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Seasonal Reflections:  May

We bought a new gas one a couple of years ago in an end-of-season sale, I think it was, and it’s still in its box. It was when my wife talked about giving it to one of the kids the other day, that I realised I had gone off barbecuing. Maybe it was just that we’ve had a couple of bad summers but I’ve lost the urge to do my culinary thing down the garden while everyone else enjoys themselves twenty yards out of the smoke zone.


But it’s confusing because it is only mid-May and I’ve already missed one barbecue and been to another. I realised I must be getting old when I found I was quite happy to sit in the background and watch, first one of my sons and then my son-in-law, brave the smoke zone. It was very relaxing to sit there and watch the panic and endeavours of every able bodied male there, except me, wrestle with the gas cylinder in a frantic effort to get one connected that had gas. As I said, very relaxing.  I like a steak that has barbecue flavour and I’m OK with chops, but I’m always wary about chicken thighs, sausages are tolerable and burgers may be – or not. But I’m sure there are easier ways to cook, but I suppose it is the thrill of the great outdoors and seeing how many mossies you can swat before they drain you of a pint or so of blood.


You know the optimists are out when the big stores put loads of barbecues right by the door as if challenging you to leave without one tucked under you arm. No thank you, I have a nice one in a box at home!  In another store, all round the entrance area, it was fans and chiller units that leered at you. ”You know this cooling wind is going to drop soon and so you’ll need at least one of these in every room,” they seemed to say. No thanks, I bought one a couple of years ago at the instigation of she who must be obeyed, but unless you put loads of ice into it, it just pushes warm air around the room and, no, it didn’t act like a placebo so, no, we didn’t feel cooled just by its presence in the room!  I have this picture of store managers logging on to weather sites every morning with eager anticipation that the temperature will actually go up. I mean we’re almost in June aren’t we (OK a couple more weeks) so it should be really warm shouldn’t it


I’m looking to see how this year is going to carry on. I’m told that in 1939 there was what they called the ‘phoney war’ where really not a lot was happening. Well I think this Spring into Summer thing could be like that. Plenty of sunshine but if the wind comes back from the north again you won’t need your chiller unit, more like a quick boost of the central heating. You see, as much as I try to read the signs of the season, I’m getting confused. Being in the office a reasonable time, on the computer, over this past week or so it has varied between shorts and tee-shirt working to vest, shirt and something on top – and that all in one day. Sneaky stuff this weather at this time of the year. It’s pretty crazy at night too. Window open one minute, then closed the next as the wind changes direction and picks up. Throw a cover off one minute, then pull it back on a couple of hours later. At least when the real summer arrives we’ll know to go out in a coat and with an umbrella!


You know what is crazy? Earlier this afternoon I was shutting windows. Five minutes ago I turned on the fan next to my desk. It’s sweltering and don’t tell me it’s just the heat generated by my computer. I think summer has just arrived. No, it can’t be, it’s only mid-May, or is there some great conspiracy whereby the Russians have speeded up the planet and it genuinely is June even if I haven’t yet ticked off half of May on my calendar. Oh blow this, I’m going to save some electricity and turn the fan off, go outside and put the barbecue together. Now where did I last see a gas cylinder? Oh rats! Where is that old charcoal? Ah, if I took an extension lead out I could use my fan to blow the charcoal into flames and then.... is it still 999 for the fire brigade?  I’m sure life used to be more simple than this! Have a good rest of May, and don’t eat too much charcoal; I’m told it’s not good for you.



PS. Did you know that International Dawn Chorus Day falls in May - the 6th to be precise and it is an annual event aimed at getting people out listening to bird song. You can find more about it HERE


PPS. Thinking about May and traditional things, has anyone actually seen a Maypole, or are they things that went out of use long back?




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THE SEASONS: May Reflections originally written in 2011
Is this Summer?  Just recently, at least twice, I’ve heard people asking, “Is this summer?” And the reason for that question? The amount of sunshine we’ve been having (2011). Perhaps it is that we’ve had so much bad weather in recent years that we have forgotten that sometimes we do have long periods without rain and with plenty of sunshine. [I see from our May Editorial that April and May of 2012 were not the same - grey and rain!]

So, no, I’m afraid it’s not summer even though, as far as sunshine is concerned, it may be better than June to August. What a Jeremiah! Time will tell. No, you tell it’s Spring and not Summer, not by the weather but by the plant life around us.
This is the time of year when, historically, we’ve made our way up to Gusted Hall, and wandered the path across ploughed field to “the bluebell wood”, except these days the “bluebell wood” has a fence around it with a nasty little exclusive signs saying “Private Wood - No Trespassing” The sad thing is that a fence isn’t going to keep out anyone determined to get in and do damage. It’s just that the rest of us are excluded. So should you go up there and want to see bluebells just go the first hundred yard walk along the edge of the first woods until you are under cover and there on your left there are still plenty of bluebells. They’re an interesting plant, aren’t they; on their own they are not very spectacular and yet in their hundreds that carpet of blue takes on a hazy magical look. Yes, it’s spring!
If you don’t want to trek out for bluebells, have a look around your garden for Aquilegias. They tend to be a very delicate looking plant that appears year after year. In our experience deep blue or pale violet are the most common colours although you can get reds and yellows.  You don’t need to keep their seeds; they will reproduce quite happily on their own, but you may have to buy in fresh colours if they revert back.
So yes, the Aquilegias are coming out, it must be late April or early May.  Spring is here – but not summer!  

I have commented on these pages before about how slow the Oak tree is to shed its leaves. Well they’re all off now as new buds start pushing out. Spring is well and truly here but not summer because by summer they will all have their new leaves complete.
Which brings us to another sign that we’re still in spring and not yet in summer – many plants have now got new leaves and new growth, but not flowers yet. The Buddleia is a good example of this. Trimmed back last autumn, this plant much loved by butterflies is now in full flowing growth – yet it will carry on growing a lot more yet, but there is already a fullness about it but no sign of flowers. Yes, spring is here – but not summer.  It is worth noting that there are a few butterflies around, the cabbage white (obviously!) little blue ones (the common blue?), little orange and white ones (?) and the very occasional larger tortoiseshell. When the butterflies come out in numbers, then we’ll know we’re into summer.

On a lighter note, I like the answer on Yahoo’s answer page that someone wrote in a couple of years ago to, ”When is it Summer?” -  I don’t know I’ve been waiting two and a half years for it!  I also liked the answer, “I’m not sure but last year it fell on a Wednesday”  

Those two summarise our feelings about summer in England, and perhaps explain a little more why I’ve heard twice in recent weeks, the question, “Is this summer?”  Well, now you know. Look at the signs and at least they tell you that now is not summer even if it has been sunny. In June, July and August it will be summer, despite the weather!  When we get there, we’ll look at some of the signs – apart from the weather – that tell us it is so.
Barbecues and Fans: Well this has been an unusual Spring. I wrote a couple of weeks ago of the confusion about Spring or early Summer, and talked about the signs that it is just still Spring. Well over the last couple of weeks as the sunshine has prevailed, I’ve noticed two other things that go to confuse the aged season watcher – barbecues and fans!

Now I have to confess that I am rubbish at barbecues these days. I haven’t always been. I’ve burnt my fair share of sausages, burgers and chops over the years on real charcoal and on gas fired bricks and I’ve burnt my way through a two little oblong cast iron BBQs, a couple of metal circular ones (the remnants of which keep appearing whenever I have a shed clear out), and a real pukka gas one, so you can see I’ve done my fair share of carbon creation over the years.