“It was one of those perfect English autumnal days which occur more frequently in memory than in life.” – P.D. James, a British novelist who died last Thursday at the incredible age of 94, RIP.
Warming my hands on a cup of English breakfast tea from Gail’s bakery (a cranberry oatmeal cookie tucked away in my bag for later), I took a slow stroll through the quiet back streets of Chelsea.
The nearly bare branches of a ginkgo tree stretched toward a bright blue sky ahead of me. As I walked closer, I saw that the leaves had fallen along a white wall in front of the house. And then, I realised that the front garden had not been raked all season and was a stunning golden Autumnal sea of leaves.
Note: This was such a popular photo on social media, I decided to add it to my Etsy shop as a print!
I watched as another leaf unhinged itself and floated freely onto the top of the pile. And then I walked on, thinking about Autumn, this season of change, this final vibrant explosion of colour until the world settles into a deep hibernation.
Away from the constant traffic of King’s Road and the bustle along the Thames, these streets offered a pocket of silence. An earthy scent emanated from overturned flower beds, a smell of nature and gardens of the rich who can afford to have them in London. Especially in SW3.
I cut back to Oakley Street and crossed over to my favourite bridge, the Albert – the pink Candy Land bridge that lights up like a fairground ride at night. Joggers and cyclists passed me as I crossed slowly, sipping at my tea, looking out over the Cadogan Pier with its union jack flags and houseboats.
The river was murky brown – Thames Brown – floating with a bit of speed under the bridge. With it, a pair of kayakers paddling along.
Battersea Park greeted me on the other side and I passed through its gates into the green space that has become one of my favourite escapes in this city. The famous peace pagoda stands there as an otherworldly landmark on its northern edge, red railings lining the river, the pathway full of dogs and runners and children learning to ride their bikes with no training wheels.
I took in the peeling white birch trees, the branches in varying stages between the vividness of Autumn and the nakedness of Winter. The air was cool and brisk but the light was beautiful, breaking through the park in visible rays depending on where I walked and how tall the trees were in the distance.
In the middle of the park, I sat on a bench and slowly devoured my cookie, just sat and felt the sun on my face instead of burying my face in the magazine that was still in my bag. I was just appreciating that this is probably one of the last days I’ll sit outside this year without freezing for quite a while. A bird chirped away in a nearby tree. I thought about how little time we take to reflect on life these days.
Behind me, branches exploded with bright red berries. Christmas red. I could have used a mug of hot apple cider with a bit of cinnamon and nutmeg – the American countryside version, not the fizzy British one made of alcohol. And maybe a bonfire. S’mores.
After some time, I walked on. Leaves covered the ground, mostly brown. They rustled as I swished through them, crunching under my feet. The typical sounds of Autumn.
A dog darted by chasing a tennis ball. A man in spandex used a bench as a step for his exercise routine and a woman lay on the ground nearby with a personal trainer. If it weren’t for the foliage telling a different story, you’d be forgiven for thinking it was an unusually chilly Summer’s day.
But it’s December now (oh how time flies) we’re in the last days of Autumn in London. Let’s take a moment to appreciate them before they fade into the black and white and grey days of Winter.