British Summer Time lives up to its name
Published at 09:08, Monday, 02 April 2012
WHAT on earth has happened to the weather?
British Summer Time kicked off on Sunday, an auspicious date noted for its howling gales, spiteful snow flurries and temperatures somewhere below freezing.
It has always been a time when new stocks of Iron Jelloids and Oubridge’s Lung Tonic were laid in by any purple-faced unfortunate with an outdoor job.
Farmers would put on an extra coat and don a set of oilskins, and start sweeping up the newborn lambs called to meet their maker by the savagery of the annual Lambing Storm.
It’s been that way since old Tarquin the Gaul stood on top of his new Wall, and noted that all those nasty Picts were blue with cold.
But fast forward a couple of millennia to 2012, and British Summer Time did just what it said on the tin – it was summery!
The sun beat down out of a cloudless sky, birds frolicked lustily, people enjoyed picnics and sun cream had to be applied to delicate skin.
Bare-chested men cut the unseasonably long grass, and there was the rare sign of butterflies plunging their proboscises into unusual fare like daffodils and hyacinths, usually long gone before they flutter into life.
Parks staff in Hexham were caught on the hop, with the park benches still in storage for the winter, so people just sat on the grass.
It was like real summer, but without the wasps and midges, and what a wonderful change it made.
Of course, this early summer doesn’t bode well for the rest of the year, with most people resigned to the fact that a lovely spring in the harbinger of a wet and miserable summer.
You used to be able to rely on the weather behaving itself, and sticking religiously to the months allocated to it.
Winter began on December 1, when it snowed, and it continued to snow fitfully until the end of March.
In between, there were savage frosts, and strong winds, which whipped the powdered snow into drifts up to 15 feet high.
Snowploughs would charge into a drift, and there was a grinding noise as someone’s car, buried for days, was smashed to bits by the flashing blade of the plough.
It would be so cold the Tyne would freeze over, and people could skate from Bellingham to Hexham.
When I was a little boy, the ponds where we used to catch sticklebacks and snails in the summer froze over, and became an impromptu ice lolly factory.
I regularly crunched my way through sheets of pond ice on my way to school, picking off the green slime between bites until one day I was spectacularly smitten with stomach cramps of the worst kind.
I was sent home in disgrace, where I was given the belt for my ice munching exploits.
However, I still eat ice now...
As soon as April came, the snow vanished, hosts of daffodils and snowdrops burst through, and the fields were full of gambolling lambs, posing the eternal question of how anything so appealing could metamorphose into something as intrinsically dull as a sheep.
These were the days of sweeping every ditch and dark pond for frog spawn, which was triumphantly carried home in jam jars, but virtually never reached the tadpole stage, let alone produced a frog.
Another celestial switch was pulled in June, when the sun shone all day every day, and continued to do so right up to the end of August.
When I was a child, there were walks through fields of buttercups with my father, who instilled in me the name of every type of tree and their fruits.
There was also the annual fortnight on my uncle’s farm in Cumberland, where we ran wild two whole weeks, falling in peat bogs up to our waists, drinking crystal clear water from a tinkling beck which contained the corpse of a decomposing yowe five yards upstream and being scared witless at the heartstopping moment when a covey of red grouse exploded from the heather all round us.
Then it was autumn, and time for gathering blackberries and conkers, as well as trying to find 50 different kinds of Autumn Fruits and Seeds to bamboozle the teacher at school.
I was well aware that thanks to my father, I knew considerably more about fruits and seeds than she did.
I even managed to convince her that if she planted an oak apple, it would produce a tree with acorns that tasted like apples.
Published by http://www.hexhamcourant.co.uk