Borrowed days of blustery weather in March


I live, as you may know, in a small town in Germany. John le Carre in his novel of the same name, A Small Town in Germany, gives a nice description of the volatility of the weather we commonly experience towards the end of this blustery month of March:

"The weather on the plateau was stolen from other seasons and other places. It was a sea wind from March which sang in the wire netting, bending the tufts of coarse grass and crashing into the forest behind him. The last strips of an Oxford sun lay bravely dying on the empty playing-field; and the sky was a Yorkshire evening in autumn, black and billowing and fringed with grime; the trees were curved from childhood, bent by the blustering wind."

Le Carre's concept of an eclectic month, borrowing different kinds of weather, as it were, from the other seasons, is taken up by the rock group Crowded House. If you listen carefully to the lyrics of one of their offerings, it tells you:

The sun shines on the black clouds over the domain;

Even when you're feelin' warm,

The temperature could drop away -

Like four seasons in one day.

The borrowing metaphor appears again in an ancient Irish explanation for the few days of particularly harsh weather that frequently occur around this time of year. March, the story goes, was once rather shorter than it is now. Once upon a time, at the beginning of the old April, the Bo Riabhach, the brindled cow, began to grumble to her bovine friends about the harshness of the previous month. March at first took little notice, but as the crescendo of complaint increased, March understandably took pique and resolved to teach the cow a lesson.

March duly borrowed three days from April, and made them so wet and cold and stormy that the Bo Riabhach drowned in the ensuing floods. These "borrowed days" are Laethanta na Bo Riabhai -

"the days of the brindled cow"; they are renowned for their harshness, and are a stern reminder that if we complain too much about the elements, there is a risk we may come to a sad and nasty end.

Many European countries have their version of the socalled "borrowed days". In England, for example, perhaps fortunately in the current circumstances, there are no bovine complications. They tell the story thus:

March borrows time from April,

Three days - and they are ill:

The first is frost, the second snow,

And the third is cold as it can blow.