If there’s a blackthorn hedge nearby, keep an eye on it. At present it’s a tangle of black, knobbly twigs, yet soon a mass of white flowers will shroud those bare branches like a fall of snow.
Exactly when blackthorn will bloom is hard to predict, because it has a strange preference for flowering during a nithering spell. There’s bound to be one so don’t be caught out – heed the old saying: “Beware the Blackthorn Winter”.
In autumn those hedges and small trees will bear blue-black sloes, used to flavour gin. But the cantankerous blackthorn doesn’t give up its fruit easily. The tree is notorious for its long thorns that break off, leaving festering spells in the skin. These are the weapons of its guardians, bad-tempered imps known as Lunatishee.
In woods and on roadside verges, lesser celandines are flowering. Their glossy yellow stars are a cheerful sight among the grass, providing the day is fine. Celandines worship the sun, turning their flowers towards it and tracking its path throughout the day.
More yellow blooms are standing tall by ponds and streams. Kingcups, or marsh marigolds, bear grand-looking flowers like huge buttercups; as their name suggests, these native wild plants flourish in boggy ground.
Also starting to flower is the Lent lily, or native daffodil, which people used to collect for Easter. Today wild daffodils are protected, and it’s illegal to pick them. But fans visit Farndale every year simply to see narcissus pseodonarcissus in flower. The very first ones were out last week, so there’s plenty of time yet for that stroll beside the River Dove.
As we say farewell to March, it leaves us with a surprise. The month is said to borrow its last three days from April: “March borrowed of April three days, and they were ill. The one was sleet, the other was snow; the third was the worst that ever did blow.”
Some people were suspicious of these borrowed days, and it wasn’t because of the weather. Items used often, such as tools or clothes, were thought to have something of their owner in them and so could be used to cast a spell of ill wishing. For this reason, the wise person lent nothing on these uncanny Borrowing Days.
And so here comes April, and with it the joy of being hoaxed. All Fool’s Day arrived from Europe in the late 17th century, giving pests free licence to pin tails on coats and glue coins to the floor.
A perennial favourite was that classic workplace jape, the fruitless errand. Typically the victim was a new apprentice, who’d be despatched to fetch a tin of striped paint or a left-handed screwdriver. To prolong the fun, the innocent would be sent from person to person, a process known as “hunting t’gowk” – a gowk being a cuckoo.
While Victorians were claiming that the day was dying out, fooling was still going strong in the 1950s. Today it’s much less likely to be personal, although newspapers, TV, and social media keep it alive.
Should you be tempted, remember that foolery must stop at midday. Otherwise you’ll hear: “April first is gone and past, you’re the biggest Fool at last.”