Seasonal

The Month in Focus: July

July 4, 2014
_july https-::www.flickr.com:photos:vainsang:9559702043

Photography credit: Vincent Brassinne

It’s summer! How did that happen? I’ve been looking back through previous In Focus posts this morning, seeing how the pictures have changed since I started this feature. Time is funny like that, isn’t it? It passes so gradually that we don’t realise, but when we look behind us we realise months have elapsed and we don’t really have any recollection of where they went.

But let’s not get down! In the warmer months of the year we’re spoiled by the sheer choice of things to do, sand it seems like every weekend is stuffed full of potential. As always, I’ve tried to chose six of July’s best for you to enjoy, including what to eat in season, what to look out for in nature and the quirkiest of Britain’s celebrations to get involved in.

Have a wonderful time in July, and let me know which of today’s suggestions you’ll be trying!

_swans https-www.flickr.com-photos-matthijs-78658972

Photography credit: Matthijs

A peculiar British practice called Swan-Upping takes place on the River Thames in July. This involves the rounding up, catching, marking and releasing of all mute swans on the river in the home counties of the UK. This annual ceremony dates back to the twelfth century, when all swans in the country belonged to the Crown.

Usually occurring in the third week of July, the Queen’s, Vintners’ and the Dyers’ “Swan Uppers” row up the river in skiffs (traditional wooden boats) and ring any swans with cygnets in order to keep track of how well the Thames breeding population is doing. It’s an almost unique example of how tradition has evolved into modern conservation: each swan given a full MOT before being plopped back onto the water and sent on his or her way.

If you’d like to read more about the ceremony have a look at this amazing booklet! Fancy watching the Upping for yourself? Here is a list of tour dates.

_tomatoes https-::www.flickr.com:photos:piet_musterd:9365829505

Photography credit: Pieter Musterd

Would you just look at these juicy fellas? I’m not the world’s biggest tomato fan (that accolade goes to my little sister), but I have to admit tomatoes are beginning to look pretty darn delicious now we’re into July. It’s this month of the year that they’re at their best, and it’s not hard to see why we’re flinging them into salads left right and centre.

Did you know that tomatoes were once believed to be poisonous? According to my favourite section of Countryfile magazine, prior to the use of ceramics for bowls and plates, Europe’s wealthy folk ate from pewter. The naturally acid-rich tomatoes leached lead from the dishes, poisoning the diners. It’s not surprising that this cheery fruit was associated with evil magic!

Why not try one of these top ten recipes from The Guardian? Tomato party!

_kite https-::www.flickr.com:photos:vironevaeh:3985783648

Photography credit: Karen Blaha

Did you know just how many kite festivals take place in the UK during July? Kitecalendar.com tells me that there are no less than fourteen separate events happening up and down the country throughout the month, so there really is no excuse for missing one!

One of the biggest is undoubtedly St. Annes Kite Festival in Blackpool, which takes place on 26th and 27th of July. This free, family-friendly event aims to fill the skies of the seafront with colour, as display teams demonstrate their skills with a variety of kites in multiple sizes and styles. There will be stalls, entertainment for kids and even fairground rides, all on site.

_gardens https-::www.flickr.com:photos:hereistom:8071785504

Photography credit: Tom Jutte

Not only is July the time of the year for kites, it’s also an excellent opportunity to visit the gardens of stately homes here in the UK. Throughout the spring, horticulturists and gardeners alike have been tending to the green spaces of some of our most beloved castles, mansions and manor houses, and now that summer is here everything is in full bloom!

Off the top of my head, the RHS Hampton Court Flower Show looks to be an amazing display, and then there’s Plantasia at Kew Gardens as well. If you’re not in London, have a look at the English Heritage and National Trust websites to find listings of great days out with gorgeous gardens to enjoy in your local area.

