“Conversation about the weather, is the last refuge of the unimaginative.”
Or so said Oscar Wilde! I’m not sure if that suggests that us Brits are a highly unimaginative nation or not, but nevertheless, the weather is one of our go-to conversation topics.
It might be because our weather has always had a reputation for being difficult to predict. With hosepipe bans one moment and flash floods the next, along with the looming threat of climate change from global warming, this reputation seems increasingly deserved. Of course, the advent of high-tech satellite systems have helped with forecasting, but prior to such technology, a variety of much more down to earth methods were used, to predict oncoming weather.
Over the centuries, a substantial amount of weather lore was amassed, based on observation and country wisdom, and tirelessly passed down through the generations. Much short term weather prediction was surprisingly accurate, but the longer term forecasts tended to be based on co-incidence or superstition and backed up by poor memory. The most well-known example relates to St Swithuns Day, which falls on 15thJuly:
St Swithuns Day, if ye do rain
For forty days it will remain.
St Swithuns Day, an ye be fair,
For forty days, ‘twill rain nae mair.
An extremely popular and accurate method of rain prediction was to hang a piece of seaweed outside the back door. Seaweed is a natural barometer, shrivelling up if good weather is due, or conversely, becoming moist and limp if rain is on its way. Other plants also exhibit weather predicting features, in particular the Scarlet Pimpernel, which was once referred to as ‘the poor man’s weather glass’. If the blooms of the Scarlet Pimpernel were closed, bad weather would follow, whereas if the blooms were open, fair weather could be confidently forecast.
The sky was also used as an important indicator of forthcoming weather. Any meteorologist will confirm the importance of cloud type and cover in weather prediction, but sky colour is also useful, as the following well-known saying suggests:
Red sky at night, shepherds delight.
Red sky in the morning, shepherds warning.
This is another example of a traditional rural saying, based on observation, being a very accurate weather predictor. It’s true that, in Britain, if there is a red western sky in the evening, fair weather is very likely to follow. This is because the red rays of the setting sun predominate in dry air. Conversely, if rain clouds are near, they will reflect back the red rays of a rising sun at dawn.
The observation of animals was also a very popular predictor of weather. On the whole, humans are not very perceptive to future weather changes. Some suffer from ringing ears due to the increased pressure that fine weather brings, others with chronic indigestion or raging toothache preceding storms, but on the whole, our predictive powers are poor. Animals, on the other hands, are highly sensitive to changes in the weather and this is reflected in their behaviour. If bad weather is fast-approaching, animals will make for shelter. Toads can be seen returning to water, rooks staying near their nests, porpoises can be observed swimming into harbour and as the old-fashioned saying explains, bees return to their hives:
Bees will not swarm near a storm
On the other hand, fine weather was thought to be indicated by cattle and sheep grazing on high ground, robins singing from the treetops and spiders spinning long webs. Additionally, it was believed that ‘when wild geese gang out to sea, good weather there will surely be.’
From a writer’s perspective, I love to describe the different seasons and subsequent changes which take place in nature, within my novels. And I’ve found extreme weather to be a very useful device for placing my characters into situations they might not otherwise be. The book ‘Difficult to Reach’, is one such example, focussing on a small village community who become entirely cut off from civilisation, following the worst snow storm to hit Britain in living memory.
So, however unimaginative it might make me in Oscar Wilde’s eyes, this is one defiant Brit who continues to find delight in our weather.
Fenella Ashworth is a British author of contemporary erotic fiction. All of her stories are available from Amazon and free for those with Kindle Unlimited access. Her bestselling novels are ‘To Love, Honour and Oh Pay’ and the Daniel Lawson series.
Fenella also releases stories on BooksieSilk, Booksie, Lush Stories and Literotica, and is often visible in the Literotica ‘Erotic Couplings’ Hall of Fame (Top Rated).
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