In retirement you need to preserve tradition – some traditions anyway. We have a tradition in our family, it’s not much but it’s ours. In fact it may be unique to our family. It involves every year, at this time of year, catching a leaf as it falls and before, obviously, it hits the ground. For such a simple tradition it is surprisingly complex in nature but then nature is complex. It’s not just a matter of catching the leaf you have to, as you might put it, protect its integrity, which means, in catching the leaf, you have to keep it in tact. So there can be no ham-fisted clutching of said leaf in so doing crushing the delicate and brittle (obviously or it wouldn’t be falling off the tree) integrity of one of God’s creations.

So this makes the simple act of catching the chosen leaf fiendishly difficult. In trying to avoid obliterating the leaf it is all too easy to miss it altogether. So this is where tactics come in. Weather : you need a day with a certain amount of wind – wind obviously increases the chances of leaves coming down but too much wind and the leaves are flying past at supersonic speed like shrapnel. Leaf choice : a small, symmetrical leaf comes down in a more or less straight descent but it comes faster. Fine if you happen to be directly underneath it but not good if you’re a distance away. A large sycamore type leaf comes down slowly but, and this is a technical term, fucks about all over the place. So you can see it from a distance (it’s bigger) and you can get to it but because it’s fucking about all over the place it’s hard to lay a glove on. Bigger is not necessarily better.

OK, but why? Why, you ask, are you doing this? Well, that’s simple, duh. It’s a talisman for the coming year. Catch a leaf and the year will be a good one. Fail to catch a leaf and a year of flood, famine, pestilence and the rest will follow. Yes, it will. So a leaf is a good luck charm more prosaically. But that’s silly you say. Well we have a silver sainty thing, that came to us by a very mysterious route, that protects us and friends against cancer. So this tradition is quite sane really.

The tradition, as traditions do, has bred all number of arcane rules. For example, a leaf that catches on the windscreen of the car is a leaf in play, you can, within the rules, stop the car, get out, take the leaf off of the windscreen, bonnet, whatever and claim it as your own. It’s an accepted fact that this still wards off evil. Another rule is that if a leaf drops on you, as it did on this walk, on to my wife’s coat, it caught between the coat and her sleeve, this not only counts but is regarded as a particularly powerful totem. It chose us you see. Yeah, you get it now. Leaves that float down and are caught on a hedge, definitely not legal. A leaf that floats down and sticks on to a park bench that you’re sitting on, well, to be honest, that’s a grey area. Our rule is that such a leaf can only be used in an emergency, as a last resort, if all other leaves have fallen from the sky. There may be other rules but it can be hard to remember them unless you’re actually doing it. I’ll take a note pad next time and jot things down.

Just to bring the tradition bang up to date let me tell you about this year’s efforts. This is now, as all things are, in the context of the puppies. We needed to get out and have a little adult time. In truth the puppies had been getting me down a bit, I could have used the ‘d’ word if I subscribed to the concept. For reasons that will become clear in my next blog, I don’t use the ‘d’ word other than to suggest a bit down in the dumps. Unhappy, shall we say. We needed fresh air. We went for a walk. Shortly after leaving it pissed it down but we were not down-hearted.

We will catch this year’s leaf (we’ve got a bit behind for obvious reasons) we said. Off we went and all the usual additional complications came straightaway into play. One, the leaves are always falling somewhere else. Two, if you move towards where the leaves are falling they stop. You can wait in that spot until you become a tree, they will not fall. Three, when you move away they immediately start falling in that spot again. If that wasn’t bad enough members of the general public inhibit the process. More of this aspect in a moment.

You do get to a point when you, foolishly, say to the tree you’re standing under, I’m going to fucking well stand here until you send a leaf down, you know you want to. So it was, against all my previous logic, I was standing under this huge tree in the park waiting, waiting, but sure enough (it’s not at all sure enough) the moment arrived (this means nothing in of itself). Down it came, a medium sized, twirler. My cricketing days came back to me, under the high ball, a moment no cricketer likes and this ‘ball’ was twirling and moving, rising and falling, left and right, fast and slow, you get the idea and I stuck with it every inch of the way – for a while. I twisted, turned, stopped, started, moved backwards, then ran forwards, determined not to let the bastard (another technical term) get away. Boy, I was persistent that is until I fell to earth, I fell over backwards, landed on my arse in the mud (see photo) as the leaf passed calmly by.

I told you I was feeling down in the dumps (quite literally now) and as I lay on my back on the wet earth I started to laugh. I looked up t the sky and laughed. I turned my head sideways to see my wife doubled up, helpless with tears, not of concern but merriment. “Thank you for making me laugh,” she said. A pleasure, I thought. We both laughed and I was strangely disinclined to get up off that wet grass. Until, behind my wife, I saw the elderly couple with their dog looking at me with a look of horror and consternation on their wrinkly faces. I arose with all the dignity I could muster. I may have muttered something about family tradition. They moved away, we laughed again.

Tradition is a wonderful thing I always think and when you’re retired you need all the traditions you can get, particularly the simple ones. Now we are retired we fully expect to have to delegate this task to the children shortly and then we’ll write another rule about what’s legit and what isn’t.

The park on my jeans

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