'Blinding flares of colour flying in the face of the sky’s new, grey winter wardrobe'Esther Arthurson with permission for Varsity

People who claim to like November are either masochists or liars. Discuss.

As the nights start swaddling the Divinity Faculty at 4pm, like a horrifically premature, existential Christmas present, and the last of the yellow leaves are plucked from their trees, my mind’s started sending out signals: brace. Brace. As a hyperactive child, the concept of hibernation seemed thoroughly unappealing when we learnt about it in school. But as I get older, the idea of sleeping away the winter months with constant access to the fridge seems more and more enticing.

Autumn colours at Sidgwick SiteEsther Arthurson with permission for Varsity

I miss real heat on my skin and being able to leave the house without sporting the entirety of Go Outdoors’ Extreme Weather section and walking home without fearing imminent shankage or joining the long lineage of bodies in the Cam. The moment summer waves goodbye and disappears to wherever it goes on its own vacation, I start appreciating all its traits I previously took for granted. I don’t know about you, but the cold renders me cynical to the point where even Dawkins and I could probably find some common, angry, nihilistic patch of ground. I function much like a well-behaved enzyme: the range of temperatures within which I can effectively operate without denaturing is highly limited. Apathy seeps in: buying milk seems like a monumental effort of proportions equivalent to Homer’s Odyssey, and my patience with the world around me, which was in short supply to begin with, spirals down to zero like a winning Pointless answer.

I met a Chilean woman in Venice over summer. (Segues are overrated; bear with me.) It was a brief encounter, but it stuck with me, and it’s been on my mind recently, as seasons blur into one another with all the subtlety and grace of a bad iMovie fade-out. She didn’t speak much English, she only knew about five words, which is still infinitely more than I know in Spanish.

“There was something in her face that mirrored the generosity of her gesture”

Our meeting was a coincidence: we were driven under the umbrellas of a café to escape the uncomfortably hot rain of a flash thunderstorm, only to find that a hundred other tourists had shared our eureka moment and there were no tables. An older woman, alone, called over something we didn’t understand and began shuffling chairs around to make space at hers. Normally small-talking with a stranger for the duration of a hot beverage would be my worst nightmare, but there was something in her kindness-creased face that mirrored the generosity of her gesture and made me sit, the three of us forming a mismatched tea party in the eye of the storm.

Esther Arthurson with permission for Varsity

With extremely slow talking, hand gestures and the occasional Google Translate, this woman (Alexandra) shared a fragment of her life with us in equally fragmented English. From this singular square in the patchwork of her story, we gleaned that she was spending three months travelling Europe — a colossal step, considering she’d never left her hometown in the foothills of Chile. Her children are grown now, one’s engaged, and Alexandra’s free. This explanation was phrased in exactly these words: “Work work work. Marry marry marry. Children children children. Now? I travel.” With this last word, there was a child-like wonder in her eyes that looked exactly like how I’d paint contentment, if I had a single artistic cell in my 5 foot 3 and ¾ body.

In turn, we divulged a little about ourselves: we were students, in England (she hadn’t heard of Cambridge — what a refreshing reminder that we’re not that special!), no, we weren’t married, we were nineteen. At this last piece of news, her jaw dropped to the table and she threw her hands in the air, proclaiming: “Babies!”

“If we choose to make our stories beautiful, then they will be”

I remember all this clearly; I had to concentrate so hard on the conversation to understand it. But what I remember most is something she said in passing, a fleeting remark I hope to live by, in November particularly. She told us she had been married for thirty years — then separation (pronounced separación). Straight after this arguably melancholic fact, without missing a beat, she added, with that same contented smile: “Beautiful, my life…”

Beautiful, my life.

Esther Arthurson with permission for Varsity

I don’t think I’ll ever forget the un-self-pitying nonchalance with which she added that. If we choose to make our stories beautiful, then they will be. She really believed that, and now so do I.

I am trying, with Alexandra in mind, to remember that even November can be beautiful if I smile, throw my hands in the air and tell it to be. We can combat the cold and the darkness and the increasingly pressing question, throbbing like a toothache in the back of our minds, of just why we bother. We can light up the sky with fireworks, blinding flares of colour flying in the face of the sky’s new, grey winter wardrobe. We can spark our little candles that defy college regulations and ward off the swelling darkness with a fragile flame and the scent of IKEA’s finest odours. We can trade beach nights in for movie nights, complete with blankets and indecent volumes of popcorn. We can take this dry, dreary, dragging month, and we can make it beautiful. Let’s go.