While my son shows promising signs of being a naturalist, my Gaelic wife insists that autumn is over
‘Red!’ my son shouts, stuffing a large, wet leaf into my hand as if he’s trying to teach me something. It is, I must concede, extremely red and a fine specimen at that: firm, flat and bigger than his head. We’re collecting leaves for his nursery because… well I don’t know why. My best bet is they use them to make art, or dump them all on a table and talk about them. Maybe they load the leaves into an open brazier in the middle of the room. ‘Gather round, kids,’ they say, beckoning the waifs toward the heat with fingerless gloves, before improvising a spit so they can roast a squirrel over it around lunch time.
Whatever they do with the leaves, he takes to these endeavours with the glee of a dedicated naturalist, deriving the same joy from rummaging through piles of autumnal detritus that others might do from sports or cocaine. And it’s a chance to school me on leaves, a subject about which he clearly feels I’m ignorant. Certainly, I’ve never picked a leaf he’s chosen to bring in. ‘This one’s nice,’ I say, proffering one I’d describe as perfect. ‘See?’ I continue, now desperate for his approval, ‘It’s yellow!’ At this he flashes a patient, pitying smile, the kind a teacher might give a pupil who’s started avidly eating the pencil he’s just been handed, before resuming the search for a yellow leaf less pathetic and embarrassing than my own.
Millions of Irish people, consider February to be springtime, and May summer
‘Still,’ I say to my wife, mildly wounded, ‘nice to get the last out of autumn.’ The words have barely left my mouth before I realise what I’ve done. ‘Don’t start this,’ she says, since she does not consider November to be autumn at all. She is from Dublin, and subscribes to the Gaelic calendar, by which autumn comprises August, September and October, whereas my Northern Irish schooling taught me the meteorological calendar, with autumn as September, October and November.
My wife and I have argued about many things during the blissful 14 years we’ve spent together. But none has recurred with such frequency and vehemence as her stubborn insistence that the calendar she was taught as a child makes sense. The idea that autumn begins in August is, itself, so singularly demented that no further argument should be necessary, but consider the knock-on effects; imagine, if you can bear it, the sanity-warping prospect that my wife, and millions of Irish people, consider February to be springtime, and May summer, and you might begin to understand just how rancorous this disagreement can get.
We’re just about to launch into things when the boy comes bounding over, with a giant yellow leaf. Perhaps he is trying to defuse the tension of a row that could yet end our marriage some day, but it’s more likely he’s trying, one last time, to teach me something, and with a degree of patience I’d do well to remember.
Did Ye Hear Mammy Died? by Séamas O’Reilly is out now (Little, Brown, £16.99). Buy a copy from guardianbookshop at £14.78
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