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About A Week: White Rabbits

Peter Hinchliffe delves into some old superstitions before revealing his own magical talisman.

If you say “White rabbits’’ on the first day of every month fortune will shine on you, according to an ancient English superstition.

For the charm to work “White rabbits’’ must be the first words you say at the start of the month.

My mother would grin and shake her head when accused of being superstitious, but no month began in our household without an enthusiastic shout concerning rabbits of a snowy hue.

Rather than walk under a ladder mother would risk stepping off the pavement and being knocked down by a bus.

To go outdoors at Eastertide without wearing at least one new item of clothing was to invite trouble and strife for the rest of the year.

Her friend Mrs Reid read messages in tea leaves.. She would gaze intently at the pattern of leaves in mam’s cup. No such things as tea bags in those day. A spoonful of dried tea leaves for each cup, and an extra spoonful for the pot.

“I see a journey,’’ Mrs Reid would say. “A foreign country.’’

“Eh I never!’’ mam exclaimed. “We’ve just booked a week in Llandudno!’

Mam was born in 1900. Apart from the last five years of her life she never lived more than a mile away from the house where she spent her childhood.

Of course she didn’t really believe in tea leaf predictions and white rabbits. But in a fast changing world which saw two world wars, the arrival of cinema and radio, telephones and TV, there was some small comfort in the old traditions and superstitions.

If a black cat crossed her path on her daily shopping expedition to the local CoOp she would be on the look-out for the next happening which could be interpreted as a piece of good luck.

Folk all over the world have woven cats into their superstitions.

Whenever the cat of the house is black, the lasses of lovers will have no lack. So say the English.

Americans believe that if you see a one-eyed cat you should spit on your thumb, stamp it into the palm of your hand, and make a wish. The wish will come true.

Then there is the fraught business of cutting nails.

Cut them on Monday, you cut them for health.
Cut them on Tuesday, you cut them for wealth.
Cut them on Wednesday, you cut them for news.
Cut them on Thursday, a new pair of shoes.
Cut them on Friday, you cut them for sorrow.
Cut them on Saturday, see your true love tomorrow.
Cut them on Sunday, the devil will be with you all the week.

As a journalist and a news gatherer perhaps I should ensure that I cut my nails on a Wednesday.

Hold on there. I’m a 21st Century man, not the least bit superstitious.

So why do I go around carrying conkers in my jacket pockets? Conkers gathered while walking through autumn woods.

My conkers are good luck charms, but they also remind me of my boyhood, and all the good fortune I have had through my life.

A conker which has just fallen from the tree, all shiny and bright and newly-emerged from the shell, is so inviting. When I see one I can't resist picking it up.

And I am a Yorkshireman you know. Conkers are for free. Summat for nowt.

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