Summer has arrived, Sing loudly, cuckoo! The seed is growing And the meadow is blooming, And the wood is coming into leaf now, Sing, cuckoo!
So how do we know that summer has actually arrived? It certainly isn’t marked by postmen wearing shorts – they do that all year round. How about the start of European Summer Time? That kicks off at the end of March when we could be up to our necks in snow. No summer there. The same goes for the arrival of the cuckoo. They traditionally turn up in late March. Far too early. Perhaps it is the start of the cricket season. That begins on the 7th April with the County Championships and runs through to the 28th September. Too early again.
Maybe the best advice can come from the professionals. Everybody’s favourite scientist, professor of particle physics and former keyboard player with D.Ream , Brian Cox, might tell you that as far as astronomers are concerned summer starts on Wednesday 21st of June when the tilt of the Earth’s rotational axis in relation to its orbit around the sun reaches 23.5 degrees… but you knew that already. Incidentally in Brian’s world summer ends on Friday 22nd September.
Another more persistent and universal opinion about the start of summer would come from meteorologists. For all their fancy terms like occluded fronts, tilted updrafts and supersaturation weather forecasters like to keep their seasons simple. For them the year is chopped up into 4 separate time periods… Spring (March, April, May), Summer (June, July, August), Autumn (September, October, November) and Winter (December, January, February). Taking this sensible approach, the meteorological summer began on Thursday 1st June 2017 and will end on Thursday 31st August 2017….so there you have it. Summer has started, meteorologically speaking.
In Britain Midsummer Day was celebrated on St John’s Eve, June 23rd and a lively affair it was too. In the late 14th-century, John Mirk of Lilleshall Abbey, Shropshire, described it thus…
“At first, men and women came to church with candles and other lights and prayed all night long. In the process of time, however, men left such devotion and used songs and dances and fell into lechery and gluttony turning the good, holy devotion into sin.”
The church decided to put a stop to all this hanky panky and ordered that people should occupy themselves on that night by fasting, prompting John Mirk to report…
“… in worship of St John the Baptist, men stay up at night and make three kinds of fires: one is of clean bones and no wood and is called a ”bonnefyre"; another is of clean wood and no bones, and is called a “wakefyre”, because men stay awake by it all night; and the third is made of both bones and wood and is called, “St. John’s Fire”. Midsummer bonfires like this, Tansys Golowan, are still lit in some parts of Cornwall.
Although it is probably going to be raining when you read this – another fine old English midsummer tradition – I leave you with “Sumer Is Icumen” and the familiar summer sounds of bleating ewes, lowing cows and the traditional favourite – farting billy-goats! (Incidentally some scholars say that this is the first use of the word ‘fart’ in literature.) “Sumer Is Icumen In” is a medieval English round composed in the Wessex dialect in the mid-13th century at Reading Abbey possibly by the secular scribe and singer W. de Wycombe.
“Sumer is Icumen In” by Chapter Five Singers
Summer has arrived, Sing loudly, cuckoo! The seed is growing And the meadow is blooming, And the wood is coming into leaf now, Sing, cuckoo! The ewe is bleating after her lamb, The cow is lowing after her calf; The bullock is prancing, The billy-goat farting, Sing merrily, cuckoo! Cuckoo, cuckoo, You sing well, cuckoo, Never stop now. Sing, cuckoo, now; sing, cuckoo; Sing, cuckoo; sing, cuckoo, now!
— from Martyn Day