So, here we are – Autumn again. Summer’s but a memory and the leaves are tumbling from the trees. I love this time of year. I especially like it when its largely dry, as it has been around here, and the fallen leaves stay crisp, crackling underfoot as you walk. There’s nothing quite as enjoyable as kicking your way through piles of leaves, hearing that wonderful ‘swishing’ noise as they scatter. Then there’s the smell – I love the scent of Autumn leaves. Even better is that wonderful smell when they burn them on bonfires. Ah, the joys of Autumn! However, a walk through any of my local supermarkets might convince you that, this year, we’ve skipped the season of mellow fruitfulness and gone straight to midwinter. Even as we enjoyed the ‘Indian Summer’ of September the supermarket shelves were being invaded by the sort of goods we might usually associate with Christmas. Mince pies, tins of chocolate biscuits and Quality Street, all on special offer. Not, of course, that Christmas is actually mentioned anywhere in relation to these special offers. Nor is there any sign, as yet, of discounted Christmas decorations, trees, puddings or turkeys. Nevertheless, this does seem to be the earliest Christmas retail invasion I can remember. Indeed, the mince pies appeared as soon the kids were back at school. You know, it really would be nice if, just for once, we were allowed to actually enjoy the Autumn without it being gate crashed by bloody Christmas! I always thought that the one good thing about the colonisation of our popular culture by the Americanised version of Halloween was that this at least created a buffer between Summer and Christmas, effectively preventing retailers from swinging into full Yuletide mode before November. This year, however, I fear that we’ll see blood-soaked ‘Psycho Santa’ costumes on sale for Halloween, along with hollowed out Christmas puddings in place of the more traditional pumpkins. Perhaps ‘trick or treaters’ will be encouraged to throw bottles of egg nog at people’s houses rather than eggs – especially if the householder has given them ‘After Eight’ mints instead of proper sweets or, worse still, ‘tricked’ them by giving them Brussels sprouts.
But it isn’t just Autumn which is in danger of disappearing, it seems. This year I noticed that another great British tradition had gone AWOL. August is traditionally ‘silly season’ for the press in this country – the general consensus being that, with parliament in recess, everybody on holiday and the football season yet to start, there was simply no news to report. Consequently, newspapers were always full of stories of flying saucers, lake monsters, Nazis and ghostly apparitions. Well, I’m disappointed in the press this year. The best they could come up with for the ‘silly season’, it seems, was a picture from Google Earth allegedly showing the Loch Ness monster. It really was pathetic. Not just the picture – which was clearly just a boat trailing a wake behind it – but the whole lack of effort on the part of the media. I remember the halcyon days of my 1970s childhood, when late Summer was full of reports of people being chased down the street by fireballs, or being abducted by families of hairy anthropoids living in caves near Cheddar. No Summer was complete without a proper sighting of the Loch Ness Monster – complete with blurry photographic ‘evidence’ – and Warminster was still the UFO capital of Britain. If it wasn’t aliens and the supernatural, then it was bizarre ‘true life’ tales of cannibalism and sensational crimes. Whilst the 1970s probably represented the high-tide mark for the ‘silly season’, I recall that even in the 1990s we still had the annual crop circle malarkey to look forward to every Summer. However, since the turn of the century, the ‘silly season’ has dwindled, reaching, it seems, a nadir this year. So what happened to the ‘silly season’? Have the things which used to dominate it become unfashionable? Is it all the fault of television, the web and computer games? In a way, I suspect that it is down to the latter. When ‘silly season’ was in its prime, it was the only way we could ever get to read about the weird and the whacky. The rest of the time the media looked down on it, sniffily refusing to give it house room. These days, by contrast, they’re everywhere. Modern popular media have made such things as aliens and poltergeists commonplace. When you can watch people running around ‘haunted’ houses screaming their heads off nightly on cable TV, reading about some woman in Solihull being felt up by a ghost every August is no longer a novelty.
Nowadays, it seems, we get our ‘weird’ fix by reading about the crazy antics of boozed and drugged up celebrities. Lindsay Lohan’s breasts and Russell Brand’s whang have replaced the Loch Ness monster and demonically possessed serial killers in our modern bestiary. Consequently, the hacks in the press appear to expend all of their imagination on making up bizarre stories about various celebrities, with ‘celebrity silly season’ seemingly lasting all year round. But I miss those far off days when every August we could look forward to hearing about some Grimsby housewife’s holiday romance with a still living Hitler in Paraguay, and we didn’t know about the existence of the various Z-listers who now fill the tabloids, let alone their drunken exploits or sexual antics. Maybe if they combined the celebrity stories with the weird stuff we could get ‘silly season’ off the ground again. How about ‘Amy Winehouse: I Walked With a Zombie (or Was it Pete Doherty?)’; or ‘Lilly Allen: My Life as a Serial Killer’; or even ‘Penelope Keith: My Alien Abduction Hell’ ? Perhaps some loser from Big Brother could tell us how they created a crop circle in the shape of a huge cock and balls, or Russell Brand could describe how he seduced and shagged the Loch Ness Monster, before cheating on it with Bigfoot. Circulation winners, all of them. But don’t hold your breath waiting to see them in the papers. Is it any wonder that print journalism is in decline? So, until the next time, keep it sleazy my friends!