Trees in autumn

We All ‘Fall’ Down

Nicola Biggerstaff

As the nights get darker again, and the misery of another traditional Scottish winter looms, it gets difficult to not be completely despondent. I write this as Storm Agnes gathers strength outside my window, the grey clouds, battering winds and heavy rains in complete contrast to the unseasonable heat we experienced in early September.

Every year I consider investing in an SAD lamp, an alarm clock which mimics daylight to gradually wake a person up, and apparently reduce symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder and seasonal depression. I try to think of other things I can already do that might bring me comfort instead: wear my fluffy socks, cook a hot bowl of soup, take a long walk in the crisp autumn air.

There are other things out there too, things that bring an instant gratification that you just can’t beat: fluffy socks with pumpkins on them, a limited-edition pumpkin pie or maple scented candle, a long-awaited pumpkin spice latte.

But what’s the difference here? Well, one has the true spirit of autumn at its heart: enjoying the last moments of change, embracing periods of transition, and preparing for the long nights ahead. The other? Well, that’s capitalism at its finest.

We once again find ourselves at the whim of profiteering business, desperate to turn every occasion into a commodity, and now autumn is no exception. ‘Pumpkin spice season’ has well and truly taken off, and it looks like it’s here to stay. It’s hard to avoid now: it invades supermarket promotion shelves, fast food and coffee outlets advertise their limited edition products in a way which makes us feel like we’re missing out if we don’t engage with them.

You wouldn’t be alone in thinking the marketing has been ramped up in recent years. The Americanisation of the autumnal season has led to increasing competition as corporations attempt to tap into what was once an unsaturated market over here. Even I can remember when autumn just meant digging out your big coat and desperately hunting down the matching glove from your favourite pair. Now we have US-based chains trying to streamline their overzealous, eccentric advertising for a new audience, one which is particularly susceptible to the doom and gloom, and increasingly looking for joy in little things. Well, behold, they must provide them to line their pockets, to make us think all we have to do to survive the winter is spend, spend, spend.

The cult of the ‘PSL’ has truly invaded younger, popular culture. I remember buying one for the first time at university and thinking it tasted truly rotten. I was proud to think of myself as above popular demand and trends and for years I rode out that high. Then one year that changed, as tastes so do, and I bought another to try. I’m ashamed to admit it, but I enjoyed it. And it’s safe to say it all went downhill from there.

This year I had one within the first week of their availability at my ‘local’ green coloured coffee shop chain that shall not be named, however I was able to resist the temptation of their autumnal themed snacks, sweet treats, and sandwiches. Had I perhaps had a more rational head on my shoulders, one that hadn’t been overtaken by a childlike excitement at all the new and colourful things, I might have had a little more to say about paying nearly £6 for a small coffee. I then went to my local supermarket, and was delighted by the sight of a pumpkin pie scented candle, encased in a plastic resin holder that lights up when heated by the flame, that cost even more.

Yes, I must sound like quite the hypocrite right now: having previously derided the commodification of Valentine’s Day and the coronation earlier this year, only to now turn around and shout with glee at the prospect of spending an extortionate amount of money on what is essentially, just a coffee, or just a candle, or just a pumpkin ornament, or just a pumpkin doormat…

But the truth is, this is a tough time of year for a lot of people, and instant gratification of purchases is always tempting, as is the nature of both humans and deceptive marketing tactics. So what is missing from our lives that makes us feel the need to gratify it by feeding into the capitalist machine?

Well, a clue might lie in what changed it all for me, what caused me to ‘fall’ for the gimmickry hook, line and sinker. It was 2020, and I needed to get out of the house. I went for a drive, and, feeling rather miserable at having missed out on a summer of incredible adventures under glorious weather, driving through belting rain and winds, I found myself going to buy a coffee to cheer myself up. In a desperate craving for something new, I gave in to temptation and bought the pumpkin spice latte.

The loneliness of modern society provides the perfect void to fill with consumerist ideals, which is why it is so important that we keep trying to reach out to others. Winter is a lonely time of year, and being reminded of that may fill a lot of us with dread.

This is a time of year for engaging with communities, not products. It is hard to do up here, what with the weather often making us feel like the last thing we want to do is venture outside, and the instant gratification of a themed purchase is just a few clicks away on our phones. But this has always been the key to tackling loneliness and a lot of mental health conditions. Interaction, going outside and feeling the colder air on our skin, hearing the crunching of leaves under our feet, the snuggly feeling of a woollen scarf and the beautiful, natural palettes of nature in autumn. Not the garish, ostentatious, relentless messaging that ‘fall’ is here.

1 thought on “We All ‘Fall’ Down”

  1. Perhaps I am in the minority, but I like winter. Going out for a brisk walk in the cold with my dog before getting home for a warm drink; heading to a winter football match and enjoying a warm pie at half-time; the joy of meeting family at Christmas and seeing the excitement and wonder on children’s faces; the social occasion that is a Scottish New Year when we might up with family and friends we may only see at this time of year; going out to a Burn’s Super in January; and, of course, the hope for a decent fall of snow both for all the fun that can bring.
    In my view, winter is much more appealing that summer: too hot at work, sunburn, hay fever, and regular grass cutting…

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