Ring out solstice bells

It’s the 21st of December. For me, for a long time, this has always been the best day of winter. It’s the shortest. From November onwards, in previous years I’ve held out, counting down to today, thinking ‘it’s ok, you can get through, it’s just six weeks to the twenty-first.’ Or twenty days. Or ten.

I don’t know if I had SAD as I never had it diagnosed, but life during winter was rubbish for a long time. It wasn’t Sudden Affected Disorder, but a very real thing, Seasonal Affective Disorder and like any real depression in my own experience, you can get through it only if it’s explained to you – and you actually believe – that just as it came, it will go. The trouble is, like the flu, you won’t know when.

I could tick off all the symptoms in the NHS list, for years:

  • a persistent low mood
  • a loss of pleasure or interest in normal everyday activities
  • irritability
  • feelings of despair, guilt and worthlessness
  • feeling lethargic (lacking in energy) and sleepy during the day
  • sleeping for longer than normal and finding it hard to get up in the morning
  • craving carbohydrates and gaining weight

I tried a SAD lamp and that helped a bit, but there isn’t much fun in shining bright lights in your face for half an hour, even without being strapped to a chair and the absence of a sinister voice whispering “Ve haf ways of making you talk. Say all do in the end..”

So today was the day. After today it gets lighter in the evening. In a month it won’t get dark until five, then six, and before you really know where you are it’ll be the golden time, when tides allowing, you can sail in the evenings again, increasing age and infirmity allowing. But increasing age isn’t a luxury everyone gets to enjoy.

A is for apple

Today wasn’t the day for someone back in 1943, I remembered yesterday. We were in Halwesworth, where there is a little stone, much like a gravestone, in the Thoroughfare, the main road through the town. It commemorates Flying Officer Field and his crew, who on the night of 20th December 1943 flew his Lancaster bomber back from Germany shot to bits, on fire and more inconveniently, without having dropped its bombs. They were stuck. Landing it in the state it was in would have been difficult at the best of times, but with a full, armed bomb load onboard it would have been almost certain suicide. I don’t know what his plan was – probably get back to as near his own airfield as possible, then order the crew to bail out, would be my guess – but the airplane ended-up crossing the coast near Halesworth, where RAF Holton had a runway long enough to get down on when things started going wronger than having an airplane full of bombs on fire was already.

The crew was ordered to bail out while the pilot tried to avoid stuffing ten tons of bombs, steel and petrol into the middle of sleepy little Halesworth at 300 miles an hour. He managed to avoid doing that and lived for many, many years after the war, jumping out of the aircraft at just 800 feet, the last man out for obvious reasons. One man’s parachute didn’t open, but the rest of the crew also survived. You can listen to the story here.

I live on another airfield nearby. On 27th December 1944 we had our own disaster in the village. There were no such things as wing ice warning indicators then. The B17 almost took off, but really, as the airfield is on top of a hill, it just powered off the end of the runway and just about glided down until it hit the Methodist Chapel. All nine of the crew were blown up, along with the chapel, which would have been full a few minutes later. Suffolk wasn’t always a peaceful place, at all.

The good news though, apart from it being solstice day, and the days getting longer now, isn’t sad at all. I haven’t had it this year. I’ve lost weight. Ok, there’s still some irritability, but given the stew of lies, half-truths, corruption, pretence, jingoism and incompetence that passes for this government and presumably pleases everyone who voted for it who surround me in this county, I think any other reaction would make even Polyanna squirm a bit. Normal, then, or what passes for it.

Depression is an odd thing. It will go. It’s remembering it will that’s the hard part. But this year, I can say Kate Bush was right. December has been magic again.

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