Peck to the future

We live in unsettled and uncertain times. Forecasting the future has never been particularly easy, but it appears to be even more difficult in 2010. Will the UK Economy grow or shrink next month? Will house prices rise or fall? What about VAT and school milk? What about them indeed! These are questions that bring forth scores of experts and owlish wizards from their caves to perch on our TV sets and give us the questionable benefit of their advice. And the result is that nobody really knows… The more pundits gathered in a room, the more the number of opinions and the wider the spread of answers that nobody can question.

Will I win the national lottery next weekend? Will England win the 2011 Rugby World Cup? Very probably not, but then you never know do you? Will Dorchester FC beat Boreham Wood on 18th September? Possibly, but then again who knows – or even cares?

Will it rain across Southwest England tomorrow? ‘Haven’t got a clue… With global warming and the shift of the Atlantic jet stream, weather forecasting seems to have become a very hit and miss affair. (Am I alone in thinking how unreliable our local weather forecasts seem to have been this summer?)

Perhaps we need to go back to historic folklore and the castings of runes? In Ancient Rome, they used to observe the birds to foretell the omens and check out the Gods’ opinions in advance. You know the sort of thing… if a pigeon flew from left to right then it was going to be a nice day and Rome would win the war. If it flew from right to left, then it was probably better to stay at home. And if it stopped and ‘bombed’ a senator en route, then Mount Vesuvius would erupt and everyone be roasted alive. Simple really… If the forecast was a little hazy, then they killed the bird and examined its entrails to check out a second opinion. The evidence was therefore destroyed which helped to prevent expensive law suits when the Augurs got it wrong, and also provided the forecasters with a nourishing meal.

Personally I find Aunt Sarah’s mangy old bald parrot even more reliable (although rather less tasty). On entering her sitting room, this horrible old creature shrieks out a welcome. So does the parrot. If this squawk contains recognisable English words (such as ‘Shut the Door’ or ‘Pretty Boy’) then the sun will be out all day. If the language includes French swear words (from Aunt Sarah’s rather naughty times in Paris in the 1950s) then watch out for thunder storms by late afternoon. No squawks but a sullen silence will result in a humid overcast sky. It really does work.

Other animals can be useful at solving even more difficult problems. You may remember that the Germans had a celebrated octopus a month or two ago that was uncannily accurate in foretelling the outcome of footie matches. It even told them when their own team would be beaten – a great success, although vengeful German fans feasted on calamari and chips for weeks afterwards.

So why don’t we call on Mother Nature to answer some of our important imponderables? Answers will be cheaper, faster and – I am prepared to bet – much more accurate than teams of media pundits. For example, I have a small snail that climbs up the back wall in the morning and then glistens back down again by nightfall. I shall chalk a line five feet up the wall and, if it crosses the line by lunchtime, then it is obviously proof that the pound will rise against the Euro. Either that or Chideock will get its traffic bypass, or my chosen selection will win the 6.30 race at Windsor.

Again, you could take advantage of the late summer wasp scourge. Put three jam jar wasp traps filled with sugary water on the garden table. Mark the left hand one ‘YES’, the right one ‘NO’ and the one in the middle ‘MAYBE’. Ask any sensible question – e.g. “Will UK interest rates rise in the Autumn?” or perhaps “Will Christine Bleakley join X Factor as TV presenter next year?” – and wait for ten minutes. Count the number of dead wasps for the answer.

Of course it’s difficult to remember all of this, but local West Country rhymes have helped us over the centuries to recall Nature’s messages. For example, “Red Sky O’er Devon, The Weather Be Heaven” works OK if you live in Dorset because the red sky is to the West. But if you live in Cornwall, this would be bad news and a sign of Easterly winds. Here are a few more for you to ponder and try out for yourselves:

When Birds Fly High,

Crewkerne Be Dry”

When Birds Fly Low,

Weymouth Will Blow”

If Seagulls On Guard,

Take Shelter In Chard”