The Madness of March

March is the third month of the year in the Julian and Gregorian calendars and the second of seven months to have 31 days. In the northern hemisphere, March 1st is the meteorological beginning of spring and, in the southern hemisphere, the beginning of autumn.

In the northern hemisphere, the astrological beginning of spring is marked by the March/spring/vernal equinox on March 20th/21st. In the southern hemisphere, this equinox marks the astrological beginning of autumn.

The March equinox has long been celebrated as a time of rebirth in the northern hemisphere. Many cultures celebrate spring festivals and holidays around the equinox, including Easter and the Passover.

The name of March comes from Martius, the first month of the earliest Roman calendar. It was named after Mars, best known as the Roman god of war, but he was also a god of fertility and agriculture.

As the god of war, his month (March) marked the beginning of the season of warfare, which lasted until October. Chariot races, horse races and dressing and dancing in battle armour were just three of the ways in which Romans celebrated the skills of battle during this month.

In his role as god of fertility and agriculture (which he shared with other gods/goddesses like Ceres and Cybele) Mars oversaw the new growth of spring and the continuation of life through the fertility and procreation in people, animals and plants.

The Anglo Saxon names for March were Hlyda or Lide monath (stormy or loud month) or Hraed monath (rugged month). The ‘loudness’ reflected in these names refers to the March winds, which were considered very noisy – as described in this little rhyme:

March brings breezes loud and shrill,
Stirs the dancing daffodil.
~Sara Coleridge (1802–1852), “The Months,” Pretty Lessons In Verse, For Good Children; With Some Lessons in Latin, In Easy Rhyme, 1834

Another Saxon name for March was Lentmonath which is named after the March equinox and the gradual lengthening of days. This name gradually became simply, Lent – the 40 days leading up to Easter in the Christian Church, during which people traditionally fasted.

The birth flower for March is the daffodil (narcissus) – also known as the Lent Lily as it blooms throughout that period:

The astrological signs for March are Pisces until the 20th and Aries after that:

The birthstones for March are aquamarine and bloodstone:

The month of March has long been associated with ‘madness’, which is largely based on the hilarious pre-mating rituals of hares at this time. ‘Boxing hares’ can be seen across the countryside during spring. My first image on this post shows a couple of wicker-built hares at Harlow Carr in Yorkshire doing just that.

Below is a video I found which shows mad March hares in action – part of it in slow motion. It is titled Mad March Hares Boxing and is by Stephen de Vere:

There are several special days celebrated in March and these are just five of them:

  1. Saint David is the patron saint of Wales and his feast day (St.David’s Day) is celebrated on March 1st, the date of his death in 589 AD. David was a Welsh bishop of Mynyw during the 6th century, and was later regarded as a saint. A number of miracles are attributed to him and a white dove (which became his emblem) is said to have settled on his shoulder after one of them.
St. David’s Day celebrations, Cardiff Bay, 2008. Creative Commons

2. In Cornwall, March 5th is St. Piran’s Day. Piran is the patron saint of Cornwall, said to  have discovered tin in the county. Saint Piran’s flag is also the flag of Cornwall and it symbolises the discovery of tin in Kernow (Cornwall).

St. Piran’s Day parade in Penzance, Cornwall, 2007.
Public Domain

3. Mothers’ Day in the U.K. can be either March or April as the date varies according to the date of Easter that year. It always falls on the fourth Sunday of Lent. This year it was March 11th – and a pleasant day I had, too. I wrote a post about the history and celebrations of this day three years’ago, which can be found here.

4. Pi Day is something I’d never heard of until this year when blogging friend Joy Pixley from the U.S. kindly mentioned it to me in a comment on my February post. It’s a celebration in the United States and sounds like a fun-filled day. This is how Wikipedia describes it:

Pi Day is an annual celebration of the mathematical constant π (pi). Pi Day is observed on March 14 (3/14 in the month/day date format) since 3, 1, and 4 are the first three significant digits of π. In 2009, the United States House of Representatives supported the designation of Pi Day.

Pi Day has been observed in many ways, including eating pie, throwing pies and discussing the significance of the number π, due to a pun based on the words “pi” and “pie” being homophones in English and the coincidental circular nature of a pie.”

Larry Shaw, the founder of Pi Day, at the Exploratorium in San Francisco. Author Ronhip (Ron Hipschman). Creative Commons

5. Saint Patrick’s Day is on March 17th. Patrick is the patron saint and national apostle of Ireland. He was a 5th century Romano-Christian missionary and is considered responsible for bringing Christianity to Ireland, as well as driving snakes out of the island. His day is celebrated in many countries worldwide, i.e. wherever Irish people travelled to and settled over the years. Green is the colour of the day as it represents the ‘Emerald Isle’.

There are many historical events and birthdays in March, but this post is already long enough. However, I can’t finish without quoting this well known saying about March, and contemplating whether it was actually true this year.

March comes in like a lion …

and goes out like a lamb.

There seem to have been lions and lambs wandering about in no particular order this past month. We’ve had some lovely days mixed up with wet and windy and even cold and snowy ones. We’ll just have to wait and see what April brings (tomorrow!).

To really, really, really finish, here are a few more photos taken at Harlow Carr in Yorkshire on March 5th this year. We were amazed by the colourful displays in the flower beds so early in the year – but it was lovely to see, even in the rain.

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***

I hope to be back on my blog a lot more often very soon. I’ve missed many posts from much loved followers, but so many things have taken my time this past year. I’ll be glad to get back to normality. My next Month-by-Month post will be that last – meaning, I will have done all twelve months. I can only say that I’ve learned a lot myself in doing them. Millie.

February Fill Dyke and all that Jazz . . .

February is the second month of the year in the Julian and Gregorian calendars. It is the shortest of the months, with only 28 days in common years and 29 days every fourth or leap year. Having only 28 days, February is the only month that can pass without having a full moon – as occurred this year (2018) when the last full moon was on January 31. February is also the third and last month of winter in the northern hemisphere, the equivalent of August, the last month of summer, in the southern hemisphere.

January and February did not exist in the old Roman calendar. The winter season was a monthless period and the year consisted of only ten months. These two months were added around 700 BC/BCE by Numa Pompilius, the second king of Rome (after Romulus).

The name of the month comes from either the name of the old Roman god, Februus, or from februa, which signifies the festivals of purification celebrated in Rome on February 15  (a full moon in the old Roman lunar calendar).

The Anglo Saxon names for February were Solmonath, meaning Mud Month, and sometimes Kalemonath, named after cabbage. Solmonath was the usual name – and we don’t have to look too far to see why. These photos were taken down our local lanes this week. No shortage of mud here!

A Victorian painting by Benjamin Williams Leader entitled February Fill Dyke (first exhibited in 1881) became very popular when later shown at the Royal Jubilee Exhibition. However, the painting was of a November evening after rain! (What a swizz!)  You can see the painting here.

Solmonath has sometimes also been thought by some to mean Sun Month – the month when the sun seems to be (noticeably) coming back from its winter retreat ‘down under’. That makes sense, since ‘sol’ means ‘sun’ in Latin. And, according to the Venerable Bede, February was known as Cake Month – when Anglo Saxons offered cake to their gods.

In the UK, although February can still be cold, many of us start looking forward to spring. Some parts of the country can be covered in snow, while others see little but grey skies, wind and rain. One day can be nice and sunny, and the next day it snows – as  these photos from the last couple of days show:

Garden in the sunshine, February 25:

Garden and lane in the snow, February 26:

The unpredictable nature of the month forms the basis of this rhyme, which often means little to people, even in Britain:

February fill the dyke
Be it black or white
But if it’s white
It’s better to like

So, whether the month is rainy and black/grey or white and snowy, the dykes still fill up. And what is a dyke…? Simply another old English name for a ditch. And across the countryside, farmers have dug thousands of drainage ditches over the years, Here are some photos of  a couple of dykes I took around our lanes a couple of days ago:

The birth flowers for February are the viola/violet and the primrose:

February’s birthstone is the amethyst:

Amethyst. (Courtesy of Pixabay)

The birth signs for February are Aquarius (until the 19th) and Pisces (from the 20th onwards):

In the UK there are a few special days to note, some of which are also celebrated elsewhere in the world. As I’ve written posts about some of them in past years, I won’t repeat them here.The two main ones are Shrove Tuesday, commonly known as Pancake Day  and celebrated as Mardi Gras in some countries.

and Saint Valentines Day.

