Category Archives: seasons
It’s the end of an era!
For the first time in many months I’ve had the confidence to go out (further than the local shops) on the bike without carrying any form of rain protection “just in case”. It’s mild, sunny, and blowing a vigorous breeze. I feel much better for a ride!
In another sign of spring, fresh rhubarb arrived in the shops several weeks ago (though I suspect it was grown by some not entirely natural process to be with us quite so early). Happy to see the season of good dessert ingredients brought forward.
 Possibly since last May, if you allow “rather get wet than wear waterproofs when its warm” as a form of rain protection in the summer months.
Earlier this week I met a huge articulated lorry on a country lane. It was carrying a big load of hay: something one might easily see on a tractor on that road, but not a big lorry. I was on the bike, but had to pull in at a passing place to meet it.
It’s a bit of a puzzle. What was a load of hay doing there in April, and why was it on a lorry whose natural environment should surely be the motorway? My best guess is that here it’s surplus to requirements after a much milder winter than in the past two years, but that someone in the drought-hit east or southeast of England needs to supplement their animal feed.
Last weekend our powers-that-be extended the official drought area to include us (southwest England) and the Midlands. That’s interesting, because water levels in our reservoirs, though rather low for April, are almost identical to where they were this time last year. With this week’s rain (heavy showers – classic April weather) they’ll creep up above where they were a year ago. So why have they declared us a drought area? Do they have plans to transport our water eastwards?
For the record, we have had three months of very dry weather from about the second week of January to a few days ago, including a couple of exceptionally warm and sunny weeks at the end of March. But following a very wet end to last year there was lots of ground water to feed the reservoirs and (coupled with seasonally low demand) stop them depleting.
WordPress isn’t allowing me to embed SouthWest Water’s relevant graph (and infuriatingly offers no clue why: I even checked for any metadata suggesting copyright might be an issue, but there is none). So here’s a link to our reservoir levels. Note that if you read this post after the end of 2012 the graph will no longer show what I’m talking about.
This is unquestionably the worst time of year. It’s dark most of the day, and to make it worse people are burning coal, wood, and other things turning the air foul. This year remains thoroughly mild, in what may be a reversion to normal after two real winters.
And the season of humbug is in full swing. I can cope with a few stupid lights – even flashing ones. And a salvation army band (or whatever it was) in town playing lots of David Willcocks arrangements.
But the shops are a whole nother story. Not just the display of ‘seasonal’ crap, but bigger crowds than at other times. And that’s not gift shops, toyshops, or even clothes shops, it’s bloomin’ supermarkets. Do they all eat twice as much for the whole month of December?
I wonder if I can bunker down and live on tinned/frozen/miscellaneous longlife food for the next three weeks? Ugh
… the sheep on the edge of the moors are all clustered in the areas of shade.
… the heating on the bus apparently can’t be turned off!
This year’s Indian Summer is particularly striking, coming as it does not just after the equinox, but also after autumn seemed to have set in in earnest with some fairly serious wind and rain.
(For international readers, we Brits use the phrase Indian Summer to describe a spell of hot, sunny weather coming after summer is supposed to have ended. Just about late September it’s pretty usual).
By the calendar it’s spring. By the weather it’s high summer, with daytime temperatures well into the twenties and lots of sunshine. And our reservoirs were unusually low for the season even back in January and February, before (by some accounts) the driest March on record, and an April that thinks it’s June.
So you’d think spring produce would be in the shops. Yet my attempt to find spring onions just now failed to find any such thing in two greengrocers and one supermarket! As with most produce they’re usually in the shops in all seasons – either imported from distant parts or force-grown in artificial conditions when out of season. Yet now, nothing! Bah, Humbug.
More positively, I’ve got some nice firmly-in-season asparagus and rhubarb in the kitchen, and six months of continually-varying seasonal goodies ahead.
As for the weather, will it turn out like 2007 when a hot dry April was followed by heavy rain, with floods in parts of the country, in June/July? Or will this year be the big drought?
After a false start in February with about one day of warm, fine weather before it turned first wet and then much colder again, this time it seems to be here for real. Not quite warm yet, but about a week now of borderline T-shirt weather when out in the sun (of which there is now plenty).
