Today the gorgeous child found this lovely leaf on the way to school, so we stopped to take a photograph. Autumn is my favourite season, and I love the explosion of warmth and colour just before the dark of winter. I used to live in the east of Canada, where the trees lit up with glory around this time of year, and when I moved to Australia I really missed the changing colours of the season.
It was tough enough with the seasons being back-to-front (at least as far as I was concerned – I’m sure the Australians thought it quite normal). But Christmas in hot weather and bright sunshine never felt right to me. The trees also didn’t change, unless you were in the inner city where native bush gave way to imported species and the streets still swished with leaves when autumn came around. Out where we were on the coast, we had curving moonah, aromatic gums, spiky banksia and twisted ti-tree – all beautiful in their own way, especially in spring when the moonah and ti-tree would flower, small scented white blossoms making them appear as though they had been dusted with snow. But other than that, they were the same all year round. I grew to love the native vegetation, the way the gum trees smelt after rain, the dark bushy leaves and curling ti-tree bark, the beautiful seed pods our backyard banksia produced. And I began to recognise autumn’s arrival in other ways. The nights would grow cooler, though the days were sunny and warm. The tourists would all go home, vines on the hillsides ripening with grapes, the scent of burning wood in the air. And yet, I still felt there was still something missing.
So it was a pleasure for me today to walk in the leaves and see the trees turn. After dropping off the gorgeous child I had an appointment, so I got off the bus early and walked part of the way, wanting to enjoy the outdoors. The road I walked along is lined with fabulous homes, large detached properties, most in the Arts and Crafts style. There are a few older homes, one of which I particularly covet. It is a half-timber and brick house, complete with diamond paned windows and higgledy-piggledy roof. Its location several feet below the pavement level suggests it is as ancient as it appears and I looked at it in pleasure as I walked past.
Then I noticed a large blue circular plaque next to the front door. These plaques, if you don’t know, are placed on houses where someone of historical significance once spent time, so I was intrigued to see who was connected to my dream home. Craning my head and trying not to seem obvious (as the house is set back from the road), I managed to make out the words: ‘Dr Stephen Ward’ and underneath ‘was arrested here in 1963 for his part in the Profumo Affair.’
I was aware of the Profumo Affair, of course, but not of Dr Ward’s exact role in the whole thing, so I was led down an internet wormhole of vintage sex scandals and British politics as I waited for my appointment. In short, the Profumo Affair took place in the early 1960s and involved a young woman, Christine Keeler, who had brief affairs with both a British politician, John Profumo, and a Soviet Naval attache, Yevgeny Ivanov, at the same time. The issue was two-fold – Profumo was married and the resulting revelation of the affair cost him his position in the Goverment, and the fact that this took place at the height of the Cold War meant that Keeler being intimate with both men could have led to a possible security breach (it didn’t). Stephen Ward was an osteopath who moved in high society – it was he who had introduced Keeler to Profumo, during a legendary house party at Cliveden House. After the affair became public, he was arrested and charged with immorality offences – however, sadly, he committed suicide before the trial was completed. It was later found to be a miscarriage of justice, but too late for him.
So it was fascinating and a little morbid to find that this lovely old house was the scene of recent scandal and sadness, leading to a man’s death. I went home in a reflective state of mind, pausing only to take a photo of the river near my house, the changing leaves being carried along on the water somehow symbolic of how life changes and carries us along with it, sometimes to unexpected places.