Monday, November 07, 2005

milk comes frozen home in pail

I took this picture some weeks ago in my back garden, here in rural Warwickshire, Shakespeare country, but there are still apples on this tree even now, too high to be picked without a ladder. The squirrels are enjoying them, and a few late wasps. Apples on the trees? Wasps still active in November? It's lovely that the autumn has been so mild here. But I find the unpredictable weather in recent years both mystifying and worrying.

In fact, I've been doing quite a bit of reading on climate change over the past few weeks, mainly because I'm researching a story I want to set in the mid-seventeenth century and have discovered (I had never been aware of this before, to my shame) that we experienced a Little Ice Age for about 150 years, dating from roughly the time of Shakespeare's birth through to the early 1700s. Then I remembered Shakespeare' s 'milk comes frozen home in pail' from Love's Labour's Lost, Act 5. As a child, I always thought this description of winter a little exaggerated; now I realise that the icy winters of the late 16th and 17th centuries would have been a great deal harsher than our own mild frosts, with snow remaining on the ground some years for as long as a hundred days and Ice Fairs held on the Thames throughout the winter:

When icicles hang by the wall                     
And Dick the shepherd blows his nail
And Tom bears logs into the hall
And milk comes frozen home in pail,
When blood is nipp'd and ways be foul,
Then nightly sings the staring owl: Tu-whit,
Tu-who, a merry note,
While greasy Joan doth keel the pot.

When all aloud the wind doth blow
And coughing drowns the parson's saw
And birds sit brooding in the snow                     
And Marian's nose looks red and raw,
When roasted crabs hiss in the bowl,
Then nightly sings the staring owl: Tu-whit,
Tu-who, a merry note,
While greasy Joan doth keel the pot.

The problem is, research has shown that if the deep ocean currents that keep our climate stable are eventually overwhelmed and changed by the rapid and ongoing melting of polar ice, another Ice Age could occur within the space of a few short years - not gradually, over a hundred years, as was previously thought. And there's nothing to suggest that it would be as short a cold snap as Shakespeare's Little Ice Age. Some experts believe it could last for hundreds of thousands of years.

Time, perhaps, for us to take global warming and anti-pollution measures seriously. The links I've used here are only the tip of the iceberg; try googling Ice Age and see what you come up with.

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