The Ice Saints and Mr Pye

It has been a particularly mild winter here in our corner of the Poitou-Charentes. We have only had one slight frost, and though the last couple of weeks haven’t been as warm and sunny as was most of April, the weather has been much as we would expect for late spring.

Still, caution is called for, and the French have their own version of “not casting a clout until May be out” – beware the notorious Saints de Glace – the Ice Saints.

These three consecutive days run from 11th to 13th May, when a sudden very cold snap can occur. In theory, after that there is no fear of freezing nights until the onset of next winter. However, one of my French neighbours told me that when his sister was born in August – I think it was in 1960 – it was snowing, so the saints cannot be relied on.

Yesterday was drizzly and mild, today is looking the same, so by Wednesday we should be able to give a sigh of relief and put our tender plants out. Most importantly the fruit is already forming on the trees, where often a late frost kills off the flowers before the fruit can form.

And now to Mr Pye.

A couple of days ago I finished reading ‘The Circle’ by Dave Eggers. If you haven’t read it, think Google, Facebook, Twitter, 1984 and Brave New World all shaken into a dystopian emulsion. It’s horrifying, and horrifyingly plausible, and left me feeling quite unsettled, so as an antidote I chose something lighter – Mervyn Peake’s ‘Mr Pye.’

It’s an allegorical and whimsical tale of a self-righteous little man who sets sail for the island of Sark on a self-imposed mission to combat evil. I bookmarked two passages that made me smile when I started reading last night.

Of bony spinster Miss Dredger who has just taken a packet of cigarettes from the pocket of her tweed skirt and struck a match on the sole of her brogues: “When at last the two white jets of smoke sprang simultaneously from her equine nostrils it was as though they were competing in a race.”

Pépé is the gormless boy who drives a horse and carriage ‘taxi’ (for those who may not know, there are no cars on Sark; residents travel by foot, bicycle or horse).

As Mr Pye starts to throw his diminutive weight around soon after landing on the island, “….. Pépé had his mouth and eyes so wide open that his head appeared to have been swallowed by his face..”

As well as his descriptive writing, the author was also a talented artist, and the book contains delightful illustrations of the characters. A recommended read if you are looking to smile and escape from reality for a while. 😀

It’s the first of Peake’s books I have read, I’ve added others to my shopping list. 😉


Mr Pye