The weather is looking a bit blenky out there…

I suspect we’ve all been a little obsessed with the weather over the past couple of weeks as we have swung from a mild February into a ferocious and freezing March… and then back to balmy spring days again – I know I have! I’ve been glued to the Met Office App and avidly following weather stories on the BBC website.

After witnessing a stunning weather phenomenon – a sort of universal ‘glazing’ – down here on Dartmoor last week, a post on Facebook drew my attention to ‘Ammill’, the official term for this rare event. As ever, this set me thinking and I started looking for other unusual or forgotten weather terms – and was delighted with what I discovered! I suspect that, years ago, the weather had so much more direct impact on our lives that we had many more terms to describe it. I am going to start a crusade to reintroduce some of these gems into regular use. So, the next time we are stuck with drizzle and strong wind, be sure to tell everyone it is hunch-weather!! Enjoy…


To blenky means ‘to snow very lightly.’ It’s probably derived from blenks, an earlier 18th-century word for ashes or cinders.

A perfect Drouth day.


This is an old Irish-English word for the perfect weather conditions in which to dry clothes.


If the weather flenches, then it looks like it might improve later on, but never actually does… we have a lot of that in Devon!


According to the Oxford English Dictionary, if the weather is foxy then it is misleadingly bright’ — or, in other words, sunny, but freezing cold.

Hunch weather.


An old 18th-century name for weather — like drizzle or strong wind —that’s bad enough to make people hunch over when they walk.


A Cornish word for raining hard, as in “ee’s henting out there!”


Pronounced ‘Benji,’ this is an old southeast English dialect word meaning ‘overcast’ or ‘threatening rain.’


A messenger?

A single sunbeam that breaks through a thick cloud can also be called a messenger, rather lovely, I thought.


An old southeast English word meaning ‘sultry’ or ‘humid.’ If the sky looks swullocking, then it looks like there’s a thunderstorm on the way.


This is an old English word for long, thin streaks of cloud traditionally supposed to forecast a rain. It literally means

Now that’s what I call a Twirlblast!

‘chicken scratches.’


Two lovely old 18th-century names for tornados – much more fun!


The Mad Month of March!

Whenever the month of March arrives, I always think of Mad March Hares! As a child, I think we were all told about how they box and seem to go ‘mad’ and this eccentric behaviour endears us to this elusive mammal. Alice in Wonderland is also responsible for heightening the hare’s reputation, as it is one of the strange creatures stuck in an interminable tea party with the Mad Hatter and the Dormouse.

With its long ears, long legs and saucer eyes, the brown hare is a beautiful, yet sadly rare sight in most of this country. I have never seen one in the Westcountry, but I did see some when I lived in East Anglia, many moons ago. Once a common sight, it is thought the brown hare in the UK has decreased by up to 80% in the last century, thanks largely to changes in farming techniques. Where have we heard that before?

Long and brown and fantastically fast moving (up to 40mph!), the brown hare is a member of a group of mammals called Lagomorpha. For many years it was thought they were rodents but we now know that hares belong to their own separate family. The other common Lagomorpha is, of course, the rabbit.

Although vaguely similar, on closer inspection, there are several distinct differences between the two. While rabbits are known for having long ears, the ears of the brown hare are much longer and have black tips. As the two animals move, you can see that the back legs of a hare are much longer than on a rabbit – this makes it look like a rabbit hops and a hare sprints. Rabbits live underground in warrens whereas hares never go underground, preferring ditches along field edges.

Hares are famous for their energetic behaviour, and March, in particular, is when they are known to ‘box’ frantically with one another. These mad March hares are in their mating season, with the males (bucks) seeking out any females (does) that have come into season. However, it’s not the males that are responsible for the boxing (not with each other anyway) it’s the females who start the punch-ups! This usually happens when a male is being too pushy with a female, chasing her across fields in an attempt to mate. Eventually, when she has had enough, she’ll turn around and try to fend him off in a boxing match! Girl power!

Hare mythology has fascinated us for centuries. Ever since the Romans first brought them to Britain, hares have had a role to play in legend and myth. In hare mythology, the hare is a creature with pagan, sacred and mystic associations, by turns benign, cunning, romantic or, most famously in March – mad! We see images of hares everywhere, they are found in carvings on ancient buildings (particularly here in Devon) and are popular in paintings and statues of ‘moon-gazing’ hares are commonplace. The hare and the rabbit are often associated with moon deities and signify rebirth and resurrection.

