The Shock of the New

Yesterday evening I went to a seminar (don’t ask). As I arrived, the sun was shining, the leaves rustling in the breeze. Three hours later, as I stepped outside the building, the roads glistened with rainwater and the scent of spring hung in the air.

We paused, four of us who happened to be exiting at the same time. We inhaled deeply. Stuck inside with the stale coffee and the PowerPoint slides, we hadn’t realised it was raining outside. The rain had stopped, now, and the wind had dropped, and the fields and the forests were shrouded in darkness, a faint presence at the edge of awareness. It was beautiful, a moment to treasure, the end, finally, of an endless winter. Somebody said something obvious, “oh look, it’s been raining” or “what a lovely smell”, I forget the words, but otherwise we were silent. I smiled to myself.

And then, suddenly, the smile froze on my lips. “All smiles stopped together”, as Browning put it. It’s a line from My Last Duchess, and it’s worth reading even if you’re not that keen on Browning (most people aren’t that keen on Browning, to be honest). To me it conveys more forcefully than anything else I’ve read the casualness with which sudden, crushing change can come. You’re walking along, oblivious, whistling happily to yourself, and then it’s there.

And for me, that’s spring. A few moments of pleasurable anticipation before it hits me what it is I’m anticipating. Because if spring is the time of change, rebirth, the lightening of the skies, then with it there’s a need to take advantage of all those things. A sudden pressure to move forward. It’s not just the obvious, practical things, the building and planting that can be done now the snow’s melted and the ground’s a little softer. It’s more than that, it’s something almost visceral, the need to be getting on and doing something. Winter is for digging in, hunkering down against the cold and making sure you don’t get pulled back and down into the quicksand (or in my case, the storm drain, but that’s a story for another day). Spring is for moving on, whether you want to or not.

It’s probably been like that forever, in the so-called temperate zones, and even though most of us have jobs that can ignore the weather, and hobbies that can get around it one way or another (garage cyclists), it lingers. Back when I had a job that involved doing deals, with an infinity of emails and endless phone calls, I’d manage to muddle through during the dark winter months, but come spring, the very same tasks would fill me with dread. I needed to be getting on, to be doing more. I didn’t like it. And I still don’t.

I don’t like the sudden panic that there’s something important that needs to be done. The fear that if I don’t get moving with some project or other I’ll enter next winter no further forward this year than I was last year. The depressing realisation that for some unfathomable reason, this actually matters to me. The bleat of the newborn lamb is to me the cry of another forgotten task, another unmet challenge, another year of standing still.

I don’t want to put a dampener on everyone’s joy at sunshine and blue sky, but face it: spring’s a stress. Summer gives us floods, autumn gale-force winds. So bring on the winter. It wasn’t that bad, was it?

If you liked this, take a look at some extracts from my soon-to-be-published novel Without Due Carehere.

Joel Hames
Joel Hames lives with his wife and two daughters in rural Lancashire, England, which is like a cross between Tolkein’s Shire and The Wicker Man. Following a career doing technical things with money and bits of paper, Joel decided it would be much more fun to be a novelist, and wroteBankers Town in 2014. The Art of Staying Dead, the first Sam Williams novel, appeared in 2015, and its sequel is now nearing completion. When not writing or spending time with his family, Joel likes to eat, drink, cook, and practise long-distance assassination techniques using only the power of his mind. So far, results have been mixed.

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