_snails https-www.flickr.com-photos-66235205@N06-7589222946

Photography credit: Dennis

Yes, it is real, and yes, it is exactly what you think it is. The annual Snail Racing World Championships takes place in Congham, Norfolk, and competitors are still trying to beat the record set by a zippy little chap called Archie in 1995. He cleared the stretch of thirteen inches in a surprisingly quick time of only two minutes, making him the unbeaten champ.

Last year first place was awarded to Racer II, owned by six year old Sue Ryder from Kings Lynn.

If you’d like to compete in the World Championships, all you have to do is turn up to Congham up with your snail on 19th July (make sure you pop a little blob of paint on his shell to distinguish him from the other competitors) and give it your best shot! For more information, take a peak at the official website. Ready, steady, slow!

_oysters https-::www.flickr.com:photos:adactio:13628693445

Photography credit: Jeremy Keith

The Whitstable Oyster Festival is a week-long celebration of all that is amazing about the sea. Kentish folk have been giving thanks for its plentiful bounty for generations, including a special mention for the humble bivalve that made the town so famous.

You can look forward to a week jam-packed with activities in the run up to the beginning of August, including a harbour food festival, street parade, seaside cinema, an oyster eating competition, Venetian carnival, and the building of the “grotters”, which I understand are constructed using the empty shells of the oysters and illuminated from inside.

As usual, have a look at the excellent official website for more information.

Seasonal

The Month in Focus: June

June 12, 2014

june in focus_v2

It feels like only yesterday that I was writing January in Focus, and somehow now we’ve made it to June! The sixth month of the year is one of my favourites: it’s the start of summer, and it always feels so much more full of promise than July and August, even if the weather can still sometimes be a bit up and down.

Evidently I’m not the only one who thinks June is the opportune moment to do everything on the planet though, because I’ve been overwhelmed by the choice of activities and events on offer this month… and all of them seem to be happening at the same time!

Still, I’ve tried my best to pick a handful of things for today’s post that can be enjoyed all month long. Have fun and let me know what you get up to!

01 seal_v3

During June, one of the two species of seals that call UK shores home are getting ready to have their babies. Regularly seen basking on rocky spits just a little way out to sea, harbour (or common) seals are surprisingly elegant animals… when they’re in the water at least! Even so, watching them shuffle along on their bellies to get comfortable is nothing short of delightful.

I’ve been on seal spotting boat trips twice in the past, the first time at Blakeney Point in Norfolk, and more recently off the Farne Islands in Northumberland. Both were great experiences, and I couldn’t recommend them enough.

05 broad beans

Do you remember the sunny afternoon I spent on the allotment back in March? I planted a shedload of broad beans, and according to the seasonal veg section of Countryfile magazine, it seems as though June is the time they like to pop their heads up and say hello. I will have to return to John and Helen’s veggie patch and get harvesting…

Broad beans always seem like quite an old-fashioned food, and these chunky fellas often get folks raising their eyebrows and wondering how to cook and eat them. Never fear though, because a quick Google search will put you right and provide all sorts of inspiration for incorporating these high in vitamin A, B1 and B2 super champs into your diet.

03 glow worm

I’ve never spotted one of these bioluminescent bugs before, but perhaps I’ll get lucky soon, as June evenings are apparently the best time to catch a glimpse. The glow worm, or Lampyris Noctiluca if you’d like its posh name, is not a worm at all: it’s actually a beetle. It’s only the wingless female that glows, and as you might have guessed it’s to attract the flying males.

If you’d like to spot a glow worm or two of your own, the good news is that they’re not as hard to find as you might think: often they’ll already have set up camp in your garden without you even noticing! If your house doesn’t have a garden then good places to try are those with an abundance of chalk or limestone in the soil.

04 wild swim_v2

Last year my friend Judi and I spent a weekend camping, hiking and breathing fresh air in the Trossacks, Scotland. One of the things I’ll never forget about the experience was Judi convincing me to wild swim in the still blue waters of Loch Lomond. It sounded like a very spiritual, outdoorsy thing to do, so without much persuasion I jumped straight in.

Even now, the memories of how cold that water really was makes my teeth chatter.

Wild swimming isn’t for everyone, but even if you’re a big wimp like me you can still enjoy the spectacle. Starting this Friday and finishing on Sunday, hundreds of mad brave souls will be leaping into Lake Windermere in the Lake District to take part in the Great North Swim, an event suitable for swimmers of all strengths and experiences.

02 solstice

I grew up in Wiltshire, not far from the heritage monument of Stonehenge. Every year in the run up to the Summer Solstice I consider welcoming in the longest day of the year in the company of the Druids, but something always stops me. I guess it’s the additional crowd of drunk revellers, treating the whole thing like a free music festival that probably does it.

If you’d like to celebrate the beginning of the second half of the year without all that, don’t feel bad about staying clear of Stonehenge. The Druids will understand. If the idea of stone circles still appeals though, Avebury is a much better option, but it is totally acceptable just to take an early morning walk or even pop your head out of the window at sunrise instead.

Remember, it’s not what you do that counts, it’s how it makes you feel.

06 naked

Here’s what I think: clothes cause a lot of problems. I’m sure we’d be much nicer to each other if we were all happier with the way we looked underneath.

Of course, if you’re taking part in the World Naked Bike Ride, (the London leg of which is happening this Saturday), you don’t need my sappy advice. This event will see cyclists of all abilities join in to peacefully protest against car culture and oil dependency, all the while making the most of the opportunity to get an all-over body tan…

But if you’re not feeling brave enough to get your kit off and join in, make it your June mission to appreciate your body instead of berating it. It’s the only one you’ll ever get after all, and it’s totally imperfect and beautiful in its own funny way.

Seasonal

The Month in Focus: May

May 17, 2014
may

Photography credit: Fergus Ray Murray

Do you know what? May sure is a busy month. And not just for me, it seems! There are plenty of things to keep you entertained as the weather gets warmer and the British weather (fingers crossed!) finally comes into its own. Longer evenings and brighter mornings make it easier to ditch the usual indoor distractions and start enjoying the world around us again.

So whether you’re dancing round a maypole, planning for the first of the summer festivals or simply enjoying the prevalence of Bank Holiday weekends May has to offer, be sure to have a wonderful time and experience it all without distraction. Happy May time, folks!

01_jack

Photography credit: Simon

The Green Man has to be one of my favourite symbols of nature and the changing of the seasons. Sometimes depicted as a leaf-covered face or a figure adorned with leaves from head to toe, the Green Man is ancient enough to have influenced numerous religions throughout history. He is also often the central focus of many a festival during May.

Jack in the Green is the name given to a participant in traditional celebrations who emulates this pagan spirit, dressed completely in green and often adorned with leaves, fruits and flowers. He is the central focus of the age-old May Day parade, of which there are many held throughout the United Kingdom during the fifth month of the year.

02_elderflower

Photography credit: Claire Sutton

Originally this was going to read “sip a glass of elderflower cordial”, but last night I was invited to a dinner at the Skip Garden Kitchen in Kings Cross and lovely chef Catherine served elderflower lemonade and it was love at first taste!

You’ll start seeing the characteristic white spray of flowers popping up throughout the countryside from the start of May, and there’s no surprise that a slew of refreshing elderflower-themed drinks and to my surprise, cakes, have flooded onto our favourite foodie blogs.

Additionally, whilst searching for information on elderflowers, I found a link to a small, family-friendly festival called Elderflower Fields in Sussex. It’s over the Bank Holiday weekend and is only £105 for a four-day ticket! If you’re looking for a last minute getaway, this could be it!

03_osprey

Photography credit: HJ Hipster

One of my earliest illustrated Bird of the Week posts was about the osprey, a pescetarian bird of prey that is thriving up in Scotland. With a stronghold maintained by the RSPB at Loch Garten, these beautiful hunters have fishing skills that are second to none and stunning white and brown feathers that set them apart from their carnivorous cousins.

These birds incubate their eggs during the month of April, and the chicks hatch in mid-late May. Everyone I’ve ever spoken to about Loch Garten tells me that a visit is the most incredible thing, but if you can’t make it all the way up to the Highlands of Scotland, then be sure to check out the Loch Garten webcam… as I type this Mrs Osprey is on her nest right now!

04_broom

Photography credit: Kaiton

“If you buy a broom in May, you’ll sweep the head of the family away.” It’s a pretty dark sentiment, but apparently this strange bit of advice is rooted in an age-old belief across many cultures that the broom is a magic item with the ability to affect daily life.

For example, in China is is believed that the broom is inhabited by a spirit, meaning it should not be used for playing games with. In Africa, should a man be struck by a broom he must take it and strike it seven times, otherwise he will become impotent. And an old American tale says that leaning a broom against the end of the bed brings terrible bad luck.

So what do I take from all this? Only that it’s totally acceptable to keep a bit of dust in the house during May, you know, just in case.

05_dew

Photography credit: Photophilde

Yes, it’s another old wives’ tale, but isn’t it a lovely one? Washing your face with dew gathered during the month of May was said to totally rid your complexion of spots, blemishes and even freckles (though that part is a bit sad, because freckles are lovely).

Girls would get up before dawn, go to the fields and harvest the dew, either with their hands or by spreading a sheet out over the moist grass, and then wringing it out and collecting it in a jar. This would be topped up every day and placed in the sunlight on a windowsill.

In his 1652 book The Natural History of Ireland, Dr Gerard Boate wrote “The dew, thus thoroughly purified, looketh whitish, and keepeth good for a year or two after”, which makes me think we should all be indulging in a little May Day facial.

062_oak

Photography credit: Let Ideas Compete

I was stupidly busy at the start of the month and I’m sad to admit that I somehow managed to miss out on all being part of the various May Day celebrations across the UK. Luckily though, there is a second, lesser-known celebration at the end of the month called Oak Apple Day.

29th May is the anniversary of the Restoration of King Charles II to the throne in 1660. The story goes that Charles hid behind an oak tree to avoid Parliamentary forces at the Battle of Worcester, hence the name. Throughout the UK this festivity is sporadically still observed, even though it is no longer marked by a public holiday. Expect sights similar to those spotted on May Day, and don’t forget to wear an oak leaf through your buttonhole!

Seasonal

The Month in Focus: April

April 4, 2014
april2

Photography credit: William Warby

I hear you, I hear you. It’s only been two weeks since the last Month in Focus! But hear me out! Somehow this feature got pushed to the end of the month, and I couldn’t help thinking it was pointless telling you what to look out for and enjoy when it was almost over!

So yes, you are getting your list of April things to do quite a bit earlier, but wouldn’t you rather it that way? There’s so much to enjoy during the fourth month of the year that it was hard for me to choose, but what I have here should fit your plans for the next four weeks, whatever it is you like doing. Have fun, and as usual, let me know what you get up to!

badger

Photography credit: Tim Brookes

Did you know that the badger is Britain’s largest predator? It’s true! These beautiful black and white creatures live in underground houses called setts and usually only come out during the night to hunt for their favourite food: earthworms! Now listen, I never promised they were a particularly ferocious predator, did I?

Mrs Badger gives birth to a litter of up to five cubs during the early months of the year, and by April they are ready to pop their heads out of the sett and have a look around. The bravest will even venture outside, so if you happen to be in the right place at the right time, who knows? Just remember to keep your distance – they’ve got a heck of a bite if they take a dislike to you!

boat

Photography credit: Lucile Desligneres

Does anyone in Britain really understand where this strange sporting tradition comes from? I’m not convinced, but for 159 years it’s been happening regardless and this Sunday marks the 160th annual university boat race between Oxford and Cambridge.

