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  • Keeping the ancient traditions of May Day alive!

    may day
    May the 1st … the day when for centuries, communities have enacted rituals to mark the arrival of warmer weather and fresh growth in the fields.

    In the UK, a lot of the old May Day traditions are pagan in origin and are linked to fertility – traditions such as dancing around the maypole, the crowning of a May Queen, and Morris dancing.

    While many of the customs are shared nationally, there are also some famous and, some might say, eccentric events, that are more localised in origin. Here are six of the best.

    Beltane Fire Festival, Edinburgh:

    On the last night of April and into the early hours of 1 May, thousands of people mark Beltane (Gaelic May Day) by heading to Calton Hill for a theatrical celebration involving fire displays, drumming and a pagan performance.

    Glastonbury Tor, Somerset:

    Pagans and druids gather at dawn to welcome in Beltane and the return of warmth and light. They re-enact several May Day customs and a procession carries a maypole – a young tree – to Bushy Combe, below the Tor, for maypole dances to take place.

    Padstow ‘Obby ‘Oss, Cornwall:

    Padstow is turned into a riot of flowers and greenery for the day, as thousands converge to see the two “osses” dance around the streets, followed by their supporters. Various locals take it in turns to don the costumes of Old ‘Obby ‘Oss and Blue Ribbon ‘Obby ‘Oss.

    May Morning, Oxford:

    Huge crowds get up bright and early to hear Magdalen College choir sing from the top of the college tower at 6am. The bells then ring out for 20 minutes, signalling the start of Morris dancing and a procession through the city.

    Clun Green Man Festival, Shropshire

    The action takes place on Clun Bridge, where the Green Man defeats the Frost Queen to ensure there will be summer in the valley. To celebrate his victory, the Green Man then leads a colourful parade to the grounds of Clun Castle.

    Flora Day, Helston, Cornwall:

    Locals festoon the town with floral displays for the ancient Flora Day festival. Four dances take place in the streets, the first starting at 7am. The most famous is the midday dance – The Furry Dance, where participants are chosen by invitation only. Another ancient feature of the day is the Hal-an-Tow Mummers play.

    Let’s hope all those May Day rituals do the trick and we get a summer to remember!

  • 20 great Shakespeare quotes for the Bard's birthday

    April 23rd isn’t just St George’s Day, it’s William Shakespeare’s birthday, too. Or at least, we think it is. Historians have settled on the date because his baptism is recorded in Stratford-upon-Avon on 26 April 1564 – and in those days, this usually happened on or around three days after the baby was born.
    Shakespeares birthday
    More than 450 years later, and many of our most commonly-used terms and phrases are attributed to Shakespeare, such as: All’s well that ends well (All’s Well that Ends Well); Be-all and the end-all (Macbeth); A blinking idiot (The Merchant of Venice); Neither here nor there (Othello); Cruel to be kind (Hamlet); It’s Greek to me (Julius Caesar); Too much of a good thing (As You Like It);  Neither rhyme nor reason (The Comedy of Errors); Wear my heart upon my sleeve (Othello); Wild-goose chase (Romeo and Juliet); The world is my oyster (The Merry Wives of Windsor).

    And, of course, he is English Literature’s King of Quotes. Here are 20 of the best …

    1. “Neither a borrower nor a lender be.” (Hamlet)
    2. “To be, or not to be: that is the question.” (Hamlet)
    3. “To die, to sleep; To sleep, perchance to dream - ay, there's the rub.” (Hamlet)
    4. “The lady doth protest too much, methinks.” (Hamlet)
    5. “Though this be madness, yet there is method in ‘t.” (Hamlet)
    6. “Love all, trust a few, do wrong to none.” (All’s Well That Ends Well)
    7. What’s in a name? A rose by any name would smell as sweet.” (Romeo and Juliet)
    8. “O Romeo, Romeo! wherefore art thou Romeo?” (Romeo and Juliet)
    9. “All the world's a stage, And all the men and women merely players.” (As You Like It)
    10. “We are such stuff as dreams are made on, and our little life is rounded with a sleep.” (The Tempest)
    11. “If music be the food of love, play on.” (Twelfth Night)
    12. “Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon ‘em.” (Twelfth Night)
    13. “Now is the winter of our discontent.” (Richard III)
    14. “If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us, do we not laugh? If you poison us, do we not die? And if you wrong us, shall we not revenge?” (The Merchant of Venice)
    15. “When shall we three meet again in thunder, lightning, or in rain? When the hurlyburly ‘s done, When the battle ‘s lost and won.” (Macbeth)
    16. “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day? (Sonnet 18)
    17. “I am a man more sinned against than sinning.” (King Lear)
    18. “Nothing will come of nothing.” (King Lear)
    19. “Beware the Ides of March.” (Julius Caesar)
    20. “The course of true love never did run smooth.” (A Midsummer Night’s Dream)

    By coincidence, The Bard also died on 23 April, in 1616, when he was just 52 – but what a literary legacy he left us.  It seems all the world will forever be a stage for William Shakespeare!

