Reflections on Autumn Colour

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.

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20 thoughts on “Reflections on Autumn Colour

  1. Children don’t make or buy the toys. Give them a paint set and see what happens. I like the expression ‘acquiring’ age. It suggests that it’s something we might part with later–at a garage sale maybe–when we tire of dealing with it. Looks like you had an enviably lovely trip.

    • But the people who manufacture toys are not fools. They don’t make autumnal-shaded toys for good commercial reasons. If you acquire experience, you can acquire age.

  2. I’m liking this, you’ve gone all mellow and reflective. Like a mosaic of autumnal colours your writing pallette reflects beautifully. (Oh dear I know I can’t keep this up or spell, the word pallet for me conjures up wood and kindling or gates, thats what happens when I try to be all empathetic.) However, I hope you have a lovely break, I’m heading through A9 autumnal colour land this weekend, that will be my dip into it all. Enjoy yours.

      • Ha no you didn’t make it up – there was indeed a date for autumnal frolics – unfortunately due to a lack of frock it was postponed. I’ve asked the autumnal hues to wait to let my other half would get his outfit sorted out! Perhaps spring, but most likely next year. 13’s a lucky number right?

  3. Damp grey and wet grey here in Wales. 😦 Would love some of that Brussels sunshine. On a stunning autumnal day you can’t beat the fading colours but I still think the vibrancy and zingyness of spring would be my choice. The sense of excitement and hope is the best feeling although it all too often disappears in the flurry of gardening activity that greets that time of year. Have a great trip.

  4. I already knew you are a writer but I noted a change in mood in your last posts… And I bet you got a new camera too, am I right? I’m catching up with your blog, that flood was dreadful, wasn’t it? And I didn’t like what you wrote about rugosa roses… Please remind me not to show you my sitting room… Ever! 🙂
    But coming back to this last post I really enjoyed your reflections about colours and I totally agree with you.

    • Same old camera, Alberto – and getting a bit creaky from having been too long in jacket pockets. I know you love ragusas – as do I, but Frau Dagmar is a bit of a thug, and there are much better varieties around, such as the ones you have. How can I avoid your sitting room if we do our garden swap?

  5. The train journey from London to Brussels is one of my favourites and Brussels seriously underrated as a city-break destination, imho. Your header is a knock-out though I would caution against talking surreptitious photos of young women in uniform. D

    • I’m intrigued. Do you have bad experiences with photographing young women in uniform? I think this was the first time I did this, but maybe you have good reasons for warning me off?

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