August. The dog days. The hottest, stickiest time of the year. A time so called because of the ancient observation that Sirius, the Dog Star, is at its closest to the Sun in August, and is thus responsible for hot weather.
Or, as one ancient put it, a time when: “the seas boiled, wine turned sour, dogs grew mad, and all creatures became languid, causing to man burning fevers, hysterics, and phrensies.”
Palpable nonsense. Those ancients may have known a thing or two about waving swords about and singing roundelays and giving each other the plague, but they didn’t have a clue when it came to explaining the weather.
Neither, though, do we. For the last week most of southern England has been under attack from a small hurricane, which has battered us left, right and centre – especially Dixon Junior who has been swooping up and down the Channel on a yacht – and triggered off potato blight alerts on Mrs D’s mobile.
So much for ancient wisdom. No doubt we’ll have a warm, dry January to make up for this month’s windy wetness.
But the other name for August, especially in and around newspapers, is the silly season. And that tradition of printing implausible stories, often concerning animals, carries on whatever the weather.
Earlier this week, for example, it was reported that a crocodile had been spotted circling round sailing boats near the port of Boulogne.
Some bright spark christened it Croc Monsieur, and for a day or two the coastguard, police and army went onto high alert.
Le croc français turned out to be no more than a floating log. It would be inappropriate to call it a frog log, but it just kind of slipped out.
And the original eyewitnesses, whom we know only as Pierre and Laurent, are probably now enjoying the traditional hospitality of the gendarmerie. Which as far as we’re aware doesn’t include much in the way of tea and biscuits.
And now Bath has its very own silly season story to rival other papers’ tales of 30-inch Ratzillas and other prodigies.
At the bottom end of the evolutionary scale, it appears that microscopic worms have forced the transfer of this weekend’s racing at Chepstow to the Bath course.
The worms, or root gall nematodes as they’re known to their friends, have caused instability in the Chepstow soil, which is obviously pretty dangerous on a racecourse.
And in the jargon of the newsroom, it’s the sort of story that has legs. Even if the worms haven’t.
Could this be the start of something much bigger?
Maybe the sneaky nematodes are hatching plans for world domination, or undermining England’s 2018 World Cup bid by destabilising the soil of sporting venues across the country.
Maybe they’re in the pay of an evil cartel of artificial turf suppliers. Maybe they don’t want their Bank Holiday disturbed by the horses.
Or maybe not. Because that would be a bit too silly, even for the silly season.