We commented a little while back that seasons are not so much what the diary says
they should be but what the weather and nature tell us they are. We also noted that
statistically July is the warmest month on average in England. We didn’t say anything
So, OK, ‘changeable’ is probably the best word to describe the weather as we have
experienced it this year (2011) – warm, cool, sunny, cloudy, dry, wet – yes, changeable!
(There was also an earthquake in the south I believe).
But perhaps it has been this variable weather that has made for grinning gardeners
and happy horticulturists! July is a time of early harvest and this year it has
been good. Beans, tomatoes, you name it from the vegetable garden, it has been good!
Soft fruit – good! Flowers, trees, shrubs, bushes – good! They have liked this mix
of rain and sun. Somebody, somewhere is bound to disagree, but where we’ve been,
this is how it is!
But if we’re trying to identify characteristics of seasons by month, the focus in
minds of many people has been on schools. By now they have all broken up and there
has been the seasonal discussion whether long holidays are helpful educationally.
Apparently the higher the social grouping your children belong to, the better the
summer will be educationally. At the lowest end, popular opinion suggests, they will
actually regress educationally. There appear to be good reasons for this but here
isn’t the place to expand on them.
But before the schools broke up, for the last month or so, the countryside was littered
with signs advertising school fetes or end of year shows or similar. School trips
out abounded in the early part of the month and now, all around the country, exhausted
teachers are muttering, “If you dare say we don’t deserve these long holidays, I’ll
....!” – that is assuming they haven’t already taken off for sunnier places.
And there is another characteristic of July: it is a time of discussing the rainy
summer that we’re probably all going to have to endure if we don’t leave the country.
I think it was the Times that wrote, “With showers expected for much of the country
today other than the East and the South East, that gloomy forecast would be entirely
in keeping with the St Swithin’s Long-Range Forecast Unit’s prediction (“St Swithin’s
Day, if it does rain/ Full forty days, it will remain/ St Swithin’s Day, if it be
fair/ For forty days, t’will rain no more”).
Now here’s my question. The 15th July, St. Swithin’s Day, was HERE a bright sunny
day. Does that mean we’re down for forty days sunshine? If so, someone hasn’t told
whoever it is who orders the daily weather. Or was it, as the gloomy pundit of the
Times (and a variety of other papers) seemed to indicate, we’re doomed by what happens
in the rest of the country? Perhaps it’s better not to go by old wives’ tales! But
who was Swithin?
According to the excellent BBC web-site,
“He was born in the kingdom of Wessex and educated in its capital, Winchester. He
was famous for charitable gifts and building churches. Swithin was chaplain to Egbert,
the 802-839 king of Wessex. Egbert's son Ethelwulf, whom Swithin educated, made him
bishop of Winchester in 852. Only one miracle is attributed to Swithin while he was
alive. An old lady's eggs had been smashed by workmen building a church. Swithin
picked the broken eggs up and, it is said, they miraculously became whole again.
Swithin died on 2 July 862. According to tradition, he had asked to be buried humbly.
His grave was just outside the west door of the Old Minster, so that people would
walk across it and rain fall on it in accordance with Swithin's wishes. On 15 July
971 though, Swithin's remains were dug up and moved to a shrine in the cathedral
by Bishop Ethelwold. Miraculous cures were associated with the event, and Swithin's
feast day is the date of the removal of his remains, not his death day. However,
the removal was also accompanied by ferocious and violent rain storms that lasted
40 days and 40 nights and are said to indicate the saint's displeasure at being moved.
This is probably the origin of the legend that if it rains on Saint Swithin's feast
day, the rain will continue for 40 more days.” So there you are!
Never having done a survey of such things, I suspect that July has more golf tournaments,
athletic meets and cricket matches that any other month. I could be wrong but it
seems like that. If we were Americans we might be sending our kids away for the duration
to “Summer Camps” but mostly we haven’t got around to that although there are some
similar things that go on during the ‘vacation’. Watching the Council and Extended
Schools sites and that of Essex Wildlife Trust, the end of July is also the start
of a myriad of holiday events for children, young people and families.
It is also a time when more children appear in Supermarkets in the week and mothers
start sounding shrill. Friday 22nd is also reported to be one of the heaviest on
the roads as families dash away as soon as the schools break up. But, as I think
about things that characterise this time of the year, I note something that is as
clearly absent as if a cuckoo was not heard in Spring – have I been sleeping or haven’t
we had the annual French air-traffic controllers’ strike yet? You can’t rely on
thing to stay the same these days!