All Fools Day April 1st

April from the Kalendar of Shepherds

The first unambiguous British reference to April Fools Day is by diarist John Aubrey’s “Fooles holy day” in 1686, although he might have been referring to Germany. (‘We observe it on ye first of April… And so it is kept in Germany everywhere.)” For more details read

But there is a possible earlier reference in Chaucer in the Nun’s Priest’s Tale which I find quite compelling but most Chaucer scholars don’t. This is the text:

When that the monthe in which the world bigan
That highte March, whan God first maked man,
Was complet, and passed were also
Syn March bigan thritty dayes and two

So, if you have been keeping up with me, you will know that the first lines are referring to March 25th, (when the world began) when God made Adam and Eve, and when the Church started the New Year and the year number moved one on. This was a major Church festival, usually followed by a week of holiness. The Roman New Year, January 1st, ended with a light-hearted festival called Saturnalia, and it is suggested that April 1st was, similarly, a day of release after the festival of the official Church ceremony of the New Year.

Chaucer’s last line says ‘Since March began thirty-two days have passed.’ A foolish person would not realise this is a reference to April 1st. Hence, this suggests a Fool’s Day already existed. Scholars tend to prefer to think that Chaucer was referring to May 2nd, counting the 32 days not from the beginning of March but from the end of March. I think they look at the second and third lines which read ‘That high March…. was complete’ and so add the 32 days to the end of March. Foolish in my opinion and not reading what Chaucer wrote.

I nearly always forget to honour April Fool’s Day (or April Fish Day as the French call it). But in Britain, we generally find that somewhere in our newspaper or TV station there is a April Fools Joke slipped in. The most remembered is the BBC piece showing film of Italian Farmers picking spaghetti from trees. Last year Harry and Megan proved irresistible and the Guardian reported that:

The Sun published a piece announcing the launch of Prince Harry and Meghan’s new video game “Megxit: Call of Duke-y” in which the royal couple try to reach California while dodging obstacles, including rival royals and the media, along the way.

This year this was the equivalent story (from the Guardian’s quiz on April Fool’s jokes:

Meghan Markle was criticised after it was revealed that when you put her lifestyle brand name – American Riviera Orchard – into the What3words location service, it points to a statue of Oliver Cromwell, who famously had a King Charles executed

Generally, in Britain, we play a prank and say ‘April Fool’ with great delight. But we are not allowed to continue beyond midday. The Scots used to call it ‘Hunting the Gowk’ and the main prank was to give someone a letter to deliver, and the person who opened the letter would read:

Dinna laugh, dinna smile. Hunt the gowk another mile” and send the fool onto another leg of his or her’s fool’s errand. In Ireland the letter would read ‘send the fool further’.

April comes from Latin and it was Aperilis from aperio from ‘to open’ as this is the month when the Earth opens. In Anglo-Saxon the Venerable Bede mentioned that they called the month Eostremonath. But there really is no other evidence for the Goddess Eostre from where we get our word ‘Easter’. In Gaelic it’s the Cuckoo’s month ‘Ceitein na h-oinsich’. In Welsh it is Ebrill which comes from the Latin.

The image from the medieval Kalendar of Shepherds shows all the beautiful flowers blooming and a female sitting on the grass embroidering, and the star signs of Aries (a Fire sign, brave, independent and impulsive) and Taurus (an Earth Sign: stubborn, down to earth, sensual with good taste).

First published March 25th 4004 BC and republished on April 1st 2024

Nettles and the Grecian Spring March 10th

Image of web site for Hesiod's works and days, showing pandora's box an illustration by William Blake

In the early modern almanacs there is much weather and horticultural advice to be had (Weather Lore. Richard Inwards).

March damp and warm
Will do farmer much  harm


‘In March much snow
to plants and trees much woe

The store cupboards are getting denuded of the fruits, nuts, preserves, pickles, salted and dried foods saved from the summer and autumnal abundance. Of course this is alleviated by the reduced consumption of the Lenten fast.  (I’m currently giving up, giving up things for Lent). But nettles are budding. I’ve recently taken to a regular cup of nettle tea provided by the excellent Cowan’s tea emporium in the Covered Market in Oxford. But I’m running out and not due to visit Oxford for a month or two. So Charles Kightley in his Perpetual Almanac tells me that young stinging nettles are appearing, and perhaps, I might change up the tea for a nettle beer:

Take a gallon measure of freshly gathered young nettles washed well dried and well packed down. Boil them in a gallon of water for at least a quarter of an hour. Then strain them, press them and put the juice in an earthenware pot with a pound of brown sugar and the juice and grated skin of a lemon. Stir well, and before it grows cool put in an ounce of yeast dissolved in some of the liquid. Cover with a cloth and leave in a warm place for four or five days and strain again and bottle it, stopping the bottles well.  It’ll be ready after a week, but better if left longer.

A more sinister use is provided by William Coles who gives a method of detecting virginity.

Nettle tops are usually boiled in pottage in the Springtime, to consume the Phlegmatic superfluities in the body of man, that the coldness and moistness of the winter have left behind. And it is said that if the juice of the roots of nettles be mixed with ale and beer, and given to one that suspected to have lost her maidenhood, if it remain with her, she is a maid, But if she’s spews forth, she is not.

William Cole’s Adam in Eden 1657.

Mrs Greaves in her ‘A Modern Herbal’ tells us that William Camden relates that Roman soldiers used nettles to heat up their legs in the cold of a British winter.  The 18th century poet Thomas Campbell is quoted on the virtues of nettles:

“I have slept in nettle sheets, and I have dined off a nettle tablecloth. The young and tender nettle is an excellent potherb. The stalks of the old nettle are as good as flax for making cloth. I have heard my mother say that she thought nettle cloth more durable than any other linen.”

Greaves tells us that when the German and Austrians had a shortage of cotton during the blockade of World War 2 they turned to nettles to replace cotton production believing it to be the only effective substitute.  It was also substituted for sugar, starch, protein, paper and ethyl alcohol. 

Pepys ate Nettle Pudding in February 1661 and pronounced it ‘very good’.  Nettles were added to horse feed to make their coats shine, and as a hair tonic for humans.  Nettle Beer was used for old people against ‘gouty and rheumatic pains’, and flogging with nettles was a cure for rheumatism and the loss of muscle power!

I can see I’m going to have to get out there and carefully pick myself some nettles! ( For Folklore of nettles look here). But this post was conceived as a piece on Spring starting with Hesiod!

The Works and Days is a farmer’s Almanac written for Hesiod’s brother. It has a mixture of seasonal good advice and moralising. He is, one of the first great poets of the western world, and near contemporary with Homer. He is an important source for important Greek Myths, and, for example, tells us that the story of Prometheus and Pandora is the reason the Gods cannot give us a simple wholesome life. He also talks about the ages of humanity which are: Golden Age, Silver Age, Bronze Age, Heroic Age, and our own decadent Iron age. This system was borrowed by C. J. Thomsen at the National Museum of Denmark in the early 19th Century to create out modern Three Age System of Stone, Bronze and Iron Age. Our system is more optimistic with a progressive trend while the Greek system degenerates through successive eras..

Hesiod sees Spring as a time to begin trading by sea but he warns us not to put all our eggs in one vessel as Spring can bring nasty nautical surprises.

In Rome early March is taken up much with celebrations of the Great God Mars, the one who enabled the Romans to conquer most of the known world. For the Anglo Saxon their poetry saw Spring as a great release when the ‘fetters of frost’ fall off and allow a welcome return to sailing on the high seas .

The Seafarer

The woods take on blossoms, towns become fair,
meadows grow beautiful the world hastens on;
all these things urge the eager mind,
the spirit to the journey, in one who thinks to travel
far on the paths of the sea.

So now my spirit soars out of the confines of the heart,
my mind over the sea flood;
it wheels wide over the whale’s home,

Poem from the Exeter Book known as the Seafarer, quoted in Eleanor Parker’s ‘Winters in the World a journey through the Anglo Saxon year’.

Hesiod ‘Works & Days’

‘Spring too grants the chance to sail.
When first some leaves are seen
On fig-tree-tops, as tiny as the mark
A raven leaves, the sea becomes serene
For sailing. Though spring bids you to embark,
I’ll not praise it – it does not gladden me.
It’s hazardous, for you’ll avoid distress
With difficulty thus. Imprudently
Do men sail at that time – covetousness
Is their whole life, the wretches. For the seas
To take your life is dire. Listen to me:
Don’t place aboard all your commodities –
Leave most behind, place a small quantity
Aboard. To tax your cart too much and break
An axle, losing all, will bring distress.
Be moderate, for everyone should take
An apt approach. When you’re in readiness,
Get married. Thirty years, or very near,
Is apt for marriage. Now, past puberty
Your bride should go four years: in the fifth year
Wed her. That you may teach her modesty
Marry a maid. The best would be one who
Lives near you, but you must with care look round
Lest neighbours make a laughingstock of you.
A better choice for men cannot be found
Than a good woman,’

HESIOD’S WORKS AND DAYS Translated by Chris Kelk

By the way none of this is good advice to follow!

I have more on Hesiod:

St. Walburga and St. Ethelbert of Kent’s Day February 25th

engraving of St Walburga
St Walburga
(public domain)

Yesterday, was the Feast day of two very important Saints. Walpurga was the Abbess of Heidenheim in Germany. She was a nun at Wimborne in Dorset who, with her brothers St Willibald and St Winebald accompanied St Boniface of Crediton (in Devon) on his mission to convert the Germans to Christianity. They all became leading figures in the new German Church. Willibald set up the Monastery at Heidenheim, which was a duel monastery housing both Monks and Nuns, and his sister became Abbess of the Monastery in 761.

In 870, St. Walpurga remains were ‘translated’ to Eichstätt, which St Willibald had set up as the Diocesan centre of this part of Bavaria. This was done on the night of April 30th/May 1st and is now notorious as Walpurgis Night. This is the night of May Eve when witches are abroad up to all sorts of mischief, May Day being one of the main pagan festival days.

Walpurgis is the Saint for battling pest, rabies, whooping cough, and witchcraft. She was moved again in 1035 when she was enshrined at the Benedictine Abbey of St. Walburga which was named after her and which ‘which continues to this day.[4][5]’ Terrible things happen on Walpurgis Night in Dracula by Bram Stoker and the night has now become a trope for Heavy Metal Bands, doyens of horror stories and the Satanic. More about this on April 30th perhaps?

Stained glass window showing Baptist of King Ethelbert of Kent by St Augustine watched by Queen Bertha. In St Martins Church, Canterbury
Stained glass window showing Baptism of King Ethelbert of Kent by St Augustine watched by Queen Bertha. In St Martins Church, Canterbury

St Ethelbert is responsible for welcoming the Augustinian Mission to the Angles sent by the Pope, St Gregory. This re-established Christianity in Easter Britain, and set up the Anglican Church or the Church of England as it became known.

I tell this story in this post:

Ash Wednesday February 14th

Ash Wednesday Forehead Ash Cross.  Photo by Ahna Ziegler on Unsplash

This is the First Day of Lent, the solemn time which runs up to Easter, and is symbolic of Jesus’ 40 days in the wilderness.

February means the ‘Month of Purification’ in Latin, and in Anglo Saxon the name for Spring was ‘lencthen’ thought to derive from the idea of lengthening days. So strictly Lent means Spring. In the Romance languages the term used derives from the Latin ‘Quadragesima’ which means the 40 days of Fast. Spanish (Cuaresma), French (Carême), and Italian Quaresima). In German it is the fasting time: fastenzeit. In England, Lent became a specialised word for the fast period, and Spring took over as the name of the season.

A time of fasting, or at least, a time when we are supposed to give something up – a bit like Dry January? Ash Wednesday gets its name as ashes used to be smeared on the heads of worshippers to remind them that we are dust. My footballing friend Andrew, is a Vicar and missed this week’s game as he was in Church marking people’s foreheads with ash crosses. The ashes were traditionally made from palms from Palm Sunday which is indeed what Andrew did.

In the midst of life we are in death, earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust, in sure and certain hope of the Resurrection.

Thomas Cranmer

On the subject we go to dust on death Joni Mitchell reminds us that:

We are stardust
We are golden
And we’ve got to get ourselves
Back to the garden

Woodstock by Joni Mitchell

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

Time to Mull it Over January 22nd

Pic by courtesy of YuliaSlept from Pixaby

We have left the season of Wassail, but maybe you have gained a taste for the hot toddy? Here are Northern European variations on a theme. My favourite, is Glugg, unless the Glühwein is taken with a Bratwurst in Köln.

Mulled Wine? German Glühwein or Danish Gløgg


This is from

Mix all the ingredients in a large pot. Heat up the mixture for a few minutes (until the sugar is melted). Be careful not to bring it to a boil!

Next you will have to let the mixture rest for minimum 2 days. Preferably, let it rest for 3–4 days in the refrigerator in the pot under a lid. Finally, after a few days of rest, you sieve the mixture and pour the extract into glass bottles.

Store the extract in the refrigerator. Use within a month.

Now you have the gløgg extract to make a portion of mulled wine.

First mix 1/4 of the extract with a bottle of red wine in a large pot. Also add 1 cup of chopped, blanched almonds and 1 cup of raisins.

Heat up the mixture slowly (do NOT boil!)

To sum it up; simply serve the warm gløgg with almonds and raisins in tall glasses with a spoon – to dig up the almonds and raisins!




  • 1 orange, halved and sliced
  • 1 bottle, red wine
  • 200g caster sugar
  • 5 cloves
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 2 star anise
  • 3 slices fresh ginger (peeled)
  • 150ml brandy, rum, amaretto, or schnapps

Put the orange slices, wine, sugar, cloves, cinnamon, star anise and ginger in a large pan. Warm gently for 10–15 mins, being careful not to let the mixture boil. Add the alcohol, pour into glasses and serve warm.

Mulled wine recipe



  • 1 lemon
  • 2 oranges
  • 8 cloves
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • 4 cm (1.5in) piece of ginger, peeled and sliced
  • 60g (2½oz) light-brown sugar
  • 60ml ruby port
  • 75cl bottle full-bodied red wine

For the garnish

  • ½ orange, sliced into half moons
  • ½ lemon, sliced into half moons
  • 6-8 cinnamon sticks


  1. Remove the zest from the lemon and one of the oranges with a potato peeler in thin strips, then juice the zested orange. Push the cloves into the remaining orange.
  2. Put the zest, orange juice and clove studded orange in a large pan along with 2 cinnamon sticks, the ginger, sugar, port, red wine and 750ml (1 1/2 pint) water.
  3. Put over a low heat and stir until the sugar dissolves, then turn up the heat slightly and simmer gently for 20 minutes.
  4. Remove from the heat and leave to cool for 10 minutes before ladling into glasses. Garnish with the orange and lemon slices and a cinnamon stick.

First Published January 2023, republished January 2024

St Hildegard of Bingen. Visions of Migraine, December 17th

Hildegard von Bingen receives a divine inspiration and passes it on to her scribe. From the Rupertsberg Codex of Liber Scivias.
Hildegard von Bingen receives a divine inspiration and passes it on to her scribe. From the Rupertsberg Codex of Liber Scivias.

What a relief! Here is a Saint who was not flayed alive, burnt on a griddle, scratched with wool combs, crucified upside down, beheaded, eyes gouged out etc. etc. (consider identifying the Saints in this list a Christmas Quiz). She died of illness and was famous not just for her vision but her erudition and her scientific writings.

She was elected as magistra (Mother Superior) of her Convent in 1136, and went on to found two other nunneries. But, was made famous by her writings on her visions. There has been speculation that her visions were caused by migraine. Read Mary Sharratt’s piece for more details, from which I took the following quotation.

When I was forty-two years and seven months old, Heaven was opened and a fiery light of exceeding brilliance came and permeated my whole brain, and inflamed my whole heart and my whole breast, not like a burning but like a warming flame, as the sun warms anything its rays touch.

Hildegard von Bingen, Scivias, translated by Mother Columba Hart, O.S.B., and Jane Bishop

Amongst the many books she wrote were two famous and early books on medicine and science. Her medical writing was highly practical although, of course, based on the humoural theories which had held sway since Hippocrates. However, she did think that the four humours had a hierarchy with Blood and Phlegm the more superior humours representing the celestial elements of fire and air, while black bile and yellow bile represented the earthly humours of earth and water.

Just as physicists today look to find a unifying theory of everything, Hildegard also tried to find unities within the body of classical knowledge. According to Wikipedia, she:

‘often focuses on interrelated patterns of four: “the four elements (fire, air, water, and earth), the four seasons, the four humours, the four zones of the earth, and the four major winds.” ‘

Linked also to the celestial bodies and to religion, she gave her world view in Causae et Curae c. 42:

It happens that certain men suffer diverse illnesses. This comes from the phlegm which is superabundant within them. For if man had remained in paradise, he would not have had the flegmata within his body, from which many evils proceed, but his flesh would have been whole and without dark humour [livor]. However, because he consented to evil and relinquished good, he was made into a likeness of the earth, which produces good and useful herbs, as well as bad and useless ones, and which has in itself both good and evil moistures. From tasting evil, the blood of the sons of Adam was turned into the poison of semen, out of which the sons of man are begotten. And therefore their flesh is ulcerated and permeable [to disease]. These sores and openings create a certain storm and smoky moisture in men, from which the flegmata arise and coagulate, which then introduce diverse infirmities to the human body. All this arose from the first evil, which man began at the start, because if Adam had remained in paradise, he would have had the sweetest health, and the best dwelling-place, just as the strongest balsam emits the best odour; but on the contrary, man now has within himself poison and phlegm and diverse illnesses.


And here I was hoping to find light and joy in a medieval Saint’s story! So we all seem to be doomed by Adam’s Fall, and the poor quality of his semen. (Having recently watched ‘The English’ Hugo Blick’s Wild West box set, I can quite understand the syphilitic underpinnings of Hildegard’s theory).

On the subject of headaches, Hildegard was a keen user of feverfew, which has been, since the 18th Century, a suggested cure for Migraine. I didn’t find it worked for me. Hildegarde wrote on feverfew:

“If you suffer from a sick intestine, boil the Motherswort with water and butter or oil and add some spelt flour. Prepare a drink, for it helps the intestines.”

Hildegard of Bingen, Physica, Cap. 116 quoted in Hildegard’s Feverfew Use (

And so it became popular amongst women for gynaecological issues and abdominal pain. Feverfew has flowers like a daisy, ‘growing in every hedgerow’ according to Mrs Grieve English Herbal. She says it is good for nervous and hysterical complaints; low-spirits; as a syrup good for coughs; as a tincture against swellings caused by bites of insects and vermin.

St Hildegard seems to have two special days – one is Dec 17th and the other is the day she died, September 17th 1179 which is her ‘Liturgical Feast’.

First Published on December 18th, 2022, Revised and republished December 2023