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February Fill Dyke

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Tuesday 1 March 2011

February Fill Dyke

Over a week back home and there has been little sun. After 8 years living in sunnier climes I am not enjoying this dreary weather. My father (93) and I gaze out of the window at sodden sparrows and waterlogged blackbirds who sit hunched and immobilised as if pinned to the bare winter branches. We alternate optimistic and gloomy homilies ..

Rain before 7, fine before 11”. It always works” He says

Come 11 it is still raining

“From January up to May, The rain it raineth every day”

Oh God …..that’s depressing

“It’s brightening up! I can see the sun is coming through!”

No, not really. It’s just “grey” now as opposed to “profoundly grey” and the lounge light is reflected in the window because the sky is so dark outside.

“If February brings no rain, 'tis neither good for grass nor grain”

Hmm…making the best of a bad job. How very stoic.

“But its only to be expected at this time of year. You know, ‘February fill dyke!’ ”

Yes, indeed, in this county of dykes, ditches and drains I suppose it is only fitting that they are filled and ready for the growing season. Living abroad, I had missed the seasons and in the steamy suffocating heat of a Florida summer I had once pined for "drizzle". Short of other conversation Dad and I pondered the origin of “February Fill Dyke” and found this very wet picture by Benjamin Leader.

February Fill Dyke 1881
Benjamin Williams Leader 1831-1923

“A famous Victorian landscape, February Fill Dyke was greeted with lukewarm reviews when it was first exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1881. With later showings in Manchester for the Royal Jubilee Exhibition, it became very popular. The scene is actually a November evening after rain. The title is taken from an old country rhyme;

February fill the dyke, Be it black or be it white;

But if it be white, It's the better to like.”

…Manchester City Art Gallery

The saying, according to the Oxford English Dictionary has its origins in the 1600’s:

1557 T. Tusser Husbandry D1
Feuerell fill dyke, doth good with his snowe.
1670 J. Ray English Proverbs 40
February fill dike Be it black or be it white; But if it be white, It's the better to like.

Confined to the house I had been going through the few old bits and pieces I had stored here and found this little pen and ink illustration I made from eons ago. A water filled hoof print from a time when a pretty little grey mare and I used to brave any kind of weather. I can well remember squelching along the dyke tops and down the farm tracks in those bleak and icy February days. It seemed fitting.

February Fill dyke hoof print.

And as an odd little coincidence we happen to be in Manchester for two days. We went to the excellent City Art Gallery… and there, amongst other, dare I say rather dull, English landscapes was “February Fill Dyke”. The Gallery has some wonderful exhibitions particularly in the craft galleries, with some fabulous Grayson Perry work. It made me really want to get back to ceramics.. ah…so much to do and so little time. And now that March is here maybe more sun!

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Blogger Diana Studer said...

Decades ago, I first saw the work of Esscher. What stays most vividly in my mind was an ? etching, of a tiny foot sized puddle with the forest reflected in it. Very much in the spirit of your hoof print ;~)

I remember when the Swiss weather forecasters coined the phrase - blaue Stoerung = blue disturbance - for when the grey clouds just wouldn't go away!

1 March 2011 at 11:22  
Blogger Helen/patientgardener said...

I can imagine it is a real shock coming from one climate to another. Are you home for good now, or just on a holiday?

1 March 2011 at 19:43  
Blogger Gary said...


Down here a few miles South of you in Cambridgeshire it is just as grey. As I look out of my window today I can't see St Ives about 3 miles away. Over the last couple of weeks we have had some great sunrises and crystal clear nights just a shame about the bit in between! I love your blog and your artwork, as a struggling beginner in watercolour I find it inspirational. Thank you, Gary

2 March 2011 at 08:56  
Blogger Threadspider said...

A very big welcome back and a thank you for the research into February fill dyke-a phrase I muttered to my other half only last week. I just wish I could return the favour by sending you some sunshine-there's a shortage here too.But tomorrow is supposed to be better.......
I love the idea of you and a grey mare splashing along farm tracks.

3 March 2011 at 21:13  
Blogger sharp green pencil said...

Hi there everyone and thanks so much for your comments. I am late replying due to internet probs... hopefully fixed now!

EE Thanks and you are spot on with your Escher memory. I was at college ( many eons ago) and had to do a little drawing for "printmaking" section in a college mag. It was a hat tip to him and a visual play on words. His work is wonderful! very inspirational to my, then much younger, self..Ahh black and white is my first love!.. but isn't "blue disturbance" so poetic! waht do we have? "drab" "dull" "dreary" mine is lifting a bit now.. a day of sunshine and a couple of bumblebee sitings did the trick!

Hi PG, Yes you are so right! It is all very quiet here. We are back for a while now. Not sure where or how we will live but remain optimistic.. more sun would help!! How is the painting going?

Gary, HI there and thanks so much for your comment. You are not so far away! You are so right about the mornings and evenings.This morning was looking more hopeful.. but not now..all I can say is that things are beginning to spring up in the garden which is nice!

Judith Hi! Lovely to hear from you. We have had a bit of sun now and yesterday,, joy of joys! I saw two big bumble bees. Photos terrible but may put them on the blog. It really cheered me up!

13 March 2011 at 08:15  

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