Tomorrow is the 1st of May, and the weather has been so changeable with pictures in today’s newspaper of snow-covered landscapes, and with a tremendous hail storm here yesterday, I can’t imagine we’re going to get much better or more settled weather in the next few days.
Thinking about this, and wondering when I was going to be wearing my shorts again, I pondered on the saying ‘ne’er cast a clout till May is out’… or should it be ’till may is out’. This is a saying over which there are endless disputes. Does ‘clout’ meaning clothing (I think it does) or does it mean a clod of earth, and is it May the month or may the hawthorn tree? So does the saying meaning don’t start taking off your winter clothes until the month of May has started or is over, or until the may blossom blooms, or does it mean don’t start turning over the soil in your garden (casting a clout/clod of earth) until the month or the flower is here or gone?
May flowers are the most sweetly smelling of all wild flowers (apart from cowslips – but it’s difficult these days to find cowslips or get near enough to smell them, whereas hawthorn blossoms everywhere and the spring air is filled with their scent) Hawthorn must be one of the most common trees in Britain, a native tree, and they are just everywhere, and there is a garden variety too so they are not just in the wild. Travel down almost any country road and you’ll find hawthorn hedges; it’s thought that maybe as many as 200,000 miles (yes miles) of hawthorn hedge were planted in last half of the eighteenth and first half of the nineteenth centuries when the enclosures were being enacted – the forcible closing off of land, much of it previously common land. The word haw is extremely old, and literally means hedge – so hawthorn is hedgethorn; the city of Den Haag in the Netherlands is from the same root.
The fruit of the hawthorn is haws, and they can be made into a jelly, but I have to say, when I made it, it didn’t taste very nice… maybe it was my recipe, or maybe they actually don’t taste very nice!
Here are a couple of interesting sites connected to may, hawthorn, and old sayings: