The Ides of March

Beware, cried the soothsayer. Or was it the East wind?

As I sit down to write this post – amid boxes of tiles, plaster dust and paint – I calculate that it’s XIII days before the Kalends of April.

I learned the old Roman (pre-Julian) calendar system of Kalends, Nones and Ides when I studied Latin at school – which I did from the age of ten to eighteen.

One of the few things I still remember is the rhyme:

In March July October May

The Nones fall on the seventh day

And the Ides on the fifteenth.

Not exactly a work of literary genius, but it stuck.

Last night, lying awake as the East wind screeched through our window – before I closed it – I could not, for the life of me, remember when the Nones fell in the other months.

I looked it up this morning. It’s the 5th.  You might not care – fair enough – but it was bugging me.

This calendar without weeks is based on the moon’s cycle and not exactly the easiest thing for twenty-first-century-types to grasp. It’s possible some nerdy classicist has designed an app for it – but I doubt it will make a fortune.


Why was I thinking about the Ides? Well, mulling over the last few days, I thought how strange they’d been. And for some reason I heard, ‘Beware the Ides of March,’ in my head. Then realised. It had just passed.

Thursday the 15th (Ides) of March was my day for meeting other lone-workers. We gather fortnightly above a cosily crowded café in a spacious room of our own (Virginia Woolf would approve). There we work and network (gossip) for a few hours, in the luxury of company.

The café’s ten miles down the road from here, in Crosby, north of Liverpool. I usually take my backpack and walk to the station – about three quarters of a mile. Watch the golf courses and pine woods speed by for twenty minutes before the next ten minute walk.

But last Thursday I felt wretched. Drained. And not wanting to stray too far from a room with a loo.

So I drove.

My usual lunch – the café’s nourishing soup – sounded more like punishment than reward. Instead I struggled – such a penance – through a cinnamon bun, to a slice of banana bread, washed down with loose-leaf rooibos.

By two o’clock I was cold, tired, had done no work and wanted to go home. Yes, even to the sound of drilling as the joiner worked in the echoing kitchen shell.

As I strolled towards the car, I looked up, through a spattering of fine almost-rain, and gawped.

A giant rainbow bestrode the view. From below it looked like a double rainbow, two joined together. But my pictures – taken on my phone – say it was two.

If you look closely there is a faint rainbow above the brighter one


I fled for the car and home, feeling privileged to have seen such a sight.

But as I drove, the rainbow grew bolder and bigger and brighter and, seven miles later, as the dual carriageway petered out, a lazy arch spanned the entire sky.

It was an inverted smile, from the extreme left by the coast to the far right, where views of hills appear at the edge of the saturated moss.

And as I drove under it, the rainbow faded, like the Cheshire cat’s grin.

It felt as if I’d gained access to a magical kingdom – not just the nearest village and the main road to our house.

That was Thursday.

As the XV day before the Kalends of April dawned, I dragged myself into the day, ready for the joiner’s arrival.

Showered, dressed, make-up and jewellery applied (trying to make myself feel efficient and work-friendly by dressing up) I sat at the computer.

And sank my brain into London, 1977. The book, needing tweaks.

Two hours later, the phone rang.

The printer of my Little Match Girl story. His elusive typesetter had emerged from an inexplicable absence and – could I get over there soonish?

I drove the eighteen miles across the squelching moss. (On the roads not the grass. It’s very wet out there, looks more like a lake than fields)

After two joyous hours spent watching and learning, marvelling at the intricate mechanical processes, I left – with my name, cast in lead, in hand.

Here’s where the brass matrices are waiting to be freed by being ‘typed’ into…

… this beautiful waterfall of a chute then …

… into here where they meet the hot metal

Dave, who’s holding these, tells me there’s a difference between the two sets of matrices (I hope that’s right, one of the brass things is a matrix – a mould for the letter that is to be cast in lead, tin and antimony). I was wrong when I said I could see it …

I couldn’t resist – have a green stamp pad and had to try it

But driving the high road over the sunken fields, I had to rein in my eyes, which were desperate to scan the unfolding skyscape. The ditches beside the narrow moss roads are unfenced and precipitous – concentration is essential.

A strip of sullen, sulphurous light lay over the trees, meeting the grim grey of the lowering sky. The bare branches, crackled and gnarled, festered in frustration at the slow advance of spring.

The light changed, the sun lifted the veil of grey and a smudge of starlings formed a small murmuration – and was gone.

A chance observation on an unexpected drive.

And then the sky cleared, the sun shone, the birds sang and danced their naughty spring dances.

And now. Today. XIV days before the Kalends of April.

After a sleepless night, haunted by the howling, shrieking, wailing wind, (and thoughts of my partial namesake, Cathy in Wuthering Heights) the East wind blows.

