It is autumn. Officially, at least. We’re into September, the school holidays are almost over, the nights are drawing in.
I love autumn. It’s a relief, after the last few weeks of resentful shivering in sandals and short sleeves, to the muttered refrain of “but it’s AUGUST”, to be able finally to pull out boots and jumpers. There’s a comfort of sorts – or a certainty, at least – in knowing that the weather is only going to get worse. No more of the hoping-for-the-best, planning-for-the-worst, making-the-most-of-it of the summer months: rained off barbecues, sand-blasted beaches, hours huddled under trees watching puddles form round the swings.
Autumn is the most orderly of seasons. It’s full of known quantities. Perhaps that’s why, together with the fresh-startness of the new school year, it feels like a good time for beginnings, despite the evidence of things drawing to a close outside.
It’s not that I live divorced from nature. There are fields at the end of my road, trees in my garden, and I have the best part of an hour’s school run on foot in which to feel the subtle wax and wane of the morning chill.
To my shame, none of these are why I truly know that summer is over and autumn is here.
Instead, I know that this is the case because The X-Factor is back on TV.
There is nothing particularly autumnal about it, for all its wist and yelling fruitlessness. It not even that I particularly enjoy it.
It is more its briskly efficient arrival at the end of August, sweeping us all up from the shapeless haphazardness of summer and depositing us firmly into a reliable schedule of weekly dates till Christmas that gives it away. Just as school shepherds shiny-shoed children back through its gates, so do Messrs Cowell & co provide us with a useful structure and routine as we stare into the dull dank months of British winter ahead. For me, it works like a telescope. In early September, with my feet still smudged with the dirty remnants of a sandal tan, I can see the me who will be watching in December, haloed with fairy lights and the crushing consciousness of unfinished present shopping. As Christmas approaches and the last few sing for their lives (apparently), the flashbacks to their auditions, in vest tops and bare legs, remind me of the carefree summer me I’d like to think was there once.
Once term starts again, I know that time will run away from me. But The X-Factor promises to be by my side through the giddy slip of the year to its close, past pumpkins and pyrotechnics and poppies, till I’m delivered blinking and chastened into the bleak, bleached world of January and The Bridge. I know that Strictly Come Dancing fulfils much of the same need in many, and I do watch that too, but my commitment has been hampered by fearful years of seeing it through a haze of pyjama’ed small children attempting the cha-cha-cha too near to the fireplace.
So, come Saturday, I’ll be tuning in again; phone in my hand, sound turned down, invisible bingo card ready to mark off the obligatory “journey”s, “dream”s and “means everything”s which we seasoned viewers know carry more or less equal weight to the singing. Resigned in the knowledge that three and a half months of my life are about to vanish as swiftly as the contestants’ fifteen minutes of fame, and happy to know it too.