In the eye of the beholder
It's been 14 months since I came home to the UK, the longest I've ever been away. I travelled from tropical summer to dank midwinter, with consequences other than a cold shock – namely the loss of lots of water, presumably retained by my body to keep cool. A couple of days before we landed it had been minus several degrees, the thought of which filled me with dread. Thankfully, it crept up to 9C by the time we touched down. The next morning was bright and sunny, and that's when I first noticed the empty trees.
On each return from Australia I've noticed things previously taken for granted: like just how many cows or sheep you get rammed into a tiny field in the UK, presumably on high-quality lush pasture. And last time the autumn colours impressed anew, even along the verges of the infamous M25. This visit it's the beautiful, often symmetrical framework of trees devoid of leaves and life. Against a low sun, they're dramatic and shapely.
It's been the second wettest year on record in the UK* and everywhere is damp and leaf-bound. It could take weeks of serious sunshine to dry out the countryside. In Brisbane, all evidence of hours of sheeting rainfall is soon obliterated by searing heat. Here, walking is a muddy business. Cloudy Britain's climate would appear to have changed for the worse; the joke being on those early deniers who smugly speculated that my home country would become sunnier and warmer, à la Méditerranée.
On the greyest Boxing Day we walked in our local vineyard, well established now at the foot of the North Downs. There were impressive rows of skeleton vines and yet more empty trees. Suddenly I appreciated afresh old buildings, sturdily built and dripping with character. How nice it was to see them again. And there was rich colour despite the lack of light.
Which just goes to show, familiar scenes are always worth a new look.
* After much speculation that 2012 would be the wettest year on record in the UK, the Met Office confirmed on 3 January that it was the second wettest (but the wettest in England), only 6.6 mm fewer than the wettest ever, in 2000 (1337.3 mm)
This post was last edited on 11 January 2013