A study in 2004 followed the history and migration of a symbolic image of three hares with conjoined ears. In this image, three hares are seen chasing each other in a circle with their heads near its centre. While each of the animals appears to have two ears, only three ears are depicted. The ears form a triangle at the centre of the circle and each is shared by two of the hares. The image has been traced from Christian churches here in Devon right back along the Silk Road to China, via western and eastern Europe and the Middle East.



Burns’ Night cometh… the mystery of the haggis!

While wandering down an aisle in the supermarket last week, my mind on other things, I came to a sudden halt and I found myself staring at some alien looking things in the meat department. After the initial shock, I realised I had come across a pile of haggis, all ready for Burns’ Night on 25th January.

In my younger days, the prospect of a Burns’ Night Supper was quite fun as it usually involved plenty of energetic Scottish dancing and a jolly evening perfect for livening up a cold and grey January. But haggis? It has never been high on my list of likes. Oh, be honest Joanna, it’s high on your list of dislikes! But the whole Burns’ Night Supper always sounds so wonderfully wild and Scottish that it appeals to the romantic in me. Served alongside the haggis you have the marvellously named ‘rumblethumps’ (potato, cabbage and onion) or ‘neeps and tatties’ (swede and potatoes), followed by the magical sounding ‘Clootie dumpling’ (a suet and fruit pudding). If all that wasn’t enough to fill you up and keep you warm through a freezing Scottish night, you can always add a few drams of whisky!

As decreed in Burns’ great poem, the haggis is slit with a dagger!

So what is haggis? It is a savoury pudding containing sheep’s ‘pluck’ (heart, liver, and lungs); minced with onion, oatmeal, suet, spices, and salt, mixed with stock, traditionally encased in the animal’s stomach although nowadays, an artificial casing is often used. A cheap dish designed to waste nothing and use up scraps and offal; it isn’t something many people would choose today as they try to eat less meat. But if you want to enjoy the whole Burns’ Night atmosphere there are lots of vegetarian haggis (haggi?) on sale and plenty of recipes online if you want to make your own.

Haggis is Scotland’s national dish, thanks to Scots poet Robert Burns’ poem ‘Address to a Haggis’ of 1787, a Scottish dish through and through, you would think. But wait! The name ‘hagws’ or ‘hagese’ was first recorded in England in 1430! And it gets worse…

There’s evidence to suggest that the ancient Romans were the first known to have made products of the haggis type. Even earlier, a kind of primitive haggis is referred to in Homer’s Odyssey. The well-known chef, the late Clarissa Dickson Wright, said that haggis “came to Scotland in a longship” (from Scandinavia) even before Scotland was a single nation. So that’s another ‘tradition’ shattered!

We looked for the reclusive wild haggis but couldn’t find any photos, so here’s a gorgeous Highland cow instead!

Even though there may be evidence that the Scots didn’t invent haggis after all… they have come up with an alternative history that I think sounds perfectly reasonable. The wild haggis is a small Scottish animal, a smaller hairier version of a sheep. According to some sources, the wild haggis’s left and right legs are of different lengths, allowing it to run quickly around the steep mountains and hillsides that make up its natural habitat but only in one direction. It is further claimed that there are two varieties of haggis, one with longer left legs and the other with longer right legs. The former variety can run clockwise around a mountain (as seen from above) while the latter can run anticlockwise. The two varieties live happily alongside each other but are unable to interbreed in the wild because, in order for the male of one variety to mate with a female of the other, he must turn to face in the same direction as his intended mate, causing him to lose his balance and fall over!

PS. According to one poll, 33% of American visitors to Scotland believed haggis to be an animal


We all love an Advent calendar!

As today is 1st December, I thought it would be fun to look at that Christmas favourite – the Advent calendar!

As a child, I can remember being SO excited about opening the little numbered windows in the run up to Christmas Day. Back then, there was nothing more than a picture behind each door or, if I was very lucky, a chocolate and I found it thrilling! Today, you can buy Advent calendars stuffed with 24 ‘surprises’ ranging from chocolate to gin and everything in between, with just as many aimed at adults as children. Each to their own of course, but I can’t help feel it’s another nice little innocent tradition that has been thoroughly hijacked by commercialism! But hey ho… I thought I’d do a bit of delving and look back into the origins of the Advent calendar.

