Jane Struthers’ Red Sky at Night is a delightful compendium of countryside wisdom. Filled with fascinating facts, Red Sky at Night covers weather prediction, tea leaf reading and everything in between. The back cover asks whether you had “ever wondered how to navigate by the stars? Or wanted to attract butterflies to your garden? Is there a knack to building the perfect bonfire? And how exactly do you race a ferret?”. Now, I can honestly say that I’ve never wondered or wanted to do any of these things. That is, before I read this book.
In spite of being born in London, I’m really a country girl through and through. I physically need grass and actually don’t mind the smell of a farmyard, but I’m no countryside expert. I know the difference between a tree and a shrub… but my knowledge sort of ends there.
Reading Red Sky at Night, however, made me want to know more. This wonderfully evocative book, filled with instructions, lists, customs and old wives tales, aims to reconnect its readers with the world around them. Struthers’ book is painfully nostalgic for the Britain that existed before, as she puts it, “we went inside and turned on the TV”.
Nowadays we rely on weather girls and the internet to tell us whether we should wear flip-flops or a pac-a-mac, but a hundred years ago we would have been a lot more in tune with what the skies were telling us. Read Red Sky at Night and you’ll be able to identify high cloud from low cloud and determine whether that dark shadow on the horizon is signalling heavy rain or approaching cold weather. Keeping an eye on your surroundings could also prove infinitely useful when on a summer picnic; if daisies start to close up and all the bees and butterflies disappear, it’s time you did too.
Now, though I’ve saluted a fair few magpies in my time, I wouldn’t consider myself to be an especially superstitious person. But after reading Struthers’ Red Sky at Night, I’m afraid to say I’ve adopted a few strange habits. I’ve started throwing salt over my shoulder, bashing holes in empty egg shells, and feeling strangely suspicious of owls.
These are the notions and traditions that our fore fathers lived by. Old wives tales were the old fashioned equivalent of the NHS website, folklore was our ancestors’ version of online dating and the stars, when understood, are still as good as any satnav. If you’ve ever argued over the true rules to Pooh sticks (if you’ve never played… you really really should) or worried that you’ve hung a horse shoe the wrong way round (keep it pointing upwards or all the luck will fall out) Red Sky at Night is definitely for you. After reading Struthers’ book you’ll know how to tell if an egg is fresh, how to brew your own beer, and which flowers make the best honey. You never know, sometime in the future I might take to bee keeping, start making my own jam or dabble in a bit of harmless witchcraft… and this book will certainly be the first I reach for.
Red Sky at Night, RRP. £7.99, is published by Ebury Press and is available now online and in bookstores.
Published on June 10th 2011 on www.litro.co.uk.