Posted in Personal life

A Bellyful of February

Being a glass-half-full type, I always welcome the winter solstice as the overture to spring, my favourite season.

But January and February always disappoint, with February’s only redeeming feature its brevity.

Despite the longer daylight hours, the skies are often so overcast that it never seems to get properly light all day. What light there is feels wintry, and the spring equinox, when day and night reach equal length, seems a long way off.

I take comfort in discovering that in Celtic tradition, spring officially starts at the beginning of February, with the festival of Imbolc halfway between the winter solstice and the spring equinox.

Imbolc translates as “in the belly”, alluding to the stomachs of pregnant ewes and the promise of the imminent renewal of life.

photo of the cross of St Brigid
Culnacreann, CC BY 3.0 <;, via Wikimedia Commons

1st February is also the Feast of St Brigid, Irish patron saint of fire, poetry and healing. Brigid was originally a Celtic goddess with such a strong following that the first Christians in Ireland canonised her to keep the locals on side. Brigid’s traditional symbol, a cross woven from green rushes, was often nailed over the doors of homes to ward off evil spirits. It had nothing to do with the cross of Jesus, but its existence may have made it easier for the Christians to adopt Brigid as their own.

The ancient Romans celebrated a different feast in the middle of the month. Februa, a day of atonement and purification, was so important that they named the whole month after it. In the Roman calendar, February was the twelfth month, so Februa will have prompted a spiritual and physical declutter to help Romans start the new year in good shape.

Wondering why we adopted February for our own calendar, when it’s named after a Roman festival I’d never heard of, I discover other contenders. The Old English called it Sol-monath, meaning “mud month”, appropriate for the season’s weather. In medieval times, it was known as Kale-monath, or “cabbage month”. Perhaps as winter stores ran low, cabbage formed the bulk of peasants’ diet.

painting of the Venerable Bede
“The Venerable Bede Translates John” by James Doyle Penrose (1862-1932) (Public domain, via Wikipedia)

I prefer the Venerable Bede’s idea. In his treatise De temporum ratione (The Reckoning of Time), the Anglo-Saxon theologian suggests that “Sol” is another word for a particular type of cake. Does this mean that this month we’re meant to cheer ourselves up by eating cake? Finally, a reason to love February! There, I told you I was an optimist.

This post was first published in the February 2022 issue of the Hawkesbury Parish News. 


cover of Murder by the Book
The fourth Sophie Sayers Village Mystery introduces Hector’s identical twin brother Horace, as mischievous as Hector is sensible.

If you fancy a light-hearted comedy mystery to lift your spirts during the dark days of February, try Murder by the Book, my Sophie Sayers Village Mystery set in the run-up to Valentine’s Day.

Despite opening with someone falling to their death down the well behind the village pub, there is romance in the air for eccentric village shopkeeper Carol and her secret admirer, and also for Sophie and Hector, despite the playful intervention of Hector’s twin brother, just back from Australia. Available to order online in paperback and ebook here, or ask your local bookshop to order it in for you, quoting ISBN 978 1 911 223 269.

Posted in Personal life

February is the Sleepiest Month

My column for the February issue of Hawkesbury Parish News
(with apologies to T S Eliot for parodying the opening line of “The Waste Land”)

Baby Laura fast asleep in February 2004
Like mother, like daughter: Laura’s first encounter with February

Sorry, February, but you are my least favourite month. You kick in when Christmas starts to feel like a distant memory. At least January has the saving grace of including my birthday. But with longer days not yet with us, and weather too grim to entice us outside, the only thing you’ve got going for you is your brevity.

I was therefore interested to read in the press this week of research suggesting the benefits of hibernation. What a great way to bypass February!

Scientists report that the long winter sleep of squirrels switches off their brains, resting their synapses without deleting any information. When the squirrels wake up in spring, they can still remember where they buried their nuts. With my senior moments increasing, especially since turning a year older last month, there couldn’t be a better time for me to give hibernation a try.

So if you don’t spot me out and about in the village this month, you’ll know what’s keeping me off the streets. Just tiptoe past my house until 1st March. That’s when I’ll be emerging, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. And possibly snacking on nuts.

Cover of Quck Change flash fiction collectionIf you need something cheery to read,
with a springlike feel to get you through February,
check out my collection of ultra-short stories, Quick Change  

Posted in Family

What A Difference A Day Makes

Humorous leap year postcard postmarked in 1908...
Humorous leap year postcard from 1908 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Hurrah! At last February is on its way out, and I’m so glad it’s not a leap year. This means that March – and Spring – will arrive one day earlier this year. 

There’s a world of difference between the last day of dreary, chilly February and the first day of daffodilly, Easter eggy March. Even more so for my husband, because the first day of March happens to be his birthday.

How frustrating leap years must have been for him when he was a boy, making him wait an extra day for his birthday. But this year I’d been expecting him to hanker after a 29th of February, to put off the dawn of an alarmingly significant  birthday.

60 – The New 40

Yes, I know that 60 is often considered the new 40, but for me, 60 absolutely spells old age. (I say that from the safe perspective of someone still many years away from their own 60th birthday.) This is because my grandmother was born exactly 60 years before me, and for me she was the archetypal old lady. I thought that 60 years was the perfect gap between a grandmother and her granddaughter. I’ve always liked a neat round number.

To anyone who doesn’t know my husband, you might think me cruel to have bought him a watch for his 60th birthday. You might be concerned that every time he looks at it, he’ll be reminded how quickly life is passing him by.

But is he downhearted? Oh, no. He’s positively chirpy. He’s even requested we celebrate  with a party, although he’s not usually a party animal. I don’t think I’ll be feeling as cheerful when it’s my turn to leave my 50s behind.

This is a complete role reversal.  Usually, I am renowned for my optimism, ever the Pollyanna. For Gordon, not only is the glass half empty – it’s also got a crack in it. So why the sudden about-turn?

Saving Grace

The reason is, he’s a Scotsman. He appreciates the opportunity to conserve his spending. As a child, he and his sister set up a club in their loft, of which the key rules were pinned to the wall: “No smoking, no swearing, save money”. Although he has a generous heart and is capable of acts of extraordinary kindness, he is also very fond of opportunities to economise. And so as February closes, bringing old age closer by the second, he’s  preoccupied with  the financial advantages that turning 60 will bring him: his civil service pension, his free bus pass from the council, discounted entry to museums, and 10% off on Tuesdays at B&Q.

I don’t think such rewards will buoy me up when I turn 60. Instead I’ll be clinging desparately to my faith in the powers of nominal determinism. (Oh, how I love to slip that phrase into a conversation!) Because, after all, by marrying Gordon, I became Mrs Young. We have no intention of ever getting divorced, and so, no matter what my age, I will be forever Young. If that’s not a good reason to marry someone, I don’t know what is.

Happy 60th birthday, Mr Young!

Badge saying "60 Years Young"