Monday, 20 September 2010

Autumnal change in the weather!

It was a cold and crisp feeling in the air this morning as we travelled in to work by Motorcycle. Passing through Wentworth we saw a few Pheasant and a large family of Red Legged Partridge skulking on the field boundaries. The birds were busy gleaning the seed from what was left over after the harvest had been gathered in. We actually lit the log burner at home last night for the first time since the end of April this year. A good stock of logs have been drying over the summer in the wood store. The Morello Cherry tree in the garden had finaly given up and so it has also been added to the log pile. As for the boat, we have already had a couple of days with the stove lit on board Rosie.

Is this the first sign of the impending autumnal change?

Spring is always very welcome, summer seems to be all so short. Winter is always wet, dreary and miserable in equal quantities. Unless it is accompanied by a large snowfall and a sharp frost. The autumn however is a time of the year when leaves start to take on that multi-varied-shade of golden brown. The hedgerow berries ripen and all wildlife starts to hunker down waiting for next spring. According to John Keats' poem, "To Autumn". We are all about to enjoy a "Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness".

I am not a keen reader of poetry, all that was knocked out of me at school by a teacher with all the charisma of canal mud.

John Keats however is an interesting subject in his own right. The very talented Keats started out on  the European "Grand Tour" when he travelled to Rome. However, he died there, aged just 25, in 1821. He told his close friend and companion Joseph Severn that he didn't want his name to appear on his tombstone, but merely this line, "Here lies one whose name was writ in water." Severn to his eternal credit honoured Keats's last wish.

Talking about the seasons and the weather. Global Warming it seems to me, is the new version of the old "anecdotal warnings" of country folk of bad weather to come. Albeit a "red sky in the morning" or that "the cows are laid down in the fields". Each is given as evidence of bad weather to arrive later.

Some of this anecdotal evidence is even used to give long range weather forecasts. "The Swallows are grouping on the telegraph wires early this year, so we are in for a bad winter".

Is there any truth in this oft quoted evidence?

The lay person might say that the evidence of individual experience has been collected over a number of generations within a country family. The person with a scientific leaning might say that our weather patterns are very changeable anyway due to our location within the arc of the Atlantic driven weather systems. So that we should expect the weather to change every few days.

I used to enjoy the country programs on TV with Jack Hargreaves in "Out of Town" with all the nostalgia and sentimentality of shire horses ploughing a furrow and the memories of folk brought up in the countryside.  Jack Hargreaves's television programme gained him an immense following for its glorious mixture of rural ways and country life. Jack's farming background and deep understanding of country life were entertainingly evoked. There are affectionate and often moving portraits of his mother and his father or the "Old Man". Field sports and rural skills were brought vividly to life. His memories of the people, places and animals that were later to shape his broadcasts were certain to appeal to all those who shared his love of the English countryside - which at heart means every English man and woman.

I am quite happy to go along to my local hunt ball. However, I do not support "Country Persuit Sport's" such as Fox hunting on a point of principal. I am and allways have been anti-fox hunting. However, I have a live-and-let-live attitude to other peoples interests - I just choose not to join in.

I enjoyed the program content in "Out of Town". Jack Hargreaves was amongst the best-known and most popular of countryside television broadcasters. His weekly magazine programme about life in the country was first broadcast in 1959 and ran for twenty-four years. Its appeal endures, items from the series continue to be broadcast from time to time. Country file and John Craven became Jack's natural sucessors. 

I also enjoyed the weather forecasts on Yorkshire TV in the 1980s, "Foggitt's Forecast" was presented by William (Bill) Foggit. Bill had inherited a family tradition of amateur weather forecasting and made its curious methods a byword. Especially as enthusiasts tuned into his accounts of the behaviour of snails, moles, flies, pine cones and seaweed to predict the weather. Or the unseasonal flowering of coltsfoot, which he used to predict patterns of rain and sunshine. He did this with notable accuracy! often beating the Meteorological Office at its own game. His slot on Television was respected regionally more than that of the Meteorological Office, and not just because its description of erratic sheep behaviour were much more engaging than isobars. Bill's enormous stock of lore was as reliable as the professional technology. Like his equivalent at Delphi, Foggitt, the "Oracle of Thirsk", embodied the accumulated wisdom not only of his own lifetime, but of his ancestors'. The Foggitts had been keeping weather records in Thirsk since 1830, when Bill's great-grandfather, prompted by the story of a flood which had swept away part of the town of Yarm in 1771, began a weather diary in the hope of being able to predict such catastrophes.

Foggitt's method was based on two things: the conviction, derived from family records, that the weather is cyclical, a severe winter occurring every 15 years, a very hot summer every 22; and the country lore passed on through generations of the Foggitt family and based on traditional sayings and observations of plant and animal behaviour. Thus, when swallows come early in April, it will be a good summer; the closing of pine cones precedes wet weather; soporific flies mean thunderstorms; when frogs lay their spawn in mid-pond and rooks nest higher in the treetops, the weather will be warm; if the yellow goatsbeard flower closes its petals early in the day, it heralds rain.

Foggitt had always been interested in animal behaviour and recalled seeing, on a mild Boxing Day in 1946, a flock of waxwings devouring some holly berries. He was with his father at the time, who remarked that it was going to be a bad year. The waxwings, he said, had come from Scandinavia, fleeing the weather. Sure enough, 1947 turned out to be one of the coldest years in living memory.

Bill was invited by Professor John Gilbert of Reading University to participate in a project, based on remote sensing in science education, which would become a standard element in the national science curriculum. Foggitt, whose family folklore was a significant factor in the project, was later described by Gilbert as a living legend who was still practising methods of weather forecasting used as far back as the 15th century.

In 1990, as part of a promotion campaign, the English Tourist Board published a pamphlet containing 50 of Foggitt's "Be your own Forecaster" tips, including such pearls of wisdom as "Rainbows at morn, good weather has gone"; "Rain before seven, fair by 11, When squirrels start to hoard, winter will strike like a sword"; and Foggitt's very own, "When the distant view is clear, rain will very soon be here."

Unlike Keats, poetry,was not Bill's strong suit.


No comments:

Post a Comment

Please put your name to your comment. Comments without a name may automatically be treated as spam and might not be included.

If you do not wish your comment to be published say so in your comment. If you have a tip or sensitive information you’d prefer to share anonymously, you may do so. I will delete the comment after reading.