Autumn Leaves


It’s been dry, it’s been very dry in Cork City by the Lee, my hometown here in the deep south.  [APPLAUSE]

Yes it’s been a very dry Autumn, and very still too for weeks now, hardly a puff of wind, which means that we have a spectacular Autumn array of colourful leaves on the trees, even though we’re coming into November and on past All Soul’s Day.

Wonderful colours on the leaves on the branches of the sweet chestnut trees, down by Pairc Ui Chaoimh, on the lime trees by the Marina, on the sycamore trees lining Colmcille Avenue in Mayfield and down The North Ring Road, on the weeping willows and the great willows in the Lee Fields, on the walnut trees in John F. Kennedy Park.

Yes, we have lots of colour: we have auburn and gold and lemon and amber and some russet on the edges and ochres and yellows and some dull reds and even maroons on the dogwoods on the side of the roads, and we have leaves on the ground too, filling the holes and leaning in clumps by walls and rustling on waterside breezes. The leaves are letting go, and so too must we.

But the leaves on the ground are dry and crisp and that’s the way we like them, because we know that a single rainstorm will change everything and that’s what Mrs. Cuthbert, my old neighbour is afraid of, these lengthening nights and these dull grey mornings as she opens her bedroom curtains and looks out over the paths around her house on the Ballinlough Road.

She frets, does Mrs. Cuthbert, she worries, she’s anxious the poor dear, especially since Mr. Cuthbert shuffled off his mortal coil two years ago on November 3rd, when, rushing to get back in home in the gloom of late afternoon after a very nice game of pitch and putt below in Ballintemple, he slipped on some soggy birch leaves on the path outside their house and hopped the back of his head against the cracked footpath that he had pestered the City Council about for several months, but to no avail.

So I meet Mrs. Cuthbert with her brush most mornings as I wander down to JJ’s to get my paper, as she brushes away the leaves from the path out to her little Micra. I offered to blow them all to hell out on the road with my new leaf-blower but she wouldn’t hear of it, she’s afraid of the thing she said, and sure she doesn’t mind a bit of brushing– it’s no bother at all.

“Hello, Mr. –––, grand day,” she says to me as I wish her good mornings on my way home from the shop. She’s always been very formal, has Mrs. Cuthbert, and Mr. Cuthbert too. And I was surprised on the morning of his demise when I met him by the gate and he had a giddy look about him and when I said that he looked in great form he winked at me, rubbing his hands together in glee, and told me that he was on a promise.

Now you don’t hear mention of a promise too much between men, except when some fella is spruced up more than usual in the pub of an evening and rushes off home after two pints instead of his usual seven. Or when somebody has a shower and changes his clothes after a sunny round of golf, instead of his normal rush to the bar in his sweaty polo shirt for the usual quart. These minor aberrations of behaviour might lead to a comment.

Which is why I was so taken aback, I don’t mind saying. It’s not something I expected of Mr. Cuthbert (nor Mrs. Cuthbert, truth be told), from any of a number of perspectives and rather too much information of a damp Tuesday morning on my way home for my boiled egg and toast. But we live and learn. Who’s to know the passion stirring in the quiet living rooms and perhaps not so quiet bedrooms of the apparently demure couples hereabouts. Anyway, when I heard what happened to the poor man later that day, his untimely passing took on a slightly sadder hue.

And when I feel the dread in the hunched up form of Mrs. Cuthbert as she sweeps the dead leaves from her path, and I see the sadness growing in her eyes coming towards the anniversary, that defeated look of a person facing the inevitability of something difficult in their forecast, I think of the promise that she never fulfilled for her husband. Maybe a small matter in the greater scheme, but would her nights be that less long, her days that less dreary, if poor Mr. Cuthbert had received his little fifteen minute gift (twenty on a good night, if he’s had a few cans of Beamish), and had slipped on his way out the following morning, instead of on his way in that night? And does she ever wonder (as I have done, I must admit) if Mr. Cuthbert would have been taking more care and in less of a hurry if he hadn’t been on a promise that fateful night two years ago?

Who’s to know, who’s to know? Ladies, make your promises by all means but fulfil them toot sweet as they say in France, and Gentlemen, be careful on the wet leaves this Autumn and Winter. Take care, everyone, and enjoy the crispiness and dryness and the colours while you can.

And that’s all the news from Cork City by the Lee, where all the men are sound, all the women are dacent, and all the children are doing their level best to stay out of trouble. [APPLAUSE]

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