With the cottage having to pose as a show home this week, Poppy, Primrose and I took to hiding out in all sorts of places to avoid hovering outside, watching strangers inspecting our house from top to bottom. Eating sandwiches in a car park in the middle of Richmond Park, driving round and round nearby streets and numerous trips to cafes and our local library have all featured. Primrose reached seriously impressive levels of espionage to work out whether things had been moved in her bedroom and I crossed all fingers and toes in the hope that no one would open cupboard doors, causing all piles of ironing and clutter to spill out on to the floor! It has be said, dear Reader, that crossing one’s fingers and waiting for portents of good luck have been part of our daily rituals as we waited with bated breath for news of a potential buyer for the cottage.
Jerry and I have always been a bit superstitious. When I say a bit, dear Reader….a lone magpie always seems to spell out doom and we have always touched our collars on seeing a hearse drive by. In fact, on moving into the cottage, we found a brass shamrock with ‘Ireland’ boldly stamped on it, hanging on a nail on one of the cottage’s exposed brick walls. Imagining that any quantity of ill luck might strike us, we were far too superstitious to take it down. It is probably one of the most hideous ornaments I have ever laid eyes on but it belongs to the cottage and the golden trefoil has certainly worked its magic for us over the years. Somehow, it only seems right that we leave it for the next owner. Good karma after all.
Delving into some country wisdom, I discovered that Jerry and I are not alone in crossing our fingers, tipping a cap to a magpie or indeed, throwing salt over our shoulders. It would appear that superstitions are a wonderful glimpse into our countryside past and are at the heart of the British psyche, with rhymes and rituals native to almost every county in the land.
Here are but a few little snippets for you to enjoy, my dear Reader:
Magpies have long been the old country wives’ favourite superstition and the rhyme ‘One for sorrow, two for joy’ allegedly dates back to the mid 18th century. It is said that those black and white winged omens of misfortune were thought to be the very Devil in disguise! Saluting to Mr Magpie and wishing him a good morrow is commonplace but some of the other rituals are just too wonderful not to be shared! Yorkshire folk believed that the sign of the cross could help ward off the evil brought by a magpie and spitting (how vulgar!) is noted as a deterrent against the lone magpie returning in a couple of Shires. However, one of my absolute favourites has to be the flapping one’s arms (as if a bird) and cawing to imitate the magpie’s errant wife! I can’t say that this method of warding off bad luck would do anything for you other than make those around you think that you had Tourette’s syndrome but one can never tell!
On Valentine’s Day, to see a robin meant that one would marry a sailor, to see a sparrow brought a happy but poor marriage and a goldfinch, well, marrying into endless riches for the lady so lucky to see one of those! A very limited chance of seeing a real goldfinch in the Big Smoke, I would have thought. One might be better off loitering outside one of London’s many banks in the hopes of ‘netting’ another sort of gold-feathered friend! Although, all birds in the City seem to have fallen on hard times these days…
‘Red sky at night, Shepherd’s delight’ is a well-known ditty but did you know, dear Reader, that ‘If Candlemas Day be fair and bright, then Winter shall have another fight’? Candlemas Day, marks the middle of winter, halfway between the shortest day and the spring equinox and this year fell on 2nd February. If memory serves correctly, then I think that this year, it was a gloriously sunny day. A forecast of more cold weather if the superstition is to be believed.
‘Two must never pour from the same pot’ – This made me instantly think of my dear friend, Barbara! She and I have been known to both pour from the same teapot on numerous occasions. According to Steve Roud’s A pocket guide to Superstitions of the British Isles, this particular superstition was recorded in 1885 and heralds from near Barbara’s neck of the woods in the county of Worcestershire. The fate of those who pour from said same pot…..the birth of ginger-haired twins! Dear Barbara, you had better watch out! One never knows what the stork might bring next…..
In the midst of this rather delightful sojourn into countryside superstitions, I had an awful dream about my tooth falling out and woke next morning in a panic. Dreaming of teeth….the interpretations that go hand in hand with this are unpleasant to say the least! Jerry put it down to anxiety over our fate and that of the cottage. Unfortunately for me, it turned out to be more than a little prophetic as the next day whilst eating a piece of toast, one of my teeth crumbled entirely, leaving a somewhat piratey looking stump and a wailing Margot. Primrose was sympathetic to a point but in the end, suggested I find a set of wind-up chattering teeth instead as there was no way that the tooth fairy was going to replace it!
Superstitions, old wives’ tales, single magpies and falling teeth aside, it turns out that Lady Luck might just be on our side though, dear Reader. Maybe just maybe….Jerry and I might have some good news about the cottage but superstitious as we are, to write it would be to jinx it! Perhaps, I should just put it all down to the velvety black beauty that crosses my path every morning?….