04 May 2009

Summer is here, let's celebrate

Summer is here, let's celebrate

The swallows arrived on 17th April this year. They got to Northumberland on 19th April. Summer is now here. This winter has been a long haul – cold, with lots of snow, and pretty glum. 

It is humbling and refreshing to get to spring/early summer - nature continues regardless of the trials and tribulations of mankind's ups and downs.  The daffodils and tulips come out in April and are still here, but turning, while the bluebells are just perfect.  A couple of weeks ago, our cherry tree was beautiful, heavy with fulsome white blossom, which suddenly fell onto the ground on windy day to leave a melancholic blanket of white on our lawn.  Our crab apple tree has come out with its deep pink blossom, soon to turn white like the blossom on our apple trees. 

Then comes the baroque extravagance of the purple blossom on our wisteria - a truly exuberant expression of the beauty of early summer.  It covers one whole wall and the blossoms hang like huge bunches of grapes.  It hums with the buzz of all manner of insects attracted to its jasmine smelling flowers.

At this time every year, we celebrate May Day in our village just west of Ripon we live in. It’s a really traditional event. Held on the village green, there are May Day dances by the girls of the village and usually a few very reluctant boys. A new May Queen is crowned by the previous year’s May Queen.

Then there are cake stalls, a tombola, a white elephant stand, face painting and several shops, as well as games and activities – such as coconut shies, pig races, catch-a-rat, a bouncy castle and large bouncy slide.

May Day is a celebration of half the year, moving from the Wintry Half back into the Summery Half. It is thought to be associated with celebrations like Beltane which has become Christianised and more secular to become the modern event, which often also includes Morris Dancing in many villages. Traditionally, the May dancers were led out with the dancing figure of the Jack-in-the-Green, who harks back to the times when our trees were sacred. In our village, we have a bag-piper, which sounds good but is not very proper (perhaps a Northumbrian piper would be better, but I am not sure there is such a thing as Yorkshire pipes).

It’s a great day and is another sign of the start of Summer. It’s also good that traditional festivals are being kept going.   Modern society is too interested in riding roughshod over traditional values just for change for changes sake; often without replacing them at all.

In 2008, the traditional Ripon pancake race had to be abandoned for health and safety reasons. Not because the race was considered especially dangerous, but rather completing all the paperwork was far too onerous and the Council was going to charge the organisers £250 for the privilege of carrying out the race. After an outcry, which included lots of publicity from the newspapers and Terry Wogan on Radio 2, the pancake race was reinstated on Shrove Tuesday 2009.

A traditional British event on Shrove Tuesday, the first pancake race was said to have taken place in Olney in Buckinghamshire in 1445 and originated from a housewife, busy cooking pancakes to eat before Lent, rushing outside with pan in hand when the bells sounded to summon people to church.

It’s good that the killjoy attitudes of modern health and safety legislation don’t always prevail and that some fun things are allowed to be continued. Let’s try and keep the colour in our lives rather than letting the powers that be bleach out all the colours in their do-gooding way to make our world all grey.

I, also, feel that we don't celebrate the coming of summer enough in Britain.  We have lots of festivals at the end of summer and the middle of winter, but why not celebrate the end of winter and the start of spring/ summer?  It's a time of renewal when everything seems possible. Whereas harvest festival marks the end of summer, while Christmas gives us a welcome break half-way through winter.