A rattle of ladders alerted me to a squad of roofers checking over a nearby house and cottage. It’s the time of year when rones are given the all-clear and rooftops inspected for loose or missing slates, before storm season sets in. A friend in the city is still reeling after an estimate for replacing 14 tiles, reachable by ladder, left him speechless and, needless to say, penniless. It didn’t help when I mentioned the man who sees to our tiles, flashing and chimney stacks. He is not only extremely reasonably priced, but needs to be put into a half-Nelson to produce a bill.

There’s a lot of tradesfolk like that around here; they have to be badgered before they will break the bad news and tell you what is owed. It is not that they forget, simply that they seem to work to a different schedule from other people. If I was kept waiting nine months for payment for a piece of work, I’d be turning puce. Around here, though, some companies send their invoices so late, it’s as if they’re testing our powers of recall.

Life goes in phases in the country, and right now hatches are being battened down. It’s not as obvious as when you’re beside the seaside, where boats are hoisted out of the harbour to have their hulls scraped clean of barnacles, and put on blocks until spring. Nevertheless, a flurry of activity is going on behind garden walls and garage doors even though we’ve barely had a veneer of frost. Admittedly I did see a shimmer one morning recently on our north-facing roof, and on the red branches of a leafless acer, where hoar glistened until the sun rose.

This was the same tree where I spotted a female chaffinch the other afternoon, just as dusk was falling. It was behind a terracotta pot of lavender, smoothing its tail feathers. Usually finches stay high in the trees and hedges, making a racket. This one, though, was still in the same spot half an hour later when I’d finished raking up leaves. A little later, it had hopped to the corner of the patio, and when I peered over the edge of the lawn, it looked up at me from a bed of scarlet leaves.

It wasn’t promising, but bringing it indoors would have been even crueller than leaving it in peace. I just hoped that a cat wouldn’t come prowling in the dark. The next morning I found it dead, lying on its side, eyes closed. It’s astonishing that, with so much terrible news to digest every day from around the world, the demise of a tiny creature can still make you pause. The good news is that there have been no more casualties, so my fears of chaffinch flu have come to nothing.

Occasionally, after a severe blast of weather, I have found a dead sparrow, feet pointing to the sky, which has fallen off its perch in the beech hedge, felled by the cold. There’s not much birds can do in the harshest months except find the warmest perch possible – To Let signs are now swinging by our nest boxes – which in many ways goes for us all.

Winter still seems some way off, but all around there are signs of preparation. Oil tankers are doing the rounds, as are coal and log lorries. Recently, two or three pioneers in the village have taken the environmentally friendly step of installing a new heating system which runs entirely on renewable electricity. One of the difficulties with this, however, is the requirement that houses are well-insulated before it is installed. A lot of the properties in Hoolet are very old, with walls and windows to match. One family spent five years gradually replacing their windows with custom-built double-glazing, putting in loft insulation, renewing radiators, and getting a more powerful boiler plus booster. Our own upgrading hasn’t been on anything like that scale – their house is more of a chateau – but their experience would be familiar to a great many of us. Along with food and drink (sometimes water), warmth is the number one priority in Hoolet as the dark nights close in.

To this end, Alan has been counting logs like a shepherd with his flock. He can calculate almost to the day how long our store will last before we need to order more. Four or five a night is all takes to keep a large room toasty. There is a primitive satisfaction in seeing a wall of well-stacked wood. Not only does it look good, but it smells delicious. Whenever he needs to find inspiration before writing another paragraph, he heads out back to the chopping block and splits or saws a few of the larger logs. By his estimation we’re due to run out around Hogmanay. Not the best of times to be left out in the cold.

The other necessity is winter tyres, which I’ve just had fixed. The best drivers don’t really need them, because they know how to negotiate slippery bends and snow, or are wise enough not to venture out when conditions are atrocious. One neighbour who lived for many years in the north says people have forgotten how to handle snow. The technique is simply to let the car drive itself, giving it the occasional touch of the wheel as required. It sounds rather like riding a horse, but considerably scarier.

There’s nothing I hate more than driving in bad weather. On the way home from the cinema with my step granddaughter in February, we found ourselves in a snowstorm on the moors, the wind shoving the car across the road. Imogen sat in the back, strangely quiet. Later she said how scary it had been, although that might just have been my driving.

During a blizzard a few weeks later, we avoided the moor top and took the longer route, and that was bad enough. The stretch between the nearest village and home took an eternity. I couldn’t see beyond a couple of metres, and was hunched over the wheel, unable to tell where road ended and verge began. Fortunately we met no traffic. When the lights of Hoolet finally appeared through the whiteness, they had never been more welcome. I gave a silent cheer.