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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Solstice blues

The longest day is 21st June, but the day that feels longest is 21st December, the shortest.

Actually, that’s not true. Right now, every one of them seems like the longest, dreariest, dullest, dark by five o’clock but some days it seems like four day it’s possible to imagine. It’s ok. Even though it’s not. I just get like this every year.

Seasonal Affected Disorder or Seasonally Acquired Depression or whatever it’s properly called happens to lots of people. And as I type that I can hear my mother’s faux-joy denying there was anything wrong, denying utterly that there could possibly be anything wrong, and certainly nothing that needed any investigation by outsiders, oh dear me  no. But there was. And there is.

In this light, with this mood, you look at this picture and think ‘I didn’t even see there was a    couple there when I took this. Smug gits. I hope the tide came in and caught them out.’ It’s not  right, is it?


The light messes me up a bit. The lack of it. It makes me spiral down and because it’s not like breaking your arm or even getting a cold, where one day you’re fine and the next day you’re very obviously not, it’s easy for me to forget it’s happening, as it always does, and do something about it.

Which is easy, just get out of the house and put the SAD lamp on when I’m in. Because otherwise I’ll just sit on the sofa or lie in bed, focussing on things that have gone wrong (the same kinds of things everyone has. I hope…) and how it will always be this way now. And forgetting that actually, that’s bollocks. It won’t be.

In a fortnight the shortest day comes and the days slowly, but then quite quickly get longer and the evenings lighter, until by the end of January, by any stretch of anyone’s reckoning still winter, it’s much lighter and brighter. Even if it’s usually colder than December, in my experience, anyway.

And I can deal with that. That’s what the scarf I bought at the Christmas market in Hungerford, 21 years ago this Christmas, or maybe it was only twenty, but it wasn’t any less, is for. It was as brilliant as Christmas markets always are, sparkling in the dark, little stalls where you could talk to the people who actually made the things they were selling, the woman who made my green scarf. It’s got some holes in it where the zip on my Barbour or a succession of them snagged it, as it will again this winter. As perhaps it should. That’s what too the big wool gloves lined with Thinsulate and the palms faced with leather are for, the ones I got in Copenhagen one freezing day in March, 2005,  few minutes I had between getting off the ferry and catching a train to Hamburg, the glove-shop more like a big wardrobe than any shop in England, but despite its size perfect, with exactly and precisely what I wanted, real gloves that would last a substantial chunk of a lifetime.

The hat – well, the wool hat lined with Thinsulate went the way of all the best hats, on someone else’s head and I don’t know where. Or when. I haven’t got it now. Nor the Mercedes I had when I drove down to Lyme Regis for Christmas and New Year twenty years back, one of the best Christmasses ever, nor the stone barn I had in Stow-on-the-Wold nineteen years ago this Christmas, rather blighted by the bank deciding to pull a third of the business overdraft. At least I had the satisfaction that the bank manager was sacked shortly afterwards. I haven’t got something I thought I might have from last Christmas either, but I never really did anyway. What I need to not have is a downward mood because it gets dark early.

It’ll be ok. Really. Everything. It will. It does every year. It’s just the light.

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