ROYAL AIR FORCE LAKENHEATH, England --
It has come to my attention that some of you are unhappy about the shortening daylight hours. Sept. 23 was the autumnal equinox but instead of heralding brisk winds, lowering clouds and a drop in temperature, we were all treated to a final flurry of summer sunshine with records being set across England. Unfortunately not all the U.K. was as lucky, but that's the way the custard cream crumbles in our temperamental British climes.
You must seize your sunshine when you can at this time of year, but I have to admit, I love autumn. I am never happier than when I am chasing around after the falling leaves and grooming my winter fur into pristine condition.
In this region, surrounded by trees and woodland, you can bask in the glory of the forests clad in their golden autumnal splendor. Fruits and nuts abound and the squirrels busily hide their winter stores. In my humble garden, the apple trees are heavily laden with fruit and the blackberry bushes drip with their juicy offerings.
My whiskers droop when one of my American chums asks me why we don't celebrate Thanksgiving in the U.K. I shall not engage with the topic at this point in time, but we do have a tradition of harvest festivals, which are usually held on or near the Sunday of the harvest moon, the full moon closest to the autumn equinox. In Britain, harvest celebrations have existed since pagan times, and schools and churches are often beautifully decorated with harvest fare with gift boxes of food provided to those who are in need.
If nature's bounty and the fabulous colours of autumn aren't doing the trick and you're still a bit glum, then a game of conkers is guaranteed to brighten your spirits.
Conkers are hard brown nuts found in a prickly case that fall from the horse chestnut tree when ripe. You may know the conker better as the 'buckeye'. A playground favourite in the U.K. for as long as there have been playgrounds and horse chestnut trees, conkers were introduced into Britain in the 1600s. The origin of the name 'conker' is unclear but it's believed that it comes from the French word 'cogner' meaning to hit. Cats know these things.
Conkers are a bit thin on the ground at the moment due to the leaf miner moth, which has been nibbling its way through many of the horse chestnut trees in the south of the U.K., but you can still find them if you try. Don't confuse horse chestnuts with the sweet chestnut trees, which you will see around the base.
Sadly this year's World Conker Championships, which were due to be held at New Lodge Fields, near Oundle, Northamptonshire, have had to be cancelled. High winds this week have prevented the setting up of marquees, and so everyone will have to store away their champion conkers until 2012. The World Conker Championship is an international event with competitors from more than 20 countries. Thousands flock to the venue to watch this great spectacle as modern-day gladiators fight for glory armed only with a nut and 12 inches of string.
This season of mists and mellow fruitfulness is one of the most spectacular, beautiful and unpredictable times of year. So, if there is any sadness lingering now that summer has gone, enter into the spirit of fun and fullness. I know the squirrels in my garden have. They are looking remarkably fat at the moment and pelt me with acorns and beech nuts at every opportunity. It's a tough life, but I love it.
For more information on the World Conker Championships, visit www.worldconkerchampionships.com