THE blistering summer heat that bathed our countryside a couple of weeks ago reminded me that we are still within the curiously named Dog Days.
This is a period of a few weeks that begin on July 3 and continue until August 11. It is widely thought to be a spell of very hot weather that forms part of our British summer but I am not sure whether other nations also experience the Dog Days although it does seem the ancient Romans enjoyed these extra hot days.
In fact it was the Romans of ancient times who named this period Dog Days because they believed that the Dog Star Sirius rose and set with the sun to create the additional heat. If there is any truth in this old belief, then we have a few days remaining to enjoy the heat of summer.
August can boast many days that bear special names. In fact, August 1 claims several important names – Yorkshire Day, White Rose Day, Lammas Day, Bilberry Day, Minden Day and The Gule of August. August 9 is Rush Bearing Day, August 10 is Lazy Lawrence Day and August 12 is known as The Glorious Twelfth, otherwise the opening of the Grouse Shooting Season. August 24 is Bartlemy Day whilst the first Sunday in August is Semerwater Day and we must not forget Ebor Day.
In addition there are many saints’ days in August including St Oswald (August 9), St Lawrence (August 10), St Helen (August 18),
St Oswin (August 10), St Bartholomew (August 24) and St John’s Wort Day on August 29 when the flowering of this plant is said to commemorate the Beheading of St John the Baptist.
Perhaps August 1 can boast more names than any of its following days although the month itself used to be known as Sextilis which meant the sixth month of the year in Roman times. It was Emperor Augustus who changed its name when January and February were added to the calendar; in BC8, he named it after himself, hence August, our eighth month. The Anglo-Saxon name for this month was Weodmonath which meant the month of weeds but weeds at that time indicated all plants or vegetation in general.
One of the curious names for August 1 is Lammas Day. This was celebrated by staging fairs and festivals and the occasion became known as Lammastide or alternatively the Gule of August. Gule was a massive pagan festival that celebrated the first fruits of the harvest and the name was carried forward into the Christian era. However, the name Lammastide or Lammas Day requires a little clarification. It comes from Loaf Mass when communion wafers and bread loaves were made from the first of the ripened corn. The bread was blessed at Mass, and it seems in Cumbria the name Lowermass came from Loaf Mass.
There is an old saying that the corn ripens as much by night as it
does by day after Lammastide, a reference to the very warm nights.
Bilberry Day is celebrated by the Irish on the first Sunday after August 1 when it is sometimes known as Bilberry Sunday. It is an open air jollification that marks the first picking of the season’s bilberries whilst in part of this country it is variously known as Blaeberry Sunday, Whortleberry Sunday, Hurt Sunday or Heathberry Sunday. The Irish name for this Sunday is Domhnach na bh Fraochog or bhFraochan Sunday. In Scotland, however, August 1 was the day rents were due and some were paid in ripe corn.
Another commemoration was held on August 1 but I am not sure whether it continues. It was known as Minden Day, commemorating the Battle of Minden which was fought on August 1 in 1759 during the Seven Years’ War. Members of a Yorkshire Regiment took part and the troops picked white roses to wear in their caps. At the non-Yorkshire
side of the Pennines, officers of the Lancashire Fusiliers ate a rose on Minden Day, but wise Yorkshire folk do not query the colour of those roses.
We must not overlook that August 1 was also Yorkshire Day, a celebration created in 1975 by the Yorkshire Ridings Society. It was to commemorate the three Yorkshire Ridings – the North Riding, the East Riding and the West Ridings who had existed for 1111 years.
The 1974 boundary changes did not abolish the famous three Ridings but created the new administrative counties of North Yorkshire, West Yorkshire, South Yorkshire, Humberside and Cleveland. To commemorate the old Ridings, a declaration is read at the Bars of York on August 1, white roses are worn and giant Yorkshire puddings are eaten. Yorkshire folk also traditionally greet each with “Now then” or “How ist tha?”
BAT OUT OF HELL
On a balmy summer evening it seemed sensible to sleep with our bedroom windows open. It would produce a through-draught to keep us cool and we are fortunate in having quiet surroundings.
But around 2.30am, I was roused by a strange sound and when I put the light on we were surprised to find a bat zooming around the room clearly trying to find an exit but it was having no success even though both windows were wide open.
I am sure our movements and the light disorientated the creature and my wife wasn’t very happy. She was recalling those childhood beliefs that bats can get entangled in a woman’s hair. It is nothing more than an ancient superstition but she hid under the covers, just in case. Not too long ago, it was believed in the Isle of Man and along the Welsh border that witches could transform themselves into bats to enter dwelling houses, but that did not occur to me.
What did interest me was precisely which of our seventeen or so bat species was hurtling around our bedroom. I settled for a pipistrelle because it is our smallest bat and perhaps the most common bat.
Pipistrelles, sometimes called flittermice, can be seen almost everywhere in Britain. Indeed, I had earlier caught one that was entangled in some netting on our wall and was surprised at both its strength and very light weight.
However, the problem was how to return this bat to the exterior darkness. It is nigh impossible to catch a healthy bat, despite its limited eyesight. Its incredible echo-location radar-style system enables it to dodge obstructions and capture flying insects in the darkness so there was no way I could overcome such sophisticated navigational aids.
Then I had a brainwave. Bats operate very skilfully in the darkness so the answer was to switch off the light and convince the bat there was a predator in the room. I selected a small bath towel. Extending it between my widespread hands as my wife put out the light, I tossed the towel into the air so that it floated momentarily. I thought the bat would think it was a dragon – and so it did. When we put on the light to retrieve the towel, the bat had gone. Then we closed the windows.