It seems that winter has arrived. Suddenly all the colour has drained from the leaves and the sky and everything seems dim and desaturated. The day feels like twilight, but without the magic of that transitional time. This is normal, of course, and normally I don’t mind this time of year. In fact, I usually enjoy the dark and cold, and the opportunity it brings for cosy indoor living, with candles and fairy lights, and mugs of tea. This year, however, it seems to be dragging me down.
I’ve had a bit of bad news at work (nothing world-changing, but a serious set-back for me and some friends at work), and some annoying things to sort out at home. The previous owners of our house moved overseas, so the house came with their appliances too. This was really helpful at the time because moving house is an expensive business, but we didn’t know how old these appliances were, or what condition they were in. There was a fridge in the kitchen and a tall freezer in the garage. The fridge stopped working after a year or so and we replaced it with a Beko fridge that has been nothing but trouble. It regularly froze our lettuce and fluctuated wildly in temperature. Meanwhile, the freezer kept going but one Saturday night we found the garage floor flooded with water and all our food (and a lot of fruit and vegetables from the allotment) defrosted. We ordered a replacement freezer, and then had to cancel the order when we realised that most domestic freezers are not rated for operation in the kinds of temperatures you find in a garage (which may well explain why the previous freezer kept icing up so frequently). After another Saturday when we found the kitchen swimming in water too after the fridge decided to defrost itself, we had a change of plan and decided to replace our useless fridge and non-functioning freezer with a modern fridge-freezer. Given how small and badly planned our kitchen is, that meant placing the fridge-freezer in front of the door to the dining room, but that door is redundant anyway, because we can access the dining room from the living room. We had a few weeks of upheaval and of adjusting to not having any frozen food before the new unit arrived.
I’ve been listening to the BBC Radio 4 series Tommies. This drama follows the timeline of the First World War, with each episode depicting one day in the war, broadcast on the same day 100 years on. Most dramas about the Great War (or indeed, any war) inevitably compress the events, so you don’t get the full impression of the grinding weariness, and the way that the soldiers gradually lose their hope and — in some cases — their sanity.
Tommies focusses on Mickey Bliss (a Signaller) and the people he encounters as he moves through the war. The drama is superbly sound recorded for immersive headphone listening, and recreates the sound world very realistically, bird song, shells, shovelling and all. The shells and rifle fire actually make you jump. The narration explains in detail the technical aspects of signalling and the progress (such as it is) of the war, as well as the medical aspects of the injuries the soldiers suffer. At the same time, the protracted period over which it is broadcast, and the direct connection to the same day 100 years ago makes the emotional impact of what the soldiers suffer go straight to your heart.
I try to listen on the day of broadcast if I can to preserve this time tunnel to the past, even it if means listening on iPlayer later in the evening. The last episode, broadcast on 11th November, was particularly harrowing as Mickey found himself at Ypres, with the British Expeditionary Force. Radio is a peculiarly intimate medium, and the sound world of Tommies draws you even deeper in. But in the end, it was the final line of this episode that shocked me most. The next time we meet up with Mickey and the others will be in April, when their line will have moved only 3 miles.
It seems an age to me before Christmas, when I can rest and take a break. But as we know, the war isn’t over by Christmas. They still have the bitter months of January, February and March to get through before April, existing all the while in the frozen earth, water and mud, everything brown and grey as far as their eyes can see. And they are all already so weary and broken by the war. Even in April, they will have than 3 more years of suffering, if they don’t die before the end of the war.
Yes, I’m weary of the winter. But I have a warm home. I have candles and fairy lights to push back the gloom. I even have a fridge that doesn’t freeze my lettuce, and a freezer that makes ice cubes, as utterly trivial as that seems to me now as I type it. Knowing about the suffering of others — past or present — doesn’t magically lift your own weariness, but it certainly gives you some perspective. In that scale of suffering, my own troubles are barely even visible.