The Irish Mail on Sunday - TV Week - - FRONT PAGE - Don’t miss Fiona Looney’s bril­liant col­umn, with her unique take on mod­ern Ire­land, only in the Ir­ish Daily Mail ev­ery Wed­nes­day.

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.

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