It's now the 18th of May but, alas, I've not heard the cuckoo this year. Usually, in my neck of the woods, the Boreham side of Warminster, the cuckoo can be heard by the 14th of April, but this must be the first time in years I've not heard the bird. Can't figure out why that should be, because I've been regularly walking up the lane to Primrose Wood and I've been gardening, but not a call from good old Cuculus canorus has reached my ears.
The Warminster Herald, issue dated Saturday 22nd April 1882, featured a short article which commenced with some lines concerning prophecy, and the article went on to record some of the folklore concerning the first hearing of the cuckoo:
"Amongst the many events in which may be safely predicted from year to year is the fact that on or about the 15th of April, some one will write to the papers to say that the voice of the Cuckoo has been heard. There is nothing phenomenal about such a very natural occurrence, but it is customary, year by year, to talk about it to our friends, and to chronicle it in our newspapers. Like other similar events such as the first sight of a swallow, the first may-blossom, the first gooseberry, the first snow flake of winter, and the last rose of summer, it never seems to lose its novelty and interest, and it is treated everywhere as if it were an extraordinary and most unlooked for occurrence. As the lark has been spoken of as the 'Shepherd’s clock,' the cuckoo may be considered his calendar."
He shows his bill;
He sings all day;
He changes his tune;
He prepares to fly;
Go he must."
"There are many curious superstitions about the first hearing of the cuckoo. It is very lucky for an unmarried person to hear it in the early months, but it is particularly unfortunate for married persons to do so. According to the number of times which the cuckoo repeats its note when it is first heard in the spring by an unmarried person, so many years will that person have to wait before getting married."
"But with aged people the number of ‘Cuckoos’ signifies the number of years that they have yet to live."
"The cuckoo, it is said, has so much to do in answering the queries of girls who are destined to be old maids, and of elderly people who are likely to live to a very advanced age, that it has no time to make its nest and has to lay its eggs in that of the hedge-sparrow."
"In Shropshire, it is or was customary for the labourers, when they first heard the cuckoo’s note to leave their work, for the rest of the day, in favour of spending it in the nearest public house. An observance like this would be sure to be popular."
"Another curious idea, which has obtained in many counties, if not in Wilts, is that if a maiden hears the voice of the cuckoo early in the morning, and looks into her left shoe, she will there find a lock of hair similar in colour to that of her future husband."
I quite like the idea that a skive off work for a pint at the pub can be excused by hearing a cuckoo, but the rest is all a load of bunkum, of course.
Just hope I shall hear a cuckoo or two at Boreham next year.