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Oftentimes when I find myself browsing in what I shall call a gentleman’s outfitters I will be approached by a fellow shopper asking me where the ties are.

It’s my own fault – I tend to wear a black suit even when shopping, an ensemble which clearly marks me out as a shop assistant or store manager. I suppose if I had no morals and a working knowledge of cash registers I could furtively trouser a reasonable amount of cash.

People are readily led into identifying others as something that they are not. Put on a white coat  and carry a clipboard, and “research scientist” is the conclusion; or match the white coat with a stethoscope while lurking near a hospital and the assumption will naturally be that you are a doctor.

This is of course why department stores use the standard white coat to deck out their beauty product staff. It lends an ersatz scientific gravitas to hawking shampoo and cold cream.

The Milgram experiment took this to an extreme conclusion.

Something similar is happening these days in meteorology.  Anyone possessing the merest scintilla of an inkling of the subject — or even without a clue but touting some eccentric and misguided hypothesis — can present themselves as an expert in the field  through the simple expedient of throwing up a website and picking an exciting sounding name.

Thus armed they fall over each other to produce alarming forecasts at increasingly long range of a record-breakingly cold winter and a white Christmas; and they do it loudly, with a brazen certainty that is unquestioned by the credulous. No amount of incorrect foretelling, moreover, dampens the hubris.

It is unfortunate that sometimes those most unwilling or unable to see through these forecasters in white coats are the members of the press, who surely have a duty to check credentials before splashing a headline.

But in the absence of their bullshit filters we need to arch our own eyebrows and shout that the emperors have no clothes. Or at least no white coats.



It should have been especially cold yesterday, if mediæval folklore is to be trusted; which clearly it is not.

Yesterday, January 13, was St. Hilary’s Day, which legend insists is the coldest day of the year. Weather prediction would be so simple, would it not, if that were the case? Or at least it would be on just one day of the year. “Fetch my pipe and slippers, for I am not forecasting the weather today; it forecasts itself”.

Although mid-January is of course one of the coldest times of the year, and although some old weather saws and adages do have a germ of truth, there is nothing to support the notion of particular frigidity on the Feast of St. Hilary. The rumour seems to have sprung from a severe and lengthy episode of frostiness in 1205 that lasted more than two months.

Stowe’s Chronicle notes that on this day “began a frost which continued till the two and twentieth day of March, so that the ground could not be tilled; whereof it came to pass that, in summer following a quarter of wheat was sold for a mark of silver in many places of England, which for the more part in the days of King Henry the Second was sold for twelve pence …

Straitened times, then, and no wonder the day that started it gained such a reputation.

‘Hilary of Poitiers’ was born at the end of the 3rd century into a pagan, Neo-Platonic family but fetched up, via study of Greek and then the Old and New Testaments, as a very un-pagan-like Bishop of Poitiers.

Here he is at his ordination with what appears, appropriately, to be a light, if regimented, flurry of snow in the background. And jolly pleased he looks with proceedings, too; as well he might, given that his name is properly St. Hilarius.

hilary of poitiers 1