25 July 2020 – St James’s Day

Look, I’m going to be honest. I really don’t feel like writing this tonight. I’ve just eaten a huge bowl of custard and all I want to do is roll up into a carb-induced semi-coma and watch Strictly Ballroom (possibly THE best screen adaptation of Cinderella).

Instead, I’m watching my grotto dry (not a euphemism). It’s Grotto Day, the vernacular for St James’s Day. And St James was all about scallops. And oysters. And apples. And grottos.

Apples first. Today is another of those blessing of the apple trees days (see also St Swithin). But unlike on St Swithin’s, it chucked it down, so that’s a big, fat weatherlore tick. And despite the near constant drizzle and damp, my barometers were very disappointing. The balloon jar was adamant that it was sun behind clouds, while the green water one is bubbling two points up from its starting point of cloudy.

Scallops and oysters. St James was all about the scallop sea rescue, but his day was also said to coincide with the start of the oyster season (however this is debatable and might relate to Old St James’s Day on 5 August instead).

Grottos, or grotters. With everyone guzzling down oysters, as it was said that:

He who eats oysters on St James’s Day will not want money

the discarded shells were then recycled into makeshift roadside grottos by children trying to wangle money out of passing strangers, a bit like penny for the Guy. Some were big and shaped like bee-hives, others were small piles, some were made out of shells, others any old bit of tat. So I thought I would have a go.

Other than raiding the beach the day before yesterday, I’d done little or no planning for this afternoon’s activity. And apart from one cockle shell, there was nothing remotely scallop or oyster-like about my haul. It was all slipper limpets, and a whelk. I had a vague idea about gluing them all together with my no need for nails glue but when I actually looked at the shells spread out, I realised that that probably wasn’t going to work. I needed structural support.

In my head, I’d bought modelling clay. In reality, after sorting through a box of wool, raffia, lollypop sticks, paint, glue, and pipe cleaners, I conceded this must have been a fever dream, and made some dough. Given I added wallpaper paste to the mix, I had to keep reminding myself not to taste it. It was hard. 

My first attempt was trying to sculpt round a small balloon. This did not work.

My second attempt was freestyling the shape and hoping the dough walls were thick enough to support the shells I was pushing into it. And it was. So I did. And now there’s a sock shoved into the opening to stop the grotto ceiling from sagging. It should be dry by Old St James’s Day. 

So many words, when I could have been watching Wayne practicing the Bogo Pogo.

I also put googly eyes on my balloon sea horse

Everything can be made better with a set of googly eyes.


Resources

Cooper, Q. and Sullivan, P. (1994) Maypoles, Martyrs & Mayhem: 366 Days of British Myths, Customs & Eccentricities, London, Bloomsbury Publishing Plc

Hazlitt, W.C. (1995) The Dictionary of Faiths and Folklore, Beliefs, Superstitions and Popular Customs, London, Bracken Books

Joner, T.B. (1991) The Dough Book, Shaftesbury, Broadcast Books Ltd

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

Simpson, J. and Roud, S. (2001) Oxford Dictionary of English Folklore, Oxford, Oxford University Press

http://www.beachstuff.uk/whorl_shells.html

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