To finish, here are just a few  of the many famous historic events that took place in February:

  1. February 7, 1964. The Beatles first visit to the USA:

2. February 8, 1587.  Mary Queen of Scots was beheaded on the orders of Queen Elizabeth I of England:

Mary Stuart, Queen of Scotland. Artist: Nicholas Hilliard c 1578. Public Domain.

3. February 12, 1809. President Abraham Lincoln of the U.S.A was born:

Abraham Lincoln. Artist: Alexander Gardner, 1821-1882. Author: Moses Parker Rice copyrighted the portrait in the late 19th century. Public Domain

4. February 21, 1804. British engineer, Richard Trevithick, demonstrated the first steam engine on wheels

Portrait of Richard Trevithick. 1816. Author: John Linnell 1792-1882. Public Domain

5. February 23, 1863. Lake Victoria in Africa was declared to be the source of the Nile by British explorers John Speke and JA Grant:

Routes taken by different explorers around Lake Victoria. Image produced by Richard G. Clegg using freely available map data and software. Creative Commons

One more day to go and it will be March. Let’s hope the sun finds its way back soon!

Jumping into January

January is the first month of the year in the Gregorian and Julian calendars and has a length of 31 days.

January and February did not exist in the earlier Roman calendar, both months being added by Numa Pompilius (the legendary second king of Rome, coming after Romulus) around 700 BCE/BC. Pompilius wanted to make the calendar equal to the standard lunar year of 365 days. (Note. The Julian calendar,  introduced by Julius Caesar in 45 BCE/BC replaced/refined the Roman calendar.)

In the northern hemisphere January is the second month of winter and is generally the coldest of all the months. In the southern hemisphere, January is the second month of summer and the seasonal equivalent of July in the northern hemisphere.

The Roman name for the month was Januarius, named after the two-faced  god, Janus, who had two faces and was able to look backwards at the old year and forwards into the new one.

Head of Janus, Vatican Museum, Rome. Author: Loudon dodd, Creative Commons

Janus also kept the gate of Heaven, so he became known the god of doors and gates. This is generally stretched to include beginnings, transitions, time, passages, and endings – all of which are fitting for a god of the first month of the year.

The Anglo Saxon name for January was Wulf monath. It was given that name because wolves often came into the villages in search of food in January, the heart of winter. Not surprisingly, the first full moon of the year is named after howling wolves and as such is known as Wulf Moon.

Image courtesy of Pixabay

In other cultures this first full moon of the year was known as Ice Moon, Snow Moon, Old Moon and the Moon after Yule.

In 2018 the full moon will be on the night between 1 and 2 January and is another supermoon to look out for. There is also another full moon in January (also a supermoon), near to the end. As the second full moon of the month, with no given name, it is known as a Blue Moon. In 2018 this will be on January 31. In some areas it will look red due to the total lunar eclipse it causes – thus making it a blood moon. So we will have a Blue, Supermoon, Blood Moon to look forward to.

Enough about the moon. Let’s move on…

The birthstone for January is the garnet, a word that comes comes from the 14th century Middle English word gernet – which means meaning dark red.

A small sample of garnet. Author: Teravolt (talk). Creative Commons

The zodiac signs for January are Capricorn until January 19th and Aquarius from the 20th onwards.

The birthflower for January are the Dianthus caryophyllus (carnation) and the Galanthus (snowdrop).

There are many customs and traditions connected to January around the world and many of them start with New Year’s Eve and resolutions. I wrote a post about New Year’s Eve last year (Ring in the New Year!). I have also  previously written posts about a couple of other January traditions. One was about Wassailing and Twelfth Night on January 5-6 and the other about Burn’s Night on January 25th. So on this occasion, I’ll leave those three alone. But here are a few more:

  1. The start of January does not seem to have been at all favoured in the past. In medieval times, good fortune for the coming year depended upon events on January 1st. To find out if they would have good luck, or not, farmers would put a flat cake on one of the horns of a cow. The farmer and his workers would sing and dance around the cow until the cake was thrown off. If it fell in front of the cow, it signified good luck. If it fell behind the cow, they would have bad luck during the coming year. To the earlier Saxons, January 2nd was the unluckiest day of the year and anyone born on that day could expect an unpleasant death.
  2. January 7th, the day after the feast of the Epiphany (and Twelfth Night), was known by different names by men and women of the past. To women, the day was Distaff Day or sometimes, Roc Day. The distaff, or rock, was used in spinning and was the medieval symbol of women’s work. In many European cultural traditions, women resumed their household work after the twelve days of Christmas – and in Catholic countries today, Distaff Day is still one of the unofficial holidays. To men who lived and worked in the countryside, January 7 was known as Plough Day – the day they would return to work in the fields.
  3. January 13th was the day of St Hilary’s Feast (St Hilary lived AD 310 – c. 367):

    The ordination of Saint Hilary of Poitiers in the 14th century, Author: Richard de Montbaston et coolaborateurs. Public Domain

This day became known as the coldest day of the year due to particularly cold events of the past starting on, or around, that date. One of the most severe winters known began around January 13 1205. In Britain, the River Thames froze over and ale and wine turned to solid ice and needed to be sold by weight! This big freeze lasted until March 22nd. Farmers in England were unable to till the ground and sow their crops. Consequently, food prices soared that year.

4. January, in general, has become known as the coldest month of the year. One of the worst cold spells in Britain was between 1550 and 1750 – a period that became known as the Little Ice Age. Winters were so cold that the Thames froze over each year, often for three months at a time. During that time the Thames was wider and slower than it is now, and its flow was further obstructed by the medieval Old London Bridge. The Thames  froze over several times in the 16th century. In 1536, Henry VIII is said to have travelled from London to Greenwich by sleigh along the Thames, and in 1564, Elizabeth I took walks on the ice. But the first frost fair was recorded as being held on the Thames in London in 1608. Tents, side shows and food stalls were set up  and even ice bowling took place.

A page from ‘The Great Frost: cold doings in London’. Printed in London in 1608. Attributed to Thomas Dekker. Public Domain

The last frost fair was held in 1814, beginning on February 1st and lasting for four days. An elephant was led across the river below Black friar’s Bridge.

5. January 20th is the Eve of St Agnes. This was traditionally the night when girls and unmarried women would perform certain rituals before going to bed in order to dream of their future husbands. The rituals seem quite peculiar and laughable to us today, but such rituals were performed in all seriousness, and in the belief that they would work. One ritual involved transferring pins one at a time from a pincushion to a sleeve whilst reciting the Lord’s Prayer. Another involved walking backwards upstairs to bed and another was fasting all day. Yet another tradition was to eat a portion of dumb cake (a salty cake prepared with friends in silence) before going to bed. The Eve of St Agnes was also the subject of a poem by Keats.

St Agnes herself is the patron saint of girls, engaged couples, rape survivors, virgins and the Children of Mary. This is what Wikipedia tells us about her:

Saint Agnes of Rome was a member of the Roman nobility born in AD 291 and raised in an Early Catholic family. She suffered martyrdom at the age of twelve or thirteen during the reign of the Roman Emperor Diocletian on 21 January AD 304. Agnes was a beautiful young girl of wealthy family and therefore had many suitors of high rank. Details of her story are unreliable, but legend holds that the young men, slighted by her resolute devotion to religious purity, submitted her name to the authorities as a follower of Christianity.  

Accounts of her execution are steeped in legend and cannot be proven true, but archaeological evidence indicates that a young girl of about thirteen years of age, a virgin named Agnes, was martyred in Rome and honoured for her sacrifice.

Saint Agnes, circa 1620. Artist: Domenichino. Oil on canvas. Now in The Royal Collection, Windsor Castle. Source: Web Gallery of Art. Public Domain

This post is long enough, so I won’t include famous anniversaries but here are just a few famous birthdays for the month:

  • January 3, 1892. J(ohn) R(onald) R(euel) Tolkien was an academic and writer, and a professor of English language and literature at Oxford University. He is now famously remembered as creator of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.
Tolkien, aged 24, in army uniform. Photo taken in 1916. Public Domain
  • January 13, 1926Michael Bond. A Newbury-born BBC cameraman, better known as the creator of Paddington Bear, a little bear bear found at Paddington Station in London, wearing a sou’wester, wellington boots and a duffle coat.
Paddington Bear at Paddington Station, 3rd May, 2007. Author: Stefan Oemisch. Creative Commons
  • January 15, 1929Martin Luther King, an American clergyman and leading civil-rights campaigner and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964.
Martin Luther King Jr. speaking against the Vietnam War at St Paul’s Campus, University of Minnesota. 22 April, 1967. Author: Minnesota Historical Society Creative Commons
  • January 18, 1736James Watt. A Scottish engineer and inventor, whose improvements to Newcomen’s steam-engine helped to power the factories of his partner Mathew Boulton, and ultimately the industrial revolution.
James Watt by John Partridge, after Sir William Beechley. 31 December 1806. Author: Antonia Reeve. Public Domain

January 24, AD 76. The Roman emperor, Hadrian, who visited Britain c A.D. 121 and ordered the building of the 73 mile Hadrian’s Wall from the Solway Firth to the Tyne to keep out the Scots.

To finish with this is a photo of some early flowering snowdrops at the front of our house. They have been in bud for a few days now.

Dancing Into December

Chill December brings the sleet,
Blazing fire, and Christmas treat.
~Sara Coleridge (1802–1852)

It’s hard to write about the month of December without having Christmassy thoughts, or hoping it will snow on Christmas Day. But, as I write this, Christmas is still three weeks away and already town centres are manic and car parks full as people ‘shop till they drop’. The insides of stores, restaurants and cafes have had decorations and Christmas trees up for a few weeks now: far to early, in my book – and I won’t begin to say what I think about the constant bomdardment of Christmas adverts on TV. Now, I’m no ‘BAH HUMBUG’ (I love Christmas!) but all this commercialism somewhat dampens the run-up to Christmas for me and I live with my memories of the simple Christmases we enjoyed in the 1950s and 60s.

So, moan over and on to a few facts about December…

I’ve written several posts in the past about different Christmas traditions, so here I’ll focus on some of the things connected to December that aren’t completely about Christmas – although I can’t help mentioning it at times. Even my calendar for this month is Christmassy… well, sort of.

December is the twelfth and last month of the year in the Julian and Gregorian calendars and one of seven months with 31 days. It is the first month of meteorological winter in the Northern Hemisphere and the first month of summer in the Southern Hemisphere. The name ‘December’ comes from the Latin word decem, which means ten, because December was originally the tenth month of the year when the Roman calendar began in March. December always starts on the same day of the week as September and always ends on the same day of the week as April.

The Anglo Saxon name December was Ærra Geola, or the month before Yule’, and was followed by Æftera Geola, or ‘after Yule‘ (i.e. January)Yule was Giuli, or Geola, the ancient name in the Germanic lunar calendar for the winter festival celebrated by the peoples of Northern Europe. Early references to it are in the form of the month names given above. Later, following the adoption of Christianity, yule came to refer to the twelve-days of Christmas holiday associated with the Feast of the Nativity.

The pagan celebration of Yule revolved around the Winter Solstice and is one of the oldest winter celebrations in the world. (I wrote a little about the festival of Saturnalia in Ancient Rome in the Winter Solstice post I’ve linked to above). The Winter Solstice falls on December 21st, is the shortest day of the year and was celebrated in Britain long before the arrival of Christianity. Many ancient people worshipped the sun and the Norse and Germanic peoples of Northern Europe saw the sun as a wheel (or houl) that changed the seasons. It is from the name for this wheel that the word yule is thought to have come.

To the Norse and Germanic peoples, Yule celebrations involved feasting and drinking and making sacrifices to the gods in return for their protection against the spirits of the dead who were believed to return to their families during the midwinter – the darkest time of year. Celebrations also involved the continuous burning of the Yule log. This ‘log’ was often an entire tree trunk, which was dragged into the home with great ceremony to be laid across the central hearth where its warmth and light would bring cheer throughout the days of the festival. The middle illustration below (dated 1832) suggests that the custom continued well into the 19th century in the UK, and probably even longer in rural areas.

The making of a chocolate Yule log – a chocolate-covered, rolled chocolate cake (swiss roll) – is probably the only reminder of Yuletide celebrations today, along with celebrations and bonfires of various pagan groups.

Many other cultures also have winter festivals that are celebrations of light. In the Jewish religion there is Hannukah (or Chanukah) celebrated in November and December.

Contemporary candelabrum in the style of a traditional Menorah. Iy has 8 candles to be lit during services. Author: 39james Creative Commons

This festival commemorates a time, 2,500 years ago when the Syrian king Antiochus, tried to make Jewish people worship Greek gods. A statue of Antiochus was erected in Jerusalem and the Jewish people were ordered to bow down before it. Worshipping idols is strictly forbidden in the Ten Commandments and a small group of Jews, called Maccabees, rebelled. After three years, Jerusalem was recaptured, but the Temple had been destroyed. After cleaning and repairing it the people rededicated it to God by lighting the lamp – the Menorah, the symbol of God’s presence. Today, Hannukah is celebrated by lighting one candle every day for eight days.

Diwali (or Deepavali) Festival of Lights is the most popular of the Hindu festivals from Southern Asia, but since it is celebrated over five days between October and November – and nothing to do with December – I won’t say much about it here. In the UK the main Diwali celebrations are in the city of Leicester. It’s a fun time and aptly call a Festival of Lights – fireworks and all.

The zodiac signs for December are Sagittarius until December 21 and Capricorn from December 22 onwards:

December’s flower is the narcissus:

December’s birthstones are the turquoise  and zircon:

If cold December gave you birth—
The month of snow, and ice, and mirth—
Place on your hand a turquoise blue,
Success will bless whate’er you do.
~Author unknown, A Gem for Every Month, c.1883

And these are a few of the dozens of notable events that have occurred in December, historically:

December 1, 1918: Iceland was granted independence by the Danish parliament.

December 1, 1990: England was connected to mainland Europe for the first time since the Ice Age when engineers dug a railway tunnel under the English Channel and broke through the last rock layer.

Course of the Channel Tunnel. Author: Mortadelo2005. Creative Common

December 3, 1967: The first successful heart transplant was performed by Dr. Christiaan Barnard at Cape Town, South Africa, on Louis Washkansky, who lived for 18 days.

Dr Christiaan Barnard in 1960, Author Benito Prieto Coussent. Creative Commons

December 4,1872: Crew from the British brigantine Die Gratia boarded a deserted ship drifting mid Atlantic. The captain’s table was set for a meal aboard the US ship Marie (sometimes given as Mary) Celeste but the Captain, crew and passengers were all missing

The Brigantine, Amazon, entering Marseilles in November 1861. In 1868, she was renamed Marie Celeste. Author; Possibly Honore Pellegrin. Source: scanned from Slate Magazine, December 6 2011. Public Domain

December 9, 1993 : A five-day repair job in space on the $3 billion Hubble Space Telescope was finished by U.S. astronauts.

The Hubble Space telescope as seen from departing Space Shuttle Atlantis. flying STS-125 in 2009. Author Ruffinax. Public Domain

December 13, 1642 – New Zealand was discovered by Dutch navigator Abel Tasman of the Dutch East India Company.

December 25, 1818: Silent Night was performed for the first time at the Church of St. Nikolaus in Oberndorff, Austria.

Silent Night Chapel in Oberndorf bei Salzburg, Austria. Photo : Gakuro, Dec 3 2005. Creative Commons

December 26, 1991: The end of the Soviet Union began.