Yesterday just walking over Whitchurch Down to Lidl, the real signs of spring were all around. A lady of pensionable age sitting out on a park bench to enjoy reading her paper. The buzz of the bumblebee. The startling scent of spring blossom after the drab winter months. Etcetera.
Alas, this reminds me of what we’ve lost. This year and last we’ve missed our customary early springtime when the once-lovely tree in Paddons Row would blossom gloriously, upwards of a month earlier in the season. It’s looking very dead, having borne neither blossom nor leaf as of late. Could it be the winters? Or has some human activity cut off its roots, or poisoned them? Surely a tree that size has seen its fair share of winter, which leaves the perils of its concrete-jungle location as prime suspect.
Last night at 4a.m. came a big clap of thunder. I got up to go and disconnect all electronic equipment from the mains power, in case of a damaging spike.
Going back to bed, I notice it’s a lot lighter than it should be. My window is lit up, almost bright enough to be daylight through thick cloud. Not in a healthy colour, rather a dirty grey shade of salmon pink. Looking more closely, I see it’s snowing: the light is just the usual streetlight pollution reflected off thick, falling snow. Why the **** are we burning so many ugly bright lights at 4 a.m.?
Going out today, I’m disappointed to find it’s nothing like last winter’s real snow, but rather classic English mild-weather slush. Ugh. Still seems to have brought half the county to a halt.
Today we’ve seen fog in the valley. Freezing fog, forming ice in my hair and beard, though not quite the icicles in the eyebrows my teenage self grew in the colder winter of 1978-9.
As I walked up Whitchurch Down on the edge of Dartmoor, a woman coming down told me the sun was shining up the top. It seemed a little unlikely from the cold, grey surroundings, but plausible given that the fog was clearly a frost-hollow effect. And indeed, when I got up to the top I saw the sun gradually appear through the fog, and then with startling rapidity in its full glory as the fog became the merest of wisps. It was the effect of emerging above the clouds usually associated with real mountains – or flight.
Visually it was strikingly beautiful looking down upon the clouds. Indeed, one of many fine effects we’ve seen this autumn/winter, starting with an exceptionally rich and gorgeous display of autumn colour from the trees in October/November. Today’s bare trees through the fog made a striking image, as did the sun over the very small range between invisibility and full brightness.
On the way up, snaps of the emerging sun through the bare trees …
On the way down, the sun rapidly diminishes …
Along with this, my thermostat is now telling me it’s the coldest weather we’ve had since I moved to this place in 2005, and my gut feeling is that it’s the coldest since I moved to southwest England in 1998, notwithstanding a spot of real winter last year.
The Big Freeze is all over the news. Yep, we have frost as early in the season as November! That’s in contrast to many recent years like 2006/7 or 2007/8. It’s even a contrast to last winter’s real snow, which came a little later in the season and never quite brought an old-fashioned cold spell.
Is winter reverting to something more like “normal”, when a first frost – indeed a 24-hour frost – would be pretty sure to come sometime in November, and going out on Guy Fawkes Night (November 5th) could get chilly?
In other non-news the season of humbug is upon us and the shops and streets are full of crap. Brings nostalgia for the Italian winter, when the festive season had the virtue of brevity, so it wasn’t so drained of meaning.
A slightly-belated spring is now clearly upon us. Apart from the weather, which moved very rapidly from a cold winter to bright&sunny around the beginning of the month, we have the flowers in bloom, and a rapid growth in wildlife activity.
Two things in particular mark the season. This weekend I bought some rhubarb and made a crumble of it, marking the beginning of a delicious season of fresh, sweet fruit and veg that runs through the summer soft fruits to the autumn’s blackberries and apples, plums and pears. I’ve spotted rhubarb before, but now I can believe it’s genuine local fresh stuff, as opposed to grown under very-artificial conditions or imported.
Then last night, I heard a rich buzzing sound. Actually rather easier on the ear than a bee or big fly, this large and rather beautiful wasp shut up fairly quickly and settled on the top of the curtain. I went to the kitchen to fetch a large jar with screw-on lid, but on my return I couldn’t see it anywhere, even after shaking the curtains and other soft things. Oops! Carefully shake the duvet and pillows before returning to bed. Hear it later, but by now I’m sufficiently relaxed to ignore it, and in the morning all I needed to do was encourage it out of the window. A bit of research today tells me I just met a queen hornet!
 Plan: leave it in the jar overnight, and take it out to the garden in the morning.