  • 7 great ways to make the most of No Housework Day

    No Housework Day

    7 great ways to make the most of No Housework Day

    Sunday 7 April is ‘No Housework Day’ – so ditch the duster and vacuum cleaner and do something nice instead. Here are a few ideas …

    Enjoy your garden:
    Get in touch with nature by spending some quality time in your garden. Add some spring colour with a trip to your local garden centre. Then, sit back and admire it.

    Go for a walk:
    Head for the coast or countryside for a healthy walk. Take in the views and the fresh air – and if you have a dog to take along too, then so much the better.

    A leisurely lunch:
    Meet up with family and friends over a long, lazy lunch at your favourite place. Don’t worry about over indulging – it’s allowed today, and you can always walk it off afterwards.

    Read a book or magazine:
    Put your feet up and enjoy a good book with a cuppa or glass of wine. Or flick through some magazines for inspiration on home & garden improvements.

    Watch a film
    Take in a new movie at the cinema or, if you’re feeling nostalgic, dig out some of your old favourites to watch in the comfort of your own home. Just don’t forget the popcorn!

    Retail therapy
    Spring is a great time to do a bit of window shopping, with plenty of new season things to see in fashion and home & garden. There no harm in looking, is there?

    Fire up the BBQ:
    If the weather’s nice, invite your friends over for a barbecue. But skip the clearing-up bit today – it can wait.
    Whatever you decide to do on No Housework Day, enjoy it! 😊

  • All roads (and bridleways) lead to Cheltenham!

    And they’re off! Jump racing’s showpiece event, the Cheltenham Festival, takes place over four days from 12-15 March, culminating, of course, in the Blue Riband race, the Magners Cheltenham Gold Cup Steeple Chase – regarded as the pinnacle of jump racing.
    Cheltenham Festival 2019
    We’ve compiled 15 amazing facts and figures about this historic sporting event.

    1. 1. Racing in Cheltenham was first recorded in 1815, when it was a flat race meeting held on Nottingham Hill.

    2. 2. By 1819, racing had moved to Cleeve Hill, which overlooks the current racecourse at Prestbury Park in the Cotswold Hills. Highlight of the 3-day meeting in August 1819 was the first ever Cheltenham Gold Cup.

    3. 3. That first Cheltenham Gold Cup was a three-mile flat race for three-year-olds – the winning horse was called Spectre.

    4. 4. The event attracted the ire of a prominent local clergyman, Rev Francis Close, who denounced racing as “evil” and was behind a disruption of the meeting in 1829 and an arson attack on the facilities in 1830!

    5. 5. Steeplechasing gradually replaced flat racing at Cheltenham and the Festival evolved out of the National Hunt Festival. The first Cheltenham Festival was staged at Prestbury Park in 1911.

    6. 6. In 1924, the Cheltenham Gold Cup as we know it today was run for the first time. It was won by a five-year-old called Red Splash.

    7. 7. The Cheltenham Gold Cup is competed by horses aged five years and over.

    8. 8. The Gold Cup race is just over 3.2 miles long – but it’s not the longest at the Festival. The historic National Hunt Challenge Cup Chase, the final race on the opening day, is over a 4-mile course.

    9. 9. Only seven horses have won the Gold Cup more than once, including the legendary Arkle (1964, 65, 66), Best Mate (2002,03, 04), L’Escargot (1970, 71) and Kauto Star – the only horse ever to regain the Gold Cup, winning in 2007 and 2009.

    10. 10. The fastest winning time is 6 minutes 29.7 seconds, set in 2011 by Long Run, ridden by Sam Waley-Cohen.

    11. 11. All three courses at Cheltenham are used during the Festival.

    12. 12. Over 200,000 people are expected to attend over the four days this year, with 65,000 or more packing the venue on Cheltenham Gold Cup day.

    13. 13. Prizemoney for the week totals around £5 million, with the Cheltenham Gold Cup winner taking home more than £350,000.

    14. 14. During the Festival, 200 tonnes of divot mix will be used to repair the course, together with 100 sacks of grass seed.

    15. 15. At the end of the Festival, there are around four million hoofprints on the racecourse (who counts them?!).

    Everyone will be keeping their fingers crossed that the 2019 Festival passes with no harm to horse or rider. Last year, six horses died at the Festival, with a seventh having to be put down later as a result of injuries. Let’s hope this year’s event is remembered for all the right reasons.

  • Celebrating the 'old stuff'

    Celebrating the ‘old stuff’

    Old Atco 30
    You know all that old stuff you’ve kept stored away for donkey’s years because you just can’t let go of it? Or the bits and bobs you’ve collected and ‘put away for safekeeping’ but which have been gathering dust ever since?

    Well, you’re not alone in hanging on to old stuff. It seems we all do. In fact, there’s even a special day for it, when people across the world celebrate the joy of holding onto something because it still means something to them or, just as likely, they’ve never got around to throwing it out.

    So, to celebrate Old Stuff Day on 2 March, we’ve done a bit of research to find out what’s tucked away in our garden sheds. According to insurers’ surveys, most sheds contain some pretty expensive items – the average contents are around £2,000. Mostly, the contents are made up of things like still-in-use lawnmowers, gardening equipment and garden furniture.

    But the surveys also threw up some ‘old stuff’ gems. Here are our favourite five.

    Train sets: Well, you wouldn’t want to throw away a train set either, would you? Train sets are among the toys that 15% of people keep in their garden sheds.

    Family heirlooms. Yep, those things passed down through the family also end up in the shed. No longer wanted in the house, but kept for sentiment and memories, they’re found in 13% of garden sheds.

    Classic cars: If train sets are difficult to say goodbye to, then the same goes for old cars. Among those found under dust sheets in a garden shed was - wait for it - an original E-Type Jag!

    Sports gear: Almost a quarter of us store sports equipment in our sheds. And, just as likely among the shiny new bikes are rusty old ones that haven’t got close to Lycra in years and sets of golf clubs that have long since seen a fairway.

    Steam engine: And finally, our favourite ‘old stuff in a garden shed story’ - a £60,000 steam engine. We’d all be pretty chuff, chuff, chuffed to have one of those in our shed!

    There are plenty of other disused and discarded things in our sheds too, like half empty (and dried out) paint pots and ancient gardening tools. Even historic newspaper editions. Whatever ‘old stuff’ you’ve got lurking in your shed, don’t forget to celebrate them in style on 2 March!

  • Valentine's Day - it's sheer poetry!

    valentines day
    Valentine’s Day – it’s sheer poetry!

    It’s that time of year when lovebirds everywhere exchange cards and gifts and enjoy a romantic candlelit dinner for two.

    But why do we celebrate Valentine’s Day each year? What’s so romantic about 14 February? And who is Saint Valentine, anyway? Let’s tackle that tricky last question first.

    It seems there were lots of sainted Valentines in Rome in the 3rd century. Some were said to perform secret weddings that went against the wishes of the authorities – and most of them met a sticky end.

    Others were martyred simply because they administered to persecuted Christians. Legend has it that one of these priests was martyred on 14 February 269 and became known as Saint Valentine, giving rise to the Feast of St Valentine in the Christian calendar.

    That’s one explanation of St Valentine. Here’s another …

    In some folk traditions in Europe, St Valentine’s Day is when people celebrate the start of the new growing season in the fields and vineyards. In these cultures, Saint Valentine is the saint that of Spring and good health.

    So much for the origins then, but where does the romance come into it?

    Historians believe that we have the 14th century poet Geoffrey Chaucer to thank for first connecting St Valentine’s Day with romantic love. His poem, Parlement of Foules (Parliament of Fowls), describes the gathering of birds on “seynt valentynes day” to choose their mates for the year.

    The poem is a humorous and philosophical exploration of love. In the end the birds can’t decide on their mates and put the decision off until the next year.

    More than 200 years later, in Hamlet, Shakespeare also makes a romantic connection, in Ophelia’s song:

    “Tomorrow is Saint Valentine’s day,

    All in the morning betime,

    And I a maid at your window,

    To be your Valentine.”

    So, whatever the true origins of Valentine’s Day, these two giants of English literature probably did more than anyone to popularise it among the wider population as a day for romance. Good for them.

    Wishing a very happy Valentine’s Day to all of you lovebirds – and to those who are taking a leaf out of Chaucer’s birds!

  • Happy Chinese New Year - the Year of the Pig

    chinese new year 2019
    Tuesday 5 February 2019 heralds the start of the Chinese New Year. This year, it’s the Chinese Year of the Pig, which runs until 24 January 2020.

    The Pig is the 12th and last sign of the Chinese Zodiac – according to one particular myth, this is because the pig was the last of the invited animals to turn up to a party hosted by The Jade Emperor, the supreme deity of Chinese tradition. In this legend, The Jade Emperor set a race, which determined the order of the zodiac animals.

