The 25th January is, of course, Burns’ Night and, Google reminded us today, Virginia Woolf’s birthday. It is also historically the day when the Church remembered the Conversion of St. Paul on the road to Damascus when he heard Christ’s voice and became a Christian.
According to our guide to The English Year, Steve Roud, the fun often began on 24th January, the ‘Eve of the Conversion of St. Paul’ when a variety of broken crockery-themed customs would be enjoyed, if that’s the right word… In Cornwall there was tradition of throwing stones at a water-pitcher until it lay in pieces, after which a new pitcher is produced from somewhere and carried to ‘a beer-shop to be filled with beer’. 24th January was known there as ‘Paul Pitcher Day®.’ In other areas at the same sort of time (mid-to late 1800s) children would throw broken crockery (‘pieces of a “Paul’s Pitcher”‘) at neighbours’ doors and into their hall-ways. As pitchers do not feature in the story of St. Paul’s conversion it is rather a mystery why these customs developed. Roud notes it ‘has no obvious rational explanation, [and] is more commonly recorded as a Shrove Tuesday Custom.’
We were loathe to break perfectly functional pitchers or china or porcelain of any other description. Moreover, it was absolutely tipping down with rain all day which made the thought of messing around outside throwing mugs at doors even less appealing than usual. Instead we smashed a very old mug that had been used for paint water and gathered up all the little pieces of china and pottery we have collected on beaches over the years and made fairy stepping stones rather like these but looking more like these. Instead of concrete or polymer clay we used plaster of Paris, with a plastic lid as a mould.
While the plaster was wet we pressed fragments of pottery into it and then left it to dry. You can then ease the plaster out of the flexible plastic mould. As the lids are rather large they are rather bigger than stepping stones but we can still incorporate them into a fairy garden in the summer.
25th January, ‘St. Paul’s Day’ itself, is another that has become associated with weather predictions for the coming year. Good weather today was thought to mean a bountiful harvest would follow although Roud quotes the following from the Cornish Western Antiquary (1884) as an example of how the weather was sometimes thought to have further reaching implications:
If Paul’s Fair be fair and clear,
We shall have a happy year
But if it be both wind and rain
Dear will be all kinds of grain
If the winds do blow aloft
The wars will trouble this realm full oft
If clouds or mist do dark the sky
Great store of birds and beasts shall die.
So that’s cheering. In fact, here in South London we have had sun, blue sky, rain, clouds and wind so the year to come will no doubt be rather confusing. Having noted the weather we tried this condensation weather experiment from The Met Office in the afternoon. It is supposed to create ‘A Cloud in a Jar’ based on the cooling down of the warm water in the glass by the ice placed in a container above it. It did demonstrate condensation very effectively but we couldn’t get it produce an actual cloud, which was a little disappointing. Still, weather-wise we still have a lot of excitement to look forward to if St. Paul’s Day was any measure!