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Column: Kidding Around

Dog days, cat nights and trivia
A quizzical Bamboo wants to know why anyone would care about the dog days of summer. (Photo courtesy Micki McIntyre)

While searching for a column topic this week, I realized I am not as good at trivia games as I probably should be.

That is because my head is filled with odd facts that I have collected over the years, to the point they crowd out the useful facts. And as useful as these facts might be for answering trivia questions, that’s when they run away and hide in the darkest, cobwebby corners of my mind.

Case in point, it’s only now, in September, that a couple of bits of trivia about August popped their heads up and started waving for attention.

The month starts with what is known as the dog days of summer, ending on Aug. 11. That’s tied to the hot weather we have at the time and dates back to the ancient Greeks, who, according to National Geographic, noticed that Sirius, the Dog Star, appeared to rise alongside the sun at that time of the year.

They believed the combined power of the stars is what made this the hottest time of year.

But not to be outdone, the cats also have a claim on August. Though it’s lesser known (making it an even better bit of trivia) there are also the cat nights of summer, ending on Aug. 17.

According to an old and somewhat obscure Irish legend, it’s at this time of year that witches are able to turn themselves into cats and back again. But only eight times. If they try a ninth time, they’ll be stuck forever in the form of a cat.

Mid-August, as the weather cools, can be a particularly yowly time for cats. Some of the stories suggest this is due to witches, stuck as cats, screaming in rage. The old story is thought to be where another legend, that of a cat’s nine lives, emerges.

And that’s how my brain works. I guess it’s a bit of a job hazard. As a journalist, I’ve spent years asking curious questions, then collecting odd facts in answer to those questions.

Sometimes the facts are useful, like bits about Robert Stephenson’s 1829 Rocket, an early steam engine that was, until recent years, on display at the Science Museum on London. (A friend remembers crawling inside the boiler of this important historical artifact as a child.)

But most times they’re trivia, some might say trivial. Just bits and pieces that emerge randomly and never on demand.

Steve Kidd
Assistant Regional editor, Black Press
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