Brexit Day 31st January 31, 2021

Satirical Ladybird Book Front Cover  showing Johnson, Farage, May and Gove up a Creek with an inadequate  paddle
Satirical Ladybird Book Front Cover showing Johnson, Farage, May and Gove up Creek with an inadequate paddle

On this day in 2021, the United Kingdom, formally left the European Union.

I remember vividly the morning the referendum result was announced. We were in Glasgow for my daughter’s Graduation, and we all burst into tears.

I remain angry, (as you can see from the tags to my post, below, made exactly one year ago). It’s not so much at the idea, but the stupid way Brexit was done, with no planning or regard for consequences, just this blind idea that we, the British, were special.

Tags on my Brexit anniversary post last year anti-democrat, autocrat, brexit lies etc
Tags on my Brexit anniversary post last year

So how is it going? Support for Brexit has gone right down. 60% think it was a mistake, 35% think it was the right decision.  The country is in a complete mess, most of our institutions are failing because of lack of money and a truly incompetent Conservative government. Even Nigel Farage has agreed that ‘Brexit has failed.

But, at least, under Sunak, the Conservatives have stopped going on about ‘Brexit Opportunities’ and have got rid of the ridiculous Jacob Rees Moog. As I write, I am listening to another rational compromise with the EU, by Sunak’s government, which has, seemingly, cleared up, Boris Johnson’s mess over the border with Northern Ireland. Sunak, at least seems like a grown up and has a more pragmatic approach to Europe.

Britain’s economy is doing badly, partly as a result of losing unhindered access to the biggest free market in the world. However, no party is actively campaigning to rejoin, and, it seems clear, that as time goes on we will gradually, in small steps, as Sunak has done, creep closer to the European Union. I would guess we will probably find our own version of associate membership at some point, in 5, 10, 20 years time.

Here, I want to take ‘the long view’ on Brexit. One important point to make, at the outset, is about British/English exceptionalism. When I was at school we were taught the history of ‘This Island Story’, our Commonwealth, how we had the created Parliamentary democracy and how Churchill won World War 2. This fed a feeling that we should never kowtow to European Bureaucrats. So how far back can we trace this sense of difference to Europe?

In the Upper Palaeolithic and early Mesolithic Britain was physically part of Europe, the Thames was a tributary to the Rhine. Archaeologists have recently been investigating the landbridge to Europe under the North Sea which is now called ‘Doggerland’ after the name of that portion of the sea. This was swept away by rising meltwater in about 8,000 years BP and made us an Island. And, so, Britain had an Island identify which we were very proud of until recent times. I can’t remember the last time someone referred to us as ‘an Island race’ but this was the title of CHURCHILL, Winston S.’s book: ‘The Island Race The History of the English-Speaking Peoples’

As farming spread from Asia Minor it took an extra thousand years to bridge the Channel.

Map of the spread of farming through Europe, showing Northern France, farming c 5000BC but Britain only in about 4000BC
Map of the spread of farming through Europe, showing Northern France, farming c 5000BC but Britain only in about 4000BC Source:

The ‘native’ Britons eventually became speakers of the NW European group of languages called ‘Celtic’, but the Romans never called us that, they called us Britons, although Julius Caesar and others make it clear that the Britons often helped out rebel Celtic tribes in Gaul (France).

The most interesting difference is at the end of the Roman period. When the western part of the Roman Empire fell in the 5th Century, it was taken over by Germanic Kings. The Franks in France and Germany; the Anglo Saxons (etc.) in England; the Lombards in Italy and Goths, Visigoths, Vandals in Spain (and N. Africa).

On the mainland, the German Kings became native, the Roman culture endured, as did the Latin language, and Christian religion. And the tradition of Roman law and culture. French, Italian, Spanish, Romanian are all romance languages based on Latin.

Across the Channel in England, the same thing happened. German Kings took over from the Roman Empire. But here our German Kings didn’t adopt the Latin language. Nor indeed did they adopt the native Celtic dialect of Brittonic, and they changed the religion back to pagan. So English culture is Germanic and not Roman, Western European states were built on Roman foundations. In the Western areas of the British Isles, never very, if at all, Romanised, retained their Celtic heritages, either retained or adopted Christianity and used Latin as the language of learning and religion.

So, unlike most of Western Europe, England does not have a foundation in Latin culture and Roman law.

In AD 407, Britain threw off Roman rule and took independent control.  We had 4 leaders of no great distinction in a short span. Seems familiar?

Reconstruction of Dark Age London Bridge
London in the 5th Century Reconstruction painting.

