DAVID SAINT COLUMN: With snow looming, weather folklore is based on fact

‘A green Christmas, a full churchyard.’  Charming, and a Happy New Year to you too, writes David Saint.

By Graham Tebbutt (edited by)
Wednesday, 5th January 2022, 12:04 pm
Updated Wednesday, 5th January 2022, 12:06 pm
Haymaking played a large part in David Saint's young life
Haymaking played a large part in David Saint's young life

What a cheerful way to start 2022, but if the old maxim holds true, the mild, foggy and wet weather over the festive season could indicate a busier time for undertakers in the months ahead!

Don’t you just love all that ‘country lore’?

Although I was born only a couple of hundred yards from the town centre in Daventry, I still insist that I am a countryman at heart.

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After all, the road in which I was born was originally called ‘Dog Lane’ and my family’s very existence revolved around their highly- productive plot of land.

We kept pigs, geese and fowl, and our huge orchard, with 100 fruit trees, was grazed by sheep.

Haymaking was a high point of my youth. However, as a teenager, I resented the hard work then, but I would give anything to be able to do it again.

I remember my mum reciting, ‘Sun on Christmas Day, few good apples and little hay’, but I fancy haymaking and apple picking were always hard work whatever the weather on December 25.

My parents were both simple country folk from Somerset and I was brought up with a wealth of West Country weather lore, and now that I am older, I seem to have resorted to their bucolic wisdom.

Here in Northamptonshire, one of the greatest sources of weather lore is John Clare, the Northamptonshire Peasant Poet.

His work reveals the extent to which life revolved around the seasonal changes.

He was not only a wordsmith, but also a first-rate naturalist with incredible powers of observation, something we have perhaps forgotten to employ in this age of technology.

Clare’s poetry and prose are peppered with wonderful meteorological references, even though to him, they were just ‘life’.

For example, through observation, he and his like used plants to forecast the weather.

Take the scarlet pimpernel for a start. The petals of this pretty flower always close when rain is on the way. Don’t ask me why, but someone must have noted this and down the centuries the pimpernel has come to be known as the shepherd’s weather glass.

Clare also noted the small insects – ‘wood-seers’ – that hide in those silky sacks under leaves. If you can be bothered, you will observe that if the insect’s head is turned upwards we are in for fine weather, or downwards for rain.

And we must never ever stamp on a beetle; that was a sure way to encourage a downpour!

As I write, I have no idea what New Year’s Day weather indicates. I shall have to take notes and let you know later!

But certainly the Milton Malsor Christmas rhyme is one that I like.

I wonder if it will hold in 2022: ‘Christmas Day bright and gay, gather your horses and go and get hay. Christmas Day ragged and rough, sit by your fire, you’ll have quite enough.’

Best, perhaps, to rely on Tomasz Schafernaker instead... it’s always good to have someone to blame!