Radio review: Gentle meditation on life and its challenges

Nuala McCann

Wintering Radio 4

Given that we're here in the bleak midwinter now, then you might find this reading of Katherine May's Wintering the equivalent of a glass of something hot and a mince pie by a blazing fire.

I certainly did.

It's just 15 minutes an episode on the periods in our lives when we must hunker down and winter.

Seamus Heaney's words: If we winter this one out, we can summer anywhere…” seem never more fitting than in the past two pandemic years.

And there are plenty of wags who have adapted the lines with a distinct pandemic world weariness to: “If we winter this one out, then we can winter again next year and the year after.”

In her book, writer Katherine May bewitches us with stories and honest, sometimes funny reflections on harsh times.

She has a tale about the robin that I had never heard.

Robins sing through the darkest months, at a time when they're singing for the joy of it, not because they want to attract a mate.

The story is that, when the baby Jesus was born and placed in the manger, a fire was lit to keep the holy family warm.

The little bird placed himself between the flames and the sleeping infant and that was how his breast was scorched and became forever red. I love this story as much as the tale of how there's a cross on a donkey's back – a reminder of how he carried Mary to Bethlehem.

May's Wintering is gentle and heart warming - a meditation on life and the challenges it throws at us.

Some winters happen in the sun, she begins – looking back at a blazing summer day in early September when her husband suddenly became dangerously ill.

All of a sudden, mortality was not just knocking at her door, but “kicking it down”.

We move on to the early days of parenthood and the shock of becoming a mother.

She writes about the loss of her voice – not totally – but she could no longer sing and that was “like losing a part of my soul”.

May writes with compassion for herself and for all of us about the periods of professional and personal pain in all our lives and how they herald in what she calls periods of “wintering”.

Listen to this beautiful book as read by Melody Grove and in each 15 minute reading, you'll carry away a sense of how to weather the dark times – both seasonally but also those that come to each of us in our lives.

She offers ways of managing. Don't underestimate the joy of baking – keeping your hands busy and creating an end result to be enjoyed.

There is the redeeming power of nature.

“We like to imagine that it's possible for life to be one eternal summer – but life's not like that,” says May.

Here, you can get a feel for winterings; recognise that such times shall not last forever and move forward towards spring in hope.

This is a magical listen. Press pause on the busy Christmas rush… sit and reflect.

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