Ne’er cast a clout till May is out

Wood on wood. A Speckled Wood butterfly over the weekend

The weather continues to taunt and tease. I don’t mind the teasing so much, but the taunting seems unnecessary. May is my favourite month. We gamely soldier on through the Spring, patiently waiting for the rains to cease and the winds to run out of steam. It seems like it will never end. And then, suddenly, one day the sun comes out, and you risk having a cup of tea on the patio, and lo! It’s not actually freezing, and what’s this? Some plants have had the audacity to take matters into their own hands and have begun their annual pilgrimage out of the ground. Well, if they are annuals, I guess they only take that journey once, but let’s not spoil the analogy. (Too late. ed.)

If nature has a starting gun, it seems to misfire a few times in Spring, but really goes off with a bang in May. There is a veritable arms race of natural things, all fighting for their spot in the world. Bar the few early Spring woodland flowers that need to test their mettle before the tree canopy closes in, most wildflowers are doing their thing this month. Even if they are not actually flowering, they are certainly racing out of the ground at a rate of knots.

And the aroma! May must be the best month in the calendar if you are a connoisseur of petrichor. A high pollen count, a sultry day on a quiet, dusty lane, a shower of rain, then the re-emerging sun. You can feel the rich, scented waves as they rise from the ground. Forget your immersive 3D headsets and your 4K televisions; this is the real deal. You are bathing in the lifeblood of plants, and it’s the surest sign yet that Summer has arrived. (Fair warning: the met office here disagree, and tell me that May is the end of Spring. I don’t mind, really. Nature has its own rhythm, and changes all the time). The waves of Wood Anemone that carpet the woodland floor in St. Catherine’s have vanished, to be replaced by Wild Garlic, which in turn will soon be a memory. There are no set dates for these tidal botanical marvels – they happen when the time is right.

Clouts, by the way, is an old English term for clothes, so essentially, it reminds us of the fickleness of English weather. Fickle is a great word. We don’t do fickle in Ireland, alas. We do ‘feckin’ shite’ instead. As in, ‘How’s the weather?’ ‘It’s feckin’ shite, so it is!’ But that’s why I love my English cousins. They are very polite. I really should spend more time over there, visiting. I have lots of lovely relations. And I swear a lot less when I’m there, too.

So, yes. It’s May. Flowers are doing their thing, and I’m trying to follow their fine example. Last weekend, the most important event on the calendar was not a run, but a walk. The start of May in Ireland (for too many people) means another Darkness Into Light walk. You can read about it here. It began in 2009, by Pieta House. It remains one of their main fundraisers. Here’s their mission statement, in their own words: ‘We provide a professional one-to-one therapeutic service to people who are in suicidal distress, those who engage in self-harm, and those bereaved by suicide. All of our services are provided free of charge and no referral is needed.’

Like all great ideas, it started small. 400 souls set off in Phoenix Park in Dublin to walk a 5k loop on the inaugural Darkness Into Light. Setting off at 04.15am, it was timed for the walkers to finish up as the sun was rising. Hence, darkness into light. And the loop in the park is perfect, because you set off on the main avenue and head east, into the last of the dark, then turn left and drop down through the woods, and along by the Glen Pond, and then rise up out of the edge of the Liffey Valley along Acres Road towards the Papal Cross. You are heading into the first glimpse of daylight as the sun begins to peek out over the east, above the city skyline.

The weather was kind this year, and although we didn’t get the perfect sunrise, I guess that chimes with the experience of many of the walkers that morning; life is not perfect. Indeed, it is messy and awkward, and occasionally, for some, it is simply too much. Two close families of ours were out walking that morning, in different locations, and although I felt a wrench at not being there for both, it was nothing in comparison to their grief.

Some estimates put the numbers at 10,000 that morning. It is the original location for the event, which has now spread world-wide. That’s a lot of sadness. Hope, too, obviously, and support. But so many people, young and old, gone too soon. No point bitching and moaning about the piss-poor mental health services in this country. There are probably only a handful of countries that could claim to have a half-decent one. And even then, people will slip through the net. As we were leaving the park to get back to the car, there were still hundreds and hundreds of people streaming along the last stretch towards the finish, where free tea and porridge awaited. The day had truly begun.