Post Soviet States in alphabetical order. Wikimedia Commons

December 29, 1940:  During the Blitz, German aircraft dropped thousands of incendiary bombs on the centre of London, causing the worst fire damage since the great fire of 1666. St. Paul’s Cathedral survived but eight other Wren churches, plus the Guildhall and Old Bailey, were badly damaged.

There are a couple of December customs in the UK that deserve a mention. One is that of Christmas markets, which I’ve previously written two posts about here and here. Another is that of pantomime  (“panto’ as we call it) which I won’t say much about now as I intend to write a post about it soon to explain its origins and how it has evolved into what it is today. Many of the major cities and towns put on a yearly pantomime, which generally run from early December to early January.

Cover, Pantomime F. Warner & Co 1890. Source: Unknown. User: Wetman on en. wikipedia. Public Domain

For anyone who’s never heard of pantomime, this is the dictionary definition of the term:

A theatrical entertainment, mainly for children, which involves music, topical jokes, and slapstick comedy and is based on a fairy tale or nursery story, usually produced around Christmas.

At the New Theatre Royal in the city of Lincoln this year, the chosen fairy tale is Aladdin, which we’ve booked to see on the 14th December. I haven’t been to a panto for years, so I’m really looking forward to it.

I’ll finish with a short poem and a few photos taken at 7.30 this morning (Monday, December 4th) from my bedroom window. The field is classed as ‘Ridge and Furrow’ – a term described by Wiki as “an archaeological pattern of ridges and troughs created by a system of ploughing used in Europe during the Middle Ages” As such, the field can’t be built on. The ridge and furrow pattern can be seen very clearly in the last photo.

The sheep have only been there for a couple of weeks and will be gone again soon. They were put there to ‘clean up’ the field, or nibble away at the longish grass left by the bullocks there over the summer.

Anyway, it was a typical frosty, December morning. The sun was rising and the ‘supermoon’ still hadn’t set at 7.30 am.

And I leave the last word about December to Dr. Seuss:

How did it get so late so soon?
It’s night before it’s afternoon.
December is here before it’s June.
My goodness how the time has flewn.
How did it get so late so soon?
~Dr. Seuss

*****

Refs:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/December https://www.timeanddate.com/calendar/months/december.html
http://www.bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/paganism/holydays/wintersolstice.shtml
http://www.orkneyjar.com/tradition/yule/
http://www.thewhitegoddess.co.uk/the_wheel_of_the_year/yule_-_winter_solstice.asp
ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/history-of-yule-2562997\
http://www.historyplace.com/specials/calendar/december.htm

Navigating our way through November

November is the eleventh month of the year in the Julian and Gregorian calendars and the fourth and last month to have 30 days. It was the ninth month of the ancient Roman calendar (when the year started in March) its name deriving from the Latin word ‘novem’ which means nine. In the northern hemisphere, November is the third and last of the autumn months and in the southern hemisphere it is the third and last of the spring months.

To the Anglo Saxons,  November was Windmonath  meaning Wind Month. Another name they had for it was Blotmonath meaning  ‘Blood or Sacrifice Month’. November was the time of year when many of the livestock were slaughtered and meats were preserved, often by smoking, for use during the winter. Only animals required as breeding stock were herded  into the byres until the spring.

For similar reasons the Dutch called November, Slachtmaand, or Slaughter Month; in Welsh it was Tachwedd, referring to slaughter, or the killing of animals, and in Finland it was called Marraskuu, which means the Month of the Dead.​

In Britain, November is probably the least favourite month of the year. Days have grown short and nights are long, many days are cloudy and grey and the weather is gradually turning colder. Ground frosts become more frequent as the days pass and November can often be very windy, too (hence the Anglo Saxon name). Conversely, some days can be gloriously sunny and seem too mild for November.

These little poems illustrate two sides of November weather. The second one doesn’t make the month sound completely unattractive, as does the first. (Perhaps Thomas Hood was having a bad day when he wrote his. 🙂 )

No sun – no moon! No morn – no noon –
No dawn – no dusk – no proper time of day.
No warmth, no cheerfulness, no healthful ease,
No comfortable feel in any member –
No shade, no shine, no butterflies, no bees,
No fruits, no flowers, no leaves, no birds,
November!
~ Thomas Hood 1799 -1845

*

November comes
And November goes,
With the last red berries
And the first white snows.
With night coming early,
And dawn coming late,
And ice in the bucket
And frost by the gate.
The fires burn
And the kettles sing,
And earth sinks to rest
Until next spring.
~  Elizabeth Coatsworth

The birthstone for November is topaz . . .

. . . and the  zodiac signs are Scorpio (October 23 – November 21) and Sagittarius (November 22 – December 21)

The birth flower for  this month is the chrysanthemum:


These are just a few of the many famous  people who were born in November:

1. Marie Curie, French-Polish chemist and physicist who discovered radium, born November 7, 1867:

Marie Curie, Nobel Prize Portrait 1903. Author: Nobel Foundation. Public Domain

2. Scottish author Robert Louis Stevenson. Author of Treasure Island born November 13, 1850:

Author Robert Louis Stephenson Author: Ris-pic 1 .jpg Knox Series. Public Domain

3. French painter Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec,  born on November 24, 1864.

Henri de Toulouse Lautrec 1894. Author: Paul Sescau 40002. Public Domain

4. Grace Darling (full name Grace Horsley Darling) was born on 24 November 1815 in Bamburgh, Northumberland. Grace was a lighthouse keeper’s daughter who, on September 7 1838, risked her life when she and her father rowed out for a mile in the height of a storm to rescue nine mariners ship-wrecked on a rock and take them back to shore. The story is now legendary.

Grace Darling. A photographic reproduction of a Public Domain work of art. by Thomas Musgrave Joy. Photograph by Thos, Musgrave. is also Public Domain. 

5. American author, Louisa May Alcott, author of Little Women, was born November 29, 1832:

Louisa May Alcott at the age of 20, 1857. Author Unknown. Public Domain

6. Winston Churchill, Prime Minister, was born November 30 1874.

Winston Churchill in Downing Street giving his famous Victory sign. Author: British Government. Public Domain

7. American author Mark Twain,  author of several books, including The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, was born November 30, 1835:

Mark Twain photo portrait. February 7, 1871. Author: Mark Brady Public Domain

8. Irish author Jonathan Swift, author of  Gulliver’s Travels, was also born on November 30, but in 1667:

Jonathan Swift dated 1710. Oil on canvas by Charles Jervas (1675-1739). Source: National Portrait Gallery. Public Domain.

And these are some of the special dates remembered in November:

A post about events celebrated in Britain in November would not be complete without a mention of Guy Fawkes’ Night, or Bonfire Night. I don’t intend to go into what the Gunpowder Plot was all about here, having written posts about it in previous years. The first, in 2014, was A Penny for the Guy, which was a simple post, mostly about the ways in which celebrations of Bonfire Night have changed over the years, particularly since I was a child. The second, in 2015 was titled, Remember, Remember…  This one did outline what the Gunpowder Plot was about and basically, what happened to the thirteen plotters, including Guy (or Guido) Fawkes. Besides, I’m sure many people  will have watched the recent three part dramatization of the story on TV.  But here are a few illustrations from those posts anyway:

In years gone by there were many dates celebrated in November which are mostly overlooked or gone altogether nowadays. Some of these included All Saints’ Day on November 1, when people remembered the saints, outstanding Christians, many of whom were martyrs who had given their lives for their faith.

The forerunners of Christ with saints and martyrs, dated 1423-24. Author en Fra Angelico. Current location National Gallery, London. Public Domain.

All Souls Day on November 2 was when people remembered all those who had died. Families would take flowers to the graves of deceased  family members and had their names read out in church.

Another saint’s day was Martinmas Day on November 11. This was a time for celebrations, feasts and hiring fairs at which labourers would seek new posts. Farmers traditionally provided a cake and ale feast for the workers, the cakes being made with seeds and whole grains and called Hopper Cakes. Nowadays, and since 1918, November 11 has been celebrated as Armistice Day  Or Poppy Day) and all remnants of Martinmas Day have gone. On Armistice Day, people remember all the soldiers who died during two World Wars and all other wars:

Image courtesy of Pixabay

In the USA, the celebration of Thanksgiving is held on the fourth Thursday of November and has been held every year since 1783. I’ll  give only an over-simplified summary here, as I’m sure there will be lots of posts about it already out there.

