Laura Kennedy: Will I ever get used to having winter in August and Christmas in summer?

There’s no warm spicy beverage to comfort us while we pull our hats and gloves out of storage. Will the year ever stop feeling backwards here?

My phone lights up with a notification. It’s earlier in the day than usual because since the clocks went forward in Ireland and, about a week later, went back (I think?) in Australia, the time difference has suddenly gone from 11 hours to nine.

That part I’m sure of. I think.

Ireland is nine hours in the past while Canberra, all the way down here – the capital city of a western country in the southern hemisphere – is nine hours in the future.

Messages from my brother in Limerick take several forms, but the most common are photos of my niece and nephew merrily going about their day, queries about how life is going down here, sketchy memes poking fun at our shared maladjusted childhood, or updates to let me know that someone who used to live down the road (or a major celebrity) is dead.


Standard Irish stuff. You know yourself.

This time it’s a picture of my four-year-old niece with her little brother, aged two, sitting out in the garden in Limerick while my brother sees to his flower beds. Both children are pacified and kept from mutiny by a snack in their hand and while they’re wearing light jackets and shoes, no hats or gloves are in evidence. It is a very rare moment of peaceful stillness from two tiny people who are generally either moving various (or all of their) limbs or demanding some of whatever you happen to have in your hand. Once my niece was sure I was holding out on her when I refused to share my prescription ear medicine. For sound medical reasons, I’d argue.

Small children are communists with everyone else’s belongings and libertarians with their own.

This is the first such image this year, so I know right away that the suede glove of spring has fitted itself snugly on to Limerick city, softening the gnawing damp and foggy grey soup that pervades everything through winter. In the background, daffodils lean their bashful truncated faces upward out of the lawn my brother fusses and stresses over as a clichéd dad hobby, lending further proof to the theory that at least some sunlight has recently hit the southwest of Ireland.

It isn’t unheard of in spring.

I look out my window toward Mount Ainslie. Canberra is casually nestled between an outbreak of mountains – proper ones, or at least proper in comparison to the gentler inclines Ireland’s far more sanguine energy produces. Nature is just calmer at home. A bit less hysterical in general, though less awe-inducing too. On a misty day, Mount Ainslie disappears entirely, only for its scrubby vastness to be revealed again later when the mist burns away. Now, it’s half six in the evening and the mountain has gone wherever it goes, swallowed by darkness as autumn asserts its watercolour pallor over the city.

I’ve asked immigrants from Ireland and the UK – those who have lived in Australia much longer than my bare seven months – if the year ever stops feeling backwards. Whether the idea of winter in August and Christmas in summer ever stops feeling like you found a leftover quaalude that expired in 1987 and decided to swallow it just to see what would happen. The jetlag, you get over. After a couple of weeks you are solidly on Australian time.

Will a few years have you on Australian seasons, once you can get your head around trees moulting their leaves while the year crawls contritely on its knees toward May?

My husband likes pumpkin spice. It’s really the only way that he resembles Christian Instagram influencers based in the midwestern US – the ones who inspired all those “Christian Girl Autumn” memes. In fairness to him, pumpkin spice has been misunderstood. It’s supposed to be the combination of spices that particularly festive Americans traditionally put into a pumpkin pie. Cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and ginger. Delicious! No argument there. Your granny would put those into one of her more notions cakes usually reserved for company and you’d be delighted to be given a slice, though she’d probably butter it for some reason. Again though, no complaints at all about that.

The problem with pumpkin spice really arises when brands add synthetic pumpkin flavouring along with the rest in an ungodly attempt to make a cup of coffee taste like a simulacrum of a spicy fruit. That, really, is where the wheels fall off the whole endeavour.

So when pumpkin spice contains no pumpkin, it’s actually quite nice and I’ll say as much to all the snobs without a hint of shame. A pleasing seasonal comfort as days become shorter and darker, and as temperatures drop. A fragrant Pavlovian trigger to associate with the onset of seasonal change. Australia’s capital is famed for its very cold winter nights and mornings, with temperatures dropping well below zero. It also features a freezing wind that will scald a face off almost as efficiently as a hostile glance from the nuns who taught me all through secondary school.

Baffled by the autumn coming in while our bodies harbour an expectation that April means springtime, we went in search of some pumpkin spice coffee capsules for himself. “I just like them,” he smiles sweetly, all of six foot five and, to paraphrase Brendan Behan, a fine doorwayful of a man. “They’re cosy.”

Imagine his chagrin when the guy in the shop said that pumpkin spice comes to Australia during its spring, when autumn heads up to the northern hemisphere. “But that’s – when – September!?” himself wails, deeply unsettled and once again overwhelmed by the expired quaalude feeling. “It’s a Swiss company,” the guy in the shop declares, with a strong conspiratorial implication of “so unfortunately autumn is when the Swiss say it is”.

This helps our confusion not at all. Not one iota. There’s no warm spicy beverage to comfort us while we pull our hats and gloves out of storage just as my little niece and nephew tear theirs off to run shrieking through the daffodils beneath a watery (but verified genuine) Limerick sun.

The world continues to turn.

I’m just not sure in which direction.