By Tom McParland
If March were human it would be an adolescent. Somehow I can forgive March because of its breezy banishing of unspeakable February. But then comes all-singing, all-dancing April with more faces than a rubic cube and more moods than Katy Jurado. It does two-second impressions of May, June, or August- but in between is as incontinent as any infant.
At Belfast’s Eton Street primary school some ape would always come up saying, “Wanna stamp?” And before I answered yeah or nay, would stamp my foot and yell, “April fool!” So I’d make a mental note that I wouldn’t be caught out again. But by next April the ape stamper and me had passed that stage, preoccupied with worrying memorising other things. Like twelve times tables, reflex angles or how to spell diarrhoea.
April made apes of everyone. Even Corny Cornwallis our class swot. Walking from school he told me that Easter Sunday doesn’t occur on the same day each year. I’d never heard such codswallop! Have you ever known Easter Sunday to be on a Wednesday? Me neither. But he got out his jotter, leant on my back drawing all these full moons, half moons and equinoxes. Personally he sounded a lunatic coz in the end Easter Sunday stayed a Sunday. But because he talked so convincingly with his ifs buts and therefores, I just went along with him.
I shouldn’t have. Because mistaking my inaudible snoring for enthusiasm he said, “Tom, did you know that April always starts on the same day as July does-?”
I said, “Well! Whaaddya know!” meaning what do YOU know.
“And it always ends on the same day as December of any year!”
I said, “God, Corny that’s really fascinating!” meaning it’s as fascinating as fluff.
“You think so, Tom-?” What he meant was in what way did I find it interesting. So he waited for me to explain.
“Be-because”- I faltered, “S-say it was December now and I w-wondered what day did last April end on? Em- a-all I’d have to do was wait to New Year’s Eve to find out.”
Corny never thought of that, coz he said, “I wouldn’t. I’d just look at the last day of any December in any year.” Then, fired by my donkey-nodding acquiescence he asserted, “And-October of last year ALWAYS starts on the same day as April of this year!” To emphasise this bilge he picked at one of his boils.
Just being sociable I thin-iced, “That’s useful. Especially for the blind who could em- easily mix up the last year’s Easter with this year’s Halloween.”
“That’s a- er- really unusual point you’ve made there. Gosh Tom, if I’d known you were interested in lunar calendars, equinoxes and solstices, I’d have invited you to last month’s Parrot Street Lunar Society meeting. My big sister Edeltraut is secretary.”
I felt chuffed at being reckoned fit to share his and Edeltraut’s rarefied reasoning. I lied, “That’s very nice of you Corny.” Meaning I needed membership of the Parrot Street Lunar Society like I needed admission to the Belfast Mission for Wayward Girls.
FATAL! Corny’s picked boil must’ve leaked into his brain. “Tom, Did you know Pope Gregory altered the calendar in 1752?”
“Bit complicated- we’re discussing that at next month’s meeting. But briefly, they discovered they were 11 days further on than they thought, so they added them. And that’s why Wednesday, 2 September 1752, was followed by Thursday, 14 September 1752.”
Astounded with boredom, I yawned, “But where were the 11 days?”
“Nowhere. They realised they’d already had them.”
“Ye mean, like a sort of 11-day Rip Van Winkle-?”
Corny nodded. But it was what he came out with next that made me certain he was definitely knitting with one needle.
“Yes. And the Orangemen celebrate July 12th because Pope Gregory said so. They really should be celebrating on July 11th.”
I got worried. Not about Corny- I’d always suspected his head was softer than his boils- but about school. “Does our teacher know about those 11 days?” Corny shrugged. “Listen Corny,” I cautioned, “don’t put this about. Coz if Mr. Fulton finds out we’ve already had 11 days, he’ll knock them off our summer holidays.”
Corny chortled, “Oh Tom, you do make me laugh! That won’t happen again. It was an astronomical miscalculation of 1752. You see”.
But I didn’t see. Loonies like Cornwallis only made mistakes every 300 years. But I made astronomical ones every 30 seconds. Three hundred thousand Orangemen marching on the 11th coz the Pope said so? A likely tale!
What’s he take them- and me for- April fools?