TODAY is Friday the 13th and in many minds this is thought to herald a double ration of bad luck. The belief that Friday itself is widely regarded as an unlucky day, especially when starting a new enterprise, dates back centuries, with some authorities suggesting it was believed as far back as the Middle Ages.
It is difficult if not impossible to put a clear date on this old superstition but my Dictionary of English Folklore by Jacqueline Simpson and Steve Roud (Oxford University Press - 2000) suggests that this belief dates at least to 1390. It was, and still is, believed that it is risking bad luck to begin any new enterprise on a Friday. That new enterprise could be something like a marriage, a new business, travel to far-off places or even being born.
This has expanded into a suggestion that most road accidents occur on Fridays or even that modern machinery like motor vehicles. clocks or computers are more liable to break down on Fridays than on other days. Some people believe that such a run of bad fortune may occur as late at midnight on Fridays, and therefore be carried forward into Saturdays. I’m not sure whether sloppy workmanship enters these statistics!
If a Friday is also the 13th day of the month, then it raises worries that we are all at risk of a double dose of bad fortune on such a day. To be born on Friday 13th is often regarded as an ill omen even in these modern times but the source of this belief is often attributed to the Last Supper when Jesus sat down with his Twelve Apostles.
Oddly enough that superstition did not become widespread in this country until around the 17th century when it became of some concern that thirteen people were seated at some dinner tables. An extra guest was therefore invited to allay that superstition.
Oddly enough, such worries about the number thirteen did not appear when bakers would sometimes add an extra cake or bun when someone bought a dozen. Thirteen became known as The Baker’s Dozen, and this was sometimes the case when someone bought a dozen eggs from a farmer. An extra one would be added for good luck, No, 13 at the time not being considered unlucky.
Once Number 13 had become notorious for bringing bad luck, people would refrain from numbering their homes as 13, but would probably call them No. 12A. Similarly some hotel bedrooms are not numbered 13 because the guests would not want to sleep there but it is not clear whether people born and living outside the British Isles follow that belief. So is ear of No. 13 purely a British superstition – and are the modern people of our islands superstitious even today?
It seems fair to say that most of us believe in lucky numbers – I am sure a study of National Lottery number selections would reveal that many of us to use our own special numbers on those tickets. These are usually the day, month and year of our birth, whilst some believe that No.7 is always a lucky number just as others believe the same about No. 3. Now, No. 13 is widely considered unlucky whilst No.666 is generally regarded with great caution with some of us not wanting it to feature in our telephone number, street address or even our motor vehicle registration number.
The name “Numbers” does appear in Biblical literature when it refers to the famous Book of Numbers. It is in fact the fourth book of Moses that is an account of the march through the wilderness by the Levites and Israelites. The people were all numbered but also classed according to their descent, hence being allocated this curious title.
THE birds in our garden never cease to entertain us. It is not a particularly large garden but we have a lawn, borders, a plant garden, a fish pond and other associated corners and patches. This ensures that we receive lots of visitors in the form of birds. Perhaps blue tits are the most numerous who feed at our feeders, but great tits, coal tits, marsh tits and willow tits have also been noted. Long tailed tits are occasional visitors and we have blackbirds, thrushes, robins, wrens, dunnocks and sparrows.
The sparrows are in the form of both house sparrows and tree sparrows and in the summer we get swifts, swallows and house-martins along with other seasonal visitors. Among larger species, wood pigeons and stock doves are regulars along with greater spotted woodpeckers, tawny owls along with a cock pheasant who thought he was king of the castle and tried to drive me off our lawn! He strutted about as if he owned the property!
Without doubt, our largest bird visitor was a grey heron that raided our fish pond but one surprise was a goshawk, rather like a larger variety of a sparrow hawk, who settled on a wall in the garden. Sparrow hawks, kestrels and the occasional peregrine falcon have all been spotted in the garden, with buzzards regularly soaring overhead in twos or threes and alerting us with distinctive mewing calls.
Others have been seen on rare occasions and include a nut-hatch, tree creeper, pied wagtails, goldfinch and a goldcrest. Various members of the crow family have also been spotted such as the magpie, jackdaws and a jay with flocks of rooks flying regularly overhead to and from their feeding grounds.
There are many others in the summer such as chiffchaffs and willow warblers and even a hoopoe has been noticed in our northern village – but I did not see it. There have been others too during the winter such as redwings and fieldfares.
In the past few weeks, however, we have welcomed a pair of new visitors – huge black carrion crows. They have taken a fancy to our garden and have made themselves at home among the garden furniture, various plants and so forth, but appear to be ignoring the bird feeders that are full of peanuts. They seem to like the household gutters where they throw leaves and moss onto the ground, thus helping me to clear the gutters and it is evident they are feeding there and elsewhere.
Perhaps they join the rooks on their feeding grounds? A crow differs from the rook in several ways, perhaps the most recognizable differences being the bald area of a rook’s face around its beak and its baggy “trousers” at the top of its legs. The crow is also considerably larger than a rook and whilst rooks live together in flocks, crows are solitary birds, seen either alone or in pairs.
Our crows seem to have made themselves at home in the garden and a few days ago, when I heard something tapping against a window, I went to check and found it was one of the crows. I wondered if it was hinting I should feed it, so my wife gave it one of her Yorkshire puddings – crows will eat almost anything! We had an entertaining half-hour or so watching both crows trying to deal with the Yorkshire pudding. They managed to reduce it to crumbs, some of which were later enjoyed by robins, blackbirds and the dunnocks.