OPINION: May is the gateway to a blossoming summer
- Credit: Trevor Allen
May, heavy with quick-ripening promises, still finds me restless.
The gateway to summer is not the easiest to negotiate when you know it might not be quite so lush when you get there. Perhaps that’s why this month is popular for casting votes.
Politicians are a superstitious lot, looking for lucky omens in every street and believing old wives’ tales if they keep coming up on the doorstep. Fingers crossed for fine weather and a big turn-out for local elections next Thursday.
It’s very unlucky to give the polling station a miss and still expect things to change for the better in Norfolk. Remember the old local sore “March will sarch yer, April will try; May will tell yer whether yew’ll live or die”.
When I was a boy and cricket was king, that old warning to “ne’er cast a clout til May is out” preached solid sporting sense. It cautioned swashbucklers in the making to play themselves in before charging down the track to destroy tiring bowlers and thrill short-sleeved crowds with meaty boundaries.
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A useful metaphor for life – even in the unforgiving world of politics – but I let it linger exclusively at the crease of our great summer game. My case seemed to be enhanced by emergence of Peter May as one of the most stylish batsmen of his era in the service of Surrey and England.
Grace and timing in perfect harmony to bless a new season with rich promise. ”May blossoms” a scented headline to savour, especially when Australians waited to be tested and John Arlott, king of radio commentators, readied poetic gems.
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Then more prosaic interpreters of traditional country wisdom blew away romantic confetti to remind us not to discard that warm woolly (and itchy) vest until end of the month.
Another school of thought gathering beyond the nearest hedge claimed ‘May’ referred to the hawthorn tree – Crataegus monogyna – whose common name is ‘may’. So you should wait until the hawthorn’s in bloom before doing away with that cosy underwear.
However, anyone who has shivered on a cricket ground either as player or spectator in early days of a new campaign can vouch for comfort of extra layers when searching winds whistle in from deep square- leg.
Maybe a more daring tea lady might be keen to celebrate unlatching our gateway to summer with a knowing nod towards enchanting lines about the fair maid who, on the first of May. goes to the field at break of day.
Apparently, if she washes in dew from the hawthorn tree, she’ll ever after handsome be. Must be about time we read more about this in Wisden and saw some kind of re-enactment on Countryfile.
Most rustic lore, though, from my childhood album hardly bordered on the entertaining, let alone the erotic. Superstitions abounded and village elders gave off even stronger whiffs of venerability as they warned against heinous diversions like sniffing dandelions. This could lead only to wetting the bed.
Putting new shoes on a table or bed meant bringing death into the house. Spilling salt or crossing knives was certain forerunner of a quarrel. If you set a hen on an even number of eggs you’d get no chicks. Placing a broom in a corner would bring stranger to your home.
Some advice carried a malicious edge. I was told to always burn a tooth when it was drawn because if a dog should find it and eat it, you would have a dog’s tooth come in its place.
A sudden shiver meant someone was walking over your future grave. If you made a present of a knife or pair of scissors, the person receiving had to give you something in exchange , otherwise all love and friendship between you would be cut off.
I also shuddered on being told the “true story” of a farm labourer whose horse had something tied around its neck as a safeguard against mishap. This was stolen by a mischievous urchin at the instigation of some parish wags and found to be the thumb of an old leather glove containing a transcript of the Lord’s Prayer.
Lilac remains one of my favourite flowers despite constant reminders that bringing it indoors amounted to inviting death into the house. We had lilac bushes standing sentry either side of our old well.
I would lean out of my bedroom window regularly to drink in sweet-scented riches.
Skip's Aside: It may have started when that new chap on the farm called the mechanical monster a concubine harvester .We gave him free electrocution lessons.
Then a local preacher told us Moses collected the Ten Commandments on Mount Cyanide And we think he said Salome danced in front of Harrods.
Rustic malapropisms, family foibles, (or at least the ones Aesop didn’t use) tips of the slongue and priceless Norfolkisms. I’ve garnered a big crop over the years, some of them delightful echoes from childhood.
Plenty of examples of village veterans describing their ailments, ranging from haricot veins to multiplication of the bowels .”She had ter hev sum o’ them contradictive pills” still makes me smile. As does that famous notice in a country doctor’s surgery – “No talkin’ – and hev yer simptoms riddy”.
There was nothing medical about the ceremony as far as I know, but many a new Norfolk vicar was induced before being told what time to celebrate Holy Commotion.
The old churchwarden had the perfect answer when asked by a newcomer if they had matins in the church: “No, we hev lino ryte up ter the altar”.
The village shop was another rich source of instant humour, some of it off the top shelf reserved for regular packages. Old Harry only once had to ask for a roll of Anthrax and a legend was born.
Edith’s girl needed but a single order for some of that Coronation Milk to go on tinned peaches and her place in local folklore was assured. Young Billy would be destined for stardom as soon as he admitted listening to them helter-skelter tablets fizzing in his glass.
Several rounds of chortling at The Eradicated Coypu pub as a regular said he was ready to throw his hat into the political marina at local election time. Another urged all right-minded customers to sign his partition against them tricolated lorries thundering through the parish.
Landlord joins in the spirit by asking who wants to see holiday snaps he took on the Costa Fortune with a new Paranoid camera. His wife wonders if the Morris dancers calling next week will reveal secrets of their futility rites.
Painting such memorable pictures in words leaves me overcome with emulsion. Must drink some semi-skilled milk to cool me down.