Doolally

“Very pleasant sunny warm day. My rooks for the week past have been busy a building. And the butterflies have turned out. Crocuses and spring flowers appear. I now look upon this to be the pleasantest time of year.”
Richard Hayes, 1766 (Kent)

I also now look upon this to be the pleasantest time of year. Saturday was a glorious spring day, warmer I am told than Rome or Athens, and Sunday morning was not much inferior (although it came on to rain in true March fashion in the afternoon). The whole town, it seemed, was gadding about at the weekend, dazed by their collective good fortune, the suddenness of it all. The birds outside my window seemed a bit dazed too, sitting on branches with stuff in their beaks as though they had not had time to fire up all of the appropriate sub-routines for nest building. And I saw two butterflies, a tortoiseshell and a brimstone, both pretty eager to be up and doing after their hibernation. Instinct, in short, was running haywire.

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***

The seasons change more sharply the further north you go, something I missed a bit when I lived in Italy. A Norwegian friend of mine told me that in Scandinavia in the first days of spring ‘everyone goes a bit doolally’.

He actually used the world doolally (he was oddly bilingual, having spent the first ten years of his life in Hull and the next twenty years in Norway). Doolally derives, I read, from the name of a British Army transit camp in India called Deolali in Maharashtra not far from Mumbai, where conditions were so poor and the possibilities for living so limited that men were said to go out of their minds for boredom.

So while doolally might not, strictly speaking, be the right word for the spring madness – there is nothing of boredom in it, unless you include the the sharp contrast with tedium of winter – it all depends on the context: from a professional standpoint, since no one, teachers included, wants to sit in a classroom when the weather is this good and the possibilities of life so inexhaustible, doolally might just about nail it. Tuesday, in particular, is looking menacingly pleasant. No doubt we will all sit inside, grappling with grammar and syntax, gritting out teeth, and going quietly doolally.

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