To my disappointment, the race route does not pass by my boat in Richmond, which is a shame because I’m sure I could have hawked a couple of waterside spots by my window for a few quid. Never mind though, I’m planning to take a walk to Putney and cheer both teams on. Who will you be supporting?

easter

Photography credit: Praktyczny Przewodnik

Whatever or whoever you believe in, April is a fairly important time of year. Easter is the celebration of the death and rebirth of Christ, and in most Western countries this time of remembrance is widely adopted by non-believers just as much as devout Christians.

Even if you struggle with the idea of Jesus, I’d bet you’d be surprised at how much meaning you attach to Easter. For me, it always feels like a time for rebirth in nature. We’re seeing baby animals and birds again, as well as trees starting to grow new leaves. Just this morning I’ve spent hours marvelling at a trio of ducklings fighting upstream on their tiny little legs.

When my maternal grandmother passed away several years ago, we chose to scatter her ashes at the lake near our house. Every spring when the swans have their babies and the flowers grow on the grass nearby, it feels like she has been reborn again too.

cuckoo2

Photography credit: Ron Knight

St. Tiburtius’ Day is celebrated on April 14th, as that is when the cuckoo is believed to return from Africa and begin his famous song. Sadly, the cuckoo is not nearly as widespread as he once was, due to environmental changes that make his short breeding season a struggle.

Cuckoos are well-known for being parasitic: they lay their eggs in the nests of other birds and then abadon them. This might seem like an excellent and easy parenting strategy, but it’s not that simple. As temperatures change and our native birds begin raising their offspring earlier, cuckoos are struggling to find appropriate surrogate families for their own chicks.

bluebells

Photography credit: Henry Lawford

Did you know that the UK has over half of the world’s population of bluebell woods? These beautiful and delicate flowers are at their best during April, but if you’re planning to walk through an enchanted carpet of mysterious purple, you must be on your best behaviour. Bluebells are a protected species and it’s actually illegal to pick them. So as your mother used to say, look with your eyes and not your fingers…

Why not use the visitwoods.org site to help find your nearest bluebell wood?

st george

Photography credit: Tim Green

And finally, let’s round up with St. George’s Day – a lesser-celebrated holiday here in the UK, and often overshadowed by that party animal St. Patrick back in March. George is the patron saint of England, but the real chap wasn’t actually English at all! Born in Turkey during the 3rd century, he was a Christian who joined the Roman army as a soldier.

George was unhappy about the persecution of Christians by his fellow Romans, and protested against their poor treatment. He was told to change his religion and attitude, but with great courage he refused and was put to death for his crimes on April 23rd, 303.

Over the years numerous legends have sprung up about this brave fellow, and Project Britain (a big inspiration and excellent resource for this monthly feature) has chronicled perhaps the most famous, the Legend of St, George and the Dragon.

Seasonal

The Month in Focus: March

March 21, 2014
march

Photography credit: Andy Doyle

It seems only fitting that my haul of images for March’s month in focus post are full of yellows, greens and warm oranges. In the last couple of weeks we have opened our front doors to spring, and what a welcome guest she is! After what feels like an endless winter, most of us are more than happy to invite her in for a cup of tea.

Let’s spend this wonderfully sunny Friday enjoying the best of what the third month of the year has to offer, before putting down our phones, tablets, laptops and computers and going for a walk outside in the sunshine. I know that’s on my list of things to do today!

bunny

Photography credit: David Fulmer

Have you ever heard the saying “he’s as mad as a March hare?”. There’s a reason behind why that old-fashioned phrase exists, and it’s all to do with spring fever. As things start to get a bit warmer, the animals who’ve been snuggled away out of the cold during the winter pop their heads up out of their burrows and start thinking about finding a mate.