Back home, I decided to stay up. I did this once before; walk for Pieta, then stay awake, and then do the parkrun at half-nine. I flopped on the couch at home and whiled away the time on my phone looking at total nonsense (no change, there) and then drove over to Castletown, which is one of two parkrun options nearby. Castletown is the nicer of the two by far.

Castletown parkrun

I was the first runner to arrive, and indeed, I was there before most of the volunteers. So it was only natural I would start chatting to the next runner to arrive. His name was Abdul, from Sierra Leone. He was wearing a Sanctuary Runners top, so he explained the relevance to me. Here’s the official blurb from their website: ‘The Sanctuary Runners enable Irish residents to run alongside, and in solidarity with, migrants, asylum seekers and refugees, thereby fostering friendship, positivity and respect while bringing greater awareness to the migration system.’

I had never heard of the organisation, but it sounded wonderful. We chatted some more, and he told me his PB was about 28 minutes, but he was trying to get that down to 25. Quite a jump, but nothing ventured, nothing gained. So I suggested I pace him for the run, and see if we couldn’t knock a bit off that time.

We set off, and for the first of the two loops, we were actually managing 5 minute kilometre pace. But as we neared the 3k mark, he ground to a halt, puffing and panting. So I made some loud, grumbling noises, and dragged him back to a decent pace once more. At about 4k, he stopped again, this time to tie his shoelace – a routine he repeated a few hundred yards later – and we were definitely losing valuable seconds 😉

The home straight beckoned, and we pushed on as hard as he could manage, and crossed the line in about 26:10 or thereabouts. Without the stoppages for the lace malfunction, he would have dipped well under that. But it was still a good morning’s work. Some light, if you like, after the morning’s darkness.

Abdul on the left, with his friend

I slumped when I got home; the fumes I was running on were well burnt away. But there’s no point going to bed. The day was upon us, and the best thing to do was see it through to the end.

The next morning, I was up before nine and out the door for my longer run. No mountains for me, alas, but I set off on my usual route into the park before deciding where to go next. I took to the canal, and rather than heading right towards Dublin (which had been on my radar), I went left to have a look at the unholy balls-up they have made of the new, tarred section of towpath between the two main Leixlip bridges. Reader: it’s not pretty. That said, I know plenty of folk who don’t care much for wild orchids and other delicacies of nature will be delighted that they can walk along the canal (a stretch of about a mile) without getting their dainty feet damp in the occasional puddle. Bless them. I can but hope that they will not visit this amount of over-engineered nonsense on any of the remaining stretches of the Royal Canal Greenway, but the last, long leg of the journey takes in Dublin and its hinterland, so I suspect we haven’t seen the last of towpath damage. Hey-ho. You can’t stop progress…

The weather was pleasant indeed, and as I left the canal and ventured through Castletown Demesne once more. I thought I would check in with the lake and see how the water was for a swim. And indeed, it wasn’t too bad, for the year’s first dip. Quite a short one, I admit. The water is still very cool. But after about 18k on my feet, it was a pleasing interlude.

I managed a couple of short runs during the week, in between work and finishing off two assignment for my evening class. And yesterday, Mark and I had our customary run in the park followed by hot chocolate.

Below is a selection of random stuff: Tamsyn and I had planted a good many acorns last year, and they too were taking off in the fine weather, and they are in need of potting on. I had to coax a Robin fledgling out of the shed to join its siblings, and this was managed without too much fuss, and the mother was back feeding it in the garden within minutes. Generally, it’s best to leave matters well enough alone when it comes to birds and chicks, but now and again, we can help things along without getting too involved.

An apostrophe catastrophe…

And of course, there are dogs. And to reiterate the last blog post warning: if you are asleep in this house, with a dog, you will become a photo opportunity. You have been warned…

For Thomas, Matt, Kate and the many, many others gone too soon.

9 thoughts on “Ne’er cast a clout till May is out

  1. You packed so much into this post that I had to read it a few times to take it all in! I’m with you on May, the natural world simply explodes into life and every day is like a race.

    Incidentally I was taught the “Ne’er cast a clout till May is out” saying also but discovered last year that the original Scottish saying is “Ne’er cast a clout till the May be oot” with May being the Hawthorn and not the month. I don’t know which is correct but I like the tree version better 😊

    I’m off to read this again in case I missed anything 😉

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Holy moly, no wonder my late-autumn/early-winter sojourn in Ireland prompted virtually every native to tell me to come back and see Ireland in May. Lovely post, pics, good times for good causes.

    Liked by 1 person

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