Weather prophets eye the sky

I hadn't thought of Jeannie as a Shakespearean soothsayer. The portentousness of her warning, though, did have the ring of "Beware the Ides of March." Or May.

I had meandered to her plot to ask her if it is going to be a hot summer. I thought she'd know the signs. Thing is, I might have a shot at corn this year. But it would need a spell of unusually persistent sunshine through, say, the Ides of June, July, and August to ripen it before the onset of winter.

But Jeannie didn't offer me a heat wave. Instead she said: "Watch out."

Then she specified when: "From May 18 to May 22." Then the voice of doom: "That's when it strikes."

It was late frosts that were on her mind, which, to a foolhardy potato, may not be quite as dire as assassination was to Caesar, but near enough. Your spuds can be set back a month.

As for a long-range forecast, Jeannie said she really had no idea because the weather nowadays is so changeable that you can't be certain what will happen when or why. Excuses, excuses. I do wonder where all the old lore (as it is sometimes put in Glasgow) "has went."

John and Cathy Macleod's future-gazing was no better than Jeannie's.

They suggested listening to "Heather the Weather," a forecaster on Scottish TV. But we agreed that the predictions of such professionals are unreliable much beyond breakfast.

Besides, as John pointed out, this particular weather-person smiles just as radiantly when foretelling cataclysms as when recommending a new tube of sun-cream. She even speaks of Shetland weather (which is always atrocious) as if nothing could be more delightful. Can such an attitude be relied upon?

Well, it turns out the lore does still have some credence next door: Red, pointing at a twiggy conglomeration atop the large ash tree by the allotment gate, observed: "Nests high up, it's going to be a wet summer." Not one I've heard before, but Red sounds sure, and anyway he has about a 90 percent chance of being right. (Though wouldn't you think that a prophetic crow would build lower among the leaves, for extra protection?)

Talking of ash, that tree figures in one item of weather lore people still quote. It concerns the timing of leafing. "Oak before ash, there'll be a splash. Ash before oak, there'll be a soak." Notably, this saying predicts degrees of wetness only. It's along the lines of what they say down in Yorkshire: "If you can't see the hills, it's raining. If you can see them, it's about to rain." This year the ash and the oak are leafing simultaneously, so does this mean drought or what?

MUCH of our British weather lore comes from shepherds. "Red sky at night, shepherds' delight. Red sky in the morning, shepherds' warning." Someone called The Shepherd of Banbury even came up with "Rules" that were compiled in a 17th-century book. He says "Sure Signs of Rain" are when "Geese gaggle more than usual" and "Oxen lie on their Right Sides ... and lick their Hoofs," when "Spiders are restless and uneasy" and cockerels "crow at unusual Hours." These rules don't help me much on our hoofless plots. True, we have spiders, but would you know a rested and easy spider when you saw one? And cockerels: They always crow at unusual hours.

Heigh-ho. S'pose I could grow rice instead of corn. Or switch to watercress.

* A weekly series about a municipal garden in Glasgow, Scotland.

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