The hares seem to go completely bonkers at this time of the year, and will chase each other tirelessly, standing up on their hind legs and “boxing” in order to prove their strength. Even the ladies take part in this frenzy, testing all the chaps to see who is the strongest, and only then considering taking him for a mate. If you’d like to catch this amazing wildlife spectacle, Countryfile magazine has the inside scoop.

marzanna

Photography credit: Madzia Bryll

Marzanna is the Baltic goddess of death and rebirth of nature. In countries like Poland, Russia and the Czech Republic, when spring arrives it is customary to build an effigy and either burn or drown it. As barbaric as the ritual sounds, it is believed that this act puts an end to the dark days of winter, proves victory over death, and in turn makes way for the spring rebirth.

I’m not suggesting you have to start drowning dolls, but if there are any dark demons from winter still clawing at your conscience, perhaps it’s time to send them for a swim?

sleep

Photography credit: Phil and Pam Gradwell

Did you know that March is National Bed Month? How brilliant is that? The Sleep Council have been running their campaign since 1990, and aim to teach us just how valuable a decent night’s sleep is. Their site is packed full of advice, from how to choose the perfect mattress, understanding your body’s sleep cycle better and even how to design your bedroom to enable the perfect nap.

Reading through their hints and tips has really given me food for thought, as I’m definitely guilty of thinking that I’m superwoman and can exist on only five or six hours of sleep a night. I’m sure I’m not alone either, so if you’ve been neglecting one of your body’s most basic needs, make the rest of March count and get to bed that little bit earlier.

vitaminc

Photography credit: Keith Williamson

Oranges and lemons, say the bells of St. Clements!

In London on the last day of March, children from local primary schools gather in the churchyard of St. Clements Dane to attend a special service. Back in the days when the Thames was much wider than it is now, barges carrying oranges and lemons would pass by the church, possibly giving rise to the famous nursery rhyme we’ve all grown up with.

If you haven’t heard this little ditty before, you can listen to it right here. Despite its quite sweet-sounding opening line, Oranges and Lemons is actually quite a dark song. As each of the London church bells in the song chime their tunes, we get ever closer to an impending execution, harping back to the 1600s and the popularity of such grisly public events.

daffodils

Photography credit: Charlie Marshall

Is it me, or did thousands of daffodils just pop up out of nowhere in the last week or so? I swear I remember walking through Richmond Park and there wasn’t a yellow flower to be seen, now everywhere I look they are proudly announcing the arrival of spring.

I always think of daffodils as such friendly, positive flowers, which is odd when you consider their origins. Their correct name is narcissus, and legend says that they sprung up in abundance around the pool that an ancient Greek chap threw himself into upon falling in love with his reflection. I’m sure the daffodils would have raised their eyebrows, if they’d had any.

three

Photography credit: Phil Roeder

Did you know that March actually used to be the first month of the year? It only became number three in 1752, when we switched to the Gregorian calendar. Prior to this, the Roman New Year was celebrated on March 1st, and the month itself was named after Mars, the god of war. The reason behind this choice isn’t too tricky to understand, seeing as the Romans built their culture on hierarchy, heroism, and battle. Mars ensured a good start to the year.

Interestingly, before he became popular spinning that old “God of War” moniker, Mars was a bit of a hippie back in the day: a fertility and agricultural deity. Along with his long-haired pals Ceres and Cybele, he oversaw the new growth of spring and encouraged the continuation of life. He just doesn’t like to talk about it all that much.

So whatever you’re up to in March, remember to get outside and say hello to spring!

Seasonal

The Month in Focus: February

February 11, 2014
february

Photography credit: Andrea Boldizsar

Well, what do you know? All that waiting for January to be over and then February is here and almost at the halfway mark before we’ve realised what’s going on! Is it because we’re willing the year by so fast that it speeds up by ridiculous amounts, or just because February is such a short month? Who knows.

But whichever way you slice it, the second month of the year is upon us and today I’m sharing six of the best ways to celebrate it in all its frosty splendour.

purify

Photography credit: Paxson Woelber

If there’s one thing you should be doing in February, it’s scrubbing yourself squeaky clean.

The name “February” actually comes from the Roman word Februalia or Februatio, which was the Roman festival of ritual purification. Famous for being pretty well-groomed guys and gals, the Romans would jump in the bath at any opportunity, but this festival was one of the most important, focusing on the idea of getting super clean and ready for the arrival of spring.

