Goodbye, May

rain clouds over Ledbury

When I went for a long walk up to Bradlow Knoll and beyond, the day had decided to let rip and unload all of its stored water down onto Frith Wood and onto the lone walker struggling along its already slimy paths. It meant that all one’s concentration was on not slipping, rather than on looking around at the flora and fauna, so these images were taken towards the end of the trudge, when the clouds parted, and the path was level.


It turns out that on Friday 21 May , the UK experienced 91% of its expected rainfall for the entire month, with approximately 63.5mm having already fallen. The wettest May on record was in 1967, when 131.7mm of rain fell across the month.


It is not the first time the UK has experienced unusual weather this year. April was the frostiest on record, with an average of 13 days of air frosts reported for the UK, topping the 11 days seen in April 1970. Last year, the UK experienced its sunniest spring and driest May since records began with 626 hours of bright sunshine recorded for the UK, exceeding the previous high (555 hours, set in 1948) by more than 70 hours.

bumblebee and bugle

As May transitions into June, we can only hope for dry sunny weather, though the British are, by and large, wary of getting carried away, and will have nurtured low expectations in order not to let disappointment overwhelm them. Is this why, when we go abroad to guaranteed sunshine, and we know we needn’t harbour any circumspection, we allow our inner buoyancy to bubble up and take over? This would explain the uncontrolled alcohol intake, the flippant balcony jumping, the skin-flaking sunburns, the nudity and cross-dressing, the dread of going back home.

The weather and the Brits. What would we talk about without it? It helps us overcome our social inhibitions, but there are rules when conducting these weather-related conversations. Firstly, the topic will almost always be introduced as a form of question and the person answering must agree, otherwise it is quite a serious breach of etiquette. Go on, try it out next time someone says “Cold, isn’t it?” and you say “No.”

dandelion don’t tell no lies. Click here

As for pottery, weather plays a part too. When freshly-made pieces are drying, the dry part will pull on the wet and crack the pottery prior to firing. The best way to avoid this is to dry everything in the shade, but since a humid or wet climate ensures that the pottery will retain its moisture, even after a week, it is best to give the pottery an extra week or even two – the longer the better.

slow dry

And to make sure it dries evenly during the first few days, a plastic bag over each piece is a good idea, otherwise you find parts that are attached to the main body dry too fast and hairline fractures only become bigger visible cracks after the final firing.  This can be deeply disheartening when you’ve put all your energy into one vase in particular, only to discover the fracture after the final hurdle. I’m sure it explains why so many potters turn to drink.

more bluebells

Going back 107 years to June 1914, I see that the month was cool and unsettled, alternating with dry, warm and sunny conditions. On the 8th the maximum temperature was only 13.4°C., and a severe thunderstorm, with hail, produced over 33mm of rain on the 14th. There were many dry and fairly sunny days during the second half of June, and during the last few days of the month it became increasingly warm, and eventually hot. On the 30th, it was sunny all day and the afternoon temperature reached 29°C.

Edward Thomas photo by Frederick Evans

I mention this because this was precisely the weather the poet Edward Thomas was remembering when he wrote “The sun used to shine”. It was the summer he and Robert Frost spent together in the Ledbury area, one of the great literary friendships which ended with Thomas’s death at Arras in 1917. I like to think they took the same paths along the Frith wood, as many of us here still do – they were great walkers. Despite my best research, they do not seem to have any particular interest in ceramics, even though the only difference between poetry and pottery is a “t”.

“Frost’s footfall” is an essay I have written about the two for The Common, a literary organisation based at Amherst College that publishes writing that embodies particular times and places, and where Robert Frost taught for forty years. Click here to read it.


The Ledbury Poetry Festival has been going for 25 years, and this July (2 – 11) will be offering us digital encounters with poets such as Margaret Atwood, Jorie Graham, Andrew McMillan, Jackie Kay, Fred D’Aguiar, Billy Collins, Fiona Sampson, as well as Mexican, Zimbabwean, Chinese, Slovakian and Belarusian voices, and puppetry, a poetry sweet shop, bingo, an interactive digital poetry trail…. Click here for more details.

betony – the stateliest of small flowers


The sun used to shine while we two walked

Slowly together, paused and started

Again, and sometimes mused, sometimes talked

As either pleased, and cheerfully parted


Each night. We never disagreed

Which gate to rest on. The to be

And the late past we gave small heed.

We turned from men or poetry


To rumours of the war remote

Only till both stood disinclined

For aught but the yellow flavorous coat

Of an apple wasps had undermined;


Or a sentry of dark betonies,

The stateliest of small flowers on earth,

At the forest verge; or crocuses

Pale purple as if they had their birth


In sunless Hades fields. The war

Came back to mind with the moonrise

Which soldiers in the east afar

Beheld then. Nevertheless, our eyes


Could as well imagine the Crusades

Or Caesar’s battles. Everything

To faintness like those rumours fade—

Like the brook’s water glittering


Under the moonlight—like those walks

Now—like us two that took them, and

The fallen apples, all the talks

And silence—like memory’s sand


When the tide covers it late or soon,

And other men through other flowers

In those fields under the same moon

Go talking and have easy hours.