The Four Seasons

I DO HAVE to admit that I not infrequently get a bee in my bonnet about something that ‘the powers that be’ get – in my humble opinion – very deliberately and ignorantly – wrong. At this time of the year I am always reminded of this by the arrival of Christmas and – just before it – of the Winter Solstice on 21st December.

Now, when I were a lad, everyone knew perfectly well that the Winter Solstice marks MIDWINTER, NOT the beginning of Winter just as the Summer Solstice marks MIDSUMMER, NOT the start of Summer. Surely it stands to reason that the shortest day and the longest day are the signs that things are changing for the better.

In days of yore our ancestors depended on knowing that Midwinter had at last come to help them judge whether or not they had enough food to last them and their sheep and cattle until grass was lush enough to put meat on bones and goodness into milk; when at last some vegetables could be harvested to keep starvation at bay. Likewise the arrival of Midsummer was a festival time to celebrate the coming harvest and milder weather (hopefully) after hours of backbreaking work in the fields for the local bigwig ploughing, sowing, reaping and mowing in blistering heat – or whatever.

Similarly the Spring Equinox and the Autumn Equinox mark the middle of Spring and Autumn respectively and were times of celebration, the first to mark relief that all the crops were sown and the second to mark relief that they were all safely gathered in. Our Roman conquerors, who ruled these lands for nigh on four hundred years, got it right.

And yet, the Met Office insists on telling us that these ancient festivals mark the beginning of the respective seasons – how ignorant of our traditions can you get? Even the missionary priests who brought Christianity to these pagan islands in the third and fourth century AD were bright enough to realise they would make converts to their new religion, if they had the sense to recognise the existing festivals and mark them with Christian ones. They even built their churches, for heaven’s sake, on the holy sites long revered by the native people who had worshipped their gods there since time out of mind. (The Romans before them even had the good sense to recognise some of their gods as the same as their own).

The Darkest Hour by Barbara Erskine

I have just today (Tuesday, 19 Sep 2017) experienced an extraordinary  coincidence.

While sitting in a garden centre car park waiting for my wife, who was shopping, I passed the time reading on my kindle the first few chapters of the book in the title.

On arriving home later I picked up my copy of The Telegraph and as often happens a single page fell out. It happened to be the obituaries page and I spotted that of a 99 year-old RAF Squadron Leader, who had been a spitfire fighter pilot in the Battle of Britain, by the name of Nigel Rose.

In the chapter I had almost literally just read, one of the two ‘heroines’ of the book had just met a newly arrived Pilot Officer at RAF West Hampnett, one of a Tangmere centred group of wartime airfields heavily involved in the Battle of Britain.

I read the obituary with increasing disbelief as it described almost exactly that very arrival at West Hampnett of a fresh spitfire squadron from Scotland in the aftermath of a day’s deadly duelling in the skies over Kent and Sussex .

I have just discovered that Nigel Rose was in fact Barbara Erskine’s much-admired and much-loved father, so it’s not surprising – indeed it’s admirable – that she should use his dashing life as a model for one of her characters, but I didn’t know that at the time.

Now, as an ex-serviceman myself, I do make a habit of reading service obituaries when I spot them but not always. That I should have read this particular one on the very day I started to get into Barbara Erskine’s book does strike me as a really spooky coincidence.