I’ve recently tried to stop buying any bathing products that aren’t animal friendly, and next week I’ll be sharing my favourite finds, so make sure you tune in for that! In the meantime, as if you needed my permission to pamper yourself in a blissfully bubbly tub?

rhubarb

Photography credit: Whitney

Famous for once being the provider of 90% of the world’s supply, the Rhubarb Triangle is an area of Yorkshire where rhubarb is revered, and especially throughout February. In honour of this marvellous veggie, the council hosts an annual festival in its honour, showcasing cooking demonstrations, a farmers market and even a guided tour of the forcing sheds!

And if you can’t make it to Wakefield to get involved with the action, can I suggest you at least give thanks for this groovy looking chap by baking him into a delicious crumble and topping it off with the really expensive Madagascan vanilla custard you can buy in Marks and Spencer…?

sheep

Photography credit: Lima Pix

I love sheep. They have to be up there on the list of most underrated and misunderstood animals on the planet, and if you don’t believe me you need only have a look at this link to see why. They’re also quite firmly linked with a plethora of ancient festivals that happen during this time of the year, including St Blaise’s Day and the Celtic celebration of Imbolc, which actually translates as “in the belly”, referring to the pregnancy of the ewe.

February is often when lambs are born, and looking back to medieval times, sheep were perhaps the most important resource farmed at that time: providing wool and meat in abundance. So when you’re next out on a frosty morning walk and you pass a field of these woolly lovelies, stop and pay them a compliment or two. Sheep have beautiful faces and kind eyes, so you should remind them of that.

candle

Photography credit: Markus Grossalber

The traditional Christian celebration of Candlemas is observed on 2nd February, so I’m a little late in writing this, but I don’t see why we shouldn’t enjoy it throughout the rest of the month too. This ancient festival of light marks the midpoint of winter, halfway between the shortest day and the spring equinox. Originally Candlemas was also the day of the year when all the candles that were to be used in the church for the next 365 days were blessed by the priest.

I don’t think it’s necessary that you have to buy into anything religious that doesn’t sit well with you, but who doesn’t enjoy lighting a really gorgeous candle and relaxing under its soft, gentle glow? Do a spot of meditation accompanied only by your thoughts and the uniquely warm and special light of a candle.

love

Photography credit: Learning Lark

For most of us, the month of February means the celebration of one particularly polarising holiday. Love it or hate it, Valentine’s Day forms a big part of most people’s thoughts in the weeks running up to the fourteenth and as far as retail goes, you won’t escape it. Cards, chocolates, flowers and trinkets, it would be difficult to argue that this holiday hasn’t been snapped up as a big excuse to sell us a lot of things we don’t need.

My suggestion for honouring Valentine’s Day without getting sucked into an otherwise over-the-top and sickly experience is to try and spread your feelings of love and adoration throughout the month of February. It doesn’t matter whether it’s love for your partner, your friends, your family, pet, work colleagues or even the folks that sit opposite you on the tube every morning, have a go at practising a little outwardly appreciation on a daily basis.

storms

Photography credit: Atomic Jeep

For anyone living in the UK, this could be a bit of a sore point right now, and especially for anyone affected by serious flooding. My thoughts are with you all, and I can only imagine what hell it just be to watch the contents of your house wash away down the street before your eyes. Perhaps I can offer a tiny glimmer of hope, though.

The days between 12th and 14th February were traditionally said to be ‘borrowed’ from January, and it was believed that if these days were stormy, the rest of the year would be favoured with good weather. On the other hand, if these borrowed days were sunny and bright, it was thought that the year’s weather would be particularly bad.

It looks as if we’re heading straight back into a few days of wind, rain and general unpleasantness (here in the UK at least) towards the end of the week, so who knows? Perhaps all this dreary winter weather will see us good for the remaining ten months of the year.