Of course, social media messages are prone to hacking from time to time – something that was unlikely in the days when communication was principally done by lighting a bonfire on top of a prominent hill.
“Look yonder! A third, bonfire has been lit. This can only mean bad news.”
“You’re damned right. That’s no bonfire – that’s your house. You’ve been hacked.”

But for all the obvious benefits the various interactional platforms bring, they also encourage another modern day phenomenon. One with a terrible, sinister underbelly that gives voice to those previously considered quiet, mouse-like, introverted people. A virtual power that amplifies the booming opinions of those already with an overspill of self-importance.

Communal Anguished Hand Wringing.

In a bygone era, we’d laugh and the whole world would laugh with us. Indeed, the advent of social media most definitely helps in this regard. But Ella Wheeler Wilcox, a poet of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries also mentioned ‘weep, and you weep alone.’ This, though, is most definitely no longer the case.

It takes just one post on the platform of choice regarding a missed bin uplift; a patch of ice in the carpark; an overgrown bush on the school-route or a dog turd on the pavement and the breast-beating and wailing can be heard for miles.

See – everyone likes to be morally outraged these days. Everyone feels a need to empathise with a soul affronted. It’s their basic human right to do so, of course.

But why?

I reckon it’s all down to the fact we no longer have to queue for things. We Brits, loved queues. For all we moaned about them, it’s what we did. We’d do it voluntarily: at the post office, we’d happily wait in line for the dubious pleasure of being growled at by a caffeine-loaded, middle-aged counter-assistant with a grudge against mankind; at the bank, we’d queue to be mis-sold some over-priced, over-hyped, underperforming insurance product by a brow-beaten or brainwashed teller. And in the pub, we’d check with the punter stood next to us to ensure we hadn’t jumped their place.

I recently read that during the riots in England back in 2011, looters even formed an orderly, disorderly queue to enter and ransack stores in a burning London.

As a nation, we spent shed-loads of money in developing queuing systems. Manufacturers of retractable ropes and customer-routing paraphernalia were laughing all the way to the bank. Where they’d have to queue to lodge their money, and be mis-sold some over-priced, over-hyped, underperforming insurance product by a brow-beaten or brainwashed teller.

But we no longer queue. Everything is instant. Almost. Nobody sends letters so there’s no need for stamps. Social media has seen to that. Parcels arrive on your doorstep, if you’re lucky, from a warehouse the size of a planet via some harassed and underpaid courier in their white van. In short, nobody goes to the Post Office.

Banks are the playground of the devil, and continue to scare the pants off a public who still harbour trust issues. Nobody visits any more, and hence the increasing number of branch closures and the downward spiral to the potential armageddon of banking in thin air. And pubs? There are more expensive, ponsey-named craft beers on tap than punters these days. Badger’s Tadger, anyone?

Research conducted several years ago showed that British people will on average spend one year, two weeks and one day in queues for shops and the like. Well, not any more.

Gone now is the sense of community fostered by a good queue. The feeling of togetherness, the enjoyment of bumping our gums in communal complaint has been eroded. No longer can we share chagrin. Vanished forever is that odd sense of sharing in person that mutual enjoyment of outrage and, at the same time, blind acceptance.

Conversation in queues used to be civil. Other than complain of the wait itself, idle chat would revolve around the weather and last night’s television programmes.

Social media, though, now encourages the self-righteous. It provides a soap-box on which the easily affronted can stand. And the more gushing empathy they receive, the bolder they become.

Face to face conversation promotes mental forethought, for fear of being considered a right pratt. But the relative anonymity of social media emboldens and encourages a certain type of people to vent their righteous indignation and set up base camp just below the moral high ground.

So, bring back queues, I say. Flush the morally outraged into the open.

In fact, bring back fondue parties – ‘Generation Snowflake’ should experience the pangs of real anguish.