Then the Britons wrote, in AD 410, a letter to the Emperor Honorius asking him to take us back.  He said, ‘Sorry, pals, the Goths are at the gates of Rome, but you can raise your own Armies to defend yourself.’

Now, the archaeology of this period is very difficult, so it’s hard to know what happened in detail.  But we do know that coins went out of circulation, pottery manufacture ceased in Britain and Roman Towns declined dramatically. 

My friend, Oxford Professor Bryan Ward-Perkins, wrote a book on the Decline of the Roman Empire in which he says that we next reached the level of international trade achieved at the height of the Roman Empire in 1500. 1000 years after the fall of Rome. Technically, a recession that lasted 1,000 years. It would seem that the destruction of a free trade zone can be a disastrous choice.

Lecture by Prof. Bryan Ward Perkins on the End of the Roman Britain.

In the early medieval period, Britain largely existed in a North German, Scandinavia North Sea economic zone, until the Norman Invasion of 1066 which brought us back into Europe. Clashes with the Catholic world broke out on occasion, such as the murder of Thomas Becket at the behest of Henry II, and over the use of English to read the bible after Wycliffe’s translation.

This came to a head in the 16th Century Reformation, Britain isolated itself from European Catholic Culture.

Despite the worst destruction of cultural heritage in England’s history, the economic impact of ‘going it alone’, doesn’t seem to have been that bad.  It can be argued that the selling off of the one third of the land of the kingdom owned by the monasteries boosted the gentry and broadened the elite to include a more entrepreneurial class. Also, the downside in terms of turning our back on Europe wasn’t so destructive because Catholic Europe wasn’t a free trade zone, and much of Northern Europe was protestant.

But the next really significant difference was the changes instituted by Napoleon as he subdued and changed and, to an extent rationalised and liberalised the continent. He had dreams of creating a United Europe of Nations, in the process dismantling the Empires that held sway (such as the Holy Roman Empire, and the Austro-Hungarian Empire )

As a consequence, most legal systems in Europe are based on Roman Law as amended by the Napoleonic code, while England, by contrast, is based on the Common Law. Napoleon’s attempted blockade of trade with Britain, had an impact but as Britain controlled the seas and was a global trading nation and Empire made it much less dependent on trade with Europe. Secondly, the economy was on a war footing so lost production was more than compensated for. So, there is a case to be made that there are fundamental differences in British History which might explain our attitude to the EU. But, it feels, to me, that the main issue is that we don’t see ourselves as a normal European state but as something special.

Here is a disillusioned Tory party donor who believes Brexit is a ‘complete disaster…. and total lies.’ And here an economic assessment.

Adapted from posts of January 2023, and rewritten 31st January 2024

These are those posts.

Charles I’s Martyrdom & ‘Get Back’ January 30th

Banqueting Hall and Execution of Charles I
Banqueting Hall and Execution of Charles I

January 30th is the anniversary of the day King Charles I was beheaded as a murderer and traitor, or, on the other hand, a martyr to the Church of England.

Samuel Pepys observed the funeral, as did thousands of others. They crowded around the scaffold outside a window of Inigo Jones’s magnificent Banqueting Hall, in Whitehall, London. Whether Charles appreciated the irony of his last walk, which was below the magnificent Peter Paul Reubens’ ceiling depicting the Apotheosis of his father, James I, we can’t say. But it is, perhaps, more likely he thought he was soon on his way to meet his father in heaven in glory as a Martyr to his religion. He walked outside, through the window, into the cold January air. He seems to have been wearing 2 shirts, perhaps to stop him shivering, which would have been misinterpreted by his many enemies. Then, he made a short speech exonerating himself. All the Rooftops around were lined with spectators and, as the executioner axe fell, there was a dull grown from the crowd.

This was on January 30th, 1648. But, if you look at a history book, it will tell you it was in 1649. This was before our conversation to the Gregorian calendar. In those days, the year number changed not as we do on January 1st but on March 25th when the archangel Gabriel revealed to the Virgin Mary that she was pregnant. For more on the importance of March 25th look at my Almanac entry:

On the same day, twelve years later, in 1660 Oliver Cromwell’s and his chief henchmen were dug up from their splendid Westminster Abbey tombs and their bodies abused by official command. Cromwell’s head was stuck on the top of Westminster Hall, where it remained for many years.