The first Thanksgiving was celebrated by the Pilgrims/Pilgrim Fathers after their first harvest in the New World. The Pilgrims were people who had fled from the unsettled and dangerous environments in England and Holland to find a place to live where they could worship as they chose without being persecuted for it. In 1620 they set sail aboard The Mayflower and eventually reached Cape Cod in New England.

Embarkation of the Pilgrims, Photo of an oil painting from 1857, currently located in Brooklyn Museum. Public Domain

Today, Thanksgiving is a time for being with family and loved ones and remembering all the things in life to be thankful for. Family meals and general ‘get-togethers’ are a big part of the festivities.

And here are a few more random facts and dates about November:

  • November 26, 1922: archaeologist Howard Carter and his crew entered the four-room Egyptian tomb of 18-year-old King Tutankhamen in the Valley of the Kings.
Informal portrait of Howard Carter next to the train station in Chicago, 1924. Author: Chicago Daily News. Public Domain
The Valley of the Kings, Luxor. Photographer Peter J. Bubenik, 1995 Creative Commons
  • November 17, 1869: the Suez Canal officially opened.
Suez Canal between Kantara and El Fedane. The first vessel through the Canal, based on an engraving 1869 Public Domain
  • November 7, 1783 saw the last public hanging in England. Highwayman John Austin, was  hanged at Tyburn, near to where Marble Arch(in London) now stands.

    The “Tyburn Tree” – the permanent gallows at Tyburn, (London) which was where Marble Arch now stands. Used from the 16th century until the  hanging of John Austin 1783 Public Domain
  • November  8, 1920: The Daily Express newspaper first published the cartoon strip ‘Rupert Bear’.

    Rupert Bear Exhibition in the Museum of Canterbury. Author: Elliott Simpson, 2006. Creative Commons
  • November 21 1783. The first flight by man in a hot air balloon (designed by the Montgolfier Brothers) was performed by Jean-François de Rozier and François Laurent d’Arlandes.
!786 depiction of historic Montgolfier Brothers’ 1783 flight, Illustration with engineering proportions and descriptions. Author unknown Public Domain
  • November 9, 1989: The Berlin Wall came down and East Germany opened its borders to West Germany.
The Berlin Wall in 1986 by Thierry Noir. Creative Commons

This post has already grown much longer than I had intended, so I’ll ignore all the interesting facts on my list and finish with a few photos taken on a lovely sunny day last week at the RHS Garden at Harlow Carr, near Harrogate, Yorkshire. (RHS = Royal Horticultural Society).

Onward into October

In the northern hemisphere October is the second of the autumn months. In the southern hemisphere it is a spring month, the seasonal equivalent of April in the north. The month has 31 days and is the tenth of the year in the Julian and Gregorian calendars, although it kept its original name from the Roman calendar in which ‘octo’ means “eight” in Latin.

Among the Anglo Saxons, October was known as Wintirfilleth, Wintirfylleth or Winterfilled meaning winter full  or winter fulfilling. According to Bede, the word meant ‘winter full moon’, the first full moon of October, after which winter was supposed to begin. This idea stems from a time when the pagan Anglo Saxons believed the year was divided into two seasons, just summer and winter.

As winter did not actually start at that time, it has also been suggested that the full moon was simply a signal that winter was on its way, and a warning to people to start preparations for harsh weather ahead. Among several other tasks this could involve food preservation, the housing of livestock in byres and barns, and strengthening homes e.g. repairing thatched roofs, doors and window shutters.

The October birth flower is the calendula and the birthstone is the opal. It is said that the opal will crack if it is worn by someone who was not born in October.

The  October Zodiac signs are Libra (Sept 23 – Oct 22) and Scorpio (Oct 23 – Nov 21)

There are several historical anniversaries in the month of October in the UK. I imagine few are known, let alone ‘celebrated’ but here are some of them anyway:

  • 2nd Oct 1452:  Britain’s last Plantagenet king, Richard III was born.
Richard III painted in 1520, Author unknown. Uploaded to Wikipedia by Silverwhistle. Public Domain
  •  6th Oct 1892: Death of the English Poet Laureate Alfred, Lord Tennyson, who immortalised ‘The Six Hundred’ in his poem, The Charge of the Light Brigade.
Alfred, Lord Tennyson, 1862. Photograther: Oscar Gustave Rejlander (1813-1873). Public Domain
  • 7th Oct 1920: Women became eligible for admission as full members of Oxford University and given the right to take degrees.
  • 4th Oct 1066: Harold II, England’s last Anglo-Saxon King was killed at the Battle of Hastings in Sussex – possibly by an arrow in the eye as shown in the Bayeux Tapestry.
“Here sits the King of the English” . Harold II ‘s coronation 1066. Author: Norman and English embroiderers. Public Domain
  • 20th Oct 1632: Birth of English architect Christopher Wren who was responsible for the rebuilding of St. Paul’s Cathedral following the Great Fire of London..
Christopher Wren’s Cathedral, as built. Public Domain
  • 24th Oct 1537: Henry VIII’s third wife, Jane Seymour, died following the birth of the future king Edward VI.
Jane Seymour, Queen of England. Date 1536.Artist: Hans Holbein Public Domain
  • 28th Oct 1831: English physicist Michael Faraday demonstrated the dynamo, founding the science of electro-magneticism.
  • 29th Oct 1618: English courtier, writer and explorer Sir Walter Raleigh was beheaded on the orders of King James I.
Sir Walter Raleigh’s first pipe in England. Author: Frederick William Fairholt (1814-1866)

There are a number of Special Events celebrated worldwide in October. The most well known one to many of us is probably HALLOWEEN. Here is just a little about the history of the event and its traditions:

Halloween or Hallowe’en  is a contraction of All Hallows’ Evening. It is also known as All Hallows’ Eve, or All Saints’ Eve and is a celebration observed in a number of countries on October 31st.

Many Halloween traditions originated from the Celtic harvest festival of Samhain, meaning ‘Summer’s End’, which was celebrated at the end of the harvest season. Samhain was a time to take stock of supplies, prepare for winter and to ask the priests to pray for families as they faced the dark days of winter ahead. They believed that on October 31, the boundaries between the worlds of the living and the dead overlapped and the dead would come back to life and cause havoc such as sickness or damaged crops.

Masks and costumes were worn in an attempt to mimic the evil spirits, or appease them.

The origins of trick or treating and dressing up were in the 16th century in Ireland, Scotland and Wales where people went door-to-door in costume asking for food in exchange for a poem or song. Many dressed up as souls of the dead and were understood to be protecting themselves from the spirits by impersonating them. This festival was later Christianised as Halloween.

Halloween activities today include trick or treating, attending Halloween costume parties, carving pumpkins into Jack-o’-lanterns, lighting bonfires, apple bobbing, playing pranks – to name just a few.  In many parts of the world the Christian religious observances of All Hallows’ Eve include attending church services and lighting candles on the graves of the dead. Some Christians historically abstained from meat on All Hallows’ Eve. This tradition can still be seen today in the eating of certain vegetarian foods, including apples, potato pancakes and soul cakes.

In Munich (Germany) the big October attraction is OKTOBERFEST!

This festival claims to be the world’s biggest folk festival as well as being a great time to enjoy drinking beer. Over the last ten years or so the festival has attracted around six million visitors every year. Between them, visitors get through almost seven million litres of beer and consume thousands of grilled sausages, chickens, giant pretzels,  and even wild oxen. The festival lasts just over two weeks (often from mid-September to early October) and takes place in a meadow outside Munich’s city centre. Besides eating, drinking and dancing, visitors can enjoy parades and fairground rides, and admire the many people dressed in traditional Bavarian clothes.

The history of this festival dates from the wedding of Crown Prince Ludwig of Bavaria and Princess Therese of Saxony-Hildburghausen in 1810. Celebrations involved shooting displays and horse-racing – as well as much eating and drinking. Such a fun time was had by one and all it was decided to repeat the event every year.

