5th October

A Case of Leaves (1)

It is one of those satisfying, seasonal tasks: the sweeping of leaves into piles; the extraction of outliers and stragglers and stowaways from behind plant pots, out of drains and awkward corners; the sad delight in their dying colours and – depending on the weather – crinkled, or limply sodden, textures; the multiple pleasures of their shapes and shades, singular and collective; the quiet brushstrokes capturing the end of summer, clearing away the process of autumn.

There are machines for sucking and chopping up dead leaves – roaring, aggressive, indiscriminate herders. Their noise and brutality are an affront to Nature. I prefer the brush and the boards, the barrow and the bin. There is dignity this way; time and silence in which to think.

Of all the seasons, this is the one that tugs hardest at the heart. And it has that other name, the fall. What worlds of meaning are contained in that short phrase!

Later today, I’ll be in the city, saying a few words at the opening of a new exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery. The exhibition is about history, about how past lives and concerns connect with present ones. Since I’ll only be speaking for a minute or two I have not been asked what technical requirements I might require: projector, screen, audio-visuals, handouts. Not necessary, on this occasion. But perhaps what I am doing now, gathering leaves, is not so very different from what the exhibition aims to do: to gather and sift and appreciate single and multiple lives, the falling past that already contains in it both the cold, clear threat of winter and faith in spring’s renewal, growth and change. I imagine filling a suitcase with leaves, taking it to the city, casting its contents across the floor of the gallery. I imagine saying, ‘This is my audio-visual aid, my handout. What you see is what you will become. What you will become is what others were before. What others were before became you. Walk through this space, these memories, these signs and tokens of what is past, over; contemplate their colours, shapes and shades, their singular and collective stories. They are not over. They are you. You are them.’

Reader: James Robertson
Fiddle: Aidan O'Rourke
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