I left London wrapped in a dark fog. There are shades of grey, though I doubt there are fifty of them. It depends whether damp grey is different from dry grey. London was damp grey verging on wet grey; a shade a paint salesman might name drowned mouse. No city looks good when painted wet grey all over. Come to think of it, nowhere does.
On the edge of France, it was blue. We came up into it from the dark, like an aircraft rising out of cloud into that stretch of high air where it is always sunny. In this case we had to go underground, under the sea, to break into the sunshine. Strange.
In Brussels, it was autumnal hot and outside the Gare du Midi, two girls in uniforms of plum and very dry grey, were taking a break from work. These colours are soothing, which is why railway bosses use them to defuse tense passengers, but you don’t find them together in gardens – unless maybe you have anenome japonica sprawling over a wide slate path. And they are not autumnal colours either, although they look as though they should be.
There was a woman singing about how she wanted to be free, mostly to herself. She sounded a bit like Patti Smith used to sound before she acquired age. She was singing under the yellow leaves of the small lime trees, and the yellow leaves that used to be, well, lime green and shady green, were dropping around her, translucent and sere.
Autumn colours are blends, which is why they are not spring colours. Spring colours are shouty – green foliage pumped up with chlorophyll; single-minded pink flowers demanding the pollinators visit. Autumn colours have no function. They are a product of loss of function, and so their shades turn and mix.
You can paint a room most of the shades of spring from a single pot, but to reproduce autumn on your walls is not so easy, and you must stipple or rag roll the green against the yellow or the red against the orange, and even then, it will not satisfy.
Small children like pink and scarlet and lurid green. Plastic toys are those colours; they are not russet and amber. Maybe as we acquire age, as we fulfill our function, we come to prefer the blending of colours, knowing where they lead. And that is freedom there is no need to sing about.