Edwards on ... getting ready for a long, cold winter

Yellows, reds and russets in the hedgerows - autumn has arrived.

That beautiful time of year that you might have thought our ancestors - more closely bound to the seasons than we are - would have been inclined to celebrate. And of course they did - in pagan times, with the festival of Samhain, which later became All Hallows' Eve.

But Halloween wasn't a time of unbridled optimism. It marked a point in the year when days were already short but would soon get much shorter; when nights were cold but would soon get much colder; and when food was still plentiful but would soon run low. The elderly and infirm still had full bellies and a bit of the summer tan to their skin - but everyone knew some wouldn't make it through to spring. Halloween was a time when people had a last good party before the cold, cruel winter months.

The autumnal feelings of your average British pagan living 2,000 years ago must have been very different to ours. First, the odd yellow leaf here and there, then a whole branch full of deep red. Very worrying - especially if one wasn't in the best of health. I suspect the awe and wonder I feel for a good autumn show as I drive home might be somewhat diminished if I got out from my warm car, stripped off my clothes and stood in a puddle.

Perhaps the modern equivalent to our ancestors noting the onset of autumn might be to open a newspaper and look at the financial pages. One morning poor economic statistics, the next the odd run on a bank, then - Odin's beard! - Iceland is close to bankruptcy.

The little redheaded pagans of my fanciful imagination prepared for the winter by painting their faces blue, stocking up with nuts and smoking the odd boar. Presumably those most likely to get through to spring were those who could shoot a bow straight. But what will it take to get through these modern times?

I'm expecting the phrase "cash is king" to come back into fashion, along with tight cost control and credit control. Paint my face with woad and pass my stoat-skin overcoat - it's going to be a long, cold winter.

- Tim Edwards is managing director of Boningale


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