‘Fabruary’: an early Spring to enjoy or an awful warning?
Over the past ten days I have dug over gloriously workable soil on my allotment, planted onions, shallots and peas, planted out spring broad bean seedlings and done a bit of watering in the warm afternoon sunshine. All completely normal activities for a mid-April Easter weekend. Only it was mid-February. Meanwhile the bees are out and about, occasional butterflies are to be seen, catkin and cherry blossom is affecting the pollen-sensitive including Lady Muck, the daffodils in my garden look amazing and lunch in the garden – or even breakfast at the weekend, seems the obvious thing to do. What is going on?
Officially it is still winter and temperature records are being broken all over the country with London recording over 21deg C yesterday, an all time record. As the aptly named newspaper ‘The Sun‘ put it as their lead story on 26 February, ‘Fabruary: 20C, UK has hottest winter day ever‘. Everybody loves sunshine, it lifts the mood, and allows for a few layers of winter clothing to be discarded, a spring-time rite of passage. But so many people having said ‘Lovely weather isn’t it’ to me have gone on to qualify it by saying ‘It feels like the end of April, or even May’ and with a shake of the head say ‘Its so strange; lets hope it doesn’t presage something awful this summer’. We all know what we are talking about, global climate breakdown. The ‘awful’ could be a couple of months or more of baking heat, or just as easily it could be one of those summers like 2007 or 2008 when the sun barely appeared for three months, the rain fell seemingly continuously and large parts of the country were flooded in June and July.
It prompted me to take another look at a photograph I have on my wall. It is of Victorian Oxford in winter. It is cold, the Thames is frozen. Frozen so hard indeed that there is a huge crowd of people adults and children surrounding a coach and six, a crowd that includes another coach and pair and a woman on horseback amongst it. There is a newspaper article accompanying the photo (which does suggest that the occurance was sufficiently unusual to merit coverage in the paper) which reports this ‘Frost Fair’ as taking place on 21 February 1895, 124 years ago almost to the day. Apart from the crowd and the coaches in the picture, the newspaper reports a cricket match played on the ice between married men and single men – the married men won, and of a ‘catch the greased pig’ competition also conducted on the ice. What jolly japes, and what a contrast from today’s weather conditions.