In 1923, an air traffic controller at Croydon Airport came up with the idea to use the word Mayday as a word which could be used to indicate distress and would be understood by air and ground crew. It is alleged he chose it as it was an English word that also sounded like the French M’aidez (help me).
So Mayday is the day upon which we traditionally celebrate the end of winter and the beginning of summer by gathering the may blooms. It is from this practice we get the rhyme ‘Here we go gathering nuts in May‘ – the nuts in fact being knots of mayflowers. The may is the blossom of the hawthorn and is the only flower named for the month in which it appears. Historically the may blossoms appeared around the first of the month but when we adopted the Gregorian calendar in 1752 we lost eleven days and now it blooms in the second week of the month.
According to superstition, it is unlucky to bring hawthorn flowers into the house. No-one seems to know the origin of this but it is possible that many people associate their smell with the smell of death and in some areas it is known as ‘the smell of the great plague’. One of the main elements of its aroma is triethylamine which is also one of the first chemicals released when a human body starts to decay which could explain the association.
Hawthorn flowers are also known in different communities by other names such as ‘arzy-garzies‘ and ‘aglets‘. Aglets are also the proper name for the bits of plastic or metal at the end of a shoelace and not a flügelbinder as hypothesised by Flanagan in the film Cocktail.
A great drink to celebrate the arrival of summer is the May Daisy from the PDT Cocktail Book
35ml VSOP Cognac
15ml Green Chartreuse
25ml lemon juice
15ml sugar cane syrup
Shake well and strain into a wineglass or goblet
Garnish with a sprig of mint.