Ho­ra­tio Clare’s win­ter jour­nal prompts John Lewis-stem­pel to con­clude that the sharp bite of the year’s dark months is a thing of the past

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‘Bits are as bril­liant as sun on frosted snow– but heaven knows, we’re all mis­er­able in win­ter ’

Me­moir The Light in the Dark Ho­ra­tio Clare (El­liott & Thomp­son, £12.99)

Win­ter ain’t what it used to be. i don’t mean it’s now warmer by de­grees due to global warm­ing (or not), rather that our phys­i­cal ex­pe­ri­ence of the sea­son has changed. Win­ter used to hurt. When our clothes were thin and ragged. When peo­ple were obliged to be out toil­ing in field and wood. Shake­speare men­tions it over and over, the hurt of Win­ter. in King Lear, there’s that ever-haunt­ing line of edgar: ‘Still through the hawthorn blows the cold wind.’

in the past, we feared Win­ter —and it de­mands that cap­i­tal as a mark of re­spect—be­cause it came culling with an ice-sickle. in the lines of John Dry­den’s li­bretto: See’st thou not how stiff and won­drous old Far un­fit to bear the bit­ter cold I can scarcely move or draw my breath? Let me, let me freeze again to


the An­glo-sax­ons counted age in win­ters sur­vived. to­day, peo­ple claim they en­joy Win­ter, but what they re­ally mean is they en­joy a flirt with the nat­u­ral el­e­ments be­fore re­sort­ing to their true loves of oil-fired cen­tral heat­ing and non-sea­sonal fruit from Waitrose.

in 2018, for al­most all of us, Win­ter is merely a state of mind, which leads us to Ho­ra­tio Clare’s new book, a sea­sonal di­ary de­tail­ing his bat­tle against the bleak-sea­son blues. ‘Last win­ter,’ he tells us, ‘i thought i would go mad with de­pres­sion.’ His di­ary, be­gun in late sum­mer and in op­ti­mism, is meant as ‘a torch’ raised against the com­ing of the dark at year’s end.

Yes, we’re in mis­ery-me­moir land again, this time with over- stuffed trains, ‘black rains’, loom­ing moors—mr Clare lives in Heb­den, North York­shire, and com­mutes to Liver­pool to teach cre­ative writ­ing. i do not wish to sound un­duly neg­a­tive—bits of this book are as bril­liant as sun on frosted snow—but heaven knows, we’re all mis­er­able in Win­ter, to para­phrase that lat­ter­day North­ern God, Mor­ris­sey.

thus Mr Clare suf­fers, in­ter alia: inar­tic­u­lacy, a sense of suf­fo­ca­tion, las­si­tude, the gob­bling of honey on toast and the re­sort to Googling all man­ner of im­prob­a­ble mor­tal ills. (Memo to mem­oirists: all peo­ple are mis­er­able in the same way.)

An­ti­cli­mac­ti­cally, the psy­chi­atric nurse he vis­its sug­gests as a cure not anti-de­pres­sants or couch, but fish oil. Or St John’s Wort. She ad­vises that we are all ‘cy­clothymic’ to some de­gree.

then, there’s the ux­o­ri­ouness to­wards his part­ner, on­line teacher Re­becca (breath­lessly: ‘But how to de­scribe Re­becca…’), and much in­dul­gent ado about their young son, Aubrey—and, in­deed, al­most ev­ery­body he en­coun­ters, in­clud­ing Re­becca’s cousin Matthew (‘the most pow­er­ful speaker’). Peo­ple are space-fillers, lightly drawn. We are promised Na­ture ob­ser­va­tions, but they are few be­yond ‘de­lighted’ morn­ing calls of seag­ulls or notes on the weather.

And then, sud­denly, the pages of pal­lid in­con­se­quence part and Mr Clare re­counts mo­ments of his 1980s child­hood on a sheep farm in the Bre­con Bea­cons, with cold gal­vanised gates, trapped ewes eat­ing the fleeces off each other’s backs, the farm like a ship trapped in ice, the Christ­mas goose cooked with its head on, the rec­tor with the ‘some­thing of the druid about him’ and the good-look­ing girl in church the boys—au­thor in­cluded—come to see, and the reader is firmly put in mind of Dy­lan thomas’s A Child’s Christ­mas in Wales.

His mother, 70-some­thing, con­tin­ues to run sheep in those far-off Welsh hills, in a draughty house that re­quires the wear­ing of two coats in­side, let alone out­side. it’s a place in which masked men come in the night to dig out bad­ger sows for bait­ing games with dogs. there, Win­ter prop­erly hurts, be­cause she lives in the past. these best frag­ments will en­ter your be­ing and never melt.

Win­ter is brac­ing yet beau­ti­ful to­day, when few ex­pe­ri­ence the bit­ter cold of the au­thor’s child­hood

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