KITCHEN SINK DRAMA
What is it they say? Cast ne’er a clout till May be out. The trouble is that I cast several clouts back during that freakish week in March, and since then I’ve had a whole bag of clouts sitting on my bedroom floor, just biding their time till they can replace the heavier, more depressing clouts that are — infuriatingly — still wardrobe essentials and us nearly halfway through May.
Clouts, in case you are unfamiliar with the casting of them or otherwise, is an archaic English word for clothes, dating back to at least the 15th century. The proverb first appeared in print in Dr Thomas Fuller’s verse Gnomologia (thank you, Wikipedia) in 1732, but by then it was already accepted folk wisdom that clouts were ne’er to be cast before May was out.
Funnily enough, though, it’s not the clouts in the proverb that are ambiguous, but the May. Scholarly opinion is divided on whether the May of the proverb refers to the month of May, or the blossom of the hawthorn tree, which in England was also commonly known as the May tree.
If the latter is the true genesis of the proverb, then I feel I am quite within my rights to cast clouts left, right and centre, because I am writing this while looking at the hawthorn tree at the end of my garden, and it is heaving with its white blossoms. You may know that whatever its association with ancient English proverbs, here in Ireland the hawthorn tree enjoys a potent reputation as the fairy tree.
As it happens, I didn’t need Wikipedia to tell me that — a rather startled landscape gardener, drafted in to restore order to our sorry patch a few years back, told me all about the superstitions surrounding our tree, which he assessed as being several hundred years old. We must never cut down that tree, warned this otherwise intelligent and pragmatic man, or terrible things will happen to us.
Oddly, I subsequently had a conversation with Diarmuid Gavin in which he, thoroughly spooked, echoed the other gardener’s sentiments. I am not superstitious, but frankly, that tree isn’t going anywhere soon.
Besides, the kids love having a fairy tree at the end of the garden and The Youngest and her cuddly penguin sidekick, Pablo, swear they’ve actually seen the fairies who must surely live
‘We must never cut down that hawthorn tree, the gardener warned, or terrible things will happen to us’
in it. Of course, we could all go out and look for the fairies if it wasn’t so cold, wet and thoroughly miserable.
I have a theory now that that week in March, lovely and all as it was, has basically buggered up the rest of the summer on us. The Donegal postman, legendary predictor of the weather, almost said as much on the radio, even as the temperatures were sizzling back at a time when snow is not unusual.
Actually, what he said was that he hadn’t a clue whether such an unprecedented early hot spell meant a good or bad summer ahead, but he did know that such weather was ‘not normal’ and that any weather event that is not normal is never good. He sounded quite sad when he said it, and that was on a lovely sunny day. Presumably, he’s even more depressed now.
But there’s no denying that we have had the worst April in years and that May has so far failed to cut the mustard. And so all my summer clothes remain in their bag, dragged from their hibernation on the top shelf of the wardrobe during that March madness and never returned to their winter berth because, well, any day now... Two months, they’ve been sitting there, while I am still in my jumpers and boots. What on earth is going on?
We can only console ourselves that there surely must be sunny days to come. Plenty of them, please, for the kids to look for fairies and splash around in our ridiculously oversized paddling pool and for The Dog to run his laps around the garden in the mistaken belief that he is part of their game.
And for me to sit on my patio, drowning in sunshine and books, watching the sun eventually dip down behind the hawthorn tree — and hearing that familiar devilish whisper in my ear that it the tree wasn’t there, we’d have an extra hour of sunshine in the evenings. I will ignore it, of course. After all, I can only just about put up with the unpredictability of the weather. The potential consequences of cutting down a fairy tree — be they real or imagined — are frankly not a risk I’m willing to take.