This post has now become far too long to add photos of our gardens and local lanes, so I’ll finish with just a few of the many photos we took around the grounds of Kedleston Hall in Derbyshire last week. The autumn colours were a delight (although the red oak in the last photo is not a species native to Britain and was ‘imported’ from North America).

Refs:
Wikipedia:https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/October
timeanddate,com https://www.timeanddate.com/calendar/months/october.html
Historic UK http://www.historic-uk.com/HistoryUK/HistoryofBritain/Historic-October/
Images are either my own photos or from Shutterstock, Pixabay or Wikipedia. Those from Wikipedia are credited as such.

Sauntering into September

September is the ninth month of the year in the Julian and Gregorian calendars. It is also the third month to have 30 days and the month with the longest name – having nine letters.

September in the Northern Hemisphere is the equivalent of March in the Southern Hemisphere. In the Northern Hemisphere, September 1 is the beginning of the meteorological autumn and in the Southern hemisphere, the beginning of the meteorological spring.

The word September comes from old Roman word, Septem, which means seven. September was the seventh month in the then Roman calendar. The Romans believed the month was under the care of Vulcan, the god of fire and forge – which led to their belief that the month would be associated with fire, earthquakes and volcanic eruptions.

Vulcan. Roman god of fire and forge

The Anglo Saxons called it Gerst Monath, or Barley Month. September was the time for harvesting the barley and making barley brew. Another name they gave to the month was simply, Haefest Monath, meaning Harvest Month.

These are  a few of the customs associated with the Harvest:

1. Calling the Mare. When the last crops were being gathered in, farmers had a custom called ‘Calling the Mare’.  The last sheaf gathered in on each farm was made into the rough shape of a mare and sent round to any farmers who hadn’t yet finished harvesting. This was a way of warning them that any crops not yet in were in danger of being eaten by wild horses. Reapers from farms that had finished would run round to fields where the reapers were still working and throw the ‘mare’ over the hedge into  the field, shouting, ‘Mare, Mare’ before running away. In turn, when those reapers finished harvesting, they would run and do same to others not finished.  The last farmer to finish kept the ‘mare’  all year as a sign he was the slowest farmer of that year.

2. Making Corn Dollies  A corn dolly was said to house the spirit of the corn goddess and the custom of making them dates back hundreds of years. People believed the corn goddess lived in the corn and would die unless some of the corn saved and made into a corn dolly for the goddess to rest in until next spring.

Note: Corn dollies, or corn mothers are a form of straw work, traditionally made as part of the harvest. The term ‘dolly’ did not mean the same as it does to us today and the ‘dolly’ could be any number of shapes/designs. ‘Dolly’ may be a corruption of the word ‘idol’, or it may have come directly from the Greek word eidilon (apparition) meaning ‘something that represents something else’.

3. Michaelmas Day – the feast of St Michael, the Archangel, was celebrated on September 29 and represented the last day of the harvest season. The Harvest began on August 1 and was called Lammas (loaf mass) as I described in my August post.

Michaelmas Day was also the day for the winter night curfew to begin. It was the first hint that winter was on the way. It involved tolling of the bell (usually the church bell): one strike for each of the days of the month that had passed in the current year, and was generally rung at 8 pm.

Curfew bell iat Leadhills, Lanarkshire, Scotland. Author: Rosser1954 Creative Commons

The actual word, ‘curfew’, is thought to be derived from the French ‘couvre feu’ meaning fire cover’. It was the time for fires to be doused or covered before people went to bed.

Couvre feu utensil for extinguishing the fire in the fireplace. Date 1891. . Public Domain

‘Curfew’ lasted throughout the winter until Shrove Tuesday, which was, and still is, 6 weeks before Easter – usually in February or early March.

Michaelmas Day was also sometimes called Goose Day – the time for goose fairs to start in some English towns. Goose fairs are still held in places, the most famous one being the Nottingham Goose Fair, now held around October 3. Of course, geese are no longer sold and modern fairs consist mostly of various rides and stalls:

Nottingham Goose Fair at night, October 2007.  A view from the Ferris wheel Author: KickingKarl Creative Commons

The custom of goose fairs is said to date back to time of Queen Eiizabeth 1 (16th c). It is said that Elizabeth was eating goose when news of the defeat of the Armada was brought to her – and the custom of eating goose as part of a celebratory meal stuck.

The Michaelmas Daisy, a type of aster (Aster novi-belgii), which has small pink to lavender flowers, obviously got its name from this time, as it is flowering then.

Some Michaelmas Superstitions:

1.  The devil stamps (or spits) on bramble bushes after Michaelmas, so don’t pick blackberries after that date.

2.  The Victorians believed that a tree planted on that day would grow very well.

3. In Ireland, finding a ring in a Michaelmas pie meant you were soon to be married!

September’s gemstone is the sapphire and the flower for September is the aster:

The astrological signs for September are Virgo and Libra:

Virgo (zodiac element, earth) is the sign from August 23-September 22. It is represented by ‘The Maiden’ and symbolises knowledge, shyness, clarity of thought and introspective behaviour.
Libra (zodiac element, air) is the sign from September 23-October 22. It is represented by the scales symbol because the Romans saw it as the sign during which the seasons are the most balanced. It symbolises people who are active, love being in the open, who are peaceful and fair and hate being alone.

Festtivals & Traditions associated with September include:

  • The Game of conkers. Conkers are the fruits of the horse chestnut tree and children have being playing games with them for years. Conkers are threaded with string and the object of game is to hit – and hopefully break or crack –  your opponent’s conker:
  • The Horn Dance is an English folk dance dating back to the Middle Ages held at Abbotts Bromley in Staffordshire. It is s performed by six Deer-men who wear reindeer horns. The dancers follow a 10 mile course and stop to perform the ritual in 12 different locations in and around the village to the tunes played by the musician. These include ‘The Farmers Boy’ and ‘Uncle Mick’. The modern version involves reindeer antlers, a hobby horse, Maid Marian and a ‘Fool’!
  • The Gurning Competition at Egremont Crab Fair in the English Lake District.  To gurn means to distort the face – so the object is to see who can pull the most awful face!
A man ‘gurning’. Originally posted on Flickr and uploaded to Creative Commons in 2009. Author: Mark

September Anniversaries:

There are dozens of anniversaries celebrated in September worldwide, so I’ve just picked a few British ones here. I’m sure you can all can think of lots in whichever part of the world you live in. (Not all anniversaries are of happy events, of course, and I’ve use the word ‘celebrated’ in the sense of something being ‘remembered’.)

  • September 1 1939: Germany invaded Poland, so beginning the Second World War.
  • September 2 1666: A fire started in a baker’s shop in Pudding Lane in London. It spread rapidly and almost completely destroyed all of the old city of London. This became known as The Great Fire of London.
  • September 3 1928: Alexander Fleming returned to his laboratory after a holiday. He noticed that staphylococci bacteria growing on pieces of apparatus he’d left unwashed had been killed by an unidentified mould. This was the first step in the discovery of penicillin.
  • September 6 1997: The funeral of Princess Diana took place in London.
  •  September 22 1880: Christabel Pankhurst, the future leader of the suffragette campaign in Britain, was born at Old Trafford in Manchester.
  • September 27 1825: A steam engine called Active pulled the first passenger train on the Stockton and Darlington Railway.
  • September 29 1066: William the Conqueror landed at Pevensey with a Norman army. At Christmas he was crowned King of England.
  • September 29 1929: Under the direction of the home secretary, Robert Peel, Britain’s first professional police force, the Metropolitan Police, is formed. The force is based in Scotland Yard in Westminster, London.

To finish with, here are some photos of our garden and the lanes around the village as we stroll into September. First, the lanes, which are showing signs that leaves are now past their best and beginning to fade, while colourful autumn fruits are in abundance. Most of the wheat and barley has been harvested and bales of straw stand in the fields of stubble. Conkers and acorns are not yet ripe:

Our garden doesn’t look much different to the way it looked for my August post a month ago, although the apples and pears have grown and ripened and foliage in general has lost some of its vibrancy. The colours of the flowers are still good, although they will undoubtedly die off over the coming weeks.