An Advent calendar is used to count the days of Advent in anticipation of Christmas. Technically, the date of the first Sunday of Advent can fall anywhere between between November 27 and December 3, but today, pretty much all Advent calendars begin on December 1. It’s widely accepted that the Advent calendar was first used by German Lutherans in the 19th and 20th centuries but is now common across most Christian denominations.

Traditionally, Advent calendars featured the manger scene, Father Christmas or idyllic snowy landscapes and featured paper flaps, windows or doors, covering each date. The little windows opened to reveal an image, a poem, a portion of a story (such as the story of the Nativity), or a sweet treat. Often, each window had a Bible verse and Christian prayer printed on it and Christians would incorporate this into their daily Advent devotions.

Today, as well as covering a mind-boggling array of indulgent treats, the calendars can take the form of fabric pockets, painted wooden boxes with cubby holes for small items or, as I spotted online, a train set with 24 mini waggons, each loaded with a present… and so on and so on. So much for any religious significance!

In the snowy northern climes of Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden there is a tradition of having a so-called ‘Julekalender’ ­– the local word for a Yule, or Christmas – calendar (even though it actually is an Advent calendar) in the form of a television or radio show, starting on December 1 and ending on Christmas Eve. I’m amazed this hasn’t caught on over here! Surely we could have a series of 24 gardening, cooking and dancing shows to trot us up to Christmas in a very merry frame of mind! But then, that wouldn’t seem all that different to our usual TV scheduling, would it?

Oh, but that’s enough of my cheek. My granddaughter Grace will have a lovely traditional Advent calendar (with perhaps just some small sweetie treats!) and I know her little face will light up with joy as she opens each window and begins to feel the magic of Christmas. Smiles, Joanna.



A window of opportunity

The other day (over yet more book signing – yippee!!) I was discussing houses and décor with my partner in crime writing, Julia. She has recently moved house and is blessed with wonderful views of Dartmoor. Not wanting to obscure the views behind blinds or net curtains, she was telling me about the ‘window art’ she has discovered… hmm, interesting I thought, tell me more!

After living in a very old and dark farmhouse for the past 20 years, Julia wants to ensure she gets lots of light (and the gorgeous views) in her new house. She has opted for clear glass in her front and back doors, as well as patio doors and even her bathroom window! But to ensure privacy and to deter people, dogs and birds from colliding with the glass she has bought several designs of decorative window stickers.

I guess we’ve all seen the bird silhouettes you can stick on your patio doors to try and stop bird strikes, but if you look online there are a huge range of really lovely designs that transform glass to look as if it is etched.

All these images are from Metal Monkey, they have a huge range!

You can either buy frosted and decorative window film where there is a pattern or image cut out of the frosting (offers the most privacy), or you can go for the reverse, where you add a frosted design onto plain glass. While rummaging around on the internet, Julia came across some wonderful designs from Metal Monkey, the most expensive about £18 while the majority were under £10. It’s a very reasonable way to add a lovely design touch to what used to be a rather ‘utilitarian’ look and often involved buying whole new panes of glass and the expense of having them fitted.

Photo: Brume.

Julia has opted for modern designs to reflect the style of her house, but also kept them very ‘natural’ to compliment her lovely countryside surroundings. She has bees and birds for her patio doors, mostly to stop her dog Moss from squashing her nose on the glass when she forgets they are closed, and some lovely allium-inspired designs for her main doors. Oh, and some lovely Japanese leaping carp for her bathroom window! Can’t wait to see the finished results!

Jewel-like stained glass film from Brume. Photo: Brume.

One of the suppliers Julia came across is called Brume, and they are actually based just down the road from me here in Devon! They have some lovely contemporary designs as well as more traditional ones. As well as the frosted stickies, they also make the most gorgeous stained glass colours. Their coloured transparent window film can give you the sophisticated look of traditional stained glass without the costs and installation problems. And of course, if you decide to have a re-design, you can easily remove your stained glass window sticker and replace it with a different colour that reflects your home’s new look.

I must say I do fancy having a bit of a play with the stained glass idea… Have any of you already tried something Like this, I’d be interested to hear how you got on!