The Royalist, John Evelyn, said in his diary:

This day (oh the stupendous, and inscrutable Judgements of God) were the Carkasses of that arch-rebel Cromwel1, Bradshaw, the Judge who condemned his Majestie and Ireton, sonn in law to the usurper, dragged out of their superb Tombs (in Westminster among the Kings) to Tybourne, and hanged on the Gallows there from 9 in the morning till 6 at night, and then buried under that fatal and ignominious Monument in a deep pit. Thousands of people (who had seen them in all their pride and pompous insults) being spectators .

Samuel Pepys records by contrast:

…do trouble me that a man of so great courage as he was should have that dishonour, though otherwise he might deserve it enough…

Pepys served the Parliamentary side before the restoration of Charles II, when he adroitly, swapped over to the Royalist side.

Get Back To Where you Once Belonged.

This is also the anniversary (1969) of the rooftop concert in Saville Row where the Beatles played ‘Get Back’.

YouTube Clip with scenes from the Roof Top Concert

First published in 2023, revised on January 29th 2024

Concordia January 29th

Roman coin, showing both sides, of the Goddess Concordia
A patera is a sacrificial bowl, and a cornucopia is a horn of plenty (Image from Wikipedia)

She is the Goddess of agreement in marriage and in civic society. Harmonia is the Greek equivalent. Concordia had her first Temple by the Forum in Rome.

Today is also the birthday of Pax and her Greek equivalent, Irene. She is the Goddess of Peace and the daughter of Jupiter and the Justitia, Goddess of Justice. This suggests that a lasting peace can only be assured by strength and justice. Pax had her festival on the 30th January. Ovid in Fasti writes:

Book I: January 30
My song has led to the altar of Peace itself.
This day is the second from the month’s end.
Come, Peace, your graceful tresses wreathed
With laurel of Actium: stay gently in this world.
While we lack enemies, or cause for triumphs:
You’ll be a greater glory to our leaders than war.
May the soldier be armed to defend against arms,
And the trumpet blare only for processions.
May the world far and near fear the sons of Aeneas,
And let any land that feared Rome too little, love her.
Priests, add incense to the peaceful flames,
Let a shining sacrifice fall, brow wet with wine,
And ask the gods who favour pious prayer
That the house that brings peace, may so endure.
Now the first part of my labour is complete,
And as its month ends, so does this book.

Translated by A. S. Kline 2004 (Tony has a lovely site here: where he makes his translations freely available.)


The coin above is of Julia Aquilia Severa. She was a vestal virgin, who married the Emperor Elagabalus (c. 204 – 11/12 March 222). She was his 2nd and also his 4th wife, despite the fact a vestal virgin was normally buried alive, if found having lost her virginity.

But I probably should say ‘her 2nd and 4th wife’ as some sources suggest he wanted to be known as a woman. The Wikipedia page of his wife has Elagabalus with the pronoun, ‘Her’ while her own web page, ‘Elagabalus’ calls her ‘him’ throughout. Clear? She married several women and was said by some to be married to several men and to have prostituted herself in Taverns and Brothels. Wikipedia says:

‘In November 2023, the North Hertfordshire Museum in Hitchin, United Kingdom, announced that Elagabalus would be considered as transgender and hence referred to with female pronouns in its exhibits due to claims that the emperor had said “call me not Lord, for I am a Lady”‘

Elagabalus was born Sextus Varius Avitus Bassianus, and adopted the name of Elagabalus as he sought to raise the religion of the Syrian Sun God Elagabal to the top of the Roman Pantheon of Gods. He himself was from Syrian. Varius rose to power partly because of his strong Grandmother, Julia Maesa, who was the sister of Julia Domna, the wife of Septimus Severus, (who lived for some time in York). His rule was fairly chaotic, and he lost power, when his Grandmother transferred support to his cousin, Alexander, and Elagabalus and his mother were assassinated.

Here, is a fascinating article in the Guardian about the kind of peace the Romans brought to Europe. ‘Their heads were nailed to trees.’

Pax & Tagging

Posh boys in England, playing tagging games, used to shout ‘Pax’ to claim immunity or to call a temporary halt in the contest. I remember we used to use the word ‘vainites’ as well as pax. Others use ‘barley’. Wikipedia has a list of other terms used as ‘truce’ words in tagging games.

Gilbert White & The Cold of January 1776 January 28th

Photo of London Fields in the snow of 2022
Photo of London Fields in the snow of 2022 by Kevin Flude

In January 1776 Gilbert White observed:

‘On the 27th much snow fell all day, and in the evening the frost became very intense. At South Lambeth, for the four following nights, the thermometer fell to 7, 6, 6, and at Selborne to 7, 6, 10, and on the 3ist of January , just before sunrise, with rime on the trees and on the tube of the glass, the quicksilver sunk exactly to zero, being 32 degrees below the freezing point’

If there was a Giant upon whose shoulders Charles Darwin climbed, then it was Gilbert White’s. He was one of many churchmen of the 18th and 19th Century who spent their extensive leisure time, on observing God’s wonderful creation in their gardens and parishes. What made White so important was that his practice was ‘observing narrowly’ and regularly. For example, his observations of the importance of earth worms were fundamental to Charles Darwin’s own studies, Once Darwin came back from his travels on the Beagle, he settled in a country property in Orpington and, like White, used his garden and the local area as his laboratory with which he worked to prove his theory of evolution.

Earth worms were one of Darwin’s passions. This is what Gilbert White wrote about their contribution to nature:

“Earth-worms, though in appearance a small and despicable link in the chain of Nature, yet, if lost, would make a lamentable chasm. For, to say nothing of half the birds, and some quadrupeds which are almost entirely supported by them, worms seem to be the great promoters of vegetation, by boring, perforating, and loosening the soil, and rendering it pervious to rains and the fibres of plants, and, most of all, by throwing up such infinite numbers of lumps of earth called worm-casts, which, being their excrement, is a fine manure for grain and grass.”

(Quoted from

By such minute and repeated observations, Gilbert White investigated the food chain, the migration of birds (which was at the time disputed) and laid the foundations of what we now call ecology.

White, although rising to Dean of Oriel College in Oxford, chose to spend his career in the relatively humble occupation of Curate. A Curate is the bottom-feeder in the Anglican Church food chain, and Jane Austen would tell you that a Curate hardly earned enough to maintain a position in the Gentry (£50 p.a.). Although White gained the title of Perpetual Curate (a title shared with Patrick Brontë), he still would only be pulling in, I guess, something like £200 p.a. But then White didn’t need much, he inherited his father’s property at Shelborne, Hampshire. White’s grandfather was the Vicar at Shelborne. But Gilbert could not inherit the title because he went to Oriel College, while the ‘living’ at Shelborne was ‘in the gift of’ Magdalen College, And they were not going to give the role to an alumnus of a rival college; however, he might deserve it.

The house, now open to the public, is just around the corner from Chawton where Jane Austen spent her last years. He was born in 1720; was 55 when Austen was born, and he died in 1793. He lived 4 miles away, so the families knew of each other. We know Jane Austen’s brother wrote a poem about Gilbert White and his natural history observations, particularly on birds

From ‘Selbourne Hanger’ by James Austen

Who talks of rational delight }
When Selbourne’s Hill appears in sight }
And does not think of Gilbert White? }
Such sure he was – by Nature grac’d
With her best gift of genuine taste;
And Providence – which cast his lot
Within this calm, secluded spot,
Plac’d him where best th’enquiring mind
Might study Nature’s works, and find
Within her ever open book
Beauties which others overlook.
Enthusiast sweet! Your vivid style
The attentive reader can beguile
Through many a page, and still excite
An Interest in what you write!
For whilst observant you describe
The habits of the feathery tribe
Their Loves and Wars – their nest and Song,
We never think the tale too long.

For more information on White and Austen go to Gilbert Whites House’s web page here:

Here is more of that epic cold January 1776

‘On the 27th much snow fell all day, and in the evening the frost became very intense. At South Lambeth, for the four following nights, the thermometer fell to n, 7, 6, 6, and at Selborne to 7, 6, 10, and on the 3ist of January ‘, just before sunrise, with rime on the trees and on the tube of the glass, the quicksilver sunk exactly to zero, being 32 degrees below the freezing point ; but by eleven in the morning, though in the shade, it sprang up to I6J,1 — a most unusual degree of cold this for the south of England \ During these four nights the cold was so penetrating that it occasioned ice in warm chambers and under beds ; and in the day the wind was so keen that persons of robust constitutions could scarcely endure to face it. The Thames was at once so frozen over both above and below bridge that crowds ran about on the ice. The streets were now strangely encumbered with snow, which crumbled and trod dusty ; and, turning grey, resembled bay-salt : what had fallen on the roofs was so perfectly dry that, from first to last, it lay twenty-six days on the houses in the city ; a longer time than had been remembered by the oldest housekeepers living…..’

‘The consequences of this severity were, that in Hampshire, at the melting of the snow, the wheat looked well, and the turnips came forth little injured. The laurels and laurustines were somewhat damaged, but only in hot aspects. No evergreens were quite destroyed ; and not half the damage sustained that befell in January, 1768. Those laurels that were a little scorched on the south-sides were perfectly untouched on their north-sides. The care taken to shake the snow day by day from the branches seemed greatly to avail the author’s evergreens. A neighbour’s laurel-hedge, in a high situation, and facing to the north, was perfectly green and vigorous ; and the Portugal laurels remained unhurt.’

‘We had steady frost on to the 25th, when the thermometer in the morning was down to 10 with us, and at Newton only to 21. Strong frost continued till the 3ist, when some tendency to thaw was observed ; and, by January the 3d, 1785, the thaw was confirmed, and some rain fell.’

Rosemary flowering in december
Rosemary flowering in my garden

Here, as a bonus, are food stuffs that are in season now.

Wild Greens: Chickweed, hairy bittercress, dandelion leaves, sow thistle, wintercress

Vegetables: Forced Rhubarb, purple sprouting broccoli, carrots, brussels sprouts, turnips, beetroot, spinach, kale, chard, leeks, Jerusalem artichokes, lettuces, chicory, cauliflowers, cabbages, celeriac, swedes

Herbs: Winter savory, parsley, chervil, coriander, rosemary, bay, sage

Cheeses: Stilton, Lanark Blue

(from the Almanac by Lia Leendertz)

The last section posted originally in 2023, the part on Gilbert White written on 28th January 2024.

Holocaust Memorial Day January 27th

Today is also the Roman Festival of Castor and Pollux. (more on that on the 15th July at the other festival of the Dioscuri.

photo of The Kindertransport statue, Liverpool Street Station, London 2006 by Frank Meisler and Arie Oviada.
The Kindertransport statue, Liverpool Street Station, London 2006 by Frank Meisler and Arie Oviada photo by K Flude

The statue commemorates the arrival of Jewish children by train (1938/9) in the Kindertransport, sent by parents desperate to save their children from fascist genocide in Germany and Austria. The children were unaccompanied and, in the statue, stand proud as they arrive in a strange country. The children have tags on their clothes, and the train track represents both the trains to the death camps and the train to safety. For more photos and information:

Montaillou by Emmanual Le Roy Ladurie

On the subject of prejudice, genocide and abuse of power, I was reminded of one of the formative reads of my life. I met the great Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie at dinner at my father-in-law’s house in the 1980s. I was awestruck because Montaillou was one of the early histories ‘from below’, where the focus was not on kings, queens nor of the flux of states and empires, but on the lives (and deaths) of ordinary people. Something that has continued as a focus of my historical interest.

Nor, before Ladurie, had I imagined that medieval lives could be so minutely brought to life. The book was a sensation, selling over a quarter of a million copies. Professor Ladurie became a media star, and, it remains one of the great historical reads. (Of course, the book and the historiography now attracts some criticism, but do read it!)

The context of the story is appalling. In 1208, the Pope decided to launch a crusade against heretics in the South of France. The Cathars, as revealed under interrogation by the Cathodic Inquisition, had many unorthodox and heretical ideas, believing in a Good God and an Evil God, and that we are all angels trapped in this terrible world by the Evil God. Women and men were equal and could be reincarnated into each other’s bodies, awaiting the time they became ‘perfect’ and released to their spiritual form for eternity.

The Crusade and Inquisition that followed were savage, with many thousand slaughtered. At the massacre at Béziers, for example, on 22 July 1209, the Catholic forces led by Arnaud-Amaury, a Cistercian abbot and Commander of the army, battered down the doors of St Mary Magdalene to get at the refugees inside. He was asked how the soldiers could separate the Catholics from the Cathars. He replied Caedite eos. Novit enim Dominus qui sunt eius—”Kill them all, the Lord will recognise His own”. Or so it is said.

All 7,000 men, women and children seeking sanctuary were killed. Thousands more in the town were mutilated, blinded, dragged behind horses, used for target practice and massacred. Arnaud-Amaury wrote to Pope Innocent III

“Today your Holiness, twenty thousand heretics were put to the sword, regardless of rank, age, or sex.”

But, reading Montaillou is a pleasure because it brings those persecuted souls back to life in all their human glory. It is also a reminder that it is by intolerance and ‘othering’ of normal homo sapiens that allows the conditions for evil to flourish. We need to treat all human life as sacred and to bring to bear our human empathy and capacity for mercy. Anything less allows the slaughter of the innocent.

First written in January 2023 and revised Jan 2024

Burn’s Night January 25th

Edinburgh Writer’s Museum ‘Burns Monument from Campbell’s Close Canongate by John Bell

Burns Night is an increasingly important date on the calendar of Scotland’s Cultural Heritage. Wikipedia says it began ‘at Burns Cottage in Ayrshire by Burns’s friends, on 21 July 1801′ 5 years after his death. It is now celebrated around the world, and makes it clear how important Robert Burns is to a sense of an independent and proud country.

Burns himself was modest about his attainments. He said, in his introduction to the Commonplace Book:

‘As he was but little indebted to scholastic education, and bred at a plough-tail, his performance must be strongly tinctured with his unpolished rustic way of life. ‘

Address to a Haggis

Fair fa’ your honest, sonsie face,
Great Chieftain o’ the Puddin-race!
Aboon them a’ ye tak your place,
Painch, tripe, or thairm:
Weel are ye wordy of a grace
As lang ‘s my arm.

The groaning trencher there ye fill,
Your hurdies like a distant hill,
Your pin wad help to mend a mill
In time o’ need,
While thro’ your pores the dews distil
Like amber bead.

His knife see Rustic-labour dight,
An’ cut ye up wi’ ready slight,
Trenching your gushing entrails bright,
Like onie ditch;
And then, O what a glorious sight,
Warm-reekin, rich!

(for the other five verses have a wee lookie here)

The Writer’s Museum

Often bypassed by the tourists on a visit to the wonderful City of Edinburgh is the Writer’s Museum. It is in one of those wonderful Tower houses which seem unique to the High Street in Edinburgh, and provides a great introduction to the great writers of Scotland.

Is it not strange’ wrote philosopher David Hume in 1757 ‘that a time when we have lost our Princes, our Parliament, Independent Government …..that we shou’d really be the people most distinguish’d for literature in Europe?’ (Museum display panel)

Edinburgh Writer’s Museum Burns, Scott, Stevenson.
Window in the Writer’s Museum, Edinburgh by K Flude
Writer’s Museum photo K. Flude

First published Jan 2023, republished Jan 2024

St Cadoc’s Day January 24th

S Cadoc of Llancarfan

St Cadoc was born in 497 AD, a Saint, and Martyr, who founded a monastery at Llancarfan, near Cowbridge, Glamorgan, Wales. He also has associations with Scotland, Brittany, and England. His story is not written down until the 11th Century, but it is fascinating and, in its own way, a charming story. The gentle son of a savage, robber King, he was educated in Latin under an Irish priest, and refused to fight on his father’s orders. But lived to convert his parents eventually. He is known as Cattwg Ddoeth, “the Wise”, although his sayings are mired in the forgeries of Iolo Morganwg.

His story brings Cadoc into conflict with King Arthur. In Welsh literature, King Arthur is a brave but wilful King who demanded Cadoc give him compensation after the Saint sheltered a man who had killed three of Arthur’s men. The compensation was delivered as a herd of cows, but as soon as Arthur took charge of them they turned into ferns.

Cadoc was forced out of Britain by the pagan Anglo-Saxons, but eventually, he felt he had to return despite the grave danger he would return to. He wanted to obey his own maxim:

Would you find glory? Then march to the grave.

He therefore moved to the Saxon settlements to give spiritual succour to the native British Christians who had survived the massacres of the Saxons. He met his martyrdom at Weedon in Northamptonshire, where he was celebrating a service when it was interrupted by Saxon horsemen, and Cadoc was slain as he served the Eucharist.

The Catholic Church celebrates him in September, elsewhere on the 24th January.

For more, look at or Wikipedia.

First published in January 2023, republished in January 2024

Sementivae Dies—the Days of Sowing January 24–26

Victoria and Albert Museum” by Nick Garrod, licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0. First V&A Director, Sir Henry Cole, to the left of the picture.

Paganalia, also known as Sementivae, was a festival dedicated to seed, to Ceres (from whom we get the word cereal) and also the Earth Goddess. (There are many to choice from (Tellus, Demeter, Cybele, Gaia, Rhea etc.). Ceres can be seen on the top left roundel resting on the Globe on the marvellous Ceramic Staircase at the V&A, and in my slightly out of focus photograph below. (To be honest, in real life, it looks a little more like my photo than the gorgeous photo above!)

Ceres represented Agriculture, Mercury Commerce, and Vulcan Industry.  Old Photo by the Author.  T
Ceres represented Agriculture, Mercury Commerce, and Vulcan Industry. Old Photo by the Author.

To create life, we need earth and water to nurture and seeds for fertility. And so into the cold dead world of January the Romans created a festival of sowing. It had two parts, one presided over by Mother Earth (Tellus) and the other by Ceres, the Goddess of Corn. The actual day of the festival (aka Paganalia) was chosen not by rote on a set day of the calendar but by the priests, in accordance with the weather. This seems very sensible, as there is no point sowing seeds in terrible weather conditions. I’m assuming the Priests took professional advice!

On the 24th-26th January Tellus prepared the soil, and in early February seeds were sown under the aegis of Ceres. Tellus Mater (also Terra Mater) was known as Gaia to the Greeks. Gaia was chosen by James Lovelock & Lynn Margulis in the 1970s as the face of their Gaia hypothesis.

To me, the importance of the idea is not the scientific principle that environments co-evolve with the organisms within them but, rather, Gaia as a personification of our world as a complex living ecosystem that we have to care for. Gaia exists as a series of feedback loops, and she will spit us out unless we can control our appetites to live in balance with our alma mater.

This is what Ovid has to say about Sementavia in ‘Fasti’ (

Book I: January 24

I have searched the calendar three or four times,
But nowhere found the Day of Sowing:
Seeing this, the Muse said: That day is set by the priests,
Why are you looking for moveable days in the calendar?
Though the day of the feast ís uncertain, its time is known,
When the seed has been sown and the land ís productive.
You bullocks, crowned with garlands, stand at the full
Your labour will return with the warmth of spring.
Let the farmer hang the toil-worn plough on its post:
The wintry earth dreaded its every wound.

Steward, let the soil rest when the sowing is done,
And let the men who worked the soil rest too.
Let the village keep festival: farmers, purify the village,
And offer the yearly cakes on the village hearths.
Propitiate Earth and Ceres, the mothers of the crops,
With their own corn, and a pregnant sow ís entrails.
Ceres and Earth fulfil a common function:
One supplies the chance to bear, the other the soil.
Partners in toil, you who improved on ancient days
Replacing acorns with more useful foods,
Satisfy the eager farmers with full harvest,
So they reap a worthy prize from their efforts.
Grant the tender seeds perpetual fruitfulness,
Don’t let new shoots be scorched by cold snows.
When we sow, let the sky be clear with calm breezes,
Sprinkle the buried seed with heavenly rain.
Forbid the birds, that prey on cultivated land,
To ruin the cornfields in destructive crowds.
You too, spare the sown seed, you ants,
So you’ll win a greater prize from the harvest.

First Published in January 2023, republished in January 2024

On Resolutions. Aquarius & T-Shirts January 21st St Agnes Day

black and ehite engraving Aquarius (detail from Kalendar of the Shepherds)
Aquarius (detail from Kalendar of the Shepherds)

The Sun enters the house of Aquarius

The man born under Aquarius shall be lonely and ireful; he shall have silver at 32 years; he shall win wherever he goeth, or he shall be sore sick. He shall have fear on the water, and afterwards have good fortune, and shall go into divers strange countries. He shall live to be 75 years after nature.’

‘The woman shall be delicious, and have many noises for her children; she shall be in great peril at 24 years and thereafter in felicity. She shall have damage by beasts with four feet and shall live 77 years after nature.

The Kalendar of Shepherds, 1604 (quoted in the Perpetual Almanac by Charles Kightly)

the Author sporting a Betsy Trotwood aphorism ‘Never be mean, never be false, never be cruel’

Resolutions & Predictions

The Kalendar of Shepherds predictions for those born in Aquarius, (see above) are so specific they cannot help but be wrong for most people. The art of the prophecy, surely, is to be vague, be general and to know human nature.

By the 21st of January, we should have an idea of whether we are going to keep to your resolutions or not. And perhaps we should now be tuning them or adapting them to fit our lives as actually lived, rather than on our pious hopes.

Last year, on January 21st, I had a chat with a taxi driver on the way to the railway station after my Uncle Brian’s Funeral. The driver told me that funerals make him wonder how his behaviour might influence the number of people who will, one day, make that special effort to turn up at his funeral. He was a young Asian guy, so he was thinking ahead quite some way.

I replied that ‘Funerals make me reflect on how much time I have spoiled by not being fully engaged in the moment’. All those conversations where my mind wandered, those radio programmes I only half heard as I tried to read a book at the same time, those train journeys, walks in the woods or along the canal while listening to headphones, those visits to relatives where I rushed back to get home as quickly as possible. Being present in the moment was, I said, perhaps, the key to improving the quality of life and interactions with others

We continued chatting through the short journey and as we arrived in the forecourt of the station he suggested we exchange a final bit of wisdom. As we had been talking about history, I turned to Charles Dickens and told him Betsy Trotwood’s words to David Copperfield:

“Never,” said my aunt, “be mean in anything; never be false; never be cruel. Avoid those three vices, Trot, and I can always be hopeful of you.”

Charles Dickens, David Copperfield

I said that Betsy’s words stem from Charles Dickens’ belief that the key to progress in the world was to ignore the dogma of religion but to live by just one tenet: Treat people as you want to be treated by others.

In return, he told me of an Islamic teacher who responded to his enquiry as to how he could be sure of salvation given all the many (possibly conflicting) moral teachings and texts there were. The answer was, if he lived wisely and thoughtfully on his impact on others, he could be sure of salvation.

By this time I had missed my train, but the two of us had had a moment of connection, and there are plenty of trains from Guildford to Waterloo.


Philosophy for life as told to St Patrick by a Druid

I have a lot of t-shirts with quotations from history on them. I suspect I am one of the very few people who store his t-shirts in chronological order. Above is the first, and the last is

“You can’t always get what you want
But if you try sometime you’ll find
You get what you need”

Rolling Stones.

End note

Dickens philosophy was based on the broad understanding of Christianity, as expressed in these two quotations:

Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself” (Matthew 22:37–39).

“Do to others as you would have them do to you” (Luke 6:31).

First written on 21st January 2023, revised January 2024.

January 23rd Hawthorn and Planting for Hedges

 Photo by Timo C. Dinger on Unsplash
photo of hawthorn flowers
Photo by Timo C. Dinger on Unsplash

Many plants can be used for hedges, but hawthorn is the most common. It can be planted as bare-root from Autumn to Spring, so January is as good a time as any. It can also be grown from the seeds from its red berries. But this takes 18 months to achieve. Interspersed along the hedge should be trees—either trees for timber, or crab-apples or pear-stocks. Trees were also useful as markers. Before modern surveys, property would be delineated by ancient trees. Hedges could be quickly moved, and perhaps not noticed. Trees couldn’t.

Hawthorn is an oasis for insects, mammals and migrating birds (who eat the berries). It is a lovely plant for May, and it is often called May, or the May Flower or May Tree and also whitethorn. The berries are called ‘haws’ hence hawthorn. For more on this, look at

Hawthorn produces white flowers in Spring, and it is one of the great pagan fertility plants, its flowers forming the garlands on May Eve. One of the chemicals in the plant is the same as one given out in decay of flesh, so it has been, in folklore, also associated with death. So, is not to be brought into the house.

It was also said to be the thorn in the Crown of Thorns, so sacred. A crown from the helmet of the dead King Richard III was found on a hawthorn at Bosworth Field, and so adopted as a device by the victorious Henry VII. For more on the plant,

a triangle of stained glass on a black background.
A 'Quarry' of Stained Glass showing the Crown, a hawthorn Bush and initials representing Henry VII and his, Queen, Elizabeth of York.  Possibly from Surrey. Early 16th Century and from the Metropolitan Museum of Art (Public Domain).
A ‘Quarry’ of Stained Glass showing the Crown, a hawthorn Bush and initials representing Henry VII and his, Queen, Elizabeth of York. Possibly from Surrey. Early 16th Century and from the Metropolitan Museum of Art (Public Domain).

John Worlidge, wrote in 1697

‘And first, the White-thorn is esteemed the best for fencing; it is raised either of Seeds or Plants; by Plants is the speediest way, but by Seeds where the place will admit of delay, is less charge, and as succesful, though it require longer time, they being till the Spring come twelvemonth ere they spring out of the Earth; but when they have past two or three years, they flourish to admiration.’

Systema Agriculturae 1697

Hawthorn is an excellent wood for burning, better than oak, having the hottest fire so that its charcoal could melt pig-iron without the need of a blast. It is also good for making small objects such as boxes, combs, and tool-handles. It takes a fine polish, so also used for veneers and cabinets.

This is the time, according to Moon Gardeners, to plant and sow plants that develop below ground. So rhubarb and garlic, fruit trees, bushes, bare-root plants and hedging plants.

Hawthorn has many medicinal benefits according to herbalists. Mrs Grieve suggests it was used as a cardiac tonic, to cure sore throats and as a diuretic. But don’t try any of these ancient remedies without medical advice!

First Published in January 2023, revised in January 2024