And we have snow.

And, like the soothsayer, I say, ‘beware the Ides of March.’

Who knows what they may bring.

This entry was posted in Britain now & then, Lancashire & the golf coast, Liverpool, Nature notes and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

11 Responses to The Ides of March

  1. MELewis says:

    I have always loved the expression ‘the ides of March.’ My mother used to say you could not trust the weather before then. It seems to still hold true, even though are seasons have all gone a bit haywire of late. What a roller coaster of a week! Going to see your name in letters at the printers must have felt like the proverbial pot of gold after the double rainbows. Congrats!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thel says:

    It seems like a day of wonder with ever season weighing in. The trick is appreciating these moments. Thanks for sharing.

    I did a little research and found out that the hot metal printing process began in 1888 and the Match girls factory strike was in 1884. What a perfect vehicle for telling your story and placing it into history!

    I’m a little late in responding, but the blown glass lighting will be a stunning addition to your new kitchen. Color and light… and with all of your windows you might have a light show on sunny days!

    Liked by 1 person

    • It’s been crazy – today the wind is howling and Larry is stuck in his 9 am flight on the tarmac at 10.15 😦 as the winds are so strong. The sky is blue and snow lingers on the hills as I saw on my way back from the airport. But part of last week was warm.
      Good point about the print technique and the match girls’ strike! I love letterpress… perhaps I’m a Victorian at heart.
      Glad you like the lights. I have them sitting in bubble wrap in my office now, waiting… I think they will shed pretty light on the walls in the dark. We had to have an extra bit of electrical work done so we could have them switched on when everything else is off. Nothing is simple (or cheap).


  3. Miz B says:

    I enjoyed this post very much. We’ve had our share of mixed spring weather here in my corner of North America, so I appreciated the vicarious rainbow very much. And then, to my delight, you gave me this: “And then the sky cleared, the sun shone, the birds sang and danced their naughty spring dances.” Thank you for the glimpse of typesetting, the rainbow, and those naughty dances. I’m smiling.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Ardys says:

    It is so nice to go through one’s day appreciating the ‘small’ things, which you seem to do with great appreciation and thought. All those seasons in one day is very much like where I grew up, quite something to experience–but rainbows are so special. My friend was appreciating a rainbow one day and her husband who is a scientist began to explain to her the scientific reason they happen, to which she replied ‘Shhh, I don’t want to know why, I just want to enjoy it’. Nuf said. As soon as you said there were differences in the type matrices I could see it. One is bolder than the other. Old graphic designer eyes 😉 Good job I’m not needing to tell the days or seasons by Nones and Ides, I have enough trouble doing it now. Your writing style is very much like my thoughts and not easy to capture, well done.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I agree with your friend about the rainbow – I look at them and have to stop myself thinking why and just enjoy. The camera didn’t capture quite how bold this one was and by the time if it vanished it was almost tangible!
      Glad no-one’s been critical about the Cheshire cat’s grin – I realise now that I meant the cat itself as it leaves behind the grin 🙂 Never mind.
      I thought I could see the difference in the types but… sigh, not my strong point, observation of that kind!
      You were a graphic designer? What a shame you don’t live round the corner, we could do great things together (or get on each others’ nerves, always a possibility!). A graphic novel about vanishing dragons and rainbows…
      Thank you for the kind words, as always 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Thank goodness you’re keeping track of the Ides and Kalends. Thanks to a change in my Tafe attendance schedule from last year to this I have trouble knowing what day it is, and they disappear so quickly, the months are not much better. Your typesetting and matrices took me back, to my small country town childhood where there was a local newspaper, a convenient and fascinating school excursion. I loved the noise, and smell and art of putting the letters together to make print.
    Despite its practical downsides and allowable quota of commentary, I tell myself the changing weather and seasons are a gift, just as are rainbows -a double ♡-, with which we mark our days and years. How awful it would be if there was sameness, like in prison, or an office skyscaper… always 22 degrees celsius and a little on the dry side!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ha! I’ve lost sight of the dates – whatever kind – now! Attention span of a flea at the moment, that’s me.
      I’m surprised – but perhaps shouldn’t be given we all play with and read words – how many people have had experience of real printing. Like you, a trip to a major local newspaper thrilled me, the smell of the ink, the noise of the press, the papers flying past, so exciting. Do see The Post if you can and if you haven’t, just for the going-to-print scene!
      So right Dale, about the weather. And where would we Brits be without its vagaries to discuss!


  6. Sorry so long in liking this post. It has been a hectic couple of weeks of travel since that Thursday. I saw the same rainbow that afternoon as I was driving up to visit a friend in Southport Hospital and, hopefully, he seems to be improving. A portent of good things to come possibly?
    Glad things have started moving again with the letterpress and good to see your name in print at last!


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