    If you were born in the Year of the Pig (1935, 1947, 1959, 1971, 1983, 1995, 2007, 2019), then lucky you, because in Chinese culture, the pig is a symbol of abundance and good fortune. Personality-wise, pigs are likely to be good-natured, generous and compassionate.

    But what about the other 11?

    Rat – Years: 1924, 1936, 1948, 1960, 1972, 1984, 1996, 2008, 2020. The rat came first, so it comes as no surprise to learn that people born in these years are quick-witted, intelligent, wise, resourceful and often successful. They’re also likeable and kind.

    Ox – Years: 1925, 1937, 1949, 1961, 1973, 1985, 1997, 2009, 2021. Oxen are hard-working, strong, honest, loyal and reliable. They don’t like being in the limelight but in the end, their qualities shine through.

    Tiger – Years: 1926, 1938, 1950, 1962, 1974, 1986, 1998, 2010, 2022. Tigers are impetuous, adventurous and courageous – they love a good challenge. They’re also well-meaning and kind.

    Rabbit – Years: 1927, 1939, 1951, 1963, 1975, 1987, 1999, 2011, 2023. Rabbits are quiet, clever, even-tempered and cautious. They’re also friendly and are blessed with longevity.

    Dragon – Years: 1928, 1940, 1952, 1964, 1976, 1988, 2000, 2012, 2024. The only imaginary animal in the zodiac, the dragon is the most revered creature in Chinese culture. Those born in these years are strong, intelligent, innovative, confident and fearless.

    Snake – Years: 1941, 1953, 1965, 1977, 1989, 2001, 2013, 2025. Wise, intelligent, deep-thinking and sophisticated, snakes are the most enigmatic of all the 12 animals.

    Horse – Years: 1942, 1954, 1966, 1978, 1990, 2002, 2014, 2026. Horses are free spirits, full of energy and humour, who love to chase their dreams. Their biggest desire is not materialistic, but to be happy.

    Goat/Ram – Years: 1943, 1955, 1967, 1979, 1991, 2003, 2015, 2027. Goats are considerate and caring, usually putting others before themselves. Calm, gentle and shy, they crave harmony.

    Monkey – Years: 1932, 1944, 1956, 1968, 1980, 1992, 2004, 2016, 2028. Monkeys are jokers who like to make people laugh. They’re also creative, charismatic and intelligent.

    Rooster – Years: 1933, 1945, 1957, 1969, 1981, 1993, 2005, 2017, 2029. Honest and outspoken to the point of being blunt, roosters are the perfectionists of the zodiac. They’re also hard workers with keen powers of observation.

    Dog – Years: 1934, 1946, 1958, 1970, 1982, 1994, 2006, 2018, 2030. Likeable, helpful, honest and genuine, a dog is everyone’s best friend! Their defining characteristic is their loyalty, making those born in these years much-loved and popular.

    All of this comes with the caveat that the characteristics also depend on the mineral assigned to each year – 2019 is Earth Pig. Here’s hoping he’s true his nature and brings us a year of good fortune!

  • Trees – the unsung heroes with super-powers

    Trees – the unsung heroes with super-powers

    The UK needs to plant tens of millions of trees in the coming years to help soak up carbon emissions and reduce serious flooding.

    A report to the Government by the Committee on Climate Change says the UK must increase its forest cover from 13% now to 19% by 2050. The advisers also recommend that the Government should more than double the number of trees it plants by 2020.
    tree
    The Woodland Trust describes the advice as a “wake-up call” and should be acted on immediately.

    Whether it’s their leading role in fighting global warming or simply their sheer beauty, trees are super-heroes that just keep on giving. Here are 10 amazing facts about trees.
    mature oak

    1. They help keep us alive – literally. Trees absorb carbon dioxide and release oxygen for us to breathe.
    2. They also release chemicals called phytoncides, thought to have health benefits for us when we are exposed to them – another good reason for a woodland walk!
    3. Trees are vital for biodiversity as they provide a home for thousands of species, from birds and mammals to insects and reptiles.
    4. Forest trees are highly social. They communicate with other and share nutrients, using an underground network of fungi dubbed ‘The Wood Wide Web’.
    5. Some trees can emit chemical signals to warn neighbouring trees of an impending insect attack.
    6. A mature oak can ‘drink’ over 100 gallons of water a day.
    7. Scientists believe the first trees on earth were between 350 and 400 million years ago.
    8. The oldest ancient tree in the UK is the Fortingall Yew in Perthshire, thought to be 3,000 years-old – possible older.
    9. There are an estimated three trillion trees on earth currently.
    10. A study by Yale University found that the annual net loss of trees is 10 billion. At this rate there will be no trees left in 300 years’ time.

    So, if you’re looking to add a feature to your garden, why not plant a tree? The Woodland Trust has some great advice at www.woodlandtrust.org.uk.
    hug a tree

  • 5 great New Year’s resolutions for gardeners in 2019

    5 great New Year’s resolutions for gardeners in 2019
    New Year
    As we close the door on 2018 and welcome in 2019, we’d like to wish all our readers and customers a happy and prosperous New Year.

    And, to help you get maximum enjoyment out of your lawns and gardens this year, we’ve come up with some New Year’s resolutions that’ll keep your green spaces – and you! – in good shape.

    1. Get active in the garden.  Whether you’re mowing the lawn, sorting weeds or caring for your trees and plants, gardening activities are great for both physical and mental wellbeing. The fresh air and being close to nature are real tonics, too.
    2. Love your lawn – and your mower.  Get the most out of your lawn by keeping it fabulous all-year-round. You’ll probably want to get your lawnmower serviced before the first mow, which will usually be in March or April. Before that, clear the lawn of any stones or other items that might have got on the grass during the winter months – it’ll save your lawnmower from potential damage. Mow once a week in spring, twice a week in the summer (or once if there’s a drought) and weekly during the autumn.
    3. Grow your own.  Nothing tastes better than home-grown food. Even if you have only a smallish space, make room for some herbs or tomatoes or your favourite veg or berries. You don’t need a bed or a border – you can use pots. If you have a larger garden, local apple and pear tree varieties will deliver an autumn treat.
    4. Be green.  You can start by shredding your Christmas tree for mulch. Compost your veg peelings and garden waste and re-use the composted material in your garden. Encourage wildlife such as birds, bees, hedgehogs and insects by providing food, water and shelter.
    5. Enjoy your garden.  These days, a garden is an extension of your home. It’s a place to sit and relax with a book and a cuppa, or to socialise with family and friends over a drink and a bite to eat. It’s a peaceful haven, or a place to party. Resolve to be kind to yourself in 2019 and get out in your garden as much as you can!
  • The Christmas tree that is ‘the Queen of the Forest’

    The Christmas tree that is ‘the Queen of the Forest’

    Every December, since 1947, the people of Norway have given the people of the United Kingdom a giant Christmas Tree which takes pride of place in Trafalgar Square.
    christmas tree trafalgar square
    But what’s the story behind the annual gift? And how do they go about selecting the tree each year?

    The annual gift is presented in recognition of Britain’s support for Norway during World War Two. Despite its neutrality, Norway was invaded by Germany in April 1940 and, following defeat two months later, remained under German occupation until the end of the war.

    The Royal Navy sought to hold back the German invasion, and both navies suffered casualties.  Britain and its allies also sent an expeditionary force to Norway.  Ultimately, the Allied campaign in Norway was lost in June 1940.

    But the King, members of his family and Government ministers managed to flee Norway on board the Royal Navy ship, HMS Devonshire, enabling the Norwegians to set up a Government in exile in London. However, their evacuation led to the loss of some of HMS Devonshire’s escorting ships.  When Norway was liberated, the Royal Family and Government in exile returned to Norway on board HMS Norfolk.

    The Trafalgar Square tree symbolises the enduring friendship of the two nations. And it’s no ordinary tree, either. Great care is taken in growing and choosing the tree. As you would expect, it is usually a Norwegian spruce. It comes from the forests on the edge of Oslo, is about 25 metres high (82ft), and between 50-100 years old.

    The tree is often selected years in advance – and it must be absolutely perfect. The foresters who tend the chosen tree call it ‘the Queen of the Forest’.  Once chosen, the tree gets extra special treatment, which includes an area of clear space all around it, so it gets good light.

    The felling is a ceremonial event that takes place in November, attended by dignitaries from Norway and Britain. The tree is then brought to London by sea and lorry. Putting the tree up in Trafalgar Square is a major operation, requiring a specialist rigging team and a hydraulic crane. Once up, it is always decorated in traditional Norwegian style.
    christmas tree
    This year, the lighting ceremony at the tree takes place on 6 December at 6pm. Carol singing takes place at the tree on most days in the run up to Christmas. The tree is taken down for recycling just before Twelfth Night.

    Although the most famous, the Trafalgar Square tree isn’t the only one sent to the UK from Norway as a mark of friendship. Other places include The Orkney Islands, Edinburgh and Newcastle.

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