And absolutely last, here’s a YouTube video of the beautiful song, Try to Remember… Unfortunately, it always makes me weepy – just like the willow in the song. (Too many memories…) The song was written by Paul McCartney and Harvey Schmidt and this version is sung by US folk-singing foursome, The Brothers Four.

Ambling Along into August


August is the eighth month of the year in the Julian and Gregorian calendars and the fifth month of the year to have 31 days. In the UK, the hottest days of the year are often in August and it is a busy time for holidays as it falls in the six week summer break for schools. Similarly, in many European countries, August is also the holiday month for workers.

In the southern hemisphere, August is the equivalent of February in the northern hemisphere.
The original Latin name for August was Sextillis as it was the sixth month in the then Roman ten-month calendar, when March was the first month of the year. August became the eighth month around 700 BC when January and February were added to the year by King Numa Pompilius who gave it 29 days. The extra two days were added by Julius Caesar when he created the Julian calendar in 45 BC.

In 8 BC the month was renamed August in honour of the first Roman emperor, Augustus Caesar (who ruled the Roman Empire from 27 BC until AD 14). Augustus is said to have chosen to name this month after himself because it was the time of several of his great triumphs, including the conquest of Egypt. The Latin term Augustus mensis means Month of Augustus. 

Statue of the first Roman emperor, Augustus Caesar (27BC-AD14) as a younger Otavian. Sculpted artwork dated around 30BC. Located int the Mus

So what else can I say about this summer month? Here are a few facts:

  1. August’s birthstones are the peridot and the sardonyx:

2. Its birth flowers are the gladiolus and poppy. The gladiolus represents beauty, strength, love, marriage and family. Poppies come in different colours but it is the the red one that is associated with August and it signifies pleasure.

3. The zodiac signs for the month of August are Leo (until August 22) and Virgo (from August 23 onwards):

4. The Anglo Saxon name for August was Weodmonath, meaning Weed Month. The word could refer to herbs or grass, as well as the unwanted plants we think of as weeds today. August was the month when all plants grew the most rapidly. The Venerable Bede (672/3 – 735) tells us: ‘Weodmonad means ‘month of tares (vetches), for they are plentiful then’. (The spelling of the word here is how Bede spelled it and (for a change) isn’t a typo on my behalf!)  Unfortunately I have no photos of weeds, as Nick won’t allow them to grow in our garden 🙂 but I have a not-too-wonderful photo of vetch growing along the lane:

5. Henry VI Part 1 and The Tempest are the only Shakespeare plays that mention August.

6. Warren Harding was the only US president to have died in the month of August.

Warren Harding. Photo taken 1882. Author:unattributed Public Domain

7. Certain meteor showers occur in August, including the Kappa Cygnids and the larger Perseids meteor shower.

156 (meteor) bodies detected in the sky on a single photographic plate during the Leonid meteor shower in 1998. Source: Astronomical and geophysical observatory at Comenius University in Modra, Slovakia. Author: Juraj Troth. Creative Commons

8.  In Ancient Rome, the festival of Supplica Canum was held in August every year. It was an annual sacrifice in which dogs were suspended from a furca, (fork) or a crux (cross) and paraded around the city. In the same procession, geese were honoured by being carried around adorned in purple and gold. The tradition stemmed from a nighttime siege of Rome by the Gauls during which the watch dogs failed to bark. On that occasion, it was the noisy, honking geese that alerted the city to the attack. The failure of the dogs led to them being ritually punished every following year. Gruesome!

9. On a more cheerful note, August is National Goat Cheese Month in the  U.S. I believe it involves the promotion of goats cheese as a healthier option than cheese made from cow’s milk. I love all cheese. In fact, I think I’m probably a cheeseaholic.

10. Lammas Day is in August and is a holiday celebrated in some European countries as a thanksgiving for the harvest. The name, Lammas, comes from the Anglo Saxon word hlaf-maesse, meaning loaf mass. The festival of Lammas marks the beginning of the harvest  and people say prayers in church for the first corn to be cut. (Note that in Britain ‘corn’ has traditionally referred to the cereal crops of wheat, barley oats and rye and not maize.)

Medieval illustration of men harvesting wheat with reaping hooks on a calendar page in Queen Mary’s Psalter. Dated around 1310. Author: Anonymous. Public Domain

In the medieval period, farmers made loaves from the new wheat at Lammas, and gave them to the church to use in the Communion. The custom ended when Henry VIII broke away from the Catholic Church in 1534. Today, harvest festival services are at the end of the harvest in September, with Michaelmas Day (Sept 29) traditionally being the last day of the harvest season.

Lammas Day used to be a time of foretelling marriages and trying out partners (trial marriages). This was usually for 11 days, the duration of the fair. At he end of that time, if the pair didn’t get on they simply parted. Lammas was also a time when farmers gave each of their farm workers a gift of a pair of gloves. And to bring good luck, farmers would let a loaf of corn bread go stale, then crumble it up into the corners of their barns

August is a month for several festivals in Britain. These are 3 of them:

  1. The Edinburgh Festival. This was started in 1947 to celebrate the performing arts and includes concerts, plays, ballets and operas.
A street performer in the Royal Mile at the Edinburgh fringe in 2004. No machine- readable author provided. Creative Commons
  1. The Royal National Eisteddfod in Wales. Eisteddfod is an old tradition which was revived in 19th century. It originated in medieval times as a gathering of bards and minstrels, all competing for the prized chair at the noble’s table. It is held in the first week of August and attended by people from all over Wales.
Eisteddfod in Llangollen, Wales, in 2012. Flag bearers in traditional Celtic dress parade in a festival of traditional folk music and dancing. Shutterstock image

3. The Notting Hill Carnival in London. This festival is held on the last Monday of August i.e. Bank Holiday Monday in the UK. It is a colourful procession with elaborate costumes. It originated in the 1960s to celebrate the cultural traditions of the many Caribbean immigrants who came to Britain at that time.

The Notting Hill Carnival in London, 2014.Author: David Sedlecky. Creative Commons

I found this great quote which fits in so well with the theme of festivals in Britain – and Europe in general. (Harry/Henry Rollins is an American musician, actor, writer, television and radio host, and comedian.):

Every summer, from late July and into August, I find myself in Europe, performing at any festival that will have me.’ – Harry Rollins

There are many anniversaries to be celebrated in August, worldwide, and  these are merely a few of the many British ones:

  • August 1st 1774: Joseph Priestley discovered oxygen at Bowood House in Wiltshire
  • August 4th 1914:  the First World War started.
  • August 14th 1945: the Second World War ended.
  • August 15th 1872: the first regular police detective force was formed.
  • August 25th 1919: daily flights between London & Paris began, thus starting the first international air service.
  • August 31st 1997:  Princess Diana was killed killed in car accident in France.

And to finish with here are some photos from the lanes around our village and in our garden:

All are bright with developing fruits and berries. Many of the early (sown last autumn) barley fields have already been harvested, although there are still a few fields of spring-sown barley around. The wheat has yet to be harvested:

And absolutely lastly, here are a few photos of our garden as we amble along into August. I was delighted to see the lovely butterflies in our front garden this morning (August 1st). They really love the Buddleia davidii bush!

Jogging Along to July!

In Britain, when we think of July we think of  summer, as it’s generally the warmest month of the year, in common with the rest of the Northern Hemisphere. In the Southern Hemisphere, July is the equivalent our our January: in other words, it’s a winter month. In Britain the six week summer holiday for schools starts sometime around July 17th – 22nd (dependent on the area and/or individual schools) and we all start thinking about enjoying some sunshine. Unfortunately, we’re often disappointed in that. Our maritime climate can be very mean to us at times. Some of us will head off to the seaside towns; others choose a quiet – or sometimes a ‘sporting’ – break in the countryside. Some of us fly off to some sunny destination overseas.

Summer is a time for summer dress, barbecues and outdoor living in general. There’s always something special about summer music, too: it has such a lighthearted appeal. In 1970, this song by Mungo Jerry could be heard blasting out all over the place. It sounds so dated now, but back then it really got people singing along with it. The hairstyles are a scream and some of the lyrics are questionable today. The video was uploaded by Carlos Fracoso on October 4 2010.

So what else is interesting about July? Here are a few facts:

  • July is the seventh month of the year in the Julian and Gregorian calendars and is one of the seven months with thirty one days. It was named by the Roman senate in 44 BC in honour of the Roman general, Julius Caesar.

  • Prior to that time July was called Quintillis as it was the fifth month of the Roman year, which then started in March. (Quin means five in Latin – as in quintet and quintuplet.)
  • Until the 18th century the word July in English had the stress on the first syllable and rhymed with duly or truly.
  • The Anglo Saxon names for July included Haymonath, referring to haymaking activities at that time, and Maedmonath, referring to the flowering of meadows.
  •  July starts on the same day of the week as April every common year and January in leap years.
  • July’s birthstone is the ruby. The flower is the water lily:

And these are a some facts from folklore. All three are about the weather:

  • ‘If ant hills are high in July,
    Winter will be snowy.
  • ‘If the first of July it be rainy weather
    Twill rain more or less for four weeks together.’
  • St Swithin’s Day is July 15.  If it rains on that day, it will rain for the next 40 days.
St Swithin of Winchester from the Bendictional of St Aethelwold illuminated manuscript in the British library. 10th century. Author: Monk. Public Domain

Many anniversaries are celebrated in July worldwide and I was hard pushed to pick out just a few as examples. These first few are British:

  • July 25 1586 First potatoes arrived from Columbia
  • July 28 1901 First fingerprints used for identification
  • July 2 1928 Equal voting rights granted to women in Britain
  • July 1 1937 999 emergency service introduced
  • July 3 1938 The Mallard broke the speed record for steam engines by reaching 126 mph.
The Mallard at York Railway Museum. Author: PTG Dudva Creative Commons

And these are a few non-British anniversaries:

  • July 1  Canada Day (obviously in Canada) and International Joke Day
  • July 2 World UFO Day
  • July 4 Independence Day, USA
  • July 6 International Kissing Day
  • July 14 Bastille Day in France
  • July 21 1968 Apollo 11 landed on the moon. Neil Armstrong became the first man on the moon.
  • July 29 International Tiger Day

The lanes around our village have taken on a different look since the spring blossom died off. Now autumn fruits are developing, cereal crops are ripening and summer flowers are blooming.

In our garden the fruits are swelling nicely and are the most noticeable feature at present. The first flush of roses have almost all gone, most totally bashed by the heavy rains of last week. We should see a second flush around late August. But other flowers are adding colour to the garden, in the flower beds as well as the hanging baskets. These are a few photos taken earlier today (July 1st):

To finish with, here are some short poems about July:

The glowing Ruby should adorn
Those who in warm July are born,
Then will they be exempt and free
From love’s doubt and anxiety.
― Anonymous

The Summer looks out from her brazen tower,
Through the flashing bars of July.
― Francis Thompson

‘A swarm of bees in May is worth a load of hay.
A swarm of bees in June is worth a silver spoon.
A swarm of bees in July is not worth a fly.’

‘Hot July brings cooling showers,
Apricots and gillyflowers.’
– Sara Coleridge, Pretty Lessons in Verse

(Gillyflower definition: any of a number of fragrant flowers, such as the wallflower or white stock.)

*****

June is Bustin’ Out All Over…

To our eldest daughter, June is the loveliest month of the year. I’m inclined to agree with her – even though I don’t have a birthday this month as she does. But, to be fair, she made that comment taking lots of things into consideration. June is a very lovely month, so I decided to write a post about it. To start with here’s a sweet little poem, written by Nathaniel Parker Wills:

It is the month of June
The month of leaves and roses
When pleasant sights salute the eyes
And pleasant scents the noses.

Well that sums up a lot about this month, but I’d like to share a few facts about June that I found of interest. (There are dozens more, of course!)

    • June marks the beginning of summer in the Northern Hemisphere. In the Southern Hemisphere it is the equivalent of the north’s December.
    • The month is named after the Roman goddess, Juno, wife of Jupiter and goddess of marriage. Hence, June was seen as the perfect month to get married:

      Roman statue Juno Sospita, Author: Shakko, Creative Commons.
    • June is one of the four months with a length of 30 days. The other three are September, April and November.
    • June is the month with the longest daylight hours of the year.
    • June’s birthstones are Alexandrite, the Moonstone and Pearl:
    • The Anglo Saxon name for June was Sera Monath.
    • The summer solstice and longest day is June 21st in the Northern Hemisphere (December 21st in the Southern Hemisphere). Many festivals and celebrations are associated with this date worldwide. In the UK, Stonehenge plays a big part in the Midsummer celebrations.
    • June’s birth flowers are the honeysuckle and the rose – both of which I’ve shown above – but here’s a nice quote from Robert Burns: Oh my luve’s like a red, red rose, That’s newly sprung in June...
    • June is Gay and Lesbian Pride Month.
    • Gemini and Cancer are the astrological signs for June. Birthdays from June 1-2o are under the sign of Gemini while June 21-30 birthdays fall under the sign of Cancer:
    • Children’s Day in Britain is June 15th.
    • Fathers’ Day is in June. This year (2017) it falls on Sunday, June 18 in the UK.
    • Antony and Cleopatra and Henry IV Part 1 are the only Shakespeare plays that mention June
    • June was the 39th most popular name for a baby girl in 1925 in English-speaking countries but it dropped out of the top thousand in 1986. In the US, June was the most popular name for girls in 2009.
    • In the UK, the Queen’s birthday is June 13th, which is marked by the Trooping the Colours. This ceremony has marked the sovereign’s birthday since 1748.

      The Queen’s Birthday Parade, also known as Trooping the Colours. Horse guard’s Parade. London 2013. Author: Corporal Paul Shaw/MOD. Open Government Licence v 1.0
    • June is National Smiles Month in the UK:
  • June is a month when well dressing is prominent in towns and villages in Derbyshire and Staffordshire in the UK. This age-old custom draws many visitors, as the wells and springs look very beautiful decorated with flowers and plants – each with its own theme(s).
Well Dressing at Tissington. Author: User: Whaley Tim Creative Commons

Well, I think that’s enough facts…

Our garden is gradually losing the look of spring. The lilacs have died off and daffodils and other spring bulbs have long since disappeared. Instead, we have roses! June is definitely the month of roses here, although it’s a little too early for our Royal William and other standards. The climbers and ramblers are doing well, though. In fact, some have been flowering since mid-May and are looking rather worse for wear now:

The meadows and lanes around us are also taking on a different look, Dandelions have almost all gone and other species have taken their place:

Around the lanes today I also came across a little creature who thought he was safely hidden in his strange little nest. He probably is hidden from any predators, but I knew exactly what I was looking for – and I meant him no harm. This little nymph can be found in a frothy substance we call cuckoo spit:

The name, cuckoo spit, has nothing to do with the cuckoo bird, other than the fact that cuckoos are usually around at this time. The little creature that nestles inside this foam-like substance is a froghopper – the nymphal stage of the spittlebug. They’re so named because, although tiny, they are rather ‘frog-like’. I retrieved one from its spittle and attempted to photograph it on an old leaf:

The photo is quite useless in showing the shape of this little thing. so here’s one from good old Wiki. Definitely ‘frog-like’…

A spittlebug nymph on a blade of grass on the banks of the East Lyn River in Exmoor National Park, Devon, England. Author: Diliff. Creative Commons

And here are a few more quotes about June:

There are two seasons in Scotland: June and winter. – Billy Connolly.

If a June night could talk it would probably boast it invented romance. – Bernard Williams.

It is better to be a young June bug than an old bird of paradise – Mark Twain (I couldn’t agree more. Mr Twain!)

To finish, here’s a video from YouTube, uploaded  by cendrillon325 – which, hopefully, makes sense of my post’s title. It’s a song from the Rodger’s and Hammerstein 1956 film Carousel – aptly titled, June is Bustin’ Out all Over: