Monday, 13 May 2013

When the ice saints go marching by

It’s always a good moment when we say goodbye to the Ice Saints.

My wife, whose roots are in the German-speaking world where the ‘Eisheiligen’ are much better known, introduced me to these characters. They mark the definitive end of the winter and, at long last, the start of Spring. Up here in the north of the northern hemisphere, at least.

They start on 11 May, with St Mamertus, followed by St Pancras on the 12th, St Servatius on the 13th and St Boniface on the 14th. With Boniface it’s all over: the last late frosts give way to the start of summer on the 15th, St Sophia’s day (is it a coincidence that we get four ice men followed by a summer woman? Perhaps I won’t go there.)

‘Vor Bonifaz kein Sommer,’ say the Germans: before Boniface there’s no summer, and ‘nach der Sophie kein Frost’: after Sophia no frost.

No wonder, then, that’s it’s for the best when those guys have gone by. Though I should mention in passing that there’s one I have a bit of a soft spot for: I rather like St Pancras. 

St Pancras
Don't know much about the saint,
but I really like the station
I think it’s great to have a saint named after my favourite station. Now that I don’t work in London any more, I don’t go there often, but I get a real kick when I see it from time to time: the pianos are still there with anonymous members of the public just sitting down and hammering out a tune to pass the time and entertain the passers by; so’s the statue of John Betjeman, who penned an ode to the station; and now there’s even a hanging sculpture over one end of the concourse. Lots of fun.

St Pancras, where passengers get entertained by occasional pianists

Don’t get me wrong. I like Grand Central station with its huge concourse, I love the Gare de l’Est with its extraordinary destinations that I find it hard to believe you can reach by train: Budapest. Warsaw. Moscow. Moscow for Pete’s sake! But even so, you can’t imagine a St Grand Central, can you, or a Saint Gare de l’Est for that matter?

But there’s a St Pancras and when you see his station, it’s no wonder he’s a bit special.

In any case, all that ice saint stuff doesn’t really work any more. When Europe switched to the Gregorian calendar, that cost ten days. So the actual weather that goes with the old ice saints belongs a bit later in the month.

Probably safest to go with the old English saying, ‘ne’er cast a clout till may be out.’ Not that I think that’s the month of May. Much more likely to be mayflower, called after that famous boat that got the United States going. Hawthorn blossom. Don’t take off a stitch of clothing till it’s in full bloom.

The Mayflower.
Puritains to America, summer to Britain
I know who did better out of that deal
No sign of that yet in England. So I’ll wave goodbye to St Boniface tomorrow, hello to St Sophie the day after. But I’m keeping the coat on until those white flowers have really taken over in the hedgerows.

More reliable than the Ice Saints

No comments: