Today I’ve been picking my nosegay. It’s Hock Tuesday, another slightly dubious day where exchanging oranges for kisses and binding people with ropes was de rigueur. In Hungerford, Berkshire, they still celebrate Tutti Day, as it’s also known as, with all sorts of shenanigans including a Hocktide Court, a street parade, an orange harpooned on top of a pole decorated with flowers and ribbons, and making visitors pay for the bar tab by nailing a horseshoe to their footwear and trying to look at their knickers.
Given that most of the above is now impossible due to the lockdown, and you know, dignity, plus I didn’t fancy sharpening the end of my mop and shoving an orange on the end of it, I went back to the word tutti, which is said to come from the West Country word tutty, meaning bunch of flowers or nosegay, and so as part of my daily exercise, I ventured out.
Whenever I’ve picked wildflowers, I’ve always had my mother’s voice in my head:
- Only pick if there’s abundance
- Never nick from another’s garden (although I do have a shady history of pre-teen scrumping)
- Never, ever, pick bluebells
- And always pick above the height of a dog’s cocked leg (also applicable to blackberry picking)
Avoiding flowers nestling at the base of lampposts and clinging to the bottom of walls (see rule 4), I made my way to a nearby verge and hedge. It’s so easy to dismiss what’s in front of you if you’re not looking properly. Within five minutes I had a lovely dolly posy of cow parsley, golden ragwort, forget-me-nots, dandelions, grasses and something small, barbed and white I didn’t recognise. Plus a couple of nettle stings, thanks to the forget-me-nots being awkward and no dock leaves in sight.
Back home, with my tutti in an old milk bottle, I set about identifying the final flower, but no luck. So I turned, as ever, to Twitter, and as ever, Twitter didn’t disappoint:
Cleavers, aka Sticky Willy, aka Sticky Jack, aka goose grass, aka gripweed (surely a GOT character?), aka the inspiration for Velcro, was my answer. So now I have something lovely to look at on my desk, I know which flower to wash with should I get caught short in the wild, and where to go to harvest my nettles before May Day. All in all, not a bad morning’s folklore.
Cooper, Q. and Sullivan, P. (1994) Maypoles, Martyrs & Mayhem: 366 Days of British Myths, Customs & Eccentricities, London, Bloomsbury Publishing Plc
Roud, S. (2006) The English Year: A Month-By-Month Guide To The Nation’s Customs and Festivals, From May Day to Mischief Night, London, Penguin Books
Vickery, R. (2019) Vickery’s Folk Flora, An A-Z of the Folklore and Uses of British and Irish Plants, London, Weidenfeld & Nicolson