Mistral? Sirocco? Equinoctial storm?

P1010770Here’s a photo I took when we stayed up in the hills on Cap Corse at the northern end of Corsica a few years ago. I suddenly thought of it during the night as I listened to the relentless sound of the wind outside. Of course, here in the South West we’re used to winds, but the Atlantic fronts usually rattle through for a few hours or maybe a day or two. However we’ve had this particular group of storms for two weeks now and the experience on the ground – as opposed to the weather charts – suggests that this is a bit of an outlier.

On Corsica we had our only experence of the Sirocco.  For two weeks a 20C (my guess) – wind blew continuously across the island.  We had access to a swimming pool but the wind was so unpleasant we barely used it.  Down in South East France they have the Mistral which apparently drives people quite crazy.  Elizabeth David wrote this in ‘French Provincial Cooking’.

“Provence is not without its bleak and savage side.  The inhabitants wage perpetual warfare against the ravages of the mistral; it takes a strong temperament to stand up to this ruthless wind which sweeps Provence for the greater part of the year.  One winter and spring when the mistral never ceased its relentless screaming round our crumbling hill village opposite the Lubéron mountain we all seemed to come perilously near to losing our reason, although it is, of course,only fair to say that the truly awful wine of that particular district no doubt contributed its share”

The fact is, too much wind can be pretty oppressive wherever you live.  But it’s 15th March today and the spring equinox is in five days time on the 20th so could this spate of storms come under the umbrella of ‘equinoctial winds’? Not according to the meteorologists who seem to be a bit sceptical about the whole idea that this wind is a seasonal visitor. Looking out over the green outside I can see that two waste  bins have been blown fully 50 yards across the grass during the night. Yesterday on the allotment a neighbour’s greenhouse rooflight had been bent back over itself as if it were made of  butter. In north Wales, where we were staying last week, the Guardian reported on Storm Gareth with this story:

“Meanwhile, the residents of Llandudno in north Wales had unexpected visitors as a result of the storm when a 122-strong herd of Kashmir goats were seen wandering into the town centre by local residents, having been driven from their home of Great Orme Park by the bad weather.

The animals were spotted eating flowers in people’s gardens, as well as walking out in front of traffic. A spokesperson for Conwy council said there was nothing it could do to keep the goats away from the town: “Goats going into town is nothing unusual, particularly at this time of year. There is no way of stopping them. It is more likely in foul weather as they look for lower ground and shelter.”

Probably the simplest explanation is that – having experienced a few days of warm sunshine – we lazily assumed that the winter was over when, in fact, we’ve barely entered the spring. We still had frost fierce enough to kill off our first sowing of runner beans here in the first week of May last year, so it’s not over yet. For us the weather raises the usual questions.  The potatoes are out in the hallway chitted and ready to plant and the bed is prepared, but when do we plant them out?  Some of our neighbours have already planted and others are adamant they won’t plant theirs for two or three weeks yet. The two propagators are now filled with the re-potted long-season capsicums and aubergines and we’ll have to get them out soon in order to sow tomatoes. As always the south facing windows in the flat will be brought into service as an improvised greenhouse and we won’t be able to move or close the shutters until May without moving them all. Life’s rich tapestry!

Yesterday we were on our way up to the allotment in our tatty gardening clothes.  We filled the lift with pots, ready sown half-trays, a potting tray, green kitchen waste (two small bins), and sack truck with a large bag of compost.  The lift was so full I volunteered to take the stairs, but we managed to arrange ourselves and went down together.  As the lift descended Madame said “do you wonder if the neighbours think we’re eccentric?”.  We travelled in silence, praying that when the lift doors opened the hall would be empty. Later we dined on on an improvised shepherd’s pie (clanger pudding in our family, because it includes any leftovers you can find in the fridge) with our own carrots, purple sprouting broccoli and rhubarb. The allotment is surviving the weather, the beds are all ready to go – what’s a bit of wind?


Author: Dave Pole

I've spent my life doing a lot of things, all of them interesting and many of them great fun. When most people see my CV they probably think I'm making things up because it includes being a rather bad welder and engineering dogsbody, a potter, a groundsman and bus driver. I taught in a prison and in one of those ghastly old mental institutions as an art therapist and I spent ten years as a community artist. I was one of the founding members of Spike Island, which began life as Artspace Bristol. ! wrote a column for Bristol Evening Post (I got sacked three times, in which I take some pride) and I worked in local and network radio and then finally became an Anglican parish priest for 25 years, retiring at 68 when I realised that the institutional church and me were on different paths. What interests me? It would be easier to list what doesn't, but I love cooking and baking with our home grown ingredients. I'm fascinated by botany and wildlife in general, and botanical illustration. We have a camper van that takes us to the wild places, we love walking, especially in the hills, and we take too many photographs. But what really animates me is the question "what does it mean to be human?". I've spent my life exploring it in every possible way and the answer is ..... well, today it's sitting in the van in the rain and looking across Ramsey Sound towards Ramsey Island. But it might as easily be digging potatoes or making pickle, singing or finding an orchid or just sitting. But it sure as hell doesn't mean getting a promotion, beasting your co-workers or being obsequious to power, which ensured that my rise to greatness in the Church of England flatlined 30 years ago after about 2 days. But I'm still here and still searching for that elusive sweet spot, and I don't have to please anyone any more. Over the last 50 or so years we've had a succession of gardens, some more like wildernesses when we were both working full-time, but now we're back in the game with our two allotments in Bath.

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