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I hope that’s the last of the scufflies

By Nicola Miller

Nicola Miller
Nicola Miller

April has been an interesting old month, weather-wise hasn’t it?

In search of some perspective on the rather *ahem* short-tempered weather we’ve been enjoying, I’ve been reading Landmarks, where Robert MacFarlane collates and explains the many words we have for it, and Charlie Haylock’s book, ‘Sloightly On The Huh’ which shows how especially great Suffolk people are when it comes to describing it. In short: we have a lot of weather. I can see how useful it is to distinguish between ‘weather’ and ‘climate’ although I am not going to go into the debate about climate-change here because, um, it’s happening y’all and it’ll still be here even if you deny it, just like taxes, ringworm and Katie Hopkins.

Ever heard of the icy fingers of death? Otherwise known as brinicles, these are not what happens when you spend all day writing in a kitchen whose boiler thermostat has been optimistically lowered because ‘it’s spring now’. A brinicle us an underwater icicle which forms when seawater freezes and ‘leaks’ salt into the surrounding water lowering its density, or, as Hardy said, ‘where winter has touched the sea with her darkling spell’. Apparently, sea-ice has a spongelike texture and when it reaches down to the seabed it forms a web that freezes everything it touches. Swimming in Suffolk coastal waters will give a similar effect as does our antiquated Victorian plumbing, according to American friends.

I remember winters when we had a good hard frost which made digging the allotment that much easier come the spring because frost helps break up the clods of earth, meaning the worms can drag down the manure blankets laid upon our dormant vegetable beds. The glassy beauty of a hoar-frost, whose crystals are so thick they resemble snow, captivated Thomas Hardy (another mention, but he does do winter so well!) and he wrote of the fretted spider webs and the spectral grey of a frosted gate, and these wintry images seem to have become a bit of a stranger round these West Suffolk parts . The warmer winter months have done little to keep the numbers of garden pests at a manageable size although last week’s Wrath of the Gods in the form of sleet and a carpet-bomb of hail so sharp it cut my face drastically reduced the amount of newly-minted flying insects. Sadly, the cold snap did for my mistling thrush who had laid her eggs in the neatest nest imaginable, tucked away inside a skein of honeysuckle on the garden wall. Her chicks died one by one, we’ve not seen her since and, seeing as she was tame, lived in our garden and liked to wait by the kitchen door to be fed on bacon rinds and the very best hand-sourced snails and worms, I suspect she has fallen foul of that sudden cold snap.

Bombogenesis is one of my favourite words. It’s not a band formed by Phil Collin’s kids but the name of a weather phenomenon which we have all *enjoyed* so much recently. The heavy rain and a confusion of warm and cold, plus the unexpectedly strong gusts of wind (called ‘scufflies’by us Suffolk folk) that can make our nuddle down the wind-tunnel that is St John’s Street so much quicker than we ever imagined it could be are actually the result of an extra-tropical cyclone which forms after a rapid fall in pressure within a storm. Then there’s vortex shedding which occurs when the scufflies hit a ‘mechanical system’ such as a lamp post -or you- and cause it to ‘excite’, aka move and vibrate. If you want to see this in action, there’s a scary Youtube video shot on the M62 between Wakefield and Leeds where the moving lampposts might make drivers think that Keanu Reeves and a gigantic metal man with slits for eyes are about to appear from the heavens and punish us by destroying the world because we are, um, destroying the world. Vortex shedding *might* have caused the dandelion metal sculptures of St Andrew’s Street to wilt (but don’t quote me on that as I have no evidence base for this whatsoever, other than my active imagination). Otherwise, the sorry state of these otherwise likeable sculptures might just be because they ended up as what Hawaiians refer to as wilikoi- the name they coined for the ‘stuff gathered up in the centre of a whirlwind’. When you’ve tried crossing this street in the eye of a good old Suffolk scufflie, it is clear that these metal wind-clocks stood no chance.

-- Nicola Miller is author of The Millers Tale blog. Follow her on Twitter – @NicMillersTale


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