Wednesday, 5 June 2013

Dated trivia

Summer, we are told, officially began last Sunday.  Not that I have the foggiest idea how or when it was made official, or by whom.  Still, there you have it - summer starts on 1st June.  Not that the weather clerk is aware of the fact.  Or, if he is, he is ignoring it.  No, that's not quite the case.  The last few days have been gloriously sunny (although the weather report for Brighton in the Daily Telegraph called it partly cloudy) and temperature yesterday just around the corner from our house actually hit 21.5 degrees.  Celsius, of course, not Fahrenheit.  (And when did centigrade become celsius?  And who decreed that it should?)

Brighton Lions Club joins with the Friends of Withdean Park in organising a small fair called the Lilac Lark on the second Sunday in May, when the lilac collection in the park (previously the national collection but the council can't afford to keep it up to scratch) should be in full bloom.  It wasn't this year.  In fact, it is only now just about at its peak.

It's a bit like the rose we have not far from the kitchen window.  It's a rambler with buds that start almost orange, blooms that start off a deep peach and then slowly fade to a pale yellow.  The variety is Maigold, and there is usually at least one bloom open on my brother's birthday, the 8th May.  With luck, the first bud might be open this weekend, almost exactly four weeks later than usual.

But is summer starts on 1st June, how come Midsummer's Day is 24th June?  Does summer really last just six weeks?  Which leads me fairly well to the trivia I promised in the title.

It used to be the case that everybody knew the quarter days, the important days on which people took up new tenancies and so on.  These were Lady Day, 25th March; Midsummer's Day, 24th June; Michaelmas, 29th September; and Christmas Day, 25th December.  It was easy to remember on which day of each month the quarter day fell.  They were all in the 20s and the number of letters in the month's name was the same as the second digit of the date.  Five letters in March, so Lady Day is 25th March.  Christmas is an exception, but everybody could remember Christmas Day.

Back in the dim and distant past, the new year started on 26th March - goodness only knows why, but it did.  The problem was that the Julian calendar, even though it allowed for leap years, was still not quite accurately aligned with equinoctial times so in in the 18th century, the Gregorian calendar was adopted.  That year, the dates between 26th March and 5th April inclusive were dropped.  So it was agreed that for financial purposes the new year would henceforth start on 6th April although for all other purposes, the new year would start on1st January.  This has caused - and still causes - confusion as some dates between 1st January and 25th March could be, for example, 1752 under the old scheme but 1753 under the new.  But does it really matter?  It's just a piece of generally useless trivia these days.

Here's a picture of some of the erstwhile national lilac collection, together with a horse chestnut in flower.

1 comment:

The Broad said...

I always thought mid-summer's day wast the same as the summer solstice! And I will never be able to accept that summer begins on the 1st of June -- any more than Spring begins on the 1st of March! ;-)