Whenever I forget to take a pen and paper for a walk (not the dog, I usually remember her…), that’s when I can be sure the cleverest, most ingenious, potentially life-changing revelations will come to me.
But it’s a bit like waking up in the night with a flash of inspiration, if I don’t write it down it has gone, drifting off into the ether for someone else to find. And for some reason, recording on the phone won’t do – I find that just sucks every scrap of creativity from an idea, so I don’t bother.
It happened today, all because I was a bit distracted by wild strawberries and bilberries. My head was full of the most intriguing, brilliantly compiled words which would become fabulous poems the minute I got home to write them down. But the words were gone in an instant when I spotted the little strawberries.
We grow cultivated strawberries in our polytunnels, but no matter how delicious they are (and they can be sometimes), they can’t beat wild ones. The rough little red berries half hidden on the grassy banks below the blackthorn and ash are tiny, sparse and sharp – but delicious. And they always call to mind childhood foraging trips to collect edibles from the hedgerow.
Where I used to live in England we were able to collect lots of food for free, including wild mushrooms, hazelnuts and damsons, and I certainly miss them. But now I live in rural Ireland where the pickings are thinner and brambles reign supreme. We’re usually up for a good harvest of blackberries though.
One of my first trips to this part of the world was in early autumn in 1995 and I couldn’t understand why the locals left the blackberries to rot. It was explained to me that only poor people had to forage for food and it was a sign of affluence to buy your jam from the supermarket!
Needless to say, I ended up making blackberry jam while I was on holiday (we were self-catering) because I couldn’t bear to see all that luscious fruit going to waste. I still don’t get much competition from other pickers at blackberry harvest time, and I still make my own preserves.
And for whatever reason, this looks like being a good year for elderberries. I make a winter cure-all from elderberries, a purple concoction which staves off coughs and colds. We’ve already had a good harvest of elderflowers (for cordial – delicious!) but we’ve been careful to make sure there’s plenty left to grow into berries.
Meanwhile, you might have noticed mention of bilberries? They’re probably called something else around here, I’m not sure what. They’re like tiny wild blueberries, only not quite as nice. I’ve been walking past the same bush all week waiting for the wildlife to eat the berries (same goes for the strawberries, I only take a few). But it seems there’s nothing after them and they look like they might get left to rot. So I picked a handful and ate them fresh as I walked, marvelling at how the plant has survived after that particular hedgerow was raped and pillaged by a mechanical digger and men with chain saws and barbed wire.
I’m sure there’s a poem in there, regardless of whether I’m walking past, pen and paperless.