Monday, 26 April 2021

Take Your Vests Off!

"Ne'er cast a clout till May is out" mutter the grannies, when they see the teenagers wandering down the street in teeshirts and skimpy shorts.
This phrase, first in print in the 1850s, probably refers to the old word clout meaning clothes, and may is not the month, but the blossom of the hawthorn bush. 
And that comes into flower from mid April onwards. 

We strolled down to the village post office on Saturday morning, and saw a lot of may blossom in the hedges. "May's out, I must take my vest off!" I announced cheerfully to Bob [memo to self - check first in case other people are close by before making such loud comments. This is not a large village, I don't want to get a reputation] 
The name haw derives from an old English word for hedge. In the Parliamentary Enclosure Period, many new hedges were put in place. It is estimated that between 1750 & 1850 around 200,000 miles of hawthorn hedges were planted. 
While we're on the May theme, children used to sing in the playground "here we go gathering nuts in May". You don't really find nuts in England at this time of year [other than imported ones in the shops] The original words were probably "here we go gathering knots of may" - that is, bunches of may blossoms.
Here's "The May Dance" by Victorian illustrator Kate Greenaway. Dancing round the may tree in ancient times was a pagan fertility ritual. Having been suppressed in the 1600s, it was revived again, in a much more chaste form, in the 1880s. I've worked in a number of primary schools where there was a maypole and the children learned to dance round it - sometimes weaving intricate patterns with the coloured ribbons. 
May is out, feel free to cast your clouts - but beware of going berserk [from the old Norse word, to rip off your shirt!]


  1. Well thanks very much. I always thought it was when the month of May had finished and I always thought that was a bit late

  2. Well, I'm afraid you wouldn't be casting off your vest around here just yet! It was barely above 0C when I went for my walk yesterday and it's only 3C this morning! April and May tend to be very changeable around here - we even had snow two days last week! Don't catch a chill!

  3. I've been very cold these past few days!


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